The Gay Science
Nietzsche’s Morality: False Principles and Premises
In The Gay Science, Friedrich Nietzsche advocates skepticism and rejection of many traditional beliefs and values. This dismissal of commonly accepted societal norms is evident in his attack on morality and virtue in section 21 of the book. In this section, Nietzsche argues that the motives of morality stand in opposition to the principles of morality. In Nietzsche’s mind, the virtues that make up morality — virtues like industriousness, selflessness, and obedience — are self-destructive and accepted as virtuous for their utility to society rather than their benefit to an individual. Although Nietzsche’s argument is logical, I believe his argument depends on two false premises and therefore do not accept his view of morality.Nietzsche begins his argument in section 21 by arguing that the praise of virtues by society as a whole has always been “far from selfless and unegotistic” (92). He argues that the virtues that make up modern morality are harmful to individuals who embrace such virtues, yet they are praised by society because society benefits from them. For example, one praises industrious individuals even though “they harm their eyesight or the spontaneity of their spirit” (92) through their hard work because society benefits from their labor. Nietzsche goes on to argue that society would honor and praise a youth who “works himself into the ground” (92) because “the loss of even the best individual is a small sacrifice” (92) to society as a whole. When society mourns the loss of the youth, it does so not for the youth’s own sake but because it lost a “devoted instrument to the common good” (92). Nietzsche argues that when an individual steadfastly follows a “real, whole virtue” — like selflessness or industriousness — he or she is a “victim” to that virtue (92). Those who advocate these virtues to their neighbors thus do so out of selfishness: it is virtues like selflessness and industriousness that bring them the greatest good. Nietzsche asserts that virtue thus cannot be praised for its benefit to an individual. Rather, virtue is praised for “the instrumental nature” it has in society and the “unreason in virtue that leads [an individual] to be transformed into a mere function of the whole” (93). He sees the praise of a virtue and its complete acceptance as grave threats to individuality. If man steadfastly follows what society deems as moral and virtuous, Nietzsche argues that he “deprives [himself] of his noblest selfishness and the strength for the highest autonomy” (93). By being selfless, man ceases to be an individual and becomes a cog in the societal machine.Nietzsche does recognize that some virtues may indeed appear to lead to private advantage. For example, he admits that blindly raging industriousness can lead to wealth and honors, but he argues this truth fails to recognize the “extreme dangers” (93) that such industriousness poses to the individual. Industriousness “deprives the organs of their subtlety” (93), making the enjoyment of wealth and riches impossible. Furthermore, Nietzsche points out that, despite the fact that humans live in the most industrious of all times, humans have yet to find anything to do with their acquired wealth other than acquire more wealth. He thus argues that the promises of virtues and morality are not worth the costs they impose upon individuality and happiness. Nevertheless, society will attempt to educate man such that he is conditioned “by various attractions and advantages” (93) into adopting society’s morality at his own ultimate disadvantage.Nietzsche contends that, if an individual listens to this education and adopts society’s morality, every virtue of an individual is “a public utility but a private disadvantage” (94). Here the opposition between the motives of morality and the principle of morality develops. Society advocates morality on the basis of the principle that if an individual follows the virtues of morality, then he or she will acquire wealth, honor, and happiness. The principle behind morality is thus what is good for the individual. However, Nietzsche contends that the real motivation behind morality is not based on what is good for the individual. Virtues like industriousness and selflessness are harmful to the individual but maximize gains for society. The motives behind morality are thus what are good for society. Nietzsche continues this argument in sections 116 and 117. He argues that morality is a “herd instinct” (174). In Nietzsche’s view, whenever one encounters morality, one also encounters “valuations and orders of rank of human impulses and actions” (174). Nietzsche argues that these valuations are “based on the needs of a community and herd” and are subsequently considered the “first standard for the value of all individuals” (174). In other words, whatever benefits the collective herd most is automatically held out to be what benefits the individual the most. Nietzsche argues that this approach to morality is a vestige of the herd mentality that dominated human existence for “the longest and most remote periods of the human past” (175). To be alone or to be an individual was considered a sentence and not freedom. “The idea of free will,” Nietzsche argues, was “very closely associated with bad conscience” (175). Nietzsche also argues that during this long period of time, the sting of conscience was not felt when an individual felt he himself did something immoral but rather felt by an individual when he did something that harmed the herd, “regardless of whether the individual had wanted it or not” (175). Although Nietzsche believes that today one feels responsible “only for one’s will and actions” (175), Nietzsche argues that modern morality