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10. Self-Assertion and Self-Surpassing
11. Virtue as Aesthetic Good Taste
Before embarking on a discussion of Nietzsche’s account of aristocratic virtue, we should first say something about the epistemology used in his ethics. For all his trust in instincts, he is not an intuitionist, but instead adopts an extreme form of the classic dictum that the world is known only through the senses. Despite all his emphasis on individualistic willing, he denies that there is such a thing as free will. [BGE, 18] A clear account of his epistemology is needed in order to avoid misinterpreting what he will say about “master morality.”
Nietzsche presupposes a need for epistemological parsimony or an “economy of principles.” Accordingly, he discards all teleological principles as superfluous, believing the world to be sufficiently accounted by physical forces. In contrast with many Darwinians, he denies that the primary instinct of a living being is self-preservation, since this presumes that living beings aim for some end. Rather, the cardinal instinct of a living being is to discharge its strength, and self-preservation is but one of its results. Thus life itself is “will-to-power.” [BGE, 13]
Most modern anti-teleologists adopt a form of scientism, holding the method of natural science to be the sole valid epistemology. Nietzsche, by contrast, holds that “natural philosophy is only a world-exposition and world-arrangement (according to us, if I may say so!) and NOT a world-explanation.” [BGE, 14] Physical science merely orders our sensory experiences into intelligible categories, conforming the world to our subjective mental processes. It does not really explain anything, but it feels like an explanation because it refers to the visible and palpable, in conformity with the “plebeian tastes” of our sensual age. Science explains only what can be seen and felt, and goes no farther. Our plebeian age is satisfied with this, but those with aristocratic tastes demanded more. The appeal of Platonism, an aristocratic mode of thought, was precisely in its resistance to sense-evidence.
In this overcoming of the world, and interpreting of the world in the manner of Plato, there was an ENJOYMENT different from that which the physicists of today offer us—and likewise the Darwinists and anti-teleologists among the physiological workers, with their principle of the “smallest possible effort,” and the greatest possible blunder. “Where there is nothing more to see or to grasp, there is also nothing more for men to do”—that is certainly an imperative different from the Platonic one, but it may notwithstanding be the right imperative for a hardy, laborious race of machinists and bridge-builders of the future, who have nothing but COARSE work to perform. [BGE, 14]
We have already seen that Nietzsche is not an idealist, yet though he trusts the senses, he does not stop his inquiries at the sensual. The metaphysical know-nothingism of modern science might be suitable for the plebeians, who are concerned only with sensual practicality, but the noble man insists on probing deeper, and thus disdains “scientific explanations” as merely descriptive, superficial analyses of phenomena. This is not to say that science is worthless, only that it is an approximation or model of reality, or as Nietzsche boldly puts it elsewhere, a useful falsification of reality, [See The Gay Science, 373; Genealogy of Morality, 3rd Essay, 24] conforming it to the abstract, static, universal concepts of mathematics and formal logic. We may regard science and reason as tools for dealing with reality, but should not mistake them for explanations. Indeed, as interpretation depends on perspective, there can be infinitely many interpretations of the world. [The Gay Science, 374]
Nietzsche is concerned primarily with value or worth in the world, so he regards physico-mathematical accounts of reality to be non-explanatory. They account only for quantities, but not the deeper aspects of reality. A purely computational account of music, for example, would fail to grasp what is truly musical. [The Gay Science, 373] Modern empiricists tend to dismiss questions of value as “merely” subjective, yet if we are unconcerned with value, why should we assume that truth is desirable?
It is nothing more than a moral prejudice that truth is worth more than semblance; it is, in fact, the worst proved supposition in the world.… Indeed, what is it that forces us in general to the supposition that there is an essential opposition of “true” and “false”? Is it not enough to suppose degrees of seemingness, and as it were lighter and darker shades and tones of semblance—different valeurs, as the painters say? [BGE, 34]
The value of a relation or process depends on its “seemingness;” as such, it is perspective-dependent. Nietzsche agrees with the empiricists that value is “subjective,” but all interpretations of reality are likewise perspective-dependent, including those of natural philosophy and abstract logic.
Why might not the world WHICH CONCERNS US—be a fiction? And to anyone who suggested: “But to a fiction belongs an originator?"—might it not be bluntly replied: WHY? May not this “belong” also belong to the fiction? … Might not the philosopher elevate himself above faith in grammar? [BGE, 34]
This transcendence of grammar entails that the subject-verb-object relations we project onto ontology could themselves be mere fabrications. There is no reason, then, to assume that a “fiction” needs an inventor. A fiction is merely that to which neither true nor false apply.
We have already seen that Nietzsche is willing to challenge basic ontological suppositions such as substance or an agent that acts. Yet, unlike most skeptics, he is not motivated by a need for certainty, and so does not find the untrustworthiness of our ontological theories to be grounds for seeking some more immediate certainty, such as Descartes’ Cogito ergo sum. Such “immediate certainties” are the product of naive self-observation. In this category, Nietzsche includes Schopenhauer’s “superstition” of “I will.” This is naive because it assumes that “cognition here got hold of its object purely and simply as ‘the thing in itself,’ without any falsification taking place either on the part of the subject or the object.” [BGE, 16] If we admit that cognition is frequently incapable of grasping external objects as they really are, noumenally (not that Nietzsche is asserting the reality of noumena), then we cannot assume that it grasps even its own objects (e.g., thought and will), since there could be falsification in both the thinker and the thought-object.
“Whence did I get the notion of ‘thinking’? Why do I believe in cause and effect? What gives me the right to speak of an ‘ego,’ and even of an ‘ego’ as cause, and finally of an ‘ego’ as cause of thought?” [BGE, 16] Subject-verb-object relationships presume causality, a notoriously dubious concept. They can hardly form the basis of unassailable certainties. We cannot appeal to intuition about the ‘ego’ as a source of true knowledge, since such intuition already contains some questionable ontological presuppositions.
Still, it is undeniable that something is going on with thought. There is a process, but not necessarily a thinker who thinks: “…a thought comes when ‘it’ wishes, and not when ‘I’ wish…” [BGE, 17] It may be true that “one thinks,” but this “one” is not necessarily the ego. Further, “…even the ‘one’ contains an INTERPRETATION of the process, and does not belong to the process itself…” [BGE, 17] Again, it is unnecessary that activity should require an agent.
We have seen this process ontology already, when Nietzsche denied the category of substance. Some modern physicists were already beginning to recognize that it was unnecessary to identify power with some atom possessing it, and we could dispense with this “earth-residuum.” Perhaps, Nietzsche says, we will also be able to dispense with the “one” some day. He tacitly admits that he is unable to find away to dispense with the “one” (though it need not be the “ego”), but he attributes this to his own limitations.
This does not really prove that “stuff” does not exist, but only that processes may not always need “stuff” or substance to account for their origin. Process ontology observes that everything is in flux, and therefore nothing endures. Aristotle instead held that everything is in flux in one aspect, and enduring in another aspect (hylomorphism). If everything changes, what is it that changes? Is a new universe created every instant? How can I contemplate an entire proposition if there is no single “I” from one instant to the next? The process philosophy proposed by Nietzsche is not without its problems, if we insist on process to the absolute exclusion of substance.
Schopenhauer’s contention that the will alone is completely known is just popular prejudice, according to Nietzsche. “Willing seems to me to be above all something COMPLICATED, something that is a unity only in name—and it is precisely in a name that popular prejudice lurks…” [BGE, 19] Modern neuroscience corroborates that willing is complicated. It is simple only as an idea, which for Nietzsche is a mere name or verbalized prejudice. Even without the benefit of neuroscience, the complexity of willing can be gleaned from its dependence on sensation, thinking and emotion.
