Friday, October 31, 2014

On Beyond Good and Evil: Part One

Note: All quotes are from my slightly more modern translation of Beyond Good and Evil dated 1998.

Section One of Beyond Good and Evil is entitled "On the Prejudices of Philosophers." Essentially, Nietzsche argues that the traditional approach to philosophy is all wrong.  Past philosophers have taken for granted an "instinct for knowledge" (Kaufmann translates this as "drive for knowledge") that is too restrictive when considering the vast forces in play that philosophy attempts to define and contemplate.  "Thus," he writes, "I do not believe that an 'instinct for knowledge' is the father of philosophy, but rather that here as elsewhere a different instinct has merely made use of knowledge (and kNOwledge) as its tool." (Aphorism 6, the strange spelling by the translator reflects Nietzsche's often joking play on words which, in this case, means "misunderstanding".)

Nietzsche critiques traditional metaphysical approaches as too narrow and based upon incomplete value judgments.  In other words, there is more to the philosophical quest than the quest for knowledge and understanding.  Philosophy up to now has limited itself to a tyrannically singular drive when, in truth, there are other forces are at work.  Somewhat equating instinct (drive) with common human willpower, he writes: "let us say that in every act of willing there is first of all a multiplicity of feelings..." The person who wills "...is commanding a Something in himself that obeys, or that thinks he is obeying." (19) What is being obeyed?  What is the "different instinct" besides the drive for knowledge itself that is the "father of philosophy?"  It is none other than the "evolutionary theory of the will to power." (22, Nietzsche's emphasis)

The section concludes most importantly with the interesting contention that psychology is now the superior route to contextualizing the quest for knowledge and understanding, the issue of human instinctual behavior and willpower, claiming that "Never yet has a deeper world of insight been opened to bold travelers and adventurers...psychology be recognized once again as the queen of the sciences, which other sciences exist to serve and anticipate.  For psychology has once again become the way to basic issues." (23)

"The Free Spirit" is the work's second section, wherein Nietzsche attempts to define a style of living or a posture toward life that is superior to traditional philosophical inquiry.  Of special significance is that this style is an inspirational way to live.  "There are heights of the soul from which vantage point even tragedy ceases to have a tragic effect; and taking all pain of the world together, who could dare to decide whether the sight of it should necessarily seduce and coerce us to feel pity in particular, thus redoubling the pain?  What serves to nourish and refresh the higher type of person must be almost poison to a very diverse and inferior type." (30)

Here Nietzsche argues against the almost universal prejudice that truth must lead, basically, to human goodness or happiness.  I personally find this one of the most compelling aspects to his philosophy.  "Happiness and virtue cannot be used as arguments.  But we like to forget, even the thoughtful spirits among us, that whatever makes us unhappy or evil can no more be used as a counter-argument.  Something might be true, even if it is also harmful and dangerous in the highest degree; indeed, it might be part of the essential nature of existence that to understand it completely would lead to our own destruction.  The strength of a person's spirit would then be measured by how much 'truth' he could tolerate, or more precisely, to what extent he needs to have it diluted, disguised, sweetened, muted, falsified." (39) Questioning this prejudice that human contentment and peace is at the core of infinite truth is unsettling but worthy and relevant and a startlingly pertinent skepticism.  This is Nietzsche at his finest.

Not all free spirits are equal.  Some weaker ones attempt to follow this philosophic prejudice of goodness and happiness.  "What they are trying with all their strength to achieve is a common green pasture of happiness for the herd, with safety, security, comfort, ease of life for everyone;  their two most often recited tunes and teachings are 'Equal rights' and 'Compassion for all suffering' - and they take suffering itself as something that must be eliminated....the plant 'human being'...we are of the opinion that this has always happened under the opposite conditions: that the precariousness of the plant's situation had first to increase enormously; that its power of invention and disguise (its 'spirit') had to become subtle and dating through long periods of pressure and discipline; that its life-will had to be intensified into an unconditional power-will." (44)

By equating human experience as a type of flora Nietzsche is pointing out the dynamic aspect of the human condition while simultaneously placing human life in its proper context, as nothing special on this earth, as just another life form with commonality to lowly vegetative matter.  Plants do not "think" and yet are just as philosophically relevant as humans.  This further serves his purpose of undermining the "tyranny" of rationality and emotion in the quest for legitimate truth.

