Nietzsche and pity
The material conditions of life
The success of Nietzsche's aphorisms
Nietzsche and extended forms
Criticism: some aphorisms of Nietzsche
Nietzsche and the word-sphere
Nietzsche and interpretation

All the translations from Nietzsche on this page are my own.


Nietzsche's 'Twilight of the Idols' is subtitled, 'How to Philosophize with a Hammer:' (Götzen-Dämmerung, oder: Wie man mit dem Hammer philosophirt.) So often, Nietzsche philosophizes with a hammer, a sledgehammer, instead of using skilfully, with finesse, but massive force  when necessary, a wide-ranging set of tools - including a nutcracker, a better tool for cracking nuts than a sledgehammer.

This is a very brief, not at all comprehensive statement of the case contra Nietzsche, but it does, I think, include  matters which are generally missing in much longer statements. For example, Nietzsche criticizes the Christian tendency to overlook the needs of the body but largely ignores the material conditions of life. The material conditions of life have been ignored not just in discussion of nature but in discussion of so many other topics where the material conditions of life are a basic, an indispensable consideration. It was impossible to satisfy the fundamental needs of the body until the industrial revolution transformed the material conditions of life. If the age failed almost entirely to notice the achievement of Nietzsche, Nietzsche failed almost entirely to notice the achievements of the age. The neglected writer was neglectful.

Nietzsche and pity

Das Mitleiden ... ist eine Schwäche

'Pity ... is a weakness.' (Daybreak, 134.)

And Nietzsche's opinion in 'Daybreak' is an untruth.  It ignores the extent to which the person who pities, who has compassion, is so often strong. Those who pity may have as much physical courage as the ones Nietzsche would praise for their hardness, as well as the moral courage which is rarer than physical courage, and a range of other outstanding gifts: pity, for example, has often been accompanied by organizing ability.

Far, far easier in general to ignore pity, to live as easy and obscure a life as possible. From the Author's Note to John Bierman's 'Righteous Gentile: The Story of Raoul Wallenberg, Missing Hero of the Holocaust:'

'Attorney Gideon Hausner, chairman of Yad Vashem ['Yad Vashem ... at once a memorial, museum, library and archive, and a centre for study and research into one of history's most terrifying and inexplicable recent phenomena: the attempted destruction of an entire people by an apparently civilized nation'] and the man who prosecuted Adolf Eichmann, expresses the special significance of Raoul Wallenberg:

"Here is the man who had the choice of remaining in secure, neutral Sweden when Nazism was ruling Europe. Instead, he left this haven and went to what was then one of the most perilous places in Europe, Hungary. And for what? To save Jews." '

Nietzsche's absolute dismissal of pity would be immune to any evidence. Pity for any suffering was weakness. Amongst other things, Nietzsche was a preacher. He preached, for instance, the doctrine of the Eternal Recurrence, the principle of maximum acceptance, the principle that all and every suffering would recur. Robert Conquest's book, 'The Great Terror: a Reassessment' describes the purges, the tortures, the executions, life - amounting often to a short, living death - in the camps. He gives some statistics, with evidence that the statistics he gave in the first edition were not exaggerated:

'Arrests, 1937 - 1938 about 7 million
Executed about 1 million
Died in camps about 2 million
In prison, late 1938 about 1 million
In camps, late 1938 (assuming 5 million in camp at the end of 1936) about 8 million

'I have concluded, from much Soviet and other testimony, that not more than 10 percent of those then in camp survived.'

Nietzsche would have been indignant at the grossness of Stalinist Russia, he would have called it decadent and many more things (and he would very likely have been executed if he had lived in Russia at the time) but he would have been unmoved by the suffering.

Would he have preferred the state of consciousness of those who had pity or the state of consciousness of those who were without pity? Was it weakness to have pity in those desperate circumstances? Pity was punished without pity. The testimony of two ex-prisoners, recounted in Robert Conquest's book:

'There were many officials of all grades, from simple warder to prison governor, who again and again defied regulations and risked their own freedom by finding opportunities of making prisoners' lives easier by secretly giving them food or cigarettes, or even merely speaking a cheering and comforting word to them.'

