(006) Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil”, One Paragraph at a Time
I’ve struggled immensely in all my attempts to read and comprehend Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil”. These blog posts are my attempt to better understand this material. I encourage any corrections or criticisms in the comments.
Chapter One: On the Prejudices of Philosophers
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 auto-biography; and moreover that the moral (or immoral) purpose in every philosophy has constituted the true vital germ out of which the entire plant has always grown.
Every great philosophy that has emerged consists of not simply rational and logical conclusions, but a confession of the deepest kind on the part of the philosopher. Philosophers involuntarily write an autobiography of their own unconscious impulses, the kinds of traits of personality that comprise who that person is underneath, at the root of what comprises an individual.
Indeed, to understand how the abstrusest metaphysical assertions of a philosopher have been arrived at, it is always well (and wise) to first ask oneself: “What morality do they (or does he) aim at?”
It is wise to attempt to understand the prescribed morality that each philosopher works toward at the outset of their work in order to understand how their metaphysical assertions were being led.
Accordingly, I do not believe that an “impulse to knowledge” is the father of philosophy; but that another impulse, here as elsewhere, has only made use of knowledge (and mistaken knowledge!) as an instrument.
A deeper, more innate set of unknown impulses drives philosophers toward the use and misuse of knowledge. The instrument of knowledge is used at the whim of the philosopher’s unconscious impulses, which have already determined the direction they will allow knowledge to take them.
But whoever considers the fundamental impulses of man with a view to determining how far they may have here acted as INSPIRING GENII (or as demons and cobolds), will find that they have all practiced philosophy at one time or another, and that each one of them would have been only too glad to look upon itself as the ultimate end of existence and the legitimate LORD over all the other impulses. For every impulse is imperious, and as SUCH, attempts to philosophize.
All impulses are compulsions to action, which the ego is all too ready to make a justification for (or on the behalf of) including the impulse that believes itself to be merely an observer of man’s fundamental impulses. The tendency of philosophers to view themselves as lords over their own impulses in service of the pursuit of truth is itself an impulse.
To be sure, in the case of scholars, in the case of really scientific men, it may be otherwise — “better,” if you will; there there may really be such a thing as an “impulse to knowledge,” some kind of small, independent clock-work, which, when well wound up, works away industriously to that end, WITHOUT the rest of the scholarly impulses taking any material part therein.
In the case of truly scientific thinkers, of which there are precious few, the impulse to knowledge might actually be genuine and free from the clutches of the rest of the unconscious impulses which comprise a person or a scholar.
The actual “interests” of the scholar, therefore, are generally in quite another direction — in the family, perhaps, or in money-making, or in politics; it is, in fact, almost indifferent at what point of research his little machine is placed, and whether the hopeful young worker becomes a good philologist, a mushroom specialist, or a chemist; he is not CHARACTERISED by becoming this or that. In the philosopher, on the contrary, there is absolutely nothing impersonal; and above all, his morality furnishes a decided and decisive testimony as to WHO HE IS, — that is to say, in what order the deepest impulses of his nature stand to each other.
Still, the philologist, the mushroom specialist, and the chemist are all human beings that pursue a life based on a myriad of unconscious compulsions, such as a stable family, money, or political favor. The philosopher, on the other hand, is aimed at understanding the fundamental nature of reality. There is nothing impersonal in the work of a philosopher and everything that they put forward is a testimony of who they are at the most fundamental level.