Daizil But is this the true root of Christian morality? As a result, this book is suggestive, not conclusive. Want to Read saving…. What Do Ascetic Ideals Mean?
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This was reading that I did on my own and not as part of a class. I dont remember how I chose those books, but I can report now with no embarassment that my reading was superficial and that I did not genuinely understand much, if any, of it. More surprisingly, I did not like Nietzsche.
He is too much work. He uses words in idiosyncratic ways that are confusing and force When I was an undergraduate, I tried some Nietzsche. He uses words in idiosyncratic ways that are confusing and force multiple re-readings. He relies on clever aphorisms and allegories that seem calculated to appear profound, but always remain at least partly unexplained.
He is not expositive. He rarely asserts a proposition and then defends it with evidence and reason in the conventional way. Instead, he asserts something and generally cannot be bothered to defend it.
He would rather discuss the consequences of his assertions than examine their accuracy as the threshold question. This irritates me now, and I can remember being irritated by it all those decades ago too. I lost interest in Nietzsche. I do not remember why I picked that biography. I have a vague recollection of seeing it in the sale bin at a used book store. Whatever drove me to pick it up, it was not a good choice.
I lost interest in Nietzsche again. I did not run out and buy a copy, but I also did not forget his comment. I made a mental note to read it when I had time. Some years passed. That seemed promising. I thought that a conventional presentation of his ideas might make him understandable to someone like me.
I began to look forward to digging in and gaining enlightenment. I had to admit that I would love to understand why Professor Nietzsche is held in such high regard. At others, it is very frustrating. In a brief introduction, Nietzsche explains that he intends to investigate the origin and value of morality. He seems to want to understand the degree to which compassion, self-denial and self-sacrifice promote and benefit humankind.
At this point, I was already confused. In the introduction, Nietzsche talks of the value of morality in terms of its benefits to humanity. This is utilitarianism talk. Yet, he starts out almost immediately by disparaging utilitarianism. This annoyed me and seemed a sort of classic Nietzschean maneuver. Now are you convinced? Next, Nietzsche considers what happens when the ruling class is made up of priests instead of warriors.
Priests value purity whereas warrior aristocrats value health, strength, beauty and power. Priests stand the warrior values on their head. In the priestly value system, God is defined as good and the opposite of evil. Evil is identified with the strong, the noble and the beautiful. Therefore, in slave morality the world becomes ugly and banal because the beautiful is evil.
Nietzsche does not oppose kindness, humility and forgiveness per se. He does want us to understand that they are transformations of the impotence, submission and cowardice of the slave class. The latter has been predominant in recent times. The second essay is mostly a discussion of conscience, justice and punishment.
According to Nietzsche, humans are unique in that they can make promises. This presupposes a continuity of purpose that animals lack. In humans, that purpose is opposed by a tendency to forget. This is healthy. Memory loss prevents a lingering sense of failure and disappointment in humans. It makes it possible to be hopeful about the future. Conscience is an instinct to carry out responsibilities.
Societies have invented means to instill the habit of keeping promises. But Nietzsche insists that a bad conscience is not a fear of punishment. In fact, originally punishment had no connection with what we now call conscience.
Rather, punishment originated as a form of repaying a debt. The debtor would repay his creditor by suffering. The creditor was repaid in the form of the pleasure that comes from enjoying the suffering of another. This pleasure is connected to the human experience of power. Are you rolling your eyes at this? At least a little? Nietzsche goes on at length about punishment and suffering.
Among other conclusions he draws, he offers the theory that God was invented to make human suffering meaningful. Relatedly, he wonders if free will was invented to make the world more interesting to God. Nietzsche then returns to the subject of justice and offers a definition that justice is payment by a transgressor of what he owes to the community.
Nietzsche thinks that societies move through stages of justice, including a stage where a legal system will be devised to impose justice. Such a system will include elements of mercy, a luxury of the strong. Nietzsche concludes the second essay by acknowledging that he has been harsh in his criticisms of Christianity. Christianity has associated guilt with feelings that are fundamental and unavoidable as a part of our nature.
This creates a desire for other worldliness or purity that Nietzsche considers nihilistic. He argues that humanity requires an upheaval of values so that moral condemnation no longer attaches to things that are a natural part of earthly human life. He sees Zarathustra, of his earlier writings, as the embodiment of the upheaval that humanity needs.
The third essay addresses asceticism. Nietzsche discusses the attraction asceticism holds for women, the psychologically ill and priests, among others. Women find it enhances their charms, says Nietzsche. He must have been a fun date.
Psychotic people find asceticism attractive because they wish to withdraw from the world. Priest are drawn to it because it gives them power.
These differences suggest a shared fear of nothingness and a corresponding urge to find meaning, Nietzsche believes. Or is it just me? Nietzsche then considers the case of Richard Wagner and his opera Parsifal, which praises chastity. Why would Wagner, a master of sensuality, praise asceticism?
He may have felt a need to embrace and associate with respectability. To this end, Wagner accepted Schopenhauer and his special metaphysical category of music—as an expression of the basic nature of the universe. Poverty, humility and chastity free one from desire. At one time, irrationality, cruelty and violent emotions were considered virtues. But now the opposite is true, resulting in the ascetic ideal becoming associated with priests, something Nietzsche seems mildly unhappy about.
The essay then discusses how asceticism is both a symptom and a cure of poor psychological health. Little of this discussion seems plausible. Humans would rather have nothingness for a purpose than have no purpose at all.
So, wow. But for me, it was filled with unsubstantiated and unlikely speculation. Much of his speculation could have been checked via old-fashioned scholarship, but Nietzsche makes no effort to do that. For example, Nietzsche claims punishment started as way of repaying debts? Or women gravitate to asceticism because it makes them seem more attractive?
Where is the support for this? And so forth. For me, he lacks credibility. Plus, he is stubbornly cryptic for my tastes. Are these points of his meant to be accurate descriptions of reality?
Or are they thought experiments meant to challenge us without necessarily resembling the real world?
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Genealogia moralei - Friedrich Nietzsche
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