Fri 11 Dec, 2009 03:03 pm
The following is a rough copy of a response paper I am working on addressing how nihilism arises out of nausea at man and pity for man. Please keep the thread on-topic and focus on readings and passages contained in primary and secondary Nietzsche literature. If you have any thoughts on where I go wrong in my interpretation, please feel free to comment. What I do not want is a thread on general nausea, pity, and nihilism, but rather an interpretation of what Nietzsche has to say about these things.
In modern society, people that have succumbed to nihilism pose a great risk to the general health of a people. As Friedrich Nietzsche writes in The Genealogy of Morals, "The sick represent the greatest danger for the healthy; it is not the strongest but the weakest who spell disaster for the strong" (Essay III, Section 14). What ends up happening is that the weak band together to bring down the strong out of resentment caused by the amalgamation of suffering.
It is through two forces of nausea and pity that the weak unite and form the greatest danger to the healthy parts of a society. Nietzsche writes that "What is to be feared, what has a more calamitous effect than any other calamity, is that man should inspire not profound fear but profound nausea; also not great fear but great pity. Suppose these two were one day to unite, they would inevitably beget one of the uncanniest monsters: the 'last will' of man, his will to nothingness, nihilism" (Essay III, Section 14). But what does this mean, and what are the processes that cause the uprising of nihilism? I will start by explaining how profound nausea towards humanity comes about.
In The Will to Power, Nietzsche explains the psychological steps that bring about the nausea towards humanity associated with nihilism. The first step towards nihilism will be reached when "first, when we have sought a 'meaning' in all events that is no there: so the seeker eventually becomes discouraged" (12, A). This means that life has no aim, and thus, it appears as if there is no purpose to life. And with no seeming purpose to life, that means there cannot be a goal for humanity in general. Without a goal, life becomes a kind of discouragement in being.
Nietzsche then spells out the second step writing that "Secondly, when one has posited a totality, a systemization, indeed any organization in all events, and underneath all events, and a soul that longs to admire and revere has wallowed in the idea of some supreme form of domination and administration" (WP, 12, A). This means that there is no unity to life, and that everything is a kind of accident. And thus, if life is a kind of accident, the idea of becoming becomes rather useless. What does it matter to make something out of life if there is no purpose in arranging it in how an individual or group so chooses.
Following the realization of the first two features of psychological nihilism, the last feature takes hold of the mind. This "includes disbelief in any metaphysical world and forbids itself any belief in a true world. Having reached this standpoint, one grants the reality of becoming as the only reality, forbids oneself every kind of clandestine access to afterworlds and false divinities-but cannot endure this world through one does not want to deny it" (WP 12, A). And thus, a sense of valuelessness sets in as an attitude towards life causing great nausea towards humanity for the individual since things used to project meaning in life appear pointless, and life appears to be valueless. When this sentiment about life begins to spread through the minds of people and sickens people in power, psychological nihilism spreads from person to person as a nausea towards life itself. People then debase the meaning in life itself and appear to be nothing but a pointless charade.
So now the focus needs to shift to how does humanity inspire pity and join forces with inspired nausea to create a will to nothingness or nihilism. This pity grows out of "the weakest, who must undermine life among men, who call into question and poison most dangerously our trust in life, in man, and in ourselves" (GM, Essay III, 13). Their weakness inspires pity from those others who are in their lot. The weak pity those who are weaker than they are themselves.
Then united by their weakness, they "at least [try] to represent justice, love, wisdom, [and] superiority. These hopelessly weak individuals then "monopolize virtue" and say, "'we alone are the good and just. We alone are homines bonae voluntatis [men of good will]'" (GM, Essay III, 13). Thus, they try to ostracize the strong by uniting in weakness and pity for the even less fortunate to preserve their self-claimed standing. Nietzsche says about this: "The will of the weak to represent some form of superiority, their instinct for devious paths to tyranny over the healthy-where can it not be discovered, this will to power of the weakest" (GM, Essay III, 13)! By uniting, the weak assent themselves as the moral authority in action and declare the strong to be unworthy of their status. Through resentment of the strong individuals, they act as a tyranny of the majority poisoning anyone that may be better than themselves. Nietzsche writes that "Undoubtedly if they succeed in poisoning the consciences of the fortunate with their own misery, with all misery, so that one day the fortunate began to be ashamed of their good fortune and perhaps said to one another: 'it is disgraceful to be fortunate: there is too much misery'" (GM, Essay III, 13). And with this, nihilism becomes the general spirit throughout a population. When it becomes a disgrace to be fortunate due to there being too much misery, then life itself seems rather pointless due to the nausea towards humanity that has been cause by the psychological implications that give rise to nihilism, and the reaction to the pity that spreads through the population. With this, humanity is doomed to sense the seeming pointlessness to life that is cause by the lack of a goal, and the feeling sorry for itself for its suffering.
