Skip to content

Nietzsche – A different, more delicate taste

“Only with great pain, that long, slow pain in which we are burned with green wood, as it were – pain which takes its time – only this forces us philosophers to descend into our ultimate depths…. One emerges as a different person, with a few more question marks – above all with the will to question more persistently, more deeply, severely, harshly, evilly, and quietly than has ever been questioned on this earth before…. The love of life is still possible – only, one loves differently….

What is strangest is this: afterward one has a different taste – a second taste. Out of such abysses, also out of the abyss of great suspicion, one returns newborn, having shed one’s skin, more ticklish and sarcastic, with a more delicate taste for joy, with a more tender tongue or all good things, with gayer senses, with a second dangerous innocence in joy, more childlike and yet a hundred times more subtle than one has ever been before.”

(from the Epilog of Nietzsche contra Wagner [1895], translated by Walter Kaufmann)

C. D. Broad – The hunger and thirst of a don

“It is perhaps fair to warn the reader that my range of experience, both practical and emotional, is rather exceptionally narrow even for a don. Fellows of Colleges, in Cambridge at any rate, have few temptations to heroic virtue or spectacular vice; and I could wish that the rest of mankind were as fortunately situated. Moreover, I find it difficult to excite myself very much over right and wrong in practice. I have, e.g., no clear idea of what people have in mind when they say that they labour under a sense of sin; yet I do not doubt that, in some cases, this is a genuine experience, which seems vitally important to those who have it, and may really be of profound ethical and metaphysical significance. I realize that these practical and emotional limitations may make me blind to certain important aspects of moral experience. Still, people who feel very strongly about any subject are liable to over-estimate its importance in the scheme of things. A healthy appetite for righteousness, kept in due control by good manners, is an excellent thing; but to ‘hunger and thirst after’ it is often merely a symptom of spiritual diabetes.”

(from Preface to Five Types of Ethical Theory [1930])

Walter Kaufmann – Truth is the greatest game.

… Why, then, does one want truth?

There are a number of reasons. First, what is utterly easy soon loses interest, becomes boring, and precludes any sense of accomplishment. It becomes as dull as any routine. So we contrive difficulties, we make rules, we impose some discipline and thus provide a framework within which originality can be achieved, but only at the cost of effort and with skill and scheming. The craving for originality could be indulged by simply claiming that Plato was brought up in India or that two and two is five. But assertions of this sort give no sense of accomplishment. The demand for evidence introduces the desired difficulty.

Moreover, we feel delight in overcoming not only difficulties but also the resistance of other men. In games both features are obvious: we devise rules to establish some degree of difficulty, and we pit our skill against opponents.

Beyond that, we try to play well by some objective standard; we try to achieve excellence, as it were, absolutely. To win over a poor player gives small satisfaction. In chess we want our victory to be due not to our rival’s ignorance or absent-mindedness but to our own good play. In philosophy we want to conduct our argument ion such a way that any adversary, however brilliant, would have to concede our triumph. The demand for evidence and logical consistency – for truth, in short – introduces not only the desired difficulty but also this objective standard.

We do not only want to achieve excellence, break the power of convention, and command the allegiance of other men: above all, we want to triumph over falsehood and deception. What is most humiliating about custom and convention is that they appear inseparable from ignorance, misinformation, and hypocrisy. To have to accept a whole world of beliefs, forced on us by our environment, without the chance to choose or build our own world of beliefs would mean a thousandfold frustration even if all that is forced on us were based on painstaking research. But soon we find that people lie to us complacently, whether they know the facts or have not bothered to determine them. The power that constrains our freedom is seen to be arbitrary and indifferent, a slothful despotism of surpassing cynicism. Every truth we discover makes this tyranny unsafe and is a blow for freedom, and the more of our previous so-called knowledge it affects, the better!

Every child likes to create his own world. As he grows up he has to abandon it and move into the public world where he has no palace of his own and must share whatever he is offered. The aspiration for truth is a fire that consumes this public world, constructed badly by the others. It represents a bold effort to create a public world that is ours. If we must all live together, let there be some rooms at least that we have fashioned, where, although we have to share them, we can feel at home!