…in all willing there is a firstly a plurality of sensations, namely, the sensation of the condition “AWAY FROM WHICH we go,” the sensation of the condition “TOWARDS WHICH we go,” the sensation of this “FROM” and “TOWARDS” itself, and then besides, an accompanying muscular sensation, which, even without our putting in motion “arms and legs,” commences its action by force of habit, directly we “will” anything.
Therefore, just as sensations (and indeed many kinds of sensations) are to be recognized as ingredients of the will, so, in the second place, thinking is also to be recognized; in every act of the will there is a ruling thought;—and let us not imagine it possible to sever this thought from the “willing,” as if the will would then remain over!
In the third place, the will is not only a complex of sensation and thinking, but it is above all an EMOTION, and in fact the emotion of the command. That which is termed “freedom of the will” is essentially the emotion of supremacy in respect to him who must obey: “I am free, ‘he’ must obey”—this consciousness is inherent in every will; and equally so the straining of the attention, the straight look which fixes itself exclusively on one thing, the unconditional judgment that “this and nothing else is necessary now,” the inward certainty that obedience will be rendered—and whatever else pertains to the position of the commander. [BGE, 19]
Describing reality experientially, we find that sensations are ingredients of the will, not mere indicators of its presence. Thinking is also essential to the will, a fact recognized by the Scholastic requirement that the will is always acting posterior to the intellect. Nietzsche instead makes volition simultaneous with intellection, not separating them in an artificial relationship of cause-and-effect. Most striking is his notion that will is an emotion of command, and this feeling of supremacy is what we call freedom of the will. His emphasis on attention anticipates modern neuropsychology.
Inasmuch as in the given circumstances we are at the same time the commanding AND the obeying parties, and as the obeying party we know the sensations of constraint, impulsion, pressure, resistance, and motion, which usually commence immediately after the act of will; inasmuch as, on the other hand, we are accustomed to disregard this duality, and to deceive ourselves about it by means of the synthetic term “I”: a whole series of erroneous conclusions, and consequently of false judgments about the will itself, has become attached to the act of willing—to such a degree that he who wills believes firmly that willing SUFFICES for action.
Since in the majority of cases there has only been exercise of will when the effect of the command—consequently obedience, and therefore action—was to be EXPECTED, the APPEARANCE has translated itself into the sentiment, as if there were a NECESSITY OF EFFECT; in a word, he who wills believes with a fair amount of certainty that will and action are somehow one; he ascribes the success, the carrying out of the willing, to the will itself, and thereby enjoys an increase of the sensation of power which accompanies all success.
“Freedom of Will”—that is the expression for the complex state of delight of the person exercising volition, who commands and at the same time identifies himself with the executor of the order—who, as such, enjoys also the triumph over obstacles, but thinks within himself that it was really his own will that overcame them. In this way the person exercising volition adds the feelings of delight of his successful executive instruments, the useful “underwills” or under-souls—indeed, our body is but a social structure composed of many souls—to his feelings of delight as commander.
L’EFFET C’EST MOI. What happens here is what happens in every well-constructed and happy commonwealth, namely, that the governing class identifies itself with the successes of the commonwealth. In all willing it is absolutely a question of commanding and obeying, on the basis, as already said, of a social structure composed of many “souls,” on which account a philosopher should claim the right to include willing-as-such within the sphere of morals—regarded as the doctrine of the relations of supremacy under which the phenomenon of “life” manifests itself. [BGE, 19]
By this account, the erroneous belief in free will is grounded in an artificial distinction between cause and effect. We abstract the ‘ego’ who commands from the body that obeys, when in fact consciousness itself is the result of countless competing desires and impulses. The plurality of agency in the human mind seems to be borne out by modern neuroscience. Yet why do I experience myself as a unified entity? Nietzsche’s answer that the governing class takes credit for the actions of the commonwealth is not a fully satisfactory analogy, for it seems to imply that the conscious will or ego really does have a governing function. Even if my will does not initiate desires, it may choose from them or impose some sort of compromise among them.
Although the notion of free will is based on the distinction between cause and effect, a perfectly free will itself seems to defy causal analysis. What is the cause of the will choosing one thing rather than another? A conventional answer is that the will is its own cause (causa sui), which contradicts the logic of cause and effect. If a thing does not require a cause extrinsic to itself, then there would be no need to introduce the will in the first place to account for the effects of the mind. To be a causa sui is “to pull oneself up into existence by the hair.” [BGE, 21]
While those who make an idol of physical science may nod in agreement at this refutation of free will, Nietzsche criticizes the scientific idea that one can “explain” the will in terms of materialistic causes. This “non-free will” is also derived from a misuse of cause and effect.
One should not wrongly MATERIALISE “cause” and “effect,” as the natural philosophers do (and whoever like them naturalize in thinking at present), according to the prevailing mechanical doltishness which makes the cause press and push until it “effects” its end; one should use “cause” and “effect” only as pure CONCEPTIONS, that is to say, as conventional fictions for the purpose of designation and mutual understanding,—NOT for explanation.
In “being-in-itself” there is nothing of “causal-connection,” of “necessity,” or of “psychological non-freedom”; there the effect does NOT follow the cause, there “law” does not obtain. It is WE alone who have devised cause, sequence, reciprocity, relativity, constraint, number, law, freedom, motive, and purpose;
The “non-free will” is mythology; in real life it is only a question of STRONG and WEAK wills.—It is almost always a symptom of what is lacking in himself, when a thinker, in every “causal-connection” and “psychological necessity,” manifests something of compulsion, indigence, obsequiousness, oppression, and non-freedom; it is suspicious to have such feelings—the person betrays himself. [BGE, 21]
Any “law” of causal necessity is merely a construct, convenient for description of correlations, but not a real explanation of why things happen. Power realizes itself in activity; there is no real distinction between potential (power) and actuality. There is no real distinction between agent and act; such distinction exists only for verbal convenience. A sequential distinction between cause and effect derives from our mechanical observations, where one thing presses or pushes another, accomplishing an effect. If you admit this conception of efficient causality, separating cause and effect, you tacitly admit final causality, for a final cause is nothing but the form of an agent’s act. Nietzsche, more astute than most “scientific” philosophers, realizes that we can banish teleology only if we abandon the distinction between cause and effect. Only then do we dispense with purposiveness in nature. There is no longer a distinction between what nature intends and what it accomplishes. The effect is always commensurate with the cause, so there is no need for these to be really distinct. Nietzsche is not denying efficient causality, but reconceiving it in a non-mechanistic fashion, collapsing the distinction between agent and act, thereby abolishing “necessity” as some extrinsic constraint.
In Nietzsche’s physics, power discharges itself fully; in fact, power is nothing else but this act of discharge. If we see a greater effect in one place rather than another, it is not that one cause failed to actualize itself as fully, or that it inhibited itself out of respect for some “law” or “necessity,” but rather, a stronger will to power was present in one place.
The proponents of “non-free will” do not want to admit that some wills are simply stronger than others, so they invoke laws of causal necessity as explanations. In this mode of explanation, they reveal that they see themselves as compelled, oppressed, obsequious slaves. They are among the weak-willed, so it behooves them to deny that there are stronger and weaker wills. Instead, let all be enslaved to the same necessity.
Believers in free will are trying to take all responsibility for their actions, thereby excusing God, their ancestors, nature, etc. Believers in non-free will, by contrast, try to escape responsibility or blame for their actions.