Being imprisoned or sent to a camp for such acts of kindness could well result in death. These people were risking a very great deal.

Nietzsche's account of pity in his later writings is simple-minded for a thinker with such a reputation as a psychologist. He was ready to uncover the egotism which may lie behind apparently selfless acts, but this motivation was surely not present in these cases or in so many other cases of kindness in situations of great danger (or in situations not at all dangerous.)

In 'Beyond Good and Evil,' Nietzsche wrote,

Mitleiden wirkt an einem Menschen der Erkenntniss beinahe zum Lachen, wie zarte Hände an einem Cyklopen.

'Pity, in a man devoted to knowledge, has an almost laughable effect, like soft hands on a cyclops.' (Section 171.)

One of the most important of all statements of Nietzsche's position can be found in 'The Gay Science,' Book Four, Section 338. Here, as elsewhere, his ((survey)) is defective. He sees no need for {modification} of hardness, no need for {adjustment}, because the examples of pain and suffering which he gives are of one kind, the kind that leads to insight, the kind that enriches.

Die gesammte Oekonomie meiner Seele und deren Ausgleichung durch das "Unglück", das Aufbrechen neuer Quellen und Bedürfnisse, das Zuwachsen alter Wunden, das Abstossen ganzer Vergangenheiten - das Alles, was mit dem Unglück verbunden sein kann, kümmert den lieben Mitleidigen nicht: er will helfen und denkt nicht daran, dass es eine persönliche Nothwendigkeit des Unglücks giebt, dass mir und dir Schrecken, Entbehrungen, Verarmungen, Mitternächte, Abenteuer, Wagnisse, Fehlgriffe so nöthig sind, wie ihr Gegentheil ... die "Religion des Mitleidens" (oder "das Herz") gebietet, zu helfen, und man glaubt am besten geholfen zu haben, wenn man am schnellsten geholfen hat!

'The whole economy of my soul and the balance brought about by "misfortune," the breaking open of new springs and needs, the healing over of old wounds, the sloughing of entire pasts - everything that can have a linkage with distress is of no concern to the dear pitying ones: they wish to help and give no thought to the personal necessity of misfortune, although terrors, deprivations, impoverishments, midnights, adventures, daring exploits and mistakes are as necessary for me and for you as are their opposites... the "religion of pity" (or "the heart") commands them to help, and they believe that they have helped most when they have helped most quickly!'

A much fuller and more adequate ((survey)) than Nietzsche's would have to include the severe and intractable pain that goes on and on, with never the healing of 'old wounds' but only newer and worse wounds, giving not the least opportunity for reflection, constructive thought or growth. Nietzsche's thought would lead to the abandonment not just of pity but of analgesics and anaesthetics.

In 'The Gay Science,' in Section 326 (The physicians of the soul and pain) he resorts to outright falsification. Nietzsche's ((survey)) includes only suffering of lesser degrees, not unendurable suffering.

Es will mir scheinen, dass vom Schmerze und Unglücke immer übertrieben geredet werde, wie als ob es eine Sache der guten Lebensart sei, hier zu übertreiben: man schweigt dagegen geflissentlich davon, dass es gegen den Schmerz eine Unzahl Linderungsmittel giebt, wie Betäubungen, oder die fieberhafte Hast der Gedanken, oder eine ruhige Lage, oder gute und schlimme Erinnerungen, Absichten, Hoffnungen, und viele Arten von Stolz und Mitgefühl, die beinahe die Wirkung von Anästheticis haben: während bei den höchsten Graden des Schmerzes schon von selber Ohnmachten eintreten.

'It seems to me that people always exaggerate when they speak of pains and misfortunes, as if it were a matter to do with a good way of life to exaggerate here, while one keeps studiously quiet about the fact that there are innumerable alleviations of pain, such as anaesthesia or the feverish rush of thoughts, or a quiet posture, or good or bad memories, intentions, hopes, and many kinds of pride and sympathy that almost have the same effect as anaesthetics - whilst at the highest degrees of pain one passes out.'

