Note's on Nietzsche's Genealogy
A warning. There is much disagreement in Nietzsche scholarship. For example, some philosophers read him as often being ironic; these philosophers might then read The Genealogy of Morals as offering a kind of reductio ad absurdum of some of the claims he makes in that book. In these notes, I read Nietzsche "straight"--I do not interpret him as being ironic.
A Note on Some of Nietzsche's Common Themes
Nietzsche is not a systems-building philosopher. There are however some themes which unite his work and are common to much of it. These claims include:
- Nature is incomplete at least in the sense that it cannot alone provide purposes which are sufficient. Non-human animals are without worthy purposes, for example. Thus, from Schopenhauer as Educator:usually we fail to emerge out of animality, we ourselves are animals whose suffering seems to be senseless. (Hollingdale translation; 1997: 158)
- Some humans can create values which are worthy, in part by doing something uniquely human. Again, from Schopenhauer as Educator:man is necessary for the redemption of nature from the curse of the life of the animal, and... in him existence at last holds up before itself a mirror in which life appears no longer senseless but in its metaphysical signficance. (Hollingdale translation; 1997: 157)
- A special value would be to assert life -- even if your life were to repeat itself endlessly just as it is. That is, to be able to assert and endorse your life would be a triumph of a kind. (The man who creates ideals and can face the possibility of eternal return is the overman. Antithesis to the overman is the last man, who is comfortable with animal pleasures alone, and who does not bother to even care about these issues.)
- God is dead.
- Christianity is the morality of the slave: it degrades life and praises weakness.
- Democracy is like Christianity in being antithetical to the task of fostering the overman.
- Psychology is a fundamental science, and often our theories are expressions of unconscious motives and beliefs. Philosophical systems are often just expressions of the author's view, for example; and more often yet just expressions of the most pedestrian beliefs of one's time. (However, Nietzsche believes that philosophy has a great and important task: to create value. He only denigrates the idea tha philosophy is a rational, disinterested investigation of things, and also he denigrates philosophers who try to emulate scientists with their indifference to values.)
- The Will to Power is a fundamental drive that can explain much, perhaps all, human endeavors. This is a theme that Nietzsche does not do much to explain; he seems to have meant to work this out more but did not stay healthy long enough to do so.
Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals
Here, Nietzsche uses the term "genealogy" in its fundamental sense: an account (logos) of the genesis of a thing. He is going to offer a theory of the genesis of Christian morality, which he believes is also democratic morality.
His historical analysis is a radical attack on these morals, offering a kind of social and psychological account of why they arose, as a replacement for the Christian story of these ethics being grounded in the will of the Christian god. Nietzsche has an alternative theory of value, which is only implicit in this book, and arises from his views about the will to power. We will discuss this.
Note that Christians, and nearly all if not all theists, tend to implicitly accept what I have called Foundationalism about Purpose. The character of Ivan in Doestoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov expresses this sentiment clearly when he says that if (the Christian) God does not exist, then "all is lawful," by which he means that any old purpose will count as well as any other (which may, given some understandings of "purpose," be just to deny that there are purposes).
In these notes, and in the notes I write on other philosophers and artists, I will save time by sometimes taking N's point of view. This is not an endorsement of his view, but rather a shorthand way to avoid having to write "Nietzsche says..." a thousand times.
First Essay1. The English psychologists are perhaps men like Hobbes and Hume; or, since he is mentioned later in the book, Herbert Spencer. All these philosophers share that they wrote on the origin of morality in terms of historical development.Second Essay
2. N argues the English psychologists have a genealogy of the good that claims our ancestors found some unegotistical acts useful to themselves, and then later "forgot" this self-referring aspect of the usefulness, and just began to call unegotistical acts good. N instead begins with the claim that the concept of good started not as a label for unselfish acts, but rather as a label of distinguishing the noble (in various senses) from those to which the nobles considered themselves superior (N seems to be willing to say, that nobles were in fact superior). It is a later development to associate good with unegotistical acts, and his genealogy is largely concerned to trace this development.
3. N claims the English psychologists' notion that our ancestors "forgot" the self-benefitting aspect of unselfish is ridiculous -- the benefit of an action must be present at all times in order for us to form the habit of calling that action good.
4. N was a philologist (a scholar of languages and their development) by training and (for a short while) by profession. He claims that the etymology of the many various cognates in different languages for "good" all reveal an origin in some notion of being aristocratic and noble. N believes this is compelling evidence for his central claim.
5. N goes on to give some examples of etymological and philological speculations. For example, dark can mean bad and lower in Italy, and blond in Gaelic meant noble and good, because (he claims) the conquerors and rulers of these places at one time were blond haired. (N does not appear to mean to endorse the idea here that being blond is good, but rather just claims that it is a historical fact that these places -- during the relevant period in the development of these terms like "Fin" -- were conquered by blond people.)
