Monday, March 2, 2009

Beyond Good & Evil

In "We Scholars", Nietzsche appears to be taking his critique of the prejudices of philosophers further, implicating the academic tendencies of the period and, in doing so, engaging in a critique of what might be considered general scholarly tendencies. As the philosopher is also a scholar, the critique of scholars bears on what has been said earlier about philosophers, but it also must be understood that the philosopher should stand apart as critic of the current state of things. Thus, in section 212, he says that the philosopher "being of necessity a man of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, has always found himself, and had to find himself, in contradiction to his today: his enemy was ever the ideal of today". As stressed here and earlier, in the section about the "Free Spirit", the philosopher does not dwell on the past but looks to the future. By what means does the philosopher do this? To dwell in skepticism, which Nietzsche heavily criticizes in section 209, is not an option. Yet, if he does not support a skepticism, it is only because of the paralysis which he associates with it, as he does support skepticism as criticism in a particular form, in section 210. What struck me as most important was the importance of self criticism: "the ability to stand alone and give an account of themselves". Or later, in 212: "By applying the knife vivsectionally to the chest of the very virtues of their time, they betrayed what was their own secret: to know of a new greatness of man, of a new untrodden way to his enhancement."

Perhaps the most important tool in this process (and that most ignored by other philosophers), is the utilization of the historical sense in analysis. Here we must point to the "Natural History of Morals"; here Nietzsche is suggests an alternate course of action, to consider morality and not the proof of a morality as an issue. As he says in section 186, "what was lacking was any suspicion that there was something problematic here. What the philosophers called 'a rational foundation for morality' and tried to supply was, seen in the right light, merely a scholarly variation of the common faith in the prevalent morality; a new means of expression for this faith... certainly the very opposite of an examination, analysis, and vivesection of this very faith." That he uses the same language here as he does later must be noted: the problems of philosophy must be laid bare and disassembled to understand them better and understand their origins. The "Natural History of Morals" stands as something of an attempt to do just this. Though he is speaking about individuals, Nietzsche's question and answer about the moralist in section 187 is notable to consider in this light: "what does such a claim tell us about the man who makes it? There are moralities which are meant to justify the creator before others." When one considers sections 195-198, it becomes clear that such a description is applicable to broader moral systems, and that the "slave rebellion in morals" and the values embodied in the moral system which became prevalent also serve as justification for the creators of the value systems.

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