The latter, when they write books, are in the habit at present of taking the side of criminals; a sort of socialistic sympathy is their favourite disguise. And as a matter of fact, the fatalism of the weak-willed embellishes itself surprisingly when it can pose as ‘la religion de la souffrance humaine’; that is ITS ‘good taste.’ [BGE, 21]
Even today, this cult of pity for the suffering remains the aesthetic standard of socialists (many of whom now call themselves liberals, while the classical liberals are called conservatives). The idea that criminals, not being responsible for their actions, should be treated rather than punished remains a popular canard among academics. This belief is a product not of their intellects but of their effeminate tastes. They cannot imagine anyone strong-willed enough to oppose the extrinsic forces to which they succumb, and their sensibilities are offended by the strenuous violence of punitive acts. In their ideal world, everyone obeys the laws of nature and man, never venturing beyond the prescribed boundaries that make life optimal for the good of all.
Thoughts appear in our consciousness as the result of desires, without any “free will” lording over them or any “non-free will” doing the bidding of materialistic causes. Rather, all of reality, mental and extra-mental, is an interacting network of Will to Power. Given this account, should we consider instinct or reason the more reliable means of evaluating things?
The old theological problem of “Faith” and “Knowledge,” or more plainly, of instinct and reason—the question whether, in respect to the valuation of things, instinct deserves more authority than rationality, which wants to appreciate and act according to motives, according to a “Why,” that is to say, in conformity to purpose and utility—it is always the old moral problem that first appeared in the person of Socrates, and had divided men’s minds long before Christianity.
Socrates himself, following, of course, the taste of his talent—that of a surpassing dialecticiantook first the side of reason; and, in fact, what did he do all his life but laugh at the awkward incapacity of the noble Athenians, who were men of instinct, like all noble men, and could never give satisfactory answers concerning the motives of their actions? In the end, however, though silently and secretly, he laughed also at himself: with his finer conscience and introspection, he found in himself the same difficulty and incapacity.
“But why”—he said to himself—“should one on that account separate oneself from the instincts! One must set them right, and the reason ALSO—one must follow the instincts, but at the same time persuade the reason to support them with good arguments.” This was the real FALSENESS of that great and mysterious ironist; he brought his conscience up to the point that he was satisfied with a kind of self-outwitting: in fact, he perceived the irrationality in the moral judgment.—Plato, more innocent in such matters, and without the craftiness of the plebeian, wished to prove to himself, at the expenditure of all his strength—the greatest strength a philosopher had ever expended—that reason and instinct lead spontaneously to one goal, to the good, to “God”; and since Plato, all theologians and philosophers have followed the same path—which means that in matters of morality, instinct (or as Christians call it, “Faith,” or as I call it, “the herd”) has hitherto triumphed. Unless one should make an exception in the case of Descartes, the father of rationalism (and consequently the grandfather of the Revolution), who recognized only the authority of reason: but reason is only a tool, and Descartes was superficial. [BGE, 191]
Nietzsche here seems to take the side of instinct as a means of evaluation, associating it with “all noble men.” The ancient aristocrats could not explain the motives of their actions, since they knew little of psychology, but merely trusted their instincts. Socrates, with plebeian cunning, realized that a rational account of ethics ultimately rested on unprovable assumptions, so he reduced reason to the role of merely supporting what instinct already affirmed. Plato, by contrast, earnestly believed that reason and instinct both led to the same Good, and all Christian and liberal philosophers have upheld this belief, explicitly or tacitly. Even the ostensibly rationalistic Descartes merely used reason to “discover” what he already intuited of the Good.
Nietzsche considers this belief in the convergence of reason and instinct to be a triumph for instinct, since moral reasoning is forced to conform to instinctive ethical notions, rather than the other way around. The Platonists took pains to show how reason upheld the classical virtues, and Christian philosophers used moral reasoning to confirm dogmas of the faith, not to modify Christian morality. Even liberal philosophers, to this day, use reason only to confirm their sensibilities, sometimes being so uncritical as to presume these sensibilities when testing ethical theses. For example, if a moral argument leads to a “sexist,” “racist” or otherwise unegalitarian result, this is considered to render the argument dubious or problematic. The intuited liberal dogmas about human equality, the wrongness of physical cruelty, etc. are not to be questioned or tested. The liberal philosopher is such a slave of culturally received intuitions that he will now, without irony, adopt the moral equivalence of homosexuality and marriage as another unassailable criterion of morality, even though anyone older than a child can remember when this criterion was invented.
Instinctive evaluation, while praiseworthy in noble men, is a mark of the “herd” in the hands of idealists. The difference is that the noble man follows his own individual instincts, while the idealists follow instincts received from the crowd, i.e., popular prejudice. The noble man recognizes his tastes as tastes, which is to say as values, while the idealist pretends that his tastes are objective facts, at once depersonalizing them and stripping them of the character of values.
Nietzsche’s position is more subtle than choosing sides between instinct and reason. Instinct is the preferable mode of evaluation only as described above. Reason still plays a role in ethics, not so much to demonstrate or refute the assertions of the instincts, but to give insight into the motives behind our conscious intuitions. Thus Nietzsche will complement the aristocrat’s instinct with a knowledge of psychology. His psychology is unlike those of the idealists and materialists, which are informed by moral prejudices, creating or avoiding moral responsibility. For him, psychology is “the Morphology and DEVELOPMENT-DOCTRINE OF THE WILL TO POWER.” [BGE, 23]
The instinctive mode of evaluation, understood as the result of impulses, desires, and tastes, is incommunicable to others who lack these tastes. Thus there are no universal moral truths, nor is such universality even desirable.
Will they be new friends of “truth,” these coming philosophers? Very probably, for all philosophers hitherto have loved their truths. But assuredly they will not be dogmatists. It must be contrary to their pride, and also contrary to their taste, that their truth should still be truth for every one—that which has hitherto been the secret wish and ultimate purpose of all dogmatic efforts. “My opinion is MY opinion: another person has not easily a right to it”—such a philosopher of the future will say, perhaps. One must renounce the bad taste of wishing to agree with many people. “Good” is no longer good when one’s neighbour takes it into his mouth. And how could there be a “common good”! The expression contradicts itself; that which can be common is always of small value. In the end things must be as they are and have always been—the great things remain for the great, the abysses for the profound, the delicacies and thrills for the refined, and, to sum up shortly, everything rare for the rare. [BGE, 43]
Nietzsche’s embrace of the physical organism rather than the mind as the true self accounts for his need to resort to poetry instead of discursive expositions. Poetry uses words not so much to relate ideas as to convey feelings, so it is apt for speaking the language of the body. The central sentiment of Nietzschean poetry is Dionysian, lustily rejoicing in the world and unashamedly asserting one’s desires. Zarathustra’s “Dance-Song” expresses that to will, to love, to crave is to praise life. [TSZ, XXXII]
This embrace of craving, antithetical to the idealist’s shunning of desire, is expressed in the “Night-Song.” The singer, having grown weary of giving, and knowing no joy from receiving, prefers to steal or seize. From being satisfied, he now hungers to crave. He wishes to injure or rob those he has gifted. He wishes he were night instead of light, so he could hunger for the light. [TSZ, XXXI] Our only “perfection,” if any, is to be found in our incompleteness, for it is only as long as we are unsatisfied that we can crave. Nietzsche thereby rejects any notion of a perfect or blessed state as an ethical endpoint. Modern society, especially in its socialistic forms, is noxious to life insofar as it tries to abolish strife and make our desires easily satisfied without asserting ourselves.