6. N admits that good has also included often the concept of pure. He argues that the early rulers, for which the ancestral concepts of our "good" first applied, were sometimes priests. Priests are, N claims here, a bad thing -- they transform rulers into inactive and unhealthy people. But they do also ask interesting questions, and have therefore some benefit (as N implicit understands benefit).
7. Historically, however, there is a split between priest and warrior, and the priests are weak and impotent. As a result, they are overwhelmed with resentment and hate. This resentment and hate was in some ways beneficial, since it generated or allowed for many social and cultural creations (I believe that N's point here is that without this resentful attack on the noble warriors, those noble warriors would have happily spent the next two thousand years jousting and fighting and so on, as opposed to developing other aspects of society like art). He sees the Jews as the victors in a great inversion of values. They were oppressed by warrior nobles (e.g., Romans), and they created the ultimatum revenge of convincing people that warrior nobles and their values were bad, and that being priestly and weak are good.
8. Jesus is the culmination of this inversion of values. The victory of Christianity is the ultimate revenge of the weak over the strong, the slave over the noble, the priestly over the warrior.
9. Christian churches are almost irrelevant now in the spread of this inverted morality, it is so pervasive.
10. "Ressentiment" is N's special or technical term for the resentful, spiteful morality of the slave. He argues that the resentful measure themselves always against others, especially against the nobles. They are reactive, and because they are impotent they harbor festering hatreds. Nobles instead, he claims, are so full of life and purpose that they don't have time to measure themselves against others. Nor do they harbor hatreds -- they act on insults immediately or are too busy accomplishing things to hold onto hatreds. (I find this section problematic. On the one hand, many of us know people who are full of energy and life and plans, and as a result are generous and never petty. Many of us know people who are petty and mean precisely because they really have no good purpose and are jealous of others who do. On the other hand, nobles -- and all human beings, one might suppose -- likely measure themselves against others. Consider: can there be a world where everyone is -- in N's sense of the word -- noble? If N's concept of nobility is essentially comparative, and the noble are those who are better than others, then the nobles are just as externally oriented as the resentful. What is unclear here is whether everyone can be noble -- and, to refer to another concept of Nietzsche's, whether everyone can be a super(wo)man. One way out of this problem for N might be to argue that the features that were recognized as noble are only contingently features of nobility, and rather arise from being independent, self-willed, autonomous, etc. Then they would be elitist features but not necessarily measured against others.)
11. The noble conceive only as an afterthought of "bad," and it plays a minor role in their view. The resentful develop the concept of evil, and it is essential to everything they do. Bad and evil are both the opposite of "good," but bad and evil are different. How is this? One notion of good is the noble. This was the old or original notion. "Bad" refers to its opposite. Another notion, the resentful or slave's notion of good, is weak, unselfish, unassertive. Its opposite is the noble (the other notion of good!), which the weak call "evil." N also argues that the noble are terrible when they leave the bounds of their own society. They are "blond beasts" (Kaufmann argued that Nietzsche meant by this term a lion): they rape, kill, despoil. But this does not mean that the resentful slave morality is beneficial because it cages this blond beast. Rather, we should be willing to live with danger in order to have something noble.
(Sympathetic philosophers have argued that Nietzsche sees the great artist as the best example of the new possible noble. If this is correct, it is unfortunate that his example here of allowing some alternative to a resentful culture is to allow the danger of raping, killing, and pillaging. It may be that Nietzsche's rhetorical style sacrifices precision for flourish and effect. However, in his notes published as The Will to Power, he seems more explicitly to endorse violence as a necessary feature of the great; furthermore, if we set aside the works on Wagner, Nietzsche's praise of warriors far, far outweighs his mention or praise of artists. This makes me suspicious of those who want to make Nietzsche seem nicer than he sounds.)
12. Nietzsche is aware that he will be accused of nihilism (since he denies the values that most hold dear). Here, he argues that there is a nihilism that is growing out of the culture that the resentful slaves have created. This culture suppresses the will to power that he believes creates values.
13. N believes that there is a confusion in much theorizing, in which we posit a reality behind appearance when it is unnecessary to do so. Also, he believes the strong man is the one who does things that require strength. The resentful claim instead that the strong man is capable of doing things that require strength, and can choose not to do them. This is a contradiction for N, but it also allows the resentful to claim that the strong choose to do the things that require strength, and therefore can be said to be accountable for those things. Also, they are thus allowing that they can call someone who never does anything strong, "strong." One might thus claim the weak are somehow "strong." N rejects this. Similarly, the weak adopt the false consciousness that their weakness is a merit. But really, to be weak is to be unable to do things requiring strength. How can this inability be a merit?
