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Why Objectivists Should Embrace Nietzsche

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Gabriel
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Here are a few of Nietzsche's quotes. Tell me if he remind you of someone. ;)

- "The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

- "All credibility, all good conscience, all evidence of truth come only from the senses."

- "All sciences are now under the obligation to prepare the ground for the future task of the philosopher, which is to solve the problem of value, to determine the true hierarchy of values."

- "Arrogance on the part of the meritorious is even more offensive to us than the arrogance of those without merit: for merit itself is offensive."

- "Egoism is the very essence of a noble soul."

- "Faith: not wanting to know what is true."

- "Great indebtedness does not make men grateful, but vengeful; and if a little charity is not forgotten, it turns into a gnawing worm."

- "In Christianity neither morality nor religion come into contact with reality at any point."

- "Judgments, value judgments concerning life, for or against, can in the last resort never be true: they possess value only as symptoms, they come into consideration only as symptoms - in themselves such judgments are stupidities. "

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Read Nietzsche more closely, and pay special attention to passages where he attacks the individual and invidualism. While he uses individualism to denigrate collectivism and the herd mentality, he does not ultimately see individualism or egoism as a proper alternative to collectivism.

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While she despised Nietzsche as a philosopher, Rand did admire him, occasionally, as a poet. I'd have to go back and read the introduction to the 25th anniversary edition of The Fountainhead, but I believe she admired his sense-of-life. That he may have written things which seem to be in line with Objectivism is not surprising.

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Nietzsche is one of those philosophers who can be quoted out of context to support almost any position whatsoever (take the cranks who deem him responsible for the holocaust as an example of this). While I personally think Nietzsche is brilliant, he needs to be read properly; I've encountered a lot of people who have picked up very fallacious opinions of Nietzsche's positions as a result of reading isolated fragments from his works, as well as dodgy second-hand interpretations.

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Read Nietzsche more closely, and pay special attention to passages where he attacks the individual and invidualism. While he uses individualism to denigrate collectivism and the herd mentality, he does not ultimately see individualism or egoism as a proper alternative to collectivism.

I'm really surprised to read this. The entire thrust of Nietzsche is the individual, across all of his books. Do you have any textual evidence to demonstrate any glorification or praise of collectivism in Nietzsche?

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I'm really surprised to read this. The entire thrust of Nietzsche is the individual, across all of his books. Do you have any textual evidence to demonstrate any glorification or praise of collectivism in Nietzsche?

No: I didn't mean that he praised collectivism, just that he is not an individualist. He doesn't praise collectivism (at least in the usual sense of the term--he is not for "the people", so to speak).

While I really enjoy the spirit of much of Nietzsche's writing, what he in fact advocates is not individualism. He alternately considers individualism an illusion (see The Birth of Tragedy) or as something anamolous and not fully metaphysically developed (see The Geneology of Morals, or The Gay Science, e.g. #11). Further, what "individualism" seems to mean to Nietzsche is the right and the ability to superior men to rule over inferior ones--and everyone else's job is to await the man who could truly this, i.e. be selfless (e.g. GS #40).

At any rate, here's a scattershot of quotes from the end of The Gay Science cited by paragraph number. It's the book I have on hand.

"To wish to preserve oneself is a sign of distress, a limitation of the truly basic life-instinct, which aims at the expansion of power and in doing so often enough risks and sacrifices self preservations...The struggle for survival is only an exception, a temporary restriction of the will to life..." (#349)

"Consciousness is really just a net connecting one person with another--only in this capacity did it have to develop; the solitary and predatory person would not have needed it...My idea is clearly that consciousness actually belongs not to man's existence as an individual but rather to the community- and herd-aspects of his nature." (#354)

"Like trees we grow--it's hard to understand, like all life!--not in one place, but everywhere; not in one direction, but upwards and outwards and inwards and downwards equally; our energy drives trunk, branches, and roots all at once; we are no longer free to do anything individual, to be anything individual..." (#371)

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I'm really surprised to read this. The entire thrust of Nietzsche is the individual, across all of his books. Do you have any textual evidence to demonstrate any glorification or praise of collectivism in Nietzsche?

John Ridapth of the ARI has a series of tapes on this subject (I think) and wrote an article for the Objectivist Forum (a compendium of this magazine from 1980-87 is available from Second Renaissance Books or whatever it's called now).

Ridpath notes that, while some of Nietzsche is impressive to quote, irrationalism runs throughout his work.

When I read Heavy Duty 2 by Mike Mentzer, he said that Neitzsche stimulated his intellect as mever before but was irrational and contradictory.

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No: I didn't mean that he praised collectivism, just that he is not an individualist. He doesn't praise collectivism (at least in the usual sense of the term--he is not for "the people", so to speak).

