Lecture on Nietzsche's Mature Philosophy

by Dr. Jan Garrett

Revised November 19, 2010

What I plan to do is to discuss, as systematically as I can, Nietzsche's mature philosophy. This is something he never did: he preferred to write in an aphoristic style--short, frequently paradoxical paragraphs, containing a deep insight or provocative question; his style reflects his experimental and energetic temperament. Nietzsche describes himself as a "freier Geist" and appeals to "freie Geister" (free spirits). He is an opponent of what he calls "the spirit of gravity." (One of his books is Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft, the proper translation of whose title, The Gay Science, is unfortunately today misleading to our ears.) In many ways, Nietzsche is the antithesis of system-builders like Kant and Hegel. Still, there is a unity to his mature works.

I will be providing extensive excerpts from Nietzsche's writings to document my interpretation and to give you a flavor of his style.

Z = Thus Spake Zarathustra
BGE = Beyond Good and Evil
EH = Ecce Homo
GM = Genealogy of Morals
GS = Gay Science
PN = The Portable Nietzsche
All translations are by Walter Kaufmann.

I. The Will to Power

A. To Nietzsche, all life is will to power.
Where I found the living, there I found will to power; and even in the will of those who serve I found the will to be master. (Z II.)
B. All will to power is will to "organize the chaos."
To "organize chaos" means: to interpret, to impose a point of view.
C. Also: to be "creative", to be an "artist"
we make up the major part of the experience and can scarcely be forced not to contemplate some event as its 'inventors.' All this means: basically and from time immemorial we are accustomed to lying. Or to put it more hypocritically, in short, more pleasantly: one is much more of an artist than one knows. (BGE)
D. Also: to esteem or evaluate (to create value)
to esteem is to create. . . Through esteeming alone is there value: and without esteeming, the nut of existence would be hollow. Hear this, you creators. (Z I)
E. Also: to "legislate, command"
Genuine philosophers, however, are commanders and legislators: they say, 'thus it shall be!' . . . With a creative hand they reach for the future, and all that is and has been becomes a means for them, an instrument, a hammer. Their 'knowing' is creating, their creating is a legislation, their will to truth is will to power. (BGE, 211)

The will to power expresses itself differently according to the strength of will to power in particular individuals.

F. Weak individuals tend to accept interpretations, commands, ways of living deriving from stronger individuals.

II. Happiness
A. Is the feeling of the increase of power, of surmounting obstacles; suffering is the feeling of decrease of power or of the inability to surmount obstacles.

B. Requires suffering; creation requires destruction.

The discipline of suffering, of great suffering do you not know that only this discipline has created all enhancements of man so far? (BGE)
In order to surmount an obstacle, one must feel the temporary inability to overcome it.

In order for A to overcome B, A must first find in B an insuperable obstacle.

A and B might both be tendencies in a single individual, e.g., A=will to health, B=will to pleasure in drink.

III. Perspectival Truth
A. Perspectives may be shared by a species, a group, or an epoch.

B. "Truths" common to such collectivities are "lies" or "falsifications" in the sense that they simplify or selectively report reality. (See BGE, 4) "Falsity" occurs because selective reporting seems to hide those aspects of reality not selected.

C. Such "truths" survive to the extent that they are needed for the survival of the community.

D. Important (philosophical) truths are made possible thanks to such "lies" because:

1. such simplifications teach us how to think;
2. philosophical truths are also selective, perspective related.
IV. Self and consciousness
A. The self is the body "viewed from inside."
Body am I entirely, and nothing else; and soul is only a word for something about the body. . .

The body is a great reason, a plurality with one sense, a war and a peace, a herd and a shepherd. An instrument of your body is also your little reason ... which you call 'Geist' (spirit) (Zarathustra I)