14. Nietzsche imagines a kind of festering dark basement of the collective unconscious, where in bad faith the resentful values are made. Here, weakness is called merit, inability to revenge is called forgiving, suffering is called bliss, subjection is called obedience, the longing for retaliation is called longing for justice, and the inability to create a better life here is assuaged with the claim that there is a better life after this one.
15. The gate to Dante's hell is inscribed, "I too was created by eternal love," meaning God's love created even hell, presumably for our benefit. Nietzsche claims the gate to heaven should read, "I too was created by eternal hate," since heaven and the victory of the Christian God over the strong is all the product of the hateful spite of the weak. As evidence of this claim, he offers a disturbing phrase from Saint Thomas: "the blessed in heaven will see the punishment of the damned in order that their bliss may be more great." He then quotes at great length from Tertullian. This passage from Tertullian is very striking in light of Nietzsche's earlier claims. We might, of course, doubt: that the passage is representative of Christian morality; whether Tertullian was a typical Christian; or that Tertullian had or otherwise was influenced by a resentful slave mentality. Tertullian's early writings, including this one, are widely considered by scholars of Catholicism to be orthodox, acceptable, important early Christian works.
16. The battle of the resentful and the noble is the battle of the Judaic heritage against the Romans, and the Romans lost.
17. Nietzsche's book prior to this one was Beyond Good and Evil, and we are to note here that this is not to say beyond good and bad (that is, not: beyond the noble and the ignoble), but rather beyond the resentful opposition of the weak (who call themselves "good") to the strong (which the weak call "evil").1. Humans are unique because they have the ability to plan for the future, and so to make promises. Related to this is having the ability to forget. Here N precedes Freud, and it is not hard to see why Freud greatly respected N: the idea of active forgetting is the predecessor to the Freud's idea of sublimation, of people actively suppressing parts of themselves (though I am not claiming N is a Freudian!).Third Essay
2. The arising of the ability to make promises required, N claims, a kind of predictability and regularity to human beings. Today, we express a similar notion by saying the evolution of social coordination requires the arising of certain conventions; driving on the right side of the road, for example. But then N goes farther: he argues that the free man is the one who doesn't just blindly follow conventions, but rather one who can chose to obey some norm or covenant. This makes some sense: there is no promise given in acting habitually. The smoker does not promise to smoke. But problematic is N's notion of "will." This is an essential part of Christian metaphysics, and N tries to seize and transmute it into a fundamental principle. I'm not sure how to reconcile it with his comments in Part I section 13 -- to be strong is to do strong things, not to have something that causes or "lies behind" those events, such as a strong will.
3. Conscience is the awareness by the free man of his will power and his "dominating instinct" (the drive of will to power). N sees a historical question in how conscience and the ability to keep promises arose. He speculates that pain is important to this, since pain helps us form memories -- we can read him here I think as saying something rather common-sensical: that pain conditions us. But he suggests also that a civilized society has then a history of pain and punishment. Today, prison and other punishments are "present realities," that is current threats, which are necessary to motivate the weak (the "slave of momentary affect [emotion] and desire").
4. We think today that people are punished because they could have done otherwise. But this is a late concept, N claims. Rather, punishment arose as a kind of economic-style exchange. One was hurt, and then paid back that hurt in kind.
5. But what is exchanged, what is the payment given, in recompense for some wrong? The wronged person gets to enjoy the pleasure of being cruel, arising from the pleasure of being (for a short while, perhaps) of seeming higher status than the sufferer.
6. All civilization is based on this principle, N claims. We enjoy seeing, and causing, suffering. It is essential to festival.
7. But N thinks our time, not the past in which cruelty was nakedly enjoyed, is the worse time. He sees in our time a dislike of life and living -- it seems here he means that in denouncing cruelty, since cruelty is part of life and civilization, we are denouncing living. (I find this unconvincing romanticism of the gladiatorial ring.) OK, so there is a part here that appears disgraceful. Kaufmann and others attempt vigorously to argue N is not a racist (few deny he was sexist). Here, N's defenders will likely say that he does not really endorse the view that he articulates regarding "negroes" as "representatives of prehistoric man." You judge.
We may not like suffering, but we feel compelled to give it sense. One classical way to do this was to interpret suffering as having purpose for the causer or viewer (it pleases them). For this reason, we invented the gods so that they observe every instance of suffering without a human viewer or cause, and thus make it sensible: it was caused or at least observed by a god.
8. N claims exchange, buying and selling, is the most primitive form of human interaction, and that other (later) forms are shaped by it if not sprung from it.
9, 10. Communities punish malefactors because they harm the community. But as communities grow more stable, they are less violent in this punishment, since they are less threatened by it. This is why punishments grow less severe over time. Mercy then in a sense transcend, is "beyond," the law.
11. Contrary to what some have argued, the law and punishment do not arise from ressentiment. The most lawful have been the strong, who are also people who most lack ressentiment. (One might suppose that N is thinking here of the ancient Romans.) Ressentiment does motivate anti-semites and anarchists. Justice arises after law.