The third section, "The Religious Disposition," expands the critique beyond philosophy to the domain of religion.  Of course, Nietzsche defines all religious understanding as a "naïveté" and as a "neurosis" which leads to little of value to higher free spirits.  Nevertheless, religion is invaluable to the common herd of humanity, bringing contentment to them.  This contentment is ruinous to the higher being, but absolutely necessary for the herd.  "There is perhaps nothing so admirable about Christianity and Buddhism as their skill in showing even the lowliest people how piety can place them within an illusionary higher order of things and this enables them to remain content with the real order, within which they certainly live a harsh (and harshness is exactly what is needed!) life." (61)

A section of short aphorisms entitled "Epigrams and Interludes" follows.  These are mostly random ideas probably jotted down in his pocket notepad during his frequent long afternoon walks and hikes.  There are several among them of an erotic nature, indicating this ancillary thread of Nietzsche was still somewhat prominent even in 1886.  "The degree and nature of a person's sexuality extends into the highest pinnacle of his spirit." (75) "The tremendous anticipation of sexual love and the shame in this anticipation spoil any sense of perspective in women from the start." (114) "The feeling of the tragic decreases and increases along with sensuality." (155) "Ultimately, it is the desire, not the desired, that we love." (175)

But there is also one of those "sound bite" moments that Nietzsche tends of have in his greatest works:  "Anyone who fights with monsters should take care that he does not in the process become a monster.  And if you gaze too long into an abyss, the abyss gazes back into you." (146)  A cold, clear assessment from the razor's edge.  Don't become the monster you are fighting.  Realize the abyss is a force that can see you.  Both of these are very profound and highly relevant pieces of advice for expressing a higher cultural style.

"Towards a Natural History of Morals" touches upon the Master-Slave Morality that will dominate Nietzsche's next book.  It is part of the prejudice of philosophers that morality itself has never been seen as "problematic", that is, philosophy addresses defined moral problems but no one questions the general worth of so-called morality principles.  Traditional morals have historically been a "constraint of the spirit" holding humanity back from its full expression and potential for new values.  Instead, we live in "an age of disintegration."

"Certain strong and dangerous instincts, such as adventurousness, recklessness, vengefulness, slyness, rapacity, lust for power, were previously not only honored (by names other than the ones above, of course) as beneficial to the community, but they also had to be cultivated and bred, because people continually had need of them in their common danger against common enemies.  But now (when there are no drainage channels for them) these same instincts are felt to be doubly dangerous and are gradually stigmatized and slandered as immoral." (201)

"When an individual's highest and strongest instincts break forth with a passion, driving him far above and beyond the average, beyond the lowlands of the herd conscience, the community's self-regard is destroyed as a result; its beliefs in itself, its backbone, so to speak, is shattered: and that is why people do well to stigmatize and slander just these instincts above all.  Exalted, self-directed spirituality, a will to solitude, even great powers of reason are felt as a danger; everything that raises an individual above the herd and causes his neighbor to fear him is henceforth called evil; a proper, modest, conforming, equalizing mentality, what is average on the scale gains a moral name and respect." (201)

Against this vast force of modernity Nietzsche cries for revaluation of every moral foundation.  Bold "new philosophers" will "reverse 'eternal values'" and "forge the necessary link to force a thousand-year-old will onto new tracks.  They will teach humans that their future is their will, that the future depends upon human will, and they will prepare the way for great risk-taking and joint experiments in discipline and breeding in order to put an end to that terrible reign of nonsense and coincidence that until now has been known as 'history'." (203)  Nietzsche might seem naive here believing that a class of free spirits will rise up and create higher culture.  But, when we recall that in this book Nietzsche uses "philosophy" in a reevaluated sense to encompass "psychology" and even aesthetics, then we understand that he is not talking about philosophers as great academic teachers or writers.  That is the tyranny which must be overcome.  He is talking about new values created through new ways of expressing higher philosophy.

