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Tag Archives: Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche on Making Something Worthwhile of Ourselves

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) explored many subjects, perhaps the most important was himself.

A member of our learning community directed me to the passage below, written by Richard Schacht in the introduction to Nietzsche: Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits.

​If we are to make something worthwhile of ourselves, we have to take a good hard look at ourselves. And this, for Nietzsche, means many things. It means looking at ourselves in the light of everything we can learn about the world and ourselves from the natural sciences — most emphatically including evolutionary biology, physiology and even medical science. It also means looking at ourselves in the light of everything we can learn about human life from history, from the social sciences, from the study of arts, religions, literatures, mores and other features of various cultures. It further means attending to human conduct on different levels of human interaction, to the relation between what people say and seem to think about themselves and what they do, to their reactions in different sorts of situations, and to everything about them that affords clues to what makes them tick. All of this, and more, is what Nietzsche is up to in Human, All Too Human. He is at once developing and employing the various perspectival techniques that seem to him to be relevant to the understanding of what we have come to be and what we have it in us to become. This involves gathering materials for a reinterpretation and reassessment of human life, making tentative efforts along those lines and then trying them out on other human phenomena both to put them to the test and to see what further light can be shed by doing so.

Nietzsche realized that mental models were the key to not only understanding the world but understanding ourselves. Understanding how the world works is the key making more effective decisions and gaining insights. However, its through the journey of discovery of these ideas, that we learn about ourselves. Most of us want to skip the work, so we skim the surface of not only knowledge but ourselves.

Friedrich Nietzsche: On Love And Hate

“We must learn to love, learn to be kind, and this from earliest youth … Likewise, hatred must be learned and nurtured, if one wishes to become a proficient hater.”

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German philosopher and writer Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is one of humanity's most influential and enduring minds. He was particularly good at the aphorism and the brief collection published in Aphorisms on Love and Hate highlights some of his most profound thoughts on the subject.

Commenting on psychological observation, in his typically beautiful prose, he wrote that it would be better to have a blind faith in humanity than a curious one.

[M]editating on things human, all too human (or, as the learned phrase goes, ‘psychological observation’) is one of the means by which man can ease life’s burden; that by exercising this art, one can secure presence of mind in difficult situations and entertainment amid boring surroundings; indeed, that from the thorniest and unhappiest phases of one’s own life one can pluck maxims and feel a bit better thereby: this was believed, known – in earlier centuries. Why has it been forgotten in this century, when many signs point, in Germany at least, if not throughout Europe, to the dearth of psychological observation? Not particularly in novels, short stories, and philosophical meditations, for these are the work of exceptional men; but more in the judging of public events and personalities; most of all we lack the art of psychological dissection and calculation in all classes of society, where one hears a lot of talk about men, but none at all about man. Why do people let the richest and most harmless source of entertainment get away from them?

[…]

Indeed, a certain blind faith in the goodness of human nature, an inculcated aversion to dissecting human behavior, a kind of shame with respect to the naked soul, may really be more desirable for a man’s overall happiness than the trait of psychological sharpsightedness, which is helpful in isolated instances. And perhaps the belief in goodness, in virtuous men and actions, in an abundance of impersonal goodwill in the world has made men better, in that it has made them less distrustful. If one imitates Plutarch’s heroes with enthusiasm and feels an aversion toward tracing skeptically the motives for their actions, then the welfare of human society has benefited (even if the truth of human society has not). … La Rochefoucauld and those other French masters of soul searching (whose company a German, the author of Psychological Observations, has recently joined) are like accurately aimed arrows, which hit the mark again and again, the black mark of man’s nature. Their skill inspires amazement, but the spectator who is guided not by the scientific spirit, but by the humane spirit, will eventually curse an art which seems to implant in the souls of men a predilection for belittling and doubt.

If we've offended someone we need only offer compensation:

If we have injured someone, giving him the opportunity to make a joke about us is often enough to provide him personal satisfaction, or even win his goodwill.