12. This is a very rich section and much can be said about it. Ostensibly, it is about how we must separate the purpose of punishment from its origin. And Nietzsche's point here is very insightful: he observes that either a custom or an organ can have a purpose quite different than the purpose it originally (that is, first) served.
This is quite interesting because it appears that only much more recently has this kind of claim been well understood about evolution (I may be wrong, and would appreciate being set aright: was exaption widely recognized in N's time?). Our best biological theory of the bones in the mammal ear, for example, is that they were part of the jaw of a common ancestor. Pointing to these bones and saying that they are for chewing food (perhaps their original purpose) would be obviously to miss their purpose now. And N is making this very point -- although he is not concerned to defend or take this as part of evolutionary theory. His attack here on Herbert Spencer (a philosopher who tried to apply evolutionary theory very broadly, leading him to endorse for example eugenics) shows his impatience at least with the most simplistic kind of philosophical use of evolutionary theory.
Nietzsche sees this as part of the will to power. If we read N biologically, then this suggests an overlooked and very tidy interpretation of power (which is a very mysterious thing in Nietzsche). Power might be the name we (should) give to the state in which some purposes are subject to others. Thus, if Jones does the things he does because it serves the purposes of Smith (perhaps Jones is a slave, or is paid a wage), then Smith has power (over Jones) because it is his purposes, and not those of Jones, that are determining why the relevant activities occur. Something similar could be said for organs -- if the purpose of these special jaw bones was once to chew food, any such function it might have done is long subservient to the purpose of hearing. Power could then be defined as the ordered relation between purposes: those purposes which are fulfilled only to serve some other purpose are less powerful than those purposes they serve.
But N is not defending (at least, not here) a biological view. He insists that the will to power is a metaphysical principle (we can understand this to mean at least that the principle applies more broadly than any biological claims do -- for example, things other than the organisms studied in biology might exhibit the will to power). Later we will discuss Heidegger's lectures on Nietzsche. There, Heidegger reads the will to power as a fundamental feature of all Being (and Nietzsche sometimes says things like this).
I remain tempted to read this semi-biologically: the will to power might be some metaphysical, almost logical (by which I mean, having to do with the fundamental possible structure of things), principle -- but still best understood in biological terms. One might say, our universe is structured in such a way that complex things exhibit purposes (living things are the prime example), and these purposes can be related through relations of power, and that the will to power is the tendency of things with purposes to have also the purpose of having more power.
13. Punishment evolved as a social custom for many different reasons, and so today any justification of punishment is going to be ad hoc, coming along after the fact that we have this institution, and defending it with various made-up reasons. N gives a list of reasons that have been offered to justify punishment -- none is "right" or "best," he is arguing.
14. Punishment does not succeed (at least, not well) in instilling bad conscience, or the sense of guilt.
15. Punishments tames men.
16. Here N proposes ideas which, again, influenced (or miraculously predict) Freud. He supposes that our purposes which are suppressed by society still have a kind of force, and this force must "turn inward." This is what we now call the soul: the hostility we show to our own unsocial urges. (I find N's claims that this is unique unconvincing, however. Many kinds of social animals exist -- surely they all have inhibitions which exercise on them. Watch wolves to find many examples.)
17. N rejects contract theory as sentimental: the state began with "blond beasts," conquerors subjecting another people. The subjected retain their instinct for freedom, and they ultimately "discharge it" upon themselves through the bad conscience.
18. Something new arises out of this self-subjection, however. Artists treat themselves as something to be shaped. They assert their freedom through control over themselves. But selflessness then is the old delight in cruelty over others, turned now into delight in cruelty against one's self.
19-23. N offers some anthropological speculation. The ancients understood debt, and felt a debt that only grew for their ancestors. This debt ultimately is realized by seeing the ancestors as gods or God.
24-25. Here the hint of the Ubermensch, the overman, that N hopes will arise and which is discussed most extensively in Thus Spake Zarathustra. The overman will be able to escape the problems of theism while still asserting values (escaping nihilism).....
A Few Notes about the Will to Power, The Overman, Eternal Return, and the Aesthetic Reading of Nietzsche
The Genealogy is an accessible work by N, and one that is not too long to squeeze in before Being and Time, but it does leave unstated two important elements of N's thought: the concept of the will to power, of the Ubermensch, and of eternal return.
