Beyond Good and Evil.pdf

Beyond Good and Evil.pdf


This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) published, among other titles, Human, All Too Human and The Dawn. He divorced himself from public life and, in 1889, became insane, remaining in a condition of mental and physical paralysis until his death. R J Hollingdale translated eleven of Nietzsche's books and published two books about him. Michael Tanner is a Fellow of Corpus Christi College.

Preface; 1. On the prejudices of philosophers; 2. The free spirit; 3. The religious character; 4. Epigrams and entr'actes; 5. On the natural history of morals; 6. We scholars; 7. Our virtues; 8. Peoples and fatherlands; 9. What is noble? From high mountains: aftersong.

“Supposing that truth is a women—what then?” This is the very first sentence in Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. Not very often are philosophers so disarmingly explicit in their intention to discomfort the reader. Nietzsche’s book is carefully designed to disorient the reader, to systematically provoke and tease her to the point of stealing away her certainties. One might say Nietzsche vowed to bring “not peace, but sword.” Nietzsche: the feeble, shy, always polite and courteous Nietzsche. The natural state of Nietzsche’s reader (at least the natural state of the reader generous enough to take him seriously) is a state of perplexity. Yet it is precisely the process of overcoming this perplexity that makes Nietzsche worth reading: not that in this process one would come to adopt Nietzsche’s teachings (that would be hardly the point), but it is there, in the course of this recovery, that one realizes how self-rewarding having one’s ideas challenged sometimes can be. How refreshing and empowering! It is above all a matter of healthy living when it comes to the life of the mind.


In several respects Friedrich Nietzsche’s life (1844–1900) seems to be a “good story,” a worthy piece of fiction, rather than a biography proper: it is almost too interesting to be true. Ironically, the philosopher of “the death of God” came from a very pious background: “He was the heir of a line of Lutheran pastors going back to the beginning of the seventeenth century, his father and both grandfathers were Lutheran ministers.”[i] Not surprisingly, the expectation was that he, too, would become a pastor one day. At the prestigious grammar school Pforta, which he attended between 1858 and 1864 (and whose alumni include major figures of German letters such as Klopstock, Fichte, Leopold von Ranke), Nietzsche received the best humanistic education available, which allowed him to start studying theology at the university level. At Pforta Nietzsche met Paul Deussen (1845–1919), the future scholar of Sanskrit with whom he would develop a lasting friendship. The ardent religious atmosphere in which Nietzsche grew up can still be felt in this early autobiographical piece (Aus meinem Leben, 1858):

Like a child, I trust in His grace: He will preserve us all, that no misfortune may befall us. But His holy will be done! All He gives I will joyfully accept: happiness and unhappiness, poverty and wealth, and boldly look even death in the face, which shall one day unite us all in eternal joy and bliss. Yes, dear Lord, let Thy face shine upon us forever! Amen.[ii]

It is obviously difficult to reconcile a passage like this with the anti-Christian stance that Nietzsche would later take. Yet, we should keep in mind that at exactly the same time he was defining himself as the “Anti-Christ” (late 1880s), his landlady in Genoa used to call him il piccolo santo (“the little saint”). Here, as elsewhere, there is something difficult to grasp about Nietzsche’s deeper impulses.  Nietzsche as a theological figure is a problem yet to be studied in depth.

In 1864, Nietzsche began his theology studies at Bonn University, but after only one semester he transferred to classical philology. One year later, when his favorite professor Friedrich W. Ritschl (1806–1876) moved to Leipzig University, Nietzsche followed him there. From then on, for a number of years, Nietzsche dedicated himself completely to philological studies (mostly Greek literature), and soon enough his teachers recognized him as an extremely promising and industrious young philologist. However, read retrospectively from the vantage point of Nietzsche’s late work, this stage in Nietzsche’s life betrays a certain degree of, so to speak, self-induced alienation; it was as though, through all his compulsive work and awe-inspiring industry, Nietzsche was trying to forget about something—possibly about himself (his deeper self). When reading in The Genealogy of Morals a passage like the following, one cannot help seeing it as a confession:

science today is a hiding-place for all kinds of discontent, lack of conviction, gnawing worm, despectio sui, bad conscience—it is none other than the restlessness which results from lack of ideals […] The diligence of our best scholars, their heedless industry, the smoke rising from their heads by day and night, their mastery of the craft itself—how often the real meaning of all this consists in keeping something hidden from oneself! Science as a means of self-anaesthesis.[iii]

