Sunday, July 31, 2016

Nietzsche's Genealogy: Revealing "the inheritor of affects"

Of all the books regarding Nietzsche I have read and reread since beginning this blog, few have impressed me as much as Beyond Selflessness by Christopher Janaway.  The book is subtitled “Reading Nietzsche’s Genealogy” and offers some significant and precise insights into understanding not only Nietzsche’s great work but his philosophy as a whole.  It is so chocked full of insights into understanding Nietzsche that I will quote extensively from it in the next two posts.

In contextualizing On the Genealogy of Morals, Janaway writes: "...the work has come to be regarded, especially in the English-speaking world, as his most sustained philosophical achievement, his masterpiece, and the most vital of his writings for any student of Nietzsche, of ethics, or of the history of modern thought." (page 1)

"Nietzsche's genealogy is an attempt to explain our having those beliefs and feelings that constitute our moral values in the here and now, by tracing their casual origins to generic psychological states - typically drives, affects, inclinations, and aversions - that we reconstruct as having existed in certain types of human beings in the real past, and as having caused types of human being in the real past, and as having caused our present attitudes through the meditation of interpretations and conceptual innovations made by successive developments of culture." (Page 12)

Janaway points out how the polemic is not only against the origins of western morality but also against the, to Nietzsche, faulty analysis of morality specifically in the work of Paul Rée and Arthur Schopenhauer, two powerful figures in Nietzsche’s past who he had fallen out of respect for in his later years.  Most striking, perhaps, is the importance Nietzsche placed on applying his insights to human feelings, the emotive and instinctual aspects of living.

"His most fundamental point of disagreement with Rée is over the assumption Rée shares with Schopenhauer: that 'the unegoistic' is constitutive of morality and is something of positive value....Nietzsche charges such thinkers with allowing their inherited conception of value to govern their conception of method and their own self-understanding as enquirers." (page 40)

"It seems clear that the revaluation of values Nietzsche ultimately seeks is not just a change in judgments but a revision at the level of affects too. After we have learned not to make judgments using the standard vocabulary of 'good', 'evil', 'compassionate', and 'egoistic', we finally may come, says Nietzsche, to feel differently - an even more important attainment, it seems....If my understanding of the origins of my moral prejudices is to be genuinely transformative of my attitudes, it must proceed from and work upon my feelings, not consist in merely holding certain hypotheses about myself. But the arousal of affects could be even more embedded that this in Nietzsche's project.  It could be, I want to argue, that the very task of arriving at truths about the origin of my values demands activation of my own feelings." (page 48)

"So we have found two Nietzschean objections to Schopenhauer's morality of compassion that do not depend upon criticism of his metaphysics and cannot obviously be deflected by the charge that they attack only non-Schopenhauerian attitude of pity.  The two objections are: (1) that the morality of compassion is founded upon a questionable notion of a universal equality in value between individuals; (2) that feeling compassion is not in itself a good and beneficial attitude, because it can divert one from attending to one's own life and rob one of the sense of a right to one's own well-being." (page 67)

"Nietzsche's fundamental shift is towards differentiating concepts according to the individuals or classes who use them, and who thereby control and create values.  So Nietzsche alleges that 'the judgment "good" does not stem from those to whom "goodness" is rendered'.  Rather 'the noble, powerful, higher-ranking, and high minded' laid claim to the description of themselves as good, and by virtue of the 'pathos of distance' regarded as bad 'everything base, low-minded, common, and vulgar' (GM I. 2)" (page 81)

"Nietzsche's mature writings, and the Genealogy in particular, aim to release the reader from the 'illness' allegedly manifest in adhering to moral evaluations of a Christian or post-Christian nature. The first part of the therapeutic process is to diagnose the functions that such evaluations (concepts, beliefs, desires, emotional attachments, and aversions) fulfill for those who make them.  In describing these functions Nietzsche typically uses the terminology of drives and affects whose activity is furthered by the adoption of evaluation attitudes.  The second part of the therapeutic process is to overcome the need to hold the evaluation attitudes one has inherited, and to create new evaluations which are expressive of one's own strength, unity of character, or affirmation of life." (page 91)

The questioning of compassion and the elevation of the morality of the noble class are difficult to relate to with our contemporary democratic welfare-state ethics and values. But it is this difficulty that Nietzsche brilliantly guides the reader into the very frame of mind he wishes to invoke. His writing is intended to affect the reader.