On why we attack others, Nietzsche points out that it's not always to hurt them:

We attack not only to hurt another person, to conquer him, but also, perhaps, simply to become aware of our own strength.

On morality and the ordering of good he writes:

The accepted hierarchy of the good, based on how a low, higher, or a most high egoism desires that thing or the other, decides today about morality or immorality. To prefer a low good (sensual pleasure, for example) to one esteemed higher (health, for example) is taken for immoral, likewise to prefer comfort to freedom. The hierarchy of the good, however, is not fixed and identical at all times. If someone prefers revenge to justice, he is moral by the standard of an earlier culture, yet by the standard of the present culture he is immoral. ‘Immoral’ then indicates that someone has not felt, or not felt strongly enough, the higher, finer, more spiritual motives which the new culture of the time has brought with it. It indicates a backward nature, but only in degree. The hierarchy itself is not established or changed from the point of view of morality; nevertheless an action is judged moral or immoral according to the prevailing determination.

On offending and being offended he offers:

It is much more agreeable to offend and later ask forgiveness than to be offended and grand forgiveness. The one who does the former demonstrates his power and then his goodness. The other, if he does not want to be though inhuman, must forgive; because of this coercion, pleasure in the other's humiliation is slight.

Nietzsche offers an interesting perspective on seeing things that are out of place in today's world — they are leftovers of a previous age.

We must think of men who are cruel today as stages of earlier cultures, which have been left over; in their case, the mountain range of humanity shows openly its deeper formations, which otherwise lie hidden. They are backward men whose brains, because of various possible accidents of heredity, have not yet developed much delicacy or versatility. They show us what we all were, and frighten us. But they themselves are as little responsible as a piece of granite for being granite.

On the concept of good and evil, he notes a sober point with respect to why a bad man cannot grow out of good soil.

The concept of good and evil has a double prehistory: namely, first of all, in the soul of the ruling clans and castes. The man who has the power to requite goodness with goodness, evil with evil, and really does practice requital by being grateful and vengeful, is called ‘good’. The man who is unpowerful and cannot requite is taken for bad. As a good man, one belongs to the ‘good’, a community that has a communal feeling, because all the individuals are entwined together by their feeling for requital. As a bad man, one belongs to the ‘bad’, to a mass of abject, powerless men who have no communal feeling. The good men are a caste; the bad men are a multitude, like particles of dust. Good and bad are for a time equivalent to noble and base, master and slave. Conversely, one does not regard the enemy as evil: he can requite. In Homer, both the Trojan and the Greek are good. Not the man who inflicts harm on us, but the man who is contemptible, is bad. In the community of the good, goodness is hereditary; it is impossible for a bad man to grow out of such good soil. Should one of the good men nevertheless do something unworthy of good men, one resorts to excuses; one blames God, for example, saying that he struck the good man with blindness and madness.

Then, in the souls of oppressed, powerless men, every other man is taken for hostile, inconsiderate, exploitative, cruel, sly, whether he be noble or base.

Commenting on our economy of kindness he writes:

Kindness and love, the most curative herbs and agents in human intercourse, are such precious finds that one would hope these balsamlike remedies would be used as economically as possible; but this is impossible. Only the boldest Utopians would dream of the economy of kindness.

On the contribution of goodwill to culture, Nietzsche writes:

Among the small but endlessly abundant and therefore very effective things that science ought to heed more than the great, rare things, is goodwill. I mean those expressions of a friendly disposition in interactions, that smile of the eye, those handclasps, that ease which usually envelops nearly all human actions. Every teacher, every official brings this ingredient to what he considers his duty. It is the continual manifestation of our humanity, its rays of light, so to speak, in which everything grows. Especially within the narrowest circle, in the family, life sprouts and blossoms only by this goodwill. Good nature, friendliness, and courtesy of the heart are ever-flowing tributaries of the selfless drive and have made much greater contributions to culture than those much more famous expressions of this drive, called pity, charity, and self-sacrifice. But we tend to underestimate them, and in fact there really is not much about them that is selfless. The sum of these small doses is nevertheless mighty; its cumulative force is among the strongest of forces.