In recognition of his outstanding accomplishments in classical philology, in 1869 Ritschl recommended Nietzsche, who was barely twenty-four years old, for the position of extraordinary professor of classical philology at Basel University. Still in a self-alienating mood or simply as an existential experiment ( Versuch), Nietzsche accepted the position, and for the next ten years he was technically a teacher of classical philology. In 1872, he published The Birth of Tragedy ( Die Geburt der Tragödie), which launched him as an original philosopher and, at the same time, revealed his blatant unorthodoxy as a philologist. The book, written under the strong influence of a musician (Richard Wagner) and a philosopher (Arthur Schopenhauer), was an instant disappointment for most of his philology professors and colleagues. In a letter to Wagner penned in mid-November 1872, right after the publication of The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche notes, with a mix of bitterness and amusement: “our winter semester has started and I have absolutely no students! Our philologists have failed to appear! […] I have suddenly got such a bad name among my professional colleagues that our little university is suffering from it!”[iv] Nietzsche thus came to learn of the existence of a solid reality about which he had not cared very much before: the establishment, under its various guises and names. It does not matter how one sees oneself, the establishment always measures one up and redefines one according to its own standards. It is always we who have to adjust to the establishment, never the other way around. Ida von Miaskowski, one of Nietzsche’s friends, remembered him talking, around 1874, about “the narrow-minded arrogance of the German professors. […] They allow no difference of opinion. But if one has such, then they try to silence him by saying that he is sick.”[v] And the same goes for everything else. In an important sense, it is, for example, the students who define the teacher. Granted, some of Nietzsche’s former students found words of praise for him over the years. Still, the image of a Nietzsche who does not manage to live up to his students’ expectations and to entertain them properly has something unforgettable about it: “As a first-year student I attended a class of his on Plato. […] on the whole we were bored. […] he did not thrill us. […] In 1875 I attended Nietzsche’s classes on the history of Greek literature… I was left with a few brilliant remarks, but no more than that.”[vi]

After The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche published a multi-volume series titled Untimely Meditation ( Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen): David Strauss, the Confessor and Writer ( David Strauss, der Bekenner und Schriftsteller, 1873), Of the Use and Disadvantage of History for Life ( Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie für das Leben, 1874), Schopenhauer as Educator ( Schopenhauer als Erzieher, 1874), Richard Wagner in Bayreuth (1876), Human, All Too Human ( Menschliches, Allzumenschliches, 1878), with two supplements, the first in 1879 under the title Mixed Opinions and Maxims ( Vermischte Meinungen und Sprüche), and the second in 1880, titled The Wanderer and His Shadow ( Der Wanderer und sein Schatten). By this time Nietzsche had acquired a constant companion that would stay with him for the rest of his life: an almost unbearable chronic physical suffering. Nietzsche suffered, among other things, from chronic nausea, migraine headaches, digestive problems, and poor eyesight. This suffering is something one has to take seriously into account when approaching his work. In Ecce Homo he talks about the “torments that go with an uninterrupted three-day migraine, accompanied by laborious vomiting of phlegm.”[vii] When Erwin Rhode called Nietzsche a “virtuoso of self-overcoming” he must have had this unspeakable suffering in mind. It is a suffering that permeates Nietzsche’s entire life; a suffering that even manages to smuggle itself into the style of his writing and leave a clear imprint on it:

I felt close to death and therefore pressed to say some things which I had been carrying around with me for years. Illness compelled me to use the briefest mode of expression; the individual sentences were dictated directly to a friend; systematic realization was out of the question. That is how the book Human, All Too Human was written.[viii]

Nietzsche had such poor eyesight that he “could hardly...

This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.


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