While I really enjoy the spirit of much of Nietzsche's writing, what he in fact advocates is not individualism.

I guess I'll have to disagree - vehemently. I flipped through some of my Nietzsche books for a few minutes, and confirmed for myself that one of his primary themes is the individual vs the collective, or herd. He is the philospher who saw through collective (herd) conditioning in the conclusions (prejudices) of prior philosphers. His break with Wagner came when Wagner fell back into Christian denigration of the self. No, I really do think that the total works of Nietzsche demonstrate he is the philosopher of the bold and independent individual, bar none (save Ms. Rand!)

This first quote, I think, says it all. Unless you think he sided with the slaves. :D

"The ideal slave (the 'good man') - He who cannot posit himself as a goal, not posit any goals for himself whatever, bestows honor upon selflessness..." Will to Power Section 358

A few more examples (all Walter Kaufman translations, all italics in the original, same with the above):

"The noble type of man experiences itself as determing values; it does not need approval; it judges 'what is harmful to me is harmful in itself;' it knows itself to be that which first accords honor to things; it is value-creating." Beyond Good and Evil, Section 260

"At the risk of displeasing innocent ears I propose: egoism belongs to the nature of a noble soul..." Beyond Good and Evil, Section 265

"...one thing we know henceforth... that is the nature of the delight that the selfless man, the self denier, the self sacrificer feels from the first: this delight is tied to cruelty. So much for the present about the origin of the moral value of the 'unegoistic,' about the soil from which this value grew: only the bad conscience, only the will to self-maltreatment provided the conditions for the value of the unegoistic." Geneology of Morals, Second Essay, Section 18

"My answer is... he does not deny 'existence.' he rather affirms his existence and only his existence..." Geneology of Morals, Third Essay, Section 7

"The hatred of the average for the exceptional, of the herd for the independent." Will to Power Section 283

"Here the herd instincts were decisive: nothing is so contrary to this instinct as the sovereignty of the individual." Will to Power Section 786

"I have grasped this much: if one had made the rise of great and rare men dependent upon the approval of the many... well, there would never have been a single significant man!" Will to Power Section 885

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Well what do you say to works like The Birth of Tragedy? And what about individuals really just being collections of warring quanta? And what about Nietzsche's statements about science being arbitrary, and consciousness and reason--the most important faculties of individual men--being capacities of the herd?

The individual versus the collective is one of the major themes in Nietzsche, but his conception of this struggle is extremely different from yours or mine. He construes it, especially in his later work, as a sort of metaphysical war in which individuals are simply vehicles for more fundamental forces.

I'll say it again: I really, really like reading Nietszche. But I don't see how he could be convincingly portrayed as an individualist, keeping the entire context of his writings in mind.

Have you read The Birth of Tragedy? It is shocking.

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The Birth of Tragedy was written when Nietzsche was in his early twenties, and he later repudiated many parts of it. Judging him primarily based upon BoT is nonsense; any real analysis of Nietzsche should be centred around his more mature works, such as TSZ, BGE or Twilight of the Idols.

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The Birth of Tragedy was written when Nietzsche was in his early twenties, and he later repudiated many parts of it. Judging him primarily based upon BoT is nonsense; any real analysis of Nietzsche should be centred around his more mature works, such as TSZ, BGE or Twilight of the Idols.

Spearmint, thank you for your accurate comments.

For those without handy access, here's what Nietzsche said in his "Attempt at a Self-Criticism" about the Birth of Tragedy:

"I do not want to suppress entirely how disagreeable it now seems to me..." (Kaufman trans, section 2)

"To say it once more: today I find it an impossible book: I consider it badly written, ponderous, embarassing, image-mad, image-confused..." (section 3)

Regarding a relationship between objectivism and Nietzsche, I offer this quote from Lesley Chamberlain in her Nietzsche in Turin (p. 103, Picador 1996): "As a self proclaimed immoralist Nietzsche hammered away at moral philosophy too, abjuring selflessness..."

Pity, selflessness, the idea that failure or inferiority somehow created a demand or control on the strong and sucessful (herd morality), these were things that Nietzsche fought against. And so I find great commonality with Nietzsche and objectivism. Certainly nothing like total agreement, but great commonality.

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“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

That’s Ayn Rand. If you think that Nietzsche’s philosophy shares her values of egoism and individualism, there are some things you should ask yourself, while keeping the context of her philosophy in mind.

What did “egoism” mean to Nietzsche? Why should one be an egoist? How should one go about determining what is in one’s self-interest and pursuing it? What was the consequent morality and primary virtues of Nietzsche's Superman versus that of Ayn Rand heroes?

