Welcome to Part Six of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. I’m reading from the Kaufmann edition, but you can find this text online, for example, Ian Johnston’s.
This section is titled “We Scholars.” Uh oh.
In this section Nietzsche attacks his fellow philosophers, as well as the scientists of his day. Nietzsche notes that science is valued more than philosophy:
Science is flourishing today and her good conscience is written all over her face, while the level to which all modern philosophy has gradually sunk, this rest of philosophy today, invites mistrust and displeasure, if not mockery and pity.
Nietzsche notes that “today” if a man is praised for being a “philosopher”, it’s not because he has truly engaged with life, but because he lives apart, “prudently” or “wisely”:
Wisdom — seems to the rabble a kind of escape, a means and trick for getting well out of a wicked game. But the genuine philosopher — it seems to us, my friends? — lives “unphilosophically”and “unwisely,” above all imprudently, and feels the burden and the duty of a hundred attempts and temptations of life — he risks himself constantly, he plays the wicked game–
Nietzsche offers a psychology of the “scientist” and “scholar” as weak, concerned overly with reputation, lazy, complacent, in general, lacking a will to power, a saying yes to life. At best, says Nietzsche, these men are tools belonging in the hand of one more powerful.” He criticizes them for their pursuit of truth, of objectivity, the desire to sort of sit still and serve as a reflecting mirror for Truth:
his habit of meeting every thing and experience halfway, the sunny and impartial hospitality with which he accepts everything that comes his way, his type of unscrupulous benevolence, of dangerous unconcern about Yes and No…
his mirror soul, eternally smoothing itself out, no longer knows how to affirm or negate; he does not command, neither does he destroy.
Nietzsche then moves into a discussion of the fashionable but poisonous type of skepticism that goes with this type of scholar. The skepticism of the philosopher of his day…
is the most spiritual expression of a certain complex physiological condition that in ordinary language is called nervous exhaustion and sickliness.
What he says immediately after this in section 208, I’ll skip, because it has to do with ridiculous 19th century theories about class and race mixing.
Although it is not super clear here, Nietzsche attacks the ascetic ideal in both the scientist and philosopher (i.e. skeptic) of his day. In Nietzsche’s view, asceticism is a response to a fact of human existence: suffering. Asceticism makes suffering meaningful (think of the Christian account of suffering). In Genealogy of Morality, Nietzsche suggests that science is a possible rival to the ascetic ideal, because it is Godless, and seems to eschew the virtue of denial. But there, and here, Nietzsche ultimately rejects science as a rival to asceticism, instead seeing it as a new expression of it.
Just like philosophy, science thrives on the idea that it is purely objective, and that it is a “will to truth.” Nietzsche objects to both of these ideas: he thinks you can’t get rid of human psychology, human perspective, human history, and he thinks that the “will to truth” obliterates or obscures a lot of other things that make life worth affirming. Although Nietzsche likes science, and likes truth, he thinks the “will to truth” overvalues truth.
Genuine philosophers, Nietzsche says in this section of BGE, are not mere critics or instruments of science, they are:
commanders and legislators: they say, “thus it shall be!” They first determine the Whither and For What of man, and in so doing have at their disposal the preliminary labor of all philosophical laborers, all who have overcome the past. With a creative hand they reach for the future, and all that is and has been becomes a means for them, and instrument, a hammer. Their “knowing” is creating, their creating is a legislation, their will to truth is — will to power.
This section touches on Nietzsche’s concept of the “will to power”, and his theory of truth. I can’t get into them at the moment, so I’ll take the easy (“pop psychology Nietzsche”) way out and say that one way to read this section is as asking the reader what she is doing and why. What contribution does she take herself to be making, and for what? Is she an instrument or a user of instruments?
Finally, we can ask, following Nietzsche’s separation of philosophers into two categories in section 211, whether one must be one or the other. Was not Plato, for example, both a “servant” and “critic” of philosophical frameworks and questions he inherited from Socrates and also a a “creator of values”?
I’ll close with another great quote:
So far all of the extraordinary furtherers of man whom one calls philosophers, though they themselves have rarely felt like friends of wisdom but rather like disagreeable fools and dangerous question mark, have found their task, their hard, unwanted, inescapable task, but eventually also the greatness of their task, in being the bad conscience of their time.