Thoughts On the Prejudices of Morality



In this book you will discover a 'subterranean man' at work, one who tunnels and mines and undermines. You will see him  presupposing you have eyes capable of seeing this work in the depths  going forward slowly, cautiously, gently inexorable, without betraying very much of the distress which any protracted deprivation of light and air must entail; you might even call him contented, working there in the dark. Does it not seem as though some faith were leading him on, some consolation offering him compensation? As though he perhaps desires this prolonged obscurity, desires to be incomprehensible, concealed, enigmatic, because he knows what he will thereby also acquire: his own morning, his own redemption, his own daybreak? . . . He will return, that is certain: do not ask him what he is looking for down there, he will tell you himself of his own accord, this seeming Trophonius1 and subterranean, as soon as he has 'become a man' again. Being silent is something one completely unlearns if, like him, one has been for so long a solitary mole    

1. Trophonius: a Boeotian oracular god, whose oracle was highly valued. Pausanius, a Greek traveler and geographer, who had been to see the oracle, describes how Trophonius would lead the inquirer to the underworld itself for direct revelations.
Friedrich NietzscheDaybreak: Preface - Aphorism #1117413 years, 3 months ago 


And indeed, my patient friends, I shall now tell you what I was after down there  here in this late preface which could easily have become a funeral oration: for I have returned and, believe it or not, returned safe and sound. Do not think for a moment that I intend to invite you to the same hazardous enterprise! Or even only to the same solitude! For he who proceeds on his own path in this fashion encounters no one: that is inherent in 'proceeding on one's own path'. No one comes along to help him: all the perils, accidents, malice and bad weather which assail him he has to tackle by himself. For his path is his alone  as is, of course, the bitterness and occasional ill-humour he feels at this 'his alone': among which is included, for instance, the knowledge that even his friends are unable to divine where he is or whither he is going, that they will sometimes ask themselves: 'what? is he going at all? does he still have  a path?'  At that time I undertook something not everyone may undertake: I descended into the depths, I tunnelled into the foundations, I commenced an investigation and digging out of an ancient faith, one upon which we philosophers have for a couple of millennia been accustomed to build as if upon the firmest of all foundations  and have continued to do so even though every building hitherto erected on them has fallen down: I commenced to undermine our faith in morality. But you do not understand me?

