Saturday, June 19, 2010

Gay Science, section 335

Long live physics! - How many people know how to observe something? Of the few who do, how many observe themselves? "Everybody is farthest away - from himself";* all who try the reins know this to their chagrin, and the maxim "know thyself!" addressed to human beings by a god, is almost malicious. That the case of self-observation is indeed as desperate as that is attested best of all by the manner in which almost everybody talks about the essence of moral actions - this quick, eager, convinced, and garrulous manner with its expression, its smile, and its obliging ardor! One seems to have the wish to say to you: "But my dear friend, precisely this is my specialty. You have directed your question to the one person who is entitled to answer you. As it happens, there is nothing about which I am as wise as about this. To come to the point: when a human being judges 'this is right' and then infers 'therefore it must be done,' and then proceeds to do what he has thus recognized as right and designated as necessary - then the essence of his action is moral."

But my friend, you are speaking of three actions instead of one. When you judge "this is right," that is an action, too. Might it not be possible that one could judge in a moral and in an immoral manner? Why do you consider this, precisely this, right?

"Because this is what my conscience tells me; and the voice of conscience is never immoral, for it alone determines what is to be moral."

But why do you listen to the voice of your conscience? And what gives you the right to consider sucha judgment true and infallible? For this faith - is there no conscience for that? Have you never heard of an intellectual conscience?** A conscience behind your "conscience"? Your judgment "this is right" has a pre-history in your instincts, likes dislikes, experiences, and lack of experiences. "How did it originate there?" you must ask, and then also: "What is it that impels me to listen to it?" You can listen to its commands like a good soldier who hears his officer's command. Or like a woman who loves the man who commands. Or like a flatterer and coward who is afraid of the commander. Or like a dunderhead who obeys because no objection occurs to him. In short, there are a hundred ways in which you can listen to your conscience. But that you take this or that judgment for the voice of conscience - in other words, that you feel somethin to be right - may be due to the fact that you have never thoguht much about yourself and simply have accepted blindly that what you had been told ever since your childhood was right; or it may be due to the fact that what you call your duty has up to this point brought you sustenance and honors - and you consider it "right" because it appears to you as your own "condition of existence" (and that you have a right to existence seems irrefutable to you).

For all that, the firmness of your moral judgment could be evidence of your personal abjectness, of impersonality; your "moral strength" might have its source in your stubborness - or in your inability to envisage new ideals. And, briefly, if you had thought more subtly, observed better, and learned more, you certainly would not go on calling this "duty" of yours and this "conscience" of yours duty and conscience. Your understanding of the manner in which moral judgments have originated would spoil these grand words for you, just as other grand words, like "sin" and "salvation of the soul" and "redemption" have been spoiled for you. - And now don't cite the categorical imperative, my friend! This term tickles my ear and makes me laugh despite your serious presence. It makes me think of the old Kant who had obtained the "thing in itself" by stealth - another very ridiculous thing! - and was punished for this when the "categorical imperative" crept stealthily into his heart and led him astray - back to "God," "soul," "freedom," and "immortality," like a fox who loses his way and goes astray back into his cage. Yet it had been his strength and cleverness that had broken open the cage!***

What? You admire the categorical imperative within you? This "firmness" of your so-called moral judgment? This "unconditional" feeling that "here everyone must judge as I do"? Rather admire your selfishness at this point. And the blindness, pettiness, and frugality of your selfishness. For it is selfish to experience one's own judgment as a universal law; and this selfishness is blind, petty, and frugal because it betrays that you have not yet discovered yourself nor created for yourself an ideal o your own, your very own - for that coudl never be somebody else's and much less that of all, all!

Anyone who still judges "in this case everybody would have to act like this" has not yet taken five steps toward self-knowledge. Otherwise he would know that there neither are nor can be actions that are the same; that every action that has ever been done was done in an altogether unique and irretrievable way, and that this will be equally true of every future action; that all regulations about actions relate only to their coarse exterior (even the most inward and subtle regulations of all moralities so far); that these regulations may lead to some semblance of sameness, but really only to some semblance; that as one contemplates or looks back upon any action at all, it is and remains impenetrable; that our opinions, valuations, and tables of what is good certainly belong among the most powerful levers in the involved mechanism of our actions, but that in any particular case the law of their mechanism is indemonstrable.

Let us therefore limit ourselves to the purification of our opinions and valuations and to the creation of our own new tables of what is good, and let us stop brooding about the "moral value of our actions"! Yes, my friends, regarding all the moral chatter of some about others it is time to feel nauseous. Sitting in moral judgment should offend our taste. Let us leave such chatter and such bad taste to those who have nothing else to do but drag the past a few steps further through time and who never live in the present - which is to say the many, the great majority. We, however, want to become those we are^ - human beings who are new, unique, incomparable, who give themselves laws, who create themselves. To that end we must become the best learners and discoverers of everything that is lawful and necessary in the world: we must become physicists in order to be able to be creators in this sense - while hitherto all valuations and ideals have been based on ignorance of physics or were constructed so as to contradict it. Therefore: long live physics! And even more so that which compels us to turn to physics - our honesty!^^

*"Jeder ist sich selber der Fernste." Der Fernste (the farthest) is the opposite of der Naechste (the nearest), which is the word used in the German Bible where the English versions have the "neighbor."
**Cf. sections 2, 319, and 244
***Like most philosophers after Kant, Nietzsche believes that Kant was not entitled to the "thing in itself" and that this notion conradicts the central tenets of Kant's theory of knowledge. Most philosophers since Kant would also agree with Nietzsche that the doctrine of the categorical imperative, the core of Kant's ethics, is untenable; and in his ethics - specifically, in his
Critique of Practical Reason - Kant "postulates" God, freedom and immortality, after having shown in his Critique of Pure Reason that all three are indemonstrable. While few philosophers have followed Kant at these points, Nietzsche's discussion is distinguished by its irreverent wit, which recalls the tone of Heine's On the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany (German 1st ed. 1835, 2nd ed. 1852).
^Cf. section 270 and 270n, above.
^^We might question the claim that in order to become autonomous "we must become physicists" and discover "everything that is lawful and necessary in the world." We might well wonder whether Nietzsche is using the term "physics" in some extended sense, comparable to the use of "
chemistry" in the first section of Human, All-too-Human, which is entitled "Chemistry of Concepts and Sensations." There the problem is: "How can anything develop out of its opposite; for example...logic out of for others out of egoism, truth out of errors?" And the point is that "this chemistry" might lead to the result "that in this area, too, the most magnificent colors have been derived fro lowly, even despised materials. Now we might suppose that in "Long live physics!" Nietzsche is thinking of a "physics of moral feelings and judgments." But he is not.

What he argues in the penultimate paragraph above is that (a) no two actions can ever be the same actions; that (b) even those moral regulations which concern themselves with the inside of actions (with motives and feelings) really stay on the surface; that (d) our moral judgments are among the most important and "powerful" causes of our actions; but that (e) "in any particular case the law of their mechanism is indemonstrable."

Although this list does nto cover all of his points, it is clearly possible to accept some of these claims while questioning or denying others. One may grant (a) not only in the weak, tautologous sense but also in the strong and interesting sense that poses a problem for the kind of ethic that Jean-Paul Sartre proposed in "Existentialism is a Humanism" (reprinted in Kaufmann,
Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre); here Nietzsche is much more radical than Sartre; (b) is also plausible in a strong and interesting sense; (c) is less clear but means presumably that we can never be sure that any account of the causes and motivations of an action is true; something important may have been left out; and we cannot judge the relative importance or "power" of different causes and motives; (d) is remarkable because there are passages in which Nietzsche plays down the role of consciousness and treates it more like an epiphenomenon (see Kaufmann, 262-69); (e) does not presuppose any of the four preceding claims but is entirely compatible with all of them; and it is (e) that explains the introduction of physics in the final paragraph. Instead of passing moral judgments, we should "discover everythign that is lawful and necessary int he world." Why?

Even as one has to know physics to build airplanes and to make flying possible -
apparently defying the laws o gravity - one also has to know physics to become autonomous: that is Nietzsche's point. Does the analogy hold? It would surely be much more plausible if Nietzsche had spoken of psychology instead of physics. Even "physiology" would have been more plausible, and "physics" seems farfetched unless we assume that what is meant is the study of nature (physis in Greek). Since Nietzsche himself did not turn to physics, it seems clear that he intended a sharp and inclusive contrast with metaphysics. Cf. section 293 and "we godless anti-metaphysicians" in sectoin 344; also Human, All-Too-Human, sections 6,9, and 18. His many contemptuous references to metaphysics invite comparison with the writings of positivists, but Nietzsche also questions the science, and specifically the physics, of his time - see Beyond Good and Evil, sections 14 and 22 (BWN, 211f. and 220f.) and The Will to Power, notes 623, 636, et passim.


Copied from Walter Kaufmann's 1974 translation.

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