remains a herd instinct of the past that is opposed to individuality and what is good for the individual. Nietzsche makes a compelling and logical argument that the motives of morality stand in opposition to the principles of morality. He shows through several examples how many of the virtues that make up morality are motivated by what is good for society instead of what is good for the individual. However, I believe Nietzsche’s argument depends on two false premises. First, he suggests that when an individual embraces a real, whole virtue, he becomes a victim of the virtue and is violently dominated by the virtue. Nietzsche dismisses the idea of balance or moderation in virtue and morality. Second, he picks and chooses the virtues he castigates, emphasizing those that benefit society while ignoring others that are primarily good for the individual and come at the cost or rejection of society.The first false premise in Nietzsche’s argument is his claim that when one embraces a virtue, it will ultimately “dominate [him or her] violently and covetously” (92). Nietzsche accepts as a given when advancing his argument that when an individual embraces a virtue he must “wish to have it in its most brutal form” (196). With this premise, he does show how a virtue can destroy a man only to the benefit of society. However, he immediately dismisses the idea of balance in virtue. It is this balance that I believe is critical to understanding morality. Nietzsche sees the virtue of industriousness as something that dominates a man who embraces it. But can the man who embraces industriousness not balance that virtue with the virtues of family and love? Can he not see the value in hard work and also the value in spending some time away from work to raise his children and love his family?In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle advances the idea that balance in virtue is key to living a moral and ethical life. Aristotle argues that all true virtue is the “mean” between two extremes. Virtue, Aristotle argues, can be easily destroyed by either deficiency or excess. In Book II of the Nicomachean Ethics, he uses the example of bravery to illustrate his point. When determining what the virtue of bravery is, one can look at the extreme of running away and thus being a coward or the opposite extreme of fearing nothing and thus being rash. The virtue of bravery is thus the balance between these two extremes. Aristotle uses this logic to define several virtues. These virtues include the virtue of temperance as the mean between the excess of profligacy and the deficiency of insensibility, the virtue of liberality as the mean between the excess of wastefulness and the deficiency of stinginess, and the virtue of the right amount of ambition as the mean between the excess of overambitiousness and the deficiency of a lack of ambition.Applying Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics to Nietzsche’s argument in The Gay Science, one can see how the virtues Nietzsche defines as destructive to the individual Aristotle would define as virtues destroyed by excess. A man who embraces the virtue of industriousness to the point that he works himself into the ground would be an example of the excessiveness in virtue that Aristotle argues against. Aristotle would see such an example as the excess of over-industriousness that must be balanced with the deficiency of laziness to achieve the mean of the right amount of industriousness. Aristotle’s argument for balance in morality refutes Nietzsche’s premise that when an individual embraces a virtue it dominates him or her and “resists the efforts of reason to keep it in balance” (92).The second false premise in Nietzsche’s argument is that he emphasizes virtues that exalt society over the individual while ignoring a number of others that come at the expense or rejection of society yet are nevertheless considered virtues for their positive benefit to the individual. For example, one of the virtues our society holds dearest is the virtue of the “rugged individual” — the man who pulls himself up by his own bootstraps, rejects society, and makes a good life for himself. This virtue places an extreme emphasis on the power of the individual at the expense of the rejection of society and thus cannot be argued to expend the individual to the benefit of society. Furthermore, this virtue directly contradicts the herd instinct in modern morality that concerned Nietzsche.A second example of a virtue that positively affects the individual and comes at the expense of society is the virtue of reflection. Our society places value in time away from work to reflect and relax. Companies are required to give employees time off from work, priests and doctors are encouraged to take sabbaticals, and the raging industriousness that Nietzsche describes is looked down on in our society as unhealthy and antisocial. Nietzsche would argue that these two premises are not false. First, he would argue that the idea of balance or moderation in virtue and morality is impossible if a man is truly embracing a virtue. Second, Nietzsche would reject the value of the rugged individual and society’s acceptance of reflection as a virtue. In both cases, however, I believe his rebuttals would be unconvincing.Nietzsche does not directly respond to Aristotle’s view of morality in The Gay Science but does indirectly reject the idea of balance in virtue. Nietzsche argues that when one accepts a virtue, the virtue will ultimately dominate the individual “violently and covetously” (92). He suggests that when an individual embraces a virtue he is unable to prevent that virtue from taking him over, despite his or her “efforts of reason” (92) to keep the virtue in balance. This idea forms Nietzsche’s contention that