on April 28, 2004
Forget Nietzsche the philosopher. As he himself said, 'Before you ask what a philosopher thinks, find out what he wants' (or something to that effect), and, as Freud said, "He had a sharper understanding of himself than any man in recent history." You could blow holes in the logical validity of his arguments, but he has never been about logic; all of his texts are deeply personal, and show an outstandingly intelligent and sensitive man grappling with the same issues that plague most people. Although he often has a reputation as arrogant and self-centered, he was often more tenuous about his ideas than other philosophers, advancing an idea by a series of partly related statements, sometime changing his mind or pausing to restate his position in different terms. You can see his ideas evolving over the course of this book alone. There are also some solid and entertaining insights here, and the aphorisms are highly quotable, but I think its greatest value is as a glimpse into a human soul.
on September 4, 2003
N. doesn't need my sales pitch, but anyway ...
First, if you're going to buy BG&E, go ahead & get the Modern Library "Basic Writings" in paperback---not a volume of snippets, but the complete text of N.'s two best books, BG&E and On the Genealogy of Morals, & some other works, for scarcely more than BG&E alone. If you don't like one book, try the other. N. says the same thing from different angles in his last 4 or 5 books. Anything after Zarathustra, except for Ecce Homo, is a good place to start.
Second, despite reading a translation, don't forget that N. is a clever, funny, & devilishly smart writer. Freud said no one before N. ever had as much self-knowledge. Read him with a sense of ironic humor. Too often N. is treated as some heavy thundering German, when if there's one thing that drove him up the wall, it was heavy thundering Germans.
Third, forgive his attitude problems about women. N.'s dad died when he was a kid; his mom & aunts raised him, got on his last nerve, & gave him a bad attitude towards women. Which, regrettably, was not exactly uncommon in the 19th c. BG&E includes his acknowledgement that his misogyny is a bedrock level of stupidity that he can't escape.
Fourth, if you're a Christian, there's a lot of N. that won't be acceptable to you. But learn what you can. A lot of so-called "Christianity" strongly resembles the "slave morality" that he describes.
This is an amazing book that I haven't even tried to describe, the book that made philosophy come alive for me with N.'s comment that, when wondering where the hell some metaphysician's notions came from, one should ask what morality the notions are aiming at. The book is full of great insights from a brilliant man. Read this, then the Genealogy, then Twilight of the Idols.
on November 30, 2001
This is as good a place as any to start your exploration of Nietzsche. The problem is, even though it is supposed to be a more straightforward approach at communicating the message found in Zarathustra, this is still written very pithily. The prose is very joyful, poetic, and requires thought. Then again, if you weren't willing to commit some thought to Nietzsche, then it's not worth picking up Nietzsche.
However, it is worth mentioning that you shouldn't pick up this book. Now that Kaufmann's Basic Writings of Nietzsche, which contains this book along with four others (Birth of Tragedy, On the Genealogy of Morals, The Case of Wagner, and Ecce Homo) is in paperback for only slightly more money, it's best to buy that instead.
on January 1, 2003
Though he was all but unread during his actual lifetime, the eventual impact of Friedrich Nietzsche's writings have had something of the effect of a hydrogen bomb being dropped on the world of philosophy. Though this is perhaps not Nietzsche's best book, it is probably the best one to read if you are not familar with his works, as it is a nice and concise introduction to his philosophy, and easier to get into than other works, such as the more famous Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In the course of this book, Nietzsche does nothing less than shake all of Western philosophy, including some of its most sacred and long-held tenets, to its core. Starting with the ancient Greeks and going all the way through the then-contemporary Schopenhauer, no one and nothing is safe from the scathing, vitrolic attack of Nietzsche's pen, being a critical assestment and denunciation of philosophy the level of which had not been seen since Voltaire - a man Nietzsche seems to have held a somewhat-reluctant admiration for (though he also speaks of a certain philosopher as being "more profound than Voltaire... and consequently a good deal more silent.") Nietzsche, herein, attacks some of our most sacred and fundamentally-held beliefs: boldly declaring that good and evil, ethics and morality, and more are simply mere cultural inventions, and cannot be objectively defined, while also telling us that there is no God, no soul, and that life is essentially meaningless and absurd. While all of these are obvious implications of Nietzsche's famous perspectiveism - and clearly give him full claim to the title of Grandfather of postmodernism and existentialinism - he was not, as is often claimed, a nihilist. No, Nietzsche tells us that there is one thing, at least, that is noble (if not quite virtuous): that which affirms life. Though this aspect of Nietzsche's philosophy is expanded upon much further in Zarathustra, we see that he was not, as one may tend to think from his writings, a pessimistic, gloomy, hopeless individual, but an enthusiastic person, full of zest for life, vowing that, despite everything, he would do it all over again. How many of us can truly say the same? That said, the book is not perfect: much of it is mere polemic, only vaguely philosophical, and, at times, downright embarrassing when read with the benefit of hindsight; the core of the book resides in the first two sections. Still, for those two alone, this book remains an essential philosophy read.