Liberal Christian culture curses “voluptuousness, passion for power, and selfishness,” so Nietzsche sees a need to defend them. The free heart sees voluptuousness as “innocent and free, the garden-happiness of the earth, all the future’s thanks—overflow to the present." [TSZ, LIV] Further, it is “the great symbolic happiness of a higher happiness and highest hope.” It carries the promise of marriage and more, even to those stranger to each other than man and woman. Nonetheless, “I will have hedges around my thoughts, and even around my words, lest swine and libertine should break into my gardens!” [TSZ, LIV]
Nietzsche upholds the goodness of sexual desire against the despisers of the body, pointing to its naturalistic function and fecundity. Modern readers may find it strange that this immoralist makes no common cause with sexual libertines, who pursue sexual pleasure for its own sake, without regard for marriage, procreation, or any other future or higher happiness. The libertine is every bit as anti-natural as the ascetic. He does not embrace the fecundity of carnal union, insofar as he lacks a will-to-create and wishes only to consume himself in pleasure, like the common rabble, for which voluptuousness is “the slow fire at which it is burnt.” The libertine’s Self really wishes for death, as it has lost the will to create something beyond itself.
Passion for power is despised by liberals of our day no less than Nietzsche’s. He calls it the scourge of the hard-hearted upon themselves, the scorner of uncertain virtue, demolisher of whited sepulchers, and terrible teacher of great contempt. It should not properly be called a passion, which suggests passivity or receptivity, for it is in fact a longing to descend from the lonesome height. It should instead be called the “bestowing virtue.” [TSZ, LIV] Here Nietzsche rightly observes that those with zeal for power over others are showing a sort of magnanimity. Instead of remaining isolated in their estates (like old wealthy families in modern democracies), they are willing to bestow the gift of their leadership upon society. While modern democrats are trained to resent those who claim a right to rule, men of earlier ages recognized the benefits of strong leadership, helping them against common enemies. Those zealous for power are free from hypocrisy, as they unabashedly assert their desires over others, without disguising their preferences as abstract ideals. The aristocrat has contempt for the opinions of others, since he is his own evaluator.
Lastly, Nietzsche upholds selfishness as wholesome and healthy. For him as for Stirner, egoism is the soul enjoying itself, though he does not conceive enjoyment as consumption, but as exertion. Self-enjoyment protects itself with words of good and bad, which are aesthetic judgments, as distinct from moral good and evil. “Bad” is that which is cowardly, such as sighing and complaining. He who would enjoy himself also despises bittersweet wisdom that laments “All is vain!” Hateful to him is the one who never defends himself, but is too patient or enduring like a slave, before gods or men. These are all purely aesthetic judgments, and others are invited to make their own such judgments.
One must learn to love oneself—thus do I teach—with a wholesome and healthy love: that one may endure to be with oneself, and not go roving about.
Such roving about christeneth itself “brotherly love”; with these words hath there hitherto been the best lying and dissembling, and especially by those who have been burdensome to every one. And verily, it is no commandment for to-day and to-morrow to LEARN to love oneself. Rather is it of all arts the finest, subtlest, last and patientest.
For to its possessor is all possession well concealed, and of all treasure-pits one’s own is last excavated—so causeth the spirit of gravity.
Almost in the cradle are we apportioned with heavy words and worths: “good” and “evil”—so calleth itself this dowry. For the sake of it we are forgiven for living.
And therefore suffereth one little children to come unto one, to forbid them betimes to love themselves—so causeth the spirit of gravity.
And we—we bear loyally what is apportioned unto us, on hard shoulders, over rugged mountains! And when we sweat, then do people say to us: “Yea, life is hard to bear!”
But man himself only is hard to bear! The reason thereof is that he carrieth too many extraneous things on his shoulders. Like the camel kneeleth he down, and letteth himself be well laden. [TSZ, LV]
Those who preach brotherly love are merely wandering from themselves, permitting self-love only through some hypocritical medium of concern for others. They burden themselves with moral conceptions of man, and permit themselves to live only insofar as they conform to such ideals. It is only because of this baggage that learning to love oneself is a difficult and arduous task, and we struggle to regain the wholesome, innocent self-love of a child. This can be achieved only when we dispense with moral expectations of how man and the world should be.
He, however, hath discovered himself who saith: This is MY good and evil: therewith hath he silenced the mole and the dwarf, who say: “Good for all, evil for all.”
Verily, neither do I like those who call everything good, and this world the best of all. Those do I call the all-satisfied.
All-satisfiedness, which knoweth how to taste everything,—that is not the best taste! I honour the refractory, fastidious tongues and stomachs, which have learned to say “I” and “Yea” and “Nay.”
To chew and digest everything, however—that is the genuine swine-nature! Ever to say YEA—that hath only the ass learnt, and those like it!— [TSZ, LV]
In place of the moral universals “good” and “evil,” there are only our aesthetic judgments of good and bad, which each of us controls to our taste. Yet to have taste we should not say yes to everything, declaring everything to be good (as some smug relativists might hold), but should show discernment or discrimination. This seems to contradict Zarathustra’s previous praise of unbounded Yea-saying, but then he was referring to the creative impulse, whereas now he is speaking of aesthetic judgments.
Nietzsche’s taste is for deep yellow and hot red, mixing blood with all colors. He ridicules the tastes of others, who fall in love with mummies or phantoms. “Unhappy do I call all those who have only one choice: either to become evil beasts, or evil beast-tamers. Amongst such would I not build my tabernacle.” [TSZ, LV] Those who see evil or sin in human desires are forced to conceive of themselves as beasts or beast-tamers. Ludovici notes that this applies even to secular modern man, for in his pursuit of diversion, he shows that he despises himself.
One cannot simply learn to love oneself, for this is a subtle art to be developed gradually with practice. Again, the emphasis is on action rather than thought. “This however is my teaching: he who wisheth one day to fly, must first learn standing and walking and running and climbing and dancing—one doth not fly into flying!” [TSZ, LV]
Zarathustra came to self-love gradually by testing and questioning.
By divers ways and wendings did I arrive at my truth; not by one ladder did I mount to the height where mine eye roveth into my remoteness.
And unwillingly only did I ask my way—that was always counter to my taste! Rather did I question and test the ways themselves. A testing and a questioning hath been all my travelling:—and verily, one must also LEARN to answer such questioning! That, however,—is my taste:
—Neither a good nor a bad taste, but MY taste, of which I have no longer either shame or secrecy. “This—is now MY way,—where is yours?” Thus did I answer those who asked me “the way.” For THE way—it doth not exist! [TSZ, LV]
Here Nietzsche’s ethic seems purely nihilistic, reducing everything to aesthetic judgment, then disavowing that his aesthetic judgments have any insight into reality. This is one reason why people accuse Nietzsche of self-contradiction or unsoundness. Still, he retains one doctrine, that of self-love.
At the outset of our inquiries into ethics (see Vol. I of this series), we noted that the reduction of morality to aesthetics would imply that there is no more need to argue about ethics than any other aesthetic preference. Nietzsche, by contrast, retorts: “…there is to be no dispute about taste and tasting? But all life is a dispute about taste and tasting!” [TSZ, XXXV] An active life imposes itself onto the world, and therefore conforms what it can to its own preference or taste to the extent that it lives. We do not argue about taste in the sense of trying to convince others that our aesthetic judgments are universal truths, but rather through our actions impose our preferences as best we can. All systems of morality are really collective attempts to impose aesthetic preferences upon a society.
“Taste: that is weight at the same time, and scales and weigher.” [TSZ, XXXV] There is no distinction among evaluator, the thing evaluated, and the standard of evaluation: all three are desire or preference. This is consistent with Nietzsche’s denial of the distinction between force and substance, or between act and potency. We exercise aesthetic judgments in the act of desiring or preferring. It is not that life is guided by aesthetic judgments, rather living itself is a constant act of aesthetic evaluation.
