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Beyond Good and Evil Chapter One: Part 23

Part 23 of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil marks the end of the book’s first chapter. This chapter, called On the Prejudices of the Philosophers, looked at different philosophers and philosophical traditions, from the ancient to the modern, and was critical of pretty much all of them. From Stoicism to Sensualism, from Plato to Kant, Nietzsche has spent the last thirty or so pages (is that all it’s been?) harping on his predecessors.

More recently, his critiques have been getting less petulant and more cohesive, and he’s even begun to introduce his own perspectives, rather than just belittling those of others. But he’s continued to remind us of his conviction that philosophy has been corrupted by the humans that have practiced it.

In some cases, Nietzsche has called out philosophers for inventing elaborate systems of reasoning to justify worldviews that they’re unwilling to question. In other cases, he’s more mercifully accused philosophers of letting assumptions and popular beliefs go unquestioned, thereby marring the results of their earnest philosophical inquiries. He’s argued that the concepts and categories that we apply to the world around us fail to adequately capture reality, and he has begun to describe a world that consists simply of interplay between “strong and weak wills.”

I’m still struggling to fully understand the concept of wills as it appears in BGaE. But it seems to refer to forces in nature as they are before they’ve been described and demarcated for easy human consumption. Nietzsche’s notion of wills is meant to (eventually) cut through all of the verbalization and description that typically comes with the examination of reality, and to reach its very core. Of course, he’s been plenty wordy himself throughout the process, but I suppose you’ve gotta start somewhere.

Part 23 of BGaE doesn’t really introduce any new concepts or mount any fresh attacks. Instead, it basically serves to sum up the main point that Nietzsche’s been laboriously working towards throughout Chapter One, namely that philosophers have heretofore either missed or deliberately ignored the actual nature of reality.

“All psychology so far,” begins Part 23, “has got stuck in moral prejudices and fears; it has not dared to descend into the depths.”

I’ll be honest—I’m a little confused by the sudden introduction of psychology here when, so far, Nietzsche’s mostly been talking about philosophy. I suppose psychology can be seen as a kind of culmination of philosophy—the final, scientific form of a millennia-long quest to understand the human experience—and I’ll run with that interpretation as I continue. This isn’t the first time Nietzsche’s mentioned psychology in BGaE, but it’s received so little airtime that to interpret it otherwise wouldn’t make sense—at least not to this amateur.

Nietzsche goes on to say that no-one has yet recognized psychology as “the doctrine of the development of the will to power…even in thought—insofar as it is permissible to recognize in what has been written so far a symptom of what has been kept silent.”

This is no wonder, he says, because people even have a hard time swallowing the idea that good and evil depend on eachother, or that good might owe its existence to evil. And “If [one] should regard even the affects of hatred, envy, covetousness, and the lust to rule as conditions of life…([which] must, therefore, be further enhanced if life is to be further enhanced)—he will suffer from such a view of things as from seasickness.”

Basically, Nietzsche is saying that the closer one gets to an honest take on reality, the more liable one is to become extremely uncomfortable. And he goes on to assert that “…even this hypothesis is far from being the strangest and most painful in this immense and almost new domain of dangerous insights…”

By his logic, it’s no wonder that people would be inclined to ignore the true nature of reality, whether consciously or unconsciously.

As I said, Part 23 mostly reminds us that philosophers throughout history have either missed or avoided the mark, and that the true nature of reality has yet to be described (if such a thing is possible, or even desirable).  

And in typical Nietzschean style, Part 23 ends with a flourish. “…let us clench our teeth!” he says, “let us open our eyes and keep our hand firm on the helm! We sail right over morality, we crush, we destroy perhaps the remains of our own morality by daring to make our voyage there—”

He invokes words like “adventurer” and “traveler” in reference to those willing to follow him into the philosophical unknown. He declares that any psychologist willing to “make a sacrifice” (of their comfortable worldview, perhaps?) “…will at least be entitled to demand in return that psychology shall be recognized again as the queen of sciences, for whose service and preparation the other sciences exist.”

He’s obviously getting worked up here, and the translator, Walter Kaufmann, even added a footnote to this page stating that “‘Again’ is surely open to objections.” It’s significant that Kaufmann—who’s mostly kept his mouth shut throughout Nietzsche’s ranting generalizations—was finally moved to raise an eyebrow by this final paragraph.

Of course, this is a particularly ridiculous claim on Nietzsche’s part. After all, how could psychology be on the way to a second recognition as the “queen of sciences” when it had only been around (in its modern form) for a couple decades at the time of writing? But I should tread lightly. I might be able to read a Wikipedia page, but Nietzsche likely knew more about psychology than I ever will.

Nietzsche finishes Part 23, and Chapter One, by stating that “psychology is now again the path to the fundamental problems.”

Regardless of his ideas about its history, it’s obvious that Nietzsche sees a bright future ahead for psychology. It is (again, at the time of writing) on the way to casting aside traditional notions of good and evil, true and untrue, and any reliable moral holdfast you might care to name.

Nietzsche is obviously fond of teasing his readers with hints about what is to come—with breathless references to the grand revelations that lie just ahead. And the final paragraphs of Chapter One reach a fever pitch with their foreshadowing. In short, it seems to me that Part 23 is meant as a cliffhanger, if such a thing could be properly said to exist in philosophy. The conclusion of Chapter One doesn’t introduce anything new—but it assures the reader that the best is yet to come.

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