Full title: Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future
Full German title: Jenseits von Gut und Bose. Vorspeil einer Philosophie der Zukunft.

Originally published in 1886, this is one of the more important works in Friedrich Nietzsche's canon. It followed closely on the heels of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche's rather overblown attempt to condense his entire philosophy into a single work. This is also the mission of Beyond Good and Evil, though the text of this volume is presented in a deliberately organized form which is (I think) a great advantage for the reader. It thus serves as the crucial introduction to Nietzsche's thought.

The book, when first published in Leipzig in 1886, fell on deaf ears; or, perhaps, dead eyes would be more appropriate. Of the initial run of 300 copies, only 114 were sold, and many were given away to journalists. Nietzsche himself took quite a bath on the whole project. The result of this is that few copies of the first edition remain, and subsequent editions published after 1886 contained many errors. The definitive translation in English remains that of Walter Kaufmann, who returned to the original 1886 text as a base.

It is not easy to sum up the themes of the book in a moderately sized node, as the text touches on a surprisingly broad array of topics. By way of a teaser that does a reasonably good job of informing the reader what he/she is in for, I offer this selection from Nietzsche's introduction:

...it must certainly be conceded that the worst, most durable, and most dangerous of all errors so far was a dogmatist's error--namely, Plato's invention of the pure spirit and the good as such. But now that it is overcome, now that Europe is breathing freely again after this nightmare and at least can enjoy a healthier--sleep, we, whose task is wakefulness itself, are the heirs of all that strength which has been fostered by the fight against this error...But the fight against Plato or, to speak more clearly and for "the people," the fight against the Christian-ecclesiastical pressure of millennia...has created in Europe a magnificent tension of the spirit the like of which had never yet existed on earth: with so tense a bow we can now shoot for the most distant goals.

This was, for me, a mind blowing book--not so much for any broad agreement Nietzsche and I share, but for the way his attack on the conventions of philosophy helped steer my thought processes down what were once little-heeded or ignored avenues. I also enjoy, from his chapter of epigrams, the following truth (section 141):

The abdomen is the reason why man does not easily take himself for a god.

In his essay Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future Nietzsche contends that the man of today is thoroughly limited in his scope. Unlike his predecessors, he cannot hope to be great. These limitations are partly due to the blinders he places upon himself by directing all of his studies into a particular area: invariable one ‘useful’ to his profession and to the present. In these arguments, Nietzsche succeeds in generalizing the situation of man and society such that his point is both correct and meaningless.

Nietzsche complains that all knowledge has been chopped up into “specialties” and that the holistic worldview of the philosopher has become an unwanted relic. What Nietzsche fails to consider in his argument is the sheer volume of knowledge that now exists. Where once it may have seemed restrictive to concentrate on one area of thought, even one chunk of the incredible abundance of information that exists today is a significant amount for a man to possess. In addition to his specialties, a man also has a certain innate capacity: to experience emotion, recognize beauty, feel disgust, and embody the nuances of humanity.

Nietzsche speaks of the philosopher as “a man of tomorrow” implying that the dreary masses exist solely for the moment, without care for the future. Once again, the modern world defies Nietzsche’s generalization. More than ever before, all of mankind must look to the future: both for inspiration and as a yardstick upon which to measure our present actions. With our incredible power to change the world we must always temper our industriousness with an understanding of what these changes will mean for our future. In this regard, all men have now become “the bad conscience of our age.”

Nietzsche characterizes the modern world as a sphere of selfish sycophants, where men are bound in an “equality of wrongdoing.” Such a view stems from a pessimistic appraisal of the present time and the versatility of man. While the enormous population of the earth dooms an ever greater number to insignificance, the sheer force of those numbers can also act to propel a man to such greatness as has never been seen in history. A significant percentage of the people who have ever lived speak, work, and love atop the earth today; to benefit this multitude, regardless of how slightly, is a fine and worthy achievement.

Do we not have respect for those who “endure and take things upon themselves?” Do we not seek “wholeness” and “diversity” in our lives? Has ‘balance’ not become a buzzword of our age? Are we not inspired by tales of bravery, heroism, and justice? Do we not, as Socrates did, recoil from hypocrisy and evil? Each of these queries receives the same response as Nietzsche’s pensive “Is greatness possible today?”: a definite yes.

Even as Nietzsche claims to be a man of the future, surging forward to eradicate ignorance, he is reactive in his approach. He seeks to rewind humanity to the golden age, before the division of knowledge had compartmentalized human wisdom. Ultimately, he is less progressive than the people he condemns. In trying to mould his future he looks back to Athens; in describing the modern philosopher, Socrates is his model. To be “solitary, concealed, and beyond good and evil” is to place oneself outside society; and, given that the advancement of society is Nietzsche’s professed goal, his ideal seems ridiculous.