B. The consciousness is the least effective part of the self.
By far the greater part of conscious thinking must still be included among instinctive activities, and that goes even for philosophical thinking. . . . Most of the conscious thinking of a philosopher is secretly guided and forced into certain channels by his instincts. (BGE, 3)
C. The rational intellect is an instrument of the body self: it provides justifications for what we want to do anyway and calculates the means which will be most effective for reading the ends we already want.
One must follow the instincts but persuade reason to assist them with good reasons. (BGE, 191)
D. The self may or may not consist of conflicting drives. Psychology of Character Types:
1. Potentially conflicting drives may weaken each other by mutual attrition; or
2. one may be sublimated, i.e., cultivated and disciplined, into the service of another.
E. Three kinds of individuals exemplifying D.1 are:
1. the merely weak person, who becomes part of the herd or mass, controlled by stronger individuals.
2. various types who gain a kind of psychological unity by extinguishing certain desires so that others may dominate: these include
      a. the saint or ascetic, who gains control of himself by weakening his body related needs and drives.
An ascetic life is . . . a contradiction in terms. Here we find rancor (Ressentiment) without parallel, the rancor of an insatiable power drive which would dominate, not a single aspect of life, but life itself. . . . Here the eye looks enviously and malevolently on all biological growth and on its principal expressions, while it gazes with delight on all that is misshapen or stunted, on pain, disaster, ugliness, on gratuitous sacrifice, on unselving and self castigation. . . We are face to face with a deliberate split, which gloats on its own discomfiture and grows more self assured and triumphant the more its biological energy decreases. (GM, 3rd, s. 11)
      b. the skeptic or "man of science" in whom nearly all drives are neutralized and what is called "truth" emerges in an attitude of objectivity which approaches indifference. (BGE, 206 208) (Compare Kierkegaard on "objective truth.")
F. Resolution of conflict
The saint is a powerful social force. His self mastery enables him to conquer the former masters, who lacked the cleverness to see through his strategy. The saint, who is disciplined, overcomes the former masters, who were not.
V. Master Morality v. Slave Morality
A. Periods: Prior history is roughly divisible into two eras:
1. that dominated by master morality;
2. that dominated by slave morality;

Re(1). MASTER MORALITY is characterized at the beginning by the rule of the physically strong over the physically weak. The master peoples of the ancient world are typically nomads and warriors, while the slave peoples are sedentary peoples, perhaps peasants or merchants who never use swords. Of course, even here, "physical strength" is not merely a matter of biological gift, but is cultivated by one life style, not another.

Nietzsche was trained as a philologist, i.e. a student of ancient languages and literature. He found abundant evidence in the past meanings of words that positively valued qualities were originally associated with an aristocratic warrior ruling class. The word "good" is related to "goods" (property) and "god," i.e., divine, powerful. The "great" men were originally the powerful, and nobody had yet proposed an independent test of their worthiness of being called "great." Likewise, at least in German, the word usually rendered "bad" (schlecht) is clearly related to the world which means "simple" or "of low origin" (schlicht). And the word "vulgar" today rarely means anything but "ill mannered" or lacking in taste, but its original meaning was "commonplace." "Vulgar" derives from "vulgus" ("common people"), who were assumed to be not only ill mannered but incapable of keeping promises.

Master morality expressed originally the strength, the loyalty and the self affirmation of the original aristocratic warrior rulers of the ancient world.

Re(2). SLAVE MORALITY is a later development. It can arise only when the masters have become weak and lost self discipline. This event has occurred by the time Rome ceases to be a republic and falls under the Empire. At this point the founders of Christianity discover how belief in another world (already partly suggested by Plato) can be combined with resentment against the masters as well as against ordinary people who do not accept Christianity. (The fact that hatred is involved, says Nietzsche, is proven by the delight some Christians express when they describe the tortures of Hell which await nonbelievers in the afterlife.) The fathers of the Church channeled this hatred, this thirst for revenge, into the cause of Christianity and won . . . in a little more than 200 years.

Already in the 4th century B.C., Plato had attacked the moral and political life of existing states. According to Nietzsche, he had started to undermine master morality. Christianity represents a more thorough going campaign against the old values. N's view is that Christianity is based on resentment directed against the powerful and the wealthy, a resentment which continues in secular form in more recent de-mands, say, of utilitarians for more sympathy and socialists for greater social equality.

Slave morality contrasts good and evil, not good and bad. "Evil" is the term Christianity uses to label things which Christianity condemns. N. argues that Christianity tends to call "evil" precisely those traits considered noble (and hence good) in pre-Platonic, pre Christian society. Goodness or virtue tends to be identified with meekness, humility and weakness. (Recall the Sermon on the Mount.) Virtues like being able to keep a promise and loyalty, which require strength and self esteem on the part of the individual, are replaced by compassion and sympathy, which do not demand self discipline. Even members of the herd can exercise them from time to time. B. From late Roman times to the present, man's ability to esteem (to create values by judging) has been corrupted by hatred of the open expression of the will to power. Nietzsche identifies this hatred with Christianity.

