Literary Criticism. Philosophy. Nonfiction. HTML: Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche attacks past philosophers for their alleged lack of critical sense and their blind acceptance of Christian premises in their consideration of morality. The work moves into the realm "beyond good and evil" in the sense of leaving behind the traditional morality which Nietzsche subjects to a destructive critique in favour of what he regards as an affirmative approach that fearlessly confronts the perspectival nature of knowledge and the perilous condition of the modern individual..
In addition to my dissapointment on that front, I found a few others.
While some of his ideas seem very distant from what we accept today (some of his points about women) I did glean a few things that have helped me to understand my own perspective. I think a class or study group where I could discuss my views and hear those of others would go a long way to helping me to really understand the book.
This was funny and familiar. But gradually I grew irritated, because of what seemed a continuous promotion of arrogance and rudenes. Please stop bullying supposedly “ill” and “degenerated” people, i thought. To make matters worse, he debunked Madame de Stael (233). I’m a fan of hers.
But then my opinion swung again. He deals with the downsides of intellectual distance (chapter 6) in an intriguing way. In chapter 8 he makes broad sweeping statements about european culture, that are, if not really convincing, still interesting. Then, in the concluding chapter, he zooms in on his favorite subject, the “noble” person. Surprisingly this figure now loses its arrogant looks and adopts an almost tragic countenance, prone to self-destruction and loneliness (269-284). The writing here is very serious and passionate, and results in an embrace of Dionysos, “that great ambiguity and tempter god” (295).
The most digestible aspect (though not for some, surely) of this writing are its moments of passion and poetic brilliance, alongside characteristic biting wit. Such wit abounds in the early parts of the book, where he deals mostly in polemics against prevalent views, against schools of thought and their propagators. Such style eventually drags, and then starves to death when Nietzsche begins to mock women in a rather juvenile way.
It is in the end section entitled "What is Noble?" that Nietzsche's poetics flare up and the text becomes introspective, in the sense that Nietzsche begins to discuss and refer to himself, but also in the sense that in doing he may reveal certain keys to understanding the book itself. Especially, "my written and painted thoughts [...] You have already taken off your novelty, and some of you are ready, I fear, to become truths: they already look so immortal, so pathetically decent, so dull! [...] We immortalize what cannot live and fly much longer — only weary and mellow things!"
In reading Nietzsche it might serve us to rely on context both historical and biographical, but even this method of interpretation, narrow as it is, may do us more harm than good. We may perhaps do best to acknowledge Nietzsche as Zarathustra made flesh in his own time and place, as an observer of the condition of man. He sees this with a terrified eye, but allows his throat to well up in Dionysian laughter at the possibilities of what the future might hold. As it stands, the outlook is dim. Such a time as now could not foster another Nietzsche, nor a complete realization of his ideal man. We remain in the muck, though some of us stand on the bridge between man and superman, with so many below us, fallen into the black pit of modernity where it is doubtful that no Goethe could stand upright.
This text is a set of nine chapters subdivided into 290 sections with various pontifications by the noted German philosopher. I did not detect a lot of coherence throughout. I get that Nietzsche has strong opinions. I get that he is not a
Apparently, in the midst of all of these declarations and many more, Nietzsche is critiquing the basis of all modern morality and exposing it all as the Will to Power; he takes down the philosophers; he overthrows religion, condemning its love of suffering, considering the OT of greater value than the NT; having little love for the ethos of Jesus. At the very end he confesses his great love for Dionysus and all he represents.
He found value in the Jews and condemned antisemitism...all the more ironic since the Nazis found plenty to love in Nietzsche's philosophy in general.
If this is representative of Nietzschean thought...man, the guy needed an editor. Unless, of course, clearly set forth and coherently argued premises is also something he's against. Wouldn't surprise me.