Why did Nietzsche value individualism, and why did Ayn Rand think it was important? What aspects of human nature motivated Nietzsche to advocate individualism vs. Ayn Rand? In what way should men be independent from each other, and what kinds of relationships should they engage in?

If you consider these differences, I think you will find that Nietzsche was not an advocate of egoism or the individual in any meaningful way.

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Some revealing Nietzsche quotes:

Morality:

"Morality is the best of all devices for leading mankind by the nose."

"Morality is the herd-instinct in the individual."

"Here the ways of men part: if you wish to strive for peace of soul and pleasure, then believe; if you wish to be a devotee of truth, then inquire."

"My humanity is a constant self-overcoming."

"I know of no better life purpose than to perish in attempting the great and the impossible..."

"This world is the will to power, and nothing besides!...And you, yourselves, are also this will to power, and nothing besides!"

"Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman—a rope over an abyss. A dangerous across, a dangerous on-the-way, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous shuddering and stopping. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end...Behold, I am a herald of the lightning and a heavy drop from the cloud; but this lightning is called overman."

Epistemology:

"It is true, there could be a metaphysical world; the absolute possibility of it is hardly to be disputed. We behold all things through the human head and cannot cut off this head; while the question nonetheless remains what of the world would still be there if one had cut it off."

"What are man's truths ultimately? Merely his irrefutable errors."

"There are no facts, only interpretations.

"Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies."

"Error has transformed animals into men; is truth perhaps capable of changing man back into an animal?"

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Some revealing Nietzsche quotes:

Frankly, I don't understand your conclusion, based on reading Nietzsche, and the evidence you supplied actually supports the position that N was clearly an advocate of individuality and egoism:

"Morality is the best of all devices for leading mankind by the nose."

N called himself "The Immoralist!"

"Morality is the herd-instinct in the individual."

N was specifically against the herd.

"Here the ways of men part: if you wish to strive for peace of soul and pleasure, then believe; if you wish to be a devotee of truth, then inquire."

N was against a happy peaceful dream, he wanted to face truth with all its dangers.

"My humanity is a constant self-overcoming."

N felt that stasis is death; that man must overcome his limitations and herd instincts at all times.

"I know of no better life purpose than to perish in attempting the great and the impossible..."

This is an aspect of the will to power, see below.

"This world is the will to power, and nothing besides!...And you, yourselves, are also this will to power, and nothing besides!"

N felt he discovered the basic motivation of all living creatures, that is to discharge their strength, to effect the environment. That's why he felt that a so-called "self preservation instint" was just a facet of this; he pointed out that there's plenty of times that a man might voluntarily place himself in harms way against his "survival instinct." An easy example is a tiger in a cage. Well fed, totally safe, the animal suffers, it paces, it gnaws the bars... it is desperate to exert its strength against something, to cause an effect somehow.

"Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman—a rope over an abyss. A dangerous across, a dangerous on-the-way, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous shuddering and stopping. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end...Behold, I am a herald of the lightning and a heavy drop from the cloud; but this lightning is called overman."

N felt that individuals could achieve greatness but we were not there yet, he also felt there really is no end in itself but only progress. "Mankind" as a herd needed to be overcome, as are the instincts to pity and resentment toward life that our social upbringing creates in us.

Here's two quotes from my first post that agree with your quotes:

"At the risk of displeasing innocent ears I propose: egoism belongs to the nature of a noble soul..." Beyond Good and Evil, Section 265

"Here the herd instincts were decisive: nothing is so contrary to this instinct as the sovereignty of the individual." Will to Power Section 786

I'm afraid I just don't see any evidence supporting a conlcusion that N did not advocate individualism or the egoism. If you can agree that he stood against the herd, what are you left with?

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Individualism and egoism for who? As you quote him saying, "What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end." (I haven't read Will to Power, so I don't know the larger context here.)

If you can agree that he stood against the herd, what are you left with?

Well, if he thinks that consciousness is an aspect of the herd, you tell me.

I don't know what to call Nietzsche, but I wouldn't call him an individualist. He's against the herd, but he's also against reason and science and so much else that he's not for the individual either.

I read his criticism of Birth of Tragedy and, as far as I can tell, it is not much of a retraction. He doesn't take back the sharp, metaphysical opposition between reason and emotion. He mostly chastizes himself for putting ancient problems in modern terms. If anything, he is even more dark and pessmistic in that intro.

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Frankly, I don't understand your conclusion, based on reading Nietzsche, and the evidence you supplied actually supports the position that N was clearly an advocate of individuality and egoism:

"Morality is the best of all devices for leading mankind by the nose."

N called himself "The Immoralist!"

"Morality is the herd-instinct in the individual."

N was specifically against the herd.

It looks like he was explicitly against MORALITY.

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It looks like he was explicitly against MORALITY.

