On Nietzsche’s ‘Beyond Good and Evil’: The Absolute Dialectical Unrest
‘The sceptical self-consciousness thus experiences in the flux of all that would stand secure before it its own freedom as given and preserved by itself. It is aware of this stoical indifference of a thinking which thinks itself, the unchanging and genuine certainty of itself. This self-certainty does not issue from something alien, whose complex development was deposited within it, a result which would leave behind it the process of its coming to be. On the contrary, consciousness itself is the absolute dialectical unrest, this medley of sensuous and intellectual representations whose differences coincide, and whose identity is equally again dissolved, for it is itself determinateness as contrasted with the non-identical. But it is just in this process that this consciousness, instead of being self-identical, is in fact nothing but a purely casual, confused medley, the dizziness of a perpetually self-engendered disorder. It is itself aware of this; for itself maintains and creates this restless confusion. Hence it also admits to it, it owns to being a wholly contingent, single, and separate consciousness — a consciousness which is empirical, which takes its guidance from what has no reality for it, which obeys what is for it not an essential being, which does those things and brings to realization what it knows has no truth for it. But equally, while it takes itself in this way to be a single and separate, contingent and, in fact, animal life, and a lost self-consciousness, it also, on the contrary, converts itself again into a consciousness that is universal and self-identical; for it is the negativity of all singularity and all difference. From this self-identity, or within its own self, it falls back again into the former contingency and confusion, for this same spontaneous negativity has to do solely with what is single and separate, and occupies itself with what is contingent. This consciousness is therefore the unconscious, thoughtless rambling which passes back and forth from the one extreme of self-identical self-consciousness to the other extreme of the contingent consciousness that is both bewildered and bewildering. It does not itself bring these two thoughts of itself together. At one time it recognizes that its freedom lies in rising above all the confusion and contingency of existence, and at another time equally admits to a relapse into occupying itself with what is unessential. It lets the unessential content in its thinking vanish; but just in doing so it is the consciousness of something unessential. It pronounces an absolute vanishing, but the pronouncement is, and this consciousness is the vanishing that is pronounced. It affirms the nullity of seeing, hearing, etc., yet it is itself seeing, hearing, etc. It affirms the nullity of ethical principles, and lets its conduct be governed by these very principles. Its deeds and its words always belie one another and equally it has itself the doubly contradictory consciousness of unchangeableness and sameness, and of utter contingency and non-identity with itself. But it keeps the poles of this its self-contradiction apart, and adopts the same attitude to it as it does in its purely negative activity in general. Point out likeness or identity to it, and it will point out unlikeness or non-identity; and when it is now confronted with what it has just asserted, it turns round and points out likeness or identity. Its talk is in fact like the squabbling of self-willed children, one of whom says A if the other says B, and in turn says B if the other says A, and who by contradicting themselves buy for themselves the pleasure of continually contradicting one another’.
- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, (1770–1831), ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’
In Hegel’s ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ Scepticism is the shape of consciousness that emerges from out of the shape of consciousness that is Stoicism (which, the world having become unimportant, achieved the illusion of freedom but not its living reality), and in this passage Hegel is describing the truth of Scepticism playing itself out and demonstrating that in itself it is incapable of delivering a durable and reliable end point for the development of consciousness after Stoicism, and it is the truth of consciousness that is the subject of discussion here for Scepticism sought to radicalise the moment of freedom that was taking place through Stoicism, for the latter failed to go far enough hence Scepticism might very well attain a greater consistency and consequentiality but there lingers still an inherent inconsistency and contradictoriness not merely in terms of the usual sceptical puzzles or paradoxes raising questions concerning our ideas of truth, such as the paradox of the knower, (‘this sentence is not known’), or indeed scepticism about Scepticism, rather the focus here is upon the role that an empirical contingent consciousness is going to perform and the reason why it results in contradiction. The importance of experience is emphasised here, the experience of flux and fluidity, of evanescence and of the constantly shifting, of the inability to remain settled, experience of the flux of that which would stand against consciousness, that which would present itself as essential, something that consciousness cannot abandon as it experiences its own freedom, laying bare its own freedom precisely by telling itself that the things standing against it are indeed not essential, be they an other human being, or an other thing understood in terms of a body of thought, provided by Plato, (c. 429–347 B.C.), for instance, or the Stoics, whoever or whatever, the world or life, all becomes a formless empirical flux of things and nothing is to be taken for granted.
Which recalls David Hume’s, (1711–1776), emphasis upon contingency, or rather (here we go again with Scepticism and inconsistency), he critiqued the notion of the logical necessity of causes while believed in necessity at the same time as denying causality. ‘… ’tis impossible to admit any medium betwixt chance and necessity’ he said. Self-consciousness is aware of its freedom to negate the exterior world, this is in part the way in which Scepticism works, in a reflexive moment it becomes conscious of its own freedom albeit it does not remain constant to itself, Stoicism was more consistent but Stoicism could not go as far as Scepticism. An awareness is reached that consciousness itself is working within itself to make this possible, whereby the Stoics were able to grasp this in terms of an eternal logos and not some thing that would be individually necessarily or taking place within this individual. For Scepticism it becomes even more pressing as a conflict between the empirical and the universal within the person, within the individual him or herself. ‘Consciousness itself is the absolute dialectical unrest’, a kind of unrest not out there in the world but inside of consciousness and everything that is being experienced of the world is apprehended in terms of thought. Scepticism and Stoicism place such emphasis upon the fact that the world is for us, in our thought, whereby the contingency and the the flux of the world takes place within our own thought and we are incapable of unifying it in a manner to our satisfaction, this is what the Sceptic experiences qua Sceptic The Sceptic becomes aware that it is not just the world or the law or the totality that is contradictory, that is confused, that is lacking in some principle of order running through the entirety whereby everything fits into its place but rather everything is out of joint with everything else and this is taking place within consciousness itself, it is an experience, an end point for Scepticism, for it is not a comfortable place for the Sceptic to occupy.
It is not the world in itself that is out of joint, we are talking about a self-engendered disorder here, for Stoicism had claimed that we can achieve tranquility and make sense out of things by placing the world at a distance and focusing upon our side of the matter, upon the fact that we have desires that we can control just as we can control the way we think about things and there is no need for us to be beguiled by a world out of joint albeit there is a universal logos running through the whole shebang. But the Sceptic does not have that any more in virtue of he or she going further than the Stoic did and the disorder is occurring within consciousness itself for consciousness possesses a sort of dynamism introducing chaos within itself alongside any order or consistency and this is the absolute dialectical unrest. Consciousness admits to itself that is empirical and to be empirical is to be something that can be experienced, and in experiencing a consciousness, my own, I can experience it in terms of what it is that I am conscious of, including being conscious of myself, the empirical or experiential matters or contingent factors including the clothes I am wearing, being here rather than there, and I can experience something of another consciousness in its attitude towards me. Though I cannot know another perfectly as I cannot know myself perfectly. you perfectly, I can’t know my self perfectly, only God knows us perfectly as St Augustine, (354–430), pointed out:
‘For it is Thou, Lord, that judgest me; for although no man knows the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him, yet is there something of man which the spirit of man which is in him itself knows not. But You, Lord, who hast made him, know him wholly. I indeed, though in Your sight I despise myself, and reckon myself but dust and ashes, yet know something concerning You, which I know not concerning myself. And assuredly now we see through a glass darkly, not yet face to face. So long, therefore, as I be absent from You, I am more present with myself than with You; and yet know I that You can not suffer violence; but for myself I know not what temptations I am able to resist, and what I am not able. But there is hope, because You are faithful, who will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that we may be able to bear it. I would therefore confess what I know concerning myself; I will confess also what I know not concerning myself. And because what I do know of myself, I know by You enlightening me; and what I know not of myself, so long I know not until the time when my darkness be as the noonday in Your sight’.
- ‘The Confessions’
A stranger to myself I barely know myself but am conscious of my empirical consciousness, my empirical position, all the things that I can say about myself. Such a consciousness is also conscious of the fact that such things are contingent and not universal albeit we would like them to be so if we were a narcissist but I have made a pledge to myself not to bring my ex into my writings anymore, and so it is that we cannot simply presume them to stand for consciousness in and of itself, consciousness in the capacity of consciousness for everyone. I am grounded in a particular way of being due to contingent factors about myself, (a 65 year old male who hits retirement age next year and will be eligible for a free bus pass oh joy but that free bus pass is dependent upon another contingent factor, that I live in the UK, which is the envy of unhappier lands), hence other ways of being are not open to me, given for instance that I am not a thirty year-old attractive blonde female (or perhaps I could identify as such and hence adopt a different way of being, I like that idea). Such contingent factors matter but to what extent? I am what I am in part with my connection with the world and I know myself in part through a demented fluidity that doesn’t amount to much in the way of meaning. ‘Nothing really matters’, as Freddie Mercury, (1946–1991), sang.