Friedrich NietzscheDaybreak: Preface - Aphorism #261913 years, 3 months ago 


Hitherto, the subject reflected on least adequately has been good and evil: it was too dangerous a subject. Conscience, reputation, Hell, sometimes even the police have permitted and continue to permit no impartiality; in the presence of morality, as in the face of any authority, one is not allowed to think, far less to express an opinion: here one has to obey! As long as the world has existed no authority has yet been willing to let itself become the object of criticism; and to criticise morality itself, to regard morality as a problem, as problematic: what? has that not been is that not  immoral?  But morality does not merely have at its command every kind of means of frightening off critical hands and torture-instruments: its security reposes far more in a certain art of enchantment it has at its disposal  it knows how to 'inspire'. With this art it succeeds, often with no more than a single glance, in paralysing the critical will and even in enticing it over to its own side; there are even cases in which morality has been able to turn the critical will against itself, so that, like the scorpion, it drives its sting into its own body. For morality has from of old been master of every diabolical nuance of the art of persuasion: there is no orator, even today, who does not have recourse to its assistance (listen, for example, even to our anarchists: how morally they speak when they want to persuade! In the end they even go so far as to call themselves 'the good and the just'.) For as long as there has been speech and persuasion on earth, morality has shown itself to be the greatest of all mistresses of seduction  and, so far as we philosophers are concerned, the actual Circe of the philosophers2. Why is it that from Plato onwards every philosophical architect in Europe has built in vain? That everything they themselves in all sober seriousness regarded as aere perennius3 is threatening to collapse or already lies in ruins? Oh how false is the answer which even today is reserved in readiness for this question: 'because they had all neglected the presupposition for such an undertaking, the testing of the foundations, a critique of reason as a whole'  that fateful answer of Kant's which has certainly not lured us modern philosophers on to any firmer or less treacherous ground! ( and, come to think of it, was it not somewhat peculiar to demand of an instrument that it should criticise its own usefulness and suitability? that the intellect itself should 'know' its own value, its own capacity, its own limitations? was it not even a little absurd?  ). The correct answer would rather have been that all philosophers were building under the seduction of morality, even Kant  that they were apparently aiming at certainty, at 'truth', but in reality at 'majestic moral structures': to employ once again the innocent language of Kant, who describes his own 'not so glittering yet not undeserving' task and labour as 'to level and make firm the ground for these majestic moral structures' (Critique of Pure Reason II, 4p.257). Alas, we have to admit today that he did not succeed in doing that, quite the contrary! Kant was, with such an enthusiastic intention, the true son of his century, which before any other can be called the century of enthusiasm: as he fortunately remained also in regard to its more valuable aspects (for example in the good portion of sensism he took over into his theory of knowledge). He too had been bitten by the moral tarantula Rousseau, he too harboured in the depths of his soul the idea of that moral fanaticism whose executor another disciple of Rousseau felt and confessed himself to be, namely Robespierre4, 'de fonder sur la terre l'empire de la sagesse, de la justice et de la vertu5' (speech of 7 June 1794). On the other hand, with such a French fanaticism in one's heart, one could not have gone to work in a less French fashion, more thoroughly, more in a German fashion  if the word 'German' is still permitted today in this sense  than Kant did: to create room for his 'moral realm' he saw himself obliged to posit an undemonstrable world, a logical 'Beyond'  it was for precisely that that he had need of his critique of pure reason! In other words: he would not have had need of it if one thing had not been more vital to him than anything else: to render the 'moral realm' unassailable, even better incomprehensible to reason  for he felt that a moral order of things was only too assailable by reason! In the face of nature and history, in the face of the thorough immorality of nature and history, Kant was, like every good German of the old stamp, a pessimist; he believed in morality, not because it is demonstrated in nature and history, but in spite of the fact that nature and history continually contradict it. To understand this 'in spite of', one might perhaps recall something similar in Luther6, that other great pessimist who, with all the audacity native to him, once admonished his friends: 'if we could grasp by reason who the God who shows so much wrath and malice can be just and merciful, what need would we have of faith?' For nothing has from the beginning made a more profound impression on the German soul, nothing has 'tempted' it more, than this most perilous of all conclusions, which to every true Roman is a sin against the spirit: credo quia absurdum est7:  it was with this conclusion that German logic first entered the history of Christian dogma: but even today, a millennium later, we Germans of today, late Germans in every respect, still sense something of truth, of the possibility of truth behind the celebrated dialectical principle8; with which in his day Hegel assisted the German spirit to conquer Europe  'Contradiction moves the world, all things contradict themselves'  : for we are, even in the realm of logic, pessimists.

2. Circe of the Philosophers: an allusion to Circe, daughter of Helios and Perse (Odyssey, x, 210 ff.). In Greek mythology, a seductress and deity who, in the Odyssey, magically transforms half of Odysseus' crew into beasts.
3. ''aere perennius": "more enduring than bronze," from Horace, Odes 3.30.1, on his poetic achievement. "Bronze" here refers to the bronze tablets on which Roman laws were inscribed for preservation. They were proverbially long-lasting (several still survive).
4. Robespierre, Maximilien F. M. I. de (1758-94): leading figure in the French Revolution and an ardent believer in Rousseau's doctrines. His genuine and incessant praise of "virtue," which won him the surname of "the Incorruptible," was instrumental in the execution of the Reign of Terror.
5. "de fonder sur la terre l'empire de la sagesse, de la justice et de la vertu": "to found the empire of wisdom, justice and virtue on earth."
6. Luther, Martin (1483-1546): German leader of the Reformation and founder of Protestantism. Preached the doctrine of salvation by faith rather than by works. Denied freedom of the will in De servo arbitrio (1525).
7. credo quia absurdum: "I believe because it is absurd."
8. dialectical principle: the central method in Hegel's work in which one starts from a given position (a thesis  say, ancient Greek ethics); this thesis itself generates its own destruction by contradiction (the Socratic questioning of Greek ethics), until it is replaced by something else (a Reformation morality based on individual conscience). This new anti-thesis  morality in this case  is also unstable and so must yield to a third position that combines the positive points of the two predecessors (a rational community). The classic formulation is one of movement from thesis to antithesis to synthesis (though Hegel does not use these terms), although in some cases the synthesis of one stage serves as the thesis of another. See M. N. Forster, "Hegel's Dialectical Method," in F. Beiser (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Hegel (1993).
Friedrich NietzscheDaybreak: Preface - Aphorism #377313 years, 3 months ago 


