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Daybreak meditation, §103

In an earlier post, written as I was reading Nietzsche’s Anti-Christ, I was perplexed by an apparently social strand in his thought—something about his project seemed to re­quire the modification of social institutions, seemed to suggest that such institutions had a role to play in creating the “higher type” of human. My recent purchase, from a used bookstore, of Morgenröte—a much more pleasant way to practice my German than rather mindless online studying—has led to the renewal of these perplexities. That seems as good an excuse as any to write.

§35 of Morgenröte lays out Nietzsche’s intellectualist view of feelings (cf. this post for my reflections on that passage). He writes: “Aber Gefühle sind nichts Letztes, Ursprüngliches, hinter den Gefühlen stehen Urteile und Wertschätzungen” (But feelings are nothing final, original, behind feelings stand judgments and evaluations)—that is, feelings are secondary to judgments. But what is most interesting to me, at least today, is not the mere fact that feelings follow judgments, but that for Nietzsche feelings are something inherited.

I find this especially interesting in light of my recent semi-immersion in ancient Stoicism, who also take an intellectualist standpoint. Behind every sense of being harmed or benefitted lies a judgment. Remove the judgment, and the harm itself is removed. Thus Marcus Aurelius: “How easy it is to repel and wipe away every disturbing or inappropriate thought, and recover at once a perfect calm” (Meditations, bk. 5, ch. 2) and “Do away with the judgment, and the notion ‘I have been harmed’ is done away with; do away with that notion, and the harm itself is gone.’ (Meditations, bk. 4, ch. 7). But on this Stoic picture, the relationship between judgment and feeling is immediate, or nearly so: I can effect the change within myself.

What Nietzsche adds to this picture is inheritance, which applies only to feelings. The starting point for §35 is the phrase, “vertraue deinem Gefühle!” (trust your feelings!). Nietzsche undermines this by arguing that feelings are the inheritance of someone else’s (often false) judgments, and not the result of one’s own judgments. To trust my feelings, then, would be to trust the judgments of, most proximately, my parents, since their judgments I have inherited as feelings. Where the unified mind of the Stoic gives me complete control over my feelings, or nearly so, Nietzsche makes me more beholden to my past, my genealogy. His intellectualist view spans generations.

It is this temporal aspect to his intellectualism that underlies §103. This passage is devoted primarily to distinguishing two ways of denying morality. The first denies that the moral motivations people ascribe to themselves are what is truly motivating them; the second denies “daß die sittlichen Urteile auf Wahrheiten beruhen” (that moral judgments are based on truths). Nietzsche clarifies that he is of the second sort, though he grants that in many particular cases the first sort is also right. This is all well and good, but the most interesting portion of the passage comes at the end, when Nietzsche writes:

Wir haben umzulernen, — um endlich, vielleicht sehr spat, noch mehr zu erreichen: umzufühlen.

This doesn’t translate smoothly. A rough, very literal translation goes: “we must relearn, in order, finally, perhaps very late, to achieve still more: to re-feel.” The Hollingdale translation runs, “We have to learn to think differently – in order at last, perhaps very late on, to attain even more: to feel differently.” I cannot do better.

Nietzsche’s suggestion of the practical upshot of his denial of morality is that we need to think in a different, new way about what we traditionally considered in moral terms. Just before this suggestion, he makes it clear that he does not think that all of the content of morality is wrong (i.e. the things we should and should not do)—rather, the moral framing is wrong, and those bits of the content that we preserve, we should preserve “aus anderen Gründen als bisher” (for other reasons than hitherto). The “relearning” consists, then, of learning these new grounds, and the end result, which will come “perhaps very late,” is a new array of feelings, distinct from the moral feelings we have felt hitherto.

This suggestion at once raises two thoughts in my mind. First, I run up, again, on the notion that Nietzsche is making a fundamentally social proposal. If the final benefit of the relearning is a modification of our feelings, this benefit will not lie with those (e.g. Nietzsche) who overthrow moral judgments. Instead, it will come “perhaps very late”—that is, many generations down the line. Nietzsche’s proposal is a large-scale, long-term project. Earlier I was perplexed by the thought that Nietzsche seemed to require social institutions that promoted the development of the higher type—here that perplexity takes on more definite content. One specific aspect of these institutions must be that they teach, not morality, but the new judgments. Since judgments are inherited as feelings, that will lead, eventually, to the inheritance of new, non-moral feelings—a condition I take it Nietzsche thinks is conducive to the development of the higher type.

At the same time as the shape of the requisite institutions comes into clearer view, however, the perplexity deepens. For what §35 makes clear is that our inherited feelings are not to be trusted—will this not be so as well for those beneficiaries of our new judgments? Should they not equally mistrust their non-moral feelings? And if they cannot trust the feelings they inherit from our judgments, why are we so concerned about this inheritance?

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A perceptive commenter on my earlier post about The Anti-Christ challenged my taking this intellectualist interpretation of Nietzsche. I have not addressed his criticisms here. I ought to, and may perhaps devote a post to this task soon. But I will say now that, at least in the two passages I have looked at here, Nietzsche does take the view that judgments are inherited as feelings, and does, in a way not free of internal tension, seem to want to use this relationship between judgment and feelings to enact a shift in the feelings of future generations via a change in the judgments of this one. Does this sit uneasily with Nietzsche’s critiques of intellectualism pointed out by my commenter? I cannot yet say.

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