Before we turn to those, let me point out something useful that Heidegger (in his lectures on Nietzsche) observes, and that may be helpful if you read more Nietzsche. First, it is important to understand that Nietzsche often uses the term "truth" to mean the other "real" world that Plato and then Christianity posited. For Plato or a Christian, the everyday world is a kind of deception, and another immutable world that we fail to see is the true world. Nietzsche denies this, but he sometimes does so by saying that he rejects "truth." Second, Nietzsche sometimes uses the term "morality" in a similar way. It is not quite clear to me what Nietzsche's morality is, but he certainly is not rejecting the idea of morality in the broadest sense of the word (this we know, for example, because he accepts that there can be purpose, and some morals follow directly from any purpose). So, when he opposes "morality" he is rejecting Christian and related moralities, especially when they are based upon the idea of a "true" world behind this false world of appearance. He may also be rejecting anything like the traditional notions of morality, as complete and final sets of rules for living.
- Will to Power. Nietzsche's Theory of Value.
One of N's most difficult concepts is "will to power." He sees all of life as characterized by will to power -- by the seeking to realize goals and to dominate others if necessary to better realize these goals. Also, N often talks of this in biological terms -- he wants a "physiological" approach, he is fond of saying in his notes The Will to Power.
This will to power is not only essential to life, but it also is the source of all values. Values don't come from god (god is dead, N famously proclaimed) or from pleasure (N has infinite contempt for John Stuart Mill) or from another "true" world beyond this one or from any of the other places philosophers have argued it comes from. Rather, values are just the expression of will to power. Thus, if we are to have values, we must have and express our will to power.
Furthermore, Nietzsche believes that our current "morality" is false: it is the false cover we put on the will to power that we have which is primarily a fundamental biological drive. That is what we saw in N's history in The Geneology of Morals: the weak acted out of ressentiment, out of a desire to find some way to assert themselves over the great, and that is the source of Christianity and its ethics. This is crucial: before we can question N's ethic, before we can ask what does N offer in place of our ethics, we must recognize that he is not criticizing our ethics as inferior or otherwise flawed. He is rather saying our ethics is misleading. It does not require defense because no one in a position to properly defend it believes it or acts on it. Those who are moved by it are slaves -- those who made it, manipulators grasping for power.
The overman is the man who knows that will to power produces all our values, and sees also the lie in our "moralities," and aggressively seeks to express his will to power in a creative and novel way, creatin something uniquely personal, uniquely human, and which can give value to others. (I say "man" because N's sexism is so complete as to be ridiculous.) N clearly means that the overman will do great, unusual, difficult things. His ideal then is that there will be a few people (he appears to believe that there can never be more than a few), a kind of elite or nobility, that transforms the world by giving it great purposes (it may be that the rest of us will simply follows these purposes, grateful to have purposes, and we will call these purposes "virtue" or "morality," never admitting their true origin or motivation).
- Eternal Return.
Christianity says "no" to this world -- it posits another "true" world behind this one. We escape this world if we die and are saved, and then we see all that is false in this world, and we see why there is evil, and so on. But N denies this, and wants to assert an alternative. He conceives this alternative as saying "yes" to this world -- this sensual, "false" world.
His radical way to do this is the concept of eternal return. (Nietzsche tries to argue that eternal return is a real possibility, but I think he did not need that -- his point is sufficient as a thought experiment.) Imagine that this universe is all there is, and that it repeats itself endlessly: at the end of time there is the beginning of time, and all happens again exactly as before. There is no escaping this world, no "true" world behind it. If you can say "yes" then to your life, knowing that it will happen forever the same way again and again, knowing there is nothing behind or beyond it, then you will be (or, at least, you'll be on the way to being) the overman, the one who can say yes to this world and assert values in it.
- Is Nietzsche still a Foundationalist about Purpose? Aesthetics.
For the philosopher, this raise the question: does N believe it is possible to rank values? (And thus, ultimately, to offer some as the "right" way to live?) Now, it is very important to be clear that I don't mean that N does not explain why Christian values are not better than other values. N believes he has deflated Christian values by showing both that they are false (god is dead) and that they are resentment cloaked in fake but attractive metaphysics. But we might still offer alternatives. To keep the case simple: what if we believe that people are better off if everyone gets to exercise their will to power? Why can't there be a socialist/democratic will-to-power ethic? (N hated both socialism and modern democracy, seeing them as the expressions of the herd instinct.) Why are the great purposes of the overman better than (N does not say they are, but he clearly believes they are) the trivial purposes of the last man? It is not enough to say they are difficult and unique and authentic and challenging and can give purpose to many others -- why are these properties better than the alternatives?
N has several values he encourages us to share: that we should seek to be honest (to have authenticity) and thus unique; that we should strive to do what only humans can do (and thus be more than "mere animals." He rejects modern democracy because he believes the state grows in power and exerts a homogenizing influence, thus undermining authenticity and striving.
I believe that N gives us a kind of portrait of his vision and his hopes for human purpose, and though he may be able to consistently reject (in some sense) some values by arguing that they are fake ("morality"), he still seems to be a foundationalist about purpose.