He writes, for instance: "The essential thing, however, in a good and healthy aristocracy is that it should...accept with a good conscience the sacrifice of a legion of individuals, who, FOR ITS SAKE, must be suppressed and reduced to imperfect men, to slaves and instruments. Its fundamental belief must be precisely that society is NOT allowed to exist for its own sake, but only as a foundation and scaffolding, by means of which a select class of beings may be able to elevate themselves to their higher duties, and in general to a higher EXISTENCE..."
This illustrates the problem with this sort of Nietzschean pseudo-egoism very well: one cannot accept egoism except on the basis of individualism---the "ego" is, after all, the "I", the individual self as distinct from other selves. Nietzsche senses this and tries to uphold the individual (e.g., "the individual dares to be individual and detach himself")---but one cannot uphold the individual while at the same time speaking of sacrificing legions of individuals. It's simply not consistent...if it is right for some people to exist for their own sake as individuals, then by the same token every other individual has that same right (Nietzsche's separation of them into "noble" and "despicable" classes notwithstanding).
The alternative to populism is not elitism, but individualism...and elitism is by definition not individualism. As one dictionary aptly puts it, elitism is "consciousness of or pride in belonging to a select or favored group"...it may be a smaller group, but it is still defining oneself primarily in terms of and in relation to the group. Indeed, Nietzche writes: "...egoism belongs to the essence of a noble soul, I mean the unalterable belief that to a being such as 'we,' other beings must naturally be in subjection, and have to sacrifice themselves..." Note the "we" where one would expect an "I", followed by the calls for sacrifice of one group to another...clearly, Nietzsche is not a genuine individualist, but a common elitist merely posing as one.
All of this follows from what might be called his metaethical principles, for example that "...life itself is ESSENTIALLY appropriation, injury, conquest of the strange and weak, suppression, severity, obtrusion of peculiar forms, incorporation, and at the least, putting it mildest, exploitation..." This is of course true of animals, but not of human beings in the moral sense. You might think that Nietzsche recognizes this as he describes the egoist as a "CREATOR OF VALUES", but he means that only in the sense that he subjectively defines values for himself, not that he actually creates the values his life requires rather than appropriating them from those who do create them. So for Nietzsche, the "egoist" is existentially a parasite on those who are actually creative and productive.
Nietzsche does insist that the highest men are not simply those who are physically superior, but spiritually (for lack of a better word---Nietzsche uses the term "psychically" in the translation I'm using) as well---the great individuals who shape a culture rather than merely being shaped by it, the Wagners, the, well...the Nietzsches! But given that these men are simply those who have the greatest concentration of the Will to Power, and not through any morally praiseworthy choices of their own, as Nietzsche denies freedom of the will, it's not clear that their superior status is in any sense "deserved". And whether their domination over others is through sheer force of will, or by actual physical domination, it still basically comes down to "might makes right".
The "Will to Power" is itself a sort of half-baked idea. Robert C. Solomon makes a lot out of Nietzsche's rejection of Plato and Schopenhauer, and of metaphysics in general, but interpreting his "Will to Power" as a merely psychological phenomenon (even a universal one) is a bit of a stretch, when he largely took the idea from Schopenhauer's "Will" or "Will to Live" and when its place in Nietzsche's philosophy is similar in form and function (if not in content) to Plato's Form of the Good. But to be fair, interpreting Nietzsche is not exactly a clear-cut undertaking, considering the unsystematic nature of his writings.
Even Nietzsche's comments on peripheral subjects don't stand up very well in retrospect. Many of his remarks about women are extremely unfortunate, and his attempt at music criticism is almost laughable as he dismisses Mendelssohn, Schumann, and the Romantics (and even Beethoven as the transition between Mozart and them) as unsubstantial and therefore short-lived and already forgotten---when his own musical compositions (yes, Nietzsche was himself something of an amateur composer!) have actually been forgotten (though they're not too bad) much more so than those.
So is there any value in reading Nietzsche today? Certainly, for those interested in the history of philosophy...it is interesting, for example, how Nietzsche's emphasis on feeling or "the passions" over rational thought bridged the gap between Hegel as well as the German Romantic philosophers such as Schelling, and the existentialists, on the one hand; and on the other how his proto-phenomenology bridged the gap between Kant and not only the existentialists but also the pragmatists.