an individual who embraces a whole virtue is a victim to that virtue. However, Nietzsche provides little rationale for why a virtue must necessarily take over a man. Instead, he accepts this idea as the starting point for the rest of his argument against morality.Nietzsche would also reject the rugged individual as a true virtue. In his work On the Genealogy of Morals, he indirectly argues against the rugged individual as he viciously attacks democracy. Nietzsche rejects the democratic movement as “the collective degeneration of man” (Morals 112) and an example of slave morality that sought to make everyone equal and thus make everyone slaves. The idea of the rugged individual is so central to the democratic movement that Nietzsche would use his arguments against democracy to reject the virtue of the rugged individual. However, I disagree that democracy is a slave morality and thus disagree with Nietzsche’s critique of rugged individualism. Although democracy is a form of collectivism, democracy enables the individual to directly participate in government. It is this direct participation in government that I believe frees an individual to drive the collective herd instead of being driven by it. For example, in democracy an individual can run for office and vote in elections. When an individual votes or takes office, he or she influences the direction of society and thus asserts his or her individuality within the herd. Individuals living under fascist or authoritarian governments do not have this ability.Although Nietzsche would reject the virtue of the rugged individual, he would embrace the virtue of reflection. He consistently argues for the value of reflection in his work. However, he would disagree that society has embraced reflection as a virtue. In section 6 of The Gay Science, he laments the “loss of dignity” of reflection and how “an old-style wise man would [now] be considered intolerable” (81). Furthermore, in section 329 he comments how individuals are now “ashamed of resting, and prolonged reflection almost gives people a bad conscience” (259). Although Nietzsche makes interesting points, I disagree that society has lost all sense of value in reflection. Some may argue that the rise of the Internet and our society’s obsession with technology threatens reflection. However, the fact that people argue for this fact suggests that our society values reflection and is concerned that people do not reflect enough.Nietzsche’s argument that the motives of morality stand in opposition to the principles of morality is a fascinating contention that completely contradicts the traditional view of morality. Nietzsche shows how an individual who embraces a virtue can become victim to the virtue and thus embrace a morality that is harmful to him or her but good for society. Although the logic behind this argument is undeniable, I believe Nietzsche’s argument fails on two premises. First, virtue is not something that can or should be embraced violently or covetously. Rather, it is a balance between deficiency and excess, a golden mean between two dangerous extremes. Secondly, Nietzsche chooses virtues that benefit society and neglects a number of virtues that come at the expense or rejection of society. It is because of these two false premises that I do not accept Nietzsche’s view of morality and instead find Aristotle’s view more convincing.Bibliography1. Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science. 6th. New York City, NY: Random House, 1974. Print.2. Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Genealogy of Morals. 1st. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print.3. Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. 1st. London, UK: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1869. Print.
Nietzsche’s Antidote: The Problem of Modern Science
In The Gay Science, Friedrich Nietzsche critiques the shortcomings and possibilities of modern science. In this critique, Nietzsche analyzes the limits of science, the ways in which science falsifies life, and the motivation for a scientific pursuit of knowledge. Although Nietzsche does not categorically reject science’s potential, he is extremely skeptical of its modern day use. His skepticism arises from what he believes is the fundamental problem of science: that it can describe the movement of particles, but it cannot explain human behavior. To explore this problem, Nietzsche employs a unique approach that is decidedly against science. Rather than approaching concepts in literal terms or hypotheses, he uses an interrogative method and irreverent style to aggressively challenge the value of a purely scientific view of the world and offer up his own “gay science.”Nietzsche’s critique is particularly concerned with what he believes are the limits of science. He argues that one fundamental limit of science is its limited ability to interpret. Science, Nietzsche argues, is alarming in the emphasis it places on the “external aspect of existence” (Nietzsche 335). He believes that before science, “philosophers were afraid of the senses,” but now, “all of us are believers in [them]” (332). This belief is present in modern scientists that “do research scientifically with their senses” to provide “an interpretation that permits counting, calculating, weighing, seeing, touching, and nothing more” (335). The reduction of everything to an interpretation that admits of only what one’s senses can perceive neglects what Nietzsche believes are the individual’s far greater faculties of reflection, comprehension, and understanding. He argues that a purely scientific interpretation that neglects such faculties might be “one of the most stupid of all possible interpretations of the world” in that it “would be one of the poorest in