Now, in at least one place in The Will to Power, N suggests that choosing his ethic is just a matter of aesthetics -- that he is merely encouraging us to see things his way. In the world of the overman that he imagines, things will be more diverse, more daring and bold -- and doesn't that sound more beautiful? If that is the sum of his value theory, then we might say that he has rejected foundationalism about purpose -- or, instead, we might say he has accepted it, concluded there is no foundation, and so offered in its stead something similar to but distinct from traditional, foundationalist value theory. I'm not sure which to conclude.
Regardless, Nietzsche always seems to believe that the loss of our traditional foundations is a great challenge, if not a catastrophe.
Nietzsche, F. (1997) Schopenhauer as Educator, in Untimely Meditations. Edited by Daniel Breazeale, and translated by R. J. Hollingdale. Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
We are unknown, we knowers, ourselves to ourselves: this has its own good reason. We have never searched for ourselves—how should it then come to pass, that we should ever find ourselves? Rightly has it been said: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Our treasure is there, where stand the hives of our knowledge. It is to those hives that we are always striving; as born creatures of flight, and as the honey-gatherers of the spirit, we care really in our hearts only for one thing—to bring something "home to the hive!"
As far as the rest of life with its so-called "experiences" is concerned, which of us has even sufficient serious interest? or sufficient time? In our dealings with such points of life, we are, I fear, never properly to the point; to be precise, our heart is not there, and certainly not our ear. Rather like one who, delighting in a divine distraction, or sunken in the seas of his own soul, in whose ear the clock has just thundered with all its force its twelve strokes of noon, suddenly wakes up, and asks himself, "What has in point of fact just struck?" so do we at times rub after-wards, as it were, our puzzled ears, and ask in complete astonishment and complete embarrassment, "Through what have we in point of fact just lived?" further, "Who are we in point of fact?" and count, after they have struck, as I have explained, all the twelve throbbing beats of the clock of our experience, of our life, of our being—ah!—and count wrong in the endeavour. Of necessity we remain strangers to ourselves, we understand ourselves not, in ourselves we are bound to be mistaken, for of us holds good to all eternity the motto, "Each one is the farthest away from himself"—as far as ourselves are concerned we are not "knowers."
My thoughts concerning the genealogy of our moral prejudices—for they constitute the issue in this polemic— have their first, bald, and provisional expression in that collection of aphorisms entitled Human, all-too-Human, a Book for Free Minds, the writing of which was begun in Sorrento, during a winter which allowed me to gaze over the broad and dangerous territory through which my mind had up to that time wandered. This took place in the winter of 1876-77; the thoughts themselves are older.
They were in their substance already the same thoughts which I take up again in the following treatises:—we hope that they have derived benefit from the long interval, that they have grown riper, clearer, stronger, more complete. The fact, however, that I still cling to them even now, that in the meanwhile they have always held faster by each other, have, in fact, grown out of their original shape and into each other, all this strengthens in my mind the joyous confidence that they must have been originally neither separate disconnected capricious nor sporadic phenomena, but have sprung from a common root, from a fundamental "fiat" of knowledge, whose empire reached to the soul's depth, and that ever grew more definite in its voice, and more definite in its demands. That is the only state of affairs that is proper in the case of a philosopher.
We have no right to be "disconnected"; we must neither err "disconnectedly" nor strike the truth "disconnectedly." Rather with the necessity with which a tree bears its fruit, so do our thoughts, our values, our Yes's and No's and If's and Whether's, grow connected and interrelated, mutual witnesses of one will, one health, one kingdom, one sun—as to whether they are to your taste, these fruits of ours?—But what matters that to the trees? What matters that to us, us the philosophers?
Owing to a scrupulosity peculiar to myself, which I confess reluctantly,—it concerns indeed morality,—a scrupulosity, which manifests itself in my life at such an early period, with so much spontaneity, with so chronic a persistence and so keen an opposition to environment, epoch, precedent, and ancestry that I should have been almost entitled to style it my "â priori"—my curiosity and my suspicion felt themselves betimes bound to halt at the question, of what in point of actual fact was the origin of our "Good" and of our "Evil." Indeed, at the boyish age of thirteen the problem of the origin of Evil already haunted me: at an age "when games and God divide one's heart," I devoted to that problem my first childish attempt at the literary game, my first philosophic essay— and as regards my infantile solution of the problem, well, I gave quite properly the honour to God, and made him the father of evil. Did my own "â priori" demand that precise solution from me? that new, immoral, or at least "amoral" "â priori" and that "categorical imperative" which was its voice (but, oh! how hostile to the Kantian article, and how pregnant with problems!), to which since then I have given more and more attention, and indeed what is more than attention. Fortunately I soon learned to separate theological from moral prejudices, and I gave up looking for a supernatural origin of evil. A certain amount of historical and philological education, to say nothing of an innate faculty of psychological discrimination par excellence succeeded in transforming almost immediately my original problem into the following one:—Under what conditions did Man invent for himself those judgments of values, "Good" and "Evil"? And what intrinsic value do they possess in themselves? Have they up to the present hindered or advanced human well-being? Are they a symptom of the distress, impoverishment, and degeneration of Human Life? Or, conversely, is it in them that is manifested the fulness, the strength, and the will of Life, its courage, its self-confidence, its future? On this point I found and hazarded in my mind the most diverse answers, I established distinctions in periods, peoples, and castes, I became a specialist in my problem, and from my answers grew new questions, new investigations, new conjectures, new probabilities; until at last I had a land of my own and a soil of my own, a whole secret world growing and flowering, like hidden gardens of whose existence no one could have an inkling—oh, how happy are we, we finders of knowledge, provided that we know how to keep silent sufficiently long.
