Beyond good and evil : prelude to a philosophy of the future

by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Book, 1966

Status

Available

Call number

PH

Call number

PH

Publication

New York : Vintage Books, 1989, c1966.

Original publication date

1886

Physical description

xvii, 256 p.; 21 cm

Local notes

Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future is a book by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, first published in 1886. It draws on and expands the ideas of his previous work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, but with a more critical and polemical approach. In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche accuses past philosophers of lacking critical sense and blindly accepting dogmatic premises in their consideration of morality. Specifically, he accuses them of founding grand metaphysical systems upon the faith that the good man is the opposite of the evil man, rather than just a different expression of the same basic impulses that find more direct expression in the evil man. 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.

Subjects

User reviews

LibraryThing member poetontheone
I think one of the key barriers to understanding Nietzsche, particularly this book and its immediate predecessor which both deal with the Ubermensch and master morality versus slave morality, is that the uninformed may go into such a book looking for some sort of dogma (as the Nazis did). Though if Nietzsche were to work in such a mode, his form would contradict his content.

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.
… (more)
LibraryThing member pingdjip
Some of my colleagues are infatuated with Nietzsche, and judging by this book it’s easy to understand why. In places it sounds considerably poststructural (I work in a literature department). It’s about complexity (“our body is, after all, only a society constructed out of many souls”, section 19), determinism and power-relations. Nietzsche considers language a constituating force (20), tightly linked to experience (268). He undertakes a typology of value systems (186), meaning to expose and to undermine them. He subordinates truth to interest and he questions the reality of oppositions: “we can doubt whether opposites even exist” (2).

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).
… (more)
LibraryThing member pickwick817
I began this book with the hope that Nietsche would better explain some of my own theories on morality and its function in society. I did not quite find what I was looking for. I now realize that my hope was terribly naive.

In addition to my dissapointment on that front, I found a few others. Nietsche seems to have used this book to attack some of his rivals with viewpoints opposed to his own. While this is not alway a bad thing, Nietsche does this in what appears to be more of a personal attack than a refutation of a theory.

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.
… (more)
LibraryThing member AshRyan
Though it contains some thought-provoking aphorisms, when it comes to its longer, more substantive passages, Beyond Good and Evil is not what its title proclaims. Nietzsche certainly does not move beyond the realm of value judgments altogether (which is about the best thing I can say for him in this regard). Nor does he even offer a genuine alternative to conventional conceptions of good and evil. Rather, he simply takes the flip-side of that coin and reverses the labels, ascribing (at least by strong implication) moral superiority to what would conventionally be called the "evil" and moral inferiority to what society had generally come to accept as the "good". On this last, much of his criticism of Christianity, which he aptly described as "slave-morality", is quite accurate; but in his own positive views, he unfortunately failed to move beyond the Christian moral framework and offer a genuine alternative. For example, instead of saying that the strong should sacrifice themselves to the weak, he held that the strong should sacrifice the weak to themselves. He completely accepted the view that morality was about masters and slaves, and only argued as to who should be sacrificed to whom.

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.
… (more)
LibraryThing member jpsnow
In this book we have the "non-fiction" counterpart to Zarathustra, in which Nietzsche explains not so much a single, integrated philosophy as his philosophical outlook on almost every aspect of life. It is a profound book and, as is often the case, I can at most note here snippets and anecdotes that especially caught my attention. Nietzsche provides an ongoing "survey of the literature," discussing the development of epistemology and criticizing Kant in particular ("By virtue of a faculty... But such replies belong in a comedy.") Nietzsche bemoaned the reduction to philosophy as being the theory of knowledge - the branch which dominate so much of the field before and during his time. He also saw the rapid expansion of science outpacing the development of philosophy, as philosophers worked too much in specializations and failed to rise high enough to look "down" (a very important metaphor for perspective in much of his writing.)… (more)
LibraryThing member caffron
Simply put: this work changed my life. I am glad that it rather than Zarathustra was my initiation to this great thinker's work. But it has been too long since I have last reread it to give it the review it deserves. I will say, though, that pomonomo2003's review seems to have framed it well.

