Some notes on the Preface and Part 1:
I was home for just one day between trips, so this will be a quickie as I need to get on the road again this morning. To save time, I’ve copied some of the quotations from an online translation of BGE by Ian Johnston, which I do not prefer to the Kaufmann. I’ll do about half the first section in this post, and hopefully get another post up very shortly with the rest.
Did you know Nietzsche self-published BGE? Frustrated with traditional publishing, he self-published BGE at his own expense. “Assuming 300 copies will be sold, my expenses might be covered and I might be able to repeat the experiment some time” he wrote in a letter to a friend. Sounding like any author today who complains about her publisher, he writes, “The neglect by [my publisher] was monstrous: for ten years now no copies distributed to book stores; neither any review copies … no promotion.” Having just returned from New York and Book Expo America, I can’t resist noting that the problems between authors and publishers didn’t look much different in the nineteenth century. Sadly Nietzsche only sold 114 copies of BGE, of which 60 were given away for free.
Suppose truth is a woman, what then? Wouldn’t we have good reason to suspect that all philosophers, insofar as they were dogmatists, had a poor understanding of women, that the dreadful seriousness and the awkward pushiness with which they so far have habitually approached truth were clumsy and inappropriate ways to win over a woman? It’s clear that truth did not allow herself to be won over. And every form of dogmatism nowadays is standing there dismayed and disheartened— if it’s still standing at all…
The reader gets a good sense right away of Nietzsche’s literary style. Picturing the great philosophers as the ignorant spurned suitors of an enigmatic mistress is pretty memorable. Of course, the other thing to note is the implicit way women are characterized here. Passive, mysterious, etc.
One of my favorite lines in the whole book is this one:
… with so tense a bow we can shoot for the most distant goals.
He’s referring to the fight against the philosophy and type of spirit that dominates the West, “Christianity as Platonism”, a kind of internal unacknowledged struggle. For philosophers, this line is also a counterpoint to Aristotle’s famous line in the Nicomachean Ethics:
Shall we not, like archers who have a mark to aim at, be more likely to hit upon what is right?
“What is it in us that really wants “the truth”? … Suppose we want truth. Why should we not prefer untruth? And uncertainty? Even ignorance?”
It seems obvious to most people what philosophers, especially the philosophers with whom Nietzsche is most interested, were trying to do: seek the Truth. Not to Nietzsche. Nietzsche knows what philosophers themselves claim to be doing, and why. But Nietzsche doesn’t unquestioningly accept the stories philosophy tells itself about itself.
“Things of the highest value must have another origin peculiar to them. They cannot be derived from this ephemeral, seductive, deceptive, trivial world, from this confusion of madness and desire! Their basis must lie, by contrast, in the womb of being, in the immortal, in hidden gods, in ‘the thing in itself’—their basis must lie there, and nowhere else!”
Spoken in the voice of the typical philosopher. The idea is that we have to look away from human life, the body, the transient, and towards something otherworldy, beyond our senses, beyond appearances, to find Truth.
This is one of the tendencies in Nietzsche’s thought that has attracted feminists. Feminist philosophers note that the unhappy alignment of the body with women, unreason, emotion, unruliness, and women, and the mind with reason, order, men. Nietzsche prefigured some postmodern thinking in his insistence that while they are presented dualistically, as opposites, these things spring from the same source. As he says (Kaufmann):
It might even be possible that what constitutes the value of these good and revered things is precisely that they are insidiously related to, tied to, and involved with these wicked seemingly opposite things — maybe even one with them in essence. Maybe!
He concludes this section with a reference to “dangerous maybes” and “philosophers of the dangerous ‘maybe.'” Can you see why undergraduates – especially undergraduate young men, although I am living proof it appeals to young women as well — often love Nietzsche? What student with an interest in philosophy wouldn’t want to be part of this group?
Section 3 and 4:
Just a quick note that when you see words like “life-promoting”, “life-preserving”, “vigor” “health”, those are all values Nietzsche wants to promote. When you see “nihilistic”, “life-denying”, “stultifying”, etc. Nietzsche is obviously in critical mode.