My first impulse to publish some of my hypotheses concerning the origin of morality I owe to a clear, well-written, and even precocious little book, in which a perverse and vicious kind of moral philosophy (your real English kind) was definitely presented to me for the first time; and this attracted me—with that magnetic attraction, inherent in that which is diametrically opposed and antithetical to one's own ideas. The title of the book was The Origin of the Moral Emotions; its author, Dr. Paul Rée; the year of its appearance, 1877. I may almost say that I have never read anything in which every single dogma and conclusion has called forth from me so emphatic a negation as did that book; albeit a negation untainted by either pique or intolerance. I referred accordingly both in season and out of season in the previous works, at which I was then working, to the arguments of that book, not to refute them—for what have I got to do with mere refutations—but substituting, as is natural to a positive mind, for an improbable theory one which is more probable, and occasionally no doubt for one philosophic error another. In that early period I gave, as I have said, the first public expression to those theories of origin to which these essays are devoted, but with a clumsiness which I was the last to conceal from myself, for I was as yet cramped, being still without a special language for these special subjects, still frequently liable to relapse and to vacillation. To go into details, compare what I say in Human, all-too-Human, part i., about the parallel early history of Good and Evil, Aph. 45 (namely, their origin from the castes of the aristocrats and the slaves); similarly, Aph. 136 et seq., concerning the birth and value of ascetic morality; similarly, Aphs. 96, 99, vol. ii., Aph. 89, concerning the Morality of Custom, that far older and more original kind of morality which is toto cælo different from the altruistic ethics (in which Dr. Ree, like all the English moral philosophers, sees the ethical "Thing-initself"); finally, Aph. 92. Similarly, Aph. 26 in Human, all-too-Human, part ii., and Aph. 112, the Dawn of Day, concerning the origin of Justice as a balance between persons of approximately equal power (equilibrium as the hypothesis of all contract, consequently of all law); similarly, concerning the origin of Punishment, Human, all-too-Human, part ii., Aphs. 22, 23, in regard to which the deterrent object is neither essential nor original (as Dr. Ree thinks:—rather is it that this object is only imported, under certain definite conditions, and always as something extra and additional).
In reality I had set my heart at that time on something much more important than the nature of the theories of myself or others concerning the origin of morality (or, more precisely, the real function from my view of these theories was to point an end to which they were one among many means). The issue for me was the value of morality, and on that subject I had to place myself in a state of abstraction, in which I was almost alone with my great teacher Schopenhauer, to whom that book, with all its passion and inherent contradiction (for that book also was a polemic), turned for present help as though he were still alive. The issue was, strangely enough, the value of the "unegoistic" instincts, the instincts of pity, self-denial, and self-sacrifice which Schopenhauer had so persistently painted in golden colours, deified and etherealised, that eventually they appeared to him, as it were, high and dry, as "intrinsic values in themselves," on the strength of which he uttered both to Life and to himself his own negation. But against these very instincts there voiced itself in my soul a more and more fundamental mistrust, a scepticism that dug ever deeper and deeper: and in this very instinct I saw the great danger of mankind, its most sublime temptation and seduction—seduction to what? to nothingness?—in these very instincts I saw the beginning of the end, stability, the exhaustion that gazes backwards, the will turning against Life, the last illness announcing itself with its own mincing melancholy: I realised that the morality of pity which spread wider and wider, and whose grip infected even philosophers with its disease, was the most sinister symptom of our modern European civilisation; I realised that it was the route along which that civilisation slid on its way to—a new Buddhism?—a European Buddhism?—Nihilism? This exaggerated estimation in which modern philosophers have held pity, is quite a new phenomenon: up to that time philosophers were absolutely unanimous as to the worthlessness of pity. I need only mention Plato, Spinoza, La Rochefoucauld, and Kant—four minds as mutually different as is possible, but united on one point; their contempt of pity.
