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“There is no such thing as moral phenomena,” writes Friedrich Nietzsche, “but only a moral interpretation of phenomena.”
And in “Beyond Good and Evil” he tries, in his poetic and aphoristic best, to put a question mark over the historical validity of the latter.
Who Should Read “Beyond Good and Evil”? And Why?
Friedrich Nietzsche is a cultural icon for a reason – and we’re not talking about his iconic mustache. (Although it’s hard to talk about Nietzsche and not mention them, right?)
There’s probably no philosopher who writes better – or more poetic – than him, no writer who has exerted more influence on the history of ideas.
And very few intellectuals have ever been more controversial or more misunderstood than him.
You need another reason to read “Beyond Good and Evil”?
Well, let’s just say that it may change the way you think about everything.
Fetch – if you have the guts!
Friedrich Nietzsche Biography
Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher, poet, composer, classical philologist, and all-around cultural critic. He lived just five and a half decades: he spent the first two and a half as a brilliant student of classical languages, the next one as a professor, the fourth one as an iconoclastic philosopher, and the last one as a madman.
Born on October 15, 1844, Nietzsche began his career as a classical philologist and, at the age of 24, he became the youngest individual ever to hold the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel (the record stands to this day).
He had to resign from the position just a decade later, due to health problems which will trouble him for the most of his life.
Between 1879 and 1889 he will write most of his philosophical works, which will radically alter the way people think about philosophy and exert incredible influence on the following generations of artists and thinkers.
On 3 January 1889, Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown and spent the last years of his life practically vegetating, before a series of three strokes ended his life in the first year of the 20th century.
First published in 1886 – merely three years before Nietzsche suffered the career-ending mental breakdown – “Beyond Good and Evil” consists of 296 numbered sections divided into nine parts and framed between a preface and an aftersong.
The primary objective of the book – to question all philosophical knowledge concerning morality which precedes it and put forward an original theory of ethics, one that is, in fact, an anti-theory best summarized by the concept “will to power.”
In the preface, Nietzsche compares Truth to Woman and blames the men-philosophers of history for failing to understand it in the exact same manner.
Truth, Nietzsche says, just like a Woman, wouldn’t allow itself to be won if there was a dogmatist in the house. And all philosophers, he adds, were dogmatists.
it must certainly be confessed that the worst, the most tiresome, and the most dangerous of errors hitherto has been a dogmatist error—namely, Plato’s invention of Pure Spirit and the Good in Itself.
So, in a nutshell, philosophy is like a house built on the wrong foundation.
It must be torn down!
Part One: On the Prejudices of Philosophers (§1 – §23)
The basic premise of this part: all philosophers are humans; and all humans have inherent faults and prejudices.
So, when you believe a philosopher to be telling the truth, you’re actually believing a straight-out-liar who doesn’t even know that he’s lying.
Every philosophical system is just an elaborate smokescreen which obscures and muddles the prejudices of its author (§6):
It has gradually become clear to me what every great philosophy up till now has consisted of—namely, the confession of its originator, and a species of involuntary and unconscious autobiography.
In a nutshell, dig deep enough and what you’ll find on the other end of a philosophical system is the author himself, creased in stereotypes and human imperfections.
Part Two: The Free Spirit (§24 – §44)
And the way we can counter dogmatism and false philosophies:
With the free spirit!
You don’t need an explanation for that: it’s what you can be if you break the shackles of your own self.
These free spirits, says Nietzsche, these new philosophers should be “inquisitive to a fault, investigators to the point of cruelty, with unhesitating fingers for the intangible, with teeth and stomachs for the most indigestible, ready for any business that requires sagacity and acute senses, ready for every adventure.” (§44)
In other words, these new philosophers may uncover some painful truths about humanity.
They just need to follow each argument to its conclusion, no matter how cruel the latter may seem.
Part Three: The Religious Essence (§45 – §62)
Now comes Nietzsche at his sacrilegious best, the guy some like to love, and others love to hate.
Forget about Screwtape and his letters: Nietzsche’s words are far more venomous, since the German, unlike the Devil, doesn’t believe in good and evil.
He thinks that these are the product of religion, which is devised by the weak to oppress the strong:
Wherever the religious neurosis has appeared on the earth so far, we find it connected with three dangerous prescriptions as to regimen: solitude, fasting, and sexual abstinence—but without its being possible to determine with certainty which is cause and which is effect, or IF any relation at all of cause and effect exists there.
Feels like the first recipe for salvation in “Siddhartha”?
That’s because it is: Nietzsche influenced Hesse big time!
And just like Siddhartha, Nietzsche claims that it is wrong to accept these limitations without testing them.
And it is especially wrong to think of Christianity as a moral religion since it forbids things it shouldn’t. Nietzsche ends this chapter by claiming that there’s nothing worse than European Christianity since it has continually sucked all joy out of life for eighteen centuries, turning man into nothing more than “a sublime abortion”!
Part Four: Maxims and Interludes (§63 – §185)
Part four is a series of about 120 short epigrams, most of which are extraordinarily quotable and memorable – such as the one we started this article with (§108).
Here’s one (§116):
The great epochs of our life are at the points when we gain courage to rebaptize our badness as the best in us.
Great – a philosopher who insists on teaching us to be bad.
And kind of scary.
