What Nietzsche Taught

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In "The Dawn of Day" Nietzsche goes again into the origin of morality. He carries his analyses further and supports them by additional enquiries and by more complicated processes of reasoning. Having ascertained the place which morals assume in the human scale and determined their relation to racial necessities, he points out that their application as permanent and unalterable mandates works havoc in any environment save that in which they were conceived. Inasmuch as all morality is at bottom but an expression of expediency, it follows that, since the means of expediency change under varying conditions, morality must change to meet the constantly metamorphosing conditions of society. And since the conditions of life are never the same in all nations, moral codes must likewise adapt themselves to geography in order to[Pg 88] fulfil their function. The existing code of morals, namely: the Christian doctrine, grew out of conditions which were not only different from those in which we live to-day, but in many instances diametrically opposed to them. Nietzsche saw a grave danger in adhering to an ethical system which was not relative to the modern man, and argues that the result of such a morality would produce effects which would have no intelligent bearing on the racial problems of the present day. Knowing the deep-rooted superstition in man regarding the "divine" origin of moral laws, he undertakes the task of relating all ancient codes to the racial conditions existent at their inception, thus constructing a human origin for them.

Christianity, being the greatest moral force of the day, attracted Nietzsche's attention the most, and in "The Dawn of Day" much space is devoted to a consideration of it. While in tone these paragraphs are milder than those which followed in "The Antichrist," they nevertheless are among the profoundest criticisms which Nietzsche made of Nazarene morality. Though only a portion of the aphorisms contained in this work are devoted to an evaluation of theological modes of conduct, stumbling blocks are thrown in the path of an acceptance of Jewish ethics which the most sapient of modern ecclesiastics have been unable to remove. Out of certain aphorisms found here grew "The Antichrist" which is the most terrible and effective excoriation that Christianity has ever called forth. Beginning on page 66 of "The Dawn of Day" there appears one of Nietzsche's most fundamental passages dealing with Christianity. It is called "The First Christian," and is an analysis of the Apostle Paul. No theological dialectician has been able to answer it. Here is an aphorism so illuminating, so[Pg 89] profound, yet so brief, as to dazzle completely the lay mind.

However, Christianity is but one of the subjects dealt with in "The Dawn of Day." The book covers the whole field of modern morality. Says Nietzsche in his introduction; "In this book we find a 'subterrestrial' at work, digging, mining, undermining.... I went down into the deepest depths; I tunnelled to the very bottom; I started to investigate and unearth an old faith which for thousands of years we philosophers used to build on as the safest of all foundations.... I began to undermine our faith in morals." It is true that from the beginning of history there has existed a ruling scale of values determining the acts of humanity. Morality implies the domination of certain classes which, in order to inspire reverence in arbitrary dictates, have invested their codes with an authority other than a human one. Thus has criticism been stifled. Morality has had the means of intimidation on its side, and has discouraged investigation by exercising severe penalties. Consequently morality has accumulated and grown, gathered power and swept on without its thinkers, its philosophers or its analysts. Of all the sciences, the science of conduct has been the last to attract investigators.

The vogue of that style of philosophy which was founded on the tradition of speculation and honeycombed with presuppositions, did not pass out until the advent of Darwin's evolutionism. But even the inauguration of biology and sociology did not entirely eliminate the metaphysical assumption from constructive thinking. The scientists themselves, not excluding Darwin, hesitated to acknowledge the laws of natural selection and of the survival of the fit. Neo-Lamarckism was but one[Pg 90] of the reactions against this tough and unpleasant theory. Alfred Russel Wallace and, to take an even more significant figure, Herbert Spencer, endeavoured to refute the possibility of a biological basis in thought and thus to avoid an acquiescence to the Darwinian research. John Fiske, an avowed evolutionist, indirectly repudiated the scientific origin of philosophy; and likewise most of the lesser thinkers, following the exposition of Darwin's theories, refused to apply to man the biological laws governing the animal kingdom. Balfour and Huxley sensed the incongruities and variances in this new mode of thinking, and strove to bridge the chasm between natural science and human conduct, and to construct a system of ethics which would possess a logical and naturalistic foundation. But in both cases the question was begged. We find Balfour building up a moral system which, while it did not deny Darwinism, had for its end the destruction, or at least the alteration, of natural laws. And Huxley defines human progress as an overcoming of biological principles. Thus, even in the most materialistic of physio-psychologists, the subjugation of natural laws was the primary thesis. Biology, therefore, instead of being used as a basis to further philosophy, was considered an obstacle which philosophy had to overcome.

Nietzsche saw that a science of conduct based on natural and physiological laws was a possible and logical thing. And in him, for the first time in the history of philosophical thought, do we find a scholarly and at the same time an intellectual critic of authorised standards. The biological point of view was never lost sight of by him. If at times he seemed to abandon it, it was but for a brief period; he ever came back to it. Even his most abstract passages have their feet implanted in the fact[Pg 91] that all phenomena are answerable to the law of vital fitness. Before the tribunal of biology Nietzsche arraigns and tries every phase of his thought, whether it deals with physical phenomena, ethical conduct or with abstract reasoning. Philosophy, for centuries divorced from science, is here clothed in the garments of scientific experimentation; a relationship is established between these two planes of rationalism and empiricism which have always been considered by other thinkers as detached and unrelated. Nor does Nietzsche ally himself, either consciously or unconsciously, with such philosophers as Bruno and Plato (who stood between the scientific thinkers on the one hand and the abstract dialecticians on the other), and attempt a formulation of a system of thought founded on intuitive processes. Such poetic conceptions had no fascination for him except as they were directly applicable to the problem of the universe. Those men who busied themselves with the mere theory of knowledge he held as supererogatory cobweb-spinners; and even in the realm of metaphysicians such as Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz, he dallied but casually. His aim was to relate all thought to determinable values of life.

In his introduction Nietzsche calls morality the Circe of philosophies, and adds: "For, to what is it due that, from Plato onwards, all the philosophic architects in Europe have built in vain?" Later beneath his analysis—which never assumes the negative qualities of the metaphysical—the moral phenomenon goes to pieces, not by a few simple strokes, nor yet by the effrontery of cynicism or pessimism, but by the most careful and intricate surgery. He points out the great heretics of history as examples of the men who, looked at through[Pg 92] the eyes of contemporaries, were "wicked" men, but who, under different environmental circumstances, were considered "good." He denies the static hypothesis on which morality is built, and postulates the theory that immorality is not without its place in the development of the reason. He is constantly attempting to translate the existing moral values into terms of their true nature, not necessarily into immoralities, but into natural unmoralities. The accepted virtues, such as pity, honesty, faith, obedience, service, loyalty and self-sacrifice, are questioned in their relation to racial needs; and modern attitudes toward all human activities are traced to their causes and judged as to their influence.

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