Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil Part 1

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.

Preface

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?

Section 1:

“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.

Section 2:

“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.

Section 5:

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).

Section 6:

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?

Section 9:

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.”

Section 10:

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?

Section 11:

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.

9 responses

  1. Difficult to get around the fact that he was Hitler’s favourite philosopher, and in some ways, you can see why. He tries to knock your feet out from under you, and while you’re still puzzling, recreates the world for you.
    There have been a lot of efforts to re-establish him in he philosophical canon, but that rep is hard to get over. A lot of it due to his sister, who “reworked” some of his stuff. But put me on the side of Kant. Or Sartre.
    Lovely to read an account of something like this, though, on a romance blog. Looking forward to reading part two.
    He makes some astonishing conclusions, like the bit about the denigration of the body. I didn’t read any of that in Ficino, Plato, or even Rousseau.

    Like

  2. @Lynne Connolly:

    Difficult to get around the fact that he was Hitler’s favourite philosopher,

    Hiitler was not exactly an intellectual. As far as I know he read very little philosophy, and almost certainly never read Nietzsche. Nietzsche, who reserved more serious criticism for Christians than for Jews, who, as I note in my post, hardly believed that Germans were destined to be the supermen, and who put anti-semitism in the same idiotic boat as as German statism and nationalism, is not to blame, in my opinion, for the selective, and inaccurate, readings some folks with a nefarious agenda promoted after his death.

    I think Ricky Gervais explains it better than I ever could in this video.

    There have been a lot of efforts to re-establish him in he philosophical canon, but that rep is hard to get over.

    I would have to disagree with you on this. It is true that initially, Nietzsche’s style did fit well with especially Anglo-Amercian philosophy, which was dominated in the early twentieth century by positivism and eschewed a lot of Nietzsche’s normative concerns. And it is true that Nietzsche scholarship, especially in moral philosophy, waned as some promoted his association with Nazi Germany (most egregriously, as you note, his own sister) in the 1930s and post-war era. But since about the 1960s, when some major works began to appear, Nietzsche has been widely studied and taught both in North America and Europe, and his profound influence on 19th and 20th century thought is widely recognized.

    Lovely to read an account of something like this, though, on a romance blog. Looking forward to reading part two.

    Thank you! Although I have been doing about 50% nonromance reviews for a while now, romance is still my first reading love.

    He makes some astonishing conclusions, like the bit about the denigration of the body. I didn’t read any of that in Ficino, Plato, or even Rousseau.

    I’m not quite on board with your examples (although I don’t know Ficino at all!), but you make a good point: he makes quite sweeping claims, which in many cases I wouldn’t even call “conclusions” because that suggests there were actual premises. But I think this is what makes him so exciting to read. (and I don’t mean to suggest there aren’t arguments in Nietzsche. There are. just not on this point in this section of this text.)

    Like

  3. Lord, that was fun.
    post
    Reading the preface and then the first chapter (I had to wait until I got the Kaufmann edition in the post) it felt like I inadvertently walked in on some angry young man (or guy in a midlife crisis) ranting at his crusty old parents.

    It was fascinating to read the, if not origin, at least famous iterations, of Post Modernity, i.e. the trashing of objectivity, which have just moved into the dominant paradigm.

    Having said that, my reaction is a bit like reading good sales propaganda where he is obviously leading up to something new he’s invented that’s better than the old stuff, and I’m left going “what it it!? what what?”

    Like

  4. @Des Livres: “angry young man”… you can see the appeal for adolescent college students. Nietzsche is basically saying “screw authority, screw tradition. I’m doing something new here.” which is quite appealing to some people at some ages.

    As for his positive vision… the way I teach Nietzsche focuses strongly on his critique. At least when it comes to ethics, there isn’t so much of a positive vision.

    Like

  5. @ Jessica

    ….oh. So does he spend the rest of the book getting stuck in (sorry, critiquing), or does he come up with something, or is it more a general call to action re a new/different philosophical project?

    And if is a call to action, has anyone answered it/furthered it?

    Like

  6. Pingback: Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil Part 2 | Read React Review

  7. 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?