Knowledge of these words would never have consoled those being broken on the wheel - bones of the legs and arms smashed with a heavy iron bar - being burned alive or racked or crucified. After the flogging which tore open the back, after being nailed to the cross, after being conscious for a day without automatic loss of consciousness, all that could be hoped for was the breaking of the legs which put an end to the ordeal a little earlier. The Roman practice of crucifixion, like the killing of the gladiators in the arena and the killing of the wild animals in the arena, are blots on Roman civilization. Nietzsche's commendation of hardness, such as the Roman hardness, is a failure of {adjustment.} Hardness has to be modified and modulated, it has to be replaced by pity when necessary.

'I regard Nietzsche as often, but not always, a low-tension thinker. A low-tension thinker can't keep opposed ideas in consciousness simultaneously, but has to emphasize one whilst denying others. There's a low-tension view unable to come to terms with the shocking aspects of reality but instead distorting reality. Sentimentalizing reality is a common approach.

Nietzsche could keep the two ideas in consciousness at once, the harshness of reality and the wonder of reality. However, he lessened tension by flagrantly diminishing the harshness. And he refused to acknowledge one more strand which can't be ignored without distorting reality, or so I claim: active humanitarianism, the urge to reduce suffering, to improve the world, an attempt which will often be frustrated but which is not always frustrated, an attempt which is difficult and sometimes impossible but absolutely essential. This is a high-tension view.

Es ist unmenschlich, da zu segnen, wo einem geflucht wird.

'It is inhuman to bless where one is cursed.' (Beyond Good and Evil, 181.)

A good and revealing aphorism - for the contrast it makes with Nietzsche as a mechanical thinker.

The Gospel injunction not to respond to violence with violence, to turn the other cheek, is a failure of {adjustment}. Gandhi's tactics were very good ones in the circumstances he faced, but to transfer them to very different circumstances and to practise them mechanically - as against Hitler - would be a gross failure of {adjustment}. War carried out according to international legislation practises {adjustment}. Killing stops when the enemy has surrendered. Enemy wounded are treated not killed. Warfare which disregards these norms fails to practise {adjustment}. Killing indiscriminately is a fixed, rigid position. In everyday life, very kindly people who are in positions of authority have to practise {adjustment} by sometimes reprimanding employees, taking disciplinary proceedings, dismissing them. Parents who are uniformly indulgent or uniformly severe are failing in {adjustment}.

Nietzsche is right to criticize the injunction to bless where one is cursed but his own failures of {adjustment} were grotesque. His praise of hardness and disregard for pity, apparent in so many places in his writings, is a fixed, mechanical position, allowing no scope for intelligent thinking, emotional breadth, nuance. A military commander (in a just cause) who shows hardness and complete determination whilst fighting and mercy after fighting has ended has a much fuller and more interesting consciousness than the kind of commander Nietzsche admired, hard and ruthless at all times.

In 'Twilight of the Idols,' 'Streifzüge eines Unzeitgemässen' (Expeditions of an Untimely Man), Nietzsche gives a travesty and, as so often, expects us to believe that disagreement is unthinkable, impossible.

Wir modernen Menschen, sehr zart, sehr verletzlich und hundert Rücksichten gebend und nehmend, bilden uns in der That ein, diese zärtliche Menschlichkeit, die wir darstellen, diese erreichte Einmüthigkeit in der Schonung, in der Hülfsbereitschaft, im gegenseitigen Vertrauen sei ein positiver Fortschritt, damit seien wir weit über die Menschen der Renaissance hinaus. Aber so denkt jede Zeit, so muss sie denken. Gewiss ist, dass wir uns nicht in Renaissance-Zustände hineinstellen dürften, nicht einmal hineindenken: unsre Nerven hielten jene Wirklichkeit nicht aus, nicht zu reden von unsern Muskeln. Mit diesem Unvermögen ist aber kein Fortschritt bewiesen, sondern nur eine andre, eine spätere Beschaffenheit, eine schwächere, zärtlichere, verletzlichere, aus der sich nothwendig eine rücksichtenreiche Moral erzeugt. (Section 37.)

