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Daybreak meditation, §32

Over the past month or so, I have taken advantage of my daily walk to and from cam­pus to reflect on passages from Nietzsche’s Daybreak, after which I record some trace of my reflections. This is a record of one such meditation.

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Nietzsche is here discussing a problem of mechanics: there is a brake on our acquiring a new understanding of morality, and we must solve the problem of removing it. This brake is a certain pride that takes pleasure in suffering for the sake of a higher, exalted world. This pride is gratified to be able to suffer for morality, for the soul is thereby itself exalted. When informed that this supposed exaltation depends upon an error, a false understanding of morality, this pride shows the reaction typical of wounded pride: indignation. Pride, thus wounded, resists the new understanding. (§31 shows a similar effect of pride—a different pride? The same pride?—it resists the theory that says that man descended from the animals.)

Nietzsche does not much elaborate a solution to this problem. Instead, he offers a hint in the form of a question. “What force, therefore, will have to be employed if this brake is to be removed? More pride? A new pride?” I take this as a positive suggestion: a new pride is needed. But I am not strongly committed to the need being for pride specifically, it is enough that it be for some attitude like pride.

This raises a question: what sort of knowledge is Nietzsche’s new understanding of morality? Today, the word ‘knowledge’ calls to my mind a certain sort of description of how the world is. Applied to this case, Nietzsche’s new understanding of morality amounts to his description of the true nature of morality. Perhaps the essential feature of such descriptive knowledge is its objectivity: it can be passed on, verbally, to anyone, regardless of who they are.

Regardless of who they are—this means independent of what they feel, how they act, etc. Independent also of whether they are proud or modest. Perhaps Nietzsche’s new understanding of morality is of this sort. After all, Nietzsche says of this new pride only that it is needed to remove a certain brake on the understanding. Once this brake is removed, perhaps the new understanding may carry itself, simply because it is true. Truth may meet resistance from pride, to be sure, and may need a different pride to overcome that resistance, but once the resistance is removed, it needs no further support from that pride.

I worry about this reading of Nietzsche. My worry may be expressed succinctly: I do not think Nietzsche wants his understanding of morality to become a mere custom of thought. Let me explain. Nietzsche earlier reflected on the foundation of custom: “In its ultimate foundation – in this case that means: in its first generation. For when the habit of some distinguishing action is inherited, the thought that lies behind it is not inherited with it.” (§30) Nietzsche’s new understanding of morality, in its first generation, is wrapped up in the entirety of Nietzsche’s project, with its vision for the future, its moods, its pride, its modesty. This is the first generation of the new understanding. To acquire this understanding one needs a certain pride that can overcome a different, resisting pride.

But if this understanding is merely descriptive, then when it is inherited, all of this context is lost. All that is inherited is the description, accessible to anyone. It is faceless knowledge. If it is mere descriptive knowledge about morality, then it is inherited divorced from all moods, virtues, and vices. It ceases to be first generation knowledge, as it were; it becomes a custom of thought, followed for different reasons and with different feelings (hence also accompanied by different actions) than in the first generation.

The alternative is that Nietzsche’s new understanding of morality, insofar as it is valuable, is valuable in its first generation. Here, “first generation” is untimely. Nietzsche, in The Anti-Christ, remarks that a primitive Christianity will always be possible—I take “primitive” here to be akin to “first generation”: he means a Christian life that is not inherited but discovered for oneself, with all the moods, virtues, and thoughts that are not inherited with Christian customs. Does Nietzsche exempt his own understanding of morality from this same process of impoverishment via inheritance? When, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he says he does not want disciples, is he not calling for his “followers” to possess his truths as first generation truths only, else not at all?

Perhaps Nietzsche’s understanding of morality is descriptive knowledge. But I worry.

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  1. 2014/01/07 at 09:06

Kindly perturb

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