Lindsey – paper #4

“ We are unknown to ourselves, we men of knowledge- and with good reason.” (15) This sentence seems somewhat misplaced given that, at least in the modern sense, philosophy is the pursuit of self-knowledge. So why does Nietzche say that? He says it is because, “ We have never sought ourselves…(15).”  It seems as though he believes that philosophers do pursue knowledge, just not knowledge of themselves so much as knowledge of the world, and the way philosophers pursue knowledge seems to be through experiences. Nietzche suggests that this may not be the best way to obtain knowledge (15). Since we live in the present, these “present experiences,” as Nietzsche refers to them, are an afterthought, and therefore are not really present experiences at all.  It is because of this fact that, Neitzche says, “ we are necessarily strangers to ourselves. (15)”

So the notion of philosophy as the pursuit of self-knowledge, at least based on this account, is paradoxical, as “we do not comprehend ourselves…(15)” and “… Are not “men of knowledge” with respect to ourselves. (15)” Neitzsche seems to suggest in the next section of the preface that a better way to pursue and obtain knowledge might be to develop and nurture ideas. When talking about the ideas that became the basis of this book, he says, “…let us hope that time has done them [his ideas] good, that they have become riper,clearer,stronger and more perfect.(16)” Following this statement, he begins to speak of how his ideas, over time, have developed and become more fluid and interlaced. The ideas also were not the result of idle thinking, they came from a “fundamental will of knowledge. (16)”  It seems that this “fundamental will of knowledge” is what makes this pursuit of knowledge   “fitting for a philosopher. (16)”  Neitzsche also seems to suggest that the reason “present experience”  is not the best way to discover knowledge, is because they are isolated acts ;and according to Neitzsche, “we have no right to isolated acts…(16).”

Having exhausted his musing about the best way to pursue knowledge, he moves on to the topic of morality, more specifically the ideas of good and evil. The origins of good and evil had, he says, “…pursued me even as a boy of thirteen.(16)”    This first philosophical effort of Neitzsche taught him that he must separate the moral from theological. Thus, he began to look for the origin of evil within the world rather than from behind it.   Once he began to do this, his original problem evolved into a different problem. The problem became “ under what conditions did man devise these value judgements of good and evil? And what value do they themselves possess? (17)”  Neitzsche didn’t publish any of questions or answers until prompted to by the publishing of The Origins of the Moral Sensations.  Of this book Neitzsche said, “Perhaps I have never read anything to which I have said to myself No, propostion by proposition…(18)”

It was at this time that Neitzsche put forth his idea of a genealogical approach rather than trying to find the origin.

Neitzsche is still concerned with the value of morality. This leads him to refute in a way his teacher’s views which he seems to believe lead to skepticism. He believed that this “spreading morality of pity” was causing an illness that was taking hold on European culture. Neitzsche seems to be arguing that pity has some sort of worth, unlike his contemporaries who are “united in one thing: in their low estimation of pity. (19)”   Neitzsche seems to suggest that “ we need a new critique of moral values, the value of these values must themselves first be called into question. (20)” This is what ties the pursuit of knowledge to value. The conditions in which these moral values grew and changed are very important to creating this new critique of which Neitzsche speaks.    This was the original problem that Neitzsche set out to solve,however, because his problem changed, he never discovered the answer to the original problem. The solution to this problen is critical to the formation of a new critique, but it has never existed. So the value which we have for these values has to be taken seriously, so it has been taken for granted that something that is good is assigned a higher value than something that is bad, and something that is bad has a higher value than something that is evil.

The new problem that Neitzsche deals with is what if the opposite of what we believe of these values turns out to be true. This could make all the knowledge that has been acquired over hundreds of years completely irrelevant, but I’m not convinced that would be a complete diasaster. Were that to happen, the basis of knowledge could be self knowledge rather than experiences.  Having read this in its entirety, the first line of the preface makes much more sense because this problem that Neitzsche deals with could potentially change our pursuit of knowledge and what our value of things like good, evil and pity are. This could mean that men would focus on knowing themselves before looking for knowledge of the world.

One thought on “Lindsey – paper #4

  1. Lindsey,

    I think by the end of your paper you are onto something important. What does it mean that we have never sought ourselves? Maybe it means that we were looking the wrong place. Genealogy has always been a way to justify something by appealing to its origins. But what if that is the problem? What if the origins are fraudulent? Then we are looking in precisely the wrong place or at least precisely in the wrong way at the right place.

    He says, though, that we are “necessarily strangers to ourselves.” Does that mean that the project of self-knowledge is impossible? It may mean this. It may also mean something like Heidegger says: in trying to understand ourselves, we make ourselves objects of reflection. And in doing that we distance ourselves from ourselves. When we say “What is a hammer?” we are no longer seeing the hammer in the proper way. So when we ask “What am I?” does the same problem occur? I think part of Nietzsche’s point is that in objectifying ourselves we are creating a distance from ourselves. The solution then may be not to inquire, but it may also be to inquire in a different way.

    Nietzsche’s name is misspelled as “Neitzsche” in various places throughout; be sure to proofread.


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