'We modern men, very tender, very vulnerable and giving and receiving consideration in a hundred ways, imagine in fact that this tender humanity we represent, this achieved unanimity in consideration, in willingness to help, in mutual trust is a positive advance, that with it we have progressed well beyond the men of the Renaissance. But so thinks every age, must think like this. What is certain is that we could never put ourselves in Renaissance circumstances, never put ourselves in this position: our nerves could never bear that reality, not to speak of our muscles. But there is no advance in this incapacity, only a different, belated make-up, a weaker, more tender, more vulnerable one, out of which is necessarily produced a morality which is full of consideration.

The achievements of the Renaissance in art, architecture and other fields are better known than the shadow side, which may include vague recollections of the actions of Cesare Borgia. Robustness rather than cruelty would be the associations for many people. Nietzsche, of course, would no more be deterred by cruelty than by robustness.

John Hale's 'The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance' is a corrective, emphasizing the robustness - and the cruelty - as well as the achievements. From Chapter VIII, 'Civility in Danger:'

'In 1556 a student in France recorded the progress to the gallows of a man who had robbed and murdered a canon of the cathedral:

'After the judgement had been read aloud, the executioner put the man on a cart ... He then began to pinch him with red-hot tongs, and this treatment continued until they came to the canon's house. There the executioner cut off both the man's hands ...'

' ... of one execution Sastrow noted that 'in spite of his unquestionable insanity the murderer was broken alive on the wheel'

But cruelty to people, non-criminals as well as criminals, cruelty to animals as well as people, was general.

This was still an age when witches were put to death. He writes, 'Between 1587 and 1593 three hundred and sixty-eight persons were burned as witches in and around Toulouse. In 1611 and 1612 two hundred and sixty witches were killed in the south German town of Ellwangen.' There was disapproval of homosexuality which went well beyond the 'robust:' 'While in Rome in 1580, Montaigne was told about the wedding services held for homosexual couples in the church of San Giovanni a Porta Lacina, a practice continued until 'eight or nine Portuguese of this fine sect were burnt'. These burnings were ended by the humanitarian revolution which Nietzsche equates with softness.

Nietzsche is a thinker with insufficient {adjustment}, as, so often, in his praise of hardness and his criticism of pity, a thinker who never makes an adequate ((survey)). His discussions are subject to severe {restriction}.

The material conditions of life

In my page on feminism, I give an extended criticism of radical feminists' failure to take sufficient account of the material conditions of life. The page gives a fuller background to my discussion here. Nietzsche largely ignored the material conditions of life: there's a linkage between Nietzsche and radical feminists, [Nietzsche] < > [radical feminists].

His neglect of these led him to one of his gross distortions, the neglect of the achievements of his own age. From 'Twilight of the Idols,' 'Streifzüge eines Unzeitgemässen' (Expeditions of an Untimely Man), Section 37:

Die Zeiten sind zu messen nach ihren positiven Kräften - und dabei ergiebt sich jene so verschwenderische und verhängnissreiche Zeit der Renaissance als die letzte große Zeit, und wir, wir Modernen mit unsrer ängstlichen Selbst-Fürsorge und Nächstenliebe, mit unsren Tugenden der Arbeit, der Anspruchslosigkeit, der Rechtlichkeit, der Wissenschaftlichkeit - sammelnd, ökonomisch, machinal - als eine schwache Zeit ...

'Ages are to be judged according to their positive forces - and by this criterion the age of the Renaissance, so spendthrift and so fateful, appears as the last great age and we, we moderns with our anxious care for ourselves and love of our neighbour, with our virtues of work, of unpretentiousness, of observance of the law, of the scientific virtues - acquisitive, economical, machine-minded - appear as a weak age ... '

If the Renaissance was a dynamic age, Nietzsche's own age was as dynamic or more so, with greater achievements to its credit, and with an emphasis which Nietzsche would have been expected to praise, on non-religious buildings. The achievement of Brunelleschi in designing the dome of the cathedral at Florence was surpassed by Brunel, who designed only structures with a non-religious function.