The experience is an experience of a lack of essence or of meaninglessness or of alienation. I can forever be asking myself why I am doing something. Why am I sitting here typing this on my laptop rather than out and about in the sunshine which as it happens at this moment is shining through my window. Why do I do anything at all? And it always transpires that the reasons are grounded upon contingent factors, it just happens to be that way and not some other way and then the existentialists take advantage of us, all is meaningless, life is absurd, anxiety, ambiguity, and so on, and on. As Jean-Paul Sartre, (1905–1980), puts it:
‘Many men know, indeed, that the goal they are seeking is being and, to the extent that they possess this knowledge, they do not care about appropriating things for themselves, and try to actualize a symbolic appropriation of their being-in-itself. But to the extent that this attempt is still bound up with the spirit of seriousness, and they continue to believe that their mission to make the in-itself-for-itself exist is written into things, they are condemned to despair, because they discover at the same time that all human activities are equivalent — for they all aim to sacrifice man in order that the self-caused may arise — and that all of them are doomed, by definition, to failure. Thus, whether one gets drunk on one’s own or leads the people, it comes down to the same thing. If either of these activities wins out over the other, it will not be because of its real goal but because of its degree of consciousness of its ideal goal; and in this case it may happen that the quietism of the solitary drunkard wins out over the pointless agitation of the leader of nations’.
- ‘Being and Nothingness’
This, Hegel says, is the experience of unessentiality whereby something else is essential but not oneself, this is alienation, Sceptical consciousness takes itself in this way ‘to be a single and separate, contingent and, in fact, animal life, and a lost self-consciousness’, lost in the unessential for the universal it has lost albeit it supposed it was getting the universal by gaining everything, by being free, but in doing the universal slipped through its fingers, if I may use such a metaphor for consciousness, and rather than pressing it back into the world to look for it there or in some other self consciousness the Sceptical self-consciousness has apprehended itself as being empirical and it is not good (it leads to that Sartrean drivel I just quoted) but having equally apprehended itself as having a universal side to it it can also stand for everyone and speak for everyone in virtue of the reverse side of the predicament being the realization that where I stand does not matter so much because of who or where I am but because of what I am, a human being, the reality of humanity exists within me, it exists within you, the universal has to attain actuality in order to have agency and it is becoming actual …
Which the Sceptic realizes this but he or she falls back into contingency for it cannot remain in the universal in virtue of having to live a life, I am grounded in my individuality, and individual human being in a whole network of relations and connections mainly on LinkedIn as it happens but which are contingent to the extent that their very contingency is contingent. I cannot set myself loose from the fundamental issue here that is extending further than Scepticism. Who am I? What am I? Why am I here? Do I have any purpose? Should I commit myself to whatever I am engaged with right now? What has it to do with the meaning of my life? Should purpose rather be something I am in quest of? Should i be questioning the narratives or the categorizations by which I live and move on to something beyond? and thus we can lose ourselves in bewilderment and confusion and this occurs to us at some point in our life whereby it takes some kind of crisis to provoke it. Which indeed happened to me a few years ago, a crisis that left me a befuddled mess and as it happens, ah the blessing of reading, as it happened, an historical contingent matter, historical in the sense of my personal history, at the time I just happened (?) to read a short story by Kurt Vonnegut, (1922–2007), ‘Who Am I This Time?’, which helped me on the way to straightening myself out.
And so it is that we can find ourselves in the standpoint of Scepticism without having undergone a course in Sceptical philosophy. Albert Camus, (1913–1960), refers to this as the experience of the Absurd which strikes us unforeseen and unexpectedly, and yet the universal and the contingent are real enough in their own different ways, for thinking is not simply the entertaining of notions in one’s heads itself not just ideas in its head, thought is active, thought sets itself over against actuality, thought is freedom, freedom is in the universal and the contingent, and yet there is a contradiction, they appear to be jarring against one another. This is the fundamental problem, this is the truth of Scepticism, and take heed of the examples Hegel provides for us. As I read Hegel think I am thinking grand thoughts, trying to wrap my head around the dialectic of world history in its entirety, then I check my notifications on LinkedIn, then I think about posting something, or watching the ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ DVD that I have just bought, then thinking: what am I doing? Shouldn’t I be reading Hegel? Well I tell myself, as I am watching ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’, I am still in the realm of grand thoughts, there is much in there I can apply Hegelian philosophy to, or so I try to convince myself anyway.
Another example of Hegel’s: ‘affirming the nullity of ethical principles’.. well ethical principles are all based upon something or other, social norms perhaps, can Inot just question all ideas? From the perspective of Scepticism most certainly, but I still have to live a certain way, if I am not wanting to be avoided or arrested, indeed, the decision to be a Sceptic carries with it a certain ethical comportment. The relativist may happily affirm that all is relative, relative to a particular society, to a particular culture, to a particular individual, and we should respect them all. But why? There is little danger of myself being a relativist even if merely a professed one in virtue of what little respect I have been given in my life. We should not judge is a mantra of this present age and yet how much judging is going on!
So there is this continual back and forth, the empirical against the universal, the former being content but no meaning, the latter being meaning but no content. How to reconcile them? Is the contradiction a third term in consciousness? Indeed not, it is something that the empirical side becomes aware of and the universal side becomes aware of and that is an achievement, a realisation that in the heart of self-consciousness lies an contradictoriness that appears to be beyond our mastery, for the poles of the contradiction are kept apart from each other while the Sceptic attends to it in an inconsistent manner, your traditional Sceptic (if that is not an oxymoron but it highlights the inconsistency) will say it is white in response to my saying it is black, this we can trace all the way back to Pyrrhonism, (Pyrrho of Elis, (c. 360 — c. 270 BC)), to every argument there is a counter-argument, set division in another’s thinking and make a run for it, thereby you preserve your freedom. Freedom to do what? A freedom enjoyed by recalcitrant bratty children. You stink. No you stink. So why would anyone remain within the Sceptical perspective? Well, they may get some kind of amusement out of this constantly doing this back and forth sort of thing but that can hardly be something to last and anyway they only end up being thought of as a prat by the rest of us. Or it may be because of despair. the Sceptic cannot find a way past the apparent irreconcilable conflict between the universal and the empirical and knows not how to bring them together.
The above passage from the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ often comes to my mind while reading philosophers, be they pragmatists, existentialists, structuralists, post-structuralists, postmodernists, deconstructionists, or whoever or whatever likes to play fast and loose with such notions as truth, knowledge, reality. Friedrich Nietzsche, (1844–1900), for instance, was a sceptic in the extreme whose scepticism involved not just the destruction of our beliefs but the destruction of who we are, while at the same time it sought to cultivate the capacity to do without certainty and requiring an experimental engagement with our instincts and drives thereby allowing for the creation of new values. ‘Perhaps nobody yet has been truthful enough about what ‘truthfulness’ is’, he said, in ‘Beyond God and Evil’. Many cases what are considered established truths, according to Nietzsche, are instead errors, lies, and convictions that have grown out of fear, need, and cowardice. Take the Stoics for instance:
‘’According to nature’ you want to live? O you noble Stoics, what deceptive words these are! Imagine a being like nature, wasteful beyond measure, indifferent beyond measure, without purposes and consideration, without mercy and justice, fertile and desolate and uncertain at the same time; imagine indifference itself as a power — how could you live according to this indifference? Living — is that not precisely wanting to be other than this nature? … In truth, the matter is altogether different: while you pretend rapturously to read the canon of your law in nature, you want something opposite, you strange actors and self-deceivers! Your pride wants to impose your morality, your ideal, on nature — even on nature — and incorporate them in her; you demand that she should be nature ‘according to the Stoa’, and you would like all existence to exist only after your own image — as an immense eternal glorification and generalization of Stoicism. For all your love of truth, you have forced yourselves so long, so persistently, so rigidly — hypnotically to see nature the wrong way, namely Stoically, that you are no longer able to see her differently. And some abysmal arrogance finally still inspires you with the insane hope that because you know how to tyrannize yourselves -Stoicism is self-tyranny — nature, too, lets herself be tyrannized: is not the Stoic a piece of nature? But this is an ancient, eternal story: what formerly happened with the Stoics still happens today, too, as soon as any philosophy begins to believe in itself. It always creates the world in its own image; it cannot do otherwise. Philosophy is this tyrannical drive itself, the most spiritual will to power, to the ‘creation of the world’, to the causa prima’.
- ‘Beyond Good and Evil’
A genuine philosopher on the other hand, like Nietzsche of course, is a free spirit who has become master over his or her own mind:
‘Perhaps hardness and cunning furnish more favorable conditions for the origin of the strong, independent spirit and philosopher than that gentle, fine, conciliatory good-naturedness and art of taking things lightly which people prize, and prize rightly, in a scholar. Assuming first of all that the concept ‘philosopher’ is not restricted to the philosopher who writes books — or makes books of his philosophy. A final trait for the image of the free-spirited philosopher is contributed by Stendhal whom, considering German taste, I do not want to fail to stress-for he goes against the German taste. ‘Pour être bon philosophe’, says this last great psychologist, ‘il faut fire sec, clair, sans illusion. Un banquier, qul a fait fortune, a une partie du caractere requis pour fare des dicouvertes en philosophie, c’est-d -dire pour voir clair dans ce qui est’.’