Collectively they take up a position as if they had discovered and arrived at their real opinions through the self-development of a cool, pure, god-like disinterested dialectic (in contrast to the mystics of all ranks, who are more honest than they are and more stupid with their talk of “inspiration”—), while basically they defend with reasons sought out after the fact an assumed principle, an idea, an “inspiration,” for the most part some heart-felt wish which has been abstracted and sifted. They are all advocates who do not want to call themselves that.
Nietzsche is lifting the curtain to get a look at the real Wizard of Oz here. Philosophers have this idea that they start out with blank slates and are driven by pure logic to their conclusions (and yeah, I know I’ve mixed my schools of philosophy metaphors there). But philosophers are driven as much as anyone by self-interest, ego, ambition, and by other motives they hide even from themselves.
In reality, philosophers to arrive at beliefs irrationally, filter them, make them abstract, and defend them with reasons after the fact. Interestingly, Nietzsche’s ideas have been taken by experimental philosophers, who use experiments to figure out how we actually reason about things like morality. Clicking this link will open a PDF of a 2001 paper by Jonathan Haidt, a moral psychologist, called “The Emotional Dog and its Rational Tail” where he discusses his “social intuitionist model” of moral judgment. For Haidt, moral judgments have no causal power. We invent them “after the fact”, just like Nietzsche suggests (although Haidt and Nietzsche part ways when it comes to Haidt’s intuitionism).
Gradually I came to learn what every great philosophy has been up to now, namely, the self-confession of its originator and a form of unintentional and unrecorded memoir
This line never fails to be shocking to me. If there is anything philosophers take themselves NOT to be doing, it’s writing about themselves. But how could something so abstract as Plato’s Forms or Kant’s categorical imperative be “memoir”? What could possibly be personal about those philosophical ideas? How is Nietzsche going to prove this?
It always creates the world in its own image; it cannot do otherwise.
Far from being a “mirror of nature” as Richard Rorty memorably put it in his 1979 book, dispassionately and dutifully recording the truth of nature, philosophy is the expression of a “tyrannical drive.”
Nietzsche here makes reference to the problem of the “real and apparent world.” The difference between mere appearance — how things look to a perceiver — and reality, the really real, the “thing-in-itself”, had been a major preoccupation of philosophers since the pre-Socratics.
As a philosophy student encountering Nietzsche, of course I was familiar with the ways Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, Schopenhaur dealt with this question. But I had always confined its interest to metaphysics. Nietzsche really hammers home the point that the search for Reality permeates all philosophy, even beyond metaphysics, or perhaps that all philosophy is in some way metaphysics.
As part of this search, philosophers tend to
rank the credibility of their own bodies about as low as the credibility of the visual evidence that ‘the earth stands still’, and thus, apparently in good humor, let their securest possession go (for in what does one at present believe in more firmly than in one’s body?)”
I’ll mention again here the interest Nietzsche’s references to the body have for feminist philosophers. Why does philosophy denigrate and distrust the body?
Please say you don’t really want me to explain Kant’s synthetic a priori judgments (joking. I’ll do it if anyone cares.) I’ll just note in this section Nietzsche’s fairly sneering assessment of Kant and his acknowledgement of Kant’s influence on “German philosophy”. And why does he put that in scare quotes? Lots of reasons, but I’ll just note that Nietzsche’s attitude towards his own people was his most critical. Here’s a famous summation:
Certainly, he who has to live among Germans suffers greatly from the notorious greyness of their life and thought, from their formlessness, their stupidity and dull-mindedness, their coarseness in more delicate affairs, even more from their envy and a certain secretiveness and uncleanliness in their character; he is pained and offended by their rooted joy in what is false and ungenuine, in bad imitations, in the translation of good foreign things into bad native ones: now, however, that one has in addition, and as the most painful experience of all, their feverish restlessness, their search for success and profit, their overestimation of the moment, one is limitlessly indignant to think that all these maladies and weaknesses are on principle never to be cured but only painted over.
Germany was undergoing a lot of changes during this period (nationalism, militarism) and Nietzsche was responding to them.
I’ve got to dash, but I hope you found this first pass at the first part of Section 1 interesting. More soon.