The success of Nietzsche's aphorisms

The aphorisms I discuss are amongst Nietzsche's better aphorisms, or at least ones which are striking if faulty. I think that the majority of Nietzsche's aphorisms are weak and pointless to a greater or lesser extent (usually a greater extent), such as 'In music the passions enjoy themselves.' I think that Nietzsche is easily surpassed as an aphorist not just by such a conscious aphorist as Lichtenberg but by many 'aphorists by selection,' writers whose aphorisms have been taken by an editor from a more extensive context, usually prose but sometimes poetry. Which isn't to deny his successes.

The evaluation of aphorisms is undeveloped, including evaluation of the aphorisms of Nietzsche. Which of them are arguably excellent or good, which of them are arguably poor? This is before the finer distinctions.

My discussion here doesn't amount to a ((survey)) of Nietzsche's achievement or limited achievement in the form. I discuss only a few of his aphorisms. I think that his best aphorisms have least to do with his main themes, such as the condemnation of pity and praise of 'hardness,' (I detest his view) and the condemnation of Christianity (which I share.)

Nietzsche and extended forms

A 'torrent of words,' words piled upon words, is expression far removed from the aphorism, but it's a striking fact that Nietzsche used this diffuse and wordy technique to a far greater extent than he used the concise form of the aphorism. There was a prolix Nietzsche as welll as an aphoristic Nietzsche. To view Nietzsche as primarily an aphorist is mistaken.

Such well-known collections as the Oxford Book of Aphorisms and the Faber Book of Aphorisms contain the aphorisms of philosophers and non-philosophers. Nietzsche, of course, is generally regarded as one of the 'philosophers,' and the philosopher most closely associated with the aphorism form. What background knowledge is required or desirable in order to appreciate the aphorisms of Nietzsche, such as knowledge of epistemology and metaphysics? None, or very little, I think. I regard Nietzsche as a thinker rather than a philosopher, for reasons which include his relative importance as an aphorist. His strength is in short and often concentrated forms - in his better aphorisms but also in his non-aphoristic writing. His weakness is in extended argument which requires extended forms for adequacy.

The philosophy of Kant is extended as well as complex and only an extended criticism can do justice to it, criticize it adequately or have any chance of demolishing it. Nietzsche was evidently convinced that he had demolished it, as in his discussion in Sections 10 - 12 of 'The Antichrist,' but his criticism does not have the requisite scale. It does not have adequacy.

In reading the aphorisms of Nietzsche, we should be alert to Nietzsche's weakness in extended forms, his tendency to make a virtue of his weakness. As always, his claims have to be treated with the suspicion which he (hypocritically) recommended.

Der Aphorismus, die Sentenz, in denen ich als der Erste unter Deutschen Meister bin, sind die Formen der "Ewigkeit"; mein Ehrgeiz ist, in zehn Sätzen zu sagen, was jeder Andre in einem Buche sagt ... (Götzen Dämmerung - Streifzüge eines Unzeitgemässen, 51.)

'The aphorism, the maxim, in which I am the first master among Germans, are the forms of 'eternity'; my ambition is to say in ten sentences what everyone else says in a book - what everyone else does not say in a book...'

We have to ask, does a particular aphorism by Nietzsche have adequacy, or is it being used as an unsatisfactory substitute, something with insufficient scale? The same question can be asked of the aphorisms of other aphorists, including myself.

Criticism: some aphorisms of Nietzsche

Die Liebe zu Einem ist eine Barbarei: denn sie wird auf Unkosten aller Übrigen ausgeübt. Auch die Liebe zu Gott.

'Love of one is a barbarism; since it is exercised at the expense of all others. The love of God, too.' (Beyond Good and Evil, 67.)

Whenever Nietzsche mentions 'God,' it's the Christian God he has in mind. His discussion of other theisms is completely inadequate. 'Love' doesn't express at all adequately the believer's relationship with the God of Judaism or with Allah, and Buddhism has no personal God who could be loved. This is the Christian God, then. I'm no more well-disposed to the Christian God than Nietzsche, but in this aphorism, Nietzsche's distortion is obvious. The imperative is to love oneself, the 'neighbour' and God: 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart and with all thy mind and with all they spirit. And thy neighbour as thyself.' This imperative belongs to the word-sphere. In the reality-sphere, the practice of Christians has been very flawed. Far better at the level of personal kindliness than at the level of, for example, the laws of officially Christian countries.

