Liberty, Prudence, Imperfection, and Law

Beyond Good and Evil: 213–21

According to Nietzsche, morality is a spectrum, not a unity. Photo by Kleuske, own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.


Nietzsche wraps up part six by noting the double-pronged difficulty of both being a philosopher and communicating to others exactly what that means. In order to become a true philosopher, one must both be born to it and receive the right kind of training:

For every high world one must be born; or to speak more clearly, one must be cultivated for it. (213)

The birth of a philosopher is not just the result of random genetic happenstance but rather follows after generations of cultivation. The language Nietzsche uses does lend itself to the eugenic interpretation, though Kaufmann tries to soften that (see his footnote and his book on Nietzsche). The philosopher’s cultivation is likewise the result of generations of effort, rather than a training regimen spontaneously generated. The way Nietzsche describes it almost sounds as if the whole of a culture must be dedicated to the creation of a handful of individuals—which, again, it is easy to see how these ideas may be taken in less-than-pleasant directions.

Communication to others is in some ways even more difficult than creating a philosopher in the first place, since once a philosopher is made those who do not fit that mold will not understand what he is:

That genuinely philosophical combination, for example, of a bold and exuberant spirituality that runs presto and a dialectical severity and necessity that takes no false step is unknown to most thinkers and scholars from their own experience, and therefore would seem incredible to them if somebody should speak of it in their presence. (213)

You and I and all scholars and contemporary thinkers are really just part of the herd, with our own prejudices and preconceptions about what the noble life should look like. And so when we see it and it doesn’t match up to what we believe it should look like, we do not recognize it for what it is. Hence again the importance of having an entire culture focused on the creation of the philosopher—without such a focus the philosopher will slip through unnoticed, if not actively be scorned. The big conclusion of part six, when considered practically, is not necessarily a cheerful one, since I think Nietzsche intends us to realize that our culture is not so focused. The philosophers have little chance for recognition in the world as it exists. Which is perhaps why he turns in the next section to reflect on the “virtues” that people do recognize and how those characteristics stack up compared with what Nietzsche believes to be important in life.

When we compare what we moderns believe to be virtue with what our ancestors believed to be virtue, what we find is that the only real connection between us and them is that we have all thought we were virtuous:

And is there anything more beautiful than looking for one’s own virtues? Doesn’t this almost mean: believing in one’s own virtue? But this “believing in one’s virtue”—isn’t this at bottom the same thing that was formerly called one’s “good conscience”? (214)

The one thing that ties us all together is that we are all at peace with ourselves in our own view of morality. Beyond that, our different moral actions and systems of morality are a spectrum rather than a unity, at least in terms of morality’s external expression (215).

With that said, Nietzsche does believe that there is an underlying unity to morality, it’s just not what we tend to think it is:

Every unegoistic morality that takes itself for unconditional and addresses itself to all does not only sin against taste: it is a provocation to sins of omission, one more seduction under the mask of philanthropy—and precisely a seduction and injury for the higher, rarer, privileged. (221)

The core of all moralities is a selfishness. This is the foundation from which we love our neighbors, to say nothing of our enemies (216). Some moral systems raise our instinctive selfishness to the level of moral judgments. Nietzsche thinks that these tend to be the lesser-sorts of people, while the truly great ones raise their moral judgments to the level of divinity:

high spirituality itself exists only as the ultimate product of moral qualities; . . . it is a synthesis of all those states which are attributed to “merely moral men,” after they have been acquired singly through long discipline and exercise, perhaps through whole chains of generations; . . . high spirituality is the spiritualization of justice and of that gracious severity which knows that it is its mission to maintain the order of rank in the world, among things themselves—and not only among men. (219)

The greatest moral/religious minds export their own internal morality not only onto other men, but onto the natural world as well.

More on virtue next time.


Coyle Neal is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, and cohost of the City of Man podcast.

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