Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Nietzsche and the Psychology of the Weak

By Hanno

Nietzsche does not believe in truth. There is no 'way the world is,' discoverable by reason' or by any other method. Instead, there are perspectives, ways of viewing the world, or interpretations. And if there is no way the world is, then there is no sense in critiquing ways of understanding the world for not being 'truthful' or matching up with the way the world is. For Nietzsche, your beliefs say more about you then they do about the world. So one can always fruitfully ask whenever someone tells you what they believe: what does this say about them? Nietzsche has deep insight to the darker parts of the human mind, and thus what he finds is not necessarily comfortable or nice. It turns out that many of our prized views are shaped by psychological forces that are not pretty.

Thus, for example, a question about the existence of God turns into a question about the psychology of the believer (or non-believer): what psychological needs make some people believe in such a thing? Kant's adherence to an inflexible moral scheme is not a feature of some moral truth, but rather a feature of Kant's psychology: Why is it that Kant needs morals to be absolute? And Hume's adherence to a flexible moral scheme raises the same kind of question. It, too, is not a feature of some moral truth, but rather flows from Hume's own psychology. It is psychology that shapes beliefs, not the world.

Nietzsche also thinks that physiology shapes psychology. A sickly body is the cause of the sickly mind. We do not choose interpretations or our psychological makeup. It is all determined by our physical well being.

It is also the case that on his view, modern man is man in decline. Weak, effeminate, and above all, sickly. He envisions a war between strong and weak natures, a battle of values, centuries old, roman warrior vs Jewish/Christian, Bird of Prey/Sheep, and the Jewish/Christian value scheme has won. But the scheme is not a choice, the people's value scheme is a product of their psychology and physiology. With the victory of the masses comes the decay of mind and body. Make no mistake about it (and the people who love Nietzsche always get this wrong), the sheep won. There are no more strong birds of prey. We are the sheep. Anyone who thinks he is not is sadly deluded, and more sick than anyone else.

If there is no truth, there still are perspectives that are better than others. On what basis? Psychology. Some perspectives flow from psychological strength and health, others from weakness and sickliness. Nietzsche will then rail against some perspectives, but never because they are not true. Always, it is because they are the product of sick minds.

The principle sickness is spite, vengefulness, which is created by the consciousness of impotence. Find monstrous rage, anywhere in the world, and you will find people who are conscious of their lack of power. But there is more to the story, and this is very important: They let their lack of power define who they are, and the way they see the world. It gnaws at them. They cannot let it go. It is the outcasts in high school who are bitterly resentful at the way they are treated by the social hierarchy, and let that define who they are, so that their very value system is framed as an antithesis for the popular, that they view themselves superior because they recognize the stupidity of the social elite (and they may well be! Truth is not the issue!). Or the popular themselves who need to feel superior to others, a need which manifests itself by putting down the people they hate with a kind of viciousness that shocks, always answerable to deep insecurity. It is people in Palestine, who define themselves though the losing struggle with Israel, alway, always aware that they have lost every battle in the decades long war. It is the people in Israel, who define themselves as a people under siege (doe not that very conception come with it the consciousness of the lack of power?). It is the people in the American South, who remember the civil war, their loss being the defining moment of their culture, and it shapes a hatred for those who won. Etc., etc., etc. From serious politics to trivial social arrangements, the rage comes from the same place: awareness of the lack of power, and that lack defining who they are. The story is the same, because the cause is the same: vengeful spite shaping a perspective, a world view, psychology shaping their interpretation of the world.

The need to feel superior, to demonstrate superiority, is itself the product of the feeling of inferiority, a psychological need. The weak are defined by that need. They may in some ways appear strong. But it is only an appearance. The truly strong can let things go, have no need to feel special, no need to demonstrate superiority. They may do things that hurt others, but are not wracked by guilt about such things, nor do such things as a reaction. If they do something wrong, they learn from it, and move on.

Next: morality


Steve Gimbel said...

It is the connection between psychology and politics/history that I've always thought was so interesting here. In a certain sense, there is always the desire from Nietzsche to transcend history (destroy Hegel), but there is also always the sense in which one is inextricably bound to history, to one's context. you cannot transcend something without the something to be transcended.

Anonymous said...

Nietzsche, WtP

493 (1885) - Truth is the kind of error without which a certain species of life could not live. The value for life is ultimately decisive.