meaning” (335). He provides the example of a scientific interpretation of music to illustrate his point. Although it might be possible to “estimate the value of a piece of music according to how much of it could be counted, calculated, and expressed in formulas,” it would be an “absurd estimation” that would not have “comprehended, understood, or grasped… any of what is music in [the piece]” (336). Art, like existence, is more than numbers and calculation. It is an equivocal, ambiguous experience that resists the constraints of a single interpretation.Nietzsche also believes that science is limited in its ability to explain. Although science tries to offer explanations, Nietzsche argues that all science provides us is better descriptions of the world around us. He points to the scientific process of cause and effect as an example. Scientists use cause and effect to infer that “this and that has to precede in order that this or that may then follow” (172). However, this process “does not involve any comprehension” (172). Although a relationship is drawn between two things in cause and effect, scientists have “merely perfected the image of becoming without reaching beyond the image or behind it” (172). For example, scientists can use cause and effect to describe how a chemical reacts with another chemical to form a reaction, but the “quality [of the reaction] appears as a miracle” (172). Scientists cannot explain why the reaction produces the effects it does without turning to things they themselves have invented — things like “lines, planes, bodies, atoms, divisible time spans, [and] divisible space” (172). All attempts at scientific explanation are therefore only attempts to “turn everything into an image[,] our image” (172). Science cannot provide a true explanation of the human experience. Rather, it allows us to “describe ourselves more and more precisely” (173). The limitations that Nietzsche identifies in science are critical in his critique of science as something that falsifies human life. Nietzsche sees science as something that contradicts much of what it means to be human. Science attempts to create a “world of truth that can be mastered completely and forever with the aid of… reason” (335). However, such a world in Nietzsche’s mind would “permit existence to be degraded to… a mere exercise for a calculator” (335). This world would “divest existence of its rich ambiguity,” creating “an essentially meaningless world” (335). The things that Nietzsche argues make us human — our inability to know truth, the “fickleness of [our existence]” (111), our “freedom above things” (164) — are rejected by science. Science claims one truth, denies the variability of existence, and constrains itself to the study of things. Nietzsche argues that by negating these aspects of authentic existence, science falsifies life.Nietzsche argues that science also falsifies life by negating the idea of multiple interpretations of existence. He claims that a fundamental aspect of human existence is the question of how far the “perspective character of [our] existence extends” (336). Put differently, Nietzsche questions whether there a limit to the human abilities of interpretation. He argues that this question is unanswerable, as “the human intellect cannot avoid seeing itself in its own perspectives and only in these [perspectives]” (336). We cannot separate ourselves from our existence and thus cannot define how far the perspective character of our existence extends. As a result of this inability, Nietzsche rejects the “ridiculous immodesty that… decrees that perspectives are permitted only from one corner” and claims that “we cannot reject the possibility that [the world] may include infinite interpretations” (336). Science, however, does both of these things. It decrees that only scientific interpretations are permissible and rejects the idea of multiple interpretations. Science’s claim to enable the human to separate himself from perspective and provide a single objective interpretation falsifies what Nietzsche sees as another fundamental characteristic of life: the possibility of infinite interpretations of existence.Nietzsche argues that the final way in which science falsifies life is in its inability to consider the value of human life. Nietzsche sees human existence as something that has fundamental value, yet science cannot take account of this. Rather, it reduces life to actions and reactions and places value only in a single objective truth. Scientists claim that “nothing is needed more than truth, and in relation to it everything else has only second-rate value” (281). However, Nietzsche argues that placing value in truth is a human action — whatever has value in our world “does not have value in itself, but [has been] given value at some time” (242). Science cannot take account of the human ability to create or appraise value. It treats the human as a “spectator and listener” and denies the human the outlet to “create [his or her] life” (241). Because science cannot consider the value of human life and claims a single truth, it “affirms another world than the world of life” (282). In affirming this world, science “negates its counterpart” (283) — our world — and falsifies life.Although Nietzsche is critical of science, he is still interested in what motivates the pursuit of knowledge in the discipline. He argues that the primary motivation behind a scientific pursuit of knowledge is the “demand for certainty” (282). Unlike philosophy, science satisfies the individual’s desire for a single correct truth. Science provides “great certainty” and takes “something strange and reduces it to something familiar” (301). It satisfies the individual’s “unconditional will to truth” and appears to prevent the individual