Nietzsche, Biology, and Metaphor

Nietzsche, Biology, and Metaphor

Nietzsche, Biology, and Metaphor

Nietzsche, Biology, and Metaphor

Synopsis

This study explores the German philosopher's response to the intellectual debates sparked by the publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species. By examining the abundance of biological metaphors in Nietzsche's writings, Gregory Moore questions his recent reputation as an eminently subversive and post modern thinker. The book analyzes key themes of Nietzsche's thought--his critique of morality, his philosophy of art and the ¿bermensch--in the light of the theory of evolution, the nineteenth-century sense of decadence and the rise of anti-Semitism.

Excerpt

For Bénédict-Augustin Morel, the devout Catholic psychiatrist who, in 1857, established the nosological category of 'degeneration', the human being was not the product of a gradual evolution of the species. On the contrary, modern man was, rather, the 'morbid deviation from an original type', a degenerate descendant of the Adamic Urmensch of Creation, and the primary cause of this dégénérescence — his name for the progressive process of pathological change manifested in visible and gross physical deformity — was original sin itself. Morel was thus responsible for the lasting impression of immorality being both causal and symptomatic in this process of degeneration: physical decadence led to intellectual and moral decay, and vice versa. Dégénérescence, in other words, is at root a medicalised lapsarian myth, a potent mixture of Christian theology and Lamarckian theories of inheritance. For degeneracy was transmitted by hereditary means and intensified in successive generations, becoming, ultimately, self-perpetuating. in other words, children inherit the 'sins of the fathers', the biological and moral flaws of their parents, and transmit these defects to their own offspring in heightened form until the fourth generation, condemned to congenital idiocy and sterility, marks the end of the degenerate line.

Given the fact that the concept of dégénérescence was freighted with such moral-religious implications, it is significant that it should inflect and infect so much of Nietzsche's writing. His late works from Beyond Good and Evil onwards are preoccupied with his diagnosis of the pathologies of nineteenth-century civilisation, with the attempt to trace the advent of modern nihilism back to the roots of Western culture — to Socratic rationality, but most spectacularly, of course, to the Judaeo-Christian tradition. This critique of modernity receives its most potent expression in his manipulation of the language of degenerationism — for the very rhetorical weapon with which Nietzsche chooses to attack Judaeo-Christianity is itself a product of the same values and fin-de-siècle pessimism. He does not uncritically appropriate the concept of degeneration: he subverts it, ironises it; he turns the implicit Christianism back on itself, extending the . . .

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