As Nietzsche describes it, greatness is indeed impossible today. Regardless of one’s determination or strength of will, one cannot revert the Earth to what it once was. Rather, in embracing the modern world, with all of its facets and startling mysteries, it is possible to encounter a greatness that at present exists only in the thoughts of our future visionaries and leaders: the great men of tomorrow.

In addition to Thus Spake Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil is one of Friedrich Nietzsche's basic works. It was the first book of his that I read, and I've been fascinated by the man's philosophy ever since. It is much easier to understand Beyond Good and Evil than the metaphorical Zarathustra, and I think it serves as an excellent introduction to Nietzche's philosophy. Thus, I think it is of Nietzsche's work perhaps the one which most deserves to be noded.

I plan to node the whole work, one chapter at a time. In this writeup I have included the preface, which gives you a taste of Nietzsche's powerful literary style. This translation by Helen Zimmern was first published in the Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche.

Beyond Good and Evil

by Friedrich Nietzsche

translated by Helen Zimmern

Table of Contents



SUPPOSING that Truth is a woman – what then? Is there not ground for suspecting that all philosophers, in so far as they have been dogmatists, have failed to understand women – that the terrible seriousness and clumsy importunity with which they have usually paid their addresses to Truth, have been unskilled and unseemly methods for winning a woman? Certainly she has never allowed herself to be won; and at present every kind of dogma stands with sad and discouraged mienif, indeed, it stands at all! For there are scoffers who maintain that it has fallen, that all dogma lies on the ground – nay more, that it is at its last gasp. But to speak seriously, there are good grounds for hoping that all dogmatizing in philosophy, whatever solemn, whatever conclusive and decided airs it has assumed, may have been only a noble puerilism and tyronism; and probably the time is at hand when it will be once and again understood what has actually sufficed for the basis of such imposing and absolute philosophical edifices as the dogmatists have hitherto reared: perhaps some popular superstition of immemorial time (such as the soul-superstition, which, in the form of subject- and ego-superstition, has not yet ceased doing mischief): perhaps some play upon words, a deception on the part of grammar, or an audacious generalization of very restricted, very personal, very human – all-too-human facts. The philosophy of the dogmatists, it is to be hoped, was only a promise for thousands of years afterwards, as was astrology in still earlier times, in the service of which probably more labour, gold, acuteness, and patience have been spent than on any actual science hitherto: we owe to it, and to its "super- terrestrial" pretensions in Asia and Egypt, the grand style of architecture. It seems that in order to inscribe themselves upon the heart of humanity with everlasting claims, all great things have first to wander about the earth as enormous and awe- inspiring caricatures: dogmatic philosophy has been a caricature of this kind--for instance, the Vedanta doctrine in Asia, and Platonism in Europe. Let us not be ungrateful to it, although it must certainly be confessed that the worst, the most tiresome, and the most dangerous of errors hitherto has been a dogmatist error – namely, Plato's invention of Pure Spirit and the Good in Itself. But now when it has been surmounted, when Europe, rid of this nightmare, can again draw breath freely and at least enjoy a healthier – sleep, we, whose duty is wakefulness itself, are the heirs of all the strength which the struggle against this error has fostered. It amounted to the very inversion of truth, and the denial of the perspective – the fundamental condition – of life, to speak of Spirit and the Good as Plato spoke of them; indeed one might ask, as a physician: "How did such a malady attack that finest product of antiquity, Plato? Had the wicked Socrates really corrupted him? Was Socrates after all a corrupter of youths, and deserved his hemlock?" But the struggle against Plato, or – to speak plainer, and for the "people" – the struggle against the ecclesiastical oppression of millenniums of Christianity (for Chistianity is Platonism for the "people"), produced in Europe a magnificent tension of soul, such as had not existed anywhere previously; with such a tensely strained bow one can now aim at the furthest goals. As a matter of fact, the European feels this tension as a state of distress, and twice attempts have been made in grand style to unbend the bow: once by means of Jesuitism, and the second time by means of democratic enlightenment – which, with the aid of liberty of the press and newspaper-reading, might, in fact, bring it about that the spirit would not so easily find itself in "distress"! (The Germans invented gunpowder-all credit to them! but they again made things square – they invented printing.) But we, who are neither Jesuits, nor democrats, nor even sufficiently Germans, we good Europeans, and free, very free spirits – we have it still, all the distress of spirit and all the tension of its bow! And perhaps also the arrow, the duty, and, who knows? the goal to aim at. . . .

Sils Maria, Upper Engadine

CST Approved

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