"At least some of these uncomfortable passages are uncomfortable because the writing is openly concerned with probing the affects of the reader. To this end the literary violence is an effective means. Nietzsche's project of revaluing moral values contains as an essential part the uncovering of a multifarious affective life beneath our moral judgments. By provoking a range of affects in the reader, Nietzsche enables the reader to. Locate the target for revaluation, the 'morality' which comprises a complex of attitudes of his or her own, central to which are affective inclinations and aversions." (page 96)

"Earlier we saw that Nietzsche's end was to make us 'feel differently', changing or reversing our inclinations and aversions, losing our habitual or inherited attachment to the attitudes that comprise the morality of selflessness. How, then, would Nietzsche think that his envisaged end could be brought about, and how might his own writing contribute to that end? Here is a program that would at least make sense: Detach people from their practice of making moral judgments, thereby enabling them to feel non-moral inclinations and aversions.  How to detach people from making moral judgments? Show them the inherited affects of which these judgments are the ex post facto rationalizations. How to show people the affects they have inherited? Provoke affective responses in them, and invite them to reflect on the explanation for their having them." (page 99)

"The pair of concepts 'good' and 'bad' originally existed, forming the basis of a noble or aristocratic form of evaluation: the good are those who are capable, strong, powerful, those to be admired for what they have and are; the bad are simply those who no one would have wanted to be if he or she had the power - the weak, the incapable, the subservient.  In the story that Nietzsche tells morality was an invention in human history, and the driving force behind this invention was the class of people who were weak and marginal according to the aristocratic value system.  Morality resulted from the Judaeo-Christian 'slave revolt' which creatively fashioned a new pair of values, and finally convinced even the powerful that to exercise their power over others weaker than themselves was 'evil', and that to be powerless - not to exercise power - was 'good'." (page 99)

Janaway shows that Nietzsche used his writing style in the Genealogy to jolt and shock the reader with the specific intent of revealing to the reader, through style as much as words, where the reader’s morality resides within.  Thusly identified, Nietzsche proceeds to address morality as feeling and, having pointed out the location of such feelings, allows the reader to reflect upon what Nietzsche is saying in the context of their internal feelings.  This creative use of philosophical style is typical of Nietzsche, dating at least back to the “God is dead” proclamation of The Gay Science but it is perhaps expressed at its height within the Genealogy.

"Readers will be indignant about the nobles as Nietzsche describes them.  They will react with fear and disquiet, and moreover a disquiet that, on behalf of the imagined victims, gives rise to a desire to judge the nobles' behavior wrong.  Nietzsche must know this because he knows that the value system that originated with those who feared and recoiled from the nobles 'has become victorious' (GM I. 7)." (page 100)

"Thus Nietzsche prompts the reader to become conscious of himself or herself as an inheritor of affects whose origin is 'slavish'.  But he does not leave matters there.  In particular, note two further effects on the reader that he provides for in GM I: (1) The reader is given the opportunity to become conscious of himself or herself as the inheritor of some attitudes more in line with a noble mode of evaluation. (2) The reader is encouraged to recognize that slave morality shares the same ultimate origin as the noble mode of evaluation, and to reorient his or her feelings accordingly." (page 101)

"Section 14 of the First Treatise is a good example of Nietzsche's use of artistic methods in pursuit of his diagnostic and therapeutic aims.  He invents a character with whom the essay's narrative voice suddenly enters into comic dialogue.  It is like calling for a volunteer from the audience: 'Would anyone like to go down and take a look into the secret of how they fabricate ideals on earth? Who has the courage to do so?' The supposed volunteer is addressed as mein Herr Vorwitz und Wagehals - rendered by translators variously as Mr. Rash and Curious, Mr. mosey Daredevil, Mr. Daredevil Curiosity, or Mr. Wanton-Curiosity and Daredevil. The narrator affects to send this member of the public down into a fetid, cavernous workshop, reminiscent of Wagner's Nibelheim, where morality is cobbled together by shadowy, stunted creatures brimming with ressentiment. The authorial voice receives reports from the front-line emissary as if from the safety of surface daylight, goading him on until what he witnesses becomes unbearable and he demands to be returned to the open air.