on September 30, 2000
Beyond Good And Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future represented a shift in Nietzsche's basic goals as an author. "After the Yes-saying part of my task had been solved, the turn had come for the No-saying, No-doing part: the revaluation of our values so far, the great war..."
Nietzsche goes on to describe Beyond Good and Evil as a "critique of modernity." The modernity attacked includes culture broadly construed; but Nietzsche appears to be especially concerned with the direction of philosophy and its role in future history. Indeed, the subtitle is "Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future." The book opens with a Preface and first section that are often witty in criticizing traditional philosophy and its presuppositions. After the famous opening line about truth being a woman, Nietzsche asks, "Are there not grounds for the suspicion that all philosophers, insofar as they were dogmatists, have been very inexpert about women?"
Nietzsche attacks particularly the dogmatism of philosophers. Philosophers have typically regarded themselves as seekers of truth--but from the book's beginning, Nietzsche casts suspicion on their motives. Philosophers, he argues, have simply assumed that truth is valuable, without inquiring as to whether this is so. They have posed their conclusions as objective, while in fact "every great philosophy so far has been...the personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir." Unwittingly, philosophers have sought to impose their own moral outlook on nature itself, and read into it what they have wanted to find.
Nietzsche proposes a reassessment of the way philosophy has been practiced in physiological and psychological terms, recognizing how much against the grain his approach will seem.
Nietzsche proposes a new direction for philosophy, and a different kind of person as philosopher. Philosophers, according to this view, should be free spirits and great experimentalists, as opposed to the mere "philosophical laborers" that are often thought to be the true philosophers. The philosopher has "the most comprehensive responsibility" and "the conscience for the over-all development of man," and should utilize religion, education and political suggestions, although it is more concerned to propose a type of political arrangement (like Plato advocating philosopher-kings) than to argue for specific policies.
Central to the agenda of Nietzsche's future philosophers is a reconsideration of the value of conventional morality from a physio-psychological perspective. For the first time, in Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche proposes to develop "a natural history of morals." He implies with this formulation that morality can be naturalistically described, that it is not a revelation from another, divine level of reality.
Nietzsche goes so far in employing naturalistic terms in his analysis that he describes the morality of his tradition as a "herd morality." In other words, people follow the same direction as others for the same reason that cows and sheep follow other cows and sheep. Nietzsche surely recognizes that many readers will find comparison between their moral beliefs and animal behavior offensive.
Nietzsche also suggests that multiple moralities have existed at the same time, and that they reveal their adherent's psychological perspective, which can be either healthy or not healthy. In particular, he suggests that master morality and slave morality are radically different in outlook. Master morality, typified by those in positions of power, involves a primary judgment of oneself as good, and a judgment of others in reference to one's own traits. Slave morality, by contrast, as the moral outlook of those who are oppressed, is primarily concerned with the reactions those in power might have to any contemplated act. Although slaves hate the master and everything the master represents, they still refer their behavior primarily to their master. Judging the master with hostility, they come to see him as evil, and only then come to judge themselves as relatively good. Nietzsche develops this account of master and slave morality much more thoroughly in Toward the Genealogy of Morals.
The concept of will to power appears prominently in Beyond Good and Evil. Again, Nietzsche takes issue with Schopenhauer's emphasis on will to life: "A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength--life itself is will to power; self preservation is only one of the direct and frequent results." Although emphatic in stressing will, Nietzsche is equally emphatic in denying freedom of the will. In fact, he considers the defense of freedom of will to be simply a manifestation of the asserters desire for power.
Will to power is also enlisted as a potential basis for explaining physiology and physiologically grounded behavior. Significantly, however, as in many other instances Nietzsche poses this "reduction" as a thought experiment.
