Nihilism as Worldview - Ch.1 (part I) of "Beyond Good and Evil" by Friedrich Nietzsche
First Article - About Philosophers' Prejudices
In the first half of this chapter Nietzsche seeks to defend Nihilism as a worldview. Nihilism (from the Latin "Nihil" for "nothing") is a worldview that argues that there are no self-evident values that reality imposes on humans. Rather, humans generate systems of values which fit their preferences, and thus the ideological struggle in society is really a struggle for power. Nietzsche rejects the categories of truth and falsity, logic and metaphysics, God and immateriality all as value-judgments of those who want to hold a metaphysical worldview.
My fundamental critique of Nietzsche in this opening chapter of Beyond Good and Evil is that he has no justification for rendering the immaterial side of being as an arbitrary value. He argues that there is nothing beyond the physical, and so to intellectualize or make reality intelligible is to manipulate it for one certain group. This is just to implicitly accept the Naturalist worldview, that only physical realities exist. I fundamentally reject this premise, and hold that there is much evidence for the existence of the metaphysical side of reality. Just look into any of my posts on Jose Ortega y Gasset. The immaterial identity in things that the Pre-Socratics tried to hard to understand is not something made up or an illusion, it is a fundamental and constituent part of all reality. One that has not, nor can be, disproven without the person attempting to disprove it falling into an immediate self-contradiction as logical argumentation, itself, depends on metaphysics. Aristotle was right, if someone seeks to be this skeptical, the only consistent thing for them to do is to remain in the corner without moving or speaking and act as a vegetable.
A last point, this idea of the concept of truth being a "value" that one can take or leave is making a recurrence today in many of the popular progressive movements in the United States. There is a concerted effort to label "objectivity" in math and science as a value of "white supremacy."
Rational Truth as an Anti-Value
Nietzsche starts off the book taking aim at the central concept of Western philosophy, the search for truth. For thousands of years, philosophy consisted in the common conversation of generations regarding the discovery and search for truth. Nietzsche asks ... why? Who told us to do this? What set us on this search? What does truth matter? And he is shocked to see that it has taken humanity this long to finally ask this meta-question about the value of truth at all. "Just who is it anyway who has been asking these questions? Just what is it in us that wants 'to approach truth'? Indeed, we tarried a long time before the question of the cause of this will [to search for truth]. And in the end we stopped altogether before the even more basic question. We asked 'What is the value of this will?' Supposing we want truth: why not rather untruth? Uncertainty? Even ignorance?" 1
Nietzsche then criticizes those who have claimed that truth lies in the realm of the metaphysical essences of things. He thinks that this formulation of truth as something abstract, intangible, immaterial is utter nonsense. He rejects the Western expression of the idea of that things are not just their physical makeup, but have immaterial forms which give them their identity. The "thing-in-itself" he thinks is an abomination. "Their basis must lie in the womb of Being, in the Eternal, in the hidden God, in the 'Thing In Itself' - here, and nowhere else! - This type of judgment is the typical prejudice by which the metaphysicians of all time can be recognized. This type of valuation stands back of all their logical methods; this is the 'faith' that enables them to struggle for what they call 'knowing' - a something which at last they solemnly christen 'truth.' The basic faith of all metaphysicians is faith in the antithetical nature of values."