Some truths are useful, and this has been emphasized more than enough by the pragmatists. Many truths are not useful, and even if they turn out to be, their utility may have been of little or no concern to the men who discovered them.

Some truths win approbation, some are resented. Some are mere pebbles on the streets of our public world, and some are highways; some are gardens, rafters, pegs, or mansions. Scientist, historian, and philosopher, poring over telescopes, diggings, documents, or dreams, analyzing concepts or the thoughts of others, seek to crack the ice of custom, to win their fellow men’s assent, and to make some small contribution to that public world in which they are condemned to live. The quest for truth is the quest to fashion what is not bounded by the sense of sight or sound nor even by language.

There are lonely truths: not only those we come by without any wish but truths we seek without the least desire to communicate them; truths about ourselves, for instance. Here, too, we pit our efforts against manifold conventions, we reject the images of others, and we seek a contest with the one opponent who is omnipresent: our self. We want to face up to this uncanny presence; we refuse to be deceived. If we cannot be the lords of our own house, our self-respect is threatened: we must know the premises and all their wiles to enjoy secure possession and consider changes.

The aspiration for truth is not the desire to receive a present in a passive state; it involves self-assertion and rebellion. We refuse to be imposed upon; we refuse to be like objects; we aspire toward a higher state of being.

(from Critique of Religion and Philosophy [1958])

Elihu Root – The free market is long gone; get over it!

The real difficulty appears to be that the new conditions incident to the extraordinary industrial development of the last half-century are continuously and progressively demanding the readjustment of the relations between great bodies of men and the establishment of new legal rights and obligations not contemplated when existing laws were passed or existing limitations upon the powers of government were prescribed in our Constitution.

In place of the old individual independence of life in which every intelligent and healthy citizen was competent to take care of himself and his family, we have come to a high degree of interdependence in which the greater part of our people have to rely for all the necessities of life upon the systematized co-operation of a vast number of other men working through complicated industrial and commercial machinery.

Instead of the completeness of individual effort working out its own results in obtaining food and clothing and shelter, we have specialization and division of labor which leaves each individual unable to apply his industry and intelligence except in co-operation with a great number of others whose activity conjoined to his is necessary to produce any useful result.

Instead of the give-and-take of free individual contract, the tremendous power of organization has combined great aggregations of capital in enormous industrial establishments working through vast agencies of commerce and employing great masses of men in movements of production and transportation and trade, so great in the mass that each individual concerned in them is quite helpless by himself.

The relations between the employer and the employed, between the owners of aggregated capital and the units of organized labor, between the small producer, the small trader, the consumer, and the great transporting and manufacturing and distributing agencies, all present new questions for the solution of which the old reliance upon the free action of individual wills appears quite inadequate. And in many directions the intervention of that organized control which we call government seems necessary to produce the same result of justice and right conduct which obtained through the attrition of individuals before the new conditions arose.

[Addresses on Government and Citizenship, ed. Robert Bacon and James B. Scott (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1916); I have added spacing to enhance clarity.]

William Shakespeare – We do not burn for ourselves.

There is a kind of character in thy life,
That, to th’ observer doth thy history
Fully unfold. Thyself and thy belongings
Are not thine own so proper, as to waste
Thyself upon thy virtues, they on thee.
Heaven doth with us as we with torches do,
Not light them for themselves; for if our virtues
Did not go forth of us, ’twere all alike
As if we had them not. Spirits are not finely touch’d
But to fine issues, nor Nature never lends
The smallest scruple of her excellence,
But, like a thrifty goddess, she determines
Herself the glory of a creditor,
Both thanks and use.

[Measure for Measure [1604], Act I, Scene I, lines 32 – 45 (Duke to Angelo)]

Robert Musil – Live by our ideas? Or coop them up?

Ulrich, the Man Without Qualities, is talking with Clarisse, who has just proposed that the Austrian government celebrate a Year of Nietzsche.