Exactly who these "new philosophers" are is the subject of Section Six, "We Scholars."  The qualities possessed by these individuals, beyond a sense of adventure and excitement about living a life of creation, include: "a critic and a sceptic and a dogmatist and an historian." Additionally, they will be "a poet and collector and traveller and puzzle-solver and moralist and seer and 'free spirit' and nearly all things, so that he can traverse the range of human values and value-feelings and be able to look with many kinds of eyes and consciences from heights into every distance, from the depths into every height, from the corners into every wide expanse.  But all these are but preconditions for his task: the task itself calls for something else - it calls for him to create values.  It is the task of those philosophical workers in the noble mold of Kant and Hegel to establish and press into formulae some large body of value judgments (that is, previous value-assumptions, value-creations that have become dominant and are for a time called 'truths'), whether in the realm of logic or of politics (morals) or of aesthetics," (211). Again, new areas of cultural force await for philosophy to work its magic through free spirits in our world.  It does not seem such an impossible project given the dispersed nature of philosophy and its effects that Nietzsche envisions.  He is not discussing an organized social movement so much as the way the will to power works as human society evolves.

Greater clarification comes in the following section, "Our Virtues."  Here Nietzsche discusses some forms of morality, such a pity and compassion, in the context of "we Europeans of the day after tomorrow."  Morality should "bow down" to the natural hierarchy of creative free spirits.  A new kind of pity should emerge, one that pities "how human beings are being reduced" by various forces of modernity.  Rather than seeking to "abolish suffering" we should embrace suffering.

"The discipline of suffering, great suffering - don't you know that this discipline alone has created all human greatness to date?  The tension of the soul in unhappiness, which cultivates its strength; its horror at the sight of the great destruction; its inventiveness and bravery in bearing, enduring, interpreting, exploiting unhappiness, and whatever in the way of depth, mystery, mask, spirit, cleverness, greatness of heart has been granted - has it not been granted them through suffering, through the discipline of great suffering? In the human being, creature and creator are united: the human being is matter, fragment, excess, clay, filth, nonsense, chaos; but the human being is also creator, sculptor, hammer-hardness, observer-divinity, and the Seventh Day - do you understand this opposition? Do you understand that your pity is for the 'creature in the human being', that which must be formed, broken, forged, torn, burned, annealed, purified - that which necessarily has to suffer and should suffer? And our pity - do you not understand whom our reversed pity is intended for, when it resists your pity as the worst of all possible self-indulgences and weaknesses?  Pity versus pity, then! But to repeat, there are more important problems than all those concerning pleasure and suffering and pity; and any philosophy the confines itself only to these is naive." (225).  Nietzsche apparently makes a big deal about a supposedly small thing.  But, to me, this passage represents some of Nietzsche at his best.

Surely among these "more important problems" is what he enumerates next, "to fit new things into old orders." "Almost everything that we call 'high culture' is based on the deepening and spiritualizing of cruelty - this is my tenet.  That 'wild beast' has not been killed off at all, it lives and thrives, it has only - made a divinity of itself.  It is cruelty that constitutes the painful voluptuousness of tragedy;" (229) "That imperious something that the common people call 'spirit' wants to be the master, in itself, around itself, and to feel its mastery: it has the will to go from multiplicity to simplicity, a will that binds together, subdues, a tyrannical the truly masterful will.  In this regard, its needs and capacities are the same as those the physiologists claim for everything that lives, grows, and reproduces.  The spirit's energy in approaching what is foreign to it is revealed by its strong tendency to make the new resemble the old, to simplify multiplicity, to overlook or reject whatever is completely contradictory; the spirit likewise arbitrarily underlines, emphasizes, or distorts certain qualities and contours in everything that is foreign to it or of the 'outer world'. Its intention in doing so is to incorporate new 'experiences', to fit new things into old orders - to grow, then; and more specifically, to feel growth, to feel an increase in strength." (230)

Being the free spirit, creator of values (redefined ethical aesthetics) and understanding a multiplicity of things in order "to look with many kinds of eyes and consciences" are two of Nietzsche's greatest insights. The psychological and aesthetic basis for his philosophy is distinctive throughout Beyond Good and Evil.  But this free spirit is also aggressive, ruthless, not necessarily tied to any established morality, in fact often tied to what might be generally considered as immoral.

It should be noted that such ruthlessness is an existential and intellectual experience.  It is not a physically violent display, that is far too crude for Nietzsche's higher culture sensibilities.  It is, rather, a managed firmness expressed with complete self-control.  Exploitation of others of lesser ethical aesthetics is part of being a creative free spirit but this merely reflects a hierarchy of values and psychological entitlements granted by the will to power as drive and force is directed inwardly and outwardly.  The tangible characteristics for all this is particularly defined in the work's final section which I will look at in detail in my next post.