Vivid language with passion begs the reader to ride the waves. As Freud saw, Nietzsche understood psychology better than the vast majority of men before or since. Not everyone, however, will venture beneath the waves (and beneath the occasional garbage on the surface, for even Nietzsche cannot escape ressentiment) to find the richness of the depths. This a book to be savored, because between and even within the aphorisms individually is a depth of metaphor and contradiction that leads to discoveries that cannot be communicated in the linear point-subpoint syllogism style which is so prevalent in philosophy.… (more)
LibraryThing member chellinsky
Over the past two days, I read Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. I didn't know what to expect and online reviews of the book were mixed and often lacking content. Hopefully, my amateur reading of this book and accompanying review will do it service.

First, I found Nietzsche very appealing–even if his ideas didn't always mesh well with mine. His directly anti-exceptionalist approach agreed with what I believe to be wrong with much of our discourse (in politics, philosophy, etc.). Additionally, his sarcastic, blunt, and provocative style is useful and aids his attempt to discredit existing trends of thought. However, using this tactic also limits his eventual ability to create the "new generation's" philosophy that he describes. When does the sarcasm end and non-cynical pontificating begin?

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.
… (more)
LibraryThing member darwin.8u
The blockbuster, followup hit (I think it originally sold 300 copies) to Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Same general theme, different method. One macro, one micro; one infinite, one finite; one timeless, one current -- I suppose (those are all methaphorical stretches to awe a Swami for sure, but hell, who reads these reviews anyway).
LibraryThing member MartinReads
Nietzsche is not for the feint-hearted. There is a reuirement of every reader that he or she should be able to look at everyhting that we take for granted and re-evaluate it. A book that changes who you are, oftentimes against your will. In my opinion, a requirement for every thinking person trying to separate from the herd.… (more)
LibraryThing member kencf0618
Back in the day I could never read Nietzsche without a "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?" reaction, but for me at least Susan Neiman's "Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy" provided the necessary context and the penny finally dropped. Nietzches razes transcendence right to the smoking, heaving ground... and then lives and raves without it. It's the return of the repressed!… (more)
LibraryThing member richestgirls
I think that the entire book is fascinating, but the one part that I read over and over is the aphorisms section.
LibraryThing member GaryPatella
Interesting thoughts. I agree with some and disagree with others. The biggest problem I have is that the writing style is VERY choppy. Since I read the English translation, I can't say for certain whether it is Nietzsche who wrote this way, or the way in which it was translated. In either case, the choppy writing is not conducive to absorption. A handful of sentences on one topic, followed by three sentences on another topic, followed by another few sentences on a third topic, etc.

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.
… (more)
LibraryThing member AJBraithwaite
The passage which really summed up this book for me was "Every deep thinker is more afraid of being understood than of being misunderstood." Yep, right there. It's what annoys me about a lot of philosophy - I just want people to be able to write clearly and honestly about what they actually mean. Nietzsche's language is so dense and impenetrable (and clearly deliberately so) that it is frustrating to read. There's definitely a whiff of the emperor's new clothes about this book.

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.
… (more)
LibraryThing member GyanaDass
So I think this books is pretty okay. I first thought it was pretty lousy, but then when he mentioned the part about the funky chicken dance - it all turned around and I began to really love it. He kind of messed up towards the end when he said that all the chicken really does is flap its wings around. Doesn't exactly spell excellence to me. - Santosha… (more)
LibraryThing member librarianbryan
Good to know the N-meister is still invigorating after all these years. You will be offended and you will think. What more could one ask for in a philosopher. It should be said too that enjoying Neitzsche is not to be ignorant of his flaws. Remember the myth of Icarus, but be prepared to be accused of possessing a slave morality.… (more)
LibraryThing member deusvitae
Not exactly the best introduction to the work of Nietzsche.