    This is something similar what I always wonder about, whether it’s ever possible to write purely objectively about any subject. Everything you do and think is so permeated by your life experiences, no matter how objective you try to be, your ideas are weighted with the emotional investment you have in them being true and correct. There will always be some flavor of the personal in your ideas, even if they don’t read as personal. (But take my opinion with a grain of salt because I have no education in philosophy and haven’t read Plato or Kant or any of Nietzsche beyond parts of this book your lecture’s based on. I’m still catching up on the basics of a poor education.)

    In saying that, however, I think it’s not something to be condemned, because sharing philosophies that have grown out of life experiences just adds a greater layer of interest, at least to me, because I think it’s interesting to take the philosopher as a person too, and learn of the experiences that brought him to the point of having such insights into general human experience.

    Like

  8. @Tamara: I agree. It’s what I love about Nietzsche. Everything that we write comes from a concrete, historically situated, unique person, and that has to be accounted for, not pushed aside or ignored.

    Like

  9. Sorry for the delay but I spent the month of June laid out sick. Okay, me a big Nietzsche first timer here. Yes, I do feel like a naive little kid.

    Soooo….

    Oy! My head is a twirling.

    My first impressions (why? because I’m going to have to read this second at least twice more plus re-read the wiki entries of who/what is mentioned in order to get a slightly more nuanced understanding.)

    My first thought was that he uses a lot of words to say very little. Second was well wasn’t that the 1800s way. Hmmm. Third thought, this guy is on his soapbox wagging his fingers at the intellectuals and the elites. Fourth, hmmm, I wonder how we could take some of these different theories like categorical imperative and apply them today’s political scene. Did elite peoples really act on some of these theories or was this just talking the talking?

    Of course, the other thing to note is the implicit way women are characterized here. Passive, mysterious, etc.

    My thought went to thinking about women as greek/roman goddesses. Unattainable, remote, really uncaring of human follies. I never thought he was talking about real women.

    It seems obvious to most people what philosophers, especially the philosophers with whom Nietzsche is most interested, were trying to do: seek the Truth.

    The truth for whom….

    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

    I’m not sure why this would be shocking because my mind goes back to the truth for whom? what is the writer’s self-interest? what is the writer promoting and why?

    okay, that’s all I can manage for the moment.

    But I do find it so very interesting that we elevate reason over emotion. Intellect over the body. Which makes me think the premise of Jekyll and Hyde and intellect is good, godly and virtuous while emotions are dark, murderous and beastly.

    I don’t know I rather think that a purely intellectual being would be beastly rather than the beast itself. Reason can be used to justify and moralize just about anything when it comes down to it.

    Which is probably not the conclusion Nietzsche or you wanted me to draw.

    I’ll try to reread this and your post again.

    Like

gorillasinthemistblog

a site about Dian Fossey, scientist

Literature and Medicine

Reading Literature for Life

Prof's Progress

... on making sense, one word at a time

Bkwurm

Bkwurm: /book*worm/ n. a person devoted to reading and study

Nyssa Harkness

Media and Cultural Studies - Disability Studies, Genre Fiction, & Gaming

Shelf Love

live mines and duds: the reading life

Love is the Best Medicine

Harlequin/Mills and Boon Medical Romance Authors

Blue Moon

Audiobook reviews and book reviews. Occasional opining.

specficromantic

reviews by a speculative fiction romantic

Centre for Medical Humanities

This site has now closed

Miss Bates Reads Romance

Miss Bates is Austen's loquacious spinster in Emma. No doubt Miss Bates read romances ... here's what she would've thought of them.

Badass Romance

heroes, heroines, and books that demand to be taken seriously

badnecklace.com

not quite pearls of wisdom

Thinking in Fragments

but making connections too

Tales from the Reading Room

A Literary Salon Where All Are Welcome

momisatwork

thinking about teaching, learning, home and family

Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

Feminist reflections on fitness, sport, and health

Heloise Merlin's Weblog

Virtual people read books, too!

Bblog Central

Your source for book blogging.

A Striped Armchair

Bookish thoughts from a woman of endless curiousity

Sonomalass's Blog

Another day in paradise

RR@H Novel Thoughts & Book Talk

Featuring Author Interviews and Commentaries

Something More

my extensive reading

avidbookreader

a reader blog

The Romantic Goldfish

"Cheapest mother fucking goldfish on the planet"

Shallowreader

...barely skimming the surface

Joanna Chambers

Romance author

THE DAILY RUCKUS

ROYALTY, ROMANCE NOVELS, AND A LITTLE RUCKUS