And Beyond Good and Evil does contain some beautifully expressed thoughts, including one of my all-time favorite passages: "...it is some fundamental certainty which a noble soul has about itself, something which is not to be sought, is not to be found, and perhaps, also, is not to be lost.--THE NOBLE SOUL HAS REVERENCE FOR ITSELF." That is a beautiful, and (properly understood) profoundly true, idea. If only Nietzsche could have lived up to it in the rest of the work.
Such writing results in lack of retention. There is no central theme to any of the chapters or sections. For this reason, I was even considering going as low as two and a half stars.
Now, that said, his reasoning is transparently flawed. He fails to treat themes outside of his own the way he treats his pet themes. To wit: why is he so keen to discuss the 'history' of Christianity, but so unwilling to discuss the history of misogyny? He never acknowledges the obvious absurdities of his positions--if all people create their reality by interpretation, why assume that there is any 'natural' given (which he does with, e.g., instinct)? If all people create their reality by interpretation, why should we value Nietzsche's interpretation rather than the (then) reigning liberal Christianism?
These inconsistencies make it plain that he thinks his thought is different from previous philosophies; "every great philosophy to date has been the personal confession of its author." It's equally obvious that his work, more than any other (possible exception: Rousseau) is driven by his own idiosyncrasies.
This urge to be a unique snowflake drives BGE. Nietzsche starts by separating himself from other 'free thinkers.' He refuses to martyr himself to the 'truth' of atheism. He's beyond both utilitarianism, and Kantianism; he has overcome all morals; he has shifted the burden of proof to those who say that doing good by others is a good thing. He's beyond the enlightenment, which assumed a *good* world, and beyond Christians, who assume a bad one; he assumes a mutable, already interpreted world.
But he's very slippery on this--sometimes he wants to get underneath all that interpretation to the text itself; sometimes he values the interpretation rather than the text; sometimes he implies that there is no text. The real 'free spirits' will be experimenters, ultra-individualistic, and ultra-elitist. Whereas the free-thinkers (to borrow from Berlin) aim for negative freedom, Nietzsche and the future philosophers aim for positive freedom.
Sadly for Nietzsche, who was deeply oppressed by pretty much everything, religion was keeping down the free spirits. On the other hand, it did train the great to be great and fool the weak into submission. I'm curious to know what Nietzsche would have thought of the Ayn Rands and neo-Darwinians who use materialism, atheism and economics to achieve the same ends.
Thus far, act one. Now for act two.
In section 5, we get a shorter, less silly version of the Genealogy of Morality, with some of the same problems of reflexivity (we should do a genealogical reading of philosophies of morality... but not Nietzsche's. All young sciences make outrageous, unprovable claims due to a lack of skepticism... except Nietzsche's). Christianity is foolish... but Nietzsche's crazed messianism is legitimate.
True philosophers, we learn, are just like Nietzsche, whereas scholars are (presumably) the people who didn't like Birth of Tragedy. Philosophers create values, rather than justifying pre-existing values; they are opposed to their own times. The new philosophical virtues will be pluralism, spite, dissection, hierarchy, self-interest, individualism for the elite, absence of pity, laughter, good taste, dutiful immoralism, honest harshness, cruelty, misogyny, and not being English.
As a friend of mine put it about later philosophers with similar ideas, there will always be an audience for this, because there will always be self-impressed teenagers.
The final section is probably the best, and reveals Nietzsche at his worst: a small, lonely, intelligent man, so filled with rage at his own failures that he has to invent a mythology that will justify his own sense of superiority. He has a different morality to others, he is a master; we, the peons, have a slave morality. One can only wish that the masters would really retire to write bilious pamphlets instead of taking over the commanding heights of the world economy, where they create values that Nietzsche would have loathed, and which, perhaps, would have led him to think the better of his more adolescent fantasies of self-sufficient genius.