- Beyond Good and Evil’
[Stendhal, (1783–1842): ‘To be a good philosopher, one must be dry, clear, without illusion. A banker who has made a fortune has one character trait that is needed for making discoveries in philosophy, that is to say, for seeing clearly into what is’].
Without illusion indeed, oh yes I am sure. And Nietzsche as free spirit? Then why does he make me think of a mind, (to go back to the Hegel passage given above), in a state of ‘absolute dialectical unrest’, of one who ‘affirms the nullity of ethical principles while letting his conduct be governed by these very principles’, whose philosophy is a ‘confused medley’, creating a feeling of a ‘dizziness of a perpetually self-engendered disorder’, whereby,just like having a conversation with a postmodernist, if I say A he will say B, if I say B he will say A. Well, let us have a brief skim, (which is not very satisfactory I know but I encourage anyone to read the text in its entirety), through ‘Beyond Good Evil’, so that I may at the very least convey a sense of what I (and Hegel) mean.
The principal ideas forwarded in ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ are as follows:
1. Ideas which preserve life and add to a man’s (and a woman’s, I like to update a philosopher of the past’s writing in this way even though I know it can get a bit tiresome to write but it needs to be done, and after all, does all this stuff about will to power carry the same force if we are talking about women? Well maybe, but I think that a principle that explains everything explains nothing but I am getting ahead of myself here) power are more important than ideas sanctioned by logicians and seekers after the Absolute (well, of course my regular readers or reader can foresee I will be taking issue with that).
2. The metaphysical interest in the freedom of the will should give way to an interest in the strength of the will.
3. Men and women must turn conventional values upside down in order to live creatively, the established values of society were invented by the weak to enable them to triumph over the strong.
4. Scientific minds are weak when they fail to pass judgement, whoever denies the will denies the power of life.
5. Progress in life is possible only if there are men and women of action who have the courage to trust will and instinct, new values arise which go beyond conventional good and evil when the will to power asserts itself.
Concerning the point I made there for no. 1 as it happens Nietzsche begins his preface to the work with this (clearly he must have thought of philosophy as primarily a male preserve):
‘Supposing truth is a woman-what then? Are there not grounds for the suspicion that all philosophers, insofar as they were dogmatists, have been very inexpert about women? That the gruesome seriousness, the clumsy obtrusiveness with which they have usually approached truth so far have been awkward and very improper methods for winning a woman’s heart? What is certain is that she has not allowed herself to be won — and today every kind of dogmatism is left standing dispirited and discouraged. If it is left standing at all! For there are scoffers who claim that it has fallen, that all dogmatism lies on the ground-even more, that all dogmatism is dying’.
- ‘Beyond Good and Evil’
Nietzsche unarguably occupies a position of dominating historical importance in contemporary thinking albeit controversy persists about his stature as a philosophical mind, indeed there are scholars who refuse to judge Nietzsche’s admittedly scintillating writings as serious philosophical contributions (see below), rather, they take him to be a poet or a critic of culture and religion or one who exercised supreme mastery of the German language, but other contemporary scholars have maintained that Nietzsche has significance as an authentic philosophical figure, a lonely, disturbed thinker who anticipated contemporary criticism of the classical ideal of a rigorously deductive model of philosophical knowledge and of the accompanying belief in the possibility of a completed metaphysics.
Nietzsche felt keenly the impact of Darwinian evolutionary ideas, (Charles Darwin, (1809–1882)), that so stirred many nineteenth century thinkers in a number of intellectual and academic fields, and as a philosopher he is to be included among that group of thinkers for whom the philosopher’s primary function is to reveal the unexamined assumptions and buried cultural influences lurking behind putatively disinterested moral and metaphysical constructions. It is thus symptomatic that ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ starts off with a chapter entitled ‘On the Prejudices of Philosophers’:
‘The will to truth which will still tempt us to many a venture, that famous truthfulness of which all philosophers so far have spoken with respect — what questions has this will to truth not laid before us1 What strange, wicked, questionable questions! That is a long story even now — and yet it seems as if it had scarcely begun. Is it any wonder that we should finally become suspicious, lose patience, and turn away impatiently? that we should finally learn from this Sphinx to ask questions, too? Who is it really that puts questions to us here? What in us really wants ‘truth’? Indeed we came to a long halt at the question about the cause of this will — until we finally came to a complete stop before a still more basic question. We asked about the value of this will. Suppose we want truth: why not rather untruth? and uncertainty? even ignorance? The problem of the value of truth came before us — or was it we who came before the problem? Who of us is Oedipus here? Who the Sphinx? It is a rendezvous, it seems, of questions and question marks’.
- ‘Beyond Good and Evil’
Written during Nietzsche’s intellectual maturity and following hard upon a lengthy literary development and yet prior to the tragic breakdown that brought his career to an end and from which he never recovered and put him in need of constant care, ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ reflects the many important central tendencies of his thought and its contents illustrate the wide range of Nietzsche’s intellectual interests, the origin and nature of moral evaluations, the history and psychology of religion, the psychology of human motivation, and the relation of humanity and historical processes. Nietzsche often uses aphorisms, as he does in the fourth section of ‘Beyond Good and Evil’, which, though unsystematic from a logical point of view, manage to express a tolerably consistent philosophical viewpoint:
‘To be ashamed of one’s immorality — that is a step on the staircase at whose end ones is also ashamed of ones morality’.
‘One should part from life as Odysseus parted from Nausica — blessing it rather than in love with it’.
‘What? A great man? I always see only the actor of his own ideal’.
‘If we train our conscience, it kisses us while it hurts us’.
‘The voice of disappointment: ‘I listened for an echo and heard nothing but praise-’’
‘In front of ourselves we all pose as simpler than we are: thus we take a rest from our fellow men’.
- ‘Beyond Good and Evil’
Nietzsche’s writings contain many passages suggestive of similar positions to be fleshed out in greater psychotherapeutic detail by Sigmund Freud, (1856–1939). Often he exhibits a keener interest in the question, ‘What are the motives of philosophizing?’ rather than in ‘What do philosophers say?’ And when he directs his attention towards an analysis of moral judgment Nietzsche is concerned about what may lie concealed beneath such valuations much as a student of icebergs wants to discover what exists beneath the surface. Perhaps the valuations produced by moralists always represent a perspective on things in the sense that there may exist no final metaphysical standpoint from which to render such valuations, and in a likewise manner the philosophical quest after truth may peculiarly express what Nietzsche terms the ‘will to power’ rather than a disinterested description of things. Even assuming that genuine truth can be obtained in principle Nietzsche points out that the value of an idea has greater significance than the truth of the idea and the value perspectives by which individuals live may be necessary and yet not objective.
Indeed ‘un-truth’ may carry greater value than ‘truth’ in many situations:
‘The will to truth which will still tempt us to many a venture, that famous truthfulness of which all philosophers so far have spoken with respect — what questions has this will to truth not laid before us! What strange, wicked, questionable questions! That is a long story even now — and yet it seems as if it had scarcely begun. Is it any wonder that we should finally become suspicious, lose patience, and turn away impatiently? that we should finally learn from this Sphinx to ask questions, too? Who is it really that puts questions to us here? What in us really wants ‘truth’? Indeed we came to a long halt at the question about the cause of this will — until we finally came to a complete stop before a still more basic question. We asked about the value of this will. Suppose we want truth: why not rather untruth? and uncertainty? even ignorance?’
- ‘Beyond Good and Evil’
Such perspectives have to be judged in terms of the degree to which they are life-furthering. Even behind logic and its apparent sovereignty of development stand value judgments Nietzsche suggests, or, to speak more plainly, physiological demands for preserving a certain type of life:
‘Behind all logic and Its seeming sovereignty of movement, too, there stand valuations or, more clearly, physiological demands for the preservation of a certain type of life. For example, that the definite should be worth more than the indefinite, and mere appearance worth less than ‘truth’ — such estimates might be, in spite of their regulative importance for us, nevertheless mere foreground estimates, a certain kind of niaiserie which may be necessary for the preservation of just such beings as we are. Supposing, that is,that not just man is the ‘measure of things’-’
- ‘Beyond Good and Evil’
(Notes: niaiserie : folly, stupidity, silliness, apparently one of Nietzsche’s favorite French words. ‘Man Is the measure of all things’: said by Protagoras, (490–420 BC), see my articles On Plato’s ‘Theaetetus’: Birth Pangs and On Plato’s ‘Protagoras’: The Teaching of Virtue’).