This problem of the value of pity and of the pity-morality (I am an opponent of the modern infamous emasculation of our emotions) seems at the first blush a mere isolated problem, a note of interrogation for itself; he, however, who once halts at this problem, and learns how to put questions, will experience what I experienced:—a new and immense vista unfolds itself before him, a sense of potentiality seizes him like a vertigo, every species of doubt, mistrust, and fear springs up, the belief in morality, nay, in all morality, totters,—finally a new demand voices itself. Let us speak out this new demand: we need a critique of moral values, the value of these values is for the first time to be called into question—and for this purpose a knowledge is necessary of the conditions and circumstances out of which these values grew, and under which they experienced their evolution and their distortion (morality as a result, as a symptom, as a mask, as Tartuffism, as disease, as a misunderstanding; but also morality as a cause, as a remedy, as a stimulant, as a fetter, as a drug), especially as such a knowledge has neither existed up to the present time nor is even now generally desired. The value of these "values" was taken for granted as an indisputable fact, which was beyond all question. No one has, up to the present, exhibited the faintest doubt or hesitation in judging the "good man" to be of a higher value than the "evil man," of a higher value with regard specifically to human progress, utility, and prosperity generally, not forgetting the future. What? Suppose the converse were the truth! What? Suppose there lurked in the "good man" a symptom of retrogression, such as a danger, a temptation, a poison, a narcotic, by means of which the present battened on the future! More comfortable and less risky perhaps than its opposite, but also pettier, meaner! So that morality would really be saddled with the guilt, if the maximum potentiality of the power and splendour of the human species were never to be attained? So that really morality would be the danger of dangers?
Enough, that after this vista had disclosed itself to me, I myself had reason to search for learned, bold, and industrious colleagues (I am doing it even to this very day). It means traversing with new clamorous questions, and at the same time with new eyes, the immense, distant, and completely unexplored land of morality—of a morality which has actually existed and been actually lived! and is this not practically equivalent to first discovering that land? If, in this context, I thought, amongst others, of the aforesaid Dr. Ree, I did so because I had no doubt that from the very nature of his questions he would be compelled to have recourse to a truer method, in order to obtain his answers. Have I deceived myself on that score? I wished at all events to give a better direction of vision to an eye of such keenness and such impartiality. I wished to direct him to the real history of morality, and to warn him, while there was yet time, against a world of English theories that culminated in the blue vacuum of heaven. Other colours, of course, rise immediately to one's mind as being a hundred times more potent than blue for a genealogy of morals:—for instance, grey, by which I mean authentic facts capable of definite proof and having actually existed, or, to put it shortly, the whole of that long hieroglyphic script (which is so hard to decipher) about the past history of human morals. This script was unknown to Dr. Ree; but he had read Darwin:—and so in his philosophy the Darwinian beast and that pink of modernity, the demure weakling and dilettante, who "bites no longer," shake hands politely in a fashion that is at least instructive, the latter exhibiting a certain facial expression of refined and good-humoured indolence, tinged with a touch of pessimism and exhaustion; as if it really did not pay to take all these things—I mean moral problems—so seriously. I, on the other hand, think that there are no subjects which pay better for being taken seriously; part of this payment is, that perhaps eventually they admit of being taken gaily. This gaiety, indeed, or, to use my own language, this joyful wisdom, is a payment; a payment for a protracted, brave, laborious, and burrowing seriousness, which, it goes without saying. is the attribute of but a few. But on that day on which we say from the fullness of our hearts, "Forward! our old morality too is fit material for Comedy, we shall have discovered a new plot, and a new possibility for the Dionysian drama entitled The Soul's Fate—and he will speedily utilise it, one can wager safely, he, the great ancient eternal dramatist of the comedy of our existence.
If this writing be obscure to any individual, and jar on his ears, I do not think that it is necessarily I who am to blame. It is clear enough, on the hypothesis which I presuppose, namely, that the reader has first read my previous writings and has not grudged them a certain amount of trouble: it is not, indeed, a simple matter to get really at their essence. Take, for instance, my Zarathustra; I allow no one to pass muster as knowing that book, unless every single word therein has at some time wrought in him a profound wound, and at some time exercised on him a profound enchantment: then and not till then can he enjoy the privilege of participating reverently in the halcyon element, from which that work is born, in its sunny brilliance, its distance, its spaciousness, its certainty. In other cases the aphoristic form produces difficulty, but this is only because this form is treated too casually. An aphorism properly coined and cast into its final mould is far from being "deciphered" as soon as it has been read; on the contrary, it is then that it first requires to be expounded—of course for that purpose an art of exposition is necessary. The third essay in this book provides an example of what is offered, of what in such cases I call exposition: an aphorism is prefixed to that essay, the essay itself is its commentary. Certainly one quality which nowadays has been best forgotten—and that is why it will take some time yet for my writings to become readable—is essential in order to practise reading as an art—a quality for the exercise of which it is necessary to be a cow, and under no circumstances a modern man!—rumination.
- Sils-Maria, Upper Engadine,
- July, 1887.