Similarly, there is much more happiness to be found in the world than dim eyes can see, if one calculates correctly and does not forget all those moments of ease which are so plentiful in every day of every human life, even the most oppressed.

On his poetic exploration of pity, he offers:

In the most noteworthy passage of his self-portrait (first published in 1658), La Rochefoucauld certainly hits the mark when he warns all reasonable men against pity, when he advises them to leave it to those common people who need passions (because they are not directed by reason) to bring them to the point of helping the sufferer and intervening energetically in a misfortune. For pity, in his (and Plato’s) judgment, weakens the soul. Of course one ought to express pity, but one ought to guard against having it; for unfortunate people are so stupid that they count the expression of pity as the greatest good on earth.

Perhaps one can warn even more strongly against having pity for the unfortunate if one does not think of their need for pity as stupidity and intellectual deficiency, a kind of mental disorder resulting from their misfortune (this is how La Rochefoucauld seems to regard it), but rather as something quite different and more dubious. Observe how children weep and cry, so that they will be pitied, how they wait for the moment when their condition will be noticed. Or live among the ill and depressed, and question whether their eloquent laments and whimpering, the spectacle of their misfortune, is not basically aimed at hurting those present. The pity that the spectators then express consoles the weak and suffering, inasmuch as they see that, despite all their weakness, they still have at least one power: the power to hurt. When expressions of pity make the unfortunate man aware of this feeling of superiority, he gets a kind of pleasure from it; his self-image revives; he is still important enough to inflict pain on the world. Thus the thirst for pity is a thirst for self-enjoyment, and at the expense of one’s fellow men. It reveals man in the complete inconsideration of his most intimate dear self, but not precisely in his ‘stupidity,’ as La Rochefoucauld thinks.

In social dialogue, three-quarters of all questions and answers are framed in order to hurt the participants a little bit; this is why many men thirst after society so much: it gives them a feeling of their strength. In these countless, but very small doses, malevolence takes effect as one of life’s powerful stimulants, just as goodwill, dispensed in the same way throughout the human world, is the perennially ready cure.

But will there be many people honest enough to admit that it is a pleasure to inflict pain? That not infrequently one amuses himself (and well) by offending other men (at least in his thoughts) and by shooting pellets of petty malice at them? Most people are too dishonest, and a few men are too good, to know anything about this source of shame.

Finally on what we can promise, Nietzsche stirs our thoughts with this beautiful passage:

One can promise actions, but not feelings, for the latter are involuntary. He who promises to love forever or hate forever or be forever faithful to someone is promising something that is not in his power. He can, however, promise those actions that are usually the consequence of love, hatred, or faithfulness, but that can also spring from other motives: for there are several paths and motives to an action. A promise to love someone forever, then, means, ‘As long as I love you I will render unto you the actions of love; if I no longer love you, you will continue to receive the same actions from me, if for other motives.’ Thus the illusion remains in the minds of one’s fellow men that the love is unchanged and still the same.

One is promising that the semblance of love will endure, then, when without self-deception one vows everlasting love.

Aphorisms on Love and Hate will stir your mind and awaken your soul.

A Philosophy of Walking: Thoreau, Nietzsche and Kant on Walking

Solitude is an important aspect of creative thought. You could make an argument that in our information overloaded world where our senses are stimulated nearly 18 hours a day, solitude and calming our minds is more important than ever. Walking allows us time to play with ideas, explore concepts, and be wrong in our thinking without worrying about others seeing the rawness of our thoughts.

I've never been a big walker, but after reading Frederic Gros' A Philosophy of Walking, I think I'll start walking more. In the book Gros explores people and lives that were shaped by walking. He ponders Thoreau's seclusion, why Rimbaud walked in fury, Nerval and his cure to melancholy. Rousseau and Nietzsche walked to think. Kant walked through his town at the same time daily to escape the “compulsion of thought.”