Upon such supposition a psychologist would inquire of any belief whether it is conducive to sound health, which is a therapeutic matter, rather than whether it is true. ‘True’ and ‘health-producing’ become synonymous in Nietzsche’s treatment of ideas and he critiques a philosopher such as Immanuel Kant, (1724–1804), for having assumed the existence of an unknowable ‘thing-in-itself ‘ behind the phenomenal universe that is accessible to science. Similarly he is critical of Hegel who sought to find in the antithetical aspects of existence, passions, ideas, moral valuations and so on, the expressions of a more fundamental rational reality, although seemingly unbeknownst to Nietzsche himself Nietzsche is like many a philosopher after Hegel in saying something Hegel has already said. At one point Nietzsche writes:
‘One must shed the bad taste of wanting to agree with many. ‘Good’ is no longer good when one’s neighbour mouths it. And how should there be a ‘common good’! The term contradicts itself: whatever can be common always has little value. In the end it must be as it is and always has been: great things remain for the great, abysses for the profound, nuances and shudders for the refined, and, in brief, all that is rare for the rare’.
- ‘Beyond Good and Evil’
But Hegel offered a quite similar critique of dogmatism in his insistence that dogmatism is in error in supposing that an isolated proposition can be the form of the truth, for nothing is accomplished by repeating such formulations, their significance depending upon the meaning assigned to the terms and on the context, hence only the system can be the form of the truth! and as for ‘’Good’ is no longer good when one’s neighbour mouths it’, see Hegel’s passage on scepticism above, ‘… the squabbling of self-willed children, one of whom says A if the other says B, and in turn says B if the other says A, and who by contradicting themselves buy for themselves the pleasure of continually contradicting one another’.
The tendency toward dualism by which the ‘I’ as subject stands independent of that which is perceived as well as logically distinct as ‘subject’ over against ‘object’, receives criticism from Nietzsche as a possible grammatical prejudice erected into a false and misleading metaphysical argument, and rather than philosophizing in ‘the grand manner’ Nietzsche encourages piecemeal treatment of a host of specific, clearly stated problems,and it is physiology that may hold the key to solution of a number of old and puzzling questions, including moral ones. A philosophical inquirer has to forgo easy solutions happening to fit his or her prejudices just as physiologists must desist from thinking that the basic drive behind organic life is that toward self-preservation. The will to power may prove more fundamental than desire of self-preservation, the will to power expresses an expansive, assimilating, positive, value creating tendency in existence, non-human as well as human. There may also be no immediate certainties like the philosopher’s ‘I think’ or Arthur Schopenhauer’s, (1788–1860), superstition, ‘I will’. The older superstition that thinking activity results from a human will requires sophisticated and subtle analysis, for ‘A thought comes when ‘it’ and not when ‘I’ will’. Indeed, even to say, ‘It is thought’, instead of ‘I think’, may cause another set of misleading metaphysical puzzles to arise. Nietzsche also argues that the metaphysical question about freedom of the will results from misuses of terms like ‘cause’ and ‘effect’, which are simply concepts. These concepts are fictions useful for the facilitation of common understanding but not as explanations, and men and women must stop creating myths about an objective reality based upon pure concepts useful for other ends. There is neither ‘free’ nor ‘non-free’ will, according to Nietzsche, but simply ‘strong will and weak will’:
‘The causa sui is the best self-contradiction that has been conceived so far, it is a sort of rape and perversion of logic; but the extravagant pride of man has managed to entangle itself profoundly and frightfully with just this nonsense. The desire for ‘freedom of the will’ in the superlative metaphysical sense, which still holds sway, unfortunately, in the minds of the half-educated; the desire to bear the entire and ultimate responsibility for ones actions oneself, and to absolve God, the world, ancestors, chance, and society involves nothing less than to be precisely this causa sui and, with more than Munchhausen’s audacity, to pull oneself up into existence by the hair, out of the swamps of nothingness. Suppose someone were thus to see through the boorish simplicity of the celebrated concept of ‘free will’ and put it out of his head altogether, I beg of him to carry his ‘enlightenment’ a step further, and also put out of his head the contrary of this monstrous conception of ‘free will’: I mean ‘unfree will’, which amounts to a misuse of cause and effect. One should not wrongly reify ‘cause’ and ‘effect’, as the natural scientists do (and whoever, like them, now ‘naturalizes’ in his thinking), according to the prevailing mechanical doltishness which makes the cause press and push until it ‘effects’ its end; one should use ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ only as pure concepts, that is to say, as conventional fictions for the purpose of designation and communication — not for explanation. In the ‘in-itself’ there is nothing of ‘causal connections’, of ‘necessity’, or of ‘psychological non-freedom’; there the effect does not follow the cause, there is no rule of ‘law’. It is we alone who have devised cause, sequence, for-each-other, relativity, constraint, number, law, freedom, motive, and purpose; and when we project and mix this symbol world into things as if it existed ‘in itself’, we act once more as we have always acted-mythologically. The ‘unfree will’ is mythology; in real life it is only a matter of strong and weak wills’.
- ‘Beyond Good And Evil’
Baron Munchausen, fictional German nobleman, created by the German writer Rudolf Erich Raspe, (1736–1794), in his 1785 book ‘Baron Munchhausen’s Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia’, a character is loosely based upon a real baron, Hieronymus Karl Friedrich, Freiherr von Münchhausen, (1720–1797). At one point the Baron saves himself from being drowned in a swamp by pulling on his own hair.
Compare Jean-Paul Sartre:
‘If man as the existentialist sees him is not definable, it is because to begin with he is nothing. He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself. … Man simply is. Not that he is simply what he conceives himself to be, but he is what he wills … Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself. That is the first principle of existentialism. … Before that projection of the self nothing exists … Man is responsible for what he is. Thus, the first effect of existentialism is that it puts every man in possession of himself as be is, and places the entire responsibility for his existence squarely upon his own shoulders’.
- ‘Existentialism Is a Humanism’
As if we could just pull ourselves by our own hair out of the swamp of nothingness indeed.
The distinction between strong and weak wills has interesting implications though. So there is a will? If there is and whatever it is are we responsible for how strong or weak our will is?
Ludwig Wittgenstein, (1889–1951), once asked:
‘What is left over if I subtract the fact that my arm goes up from the fact that I raise my arm?’
- ‘Philosophical Investigations’
He that has light within his own cleer brest
May sit i’th center, and enjoy bright day,
But he that hides a dark soul, and foul thoughts
Benighted walks under the mid-day Sun;
Himself is his own dungeon.
- John Milton, (1608–1674), ‘A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle’
Psychological investigations that had been undergone prior to Nietzsche’s day are discovered to be suspect in virtue of the subtle ways in which their conclusions reflect human prejudices and fears, and this is a theme echoing continually throughout Nietzsche’s writings. Nietzsche wanted a new kind of psychologist able to resist the unconscious forces in him or herself influencing him or her to accept conclusions dictated by his or her ‘heart’. The evidence is what must count in such investigations, and Nietzsche asks his readers to imagine an investigator in physiology-psychology who possesses the courage to believe that greed, hatred, envy, and such passions are ‘the passions upon which life is conditioned, as things which must be present in the total household of life’. So, too, the new philosophical breed will approach the study of the origins of morals with a ruthless honesty.
In a later work, ‘Toward a Genealogy of Morals’, 1887, Nietzsche in practice attempted the kind of historical-genetic investigation his ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ recommends in principle. In the former book it is suggested that the concepts ‘good’ and ‘bad’, as well as ‘good’ and ‘evil’, arose out of a spiteful trans-valuation of classical values by the meek and the lowly whereby ‘bad’ is the valuation placed upon acts previously termed ‘good’ in an aristocratic, healthy culture. Christian priests expressing their hatred of life described as ‘evil’ those biological functions fundamental to creation and healthful strength. And the central suggestion in ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ is that another trans-valuation of human values must now follow from the evolutionary notion of the will to power, that the cultural standpoint of Western Europe so influenced by Christian valuations must undergo a deep change certain to usher in enormous, even sometimes cataclysmic, alterations in the table of values.
The human being is seen as a being who must ‘get beyond’ existing valuations in order to live creatively and even dangerously, and a culture whose established values are foundering, in which the faith in metaphysical absolutes wobbles unsteadily on aging legs, throws up the question whether the belief in the possibility of an objectively justifiable morality is not an illusion. Never does Nietzsche say that men or women can live without making valuations, nor does he contend that moral valuations are unqualifiedly relative, one as good as another, his point is rather psychological and critical. Hegel believed that man and woman’s nature, a product of evolution, demands the constant creation of new valuations even in the face of the absence of absolute standards, and this aspect of his thought brings to mind twentieth century existentialist thought which, however differently expressed by numerous existentialist writers, responds to the anguish of the human situation by making value judgments possible even though absolutes are lacking.