In contrast, the ascetic moralist or sublime philosopher is just resting in his own shadow, taking no joy from the sensory world. He is alienated from the act of living. “His deed itself is still the shadow upon him: his doing obscureth the doer.” [TSZ, XXXV] Those who make virtue its own reward elevate virtue over the Self, obscuring the true doer (Self) by creating an artificial distinction between doer and doing.
“To be sure, I love in him the shoulders of the ox: but now do I want to see also in him the eye of the angel.” [TSZ, XXXV] Nietzsche admires the ascetic’s ability to endure difficulty manfully, but he wishes him also to trust in aesthetic judgments, finding and delighting in the world’s beauty.
Embracing the world entails accepting it as a solid reality, rather than trying to conform it to our thoughts. Those who try to reduce being to what is thinkable have a “Will to Truth,” i.e., a will for the thinkableness of all being. Those with a Will to Truth are really trying to bend being to their thought, so it is a kind of Will to Power. “Ye would still create a world before which ye can bow the knee: such is your ultimate hope and ecstasy.” [TSZ, XXXIV]
Zarathustra, by contrast, observes living things, not just the thinkable (he watches their eye when the mouth is shut). He finds:
All living things are obeying things.
And this heard I secondly: Whatever cannot obey itself, is commanded. Such is the nature of living things.
This, however, is the third thing which I heard—namely, that commanding is more difficult than obeying. And not only because the commander beareth the burden of all obeyers, and because this burden readily crusheth him:—
An attempt and a risk seemed all commanding unto me; and whenever it commandeth the living thing risketh itself thereby.
Yea, even when it commandeth itself, then also must it atone for its commanding. Of its own law must it become the judge and avenger and victim. [TSZ, XXXIV]
Nietzsche’s ethics begins with the observation that all living things command or obey. This premise presupposes a denial of free will in the sense of a causa sui. Every lifeform obeys some causal agent, whether it is a network of internal bodily desires or something from without. Those which do not obey their internal desires are commanded by another. Commanding is the more difficult task, since a commander assumes responsibility for the obedient, and the risks of command. Such difficulty exists even when you command only yourself. Note the contrast with democratic ethics, which resents those who command others, viewing aristocrats as living a life of ease. When this attitude is carried to an extreme, we find societies where people shun personal risk and responsibility, entrusting all to an impersonal polity.
Why is there command in obedience in living things? “Wherever I found a living thing, there found I Will to Power, and even in the will of the servant found I the will to be master.” [Loc. cit.] Recall that such “will” is not necessarily conscious or rational, so this can apply to all living things. Yet in the following, Nietzsche clearly has humans in mind, as he speaks of persuasion:
That to the stronger the weaker shall serve—thereto persuadeth he his will who would be master over a still weaker one. That delight alone he is unwilling to forego.
And as the lesser surrendereth himself to the greater that he may have delight and power over the least of all, so doth even the greatest surrender himself, and staketh—life, for the sake of power. [TSZ, XXXIV]
We are willing to serve masters in order to guarantee our own dominion over what is lesser. Modern men will submit to the state in order to secure their property, for example. Those who are higher in the chain of command assume greater risk, since there are fewer above them to guarantee their rights against others. Since the higher masters are greater risk takers, it follows that the will to be master is accompanied by sacrifice, service and love.
The will to be master is an accord with Nietzsche’s definition of life: that “which must ever surpass itself.” This is the same as “will to procreation, or impulse toward a goal, towards the higher, remoter, more manifold: but all that is one and the same secret.” [Loc. cit.]
The notion of self-surpassing entails a sort of teleology, which is why Nietzsche may be considered a properly ethical teacher. Yet his teleology is not such as the classical philosophers held. The purpose of ethics is not to find the course of action or objective most consonant with man’s nature. Rather, man’s nature is not something fixed, but something that must constantly change. This refers not to mere anatomical evolution, which is painstakingly slow, but to a culturally driven psychological evolution that is observable even in the span of a lifetime. Nietzsche prides himself in being a master psychologist, as he unveils the dynamic of man’'s mental self-surpassing.
Rather would I succumb than disown this one thing [the procreative impulse, or self-surpassing]; and verily, where there is succumbing and leaf-falling, lo, there doth Life sacrifice itself—for power! [TSZ, XXXIV]
The egoistic Nietzsche does allow for a sort of self-sacrifice, but even this is for the sake of power or self-surpassing, which always involves struggle.
“Whatever I create, and however much I love it,—soon must I be adverse to it, and to my love: so willeth my will.” [Loc. cit.] Self-surpassing is constant, without a fixed endpoint. “And even thou, discerning one, art only a path and footstep of my will: verily, my Will to Power walketh even on the feet of thy Will to Truth!” Wisdom is not the end, but only a means of self-surpassing.
Nietzsche insists that self-surpassing life is Will to Power, not a mere will to survive or exist, as Darwinians claim. There can be no “will to existence,” since that which does not already exist cannot will anything. “Only where there is life, is there also will: not, however, Will to Life, but—so teach I thee—Will to Power!” [Loc. cit.] Here, Nietzsche restricts Will to Power to living things, but in Beyond Good and Evil, 36, we have seen, he finds will in all dynamic forces. In all cases, such willing is not to be what one already is, but to become more than that, imposing oneself on others. The act of exercising force (Kraft) creatively (e.g., as in nutrition and reproduction) gives one strength or power (Macht); thus all life is Will to Power. In Beyond Good and Evil, all active force is defined as Will to Power, since Nietzsche does not see power or might (Macht) as a capacity, but as activity.
A world of self-surpassing active force has no room for stagnant eternal realities. “Verily, I say unto you: good and evil which would be everlasting—it doth not exist! Of its own accord must it ever surpass itself anew.” [TSZ, XXXIV] Since life is always self-surpassing, it follows that what is good or bad for a living thing cannot be fixed for all eternity, but changes according to the changing natures of living things. As humans, we need not await changes in our anatomical nature, for we can have psychological changes that give rise to the need for new notions of good and evil.
“With your values and formulae of good and evil, ye exercise power, ye valuing ones: and that is your secret love, and the sparkling, trembling, and overflowing of your souls.” [Loc. cit.] Moral evaluation is a means of exercising Will to Power, as we impose our judgments onto the world.
But a stronger power groweth out of your values, and a new surpassing: by it breaketh egg and egg-shell.
And he who hath to be a creator in good and evil—verily, he hath first to be a destroyer, and break values in pieces. [TSZ, XXXIV]
An even greater self-surpassing is achieved not by making new moral formulas, but by claiming creative power over the very notions of good and evil, destroying received values and subjecting morality to one’s overt creative will, instead of pretending to have merely discovered moral truths.
This subjection of morality to one’s will bears superficial similarity to liberalism, but Nietzschean immoralists are “free spirits” in a sense quite different from the social iconoclasts of the political Left. The latter are described as follows:
Briefly and regrettably, they belong to the LEVELLERS, these wrongly named “free spirits”— as glib-tongued and scribe-fingered slaves of the democratic state and its “modern ideas” all of them men without solitude, without personal solitude, blunt honest fellows to whom neither courage nor honourable conduct ought to be denied, only, they are not free, and are ludicrously superficial, especially in their innate partiality for seeing the cause of almost ALL human misery and failure in the old forms in which society has hitherto existed—a notion which happily inverts the truth entirely! What they would fain attain attain with all their strength, is the universal, green-meadow happiness of the herd together with security, safety, comfort and alleviation of life for every one, their two most frequently chanted songs and doctrines are called “Equality of Rights” and ”Sympathy with all Sufferers”—and suffering itself is looked upon by them as something which must be DONE AWAY WITH. [BGE, 44]
How little “progressivism” has progressed in the century after Nietzsche! While we may admire the progressive’s willingness to challenge received social doctrines, he is utterly servile in his goal of egalitarianism without suffering. He would remove all conflict, competition and pain, which are precisely what strengthens man, giving him ever more the aspect of a master.