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Walking is not a sport.

Walking is not a sport. Sport is a matter of techniques and rules, scores and competition, necessitating lengthy training: knowing the postures, learning the right movements. Then, a long time later, comes improvisation and talent.

Sport is keeping score: What’s your ranking? Your time? Your place in the results? Always the same division between victor and vanquished that there is in war – there is a kinship between war and sport, one that honours war and dishonours sport: respect for the adversary; hatred of the enemy.

Sport also obviously means cultivation of endurance, of a taste for effort, for discipline. An ethic. A labour.

Walking is not a sport. Putting one foot in front of the other is child’s play. When walkers meet, there is no result, no time: the walker may say which way he has come, mention the best path for viewing the landscape, what can be seen from this or that promontory.

Walking is the best way to go more slowly than any other method that has ever been found.

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Freedoms

[T]here is the suspensive freedom that comes by walking, even a simple short stroll: throwing off the burden of cares, forgetting business for a time. You choose to leave the office behind, go out, stroll around, think about other things. With a longer excursion of several days, the process of self-liberation is accentuated: you escape the constraints of work, throw off the yoke of routine. But how could walking make you feel this freedom more than a long journey? … only walking manages to free us from our illusions about the essential.

Walking can provoke these excesses: surfeits of fatigue that make the mind wander, abundances of beauty that turn the soul over, excesses of drunkenness on the peaks, the high passes (where the body explodes). Walking ends by awakening this rebellious, archaic part of us: our appetites become rough and uncompromising, our impulses inspired. Because walking puts us on the vertical axis of life: swept along by the torrent that rushes just beneath us.

What I mean is that by walking you are not going to meet yourself. By walking, you escape from the very idea of identity, the temptation to be someone, to have a name and a history.

During long cross-country wanders, you do glimpse that freedom of pure renunciation. When you walk for a long time, there comes a moment when you no longer know how many hours have passed, or how many more will be needed to get there; you feel on your shoulders the weight of the bare necessities, you tell yourself that’s quite enough – that really nothing more is needed to keep body and soul together – and you feel you could carry on like this for days, for centuries. You can hardly remember where you are going or why; that is as meaningless as your history, or what the time is. And you feel free, because whenever you remember the former signs of your commitments in hell – name, age, profession, CV – it all seems absolutely derisory, minuscule, insubstantial.

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Walking Philosophers 

As you would expect, the book explores philosophers and their relationship to walking. Nietzsche was a walker. He wrote:

Sit as little as possible; do not believe any idea that was not born in the open air and of free movement — in which the muscles do not also revel. All prejudices emanate from the bowels. — Sitting still (I said it once already) — the real sin against the Holy Ghost.

When he wrote, The Wanderer and His Shadow, he walked, alone, for up to eight hours a day. Nietzsche would stop to scribble notes in small notebooks with a pencil. The entire book, except for a few lines, was thought out and composed en route.

Walking is different things to different people. To Nietzsche walking was more than relaxation, it was where he worked best.

“Think while walking,” Gros writes “walk while thinking, and let writing be but the light pause, as the body on a walk rests in contemplation of wide open spaces.”

While Nietzsche walked to work, Kant walked to escape. This was his way to escape — “a distraction from work.”

Like Nietzsche — although with different emphasis — (Kant) was concerned with only two things apart from reading and writing: the importance of his walk, and what he should eat. But their styles differed absolutely. Nietzsche was a great, indefatigable walker, whose hikes were long and sometimes steep; and he usually ate sparingly, like a hermit, always trying out diets, seeking what would least upset his delicate stomach.

Kant by contrast had a good appetite, drank heartily, although not to excess, and spent long hours at the table. But he looked after himself during his daily walk which was always very brief, a bit perfunctory. He couldn't bear to perspire. So in summer he would walk very slowly, and stop in the shade when he began to overheat.

