Living with Nietzsche: What the Great "Immoralist" Has to Teach Us

Living with Nietzsche: What the Great "Immoralist" Has to Teach Us

Living with Nietzsche: What the Great "Immoralist" Has to Teach Us

Living with Nietzsche: What the Great "Immoralist" Has to Teach Us

Synopsis

Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the most popular and controversial philosophers of the last 150 years. Narcissistic, idiosyncratic, hyperbolic, irreverent--never has a philosopher been appropriated, deconstructed, and scrutinized by such a disparate array of groups, movements, and schools of thought. Adored by many for his passionate ideas and iconoclastic style, he is also vilified for his lack of rigor, apparent cruelty, and disdain for moral decency. In Living with Nietzsche, Solomon suggests that we read Nietzsche from a very different point of view, as a provocative writer who means to transform the way we view our lives. This means taking Nietzsche personally. Rather than focus on the "true" Nietzsche or trying to determine "what Nietzsche really meant" by his seemingly random and often contradictory pronouncements about "the Big Questions" of philosophy, Solomon reminds us that Nietzsche is not a philosopher of abstract ideas but rather of the dazzling personal insight, the provocative challenge, the incisive personal probe. He does not try to reveal the eternal verities but he does powerfully affect his readers, goading them to see themselves in new and different ways. It is Nietzsche's compelling invitation to self-scrutiny that fascinates us, engages us, and guides us to a "rich inner life." Ultimately, Solomon argues, Nietzsche is an example as well as a promulgator of "passionate inwardness," a life distinguished by its rich passions, exquisite taste, and a sense of personal elegance and excellence.

Excerpt

Wandering through the many subtler and coarser moralities that have so far been prevalent on earth, or are still prevalent, …I finally discovered two basic types and one basic difference. There are master morality and slave morality. …The moral discrimination of values has originated either among a ruling group whose consciousness of its difference from the ruled group was accompanied by delight—or among the ruled, the slaves and dependents of every degree.

—Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals, perhaps together with Beyond Good and Evil, is one of the five or six seminal works in secular ethical theory. It is also the most outrageous of those seminal works in ethics. Plato gives us the perfect society; Aristotle gives us a portrait of the happy, virtuous life; Kant provides an analysis of morality and practical reason; John Stuart Mill gives us the principle of utility with its benign insistence on collective highquality happiness. Nietzsche, by contrast, offers us a diagnosis in which morals emerge as something mean-spirited and pathetic. What we know as morality is in fact “slave morality,” so named not only because of its historical origins but because of its continuing servile and inferior nature. the basis of slave morality, he tells us, is resentment (he uses the French ressentiment), a bitter, reactive emotion based on a sense of inferiority and frustrated vindictiveness. He contrasts slave morality with what he variously calls “noble” and “master” morality, which he presents much more positively. His descriptions leave little question which of these two “moral types” he (and consequently we) find preferable. Nietzsche's “genealogy” of morals is designed to make the novice reader uncomfortable with his or her slavish attitudes, but it is also written to inspire a seductive sense of superiority, to urge us to be “noble.” These are dangerous attitudes, quite opposed to the edifying moral support we usually expect from ethical treatises. They are also (as in most seductions) extremely misleading, both as a moral guideline and (judging from some of his other writings) as an expression of Nietzsche's own intentions.

Nietzsche most often refers to “noble” morality, a much more appealing term than master in matters of morality. True, Nietzsche does make refer-

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