We opposite ones, however, who have opened our eye and conscience to the question how and where the plant “man” has hitherto grown most vigorously, believe that this has always taken place under opposite conditions, that for this end the dangerousnesss of his situation had to be increased enormously, his inventive faculty and dissembling power (his “spirit”) had to develop into subtlety and daring under long oppression and compulsion, and his Will to Life had to be increased to the unconditioned Will to Power—we believe that severity, violence, slavery danger in the street and in the heart, secrecy, stoicism, tempter’s art and devilry of every kind—that everything wicked, terrible, tyrannical, predatory and serpentine in man, serves as well for the elevation of the human species as its opposite… [BGE, 44]
In Darwinian fashion, man grows most vigorously where there is greatest adversity, so he is actually strengthened when there is great inequality of rights and suffering. For all the modern hand-wringing about the “injustices” (really the social inequalities) of the past, it is precisely such adversity that formed the matter against which man could develop his strength and craft. This is not to deny that social cooperation also increases man’s ability, but only in a context where there is free assertion of Will to Power. The most remarkable proof of this thesis is the fantastic yet sustainable population growth of the nineteenth century, made possible by a combination of ruthless industrial capitalism and political republicanism. The productive benefits of competition are so astounding that even the political Left, when in power, holds capitalism in check only timidly and halfheartedly, not wishing to kill the goose that lays golden eggs. Democracy is conducive to growth precisely insofar as it permits free competition, with no stagnant aristocracy protecting its safety through fixed privileges.
While the secularist Left today likes to ridicule those who disbelieve in Darwinian evolution, socialistic liberalism is itself a complete mismatch with Darwinism in terms of social morality. The idea that the benefits of conflict and ruthless competition are inapplicable to human culture entails returning to a conception of man as a spiritual rather than physical being. Man has risen above all other animals precisely because he dares to surpass himself, challenging and subjecting ever more of his environment to himself. The “green” socialist, by contrast, wishes only for a sustainable tranquility, with no more growth in population or industry than necessary to sustain the herd in its comfort.
The bovines have never acquired much intelligence or offensive capability because they do not need this in order to sustain their numbers. Their principal strength is in mere numbers, not in the capabilities of each individual. When Nietzsche speaks of cultivating the plant “man,” by contrast, he has in mind the powers of each individual in the species. He will have to provide some further justification for this aesthetic preference of individualism over collectivism.
When virtue is no longer a moral idea, a rule or standard held in common with others, it becomes something radically individual, and therefore ineffable.
My brother, when thou hast a virtue, and it is thine own virtue, thou hast it in common with no one.
To be sure, though wouldst call it by name and caress it; thou wouldst pull its ears and amuse thyself with it.
And lo! Then hast thou its name in common with the people, and hast become one of the people and the herd with thy virtue! [TSZ, V]
It is only when we give names to our virtues, linking them with universal concepts, that they become de-individualized extrinsic standards. My virtue is no longer something proper to myself, but has become common property. With an aristocrat’s instinct, Nietzsche considers virtue to be of higher value when it is not common or shared: “Let thy virtue be too high for the familiarity of names, and if thou must speak of it, be not ashamed to stammer about it.” [Loc. cit.] We cannot conceptualize virtue precisely because it comes from the Self beyond the conscious mind. It is part of the great “wisdom of the body” discussed earlier.
Regarding this ineffable virtue, we may stammer:
That is MY good, that do I love, thus doth it please me entirely, thus only do I desire the good.
Not as the law of a god do I desire it, not as a human law or a human need do I desire it; it is not to be a guide-post for me to superearths and paradises.
An earthly virtue is it which I love: little prudence is therein, and the least everyday wisdom.
But that bird built its nest beside me: therefore, I love and cherish it—now sitteth it beside me on its golden eggs. [TSZ, V]
The one who loves the world is not ashamed to have a purely practical virtue, which is not an ideal shaping us toward some future utopia. (Amazingly, secular liberals have managed to be more utopian than Christians.) Virtue is proved purely in activity; the most I can say about it is that it is MY good, which I desire. Unlike the utopian, I do not desire that which does not yet exist, but what I already am. “What I am” is not a fixed essence or any other universal, but an ineffably unique, dynamic being who is constantly self-surpassing.
Recalling that all reality is fundamentally will or desire, it follows that virtues grow out of our passions. Yet unlike the world-denying idealist, Zarathustra embraces all passions as generators of virtue, including anger, lust and cruelty. “All thy passions in the end became virtues, and all thy angels devils.” [TSZ, V]
Once we abandon world-denying idealism, there is no basis for calling some of our passions “evil,” and no more evil is possible, except for necessary conflict among virtues. The only “evil” remaining is that which inhibits self-surpassing. Conflict among the virtues can retard our progress from man to superman (note the latter is not a fixed endpoint), since each virtue is jealous of the others, and strives for supremacy in our attention. This is why it is a surer path across the bridge to nurture only one virtue rather than many. Put more plainly, it is when we are conflicted in our desires and passions that we hesitate and accomplish little, while singlemindedness is more likely to result in strenuous action.
The internal contradiction of anti-egoistic moralism is expressed in the figure of “The Pale Criminal”:
Ye do not mean to slay, ye judges and sacrificers, until the animal hath bowed its head? Lo! the pale criminal hath bowed his head: out of his eye speaketh the great contempt.
“Mine ego is something which is to be surpassed: mine ego is to me the great contempt of man”: so speaketh it out of that eye.
When he judged himself—that was his supreme moment; let not the exalted one relapse again into his low estate!
There is no salvation for him who thus suffereth from himself, unless it be speedy death.
It is not enough that ye should reconcile with him whom ye slay. Let your sorrow be love to the Superman: thus will ye justify your own survival!
“Enemy” shall ye say but not “villain,” “invalid” shall ye say but not “wretch,” “fool” shall ye say but not “sinner.” [TSZ, VI]
Ironically, the moral man acts as his own judge when he says that his ego should be despised, yet from that point onward he denies that he should be his own judge. Since he has thereby bowed his head like an animal before the slaughter, we should slay the moral man within ourselves, and restore our role as self-judge. Criminality, in Nietzsche’s view, is occasioned by moralistic anti-egoism. We should not merely pity or be reconciled with the criminal, but should turn this sorrow to the love of the Superman. This is achieved by rejecting the moralistic judgments of criminality, and looking at its deeper psychological motivation.
“Why did this criminal commit murder? He meant to rob.” I tell you, however, that his soul wanted blood, not booty: he thirsted for the happiness of the knife!
But his weak reason understood not this madness, and it persuaded him. “What matter about blood!” it said; “wishest thou not, at least, to make booty thereby? Or take revenge?”
And he hearkened unto his weak reason: like lead lay its words upon him—thereupon he robbed when he murdered. He did not mean to be ashamed of his madness. [TSZ, VI]
The real motivation of criminality is Will to Power, here manifested as bloodlust. Yet even the criminal has something of society’s morality in him, and cannot admit such a mad desire without concocting some utilitarian reason for it.
What is this man? A mass of diseases that reach out into the world through the spirit; there they want to get their prey.
What is this man? A coil of wild serpents that are seldom at peace among themselves—so they go forth apart and seek prey in the world.
Look at that poor body! What it suffered and craved, the poor soul interpreted to itself—it interpreted it as murderous desire, and eagerness for the happiness of the knife.
Him who now turneth sick, the evil overtaketh which is now the evil: he seeketh to cause pain with that which causeth him pain. But there have been other ages, and another evil and good.