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 fan of the British. I get he would not be a fan of all that feminism has wrought.

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.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Clancy.Coonradt
Such a wonderful book. Truly one that I find hard to put down. This is my night reader during a History MA, and it certainly keeps my mind busy and not worrying on about the day and its endless problems. The way Penguin have re-published the book is beautiful, and it really adds to the impact of the brain warming words within. A must read for anyone that enjoys philosophy, or just for something to put you to sleep at night.… (more)
LibraryThing member Jane.Elinor
(Disclaimer: I'm definitely not qualified to write this review.)

When I started secondary school, in our first history classes, every so often it would be mentioned that such and such a historical figure was racist, or sexist, or what have you. For a bunch of 12 year old girls, this was pretty shocking, and I remember my teacher having to silence us and remind us: "it's not fair to judge someone by the standards of our time".

I think there's a lot of sense in that idea, and this is what I tried to do with 'Beyond Good and Evil', but unfortunately, I found it impossible simply because Nietzsche's philosophy is deeply entrenched in 19th century European society -- remove that context and what he's saying won't make sense. And so, because a lot of his philosophy is deeply rooted in social hierarchy, misogyny and nationalism (even though I wouldn't say Nietzsche is hugely nationalistic himself by 19th century standards), 'Beyond Good and Evil' can be tasteless to someone with more contemporary values.

I don't doubt that Nietzsche was a genius, however. His deconstruction of Western philosophy is very impressive and he makes many valid criticisms of the likes of Descartes and Kant. I also can see that his work is incredibly influential, and (though I'm not well versed in philosophy) I gather that it's Nietzsche's influence that led to the more post-moral slant of modern philosophy.

Nietzsche brings forward a lot of excellent ideas, and is admirable in not shying away from controversy. He takes a more cynical view of human nature than (probably) was typical until that point, and this is seen in ideas such as the will to power and the notions of master and slave morality. However much or little we agree with these notions, they're daringly subversive, and I think that they've made their mark on contemporary thinking, on an everyday level as much as on a philosophical one.

Master and slave morality is itself one of the ideas that seems particularly tasteless to us, in spite of it having penetrated people's thinking -- we (hopefully!) don't see the world in terms of masters and slaves, or leaders and followers, or higher and lower anymore, at least not in the same way that Europe did in the 19th century. It's very unappealing to us to see the world in terms of noble versus downtrodden and victimised. At the same time, though, some of the ideas of master morality -- self-respect, self-righteousness, etc -- are widely accepted these days as positive ways of living.

I don't want to go on for too much longer, but I'll finish by saying that Nietzsche was a highly intelligent philosopher, and an astute observer of the world around him. I may be slightly unfair in criticising the tastelessness of his views, but I do think that his philosophy is inextricably linked with the attitudes of 19th century Europe. I did enjoy it on the whole, though, and in spite of the three-and-a-half stars, I think 'Beyond Good and Evil' is definitely a book worth reading and forming an opinion on!