Rain or shine, Kant had to walk.

(Kant) went alone, for he wanted to breathe through his nose all the way, with his mouth closed, which he believed to be excellent for the body. The company of friends would have obliged him to open his mouth to speak.

He always took the same route, so consistently that his itinerary through the park later came to be called ‘The Philosopher's Walk.' According to rumor he only ever altered the route of his daily constitutional twice in his life: once to obtain an early copy of Rousseau's Emile, and to join the scramble for hot news after the announcement of the French Revolution.

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Speed

Walking is the best way to go more slowly than any other method that has ever been found.
Many people think that walking fast is the key. We're driven to get from point A to point B and we need to get there as quickly as possible. This is not leisure. Nor is it restful.

Gros claims the lesson, “in walking,” is that “the authentic sign of assurance is a good slowness.” He later continues:

The illusion of speed is the belief that it saves time. It looks simple at first sight: finish something in two hours instead of three, gain an hour. It's an abstract calculation, though, done as if each hour of the day were like an hour on the clock, absolutely equal. But haste and speed accelerate time, which passes more quickly, and two hours of hurry shorten a day. Every minute is torn apart by being segmented, stuffed to bursting. You can pile a mountain of things into an hour.

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Solitude

Nietzsche, Thoreau, and Rousseau think we should walk alone.

Being in company forces one to jostle, hamper, walk at the wrong speed for others. When walking it's essential to find your own basic rhythm, and maintain it. The right basic rhythm is the one that suits you, so well that you don't tire and can keep it up for ten hours. But it is highly specific and exact. So that when you are forced to adjust to someone else's pace, to walk faster or slower than usual, the body follows badly.

So, Gros concludes, “it's best to walk alone.” But we are never alone. Thoreau wrote: “I have a great deal of company in the house, especially in the morning when nobody calls.”

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A Philosophy of Walking explores the purpose walking served to Thoreau, Rousseau, Kant, and more.

Erik Hollnagel: The Search For Causes

A great passage from Erik Hollnagel‘s Barriers And Accident Prevention on the search for causes:

Whenever an accident happens there is a natural concern to find out in detail exactly what happened and to determine the causes of it. Indeed, whenever the result of an action or event falls significantly short of what was expected, or whenever something unexpected happens, people try to find an explanation for it. This trait of human nature is so strong that we try to find causes even when they do not exist, such as in the case of misleading or spurious correlations. For a number of reasons humans seem to be extremely reluctant to accept that something can happen by chance. One very good reason is that we have created a way of living that depends heavily on the use of technology, and that technological systems are built to function in a deterministic, hence reliable manner. If therefore something fails, we are fully justified in trying to find the reason for it. A second reason is that our whole understanding of the world is based on the assumption of specific relations between causes and effects, as amply illustrated by the Laws of Physics. (Even in quantum physics there are assumptions of more fundamental relations that are deterministic.) A third reason is that most humans find it very uncomfortable when they do not know what to expect, i.e., when things happen in an unpredictable manner. This creates a sense of being out of control, something that is never desirable since – from an evolutionary perspective – it means that the chances of survival are reduced.

This was described by Friedrich Nietzsche when he wrote:

[T]o trace something unknown back to something known is alleviating, soothing, gratifying and gives moreover a feeling of power. Danger, disquiet, anxiety attend the unknown – the first instinct is to eliminate these distressing states. First principle: any explanation is better than none … The cause-creating drive is thus conditioned and excited by the feeling of fear.

Hollnagel, continues:

A well-known example of this is provided by the phenomenon called the gambler's fallacy. The name refers to the fact that gamblers often seem to believe that a long row of events of one type increases the probability of the complementary event. Thus if a series of ‘red' events occur on a roulette wheel, the gambler's fallacy lead people to believe that the probability of ‘black' increases. … Rather than accepting that the underlying mechanism may be random people invent all kinds of explanations to reduce the uncertainty of future events.