But despite the inconsistencies and absurdities and misogyny, BGE is filled with legitimately fascinating and important insights. The irony of Nietzsche's career is that he's at his best when undermining others; that is, when he's being a critic, rather than a creator of new values etc... His 'creation' is nothing other than an inversion of whatever other people say (they say be good to others; he says be good to oneself) with some post-positivist blather about nature and evolution. His criticisms, though, are devastating for much of the philosophical tradition. If only he'd stuck to that, and recognized the main meta-philosophical lesson of Hegel: the owl of Minerva flies at dusk.
And don't get me started on his views about women: "nothing is more foreign, more repugnant, or more hostile to woman than truth - her great art is falsehood, her chief concern is appearance and beauty." Oh dear, too late, I can't stop now: "When a woman has scholarly inclinations there is generally something wrong with her sexual nature. Barrenness itself conduces to a certain virility of taste...".
"Comparing man and woman generally, one may say that woman would not have the genius for adornment, if she had not the instinct for the secondary role."
I thought Erasmus's views were bad, but he lived four hundred years before Nietzsche. I had hoped that by the late nineteenth century 'deep thinkers' might have become more enlightened. Apparently not.
Nonetheless, the book is worthwhile in the same sense that Dylan's music and Kerouac's writing are. Reading Nietzsche for the first time was like reading Kerouac or listening to Dylan for the first time. It added to my understanding about human thought and revealed some of the underlying assumptions that permeate Western existence. Doors have been opened for me by Nietzsche.
After reading above words, decided to go away from this book.
As an armchair Platonist, I had a personal aversion to Nietzsche, whose whole purpose in life seemed to be to overthrow Platonism. After reading "Beyond Good and Evil", however, my attitude changed from aversion to pity, that is, pity in the
To illustrate what I think of Nietzsche and his relation to Plato, let me introduce a Chinese fictional/mythical character, Sun Wukong (孙悟空), also known as the Monkey King. The Monkey King challenged the authority of the gods, stormed their dwelling, The Heavenly Palace, and proclaimed himself an equal of the gods. They appealed to the Buddha for help, after repeatedly failing to subdue the Monkey King. The Buddha made a wager with the Monkey King, who could travel 108,000 miles with one somersault, that the latter could not jump out of the former's palm. In order to prove his power, the Monkey King traveled as far as he could, and reached what he thought were the Five Pillars of Heaven. When he returned to confront the Buddha, he learned, to his chagrin, that those pillars were actually the Buddha's fingers. He lost and was imprisoned by the Buddha under a mountain for 500 years.
An attentive reader would have no difficulty guessing at my meaning: Nietzsche was the Monkey King, Plato the Buddha.
Firstly, Plato derived the notion of an eternal cyclic nature of the universe long before Nietzsche stumbled upon it and gave it a different name, "eternal recurrence". Apparently, like the Monkey King, Nietzsche was not immune to self-deception and illusions of grandeur, when he claimed that his philosophy was new and free of metaphysical presumptions.
Secondly, there is nothing new to the idea of "order of rank" either. Plato made a division of classes in his Republic. Nietzsche seems to share Plato's contempt for democracy, which is based on the assumption of equality among man. Both would assert that some men are fit to rule and others to be ruled.
Thirdly, Christianity has long inculcated the notion that suffering is necessary for the character development of human beings. Nietzsche borrowed the idea again, without acknowledging the source.
Fourthly, Nietzsche's philosophy is not grounded in biological facts, but rather, it is another subjective interpretation with assumptions and leaps. To use his own simile, the text may have disappeared under the interpretation, but it is still there, and each interpretation shall be evaluated according to its relation to the original. The philosopher can no more place himself above the standard of good and evil, than a translator can place himself above the original.
Fifthly, the ancient Greek philosophers believed that the ultimate purpose of philosophy is the attainment of the Good and the True. Nietzsche rejected the notion as utilitarian and ignoble. What noble value did he create by will to power that would set him above those philosophers he satirized? None.