C. "Metaphysics" (defined by Nietzsche as the belief in the greater reality of the invisible "true" world) is part of the package deal modern humanity gets along with this victory over master morality.

The ascetic gains self control by suppressing his bodily drives. To do this he must cultivate the belief that the objects of these drives of are no value. This can be done only by inventing a changeless world (heaven) which is so perfect that the physical world is worthless by comparison.

D. Metaphysics is a type of "nihilism" opposed by Nietzsche. (It is the same type of nihilism N. opposed in Schopenhauer.) Associated with the slave morality, metaphysics "works revenge" on the naive instinctual strength of the powerful, the life affirming; it denies this world in order to affirm another "truer" world.

E. Moralists who affirm the existence of an absolute set of values pity, compassion, love of neighbor based on this "other world" are "liars." There is no invisible "true" world.

F. To accept the ascetic viewpoint is to weaken one's own will to power or life force; one does not discipline them to increase one's own creative power. The "significance" of ascetism, then, is hatred of life.

VI. Nietzsche's attack on asceticism should not be understood as implying an endorsement of normative hedonism, the view that pleasure is what human beings should pursue. Hedonism is based upon a false optimism. Hedonism assumes that the pleasures of life can outweigh pains in the long run. But this optimism is false since pleasures and pains are indissolubly linked.

VII. Nietzsche's ideal.

A. The kind of nihilism Nietzsche favors denies the in-visible "true" world of the ascetics, rejects absolute moral and aesthetic standards apart from life, and rejects false optimism.

B. A strong individual can live without false optimism.

C. The real test of strength is how much truth how little optimism one can not only endure, but also affirm. For Nietzsche the cardinal virtues are: truthfulness, intellectual honesty, courage.

Honesty . . . is our virtue from which we cannot get away . . . Let us dispatch to her assistance whatever we have in us of devilry: our disgust with what is clumsy and approximate. . . our adventurous courage, our seasoned and choosy curiosity, our subtlest, most disguised, most spiritual will to power . . . (BGE, 227)

"Will to truth," you who are wise call that which impels you and fills you with lust? (Z II, PN, p. 225)

"To what extent can truth endure incorporation? That is the question. That is the experiment." (GS, p. 171)

D. The person in his or her greatest strength will say "yes" to what was, is and will be. Nietzsche calls this state of being "Ubermensch" (Overman).

E. What Overman is not:

(a) Overman is not a new, higher species of human being.
(b) The term is never used in the plural. It represents a condition beyond what human beings normally reach.
(c) Those who attain Overman are always rare. Nietzsche does not believe in collective progress towards Overman.
F. In such a state a person will wish, with all his being, that what was is and will be, will return, exactly as it was, is and will be; and it will do so again and again. That is, he will will the Eternal Recurrence of the Same. Only in the Overman is every event, joy, woe, every decline and death of infinite value. The higher personality knows that all things are interrelated, to will any joy is also to will all woes as well. (N is a determinist.)
Have you ever said Yes to a single joy? O my friends, then you said Yes too to all woe. All things are entangled, ensnared, enamored; if ever you wanted one thing twice, if ever you said, "You please me, happiness! Abide moment!" then you wanted all back. All anew, all eternally, all entangled, all ensnared oh, then you loved the world. Eternal ones, love it eternally and evermore; and to woe too, you say: go, but return! For all joy wants eternity. (Z IV, PN, p. 435)
The higher personality affirms his own life and his own death with equally great passion.

G. The will to power reaches its greatest development in the Overman. For only there is nihilism in the bad sense of the word overcome.

H. The Overman must not only accept the eternal recurrence but must wish it. For acceptance is an affair of the consciousness, not of the will itself: one can want the opposite of what one accepts. Acceptance might be the result of a weakened will that lacks the strength to die or to live gladly.

I. As the affirmation of what is, Overman represents the perfection of the will to truth.

J. Only in Overman does will to power, working through the individual, recognize and affirm itself in all that happens. In all lower forms the will to power is divided against itself or simply weak.

One must make a start to comprehend what Zarathustra wants: this type of man that he conceives, conceives reality as it is, being strong enough to do so; this type is not estranged or removed from reality but is reality itself and exemplifies all that is terrible and questionable in it only in that way can it attain greatness. (EH IV, 5)
Overman is an ecstatic unity with the universe, a nonconceptual affirmation of becoming. Overman affirms everything in its concrete richness.