Beyond Good and Evil Analysis

Context (Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Friedrich Nietzsche holds a commanding historical significance in modern thought in spite of a continuing controversy about his stature as a philosophical mind. Many scholars refuse to judge Nietzsche’s brilliant writings as serious philosophical contributions. They prefer to view him as a poet, as a critic of culture and religion, or even as a superb master of the German language. Yet some scholars insist on Nietzsche’s importance as a genuine philosophical figure—a lonely, disturbed thinker who anticipated criticism of the classical ideal of a rigorously deductive model of philosophical knowledge and of the accompanying belief in the possibility of a completed metaphysics. Nietzsche felt keenly the impact of Darwinian evolutionary views that so stirred many nineteenth century thinkers in a number of intellectual fields. As a philosopher, he must be included in that group of thinkers for whom the philosopher’s primary function is to lay bare the unexamined assumptions and buried cultural influences lurking behind supposedly disinterested moral and metaphysical constructions.

Symptomatically, Beyond Good and Evil begins with a chapter entitled “About Philosophers’ Prejudices.” Written during Nietzsche’s intellectual maturity, hard on the heels of a lengthy literary development yet prior to the illness that ended his career, this book reflects the many important central tendencies of his thought. Its contents illustrate the...

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Beyond Good and Evil Physiology and Philosophy (Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Nietzsche criticizes a philosopher such as Immanuel Kant for having assumed existence of an unknowable “thing-in-itself” behind the phenomenal universe available to science. Similarly, he shows scorn for Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who sought to find in the antithetical aspects of existence (passions, ideas, moral valuations) the expressions of a more fundamental rational reality. The tendency toward dualism, by which the “I” as subject stands independent of that which is perceived (as well as logically distinct as “subject” against “object”), receives criticism as a possible grammatical prejudice erected into a false and misleading metaphysical argument. Rather than philosophizing in “the grand manner,” Nietzsche encourages piecemeal treatment of a host of specific, clearly stated problems. Physiology may hold the key to the solution of a number of old and baffling questions, including moral ones.

Philosophical investigators must forgo easy solutions happening to fit their prejudices—just as physiologists must cease thinking that the basic drive behind organic life is that toward self-preservation. The will to power may prove more fundamental than desire of self-preservation. The will to power expresses an expansive, assimilating, positive, value-creating tendency in existence, nonhuman as well as human. There may also be no immediate certainties like the philosopher’s “I think” or “Schopenhauer’s superstition, I...

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Beyond Good and Evil Values (Student Guide to World Philosophy)

In a later book, Zur Genealogie der Moral (1887; On the Genealogy of Morals, 1896), Nietzsche in practice attempted the kind of historical-genetic investigation his Beyond Good and Evil recommends in principle. In the former book, it is suggested that the concepts “good” and “bad,” as well as “good” and “evil,” arose out of a spiteful transvaluation of classical values by the meek and the lowly. “Evil” is the valuation placed on acts previously termed “good” in an aristocratic, healthy culture. Jewish and Christian priests, expressing their hatred of life, described as “evil” those biological functions fundamental to creation and healthful strength.

The central suggestion in Beyond Good and Evil is that another transvaluation of human values must now follow from the evolutionary notion of the will to power—that the cultural standpoint of Western Europe so influenced by Christian valuations must undergo a deep change to usher in gigantic, even sometimes cataclysmic, alterations in the table of values. Humanity must “get beyond” existing valuations in order to live creatively and even dangerously. A culture whose established values are foundering, in which the faith in metaphysical absolutes wobbles unsteadily on aging legs, throws up the question whether the belief in the possibility of an objectively justifiable morality is an illusion. Never does Nietzsche say that people can live without making valuations. Nor does he argue that moral valuations are unqualifiedly relative—one as good as another. His point is psychological and critical. Nietzsche believed that human nature, a product of evolution, demands the constant creation of new valuations even in the face of the absence of absolute...

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Beyond Good and Evil Religion (Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Nietzsche’s treatment of what he calls “the peculiar nature of religion” bears a crucial relation to his prophesied transvaluation of existing values. According to Nietzsche, students of religious phenomena should develop that kind of malicious subtlety that moral investigators need in all times and places if they are to succeed in their work. Although he despised the moral values taught by traditional Christianity, Nietzsche nonetheless admired the psychological self-discipline of the Christian saints. Religious phenomena fascinated him. The faith demanded of early Christians, a rarely attained reality, provides an example possessing peculiarly tough and lasting appeal. Nietzsche writes that contemporary people lack the corresponding toughness to appreciate the paradoxical statement of faith: God died on a cross.

Early Christian faith demanded qualities found in the philosopher Blaise Pascal, according to Nietzsche. In Pascal, this faith “looks in a horrible way like a continuous suicide of the reason, a tough, long-lived, worm-like reason that cannot be killed at one time and with one blow.” Nietzsche believed that such a faith would require careful study if the new experimenters were to learn how to succeed in their own transvaluation of Christian values. Especially intriguing are the three restrictions associated with what Nietzsche calls “the religious neurosis”: solitude, fasting, and sexual abstinence. For students to understand the earlier historical transvaluation that occurred, they must answer the question, “How is the saint possible?” Genuinely to understand how from the “bad” person one gets, suddenly, a saint, requires one to compare Christianity’s valuations to the lavish gratitude characteristic of earlier Greek religion before fear made Christianity a possibility.

Beyond Good and Evil Additional Reading (Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Berkowitz, Peter. Nietzsche: The Ethics of an Immoralist. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995. Shows how Friedrich Nietzsche’s attacks on conventional and traditional morality entail a distinctive ethical outlook.

Chessick, Richard D. A Brief Introduction to the Genius of Nietzsche. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1983. One section deals specifically with Beyond Good and Evil. A wonderful primer for understanding the concepts of nihilism and eternal recurrence.

Conway, Daniel W. Nietzsche and the Political. New York: Routledge, 1997. A thoughtful discussion of the political implications of Nietzsche’s philosophy.

Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy: Modern Philosophy. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1965. Copleston provides a good overview of Nietzsche’s thought and situates him in his nineteenth century European context.

Hayman, Ronald. Nietzsche. New York: Routledge, 1999. An excellent biographical introduction to the thoughts of the philosopher, clearly presented and requiring no special background. Bibliography.

Hayman, Ronald. Nietzsche: A Critical Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. A chronological account of Nietzsche’s life and work.

Heilke, Thomas. Nietzsche’s Tragic Regime: Culture, Aesthetics, and Political Education. De Kalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1998. A fascinating treatment of the theme of political education in Nietzsche’s early work.

Higgins, Kathleen. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra....

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Beyond Good and Evil Bibliography (Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Additional Reading

Berkowitz, Peter. Nietzsche: The Ethics of an Immoralist. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995. Shows how Friedrich Nietzsche’s attacks on conventional and traditional morality entail a distinctive ethical outlook.

Chessick, Richard D. A Brief Introduction to the Genius of Nietzsche. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1983. One section deals specifically with Beyond Good and Evil. A wonderful primer for understanding the concepts of nihilism and eternal recurrence.

Conway, Daniel W. Nietzsche and the Political. New York:...

(The entire section is 661 words.)