The quotations from WTP are from 12 (A) in my edition (Kaufmann); what edition are you using?
1. Nihilism was for N. a fact
of great importance for mankind caused firstly by the rejection in thought and (especially) in practice of the major values of civilization which had been seen as objectively valid. In the name of truth (or perhaps honesty
), even Truth itself as a value could be rejected.
At the same time, this general rejection of traditional values had become the rejection of all value. At the end of the third essay in GM, he writes "Men would rather will nothing than have nothing to will." The implications of this Nihilism, as N. saw, were yet to be seen, but he predicted:
"For when truth enters into a fight with the lies of millennia, we shall have upheavals, a convulsion of earthquakes, a moving of mountains and vallies, the like of which has never been dreamed of." (EH, "Destiny," 1.)
2. N. was aware that much of his writing contributed to the destruction of the old idols, most notably by his insight that values were as much as product of psychological causes (the geneological method) as anything else.
3. But N. declared himself the very opposite of a Nihilist. If Nihilism represented a turning away from the decadence that included an "eclipse of the spirit," "moral hypocrisy," and herd values (pity, patriotism, family values) (EH,66), then this left open the possibility of creating new tablets "beyond good and evil."
Thanks for a heads up. For some reason I wrote 11 instead of 12. I think I missed the 12 at the top of the page. I will make the correction.
I wish I would have written my final paper on this topic of the rise of nihilism and how it is a necessary process for a culture in the midst of the revaluation of values.
Nietzsche was the opposite of a nihilist because he saw himself as holding the true values worth valuing, but appears a nihilist to those who the false and herd values that mass society holds (e.g. Christianity, morality, equality). One of Nietzsche's main projects throughout his work is affirming life in the wake of nihilism caused by the abandoning of old idols.
One of Nietzsche's main projects throughout his work is affirming life in the wake of nihilism caused by the abandoning of old idols.
As he said in Beyond Good and Evil, Part 3 (What is Religious), section 56:
Whoever, like myself, prompted by some enigmatical desire, has long endeavoured to go to the bottom of the question of pessimism and free it from the half-Christian, half-German narrowness and stupidity in which it has finally presented itself to this century, namely, in the form of Schopenhauer's philosophy; whoever, with an Asiatic and super-Asiatic eye, has actually looked inside, and into the most world-renouncing of all possible modes of thought--beyond good and evil, and no longer like Buddha and Schopenhauer, under the dominion and delusion of morality,--whoever has done this, has perhaps just thereby, without really desiring it, opened his eyes to behold the opposite ideal: the ideal of the most world-approving, exuberant, and vivacious man, who has not only learnt to compromise and arrange with that which was and is, but wishes to have it again AS IT WAS AND IS, for all eternity, insatiably calling out de capo, not only to himself, but to the whole piece and play; and not only the play, but actually to him who requires the play--and makes it necessary; because he always requires himself anew--and makes himself necessary.--What? And this would not be--circulus vitiosus deus?
Deep within nihilism there holds the antithesis of nihilism!?
Schopenhauer influenced Nietzsche so much
, I think. Their world views were quite similar. They saw a dark force beneath the conscious mind. They were both vitalists. They both saw nature as a zone of assimilation and war. It's just that Schopenhauer reacted differently to this. He lived on private means, wasn't an academic. Whereas Nietzsche was a young prodigy, ended up living on a pension. Nietzsche is perhaps more important for us moderns, but I do think he's unfair to one of his major influences. A person could describe Nietzsche as Schopenhauer with a twist on the ethics and a more radical theory of truth.
---------- Post added 12-12-2009 at 11:35 PM ----------
I realize I didn't address the thread topic very well then. On the social issue, N. has a point. Humanity is probably very much dragged down by self-pity more than anything else. As to nausea, that too, and it's related. As to nihilism, it's a form of Romanticism. For most humans find some quasi-objective value. Nihilism is sexy. It's like smoking because of the cancer warning. There's something in man that wants danger. Christ on the cross of nihilism. Chatterton and his rat-poison. It's all so thrilling. Nietzsche understood the lure of cruelty. We are old old killers, holy killers, divine monsters, sacred obscenities, sounding our barbaric yawp on mountain-tops. And also we are bored junkies flipping thru the channels. We are horses that scratch our behinds on trees. Man is such a fusion of the ridiculous, the sublime, and the boring.
It is through two forces of nausea and pity that the weak unite and form the greatest danger to the healthy parts of a society.
I understand pity well enough but I am less sure about nausea. I'm guessing that nausea is synonymous with disgust or does Nietzsche have something more subtle in mind? It might be worthwhile providing a brief description of what Nietzsche meant by it and how it differs from pity before moving on to explain how these forces lead to nihilism.
Also, do the weak unite these forces or do these forces unite in the weak?