Verbotene Freigebigkeit. - Es ist nicht genug Liebe und Güte in der Welt, um noch davon an eingebildete Wesen wegschenken zu dürfen.

'Forbidden generosity. There is not enough love and goodness in the world to permit us to give any of it away to imaginary beings.' (Human, All Too Human, Section Three, Religious Life, 129.)

William Blake responded to disregard of his work by becoming, to an extent, obscure and careless. If he'd had an appreciative public he would have taken more care to revise. In his penetrating essay 'Gerard Manley Hopkins' in 'The Common Pursuit,' F. R. Leavis describes Hopkins' response to the lack of a reading public, not obscurity but laboriousness: ' ... the reaction of so tense and disciplined an ascetic is the reverse of Blake's: he doesn't become careless, but - 'Then again I have of myself made verse so laborious' (LIII, to Bridges).' Nietzsche responded to disregard of his work by becoming intransigent and extreme and not so much careless as reckless. Nothing is refuted just by calling it intransigent or extreme. I think that his late work, 'The Anti-Christ' is intransigent but justifiable in its opposition to Christianity. But when he dealt with many other subjects, Nietzsche took up indefensible positions. 'Ecce Homo' has as chapter headings 'Why I am so wise,' 'Why I am so clever,' 'Why I write such excellent books.'

The earlier Nietzsche of 'Human, All Too Human is a less exciting writer than the later Nietzsche, who writes as if using bold print for much of the time, but we can appreciate the gentleness of this aphorism, its avoidance of stridency and shrillness. The later Nietzsche in general lost the ability to convey these things.

Grad und Art der Geschlechtlichkeit eines Menschen reicht bis in den letzten Gipfel seines Geistes hinauf.

The degree and kind of a man's sexuality extend to the ultimate pinnacle of his spirit.' (Beyond Good and Evil, 75.)

This aphorism, one of Nietzsche's better known aphorisms, is isolated in the body of his work. All the evidence is that although Nietzsche may have had sexual longings, they were frustrated. For that reason or other reasons, men's sexuality has no importance in Nietzsche's thought, except for this aphorism. Women's sexuality is treated with grotesque inadequacy. This isolated aphorism is surely a typical example of the word-sphere. Nietzsche on this occasion liked the sound of the words rather than any reality which the words could represent. They have poignancy as evidence of his sexual frustration, very much sublimated. The main point, however, is that the words are a false generalization.

Der Irrsinn ist bei Einzelnen etwas Seltenes, - aber bei Gruppen, Parteien, Völkern, Zeiten die Regel.

'Madness is rare in individuals - but in groups, parties, nations, ages, the rule.' (Beyond Good and Evil, 156.)

A good, a very good aphorism in its sound, authoritative and convincing in sound: a product of the word-sphere. Another of Nietzsche's false generalizations. Ages are too big and multi-faceted to be included in such simple-minded talk, containing not just madness but lucidity, clarity and common-sense. Madness isn't rare in individuals if madness is taken to include delusions and irrationality which verge upon the psychotic. Nations can become mad for a time, as when Germany and Austria became Nazi and Russia became Stalinist, but the generalization overlooks the individuals who remained uninfected by the madness. It's surely a true generalization that some nations have been far more immune to the madness which led to the extermination camps, the concentration camps, the purges and the labour camps than these, and to lesser forms of madness.

George Orwell is quoted in Robert Conquest's 'The Great Terror:' 'Till recently it was thought proper to pretend that human beings are very much alike, but in fact any one able to use his eyes knows that the average of human behaviour differs from country to country. Things that could happen in one country could not happen in another.'

This is true, I think, but countries are not condemned to perpetuate the past: {separation} between past and present may be more obvious than continuity. Very often the madness of a country's past is a warning, making it less likely that the madness will be repeated in a later age.