534 (1887-1888) - The criterion of truth resides in the enhancement of the feeling of power.

Ecce Homo -

How much truth does a spirit endure, how much truth does it dare? more and more that became for me the real measure of value. Error (—faith in the ideal—) is not blindness, error is cowardice ... Every attainment, every step forward in knowledge, follows from courage, from hardness against oneself, from cleanliness in relation to oneself ... I do not refute ideals, I merely put on gloves before them ... Nitimur in vetitum ["We strive for the forbidden": Ovid, Amores, III, 4, 17]: in this sign my philosophy will triumph one day, for what one has forbidden so far as a matter of principle has always been truth alone. —


858 (Nov. 1887-March 1888)
What determines your rank is the quantum of power you are: the rest is cowardice.

Anonymous said...

I may only be a sheep, shepherd, but I ain't one of YOUR sheep. ;-)

Nietzsche, WtP

488 (Spring-Fall 1887) - ...No subject "atoms". The sphere of a subject constantly growing or decreasing, the center of the system constantly shifting; in cases where it cannot organize the appropriate mass, it breaks into two parts. On the other hand, it can transform a weaker subject into its functionary without destroying it, and to a certain degree form a new unity with it. No "substance", rather something that in itself strives after greater strength, and that wants to "preserve" itself only indirectly (it wants to surpass itself--).

Anonymous said...

Human, All too Human

For in pity at least two (maybe many more) elements of personal pleasure are contained, and it is to that extent self-enjoyment: first of all, it is the pleasure of the emotion (the kind of pity we find in tragedy) and second, when it drives us to act, it is the pleasure of our satisfaction in the exercise of power. If, in addition, a suffering person is very close to us, we reduce our own suffering by our acts of pity. Aside from a few philosophers, men have always placed pity rather low in the hierarchy of moral feelings-and rightly so.

Desire to arouse pity. In the most noteworthy passage of his self-portrait (first published in 1658), La Rochefoucauld certainly hits the mark when he warns all reasonable men against pity, when he advises them to leave it to those common people who need passions (because they are not directed by reason) to bring them to the point of helping the sufferer and intervening energetically in a misfortune. For pity, in his (and Plato's) judgment, weakens the soul. Of course one ought to express pity, but one ought to guard against having it; for unfortunate people are so stupid that they count the expression of pity as the greatest good on earth.

Perhaps one can warn even more strongly against having pity for the unfortunate if one does not think of their need for pity as stupidity and intellectual deficiency, a kind of mental disorder resulting from their misfortune (this is how La Rochefoucauld seems to regard it), but rather as something quite different and more dubious. Observe how children weep and cry, so that they will be pitied, how they wait for the moment when their condition will be noticed. Or live among the ill and depressed, and question whether their eloquent laments and whimpering, the spectacle of their misfortune, is not basically aimed at hurting those present. The pity that the spectators then express consoles the weak and suffering, inasmuch as they see that, despite all their weakness, they still have at least one power: the power to hurt. When expressions of pity make the unfortunate man aware of this feeling of superiority, he gets a kind of pleasure from it; his self-image revives; he is still important enough to inflict pain on the world. Thus the thirst for pity is a thirst for self-enjoyment, and at the expense of one's fellow men. It reveals man in the complete inconsideration of his most intimate dear self, but not precisely in his "stupidity," as La Rochefoucauld thinks. In social dialogue, three-quarters of all questions and answers are framed in order to hurt the participants a little bit; this is why many men thirst after society so much: it gives them a feeling of their strength. In these countless, but very small doses, malevolence takes effect as one of life's powerful stimulants, just as goodwill, dispensed in the same way throughout the human world, is the perennially ready cure.

But will there be many people honest enough to admit that it is a pleasure to inflict pain? That not infrequently one amuses himself (and well) by offending other men (at least in his thoughts) and by shooting pellets of petty malice at them? Most people are too dishonest, and a few men are too good, to know anything about this source of shame. So they may try to deny that Prosper Merimée is right when he says, "Sachez aussi qu'il n'y a rien de plus commun que de faire le mal pour le plaisir de le faire."

Sounds like Mr. Nietzsche has through analysis of the feeling of "pity" written Shylock's "apology"- Let me exact my pound of flesh from the filthy Christian merchant Antonio! Let me indulge in the "Master's" perogatives...