"This is a striking, virtuosic piece of writing, but also perhaps a good example of the embarrassment commentators can feel through apparently having no purchase on why it might benefit Nietzsche to write in this way. I assume that virtually everyone who writes about Nietzsche, form undergraduates on, has read this passage. It has scathing humor, deadly similes, a novel dramatic structure, and great rhetorical power." (pp. 102 - 103) 

"I suggest (1) that Nietzsche here completes the transformation of his treatise from a past-directed enquiry into a critique whose focus is the here and now, the present attitudes of his reader; (2) that his emotive rhetoric aims at harnessing the reader's own disquiet over the untrammeled exercise of power by the overtly powerful - a disquiet he elicited and carefully nurtured earlier in the text - and converting it into a still greater disquiet over the covert desire to exercise power that drives Christianity and the post-Christian moral attitudes which are likely to persist in the reader. Nietzsche uses this dramatic characterization to enact disgust on the reader's behalf." (pp. 103 - 104)

"Nietzsche's thought is that prior to the invention of the idea that we are free to be other than we in fact are - that our essence resides elsewhere than in the sum of our behavior and underlying drives - we could not have believed in accountability or blame in the manner required to maintain the moral practice of judging actions good and evil.  The notion of a radically free subject of action is required in order to make human beings controllable, answerable, equal, and in particular to redescribe inaction as a virtue of which all are capable and dominant self-assertion as a wrong for which all are culpable. Note the role of feeling's in Nietzsche's explanation. It is the reactive affects of the weak, described as 'hiddenly glowing', that drive the need to assign blame and call to account.  This accords with the wider tendency of Nietzsche's genealogical explanations to trace moral beliefs and conceptual distinctions back to more basic feelings. Present-day adherents of morality have inherited affective habits because of the prevalence of the system of concepts good, evil, blame, guilt, and so on, and that system of concepts came to exist because of ressentiment, hatred, revenge, fear, joy in inflicting cruelty, at earlier historical stages." (pp. 112 - 113)

"The salient point is that the redescription of the agent as existing in isolation from the pressures of nature, culture, and circumstance is already a moralized description, one you would make only if you already thought in terms of moral goodness and responsibility, and hence sought a target for blame. The human being naturalistically described, as the product of actual physical and cultural forces, does not provide a proper target for blame, so we resort to metaphysics." (page 113)

"There is a vagueness in Nietzsche's evocations of what future values and future individuals will be once they have liberated themselves from moral self-descriptions.  We may excuse the vagueness to some extent: Nietzsche is writing of a mere aspiration that he thinks has rarely, if ever, been realized....the following is an approximation to Nietzsche's sovereign individual: someone who is conscious of the strength and consistency of his or her own character over time; who creatively affirms and embraces him - or herself as valuable, and who values his or her actions because of the degRée to which they are in character; who welcomes the limitation and discipline of internal and external nature as the true conditions of action and creation, but whose evaluations arise from a sense of who he or she is, rather than from conformity to some external or genetic code of values. This is a glimpse of the sense in which fRée will might be attained or regained for Nietzsche." (page 119)

The second treatise in the genealogy analyzes the place of guilt in human culture and experience and its relationship to human cruelty.  "...Nietzsche takes himself to have shown that guilt came to be regarded as a good in the Christian world-view because the conception of our natural instinctual selves as an ultimate transgression against God allowed us the most powerful guarantee of being able to vent our inbuilt drive towards cruelty upon ourselves. Nietzsche evaluates this state of self-torture as 'the most terrible sickness that has thus far raged in man' (GM II. 22). But then he offers us the healthy alternative, 'a reverse attempt...namely to wed to bad conscience the unnatural inclinations, all those aspirations to the beyond, to that which is contrary to the senses, contrary to the instincts, contrary to nature' (GM II. 24) - though he doubts that any but the most exceptional human being of the future, the redeeming, creative spirit of great health, will be able to accomplish this." (page 121)

"Feeling guilty is insidiously, incriminatingly, related to cruelty, and is even the same as it is essence.  The Second Treatise is structured around two central thoughts concerning cruelty and its 'turning back' against the self. The first, which Nietzsche calls 'an old powerful human-all-too-human proposition' (GM II. 6) might be put as follows: (A) Because of an instinctive drive, human beings tend to gain pleasure from inflicting suffering. 