Reality is fluid, varied and contradictory. Nietzsche's word-sphere is rigid and simple and his works supply many, many instances of false and debatable {ordering}.

The index to Walter Kaufmann's translation of Nietzsche's 'Beyond Good and Evil' has 22 entries for 'rank, order of,' excluding references to the translator's own foot-notes. Sometimes the phrase 'order of rank' is used explicitly in Nietzsche's text, more often the concept is strongly implied or stated. Some examples (of aphoristic writing rather than aphorisms):

Was der höheren Art von Menschen zur Nahrung oder zur Labsal dient, muss einer sehr unterschiedlichen und geringeren Art beinahe Gift sein.

'What serves the higher type of men as nourishment or refreshment must almost be poison for a very different and lower type.' (Section 30).

Es giebt zuletzt eine Rangordnung seelischer Zustände, welcher die Rangordnung der Probleme gemäss ist; und die höchsten Probleme stossen ohne Gnade Jeden zurück, der ihnen zu nahen wagt, ohne durch Höhe und Macht seiner Geistigkeit zu ihrer Lösung vorherbestimmt zu sein. (Section 213).

'Ultimately, there is an order of rank among states of the soul, and the order of rank of problems is in accordance; the highest problems push away without mercy everyone who dares to come near them without being foreordained for their solution by the height and power of their spirituality.'

Jede Erhöhung des Typus "Mensch" war bisher das Werk einer aristokratischen Gesellschaft - und so wird es immer wieder sein: als einer Gesellschaft, welche an eine lange Leiter der Rangordnung und Werthverschiedenheit von Mensch und Mensch glaubt und Sklaverei in irgend einem Sinne nöthig hat. (Section 257).

'Every enhancement of the type "Man" has so far been the work of an aristocratic society - and it will always be so: a society that believes in a long ladder of an order of rank and differences in value between man and man, and that needs slavery in some sense or other.'

Es giebt einen Instinkt für den Rang, welcher, mehr als Alles, schon das Anzeichen eines hohen Ranges ist; es giebt eine Lust an den Nuancen der Ehrfurcht, die auf vornehme Abkunft und Gewohnheiten rathen lässt. (Section 263).

'There is an instinct for rank which, more than anything else, is a sign of a high rank; there is a delight in the nuances of reverence which allows us to infer distinguished descent and habits.'

... würde ich mir sogar eine Rangordnung der Philosophen erlauben, je nach dem Range ihres Lachens - bis hinauf zu denen, die des goldnen Gelächters fähig sind. (Section 294).

'... I should even allow an order of rank among philosophers depending on the rank of their laughter - all the way up to those capable of golden laughter.'

Nietzsche's interpretation of 'higher' and his weighting should be examined. Any weighting which ranks as 'not higher'' Newton and the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel (to give just two examples - but remembering that only one counter-example may be enough for a refutation) should be examined very carefully. Newton was a poor specimen of humanity, petulant and paranoid, and it is impossible that Nietzsche could have claimed for Newton "the height and power of ...spirituality." It would be asking too much of human versatility that someone who transformed our understanding of nature and made such innovations in mathematics should also be someone of 'nobility,' by Nietzsche's exacting standards. The engineers who designed the audacious viaducts and the railway tunnels and the mechanical engineers who designed the no less audacious machines during the Industrial Revolution have been 'higher' or 'high' in one sense, but not in the sense demanded by Nietzsche.

Close analysis of Nietzsche's orders of rank is hardly needed, including such fatuous claims as the one for golden laughter. Any history of philosophy which used this as a criterion of rank would be laughable. There have been philosophers capable of good humour, such as Hume, but none known to me capable of golden laughter. In fact, Nietzsche's words here are a typical product of the word-sphere. He likes the sound of the words but they lead nowhere.