from being deceived (281). Nietzsche asks why the individual places such value in truth. He compares this absolute faith in truth to a faith in religion. Science claims truth is right because deception is wrong, but this is only a moral claim. In this sense, science is motivated by a “metaphysical faith” in truth that is comparable to a religious faith in God.Nietzsche argues that a scientific pursuit of knowledge is also motivated by weakness. Like a faith in religion, faith in science is “coveted most and needed most urgently where will is lacking” (289). Those who lack will do not have “sovereignty and strength” and rely on these faiths to provide a structure for how they should live their lives (289). Science satisfies those who are “mistrustful and evil” (104) by providing them what appears to be certainty. Nietzsche also suggests that the motivation to pursue science is a reaction to boredom. He claims that “those who have too much leisure do not know what to do with it except to read, collect, arrange, observe, and recount — their scientific impulse is their boredom” (179). In both cases, science satisfies those who do not have the “strength of the will” to define their own existence and satisfy their desire for certainty (179).Nietzsche’s criticism of science is reflected in his approach to his critique. One of his overarching criticisms of science is that it lacks conviction. In a scientific approach to knowledge, a conviction is only permitted when it “descends to the modesty of hypotheses” or “a provisional experimental point of view” (280). Essentially, a conviction in scientific approach is only allowed when it “ceases to be a conviction” (280). In contrast, Nietzsche’s approach to knowledge can be seen as pure conviction. Unlike a scientific method that lacks will, Nietzsche’s method is guided by the “will to question further, more deeply, severely, harshly, evilly, and quietly than one has questioned heretofore” (36). Through this aggressively interrogative method, Nietzsche attempts to give his readers a jolting, fresh perspective on convention and propriety that forces them to look at common things in a new light. This method directly contrasts with science. Nietzsche does not feel the need to prove everything he does; rather, he avoids data, math, and proofs in favor of a “belief in forms, tones, and words” (38) and the will to question. Nietzsche’s interrogative method manifests itself in a unique style that is also opposed to science. He stresses the need of all individuals to “give style to one’s character” (232). Individuals, he argues, should “survey all the strengths and weaknesses of their nature and then fit them into an artistic plan until every one of them appears as art and reason” (232). In other words, Nietzsche argues that we develop our style when we unify our features and integrate our traits, habits, and actions. The importance he places on developing one’s own style is evident in his unique style. Unlike other philosophers of his time, Nietzsche refuses to approach philosophical concepts in straightforward terms. He persistently questions the logic behind traditional beliefs, values, and ways of thinking through a writing style that is sardonic, hyperbolic, and frequently metaphorical. Unlike science, which emphasizes the importance of uniformity and civility in style, Nietzsche writes in a manner that disregards conformity and formality in favor of variation and passion.Nietzsche’s interrogative method and irreverent style form an approach that challenges the usefulness of a purely scientific view of the human world. Although Nietzsche does not deny that science is effective in describing the world around us, he argues it cannot, in its current form, explain human behavior. He asks if social science is possible — a science in which “artistic energies and the practical wisdom of life will join with scientific thinking” (173). The problem with such a science is a problem that Nietzsche raises with science in general throughout the book: that we cannot understand humans the way we understand non-living particles such as electrons because humans do not respond to stimuli the same way. As a result of this impossibility, he proposes an antidote to the state of modern science-based scholarship. Rather than toil in facts and formulas and become bogged down in the murkier aspects of our existence, humans must become “superficial out of profundity” (38). We must take delight in the aesthetic aspects of our existence and learn to “stop courageously at the surface, the fold, the skin, to adore appearance and to believe in forms, tones, and words” (38). We must reject a purely scientific view of the world in favor of a subjective view that celebrates our capacity to interpret, comprehend, and experience in an infinite number of ways. Nietzsche’s antidote to the state of modern scholarship — a deliberately light-hearted “gay science” — is created through his interrogative method and irreverent style.Nietzsche’s critique of science is a fascinating exploration of the limitations, falsifications, and motivations of modern science. In his critique, he explains how science is limited in its ability to interpret or explain, how science falsifies life by negating the authentic aspects of our existence, and how science is motivated by a metaphysical faith that is comparable to religion. He uses an interrogative method and irreverent style to challenge passionately the value of modern science in the human world and extol his own “gay” science. This antidote for modern scholarship seeks to celebrate the individual and the ambiguity of our existence. In creating a science that rests on aestheticism and subjectivity, Nietzsche rises above the role of a scientist and becomes an artist.