By that last line of Nietzsche's quote, we can see that he is contracting putting value in the abstract "truth" of things versus what he will advocate for, that value is experienced in the bodily and base urges, one that is anti-rational. Nietzsche call this reversal of value (placing it in the rational understanding) "antithetical" as he thinks it contradicts the bodily values that nature provides. So he goes on to ask if these antithetical values (rationality) are a false creation, superficial and meaningless. 2 Why, he asks, is it not the case then that these rational values - truth, selflessness, etc - are not fringe values upon the normative ones of selfishness and deception. In fact, he takes it further, maybe the metaphysician's claim to rational truth is really valuable because it is in the end manipulative of others. Then deception is actually the true value. "Furthermore, it is quite possible that the very value of those good and honored things consists, in fact, in their insidious relatedness to these wicked, seemingly opposite things - it could be that they are inextricably bound up, entwined, perhaps even similar in their very nature. Perhaps!" 3
Logical Truth as a Creation of a More Fundamental Value System Than Itself
Nietzsche then makes the claim that our abstract system of truth is really just another physical instinct of the body, like the many others we have. Consciousness is just another type of in-born instinct to human beings. Even the most logical abstractions, Nietzsche claims, are not really truths in themselves because he thinks they are not complete truths but rather truths that only make sense given a set of chosen fundamental values. He is pushing back that these fundamental values that we all seem to accept are actually fundamental. "Even behind logic and its apparent sovereignty of development stand values judgments, or, to speak more plainly, physiological demands for preserving a certain type of life. Such as for example, that the definite is worth more than the indefinite, that appearance is less valuable than 'the truth.'" 4 Again, the holding of these fundamental values, he argues is an arbitrary tool of power wielded by those who want to preserve their way of life. 5
Thus, for Nietzsche, to say that a claim is "false" logically is to assent to the philosophical system and values of those who uphold the reality of the logical world, the metaphysician. Thus logic is itself only part of the worldview that values this metaphysical reality as being real. Secretly, in Nietzsche's mind, maybe the whole system is only claimed to be absolutely true in order to serve the desires of those who propagate it. "We are, in fact, fundamentally inclined to maintain that the falsest judgments ... are the most indispensable to us, that man cannot live without accepting the logical fictions as valid, without measuring reality against the purely invented world of the absolute, the immutable, without constantly falsifying the world by means of numeration. That getting along without false judgments would amount to getting along with life, negating life." This new philosophy must admit that there is no truth, there is only truth which has been created as a tool of power. This is what it means to be "beyond good and evil." 6
Nietzsche continues on saying that philosophers think they have discovered the cold-hard facts of reality, but in actuality they have just created an argument which defends their "sentiment" about life. They are not honest enough to admit it though, but rather are like lawyers who make arguments for their preconceived conclusion. "Every one of them pretends that he has discovered and reached his opinion through the self-development of cold, pure, divinely untroubled dialectic (in distinction to the mystics of every rank who, more honest and fatuous, talk about 'inspiration'), whereas, at bottom, a pre-conceived dogma, a notion, an 'institution,' or mostly a heart's desire, made abstract and refined, is defended by them with arguments sought after the fact. They are all of them lawyers ... and for the most part quite sly defenders of their prejudices which they christen 'truths' - very far removed they are from the courageous conscience which admits precisely this..." Nietzsche then calls out both Kant and Spinoza of being guilty of this. 7
Every philosophy, Nietzsche says, is just the expression of values of the one proposing it. So how did metaphysics arise as an abstract science? Well, he claims, it wasn't about comprehending the universe, but about serving his own ends by creating such a tool. This is true for every of the basic desires or values of man. Depending on the man, and what desire they particularly value, they will philosophize in the manner of that desire. "... every great philosophy up to now has been: the personal confession of its originator, a type of involuntary and unaware memoirs; also that the moral (or amoral) intentions of each philosophy constitute the protoplasm from which each entire plant has grown."
Nietzsche, then, whether meaning to or not, makes an interesting point about science as a discipline. He points out that science is a tool without value. 8 The value lies in the person wielding the tool. Maybe there is a basic desire to understand the workings of the world without value, but that does not mean the rest of the person which desires values will not wield science for themselves. "... there is nothing impersonal whatever in the philosopher. And particularly his morality testifies decidedly and decisively as to who he is- that is, what order of rank the innermost desires of his nature occupy." 9
Turning Towards the Stoics
Nietzsche then turns his criticism towards the Stoics and their claims that they are living according to nature by pursuing moderation. He says that instead of them understanding the truth of how to live according to nature, they are reading their philosophy into nature, forcing it on nature. 10 In fact, Nietzsche expands this claim to connect to his earlier points, saying that all philosophy does this. It isolates one part of nature, one value, and then spiritualizes and universalizes it to become "the truth." "What happened to the Stoics still happens today, as soon as a philosophy begins to have faith in itself. It always creates the world in its own image; it cannot do otherwise, for philosophy is this tyrannical desire; it is the most spiritual will to power, to 'creation of the world,' to the causa prima." 11 There may be a few in Europe, he says, that seek after what they think is the truth for its own sake. But the majority are simply after something for their own sake. 12 They are like dead corpses, giving up an authenticity in life for their preferences.
Part II of chapter I coming soon ...
1 - Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. Henry Regnery Company (Chicago, 1955). Paragraph 1 page 1
2 - Paragraph 2 page 2
3 - Paragraph 2 page 3
4 - Paragraph 3 page 3
5 - Paragraph 3 page 4
6 - Paragraph 4 page 4
7 - Paragraph 5 page 5
8 - Paragraph 6 page 6
9 - Paragraph 6 page 7
10 - Paragraph 9 page 8
11 - Paragraph 9 page 9
12 - Paragraph 10 page 9