Nietzsche's perspectivism, however, is discussed in more psychological terms elsewhere in Beyond Good and Evil. Nietzsche suggests that the perspective different individuals have of human reality depends on their relative stature as human beings. Nietzsche frequently adopts the image of height, describing those who see others from a higher vantage as having a more comprehensive view that is incommensurable with the perspective of those below them. Nietzsche emphasizes the importance of this order of rank, and he often claims that the human species consists of a proliferation of types, some of which are more valuable (or higher) than others. Of greatest importance for Nietzsche is the individual genius, upon whom culture most depends. Nietzsche's view on this matter is unrepentantly elitist: "For every high world one must be born; or to speak more clearly, one must be cultivated for it: a right to philosophy--taking that word in its great sense--one has by only virtue of one's origins; one's ancestors, one's 'blood' decide here, too."
on March 18, 2000
The late great Princeton philosopher Walter Kaufmann does yet another fine job of translating and defending Nietzsche to a 20th (and 21st?) century audience. Kaufmann deserves a great deal of credit for bringing Nietzsche out of the ranks of taboo books for the (unfortunate) association with Hitler after World War II.
This association is ironic when one considers how Nietzsche extols the Jewish race on pages 187 & 188, describing them as
...beyond any doubt the strongest, toughest, and purest race now living in Europe; they know how to prevail even under the worst conditions...by means of virtues that today one would like to mark as vices - thanks above all to a resolute faith that need not be ashamed before "modern ideas"....
Can anyone seriously contend that Hitler was inspired to commit genocide upon the Jewish people because of Nietzsche with passages such as this in mind?
If I have one bone to pick with this book, it is Nietzsche's unwarranted misogynistic tirades in the chapter called "Our Virtues." These attacks on woman's intellectual acumen are not only wrong, but completely unnecessary and contribute nothing to Nietzsche's overall philosophical thread of thought. His dictum of the "eternally boring in woman" (a verbal joust to Goethe's "eternal feminine") is nothing more than an adolescent, shallow cheap shot. Personally, I think his hatred of women has much more to due with his psychology (the fact that he was such a very lonely man + the inaccessiblity of Cosima Wagner) than any serious intellectual analysis that he devoted to the issue. In any case, given the accomplishments of women in the 20th century (as well as the "hidden" triumphs of historical women from before this century) any educated person today would be compelled to dismiss the idea of men being mentally superior to women as hogwash.
With the exception of the anti-woman chapter, the rest of this book is quite good. It is in many ways a re-writing of his "Also Sprach Zarathustra" via a non-poetic medium. Most of Nietzsche's more important ideas are incorporated into the book at some point or other. Also, Kaufmann furnishes the reader with helpful footnotes which elucidate the allusions that Nietzsche is making. A profound book. To give you a taste of why this book is worth reading, I will leave you with one of my very favorite passages of Nietzsche. It appears on page 153:
"Measure" is alien to us; let us own it; our thrill is the thrill of the infinite, the unmeasured. Like a rider on a steed that flies forward, we drop the reins before the infinite, we modern men, like semi-barbarians - and reach "our" bliss only where we are most - in danger.
on December 27, 2002
I usually tell people to read this book first if they have not read any Nietzsche, followed by Genealogy and Zarathustra. Nietzsche's overall project in this book is extremely significant, and especially toward the beginning of the book he seems to be at his best. But as Kaufmann notes in his intro., the book contains many embarassing passages such as the section on women (it's not embarassing b/c of its subject matter - I love to hear Nietzsche tell it how it is about women - it's just that the aphorisms aren't good except for perhaps, "A black dress and a silent part make a woman appear smart.")and the poem at the end. Besides this there are many weak sections, and Nietzsche really accomplishes his task after the first few sections. Nevertheless, this work is essential for understanding Nietzsche's thought, and while not the best stylistically, it remains one of the most important.
on May 30, 2003
After Nietzche summed up his philosophy in his previous book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he must have realized if someone wasn't acquainted with his writings before, they wouldn't know what he was talking about. With this in mind, Nietzche takes everything he sees wrong about the world and writes it down here. He discusses his views on religion in that Judeo-Christian morality is simply a guise to give those who promote it power over their followers. He also criticizes other philosphers for their self-righteous dogmatist thinking and how they, in seeking the truth, end up looking at all their views as objective, and warp their idea of truth into what they want it to be. Nietzche is shunned my many because of his views on women, but for anyone interested in existentialist writings that questions systematic reasoning, I highly recommend this.
Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future was first published in 1886.
Nietzsche on dreams:
"That which we experience in dreams, if we experience it often, is in the end just as much a part of the total economy of our soul as is anything we `really' experience: we are by reason of it richer or poorer, feel one need more or one need fewer, and finally are led along a little in broad daylight and even in the most cheerful moments of our waking spirit by the habits of our dreams." (cf. Rosalind D. Cartwright's The Twenty-Four Hour Mind: The Role of Sleep and Dreaming in Our Emotional Lives).