Part Five: On the Natural History of Morals (§186 – §203)
The great English Romantic poet William Blake wrote something which Nietzsche would have probably used as an epigraph to this section if he had read it: “To generalize is to be an Idiot; To Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit.” (Blake’s caps; not ours)
If you believe that the rich are bad and the poor are good, says Nietzsche, then you’re an idiot enslaved by a dogma perpetuated by few people you call philosophers and Nietzsche calls idiots.
And he really doesn’t have a good word for you as well, claiming that you think that way because you’d rather generalize and accept ready-made ideas than think with your own head.
Morality in Europe at present is herding-animal morality, and therefore, as we understand the matter, only one kind of human morality, besides which, before which, and after which many other moralities, and above all higher moralities, are or should be possible.
By now, you already know – by higher morality, Nietzsche doesn’t really mean asceticism and self-restraint.
Part Six: We Scholars (§204 – §213)
We are not really scholars so we feel that this part is not actually about us.
It’s about people like Kant – and others who speak about the categorical imperative as if it is an objective fact. The only fact you should know about Kant, if you ask Nietzsche, is that he is “the great Chinaman of Konigsberg” (§210), which is a metaphorical way of saying that he’s too much of a moralist, too little of a philosopher.
In fact, Nietzsche insists that people must stop confusing “philosophical workers, and in general scientific men” with “philosophers” (§211):
The real philosophers, however, are commanders and law-givers; they say: “thus shall it be!”
Now, isn’t that nice!
It’s Plato all over again!
Part Seven: Our Virtues (§214 – §239)
Didn’t really understand what’s wrong with Kant, Plato, Descartes – and, well, everybody else?
You’re not following then.
The problem with all of them is that they are generalizing laws of morality, which all boil down to the idea that we are all equal.
We are not, says Nietzsche.
On the contrary: it is so obvious that everybody is different. And that things such as divine laws are invented so that they can oppress the exceptional people who are allowed to do anything they want since they know better than the rest by definition.
Yes, this is the chapter where your favorite Dostoyevsky’s novel, “Crime and Punishment,” was born!
It’s also the chapter women won’t like a bit – since there’s a lot of misogyny at the end.
Part Eight: Peoples and Fatherlands (§240 – §256)
And just as you are about to blame Nietzsche for generalizing, he says – oh, yes, what I’ve written about women above was “a plunge and relapse into old loves and narrow views.” (§241)
It’s certainly not the truth.
And in the same manner, Europeans plunge into patriotism and nationalism – which, to Nietzsche, is the same as stupidity.
(Yes, he just called himself stupid joyfully!)
Due to mass media misrepresentation, you may associate Nietzsche with Nazism, but, as Ricky Gervais has brilliantly shown, Nazism is everything that Nietzsche was not.
In fact, in this part – where he divides nations into feminine (Greeks, French) and masculine (Romans, Germans) – he claims that the Jews are the most masculine race and that anti-Semitism is based on a wrong premise.
The Jews don’t want to conquer Europe, he says: they want to be assimilated by it.
Because masculine nations impregnate and beget, and feminine are fertilized and give birth.
Part Nine: What is Noble? (§257 – §296)
Speaking of being misunderstood – to Nietzsche, that’s basically the highest objective an individual can have. Living far from the crowd, all by himself, without friends or family, reading and talking things only he himself understands.
What’s more to like, ha?
Possibly the exact opposite?
Beyond Good and Evil Epilogue
The epilogue of “Beyond Good and Evil” is – wait for it… – a poem!
You expected something conventional from Nietzsche?
And it’s not a very good poem!
Titled “From High Mountains,” the poem is actually too long and not a bit subtle.
It’s about a man who has lived in the mountains for some time and who is at one point visited by his old friends. They can’t recognize him and are not strong enough to live with him on the mountains.
So, naturally, they leave.
And the speaker remains there alone, realizing that he’s now a changed person, and waiting for his new guests. Among them, “The Guest of Guests, friend Zarathustra” with whom he will undoubtedly have a lot more to talk about.
So, in a nutshell, a pretentious version of “The Fool on the Hill.”
We wonder whether “The Beatles” were inspired by Nietzsche to write the song?
After all, Nietzsche was one of the original Sgt. Pepper’s rejects!
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“Beyond Good and Evil PDF Quotes”Madness is something rare in individuals — but in groups, parties, peoples, and ages, it is the rule. Click To Tweet Objection, evasion, joyous distrust, and love of irony are signs of health; everything absolute belongs to pathology. Click To Tweet The vanity of others runs counter to our taste only when it runs counter to our vanity. Click To Tweet In the end things must be as they are and have always been--the great things remain for the great, the abysses for the profound, the delicacies and thrills for the refined, and, to sum up shortly, everything rare for the rare. Click To Tweet Christianity gave Eros poison to drink; he did not die of it, certainly, but degenerated to Vice. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
“Beyond Good and Evil” is not for the faint-hearted.
It’s also not for those who are looking for a beach read to pack for a leisurely vacation – unless that vacation is on some kind of a Sulphur lake.
“Beyond Good and Evil” is sometimes difficult to follow, and always written in a style which may easily mislead you. Unfortunately, in the worst possible direction.
So, unless you’re ready to question everything you know and sure you’ll leave the probe sane, look elsewhere.