nietzsche: morality and physiology

from: understanding america…

Nietzsche: Writings from the Late Notebooks, Rudiger Bittner, ed. Kate Sturge, trans. Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp. 29-31.

Notebook 37, June – July 1885, 37[4]

Morality and physiology

– We find it ill-considered that precisely human consciousness has for so long been regarded as the highest stage of organic development and as the most astonishing of all earthly things, indeed as their blossoming and goal. In fact, what is more astonishing is the body: there is no end to one’s admiration for how the human body has become possible; how such a prodigious alliance of living beings, each dependent and subservient and yet in a certain sense also commanding and acting out of its own will, can live, grow, and for a while prevail, as a whole – and we can see this does not occur due to consciousness! For this ‘miracle of miracles’, consciousness is just a ‘tool’ and nothing more – a tool in the same sense that the stomach is a tool. The magnificent binding together of the most diverse life, the ordering and arrangement of the higher an lower activities, the thousand-fold obedience which is not blind, even less mechanical, but a selecting, shrewd, considerate, even resistant obedience – measured by intellectual standards, this whole phenomenon ‘body’ is as superior to our consciousness, our ‘mind’, our conscious thinking, feeling, willing, as algebra is superior to the times tables. The ‘apparatus of nerves and brain’ is not constructed this subtly and ‘divinely’ so as to bring forth thinking, feeling, willing at all. It seems to me, instead, that precisely this thinking, feeling, willing does not itself require an ‘apparatus’ but that the so-called apparatus, and it alone, is the thing that counts. Rather, such a prodigious synthesis of living beings and intellects as is called ‘man’ will only be able to live once that subtle system of connections and mediations, and thus lightning-fast communication between all these higher and lower beings, has been created – and created by nothing but living intermediaries: this, however, is a problem of morality, not of mechanics! Nowadays we’ve forbidden ourselves to spin yarns about ‘unity’, the ‘soul’, the ‘person’: hypotheses like these make one’s problem more difficult, that much is clear. All for us, even those smallest living beings which constitute our body (more correctly: for whose interaction the thing we call ‘body’ is the best simile – ) are no soul-atoms, but rather something growing, struggling, reproducing and dying off again: so that their number alters unsteadily, and our living, like all living, is at once an incessant dying. There are thus in man as many ‘consciousnesses’ as – at every moment of his existence – there are beings which constitute his body. The distinguishing feature of that ‘consciousness’ usually held to be the only one, the intellect, is precisely that it remains protected and closed off from the immeasurable multiplicity in the experiences of these many consciousnesses and that, as a consciousness of a higher rank, as a governing multitude and aristocracy, it is presented only with a selection of experiences – experiences, furthermore, that have all been simplified, made easy to survey and grasp, thus falsified – so that it in turn may carry on this simplification and making graspable, in other words this falsification, and prepare what is commonly called ‘a will’ – every such act of will requires, so to speak, the appointment of a dictator. However, what presents this selection to our intellect, what has simplified, assimilated, interpreted experiences beforehand, is at any rate not that intellect itself; any more than it is the intellect which carries out the will, which takes up a pale, watery and extremely imprecise idea of value and force and translates it into living force, precise measures of value. And just the same kind of operation as is enacted here must keep being enacted on all the deeper levels, in the behavior of all these higher and lower beings towards one other: this same selection and presentation of experiences, this abstraction and thinking-together, this willing, this translation of always very unspecific willing back into specific activity. Along the guiding thread of the body, as I have said, we learn that our life is possible through an interplay of many intelligences that are very unequal in value, and thus only through a constant, thousand-fold obeying and commanding – speaking in moral terms: through the incessant exercise of many virtues. And how could one not speak in moral terms! — Prattling in this way, I gave myself up dissolutely to my pedagogic drive, for I was overjoyed to have someone who could bear to listen to me. However, it was just then that Ariadne – for this all took place during my first stay on Naxos – could actually bear it no more: ‘But sir,’ she said, ‘You’re talking pigswill German!’ – ‘German,’ I answered untroubled, ‘Simply German! Leave aside the pigswill, my goddess! You underestimate the difficulty of saying subtle things in German!’ – ‘Subtle things!’ cried Ariadne, horrified, ‘But that was just positivism! Philosophy of the snout! Conceptual muck and mish-mash from a hundred philosophies! Whatever next!’ – all the while toying impatiently with the famous thread that once guided her Theseus through the labyrinth. – Thus it came to light that Ariadne was two thousand years behindhand in her philosophical training.

Note:

In case you’re not aware, Bittner’s selection of texts is from the critical edition of Nietzsche’s Nachlass edited by Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari, Freidrich Nietzsche, Samtliche Werke, Kritische Gesamtausgabe, (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1967-77). All N’s papers reside in the Goethe-Schiller Archive in Weimar.

Bittner’s selection is based on several criteria, but I’ll note here only that he’s following his own interpretation of fragments that have ‘philosophical import.’ The texts are chronological but discontinuous, which I find very frustrating, and am critical of Bittner’s choices of what to leave out. All the texts are among those compiled by N’s sister and translated by Kaufman in Will to Power. Again, in case you’re not aware, there is much dispute among N scholars about whether intended a book of that title. Bittner thinks not. I don’t think so either. More, the view I ascribe to is that he in the end downgraded if not entirely abandoning the concept of will to power. Sorry for foregoing lack of diacritical punctuation…

the long version of the documentary is here:

 

nietzsche: morality and physiology

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