“You want to organize your life around an idea,” he began. “And you’d like to know how to do that. But an idea is the most paradoxical thing in the world. The flesh in the grip of an idea is like a fetish. Bonded to an idea, it becomes magical. An ordinary slap in the face, bound up with ideas of honor, or of punishment and the like, can kill a man. And yet ideas can never maintain themselves in the state in which they are most powerful they’re like the kind of substance that exposed to the air, instantly changes into some other, more lasting, but corrupted form. You’ve been through this often yourself. Because an idea is what you are: an idea in a particular state. You are touched by a breath of something, and it’s like a note suddenly emerging from the humming of strings; in front of you there is something like a mirage; out of the confusion of your soul an endless parade is taking shape, with all the world’s beauty looking on from the roadside. All this can be the effect of a single idea But after a while it comes to resemble all your previous ideas, it takes its place among them, becomes part of your outlook and your character, your principles or you moods; in the act of taking shape it has lost its wings and its mystery.”

Later, he thinks about how better to respond to her idea.

[T]o think without pursuing some practical purpose is surely an improper, furtive occupation; especially those thoughts that take huge strides on stilts, touching experience only with tiny soles, are automatically suspect of having disreputable origins. There was a time when people talked of their thoughts taking wing; in Schiller’s time such intellectual highfliers would have been widely esteemed, but in our own day such a person seems to have something the matter with him, unless it happens to be his profession and source of income. There has obviously been a shift in our priorities. Certain concerns have been taken out of people’s hearts. For high-flown thoughts a kind of poultry farm has been set up, called philosophy, theology, or literature, where they proliferate in their own way beyond anyone’s ability to keep track of them, which is just as well, because in the face of such expansion no one need feel guilty about not bothering with them personally.

[Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities [1940], translated by Sophie Wilkins [1995])

Walter Kaufmann – The best life is the one that cannot be endured

“The Greeks had considered hope the final evil in Pandora’s box. They also gave us an image of perfect nobility: a human being lovingly doing her duty to another human being despite all threats, and going to her death with pride and courage, not deterred by any hope – Antigone.

Hopelessness is despair. Yet life without hope is worth living. As Sartre’s Orestes says: ‘Life begins on the other side of despair.’ But is hope perhaps resumed on the other side? It need not be. In honesty, what is there to hope for? Small hopes remain but do not truly matter. I may hope that the sunset will be clear, that the night will be cool and still, that my work will turn out well, and yet know that nine hopes out of ten are not even remembered a year later. How many are recalled a century hence? A billion years hence?

The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve;
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
(The Tempest, IV, i)

It is possible that this is wrong. There may be surprises in store for us, however improbable it seems and however little evidence suggests it. But I do not hope for that. Let people who do not know what to do with themselves in this life, but fritter away their time reading magazines and watching television, hope for eternal life. If one lives intensely, the time comes when sleep seems bliss. If one loves intensely, the time comes when death seems bliss.

Those who loved with all their heart and mind and might have always thought of death, and those who knew the endless nights of harrowing concern for others have longed for it.

The life I want is a life I could not endure in eternity. It is a life of love and intensity, suffering and creation, that makes life worth while and death welcome. There is no other life I should prefer. Neither should I like not to die.

If I ask myself who in history I might like to have been, I find that all the men I most admire were by most standards deeply unhappy. They knew despair. But their lives were worth while – I only wish mine equaled theirs in this respect – and I have no doubt that they were glad to die.

As one deserves a good night’s sleep, one also deserves to die. Why should I hope to wake again? To do what I have not done in the time I’ve had? All of us have so much more time than we use well. How many hours in a life are spent in a way of which one might be proud, looking back?

For most of us death does not come soon enough. Lives are spoiled and made rotten by the sense that death is distant and irrelevant. One lives better when one expects to die, say, at forty, when one says to oneself long before one is twenty: whatever I may be able to accomplish, I should be able to do by then; and what I have not done by then, I am not likely to do ever. One cannot count on living until one is forty – or thirty – but it makes for a better life if one has a rendezvous with death.

Not only love can be deepened and made more intense and impassioned by the expectation of impending death; all of life is enriched by it. Why deceive myself to the last moment, and hungrily devour sights, sounds, and smells only when it is almost too late? In our treatment of others, too, it is well to remember that they will die: it makes for greater humanity.”

[from Faith of a Heretic (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971) pp. 371-373; used in the memorial to Kaufmann given at Princeton in 1980]