Nietzsche warns that the new philosopher must guard against some of the characteristics of the ‘intellectuals’. This is a theme expressed early in his literary life, in ‘The Use and Abuse of History, l874, for instance, when Nietzsche cautioned against bringing up a German generation so preoccupied with history that the value of those things whose history is studied could receive neither affirmation nor denial. Intellectualistic pursuit of objective knowledge tends to weaken the critical and evaluative capacities needed by men and women as a basis for living. Nietzsche never ridicules the scientific quest after objective knowledge as such, what he warns against is the production of scientific minds unable to make judgments about better and worse. Objective knowledge functions valuably only as a means to some other end or ends, like those which actualize human potentiality in all its possible varieties. Scientific knowledge fails to show men and women what things they should say ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ to from a standpoint of evaluation:
‘… if one has once drifted there with one’s bark, well! all right! let us clench our teeth let us open our eyes and keep our hand firm on the helm! We sail right over morality, we crush, we destroy perhaps the remains of our own morality by daring to make our voyage there — but what matter are we! Never yet did a profounder world of insight reveal itself to daring travelers and adventurers, and the psychologist who thus ‘makes a sacrifice’ — it is not the sacrifizio dell’intelletto, on the contrary — will at least be entitled to demand in return that psychology shall be recognized again as the queen of the sciences, for whose service and preparation the other sciences exist. For psychology is now again the path to the fundamental problems’.
- ‘ Beyond Good and Ev’l’
(Notes: sacrifizio dell’intelletto, sacrifice of the intellect. ‘psychology shall be recognized again as the queen of the sciences’… again?)
Judgment is a function of the will, something that the scientific man or woman can never determine. For long centuries humans decided upon the value of actions by reference to the consequences, Nietzsche refers to this as the pre-moral period, and because he elsewhere caricatures English utilitarian thought we may suppose that Nietzsche thinks little of a value standard based upon the tendency of acts to produce pleasure rather than pain. A second period, lasting for the past ten thousand years, according to Nietzsche who as I understand it, made no anthropological survey of such an enormous expanse of historical time, is marred by a predominant tendency to judge the value or worthlessness of an act by its origins:
‘In the last ten thousand years, however, one has reached the point, step by step, in a few large regions on the earth, where it is no longer the consequences but the origin of an action that one allows to decide its value. On the whole this is a great event which involves a considerable refinement of vision and standards; it is the ‘unconscious aftereffect of the rule of aristocratic values and the faith in ‘descent’ — the sign of a period that one may call moral in the narrower sense. It involves the first attempt at self-knowledge. Instead of the consequences, the origin: indeed a reversal of perspective! Surely, a reversal achieved only after long struggles and vacillations. To be sure, a calamitous new superstition, an odd narrowness of interpretation, thus become dominant: the origin of an action was interpreted in the most definite sense as origin in an intention; one came to agree that the value of an action lay in the value of the intention. The intention as the whole origin and prehistory of an action-almost to the present day this prejudice dominated moral praise, blame, judgment, and philosophy on earth’.
- ‘Beyond Good and Evil’
The origin of an action was interpreted to rest in a very definite sense upon an intent and such an intentional measure for judging actions reflected an aristocratic stance. In his own time Nietzsche believed neither the intent nor the consequences of an act would play the crucial role, and this would be the amoral period. In a well known oft cited passage Nietzsche characterizes the nature of the philosophers who would conduct new amoral analyses of human valuations:
‘A new species of philosophers is coming up: I venture to baptize them with a name that is not free of danger. As I unriddle them, insofar as they allow themselves to be unriddled-for it belongs to their nature to want to remain riddles at some point these philosophers of the future may have a right — it might also be a wrong — to be called attempters. This name itself is in the end a mere attempt and, if you will, a temptation’.
(Notes: attempters, or experimenters, the translation here is attempting to preserve something of the German play on words. Versucher could also mean tempters, which does not seem intended here at least as the primary meaning, or experimenters, which is meant but would spoil the triple play on words: Versuch, attempt or experiment, and Versuchung temptation.
‘Are these coming philosophers new friends of ‘truth’? That is probable enough, for all philosophers so far have loved their truths. But they will certainly not be dogmatists. It must offend their pride, also their taste, if their truth is supposed to be a truth for everyman — which has so far been the secret wish and hidden meaning of all dogmatic aspirations. ‘My judgment is my judgment’: no one else is easily entitled to it — that is what such a philosopher of the future may perhaps say of himself … Need I still say expressly after all this that they, too, will be free, very free spirits, these philosophers of the future — though just as certainly they will not be merely free spirits but something more, higher, greater, and thoroughly different that does not want to be misunderstood and mistaken for something else’.
- ‘Beyond Good and Evil’
Such thinkers will view pain and suffering as the necessary preconditions of many new valuations, and they will also issue commands rather than simply describe or explain.
Nietzsche’s treatment of what he calls ‘the peculiar nature of religion’ bears a crucial relation to his prophesied trans-valuation of existing values for according to Nietzsche a student of religious phenomena should develop that kind of malicious subtlety which the moral investigator needs in all times and places if he or she is to succeed in his or her work. Although he despised the moral values taught by traditional Christianity Nietzsche nonetheless admired the psychological self-discipline of the Christian saints. Religious phenomena was a source of fascination for him:
‘Let us ask what precisely about this whole phenomenon of the saint has seemed so enormously interesting to men of all types and ages, even to philosophers. Beyond any doubt, it was the air of the miraculous that goes with it — namely, the immediate succession of opposites, of states of the soul that are judged morally in opposite ways. It seemed palpable that a ‘bad man’ was suddenly transformed into a ‘saint’, a good man. The psychology we have had so far suffered shipwreck at this point: wasn’t this chiefly because it had placed itself under the dominion of morals, because it, too, believed in opposite moral values and saw, read, interpreted these opposites into the text and the facts?’
- ‘Beyond Good and Evil’
The faith demanded of early Christians, a rarely attained actuality, provides an example possessing peculiarly tough and lasting appeal and Nietzsche writes that contemporary men lack the corresponding toughness to appreciate the paradoxical statement of faith, which is to say, God dies on a cross. Early Christian faith demanded qualities found in a modern Blaise Pascal, (1623–1662), according to Nietzsche. ln Pascal this faith looks in a horrible way like a continuous suicide of the reason, a tough, long-lived, worm-like reason which cannot be killed at one time and with one blow:
‘The faith demanded, and not infrequently attained, by original Christianity, in the midst of a sceptical and southern free-spirited world that looked back on, and still contained, a centuries long fight between philosophical schools, besides the education for tolerance given by the imperium Romanum [Roman Empire] — this faith is not that ingenuous and bearlike subalterns’ faith with which, say, a Luther or a Cromwell, or some other northern barbarian of the spirit, clung to his god and to Christianity. It is much closer to the faith of Pascal, which resembles in a gruesome manner a continual suicide of reason — a tough, long-lived, wormlike reason that cannot be killed all at once and with a single stroke’.
- ‘Beyond Good and Evil’
‘From the start, the Christian faith is a sacrifice: a sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of the spirit; at the same time, enslavement and self-mockery, self-mutilation. There is cruelty and religious Phoenicianism in this faith which is expected of an over-ripe, multiple, and much-spoiled conscience: it presupposes that the subjection of the spirit hurts indescribably; that the whole past and the habits of such a spirit resist the absurdissimum [height of absurdity] which ‘faith’ represents to it’.
- ‘Beyond Good and Evil’
Nietzsche believed that such a faith would require careful study if the new experimenters were to learn how to succeed in their own trans-valuation of Christian values, and particularly intriguing are the three restrictions associated with what Nietzsche designates ‘the religious neurosis’, solitude, fasting, and sexual abstinence. For a student to understand the earlier historical trans-valuation which occurred he or must answer the question: ‘How is the saint possible?’ Genuinely to understand how from the ‘bad’ man or woman one gets, suddenly, a saint requires one to compare Christianity’s valuations to the lavish gratitude characteristic of earlier Greek religion before fear made Christianity a possibility. Nietzsche contends that the study of moral and religious phenomena can never be the work of a day or a brief season and modem thinkers can hope only to assemble the necessary evidence, slowly and painstakingly. Their first concern is the statement of a morphology of morality rather than the former ambitious endeavour to give a philosophical justification of the derivation of a morality. Only ‘the collection of the material, the conceptual formalization and arrangement of an enormous field of delicate value-feelings and value-differences which are living, growing, generating others, and perishing’ is possible at the present time along with some observations about recurrent features of these value growths, and inquirers must know where to look for the proper evidence, and for this task the scientific man or woman lacks the capacities needed for directing the inquiries.
The scientific man or woman functions best as an instrument, an enormously valuable one, albeit the instrument ‘belongs in the hands of one who has greater power’, one who commands what uses the instrument shall be put to, and most philosophers also fail to qualify for this kind of moral analysis. The reason is that they have reduced philosophizing to theory of knowledge which produces a value scepticism when what is required is action-value-commanding and value-judging. The whole problem of understanding moral valuations is reminiscent of the older faith versus reason controversy in theology. Does instinct, that is to say, the tendency to act creatively without always knowing how to give reasons for one’s actions, hold a more important place in the subject matter of moral analysis than reasoning, that is, the capacity to give reasons for one’s valuations? This problem emerges early in the character of Socrates, a philosopher whom Nietzsche admires for his great irony and dialectical skills even though Nietzsche denounces ‘Socratism’, the dogma that beliefs are valuable only insofar as they are capable of logical justification. Nietzsche considers Socrates a much greater figure than Plato:
‘There is something In the morality of Plato that does not really belong to Plato but is merely encountered in his philosophy — one might say, in spite of Plato: namely, the Socratism for which he was really too noble. ‘Nobody wants to do harm to himself, therefore all that is bad is done involuntarily. For the bad do harm to themselves: this they would not do if they knew that the bad is bad. Hence the bad are bad only because of an error, if one removes the error, one necessarily makes them — good’. This type of inference smells of the rabble that sees nothing in bad actions but the unpleasant consequences and really judges, ‘it is stupid to do what is bad’, while ‘good’ is taken without further ado to be identical with ‘useful and agreeable’. In the case of every moral utilitarianism one may immediately infer the same origin and follow one’s nose: one will rarely go astray’.
- ‘Beyond Good and Evil’
Socrates knew how to laugh at himself, realizing that his superior powers failed to discover the means by which to justify many beliefs he held important. And Plato was more naive than Socrates, he left a moral prejudice which Nietzsche simply rejects, the view that instinct and reason ultimately seek the same end- ‘God’ or ‘the Good’. Plato, in thus dissolving all that Nietzsche finds fascinating in the faith-reason controversy, made possible a later Christian institutionalization of herd-morality. Fundamentally, Nietzsche distrusted individuals who venerate reason and deny the value of instinct, he insists that men or women of action illustrate the gap that exists between those who merely know (intellectually) and those who act. And any existing morality needs a horizon provided by men and women of action who say: ‘It shall be thus!’ This command source of any morality must itself go unjustified and unquestioned. Any existing morality is in this sense always a ‘problematic’ (a much used word of today which I dislike because it is usually said by someone with a dislike for a stance or viewpoint without being able to articulate what the problem is, do they even know? But there it is in the Kaufmann (see below) translation):
‘Just because our moral philosophers knew the facts of morality only very approximately in arbitrary extracts or in accidental epitomes — for example, as the morality of their environment, their class, their church, the spirit of their time, their climate and part of the world — just because they were poorly informed and not even very curious about different peoples, times, and past ages — they never laid eyes on the real problems of morality; for these emerge only when we compare many moralities. In all ‘science of morals’ so far one thing was lacking, strange as it may sound: the problem of morality itself; what was lacking was any suspicion that there was something problematic here. What the philosophers called ‘a rational foundation for morality’ and tried to supply was, seen in the right light, merely a scholarly variation of the common faith in the prevalent morality; a new means of expression for this faith; and thus just another fact within a particular morality; indeed, in the last analysis a kind of denial that this morality might ever be considered problematic -certainly the very opposite of an examination, analysis, questioning, and vivisection of this very faith’.
- ‘Beyond Good and Evil’
By this Nietzsche presumably meant that after reasons for the existing valuations have been given, there must remain, at last, a self-justifying command for which no further reasons are possible, indeed, all morality containing progressive aspects stems from an aristocratic type of commanding. Every command requires a commander, some individual who supplies the necessary value horizon which others must simply accept and there can be no objectively grounded perspective of all perspectives. Life as an expanding process requires the cutting off of deliberative procedures at some point. Nietzsche was willing to accept some of the painful consequences of this view of the command origin of all moral valuations, one consequence being that any existing morality requires sacrifice of numerous individuals and of many nuances of feeling and human tendency. Morality requires the application of command in such a way that not all legitimately natural instincts can find total expression at any one time and it also rests upon exploitation as a necessary element in the creation of values.
Some instincts must give way to others, and the commanding ones ought to be domineering and aristocratic. There must occur ‘the forcing of one’s own forms upon something else’. Nietzsche’s analysis of morality led him to dislike equalitarian democracy and herd-utilitarianism (‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’). An order of rank must exist and between commander and commanded must arise a social distance based upon the former’s greater value. The new philosopher seeking to transform valuations must stand ‘against his own time’ — finding a value standpoint ‘beyond’ the accepted valuations of his own era. To do so requires hardness and patient waiting and philosophical success is hence partly a result of circumstances beyond any individual philosopher’s control. What his or her creative response shall be is a function of what the situation is in which he finds himself. In this sense the philosopher must always be a lonely man or woman ‘beyond’ the good and evil of conventional morality and this loneliness will produce anguish.
In ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’, 1883–1885, Nietzsche describes the anguish which results from the discovery that no God is found beyond good and evil, nor is there a higher, more ultimate, Platonic harmony. The new philosopher must leam to embrace existence for its own sake. Nietzsche endeavours to express the nature of this love of existence through a doctrine of ‘eternal recurrence’, which seems sometimes to function even mystically in his thought:
‘Whoever has endeavored with some enigmatic longing, as I have, to think pessimism through to its depths and to liberate it from the half-Christian, half-German narrowness and simplicity in which it has finally presented itself to our century, namely, in the form of Schopenhauer’s philosophy; whoever has really, with an Asiatic and supra-Asiatic eye, looked into, down into the most world-denying of all possible ways of thinking-beyond good and evil and no longer, like the Buddha and Schopenhauer, under the spell and delusion of morality — may just thereby, without really meaning to do so, have opened his eyes to the opposite ideal: the ideal of the most high-spirited, alive, and world-affirming human being who has not only come to terms and learned to get along with whatever was and is, but who wants to have what was and is repeated into all eternity, shouting insatiably da capo — not only to himself but to the whole play and spectacle, and not only to a spectacle but at bottom to him who needs precisely this spectacle and who makes it necessary because again and again he needs himself — and makes himself necessary- What? And this wouldn’t be — circulus vitiosus deus?’
- ‘Beyond Good and Evil’
(Notes: de capo: from the beginning: a musical direction. Circulus vitiosus deus: a vicious circle made god? or God is a vicious circle? or, less likely the circle is a vicious god?)
The philosopher of existence must say ‘Yea’ to reality while knowing that ‘God is dead’ and any new values which arise in the evolutionary process do so as expressions of humanity’s self-commanding capacity. Error and pain inevitably and necessarily are aspects of existence. ‘That everything recurs, is the very nearest approach of a world of Becoming to a world of Being: the height of contemplation’, he wrote in ‘The Will to Power’, a work published by Nietzsche’s sister, 1901–1904, from remaining notes. The new philosopher of ‘beyondness’ needs this doctrine of eternal recurrence, since he or she must command new values in an existence which expresses the will to power rather than a rational scheme of things.
In Nietzsche’s style one discovers an inventiveness to match what some see as intellectual daring, a richness of suggestion, irony, maliciousness, an endeavour towards a balancing of value antitheses, and playful criticism coupled with the most serious intention, and an understanding of Nietzsche’s works and this is true of the work of any significant philosopher requires that one attempt to read them appreciatively to get where he is coming from and returning to then again and again. If he is to be judged harshly for his unsystematic methods and for the disordered expression of his complex anxieties his age and culture must also be so judged, the absolute dialectic unrest may be a product of his times as it is of our own, and Nietzsche was as he says all men (and women?) are, a philosopher who worked from an inner necessity to achieve self-understanding. Of philosophers he wrote: ‘But fundamentally, ‘way down below’ in us, there is something unteachable, a bedrock of intellectual destiny, of predestined decision, of answers to predestined selected questions’
I have spared you Nietzsche’s comments with regard to the fair sex but this is certainly a passage to take note of:
‘Learning changes us; it does what all nourishment does which also does not merely ‘preserve’ -as physiologists know. But at the bottom of us, really ‘deep down’, there is, of course, something unreachable, some granite of spiritual fatum [fate], of predetermined decision and answer to predetermined selected questions. Whenever a cardinal problem is at stake, there speaks an unchangeable ‘this is I’; about man and woman, for example, a thinker cannot relearn but only finish learning-only discover ultimately how this is ‘settled in him’. At times we find certain solutions of problems that inspire strong faith in us; some call them henceforth their ‘convictions’. Later — we see them only as steps to self-knowledge, signposts to the problem we are — rather, to the great stupidity we are, to our spiritual fatum, to what is unreachable very ‘deep down’. After this abundant civility that I have just evidenced in relation to myself I shall perhaps be permitted more readily to state a few truths about ‘woman as such’ -assuming that it is now known from the outset how very much these are after all only — my truths’.
- ‘Beyond Good and Evil’
Walter Kaufmann, (1921–1980), in ‘Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist’, delivered a most thorough study in English of Nietzsche’s work bringing his philosophy into focus while also tracing his development and actively criticizing other major interpretations of his thought. He refers extensively to ‘Beyond Good and Evil’, concerned as he is and perhaps rather over much to demonstrate that Nietzsche was not an irrationalist. Although Nietzsche repudiates the traditional dualism of reason and impulse and explains all human behaviour in terms of the will to power it nevertheless remains true that he regarded reason as the highest manifestation of the will to power, for reason gives man and woman power not only over nature but also over him or herself.
Those who stand at the top of the power scale, according to Nietzsche, neither act on impulse nor extirpate their passions, but, in a manner reminiscent of Aristotelian man, act rationally by instinct, through an ‘attained unconsciousness’ or ‘second nature’. Nietzsche, who never prescribes moral norms but finds human conduct reflected universally in nature, often equates the will to power that nature displays with the ‘instinct of freedom’ or with Eros. For him all life is a striving to transcend and perfect itself. Accordingly, ‘Nothing that is alive is sufficient unto itself’, but everything strives to overcome itself as it denies itself gratification for more life and more power. Human life is a dialectic of commanding and obeying. Although most men and women, contenting themselves with the strength of the herd in their bid for power, obey other human’s laws, genuine creativity generates its own standards. Thus, Kaufmann maintains, ‘One of the most significant connotations of the phrase ‘beyond good and evil’ is that all established codes must forever be transcended by men [and women] who are creative’.
Kaufmann gives little attention to Nietzsche’s master and slave moralities. He stresses that Nietzsche in no way identifies with the master despite his polemic against weakness. Every man [or woman] would in fact be a mere animal were it not for the ambiguous marvel of bad conscience which imposes itself upon an intransigent, suffering material, burning a ‘No’ into the soul. For Nietzsche what is called ‘higher culture’ rests upon the channeling and spiritualizing of cruelty. Here Kaufmann finds grounds for saying that Nietzsche’s very evaluation of suffering and cruelty springs out of his respect for rationality. The offspring of man’s self-inflicted travail is the ‘overman’ or superman, (or superwoman? I always preferred her anyway in her costume with the very short red dress), humanity in its highest form. This overman may possibly be willed and bred in the future, but until now it has appeared only as a fortuitous accident of history in the human being who has inherited the supra-abundant power of passion and reason stored up from the experience of generations.
Such a one, (interestingly Nietzsche first applied the term to Lord Byron’s, (1788–1824), ‘Manfred’ not to Byron himself), glimpsed in Julius Caesar, (100 BC — 44 BC), and perhaps Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), in performing ‘his unique deed of self-integration, self-creation, and self-mastery’ overcomes the highest resistance from his epoch and from the ordinary humanity in himself. Just as he redeems his every impulse in the wholeness and sublimity of his own nature, so he believes that likewise every particular may have meaning in the vast macrocosm of nature as a whole. He therefore joyously affirms the fatality allotted him in embracing what is at once the most nihilistic and ‘most scientific of all possible hypotheses’, the eternal return of the same. Simultaneously the overman realizes his full power as the ‘single one’. And this is the only goal that history can have. Kaufmann sees both the overman and the eternal recurrence as denying, equally, indefinite progress and the eternal beyond. Both express the repudiation of any depreciation of the moment, the finite, and the individual. Hence Kaufmann sees Nietzsche’s dual vision, whose focus of attention may appear antithetical in character, as one of complete rational consistency.
‘Nietzsche did not coin the word Übermensch. The hyperanthropos is to be found in the writings of Lucian, in the second century A.D. — and Nietzsche, as a classical philologist, had studied Lucian and made frequent reference to him in his philologica. … Of course, Nietzsche later gave the term a new meaning but one easily overlooks the connotation the word had for him, and the English ‘superman’ is misleading. Nietzsche’s conception depends on the associations of the word über. In the third Meditation he had inquired as to how the individual might be able to give meaning to his life, lest his ‘existence’ remain ‘a thoughtless accident’. His answer had been, in effect, that you should realize your own true self; and the question had then arisen how you can know this true self. This problem was solved by the suggestion that you might consider your ‘educator’ and meditate upon those of his features which you have always loved most. You should then envisage ‘your true self [which] does not lie deeply concealed within you but immeasurably high over you (über dir)’.
- ‘Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist’
Arthur C. Danto, (1924–2013), in ‘Nietzsche as Philosopher’, attempted an analytical assessment of Nietzsche’s philosophy much of it is an indictment of Nietzsche for his inconsistency, vagueness, erroneous assumptions, and rhetorical excesses. Throughout Nietzsche’s books, Danto complains:
‘We know, accordingly, only what has been prearranged to count as knowledge, and we remain forever imprisoned within ramified structures which, like spiders, we have produced ourselves; we must seek cognitive nourishment only on what is sufficiently gross not to pass undetected through the interstices’.
‘There are surprisingly few arguments in Nietzsche’s writings to sustain these conclusions with which, by now, the reader hardly can be unfamiliar. Even when support of one or another sort is offered, it often consists in an appeal to facts about which, outside the context of the argument, Nietzsche could, and sometimes does, raise at least as many doubts. He might, for example, quite savagely impale a given scientific theory through appealing to another which he considers utterly to demolish the first — though in perhaps the same book he will write off the whole of science as fictive, distorting, and irrelevant. One has the sense throughout these books of an irresponsible shifting of ground, and an infuriating skeptical jugglery in which the juggler is part of the whirl he manages to keep aloft through some miraculous feat of light-handedness. The serious reader wants to protest that an impossible trick is not a trick at all, and that irresponsible doubts are neutralized by their very hit-and-miss casualness. Something, one wants to say, must be kept constant, some place to stand must be retained, and it is then only groundless doubt to doubt everything. One might, with equal justification- since justification has been ruled out — believe everything, for there can be no distinction between groundless belief and groundless doubt; it would be as meaningful, perhaps, to say that everything is true as to dramatize everything as false. Nietzsche was in no sense the circumspect epistemologist, retreating, stage by stage, from class to class of propositions, each of which is immune to the doubts that rendered untenable the class before it until, finally, some impregnable position, some doubt-proof sanctuary, is achieved’.
‘Nietzsche sought no such asylum, and he regarded the quest for certainty as a measure of our weakness: ‘Some still have need for metaphysics. But also that violent longing for certainty which expresses itself these days in the scientific-positivistic masses, the longing always to get at something fixed … this is still the longing for a handle and a support, an instinct of weakness which, if it does not create religions, metaphysics, persuasions of every sort, nevertheless conserves them’.’
- ‘Nietzsche as Philosopher’
And yet Nietzsche’s claim that morality belongs to a stage of ignorance in which the concept of reality is lacking, his own perspectivism, ‘the doctrine that there are no facts but only interpretations’ makes this impossible, Danto contends, for Nietzsche himself to distinguish the real from the imaginary. In his teaching about the Übermensch (Overman) Nietzsche leaves singularly unspecific the goal for life that he proclaims. His contrasting of this ideal with the contemporary herd crassly revives the ancient idea that some men and women (now the bulk of humankind) are natural slaves. However, Danto insists, the notion that simply because the common man and woman is not exceptional, he or she is sick, weak, or impotent is ‘as nakedly a fallacious inference as could be drawn’. Again, Nietzsche’s assertion that the strong simply are their acts of strength, when coupled with his denial that the subject is the agent of action, appears to offer a mere triviality of logic as the foundation of a metaphysics of morals. Danto finds Nietzsche’s anti-Darwinism to be based upon little more than a pun, and his counter doctrine, that the weak prevail over the strong, to be manifestly illogical. Furthermore, he considers that Nietzsche, in exhorting the strong to passionate action, is guilty of assuming that the gratuitous causing of suffering is justified by the mere fact of metabolism and that any antisocial impulses can suffice to provide new moral horizons.
For all this, Danto maintains that most of Nietzsche’s irrationality lies not in his thought but in his misuses of language. Although Nietzsche wrote ‘what seem to be bald apologies for and exhortations to lust, cruelty, violence, hatred, and brutality of every sort’, in his approach to morality, through the juxtaposing of reason to passion, he scarcely deviated from a tradition that goes back at least as far as Socrates. Repeatedly he resorted to excessive language in order to drive home his points. Danto believes that out of self-indulgence and self-dramatization he often overestimated the difficulties of his own thinking. On the other hand, his utterances do sometimes verge on the mystical, offering us enigmatic paradoxes, for he was actually groping toward a breakthrough in thought.
Danto states that ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ I represents Nietzsche’s most mature philosophy, He takes as his task the reconstructing of a Nietzschean system that he finds embedded in its aphorisms. That system’s central concept is total nihilism; the recognition that every taking-for-true (für-wahr-halten) is necessarily false; because there is no true world at all. Accepting this insight need not lead to a will to nothingness. Rather it should lead to an embracing of fate, to a Dionysian affirmation of the world just as it is. Precisely this yes-saying to the world as sheer chaos and meaninglessness opens the way to creativity, for it includes the view that the world is an infinity of power quanta whose essential characteristic is the will to overpower an I to resist being overpowered. Danto takes no real cognizance of Nietzsche’s notion of self-overcoming, as intrinsic to the will to power or of Nietzsche’s portrayal of the will to power as a single force coursing through all phenomena. He speaks only of isolated centres of will, each seeking to organize the world solely from its own perspective and each locked in perpetual combat with the rest. The key to creativity is knowing that the only source of form, meaning, and value lies in this contest. In ably propounding this interpretation, Danto continually introduces a metaphysical framework largely alien to Nietzsche’s thinking. Paradoxically enough, this structuring allows a host of Nietzschean pronouncements that fit readily into Danto’s schema simultaneously to qualify Nietzsche as a progenitor of some branch or other of contemporary analytical philosophy.