But logical evaluations are not the deepest or most fundamental to which our audacious mistrust can descend: faith in reason, with which the validity of these judgments must stand or fall, is, as faith, a moral phenomenon . . . Perhaps German pessimism still has one last step to take? Perhaps it has once again to set beside one another in fearful fashion its credo and its absurdum? And if this book is pessimistic even into the realm of morality, even to the point of going beyond faith in morality  should it not for this very reason be a German book? For it does in fact exhibit a contradiction and is not afraid of it: in this book faith in morality is withdrawn  but why? Out of morality! Or what else should we call that which informs it  and us? for our taste is for more modest expressions. But there is no doubt that a 'thou shalt' still speaks to us too, that we too still obey a stern law set over us  and this is the last moral law which can make itself audible even to us, which even we know how to live, in this if in anything we too are still men of conscience: namely, in that we do not want to return to that which we consider outlived and decayed, to anything 'unworthy of belief', be it called God, virtue, truth, justice, charity; that we do not permit ourselves any bridges-of-lies to ancient ideals; that we are hostile from the heart to everything that wants to mediate and mix with us; hostile to every kind of faith and Christianness existing today; hostile to the half-and-halfness of all romanticism and fatherland-worship; hostile, too, towards the pleasure-seeking and lack of conscience of the artists which would like to persuade us to worship where we no longer believe  for we are artists; hostile, in short, to the whole of European feminism (or idealism, if you prefer that word), which is for ever 'drawing us upward' and precisely thereby for ever 'bringing us down':  it is only as men of this conscience that we still feel ourselves related to the German integrity, and piety of millennia, even if as its most questionable and final descendants, we immoralists, we godless men of today, indeed in a certain sense as its heirs, as the executors of its innermost will  a pessimistic will, as aforesaid, which does not draw back from denying itself because it denies with joy! In us there is accomplished  supposing you want a formula  the self-sublimation of morality.

Friedrich NietzscheDaybreak: Preface - Aphorism #447013 years, 3 months ago 


Finally, however: why should we have to say what we are and what we want and do not want so loudly and with such fervour? Let us view it more coldly, more distantly, more prudently, from a greater height; let us say it, as it is fitting it should be said between ourselves, so secretly that no one hears it, that no one hears us! Above all let us say it slowly . . . This preface is late but not too late  what, after all, do five or six years matter? A book like this, a problem like this, is in no hurry; we both, I just as much as my book, are friends of lento9. It is not for nothing that I have been a philologist10, perhaps I am a philologist still, that is to say, a teacher of slow reading:  in the end I also write slowly. Nowadays it is not only my habit, it is also to my taste  a malicious taste, perhaps?  no longer to write anything which does not reduce to despair every sort of man who is 'in a hurry'. For philology is that venerable art which demands of its votaries one thing above all: to go aside, to take time, to become still, to become slow  it is a goldsmith's art and connoisseurship of the word which has nothing but delicate, cautious work to do and achieves nothing if it does not achieve it lento. But for precisely this reason it is more necessary than ever today, by precisely this means does it entice and enchant us the most, in the midst of an age of 'work', that is to say, of hurry, of indecent and perspiring haste, which wants to 'get everything done' at once, including every old or new book:  this art does not so easily get anything done, it teaches to read well, that is to say, to read slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and aft, with reservations, with doors left open, with delicate eyes and fingers . . . My patient friends, this book desires for itself only perfect readers and philologists: learn to read me well!

9. lento: "prolongation" (of time).
10. philologist: literally, "lover of words." One who studies literature, esp. of classical antiquity. Classical philology, the discipline in which Nietzsche was trained, was viewed as a Wissenschaft (a science) in the nineteenth century.
Friedrich NietzscheDaybreak: Preface - Aphorism #583313 years, 3 months ago