Anonymous said...

...but then, why ask? Just... do. Does Shylock have the strength necessary to "just do"?

Portia does.

Anonymous said...

Man must surpass the truth if he is to become the overman. Surpass necessity and the truth as Prometheus did. (Aeschylus, "Prometheus Bound")

Adamantine bonds cannot hold me forever. One way or another, I'll escape them. Of course I'll not likely remain the same once I do.

Anonymous said...


966 (1884) - In contrast to the animals, man has cultivated an abundance of contrary drives and impulses within himself: thanks to this synthesis, he is master of the earth.-- Moralities are the expression of locally limited orders of rank in his multifarious world of drives, so man should not perish through their contradictions. Thus a drive as master, its opposite weakened, refined, as the impulse that provides the stimulus for the activity of the chief drive.
The highest man would have the greatest multiplicity of drives, in the relatively greatest strength that can be endured. Indeed, where the plant "man" shows himself strongest one finds instincts that conflict powerfully (e.g., in Shakespeare), but are controlled.

Krista said...

I think you are 100% right about the psychology.

But, I've never understood from what perspective Nietzsche can praise health and condemn sickness. Either health/sickness is functioning as a value/disvalue for Nietzsche, in which case the perspective has to be a moral one, which requires some kind of standard. Or health/sickness are just states that living organisms can be in and the perspective Nietzsche takes is merely a descriptive one. If they aren't value-laden in some way, then why bother even pointing them out? Why would Nietzsche be so disgusted by the sick psychology if he didn't think there was something wrong with it ("wrong" not just as in "lacking in physical health")?

I think in GoM Nietzsche really wants people to see that they are sheep and to realize what slave morality has done to their psychology. If that's true, then it seems as though he wants people to change. But, if the perspective is just a descriptive one, how can he avail himself of that?

Hanno said...

He's quite clear that people cannot change. Such a notion lends itself to choice, and he argues against choice in psychology, physiology and morality in several places, both early and late. I do not think he is trying to get people to not be sheep, but to become aware of their sheepiness, and how this has shaped their own values. As such, it does seem a descriptive project. And yet, he also wants to condemn it. It is weak and sickly, and these are not good things, on his view. A value judgment without an alternative.

I think it is important to see the strength-health/weak-sickness as itself a meta-perspective, a perspective N has on perspectives. That being said, there is a value attached to it, as all interpretations/perspectives give value. But it will not be 'wrong' in a moral sense, nor 'wrong' in a factual sense. Rather, is seems wrong simply because from his perspective, it is bad. In any case, he never tells us why it is wrong. It seems to never occur to him to ask just what is wrong with sickness and weakness. There is no meta-meta-perspective ever offered, if you will.

Anonymous said...


WtP 899 (1885)

Our psychologists, whose glance lingers involuntarily on symptoms of decadence alone, again and again induce us to mistrust the spirit. One always sees only those effects of the spirit that make men weak, delicate, and morbid; but now there are coming

new barbarians { cynics experimenters conquerors } union of spiritual superiority with well-being and an excess of strength.

WtP 900 (1885)

I point to something new: certainly for such a democratic type there exists the danger of the barbarian, but one has looked for it only in the depths. There exists also another type of barbarian, who comes from the heights: a species of conquering and ruling natures in search of material to mold. Prometheus was this kind of barbarian.

WtP 909 (Jan.-Fall 1888)

The typical forms of self-formation. Or: the eight principal questions.

1. Whether one wants to be more multifarious or simpler?

2. Whether one wants to become happier or more indifferent to happiness and unhappiness?

3. Whether one wants to become more contented with oneself or more exacting and inexorable?

4. Whether one wants to become softer, more yielding, more human, or more "inhuman"?

5. Whether one wants to become more prudent or more ruthless?

6. Whether one wants to reach a goal or to avoid all goals (as, e.g., the philosopher does who smells a boundary, a nook, a prison, a stupidity in every goal)?

7. Whether one wants to become more respected or more feared? Or more despised?

8. Whether one wants to become tyrant or seducer or shepherd or herd animal?

910 (Spring-Fall 1887)

Types of my disciples.-- To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities--I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not--that one endures. [The note continues in Nietzsche's MS: "I have not yet got to know any idealist, but many liars--—"]


"What? You seek followers? You
would multiply yourself by ten, by a hundred, by a thousand?