Once was doubt evil, and the will to Self. Then the invalid became a heretic or sorcerer; as heretic or sorcerer he suffered, and sought to cause suffering. [TSZ, VI]
The frustration of will to power by external social constraints makes a man sick. When a man also internalizes the social morality that makes will to power evil, he can only interpret his frustrated will as a desire for evil. Once doubt is declared to be a moral evil, he whose will to doubt is thereby frustrated becomes a heretic. If he accepts that he is a heretic, he misinterprets his frustrated will as a positive desire to confound the beliefs of others. Similarly, if the will-to-Self is made evil, then such will may be condemned as sorcery, i.e., the crime of imposing one’s will over nature and others. The sorcerer will misinterpret his frustrated “will-to-Self” as a mere desire to harm. Witches and witch-doctors have candidly admitted such desire to harm, showing a strange partial acceptance of society’s negative judgment of their activity. This need not entail consciousness of guilt or belief that their own actions are evil, but only a misinterpretation of their own intentions.
Nietzsche’s psychological account of the pale criminal may seem strange and confused, as it hardly seems credible that someone should misunderstand his own intentions. Yet recall that Nietzsche situates desire in the Self beyond the conscious mind. The thinking ego merely responds to bodily passions and desires, searching for a way to fulfill them. It has no way of knowing the “why” of these impulses, and cannot directly apprehend the frustration of the will-to-Self. Modern psychology has borne this out to some extent, repeatedly discovering in diverse contexts that humans invent false explanations for their own memories, learned associations, and actions.
But this will not enter your ears; it hurteth your good people, ye tell me. But what doth it matter to me about your good people!
Many things in your good people cause me disgust, and verily, not their evil. I would that they had a madness by which they succumbed, like this pale criminal!
Verily, I would that their madness were called truth, or fidelity, or justice: but they have their virtue in order to live long, and in wretched self-complacency.
I am a railing alongside the torrent; whoever is able to grasp me may grasp me! Your crutch, however, I am not.— [TSZ, VI]
The pale criminal at least has his madness grounded in Will to Power, while the “good” instead have “virtue” that leads to inward-looking complacency.
The last line is sometimes quoted out of context to suggest that Nietzsche taught no positive doctrine. Rather, Nietzsche does have definite doctrines that will enable some to escape the mad torrent of morality and its concomitant wretchedness. Once one emerges from there, however, each must walk on his own. The entire point of the Superman is that he no longer bends his will to prescriptive rules.
It might be thought that Nietzscheanism is a regression to pre-Christian barbarism, with simple violence and hatred toward others. On the contrary, Nietzsche accepts the Christian lesson about loving one’s enemies, and proposes moving beyond it.
Love of one’s enemies? I think that has been well learned it happens thousandfold today, on a large and small scale; indeed, occasionally something higher and more sublime happens: we learn to DESPISE when we love, and precisely when we love best; all of it, however, unconsciously, without noise, without ostentation, with the shame and secrecy of goodness, which forbids the utterance of the pompous word and the formula of virtue. Morality as attitude—is opposed to our taste nowadays. [BGE, 216]
If you love your enemy, you do not fear him as a threat, and so show him contempt. This is sublime, because we are so elevated that our enemies do not threaten us and we can even be magnanimous toward them. Modern men do not love their enemies out of obedience to some explicit religious commandment or moral rule, but out of an unspoken sensibility. To be self-consciously moralistic is out of fashion, just as in the Age of Enlightenment it became unfashionable to posture as religious. The morality of modern man is more spontaneous, and will not suffer to be preached prescriptive rules, not even a rule of loving enemies.
While Nietzsche espouses a spontaneous virtue arising from passion or sensibility, he does not thereby make pleasure or pain the basis of ethical evaluations.
Whether it be hedonism, pessimism, utilitarianism, or eudaemonism, all those modes of thinking which measure the worth of things according to PLEASURE and PAIN, that is, according to accompanying circumstances and secondary considerations, are plausible modes of thought and naïvetés, which every one conscious of CREATIVE powers and an artist’s conscience will look down upon with scorn, though not without sympathy. Sympathy for you!—to be sure, that is not sympathy as you understand it… OUR sympathy is a loftier and further-sighted sympathy:—we see how MAN dwarfs himself, how YOU dwarf him!
… The discipline of suffering, of GREAT suffering—know ye not that it is only THIS discipline that has produced all the elevations of humanity hitherto?
… And our sympathy—do ye not understand what our REVERSE sympathy applies to, when it resists your sympathy as the worst of all pampering and enervation?—So it is sympathy AGAINST sympathy! [BGE, 225]
Those who think the task of ethics is to maximize pleasure or happiness while minimizing pain are looking at only the secondary, superficial aspects of reality. Man»s real task is to create himself, and it is precisely through suffering that his inventiveness and bravery are cultivated. The misguided liberal who wishes to abolish suffering—if such a fantasy were possible—is a pitiable figure, since he would take away from man the means of self-improvement. The “sympathy” (or “empathy,” as is said today) of the liberal is a wish to alleviate the suffering of others. He cannot bear the thought of pain in himself, and projects this weakness onto others. Nietzsche, by contrast, has a “sympathy against sympathy,” i.e., he takes pity on mankind for enervating itself through a weak-willed pity over suffering. If mankind ever achieved the liberal goal of “well-being” for all, it would be the end of man. Without ennobling strife and suffering, he would have the life of a herd animal or a house pet. Indeed, postmodern ennui in the wealthy nations has borne out this contention.
More generally, all forms of moralizing to date have been ennervating, as they try to confine behavior to old ideas, preventing anything genuinely new from coming along. Even the English utilitarians play it safe, unimaginatively borrowing from Helvetius. European moralists do not even present a real history of past thoughts on a subject. Moral philosophy is accordingly dull, which suits moralists well, so few will take interest in thinking critically about morality. Instead, “philosophizing concerning morals might be conducted in a dangerous, captious, and ensnaring manner…” [BGE, 228] destructive of morality as it has been known. Though the moralists do not disclose this possibility, some of them must at least be aware of it.
“there is not absent from them a secret struggle with the pangs of conscience, from which a race of former Puritans must naturally suffer, in all their scientific tinkering with morals. (Is not a moralist the opposite of a Puritan? That is to say, as a thinker who regards morality as questionable, as worthy of interrogation, in short, as a problem? Is moralizing not—immoral?) [BGE, 228]
Investigating morality scientifically is &ldquoimmoral” in that it does not simply accept received mores. Those who accept morality authoritatively see no need to examine its basis. Only those with scrupulous doubts may find such a pursuit compelling; they are formerly moral men with crises of conscience. In this vein, John Henry Newman said a man has already lost his faith “at the moment when he deliberately entertained and pursued his doubt.” [Discourses Addressed to Mixed Congregations (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1906 printing), p.217.] Yet it is also possible to inquire without doubting, as St. Augustine and other Church Fathers taught, desiring only better to understand what they already believe.
Nietzsche”s account of morality might raise suspicions that he is just an ethical nihilist, yet he does acknowledge some positive sense of duty and virtue. Immoralists retain at least one duty, which is to be connected to the world.
This world with which WE are concerned, in which we have to fear and love, this almost invisible, inaudible world of delicate command and delicate obedience, a world of “almost” in every respect, captious, insidious, sharp, and tender—yes, it is well protected from clumsy spectators and familiar curiosity! We are woven into a strong net and garment of duties, and CANNOT disengage ourselves—precisely here, we are “men of duty,” even we! Occasionally, it is true, we dance in our “chains” and betwixt our “swords”; it is none the less true that more often we gnash our teeth under the circumstances, and are impatient at the secret hardship of our lot. [BGE, 226]
The immoralist is woven into the subtle web of desiring and willing that is this world. He is duty-bound to obey these desires, not in the sense of moral duty, but of necessity. Here Nietzsche reveals that, beneath his Dionysian frivolity, he too labors under a bitter duty to obey. Immoralism is not some easy path that shirks all difficulties; rather it imposes harsher obligations that only the strongest can bear.