"We might call this the 'pleasure-in-cruelty' thesis. The second thought, which I shall state also in my own formulation, posits a psychological process which Nietzsche calls Verinnerlichung or internalization (see GM II. 16): (B) When the instinctive drives of a socialized human individual are prevented from discharging themselves outwardly, they discharge themselves inwardly, on the individual him- or herself

"Nietzsche's 'own hypothesis' concerning the origin of 'bad conscience', a pivotal hypothesis in the whole essay, makes use of both of these thoughts and might be expressed thus: (C) Because human beings have an instinctual drive that leads them to gain pleasure from inflicting suffering, human beings subjected to the restrictions of civilized society, and so constrained to internalize their instincts, satisfy their instinctive drive by inflicting suffering on themselves

"In Nietzsche's own words: 'Hostility, cruelty, pleasure in persecution, in assault, in change, in destruction - all of that turning itself against the possessors of such instincts: that is the origin of 'bad conscience' (GM II. 16)." (pp. 125-126)

"'The feeling of guilt...had its origin...in the oldest and most primitive relationship among persons there is, in the relationship between buyer and seller, creditor and debtor' (GM II. 8). One of the main sources of explanatory energy for the whole essay is the repeated play on Schuld, Schulden, Schuldner (guilt, debt, debtor), at its most salient in Nietzsche's thought that 'that central moral concept 'guilt' had its origins in the very material concept 'debt' (GM II. 4). But if this is the origin of the consciousness of guilt, why give us also the apparently quite separate hypothesis that consciousness of guilt originates in internalization of the instincts of hostility?" (page 132)

"...the consciousness of guilt is a means of punishing oneself, and punishment originates in the debtor-creditor relationship; hence it makes sense for Nietzsche to say that consciousness of guilt originates in the debtor-creditor relationship.  But self-punishment is also a form of self-cruelty or self-persecution, and outlet (or inlet) for the instinctive drive of living beings to dominate over something. Hence, if consciousness of guilt is a form of self-punishment, then Nietzsche can intelligibly claim both that it originates in internalization of the instincts and that it originates in the debtor-creditor relationship." (page 134)

"We are being cruel to ourselves because, given our instincts as living beings, we are driven to be cruel to something, but we interpret the self-cruelty as deserved and rightful, as punishment of ourselves by ourselves. We give ourselves permission to despise and maltreat ourselves. Why should we do this? Because of a further need thematized in the Genealogy as a whole, the need to give meaning to suffering." (page 135)

“It is, I suggest, the supposed goodness of feeling guilty that Nietzsche thinks requires metaphysical underpinning. This provides a clearer sense in which moralization of guilt presupposes an ‘entanglement with the concept of god’, as Nietzsche says in section 21.  It is a good thing to punish myself if I deserve punishment in principle and essentially. And the Christian conception of the self and its place in the world – the infinite all-valuable divine order and the pernicious animal self in perpetual transgression against it – provides the guarantee of punishments being wholly deserved.  Moralization is the elevation of feeling guilty into a virtue, it incorporation of the kind of person one should want to be, by means of the rationalizing metaphysical picture in which the individual’s essential instinctual nature deserves maltreatment, because it stands in antithesis to an infinite creditor.” (page 141 - 142)

“Without a doubt Nietzsche presents the nobles in the First Treatise as human animals instinctively striving for conditions in which to express their strength and gain a maximum feeling of power, and therefore as manifesting will to power.  And similarly in the Second Treatise cruelty represents a basic human tendency to release one’s power to the detriment of another and temporarily at least ‘become master’ over them.  But there is a shock in each essay: the salves’ invention of good-evil opposition and labeling of themselves as good is driven by the need to overpower the powerful in a more subtle and underhand way, and the imposition of guilty bad conscience on ourselves is an inward deflection of cruelty, the instinct to release at the expense of something else.” (page 144)

I will pick up with Janaway’s interpretation at this point in my next post and proceed through his analysis of the critical undercurrent of the will to power and personal “affects” to his work.