Seek zeroes!"

BGE 26

...And whenever anyone speaks without bitterness, or rather quite innocently, of man as a belly with two requirements, and a head with one; whenever any one sees, seeks, and WANTS to see only hunger, sexual instinct, and vanity as the real and only motives of human actions; in short, when any one speaks “badly"—and not even “ill"—of man, then ought the lover of knowledge to hearken attentively and diligently; he ought, in general, to have an open ear wherever there is talk without indignation. For the indignant man, and he who perpetually tears and lacerates himself with his own teeth (or, in place of himself, the world, God, or society), may indeed, morally speaking, stand higher than the laughing and self- satisfied satyr, but in every other sense he is the more ordinary, more indifferent, and less instructive case. And no one is such a LIAR as the indignant man.

Anonymous said...

Hesiod, "Theogony"

(ll. 1-25) From the Heliconian Muses let us begin to sing, who hold the great and holy mount of Helicon, and dance on soft feet about the deep-blue spring and the altar of the almighty son of Cronos, and, when they have washed their tender bodies in Permessus or in the Horse's Spring or Olmeius, make their fair, lovely dances upon highest Helicon and move with vigorous feet. Thence they arise and go abroad by night, veiled in thick mist, and utter their song with lovely voice, praising Zeus the aegis- holder and queenly Hera of Argos who walks on golden sandals and the daughter of Zeus the aegis-holder bright-eyed Athene, and Phoebus Apollo, and Artemis who delights in arrows, and Poseidon the earth-holder who shakes the earth, and reverend Themis and quick-glancing Aphrodite, and Hebe with the crown of gold, and fair Dione, Leto, Iapetus, and Cronos the crafty counsellor, Eos and great Helius and bright Selene, Earth too, and great Oceanus, and dark Night, and the holy race of all the other deathless ones that are for ever. And one day they taught Hesiod glorious song while he was shepherding his lambs under holy Helicon, and this word first the goddesses said to me -- the Muses of Olympus, daughters of Zeus who holds the aegis:

(ll. 26-28) `Shepherds of the wilderness, wretched things of shame, mere bellies, we know how to speak many false things as though they were true; but we know, when we will, to utter true things.'

(ll. 29-35) So said the ready-voiced daughters of great Zeus, and they plucked and gave me a rod, a shoot of sturdy laurel, a marvellous thing, and breathed into me a divine voice to celebrate things that shall be and things there were aforetime; and they bade me sing of the race of the blessed gods that are eternally, but ever to sing of themselves both first and last. But why all this about oak or stone?

Anonymous said...

Wake up and smell the coffee. Morality is a subjective bias. So stop eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil and go back to eating from the Tree of Life... or if you insist upon eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil, at least understand what motivated Eve to bite the apple.

Nietzsche, WtP

1067 (1885) - And do you know what "the world" is to me? Shall I show it to you in my mirror? This world: a monster of energy, without beginning, without end; a firm, iron magnitude of force that does not grow bigger or smaller, that does not expend itself but only transforms itself; as a whole, of unalterable size, a household without expenses or losses, but likewise without increase or income; enclosed by "nothingness" as by a boundary; not something blurry or wasted, not something endlessly extended, but set in a definite space as a definite force, and not a sphere that might be "empty" here or there, but rather as force throughout, as a play of forces and waves of forces, at the same time one and many, increasing here and at the same time decreasing there; a sea of forces flowing and rushing together, eternally changing, eternally flooding back, with tremendous years of recurrence, with an ebb and a flood of its forms; out of the simplest forms striving toward the most complex, out of the stillest, most rigid, coldest forms toward the hottest, most turbulent, most self-contradictory, and then again returning home to the simple out of this abundance, out of the play of contradictions back to the joy of concord, still affirming itself in this uniformity of its courses and its years, blessing itself as that which must return eternally, as a becoming that knows no satiety, no disgust, no weariness: this, my Dionysian world of the eternally self-creating, the eternally self-destroying, this mystery world of the twofold voluptuous delight, my "beyond good and evil," without goal, unless the joy of the circle is itself a goal; without will, unless a ring feels good will toward itself--do you want a name for this world? A solution for all its riddles? A light for you, too, you best-concealed, strongest, most intrepid, most midnightly men?-- This world is the will to power--and nothing besides! And you yourselves are also this will to power--and nothing besides!

Anonymous said...

If N is right when he says:

There is no 'way the world is,' discoverable by reason' or by any other method. Instead, there are perspectives, ways of viewing the world, or interpretations. And if there is no way the world is, then there is no sense in critiquing ways of understanding the world for not being 'truthful' or matching up with the way the world is.

Then he can't possibly be right... its just his perspective.

And doesn't it seem as if N IS saying that the other ways of understanding the world are not truthful?

If he isn't, why listen?


Hanno said...

True, he cannot possibly be right, but that is no sin, since no one can.

As to why listen, it may well be an interesting or insightful perspective, even if only a perspective.

There is no sense in describing one interpretation of a work of literature as 'right,' but some are certainly more interesting than others. Truth or falsity simply may not be a suitable parameter for judging interpretations.

Anonymous said...

Why listen? Because it's "useful" and contributes to the listeners' survival. It "empowers" him.

493 (1885) - Truth is the kind of error without which a certain species of life could not live. The value for life is ultimately decisive.

ce said...

There is no sense in describing one interpretation of a work of literature as 'right,' but some are certainly more interesting than others. Truth or falsity simply may not be a suitable parameter for judging interpretations.

But, certainly there are facts about a work of literature. To say Hamlet is the Queen of England is just false, and any interpretation or work done from that falsehood is going to entail that you aren't even analyzing the work at hand.

So the question then becomes: are there facts about the world? The insane might have really interesting worldviews, and they be far more intriguing in some ways than my own. They've got many of the facts wrong. The Buffyverse is far more interesting than my own. Is that all that is to be considered? If Joss Whedon is stronger than myself, would I somehow be better off in the world he created?

In the end, the "better" evaluation is still question begging. Better in what way? Better how? Why is a stronger person's worldview better than the sickly person's? Why is sickly bad? Why is strong good? Bad how? Good how? He still needs to define better, good, and bad.

Hanno said...

Well, someone like Nehamas will argue that such trivual facts may exist, but they are not worth thinking about. He would also argue that you can in fact interpret Hamlet as being about the Queen of England (notice how different interpretations have Richard II as ruler of some modern state, for example). So you can never discount something as being automatically beyond the pale.

Even if that is false, interpretations do get judged by features other than 'true' false' right' wrong.' On this view of Nietzsche, the same thing is going on in our interpretation of the world: Life as literature.

I will argue that this vision has a deeper connection: me must not value truth if we are to value art, that the moral value scheme excludes the aesthetic value scheme, and hence must be overcome, because for Nietzsche, nothing is more important than art. This vision is more important to Nietzsche than frequently realized, and I will argue for it in the weeks to come. Life is literature, and literature is life.

ce said...


Other than does not necessarily entail in place of. Don't mistake me as arguing aesthetics has no position in our evaluations. Certainly, it does. But art utilizes facts and observations about the world in its process and presentation. To ignore that simple truth does a disservice to the artistry.

But it's more problematic than merely that. Art is historically deeply tied to morality (morality plays, fables, parables, etc.) and is often utilized as a means of social commentary and criticism. Without facts of the world, we actually lack the ability to understand and appreciate certain facets of the work.

And that's a re-imagining of the play, just to be clear. We do that all the time, but it's that particular director's presentation/vision, and we know that going into it. And you are not meant to think otherwise. But the very fact that we can make the distinction seems to make this whole project smell fishy. Why is the distinction important? Why do we find it necessary? The director was not confused about the facts within the original work. The director consciously decided to change them, and that's importantly and substantially different. An adaptation of a work, modernization of a work, etc., actually changes the work.

Sure, we can judge things on other qualities and features. And? That doesn't mean we automatically also devalue truth, falsehoods, facts, and foibles, nor that our evaluation of such things and their relative merits and/or values change. Why would that be the case?

Literature can be life, and life can be literature. That doesn't mean you can say Moby-Dick is the memoirs of a peach farmer and expect to maintain a shred of credibility. Your "interpretation" has no value, because you obviously have no bloody idea what the Hell you're talking about.

Anonymous said...

...and your "false interpretation" is not going to help you in your quest to survive, either. In fact, it could be downright detrimental...

Gay Science

112 - Cause and Effect. We say it is "explanation "; but it is only in "description" that we are in advance of the older stages of knowledge and science. We describe better, we explain just as little as our predecessors. We have discovered a manifold succession where the naive man and investigator of older cultures saw only two things, "cause" and "effect,"as it was said; we have perfected the conception of becoming, but have not got a knowledge of what is above and behind the conception. The series of "causes" stands before us much more complete in every case; we conclude that this and that must first precede in order that that other may follow - but we have not grasped anything thereby. The peculiarity, for example, in every chemical process seems a "miracle," the same as before, just like all locomotion; nobody has "explained" impulse. How could we ever explain? We operate only with things which do not exist, with lines, surfaces, bodies, atoms, divisible times, divisible spaces - how can explanation ever be possible when we first make everything a conception, our conception? It is sufficient to regard science as the exactest humanizing of things that is possible; we always learn to describe ourselves more accurately by describing things and their successions. Cause and effect: there is probably never any such duality; in fact there is a continuum before us, from which we isolate a few portions - just as we always observe a motion as isolated points, and therefore do not properly see it, but infer it. The abruptness with which many effects take place leads us into error; it is however only an abruptness for us. There is an infinite multitude of processes in that abrupt moment which escape us. An intellect which could see cause and effect as a continuum, which could see the flux of events not according to our mode of perception, as things arbitrarily separated and broken - would throw aside the conception of cause and effect, and would deny all conditionality.

Krista said...

I'm not sold on the idea that people cannot change. People may not be able to be things they are not (birds of prey cannot be sheep), and of course N condemns Christianity for asking us to do just that.

But, what about all the talk of value creation? Are N's philosophers of the future only supposed to be creating new values for themselves? We've got to be able to adopt some new values, right? In realizing our sheepiness, aren't we supposed to realize that we can't affirm the life we have? If we realize that and we try to adopt new values, why doesn't that count as changing?

Anonymous said...

If we realize that and we try to adopt new values, why doesn't that count as changing?

Would a simple change in values modify our genetic inheritance of "instincts" (our "essence")? Gay Science Book 1, #1.

Anonymous said...

Would a simple change in values modify our "habits"... and consequently the organism's associated survival "reaction times"?

GS 295 Short-lived Habits. I love short-lived habits, and regard them as an invaluable means for getting a knowledge of many things and various conditions, to the very bottom of their sweetness and bitterness; my nature is altogether arranged for short-lived habits, even in the needs of its bodily health, and in general, as far as I can see, from the lowest up to the highest matters. I always think that this will at last satisfy me permanently (the short-lived habit has also this characteristic belief of passion, the belief in everlasting duration; I am to be envied for having found it and recognized it), and then it nourishes me at noon and at eve, and spreads a profound satisfaction around me and in me, so that I have no longing for anything else, not needing to compare, or despise, or hate. But one day the habit has had its time: the good thing separates from me, not as something which then inspires disgust in me- but peaceably, and as though satisfied with me, as I am with it as if we had to be mutually thankful, and thus shook hands for farewell. And already the new habit waits at the door, and similarly also my belief-indestructible fool and sage that I am! that this new habit will be the right one, the ultimate right one. So it is with me as regards foods, thoughts, men, cities, poems, music, doctrines, arrangements of the day, and modes of life. On the other hand, I hate permanent habits, and feel as if a tyrant came into my neighborhood, and as if my life's breath condensed, when events take such a form that permanent habits seem necessarily to grow out of them: for example, through an official position, through constant companionship with the same persons, through a settled abode, or through a uniform state of health. Indeed, from the bottom of my soul I am gratefully disposed to all my misery and sickness, and to whatever is imperfect in me, because such things leave me a hundred back-doors through which I can escape from permanent habits. The most unendurable thing, to be sure, the really terrible I thing, would be a life without habits, a life which I continually required improvisation-that would be my banishment and my Siberia.

Anonymous said...

Thinking slows me down. My reaction time is not supplemented through habituation or instinct. I become trapped in a perpetual thought cycle, inactive.

Shaksepeare, "Hamlet" Act IV Scene 4

How all occasions do inform against me,
And spur my dull revenge! What is a man,
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more.
Sure, he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and god-like reason
To fust in us unused. Now, whether it be
Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
Of thinking too precisely on the event,
A thought which, quarter'd, hath but one part wisdom
And ever three parts coward, I do not know
Why yet I live to say 'This thing's to do;'
Sith I have cause and will and strength and means
To do't. Examples gross as earth exhort me:
Witness this army of such mass and charge
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit with divine ambition puff'd
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death and danger dare,
Even for an egg-shell. Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honour's at the stake. How stand I then,
That have a father kill'd, a mother stain'd,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep? while, to my shame, I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men,
That, for a fantasy and trick of fame,
Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,
Which is not tomb enough and continent
To hide the slain? O, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!

Achilles, teach me the secret to power... how to overcome my cowardly thoughts... to know when my moment has come. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Socrates, you torpify me! (Plato, "Meno")

Hanno said...

It will be a new value scheme, but not one that is meant for everyone, which is an essential feature of a moral scheme: its universality.

ce said...

...and your "false interpretation" is not going to help you in your quest to survive, either. In fact, it could be downright detrimental...


Would a simple change in values modify our genetic inheritance of "instincts" (our "essence")?

No. Nor is that required for change to occur. Change need not be at the genetic level.


Of course people can change. But, as Hanno points out, that doesn't mean it'll be of aid. Perhaps, a sheep can somehow be a "better" sheep, whatever that might entail, but it's still a sheep, and the wolf is still a wolf. If it cannot be universalized, then it doesn't do what morality is meant to do. And to tell the wolf to not be a wolf is not only unproductive, but seems rather silly. You might as well tell that triangle that it needs a fourth side.

Anonymous said...

Change need not be at the genetic level.

So it's okay to further subdivide mankind into categories such as "Hellenes" and "barabarians" (Plato, "Statesman"). I'd better alert the new taxonomers... the overman may already live amongst us.

And while I'm at it, I'd better go ready the HMS Beagle and start a new search for scientific samples. I feel like such a Neanderthal now.... ;-)

Anonymous said...

Or perhaps we can use Nietzsche's moral taxonomy. Slaves and Masters.

I wonder which I am if I shift back and forth or evolve over time from one to the other?

Anonymous said...

Somebody go tell Plato. One of his cavemen has gone missing again.

ce said...


Psychology shows us quite clearly, again and again, that our patterns of behavior, preferences, and value schemes can and do change. Sometimes this is due (at least in part) to our own volition, and sometimes it is not. This is not dismissing genetic predisposition. But that's not the entirety of it either.

How one is altered or modified need not be at the genetic level in order for it to be change. Even if we equate the body to the person, bodies can be altered. Or did those couple hits of acid make no difference whatsoever? It didn't change your genetic code, but it certainly made some modifications at the bio-chemical level, even if only temporarily.

Hell, there is even research showing the efficacy of self-help books and related programs. I would've thought all that was a quick way to make some cash, but apparently it can be effective. Color me amazed.

Anonymous said...

I'm simply thinking in term's of Nietzsche's "Overman". I believe that Darwin's Theory of Evolution was overturning many scientific theories in Nietzsche's day, and the "Origin of Species" had a particular currency. From a work by John S. Moore:

I want to focus upon a passage at Will to Power §685, from the opening "Anti-Darwin" up to the sentence:- "The error of the Darwinian school became a problem to me: how can one be so blind as to make this mistake?" The previous §684 also begins "Anti-Darwin". In both sections he makes a number of comments on Darwin's theory.

"Anti Darwin.- What surprises me most on making a general survey of the great destinies of man, is that I invariably see the reverse of what today Darwin and his school sees or will persist in seeing: selection in favour of the stronger, the better constituted, and the progress of the species. Precisely the reverse of this stares one in the face: the suppression of the lucky cases, the uselessness of the more highly constituted types, the inevitable mastery of the mediocre, and even of those who are below mediocrity. Unless we are shown some reason why man is an exception among living creatures, I incline to the view that Darwin's school is everywhere at fault. That will to power, in which I perceive the ultimate reason and character of all change, explains why it is that selection is never in favour of the exceptions, and of the lucky cases: the strongest and happiest natures are weak when they are confronted with a majority ruled by gregarious instincts and the fear which possesses the weak. My general view of the world of values shows that in the highest values which now sway the destiny of man, the happy cases among men, the select specimens, do not prevail: but rather the decadent specimens- perhaps there is nothing more interesting in the whole world than this unpleasant spectacle.