On herd mentality:
"Ever since there have been human beings there have also been human herds (family groups, communities, tribes, nations, states, churches), and always very many who obey compared with the very small number who command. Nothing has been practiced and cultivated among men better or longer than obedience. The strange narrowness of human evolution, its hesitations, its delays, its frequent retrogressions and rotations, are due to the fact that the herd instinct of obedience has been inherited best and at the expense of the art of commanding. "
"Madness is something rare in individuals - but in groups, parties, peoples, ages it is the rule."
On the danger of becoming as bad as one's enemy:
"He who fights with monsters should make sure that he himself does not become a monster."
On the will to « Truth » :
"What really is it in us that wants `the truth'? We did indeed pause for a long time before the question of the origin of this will - until finally we came to a complete halt before an even more fundamental question. We asked after the value of this will. Granted we want truth: why not rather untruth? And uncertainty? Even ignorance? - The problem of the value of truth stepped before us - or was it we who stepped before this problem? Which of us is Oedipus here? Which of us sphinx?"
"Perhaps no one has ever been sufficiently truthful about what `truthfulness' is."
Of temptation by "Knowledge":
"`Where the tree of knowledge stands is always Paradise': thus speak the oldest and youngest serpents."
On the unreliability of memory:
"'I have done that' says my memory. `I cannot have done that' says my pride', and remains adamant. At last, memory yields. "
On "reason" vs. instinct:
"Socrates, a superior dialectician, took the side of reason, and laughed at the incapacity of noble Athenians, who were men of instinct, like all noble men, to supply adequate information about the reasons for their actions... Plato wanted to prove to himself that reason and instinct move towards one goal, and since Plato, all theologians and philosophers have followed the same path. One might have to exclude Descartes, the father of rationalism, who recognized only the authority of reason: but reason is only an instrument, and Descartes was superficial."
"The will to overcome an emotion is ultimately only the will of another emotion or of several others." (cf. Dr. Robert Plutchik's Emotions and Life).
"As for the superstitions of the logicians, I shall never tire of underlining a concise little fact which these superstitious people are loath to admit, that a thought comes when it wants, not when `I' want; so it is a falsification of the facts to say: the subject `I' is the condition of the predicate `think.' `It' thinks, but that this `It' is precisely that famous old `I' is, to put it mildly, only an assumption, an assertion, above all not an `immediate certainty.' For even with this `it thinks' one has already gone too far: this `it' already contains an interpretation of the event and does not belong to the event itself. The inference here is in accordance with the habit of grammar: `thinking is an activity, to every activity pertains one who acts, consequently -` . It was more or less in accordance with the same scheme that the older atomism sought, in addition to the force which acts, the atom; more rigorous minds have at last learned to get along without this `residuum of earth', and perhaps we and the logicians as well will one day accustom ourselves to getting along without that little `it' (which is what the honest old `I' has evaporated into.")
On Epicurus vs. Plato:
"I know of nothing more venomous than the joke Epicurus allowed himself to make against Plato and the Platonists: he called them Dionysiokolakes - `flatterers of Dionysus', that is to say tyrants' hangers-on and lickspittles. It is as much as to say `they are all actors, there is nothing genuine about them.' He was annoyed by the grandiose manner, the mise en scène of which Plato and his pupils were masters, while he sat hidden in his little garden in Athens. It took a century for Greece to find out who this garden god Epicurus had been. Did it find out?"
On light from the furthest stars:
"The greatest events and thoughts - but the greatest thoughts are the greatest events - are comprehended last: the generations which are their contemporaries do not experience such events - they live past them. What happens here is similar to what happens in the realm of the stars. The light from the furthest stars comes to men last; and before it has arrived men deny that stars are there."
"That which is done out of love is always beyond good and evil."
on November 9, 2002
The title, Beyond Good & Evil, can make the author seem a bit (perhaps a lot!) crude, but only if the title is to be interpreted (without reading the whole book) at face value. This is precisely what Nietzsche was against: reaching a conclusion that is certain based on the name, idea, or concept given to things and persons from a bias of superficiality. From this labeling the simple man becomes prejudiced, and therefore, locked into his tradition of thought and language, and as a consequence, cannot rise to a height beyond this good & evil man has created for himself. It is Nietzsches task to drive his readers beyond this good & evil (where it is possible to create higher values), to shift perspectives, to a height where one cannot look up nor look down. At this height there exists no god, no mask, no prejudice. There is only the great-souled man. There is a lesson to be learned, but to learn it one only has to read Nietzsche in his spirit to find it.