Thursday, January 6, 2011

Review: Beyond Good and Evil

Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil is less a coherent book with a single theme than a grab bag of the man's ideas. You will not necessarily learn anything from this book, but it will challenge your assumptions and provoke your prejudices. It is a work entirely out of place in its own time and in ours. The seemingly random tangents in Beyond Good and Evil are not limited to this book, however, as it is central to Nietzsche's philosophy that phenomena be investigated from all possible angles—without preconceived dogmas on how to proceed.

Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche bookRead more reviews on Amazon Nietzsche's rejection of an objective morality is clear in both the title of this work and in the aphorism "there are no moral phenomena at all, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena." He sees a single morality imposed on all as detrimental to the stronger, more capable, more artistic individuals. Nietzsche has no sympathy for the herd; it is only exceptional individuals that he cares about. For him, scarcity is necessary for something to have value. This is the kind of value he admired in Jews, which he described as "beyond any doubt the strongest, toughest, and purest race now living in Europe." This quote should put to rest any claim that Nietzsche encouraged anti-Semitism.

There are some aspects of the book that stand out as weak. Nietzsche didn't understand evolution; he apparently believed that acquired characteristics can be passed on to offspring. This idea is called Lamarckism, after French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. It is overwhelmingly rejected today in light of evolution and genetics. So some of Nietzsche's praise and criticism of various races is surely misplaced. The section on women is also unsophisticated. Probably the only worthwhile thing to take from it is that men and women are different and there's no need to work towards identical roles in society. He may have recognized this, though, and included it anyway to make the point that even he is prejudiced.

I think that Nietzsche was the loneliest person in recorded history. There may have been lonelier people, but for whatever reason their thoughts were not inscribed on anything that made it to us today. Beyond Good and Evil is one such book that did make it to us. Nietzsche wrote a poem at the end of the book about how he wished new friends would come along. It was new friends he wanted, though, and he must have known they would never come.

1 comment: