The Essential Nietzsche
  • The Essential Nietzsche
  • The Essential Nietzsche

The Essential Nietzsche

by Friedrich Nietzsche

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An expert on Nietzsche presents highlights from The Birth of Tragedy, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, and other works, and explains their significance to modern readers.
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An expert on Nietzsche presents highlights from The Birth of Tragedy, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, and other works, and explains their significance to modern readers.

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Dover Publications
Publication date:
Dover Books on Western Philosophy
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5.44(w) x 8.44(h) x 0.39(d)

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The Essential Nietzsche

By Heinrich Mann

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-12134-5



There is a profound and fundamental satisfaction in the fact that science ascertains things that hold their ground, and again furnish the basis for new researches: — it could certainly be otherwise. Indeed, we are so much convinced of all the uncertainty and caprice of our judgments, and of the everlasting change of all human laws and conceptions, that we are really astonished how persistently the results of science hold their ground! In earlier times people knew nothing of this changeability of all human things; the custom of morality maintained the belief that the whole inner life of man was bound to iron necessity by eternal fetters: — perhaps people then felt a similar voluptuousness of astonishment when they listened to tales and fairy stories. The wonderful did so much good to those men, who might well get tired sometimes of the regular and the eternal. To leave the ground for once! To soar! To stray! To be mad! — that belonged to the paradise and the revelry of earlier times; while our felicity is like that of the shipwrecked man who has gone ashore, and places himself with both feet on the old, firm ground — in astonishment that it does not rock.

You ask me what all idiosyncrasy is in philosophers? ... For instance their lack of the historical sense, their hatred even of the idea of Becoming, their Egyptianism. They imagine that they do honour to a thing by divorcing it from history sub specie æterni, — when they make a mummy of it. All the ideas that philosophers have treated for thousands of years, have been mummied concepts; nothing real has ever come out of their hands alive. These idolaters of concepts merely kill and stuff things when they worship, — they threaten the life of everything they adore. Death, change, age, as well as procreation and growth, are in their opinion objections, — even refutations. That which is cannot evolve; that which evolves is not. Now all of them believe, and even with desperation, in Being. But, as they cannot lay hold of it, they try to discover reasons why this privilege is withheld from them. "Some merely apparent quality, some deception must be the cause of our not being able to ascertain the nature of Being: where is the deceiver?" "We have him," they cry rejoicing, "it is sensuality!" These senses, which in other things are so immoral, cheat us concerning the true world. Moral: we must get rid of the deception of the senses, of Becoming, of history, of falsehood. — History is nothing more than the belief in the senses, the belief in falsehood. Moral: we must say "no" to everything in which the senses believe: to all the rest of mankind: all that belongs to the "people." Let us be philosophers, mummies, monotono-theists, grave-diggers! — And above all, away with the body, this wretched idée fixe of the senses, infected with all the faults of logic that exist, refuted, even impossible, although it be impudent enough to pose as if it were real!

With a feeling of great reverence I except the name of Heraclitus. If the rest of the philosophic gang rejected the evidences of the senses, because the latter revealed a state of multifariousness and change, he rejected the same evidence because it revealed things as if they possessed permanence and unity. Even Heraclitus did an injustice to the senses. The latter lie neither as the Eleatics believed them to lie, nor as he believed them to lie, — they do not lie at all. The interpretations we give to their evidence is what first introduces falsehood into it; for instance the lie of unity, the lie of matter, of substance and of permanence. Reason is the cause of our falsifying the evidence of the senses. In so far as the senses show us a state of Becoming, of transiency, and of change, they do not lie. But in declaring that Being was an empty illusion, Heraclitus will remain eternally right. The "apparent" world is the only world: the "true world" is no more than a false adjunct thereto.

And what delicate instruments of observation we have in our senses! This human nose, for instance, of which no philosopher has yet spoken with reverence and gratitude, is, for the present, the most finely adjusted instrument at our disposal: it is able to register even such slight changes of movement as the spectroscope would be unable to record. Our scientific triumphs at the present day extend precisely so far as we have accepted the evidence of our senses, — as we have sharpened and armed them, and learned to follow them up to the end. What remains is abortive and not yet science — that is to say, metaphysics, theology, psychology, epistemology, or formal science, or a doctrine of symbols, like logic and its applied form mathematics. In all these things reality does not come into consideration at all, even as a problem; just as little as does the question concerning the general value of such a convention of symbols as logic.

* * *

The progress of science is at the present time no longer hindered by the purely accidental fact that man attains to about seventy years, which was the case far too long. In former times people wished to master the entire extent of knowledge within this period, and all the methods of knowledge were valued according to this general desire. Minor questions and individual experiments were looked upon as unworthy of notice: people wanted to take the shortest path under the impression that, since everything in this world seemed to be arranged with a view to man's needs, even the acquirement of knowledge was regulated in view of the limits of human life.

To solve everything at a single stroke, with one word — this was the secret desire; and the task was represented in the symbol of the Gordian knot or the egg of Columbus. No one doubted that it was possible to reach the goal of knowledge after the manner of Alexander or Columbus, and to settle all questions with one answer. "There is a mystery to be solved," seemed to be the aim of life in the eyes of the philosopher: it was necessary in the first place to find out what this enigma was, and to condense the problem of the world into the simplest enigmatical formula possible. The boundless ambition and delight of being the "unraveller of the world" charmed the dreams of many a thinker: nothing seemed to him worth troubling about in this world but the means of bringing everything to a satisfactory conclusion. Philosophy thus became a kind of supreme struggle for the tyrannical sway over the intellect, and no one doubted that such a tyrannical domination was reserved for some very happy, subtle, ingenious, bold, and powerful person — a single individual! — and many (the last was Schopenhauer) fancied themselves to be this privileged person.

From this it follows that, on the whole, science has up to the present remained in a rather backward state owing to the moral narrow-mindedness of its disciples, and that henceforth it will have to be pursued from a higher and more generous motive. "What do I matter?" is written over the door of the thinker of the future.

* * *

At the risk that moralising may also reveal itself here as that which it has always been — namely, resolutely montrer ses plaies, according to Balzac — I would venture to protest against an improper and injurious alteration of rank, which quite unnoticed, and as if with the best conscience, threatens nowadays to establish itself in the relations of science and philosophy. I mean to say that one must have the right out of one's own experience — experience, at it seems to me, always implies unfortunate experience? — to treat of such an important question of rank, so as not to speak of colour like the blind, or against science like women and artists ("Ah! this dreadful science!" sigh their instinct and their shame, "it always finds things out!") The declaration of independence of the scientific man, his emancipation from philosophy, is one of the subtler after-effects of democratic organisation and disorganisation: the self-glorification and self-conceitedness of the learned man is now everywhere in full bloom, and in its best springtime — which does not mean to imply that in this case self-praise smells sweetly. Here also the instinct of the populace cries, "Freedom from all masters!" and after science has, with the happiest results, resisted theology, whose "handmaid" it had been too long, it now proposes in its wantonness and indiscretion to lay down laws for philosophy, and in its turn to play the "master" — what am I saying! to play the philosopher on its own account. My memory — the memory of a scientific man, if you please! — teems with the naivetes of insolence which I have heard about philosophy and philosophers from young naturalists and old physicians (not to mention the most cultured and most conceited of all learned men, the philologists and schoolmasters, who are both the one and the other by profession). On one occasion it was the specialist and the Jack Horner who instinctively stood on the defensive against all synthetic tasks and capabilities; at another time it was the industrious worker who had got a scent of otium and refined luxuriousness in the internal economy of the philosopher, and felt himself aggrieved and belittled thereby. On another occasion it was the colour-blindness of the utilitarian, who sees nothing in philosophy but a series of refuted systems, and an extravagant expenditure which "does nobody any good." At another time the fear of disguised mysticism and of the boundary-adjustment of knowledge became conspicuous, at another time the disregard of individual philosophers, which had involuntarily extended to disregard of philosophy generally. In fine, I found most frequently, behind the proud disdain of philosophy in young scholars, the evil aftereffect of some particular philosopher, to whom on the whole obedience had been foresworn, without, however, the spell of his scornful estimates of other philosophers having been got rid of — the result being a general ill-will to all philosophy.

On the whole, speaking generally, it may just have been the humanness, all-too-humanness of the modern philosophers themselves, in short, their contemptibleness, which has injured most radically the reverence for philosophy and opened the doors to the instinct of the populace. Let it but be acknowledged to what an extent our modern world diverges from the whole style of the world of Heraclitus, Plato, Empedocles, and whatever else all the royal and magnificent anchorites of the spirit were called; and with what justice an honest man of science may feel himself of a better family and origin, in view of such representatives of philosophy, who, owing to the fashion of the present day, are just as much aloft as they are down below — in Germany, for instance, the two lions of Berlin, the anarchist Eugen Dühring and the amalgamist Eduard von Hartmann. It is especially the sight of those hotch-potch philosophers, who call themselves "realists," or "positivists," which is calculated to implant a dangerous distrust in the soul of a young and ambitious scholar: those philosophers, at the best, are themselves but scholars and specialists, that is very evident! All of them are persons who have been vanquished and brought back again under the dominion of science, who at one time or another claimed more from themselves, without having a right to the "more" and its responsibility — and who now, creditably, rancorously and vindictively, represent in word and deed, disbelief in the master-task and supremacy of philosophy. After all, how could it be otherwise? Science flourishes nowadays and has the good conscience clearly visible on its countenance; while that to which the entire modern philosophy has gradually sunk, the remnant of philosophy of the present day, excites distrust and displeasure, if not scorn and pity. Philosophy reduced to a "theory of knowledge," no more in fact than a diffident science of epochs and doctrine of forbearance: a philosophy that never even gets beyond the threshold, and rigourously denies itself the right to enter — that is philosophy in its last throes, an end, an agony, something that awakens pity. How could such a philosophy — rule!

I insist upon it that people finally cease confounding philosophical workers, and in general scientific men, with philosophers — that precisely here one should strictly give "each his own," and not give those far too much, these far too little. It may be necessary for the education of the real philosopher that he himself should have once stood upon all those steps upon which his servants, the scientific workers of philosophy, remain standing, and must remain standing: he himself must perhaps have been critic, and dogmatist, and historian, and besides, poet, and collector, and traveller, and riddle-reader, and moralist, and seer, and "free spirit," and almost everything, in order to traverse the whole range of human values and estimations, and that he may beable with a variety of eyes and consciences to look from a height to any distance, from a depth up to any height, from a nook into any expanse. But all these are only preliminary conditions for his task; this task itself demands something else — it requires him to create values. The philosophical workers, after the excellent pattern of Kant and Hegel, have to fix and formalise some great existing body of valuations — that is to say, former determinations of value, creations of value, which have become prevalent, and are for a time called "truths" — whether in the domain of the logical, the political (moral), or the artistic. It is for these investigators to make whatever has happened and been esteemed hitherto, conspicuous, conceivable, intelligible, and manageable, to shorten everything long, even "time" itself, and to subjugate the entire past: an immense and wonderful task, in the carrying out of which all refined pride, all tenacious will, can surely find satisfaction. The real philosophers, however, are commanders and law-givers; they say: "Thus shall it be!" They determine first the Whither and the Why of mankind, and thereby set aside the previous labour of all philosophical workers, and all subjugators of the past — they grasp at the future with a creative hand, and whatever is and was, becomes for them thereby a means, an instrument, and a hammer. Their "knowing" is creating, their creating is a law-giving, their will to truth is — Will to Power. — Are there at present such philosophers? Have there ever been such philosophers? Must there not be such philosophers some day? ...

* * *


In all ages the wisest have always agreed in their judgment of life: it is no good. At all times and places the same words have been on their lips, — words full of doubt, full of melancholy, full of weariness of life, full of hostility to life. Even Socrates' dying words were: — "To live — means to be ill a long while: I owe a cock to the god Æsculapius." Even Socrates had had enough of it. What does that prove? What does it point to? Formerly people would have said (— oh, it has been said, and loudly enough too; by our Pessimists loudest of all!): "In any case there must be some truth in this! The consensus sapientium is a proof of truth." — Shall we say the same today? May we do so? "In any case there must be some sickness here," we make reply. These great sages of all periods should first be examined more closely! Is it possible that they were, everyone of them, a little shaky on their legs, effete, rocky, decadent? Does wisdom perhaps appear on earth after the manner of a crow attracted by a slight smell of carrion?

This irreverent belief that the great sages were decadent types, first occurred to me precisely in regard to that case concerning which both learned and vulgar prejudice was most opposed to my view. I recognised Socrates and Plato as symptoms of decline, as instruments in the disintegration of Hellas, as pseudo-Greek, as anti-Greek ("The Birth of Tragedy," 1872). That consensus sapientium, as I perceived ever more and more clearly, did not in the least prove that they were right in the matter on which they agreed. It proved rather that these sages themselves must have been alike in some physiological particular, in order to assume the same negative attitude towards life — in order to be bound to assume that attitude. After all, judgments and valuations of life, whether for or against, cannot be true: their only value lies in the fact that they are symptoms; they can be considered only as symptoms, — per se such judgments are nonsense. You must therefore endeavour by all means to reach out and try to grasp this astonishingly subtle axiom, that the value of life cannot be estimated. A living man cannot do so, because he is a contending party, or rather the very object in the dispute, and not a judge; nor can a dead man estimate it — for other reasons. For a philosopher to see a problem in the value of life, is almost an objection against him, a note of interrogation set against his wisdom — a lack of wisdom. What? Is it possible that all these great sages were not only decadents, but that they were not even wise? Let me however return to the problem of Socrates.


Excerpted from The Essential Nietzsche by Heinrich Mann. Copyright © 2006 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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