Friday, September 13, 2013

Guilt, Bad Conscience and Related Matters by Friedrich Nietzsche

As part of the Modern and Post Modern Philosophy course, i read the second essay from the book - On the Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche. The second essay talks about Guilt, Bad Conscience and Related Matters.

Writing reviews of these works will prove to be quite tricky. My objective here is to capture text that i really enjoyed reading, or the lines that made me ponder up and think really hard.  I will try to offer my observations/thoughts in between or at the end, but no promises in this front.

From that we can see at once how, if forgetfulness were not present, there could be no happiness, no cheerfulness, no hoping, no pride, no present

 Only something which never ceases to cause pain remains in the memory”—that is a leading principle of the most ancient (unfortunately also the longest) psychology on earth

  the sovereign individual, something which resembles only itself, which has broken loose again from the morality of custom, the autonomous individual beyond morality (for “autonomous” and “moral” are mutually exclusive terms), in short, the human being who possesses his own independent and enduring will, who is entitled to make promises—and in him a consciousness quivering in every muscle, proud of what has finally been achieved and has become a living embodiment in him, a real consciousness of power and freedom, a feeling of completion for human beings generally. .... There’s no doubt: the sovereign man calls this instinct his conscience.

And with this we turn back to our genealogists of morality. I’ll say it once more—or have I not said anything about it yet?—they are useless. With their own merely “modern” experience extending through only a brief period [fünf Spannen lange], with no knowledge of and no desire to know the past, even less a historical instinct, a “second sight”— something necessary at this very point—they nonetheless pursue the history of morality. That must justifiably produce results which have a less than tenuous relationship to the truth. 

(Nietzsche never misses an opportunity to mock other philosophers, the above is one such example. He tone is always acerbic and he does not hesitate to name names as part of his attacks) 

 For the most extensive period of human history, punishment was certainly not meted out because people held the instigator of evil responsible for his actions, and thus it was not assumed that only the guilty party should be punished:—it was much more as it still is now when parents punish their children out of anger over some harm they have suffered, anger vented on the perpetrator—but anger restrained and modified through the idea that every injury has some equivalent and that compensation for it could, in fact, be paid out, even if that is through the pain of the perpetrator. 

Watching suffering makes people feel good; creating suffering makes them feel even better—that’s a harsh principle, but an old, powerful, and human, all-too-human major principle, 

With these ideas, by the way, I have no desire whatsoever to give our pessimists grist for their discordant mills grating with weariness of life. On the contrary, I want to state very clearly that in that period when human beings had not yet become ashamed of their cruelty, life on earth was happier than it is today, now that we have our pessimists

(Just read the language above - grist for their discordant mills grating with weariness of life.)

Wherever justice is practised, wherever justice is upheld, we see a stronger power in relation to a weaker power standing beneath it (whether with groups or individuals), seeking ways to bring an end among the latter to the senseless rage of ressentiment

Here one more word concerning the origin and purpose of punishment—two problems which are separate or should be separate. Unfortunately people normally throw them together into one 
(The above is from section 12, the entire section is worth reading)

I wanted to say is this: the partial loss of utility, decline, and degeneration, the loss of meaning, and purposiveness, in short, death, also belong to the conditions of a real progressus [progress], which always appears in the form of a will and a way to a greater power and always establishes itself at the expense of a huge number of smaller powers. The size of a “step forward” can even be estimated by a measure of everything that had to be sacrificed to it

Only something which has no history is capable of being defined

I consider bad conscience the profound illness which human beings had to come down with under the pressure of that most fundamental of all the changes which they ever experienced—that change when they finally found themselves locked within the confines of society and peace. .... All instincts which are not discharged to the outside are turned back inside—this is what I call the internalization [Verinnerlichung] of man. ..... Enmity, cruelty, joy in pursuit, in attack, in change, in destruction—all those turned themselves against the possessors of such instincts. That is the origin of “bad conscience.”

Nietzsche's conclusion has the following remarks - 

 “Is an ideal actually being built up here or shattered?” . . . But have you ever really asked yourself enough how high a price has been paid on earth for the construction of every ideal? How much reality had to be constantly vilified and misunderstood for that to happen, how many lies had to be consecrated, how many consciences corrupted, how much “god” had to be sacrificed every time? In order to enable a shrine to be built, a shrine must be destroyed: that is the law—show me the case where it has not been fulfilled! We modern men, we are the inheritors of thousands of years of vivisection of the conscience and self-inflicted animal torture. That’s what we have had the longest practice doing, that is perhaps our artistry; in any case, it’s something we have refined, the corruption of our taste. For too long man has looked at his natural inclinations with an “evil eye,” so that finally in him they have become twinned with “bad conscience.” An attempt to reverse this might, in itself, be possible—but who is strong enough for it, that is, to link as siblings bad conscience and the unnatural inclinations, all those aspirations for what lies beyond, those things which go against our senses, against our instincts, against nature, against animals—in short, the earlier ideals, all the ideals which are hostile to life, ideals of those who vilify the world?

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