And I'm sorry for this mess of a review.
… (more)
LibraryThing member JorgeCarvajal
The book pretty much does what the title says, it does take you beyond good and evil, it does wash those dirty ideas ingrained in the mind since childhood. I can summarize the core of this work as "there is no good nor evil, only rules".
LibraryThing member byebyelibrary
One of the best audiobooks on Nietzsche I have ever come across. The author captures perfectly the wit, sarcasm and musicality of the writing.
LibraryThing member madepercy
The other evening, a few pages from the end of this work, I fell asleep listening to Alan Watts lecturing on virtues. I find it difficult to articulate the connection to Nietzsche, but what I comprehended as I awoke, while being in a state not dissimilar to that of Debussy's faun, was this rough recollection: You cannot be virtuous. If you become virtuous and you are aware of being virtuous, then you are prideful and thus no longer virtuous. Virtues are not self-conscious, and you cannot consciously be virtuous. Breathing is a virtue. You don't think about it, you are not responsible for it, it happens 'un-self-consciously'. That is virtue. I understand that Alan Watts was discussing elements of Eastern philosophy, but Nietzsche mentions Eastern philosophy numerous times. Following Mortimer Adler's guidance in How to Read a Book, I now take notes in pencil in the margins of my books. This rather short book is full of notations; Latin, French, Greek, German, and Italian words and phrases; class consciousness, waiting too long to display one's genius, "the herd"; the Will to Power; morality; and so on. Too much to summarise here appropriately. But I read in Nietzsche a critique of mediocrity, and it provides me with an awakening to the class-based cringe that has been highlighted by my reading and study over the years. Alan Watts said something like being self-conscious won't help one to be virtuous. Benjamin Franklin wrote that although he worked to consciously improve himself, using his 13-week virtues checklist, he was aware that he could never be perfect. If I take into account Nietzsche's critique of the herd morality and religion, and the privilege of rank and the position adopted by others in relation to my lowly class-based existence (which doesn't manifest itself in any meaningful way outside my own head), then the idea of "beyond good and evil" makes some intuitive sense. Nonetheless, I am far from articulating Nietzsche's ideas beyond what I can grasp from a handful of his work. I may take some solace in that Franklin couldn't be virtuous, that Adler tells me there is nothing wrong with interpreting my reading without the aid of others, that Nietzsche writes much like La Rochefoucauld, and that he thought the Stoics were wrong. This is interesting because the Stoics advocated "living according to one's nature". As it is so natural, then how can one "will" oneself to live in a way that is predestined? This is one of the most helpful explanations of the deductive method! On flicking back through my notes, two things are noticeable. First, the race elements the Nazis picked up on (thanks to Nietzsche's sister, I believe). This is no worse than Jack London, writing not that long after Nietzsche and I encountered parts that wouldn't fit with Nazism. Second, the attitude towards women. This was written before universal suffrage, but clearly, Nietzsche was no John Stuart Mill. Indeed, Nietzsche was a critic of utilitarianism. I will finish with this quote on scholars and artists (I had heavily underlined it while reading - there is always a pencil on hand these days), one that brings together in Nietzsche's words what I felt in my "faunish" moment while listening to Alan Watts (pp. 142-3):One finds nowadays among artists and scholars plenty of those who betray by their works that a profound longing for nobleness impels them; but this very need of nobleness is radically different from the needs of the noble soul itself, and is in fact the eloquent and dangerous sign of the lack thereof. It is not the works, but the belief which is here decisive and determines the order of rank - to employ once more an old religious formula with a new and deeper meaning - 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. It would seem that it is "beyond good and evil".… (more)
LibraryThing member Michael.Bradham
When writing about relation between neurosis and practices of solitude, fasting, sexual abstinence, Nietzsche writes: "This latter doubt is justified by the fact that one of the most regular symptoms among savage as well as among civilized peoples is the most sudden and excessive sensuality, which then with equal suddenness transforms into penitential paroxysms, world-renunciation, and will-renunciation, both symptoms perhaps explainable as disguised epilepsy? But nowhere is it MORE obligatory to put aside explanations around no other type has there grown such a mass of absurdity and superstition, no other type seems to have been more interesting to men and even to philosophers - perhaps it is time to become just a little indifferent here, to learn caution, or, better still, to look AWAY, TO GO AWAY -" (pages 33-34)
After reading above words, decided to go away from this book.
… (more)
LibraryThing member gmicksmith
Least of the three most important Nietzsche works the advantage is the ability to add notes and annotations.
LibraryThing member joeydag
required reading in college. I got ignored by the professor as I ignored N as a blathering anti-semite. Little did I know how to read anti-jewishness as an intellectual category and a tool for analysis of a cultural trend.
LibraryThing member sfisk
Classic- Must read
Page: 0.2276 seconds