Albert Camus, in the section of ‘The Rebel’ entitled ‘Nietzsche and Nihilism’, portrays Nietzsche of the period of ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ as the philosopher in whom nihilism becomes conscious:
‘’We deny God, we deny the responsibility of God, it is only thus that we will deliver the world’. With Nietzsche, nihilism seems to become prophetic. But we can draw no conclusions from Nietzsche except the base and mediocre cruelty that he hated with all his strength, unless we give first place in his work — well ahead of the prophet — to the diagnostician. The provisional, methodical — in a word, strategic — character of his thought cannot be doubted for a moment. With him nihilism becomes conscious for the first time. Surgeons have this in common with prophets: they think and operate in terms of the future. Nietzsche never thought except in terms of an apocalypse to come, not in order to extol it, for he guessed the sordid and calculating aspect that this apocalypse would finally assume, but in order to avoid it and to transform it into a renaissance. He recognized nihilism for what it was and examined it like a clinical fact’.
- ‘The Rebel’
Nietzsche was the first complete nihilist of Europe because he refused to evade the outlook common to all people of his time, which was not the simple belief in nothing but, rather, the inability to believe in what exists. Determined to live as a rebel and to destroy everything that kept nihilism from view, Nietzsche made it his mission to bring men to awareness of their lack of faith in God, while simultaneously he attacked the ideals of traditional morality for undermining faith in the world. But the active nihilist who casts out God and the enslavement to moral idols finds, in anguish, that to be without law also is to lack freedom. Rather than live under the servitude of moral anarchy in a world of pure chance, he or she chooses complete subordination to fate. An eager embracing of total necessity becomes his or her definition of freedom. His or her rebellion thus culminates in the asceticism that transforms Karamazov’s ‘If nothing is true, everything is permitted’, (in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, (1821–1881), ‘The Brothers Karamazov), into ‘If nothing is true, nothing is permitted’. And certainly under this deification of fate the individual is annihilated, submerged in the destiny of a species, lost in the vast ordering of the cosmos as a whole, yet through this same acquiescence the individual becomes divine, since he or she participates in the divinity of the world. In saying yes to the world, he or she re-creates the world and him or herself. He or she becomes the great artist-creator:
‘This magnificent consent, born of abundance and fullness of spirit, is the unreserved affirmation of human imperfection and suffering, of evil and murder, of all that is problematic and strange in our existence. It is born of an arrested wish to be what one is in a world that is what it is. ‘To consider oneself a fatality, not to wish to be other than one is … ‘ Nietzschean asceticism, which begins with the recognition of fatality, ends in a deification of fate. The more implacable destiny is, the more it becomes worthy of adoration. A moral God, pity, and love are enemies of fate to the extent that they try to counterbalance it. Nietzsche wants no redemption. The joy of self-realization is the joy of annihilation. But only the individual is annihilated. The movement of rebellion, by which man demanded his own existence, disappears in the individual’s absolute submission to the inevitable. Amor fati replaces what was an odium fati. ‘Every individual collaborates with the entire cosmos, whether we know it or not, whether we want it or not’. The individual is lost in the destiny of the species and the eternal movement of the spheres. ‘Everything that has existed is eternal, the sea throws it back on the shore’.’
- ‘The Rebel’
In this magnificent consent Camus sees something analogous to the Pascalian wager. Blaise Pascal, (1623–1662). Pascal’s wager:
‘’God is, or He is not’. But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions. Do not then reprove for error those who have made a choice; for you know nothing about it. ‘No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all’. Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.- ‘That is very fine. Yes, I must wager; but I may perhaps wager too much’. — Let us see. Since there is an equal risk of gain and of loss, if you had only to gain two lives, instead of one, you might still wager. But if there were three lives to gain, you would have to play (since you are under the necessity of playing), and you would be imprudent, when you are forced to play, not to chance your life to gain three at a game where there is an equal risk of loss and gain. But there is an eternity of life and happiness. And this being so, if there were an infinity of chances, of which one only would be for you, you would still be right in wagering one to win two, and you would act stupidly, being obliged to play, by refusing to stake one life against three at a game in which out of an infinity of chances there is one for you, if there were an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain. But there is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. It is all divided; wherever the infinite is and there is not an infinity of chances of loss against that of gain, there is no time to hesitate, you must give all. And thus, when one is forced to play, he must renounce reason to preserve his life, rather than risk it for infinite gain, as likely to happen as the loss of nothingness’.
This involves a heroic game of mental subterfuge, the lucidity that began by rebelling against illusions ends by finding evasions of its own, and writing during the aftermath of the Nazi atrocities Camus observes that this man who claimed to be the last antipolitical German, in accepting evil as a possible aspect of the good ‘dreamed of tyrants who were artists’. He remained blind to the fact that ‘tyranny comes more naturally than art to mediocre men’. The same Nietzsche who, with his mind only, said yes even to murder, had also to admit that, in fact, he could not bear even to break his word. But the moment Nietzsche said yes to the world as it is, he opened the way to others who could bear to lie and kill and who would actually gain strength from such acts. Originally Nietzsche’s rebellion had been a protest against a lie. His affirmative, ‘forgetful of the original negative, disavows rebellion at the same time that it disavows the ethic that refuses to accept the world as it is’:
‘We also remark that it is not in the Nietzschean refusal to worship idols that murder finds its justification, but in the passionate approbation that distinguishes Nietzsche’s work. To say yes to everything supposes that one says yes to murder. Moreover, it expresses two ways of consenting to murder. If the slave says yes to everything, he consents to the existence of a master and to his own sufferings: Jesus teaches nonresistance. If the master says yes to everything, he consents to slavery and to the suffering of others; and the result is the tyrant and the glorification of murder. ‘Is it not laughable that we believe in a sacred, infrangible law — thou shalt not lie, thou shalt not kill — in an existence characterized by perpetual lying and perpetual murder?’ Actually metaphysical rebellion, in its initial stages, was only a protest against the lie and the crime of existence. The Nietzschean affirmative, forgetful of the original negative, disavows rebellion at the same time that it disavows the ethic that refuses to accept the world as it is. Nietzsche clamored for a Roman Caesar with the soul of Christ. To his mind, this was to say yes to both slave and master. But, in the last analysis, to say yes to both was to give one’s blessing to the stronger of the two — namely, the master. Caesar must inevitably renounce the domination of the mind and choose to rule in the realm of fact’.
- ‘The Rebel’
Nietzsche’s responsibility extends still further. As the solitary man of lucidity, he seemed to assent to the world quite uncomplicatedly just as it was. But accepting the world included accepting history, and accepting history included accepting the will to power as the sole legitimate motivation for human action. ‘Nietzscheanism’, Camus contends, ‘would be nothing without world domination’. Nietzsche, as the prophet of nihilism, knowing its internal logic, foresaw its ascendency and sought to transform the sordid apocalypse that threatened into a renaissance by redirecting it toward a superior type of humanity. Ironically, he could not prevent the free-thinkers whom he detested from taking hold of the will to power for themselves and, through the very logic of nihilism and the doctrines of social emancipation, ushering in their own super-humanity. Thus there are those today, Camus writes, who have connected Nietzsche with Karl Marx, (1818–1883), and who choose to give assent solely to history instead of to the whole of creation. Camus believes that such an alliance could happen only because Nietzsche, like Marx, had replaced the Beyond with the Later-On. Once this great rebel had emancipated himself from God’s prison, his immediate concern was to construct yet another, the prison of history and reason. Sanctioning tyranny, he ended by camouflaging and consecrating the very nihilism that he claimed to have overcome.
And let us not forget that in Hegel’s ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ out of the shape of consciousness that is Scepticism emerges the shape of consciousness that is the Unhappy Consciousness: ‘one which knows that it is the dual consciousness of itself, as self-liberating, unchangeable, and self-identical, and as se1f- bewildering and self-perverting, and it is the awareness of this self-contradictory nature of itself’.
by Karl Maria Kertbeny (1824–1882)
You were my only flower,
you are withered, my life is empty.
You were the shining sun for me,
you have left, I am surrounded by night.
My soul swayed freely,
you are sundered, now I will never fly.
You warmed my very blood,
you have gone, I must succumb to the frost.
Du warst ja meine einz’ge Blume;
Verwelkt bist du — kahl ist mein Leben!
Du warst für mich die strahlende Sonne,
Du schiedst — ich bin von Nacht umgeben!
Warst meiner Phantasie die Schwinge,
Du brachst — ich kann nun nimmer fliegen!
Du warst die Wärme meines Blutes;
Du flohst — ich muß dem Frost erliegen!
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, (1844–1900), ‘Verwelkt’, NWV 24, 1864, voice and piano:-