Consistent with his insistence that real virtue is ineffable or non-conceptual, Nietzsche does not embark on the ethicist’s usual task of enumerating virtues. Still, he does confess one ethical virtue, namely honesty.
Honesty, granting that it is the virtue of which we cannot rid ourselves, we free spirits—well, we will labour at it with all our perversity and love, and not tire of “perfecting” ourselves in OUR virtue, which alone remains: may its glance some day overspread like a gilded, blue, mocking twilight this aging civilization with its dull gloomy seriousness! And if, nevertheless, our honesty should one day grow weary, and sigh, and stretch its limbs, and find us too hard, and would fain have it pleasanter, easier, and gentler, like an agreeable vice, let us remain HARD, we latest Stoics, and let us send to its help whatever devilry we have in us:—our disgust at the clumsy and undefined, our “NITIMUR IN VETITUM,” our love of adventure, our sharpened and fastidious curiosity, our most subtle, disguised, intellectual Will to Power and universal conquest, which rambles and roves avidiously around all the realms of the future… [BGE, 227]
Here, “honesty” is not the usual will to truth, but a self-knowledge or candor that faces the Will to Power at the heart of all our deeds. This self-discovery cannot have some comfortable resting spot in the form of a pat answer. “With regard to what ‘truthfulness’ is, perhaps nobody has ever been sufficiently truthful.” [BGE, 177] Nietzsche’s honesty can never result in self-satisfied complacency. The safeguards against such a lapse, which would make honesty a debilitating vice, are well-developed tastes. One should detest vague, ill-defined idealist answers. We should relish our dissatisfaction, constantly probing further, always questioning, venturing into the dangerous realms, and above all desiring the forbidden.
Nitimur in vetitum, a phrase taken from Ovid’s Fourth Elegy, meaning “we strive for the forbidden” (i.e., precisely because it is forbidden), is elsewhere upheld by Nietzsche as the triumphal banner of his philosophy, “for what one has forbidden as a matter of principle has always been—truth alone.” [EH, Pref., 3] For Nietzsche, truth is not some conceptual ideal or thought, but ever-deeper inquiry into the basis of observed reality. Since such inquiry always entails looking behind what is given to us, the quest for truth is essentially a pursuit of the prohibited. Fitness for such pursuit is a measure of strength, as one refuses to be held in check.
Lest it be thought that Nietzsche is advocating a pure intellectualism, he repeatedly takes care to insist that the immoralist requires a certain degree of good taste and purity of conscience to justify his liberties. “A man of genius is unbearable, unless he possess at least two things besides: gratitude and purity.” [BGE, 74] “When one firmly fetters one’s heart and keeps it prisoner, one can allow one’s spirit many liberties.” [BGE, 87] There is still a role for mastery of passions, despite Nietzsche’s well-known critique of asceticism, and such mastery is a necessary precondition for Dionysian freedom. This is something that can be learned only by experience. The fact that self-mastery exonerates one from the need for good and evil is why it is fitting that the arch-moralist Zarathustra should first discover the Superman.
The fettering of one’s heart does not mean judging our passions to be evil. Conscience is no longer a stern oppressor; it is now the means by which we are aware of our passions, not by which we condemn them. We hold some of our passions in check in order to accomplish some greater, though no less passionate, activity. “When one trains one’s conscience, it kisses one while it bites.” [BGE, 98]
Real self-mastery enthrones the will, not the intellect. Once we have resolved on a course of action, we should not allow any abstract argument to dissuade us, for thoughts are only images, subservient to bodily desire or will, the prime reality. “A sign of strong character, when once the resolution has been taken, to shut the ear even to the best counter-arguments. Occasionally, therefore, a will to stupidity.” [BGE, 107]
There will be other egoists in the world; indeed, their arguments against our actions will be motivated by their desires. We need not begrudge others their pretensions so long as it does not presume to infringe upon our own self-evaluation. “The vanity of others is only counter to our taste when it is counter to our vanity.” [BGE, 177] If the moralist opposes vanity in all great men, it is because he allows his sense of self-worth to come from without.
By peeling away conscious rationalizations and probing the deeper motivating passions, we gain awareness that, “One loves ultimately one’s desires, not the thing desired.” [BGE, 175] The desired object is pursued for the sake of desire itself.
The general theme of these observations is that an embrace of Self as a network of desires, shorn of conscious idealistic rationalizations, dispenses us from the need of judging things good and evil. Instead, we judge things directly according to taste or preference. Some semblance of this mode of being is already found in Christianity, where the one who lives in charity does not need to be bound by the Law. Since he has mastered his passions so as not to desire anything base, he no longer experiences moral law as an extrinsic commandment. Similarly, if we are guided by love itself—not a “law of love” or commandment to love, which would be a hypocritical self-contradiction—we consider only the object loved, or really the desire called love itself, instead of moral abstractions such as justice. “What is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil.” [BGE, 153]
The love of which Nietzsche speaks is that magnanimity that motivates the strong-hearted to discharge their virtue. This aristocratic attitude was best expressed by Aristotle, whose ethical ideal of the great-spirited man is the highest among natural men. Overflowing with strength of mind and body, he must give of this superabundance or perish. This “bestowing virtue” is the only self-giving or charity that Nietzsche recognizes.
When your heart overfloweth broad and full like the river, a blessing and a danger to the lowlanders: there is the origin of your virtue.
When ye are exalted above praise and blame, and your will would command all things, as a loving one’s will: there is the origin of your virtue.
When ye despise pleasant things, and the effeminate couch, and cannot couch far enough from the effeminate: there is the origin of your virtue.
When ye are willers of one will, and when that change of every need is needful to you: there is the origin of your virtue. [TSZ, XXII, 1]
The gift of the great ones is not so much to “help others” in the conventional notion of philanthropy, but rather to act forcefully. Such virtuous (i.e., strenuous) activity might cause harm or danger to others, but even this is a bestowing virtue that enrichens the world. Many of man’s great accomplishments, after all, were in response to some danger. The truly great are above praise and blame, as their greatness is not in their morality, but in their strength. Some historical examples might include Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon, all of whom are admired as “great” in an amoral sense. This notion of greatness is the classical “master morality” where the aristocrat derives value from himself rather than from some extrinsic ideal. It is not yet the Superman, though we will later see that Nietzsche assigns this honor to Napoleon. The great ones reject sensual hedonism not on moralistic grounds, but despising effeminacy. Indulgence in such pleasure, as is well known, softens one’s resolve.
Zarathustra exhorts his hearers to devote this bestowing virtue to the meaning of the earth. They are not to follow any cause, not even that of Zarathustra himself. The whole point of the bestowing virtue is that it brings forth what has not yet existed, even as a mental ideal. Thus the new great ones must go down untrodden paths. “Now do I bid you lose me and find yourselves; and only when ye have all denied me, will I return unto you.” [TSZ, XXII] The only way to truly “emulate” Zarathustra is to refuse to follow or imitate him as a determinate individual. Each one becomes a self-transcender in his own way.
In this exhortation to deny him, Zarathustra distinguishes himself from all the prophets of mankind. He is not replacing the ideals of the past with a new ideal. Much less does he hold up his own person as the exemplar to be followed. His revelation is not a set of prescriptive norms or a manual for improving humanity, but insight into the core of the human condition, enabling each to examine himself and subsequently surpass himself. Enabling others to go beyond themselves is the furthest love or charity.
Continue to Part IV
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