"Strange as it may seem, the strong have always to be upheld against the weak; and the well constituted against the ill constituted, the healthy against the sick and physiologically botched. If we drew our morals from reality, they would read thus: the mediocre are more valuable than the exceptional creatures, and the decadent than the mediocre, the will to nonentity prevails over the will to life, - and the general aim now is, in Christian, Buddhistic, Schopenhauerian phraseology 'It is better not to be than to be'.

I protest against this formulating of reality into a moral: and I loathe Christianity with a deadly loathing because it created sublime words and attitudes in order to deck a revolting truth with all the tawdriness of justice, virtue, and godliness....

I see all philosophers and the whole of science on their knees before a reality which is the reverse of the struggle for life as Darwin and his school understood it- that is to say, wherever I look, I see those prevailing and surviving, who throw doubt and suspicion upon life and the value of life.- The error of the Darwinian school became a problem to me: how can one be so blind as to make this mistake?"

Anonymous said...

Nietzsche understood that his "Last Man", the "meek" man, the "sheep" was destined to inherit the earth. The Eugenics movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries would likely have looked to be an exercise in futility, to Nietzsche.

The "Master Race" doesn't sound like it has a chance in Nietzschean evolutionary terms.

ce said...

@ FJ

Krista was speaking specifically in terms of value creation and the adoption of new values. Certainly, that doesn't require genetic alteration. I was merely clarifying and expounding.

Anonymous said...

What's going to lock those sheep values in then, enable them to endure and prevent the next evil Adolf born from reverting to wolf at the first rumbling of his stomach?

ce said...

A genetic predisposition is just that. It is not a mandate from Heaven. Learned behavior is never "locked in". Habits, values, etc., are never set in stone, be they those of the wolf or sheep. Human beings do not function solely on instinct. Indeed, most of how you live in the world is not instinct driven, but culturally derived and ingrained.

N was well aware of that. The Jewish-Christian schema won. Was it by altering our DNA? No. It was by teaching us to value the monkish life. It was learned behavior. It could be unlearned. We could embrace something different. Will that system be set in stone? No.

And what does it matter? The foolish and weak bemoan the way the world is, and long for what might be. The strong live in the world the way it is, and thrive anyway.

Anonymous said...

Learned behavior is never "locked in"

It can be, per Freud's "Totem and Taboo". What else is the Oedipus Complex?

Unleashing "Eros" was Herbert Marcuse and the "New Left's" grand project. By liberating women from the burdens of childbearing and the social limitations of their sex, they've largely succeeded. The value of "children" in our society has radically diminished. Just look at ever falling European birth rates.

Anonymous said...

There is a period of time early in every individual's life over which a child culturally imprint's upon their parents. A child raised in a single-parent and/or homosexual household will likely imprint different and distinct values than one raised in a heterosexual two-parent one. And once those new values are more universally tolerated, the genetic and innate behavioral characteristics of their parents will represent a larger and growing segment of the gene pool.

Civilizationally friendly values like monogamy are already on the decline. Eros has been unleashed.

Anonymous said...

Is "physical strength" one of the "great goods"? How about "intelligence"? What if "intelligence" were merely the result of extremely difficult cultural conditions, combined with a genetic defect (as Freud postulated in his correspondence w/Wilhem Fleiss)?

I'm not sure Nietzsche views "intelligence" as something necessarily compatible w/great strength (GoM, Essay 2, #16), but perhaps more of a "reaction" to it. And as Isaiah Berlin once stated, one of the few things he ever discovered on his own was that many of the "great goods" cannot survive together, and that we may be forced to "choose" amongst them... it's the "tragic" nature of choice.

And their is a substantial body of evidence documenting the "cultural bias" resulting from intelligence testing... or perhaps that's a statement that puts the "cart before the horse" so to speak?

Anonymous said...

Human beings do not function solely on instinct.

True, but those values which "support" instinctive behaviors like "sexual reproduction" lead to a perpetuation of the species, whilst others like "warlike aggression" and "cruelty" may do the opposite, unless...

they are culturally repressed and sublimated into other directions through the social elevation of "replacement" values.

Anonymous said...

It is not part of a true culture to tame tigers, any more than it is to make sheep ferocious. --Henry David Thoreau

Psychology CE said...

The biological perspective is a way of looking at psychological topics by studying the physical basis for animal and human behaviour. It is one of the major perspectives in psychology, and involves such things as studying the immune system, nervous system and genetics.