Nietzsche and the word-sphere

I think that Nietzsche often remained in what I call the word-sphere. Of course, the word-sphere is the natural home of imaginative writers. This isn't a pejorative use of the phrase. 'Word-sphere' in the pejorative sense reflects a sense of reality which is surely defective. Often, reality is difficult, intractable, sometimes impossible to deal with. It's far easier to arrange words so that an aspiration is put forward as reality. 'Declaring' a thing to be so is mistakenly thought to be the same as the reality. Sometimes, words become a substitute for action - this is an instance of {substitution}. The word-sphere is amongst other things the world of facile claims, ringing declarations, hollow confidence-building assertions, wildly optimistic projections for future success.

The word-sphere is also the home of the theorists criticized in 'Theory's Empire,' edited by Daphne Patai and Will H. Corral. The essays in Part VII, 'Restoring Reason,' criticize relativists, theorists who elevate interpretation and diminish the role of fact. In their introduction to this section, the editors write 'It should come as no surprise that in order to separate language from reality, and to treat words as the preeminent building blocks of life, a major assault on rationality and science had to be launched.'

Nietzsche became a proto-theorist in this sense in a significant part of his work. Again and again, his aphorisms part company with reality. He becomes a master of the aphorism to a limited extent, but far more a master of the false generalization - which sometimes has such convincing (but illusory) power that it's easy to overlook the fact that it belongs only to the word-sphere. Very many of Nietzsche's arguments belong, like so many of the arguments of those he attacks, to the dismal category of 'argument by intimidation.' Nietzsche defies you to disagree.

Nietzsche and interpretation

In Section 52 of 'The Antichrist,' Nietzsche wrote, 'Another mark of the theologian is his incapacity for philology. Philology is to be understood here in a very wide sense as the art of reading well - of being able to read off a fact without falsifying it by interpretation, without losing caution, patience, subtlety in the desire for understanding. Philology as ephexis in interpretation: whether it be a question of books, newspaper reports, fate or the weather - to say nothing of the 'salvation of the soul' ... The way in which a theologian, no matter whether in Berlin or Rome, interprets a 'word of the Scriptures', or an experience, a victory of his country's army for example, under the higher illuminination of his country's army for example, under the higher illumination of the psalms of David, is always so audacious as to make a philologist run up every wall in sight.' (Translation of R J Hollingdale.) In 'Philology as ephexis in interpretation' 'ephexis' means 'undecisiveness' according to R J Hollingdale, but this is mistaken. The Greek ephexis, , means 'an excuse,' 'pretext.' The complete phrase means 'Philology as a pretext for interpretation.' It refers, then, not to the philologist who 'reads well,' without falsifying interpretations, but to the theologian, whose reading distorts and is a pretext.

In Section 59 of the Antichrist, Nietzsche writes, 'The whole labour of the ancient world in vain ... Why did the Greeks exist? Why the Romans? - Every prerequisite for an erudite culture, all the scientific methods [ Nietzsche is here not advocating 'scientism,' but the methods of 'Wissenschaft,' the German word which refers not only to science but to organized knowledge in general. The translation 'science' in the Oxford Duden German Dictionary is misleading] were already there, the great, the incomparable art of reading well had already been established - the prerequisite for a cultural tradition, for a uniform science; natural science, in concert with mathematics and mechanics, was on the best possible road - the sense for facts, the last-developed and most valuable of all the senses, had its schools and tradition already centuries old! Is this understood? Everything essential for setting to work had been devised - methods, one must repeat ten times, are the essential, as well as being the most difficult, as well as being that which has habit and laziness against it longest.'

Here, Nietzsche is mistaken in supposing that the ancient Greeks had progressed far in scientific method. Their mathematical achievements were staggering, but scientific method was only devised in the Seventeenth Century.

Christians wilfully ransacked Old Testament passages and interpreted them as prophesying the coming of Christ. Awkward passages which didn't confirm the interpretation would be made to confirm the interpretation, or else ignored altogether. Luther found the epistle of James inconvenient as it supported the doctrine of justification by works, not his doctrine of justification by faith. According to this, no good works - such as feeding the hungry - could compensate for human sinfulness. Without faith in Christ and redemption by Christ, all doers of good works were damned. Luther simply ignored the epistle, and called it 'an epistle of straw.'











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