Indeed, at least any except his own whim-based sense of morality. Ayn Rand explictly acknowledges this about Nietzsche in The Objectivist Ethics. Note that Ayn Rand herself required some time and thinking before she would distance herself from her early influence by Nietzsche, so it is not surprising that others may have some philosophical detective work to do before they see Nietzsche in the proper light.

I think one of the difficulties in this thread is the back and forth trading of isolated one-sentence Nietzsche quotes. The man wrote a lot, and during differing parts of his life, so single out-of-context quotes can be found to justify many different views. I agree with the approach that GreedyCapitalist used, asking some fundamental questions whose answers require some detailed analysis, not just isolated quotes. Philosophical detective work is as much an art as a science, and it often requires an awful lot of time and effort that go far beyond isolated quotations.

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I don't have time at the moment (nor the CD-ROM) to look up the relevant quote(s), but if memory serves: Rand was initially inspired by Nietzsche, especially Thus Spake Zarathustra; she welcomed his apparent man-worship and individualism, but eventually determined he was at root an irrationalist and therefore not an ally. I believe she remained an admirer of his style of writing, though.

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I don't know what to call Nietzsche...

I do. He was a mystic, both at the beginning and the end of his career. Many of his important philosophical doctrines, including those in his "mature" works, he explicitly claimed to have discovered by revelation. And that is the only way one could possibly come up with some of the stuff he preached (especially his metaphysics like the nonsense about the "will to power"). I highly recommend Dr. Ridpath's lectures that he gave at last summer's OCON called "Nietzsche and the Nihilism of Our Times" or something along those lines (he also has other lectures on Nietzsche which I haven't heard, but are probably also very good).

Nietzsche is not an individualist or an egoist in any proper sense of the terms, even if you can find quotes by him claiming to be. If you examine the fundamentals of his philosophy--his metaphysics and epistemology--you will find that he has nothing in common with Objectivism. Any nice-sounding things he may have said in ethics are merely a remnant of the influence of Ancient Greek philosophy, which he did not correctly understand anyway, on him early in his career (I think this is implicit in Dr. Ridpath's lecture from last summer, but not explicit, if I remember correctly).

If one reaches derivative conclusions (e.g., in ethics) via a non-objective method (e.g., the epistemological theory and practice of Nietzsche), even if they happen to correspond to the facts of reality (taken out of context), they do not represent truth in one's mind. You don't have to be an Objectivist to know that--just have a layman's grasp of proper epistemology.

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If one reaches derivative conclusions (e.g., in ethics) via a non-objective method (e.g., the epistemological theory and practice of Nietzsche), even if they happen to correspond to the facts of reality (taken out of context), they do not represent truth in one's mind.  You don't have to be an Objectivist to know that--just have a layman's grasp of proper epistemology.

This sounds wrong. Many scientific discoveries have been made via 'non-objective' methods, are you claiming that they somehow dont represent 'actual truth' because of this?

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This sounds like nonsense. Many scientific discoveries have been made via 'non-objective' methods, are you claiming that they somehow dont represent 'actual truth' because of this?

I do not want to speak for Ash, but I take him to be expressing, in his own words, the Objectivist notion of truth as being objective, i.e., as that which corresponds to facts, as grasped by the rational mind. So, should a theory arrive at a fact, but the theory itself not contain the proper reasoning leading to that fact, then the theory does not actually represent a truth. For Objectivism, truth is not "out there," to plucked from reality like we pluck an apple from a tree. To arrive at a truth requires a proper reasoning process, not simply an arbitrary or lucky stumbling over a fact.

But, regardless, I am interested in your statement that "Many scientific discoveries have been made via 'non-objective' methods." I am curious: Would you please just name a couple of these many scientific discoveries.

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For Objectivism, truth is not "out there," to plucked from reality like we pluck an apple from a tree. To arrive at a truth requires a proper reasoning process, not simply an arbitrary or lucky stumbling over a fact.
I dont recall Rand mentioning this in IOE; do you have a page cite handy? Anyway, I assume this is just a variant on the "knowledge = justified true beilef" claim in contemporary philosophy?

But, regardless, I am interested in your statement that "Many scientific discoveries have been made via  'non-objective' methods." I am curious: Would you please just name a couple of these many scientific discoveries.
I recall hearing a story about how the structure of the benzene ring came to its discoverer after he had a dream about a serpent eating its tail; not sure if this is actually true. Then you have Aristarchus postulating a heliocentric universe without any supporting evidence, Demetrius and others doing likewise with atoms, tribal shamen discovering medical properties of certain plants despite attributing them to 'non-rational' causes such as spirits or whatever, etc etc. Aristotle himself was hardly a shining example of 'rational scientific enquiry' with his whole anti-experimental stance for that matter.
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