On the Genealogy of Morals

By Friedrich Nietzsche

Third Essay What Do Ascetic Ideals Mean? 24

Third Essay

What Do Ascetic Ideals Mean?




Now, let`s consider, on the other hand, those rare cases I mentioned, the last idealists remaining today among the philosophers and scholars. Perhaps in them we have the opponents of the ascetic ideal we`re looking for, the opposing idealists? In fact, that`s what they think they are, these "unbelievers" (for that`s what they are collectively). That seems to be their last item of belief, that they are opponents of this ideal, for they are so serious about this stance, their words and gestures are so passionate on this very point. But is it therefore necessarily the case that what they believe is true? . . . We "knowledgeable people" are positively suspicious of all forms of belief. Our suspicion has gradually cultivated the habit in us of concluding the reverse of what people previously concluded: that is, wherever the strength of a faith steps decisively into the foreground, we infer a certain weakness in its ability to demonstrate its truth, even the improbability of what it believes. We do not deny that the belief "makes blessed". But for that very reason we deny that the belief proves anything. A strong belief which confers blessedness creates doubts about what it has faith in. It does not ground "truth." It grounds a certain probability - delusion.

How do things stand in this case? - these people who say no today, these outsiders, these people who are determined on one point, their demand for intellectual probity, these hard, strong, abstemious, heroic spirits, who constitute the honour of our age, all these pale atheists, anti-Christians, immoralists, nihilists, these sceptics, ephectics, spiritually hectic (collectively they are all hectic in some sense or other), the last idealists of knowledge, the only ones in whom intellectual conscience lives and takes on human form nowadays - they really do believe that they are as free as possible from the ascetic ideal, these "free, very free spirits." And yet I am revealing to them what they cannot see for themselves, for they are standing too close to themselves. This ascetic ideal is also their very own ideal. They themselves represent it today. Perhaps they are the only ones who do. They themselves are its most spiritual offspring, the furthest advanced of its troops and its crowd of scouts fighting at the very front, its most awkward, most delicate, most incomprehensibly seductive form. If I am any kind of solver of puzzles, then I want to be that with this statement! . . . They are not free spirits - not by any stretch - for they still believe in the truth. . .

When the Christian crusaders in the Orient came across that unconquered Order of Assassins, that free-spirited order par excellence, whose lowest ranks lived a life of obedience of the sort no order of monks attained, then they received by some means or other a hint about that symbol and motto, which only the highest ranks kept as their secret, "Nothing is true. Everything is permitted." . . . Well now, that was spiritual freedom. With that the very belief in truth was cancelled. . . Has a European, a Christian free spirit ever wandered by mistake into this proposition and its labyrinthine consequences? Has he come to know the Minotaur of this cavern from his own experience? . . . I doubt it. More that that: I know differently. Nothing is more immediately foreign to people set on one thing, these so-called "free spirits," than freedom and emancipation in this sense. In these matters they are more firmly bound, because they believe in the truth, as no one else does, firmly and unconditionally.

Perhaps I understand all this from too close a distance: that admirable philosophical abstinence which such a belief requires, that intellectual stoicism, which ultimately does not permit one to affirm just as strongly as it forbids one to deny, that desire to come to a standstill before the facts, the factum brutum [brute fact], that fatalism of the "petits faits" [small facts] (what I call ce petit faitalisme [this small factism]), that quality with which French science nowadays seeks a sort of moral precedence over German science, the attainment of a state where one, in general, abandons interpretation (violating, emending, abbreviating, letting go, filling in the cracks, composing, forging, and the other actions which belong to the nature of all interpretation). Generally speaking, this attitude expresses just as much virtuous asceticism as any denial of sensuality (basically it is only one mode of this denial). However, what compels a person to this unconditional will for truth is the faith in the ascetic ideal itself, even though it may be for him an unconscious imperative. We should not deceive ourselves on this point - it is a belief in a metaphysical value, the value of truth in itself, something guaranteed and affirmed only in that ideal (it stands or falls with that ideal).

Strictly speaking, there is no scientific knowledge at all which stands "without pre-suppositions." The idea of such a science is unimaginable, paralogical. A philosophy, a "belief," must always be there first, so that with it scientific knowledge can have a direction, a sense, a border, a method, a justification, an existence. (Whoever thinks the reverse, whoever, for example, is preparing to place philosophy "on a strictly scientific foundation," first must place, not just philosophy, but also truth itself on its head - the worst injury to decency one could possibly give to two such venerable women!). Indeed, there is no doubt about this matter - and here I`m letting my book The Gay Science have a word (see its fifth book, p. 263)-"

The truthful person, in that daring and ultimate sense which the belief in scientific knowledge presupposes in him, affirms a world different from the world of life, of nature, and of history, and to the extent that he affirms this "other world" must he not in the process deny its opposite, this world, our world? . . . Our faith in scientific knowledge always rests on something which is still a metaphysical belief - even we knowledgeable people of today, we godless and anti-metaphysical people - we still take our fire from that blaze kindled by a thousand years of old belief, that faith in Christianity, which was also Plato`s belief, that God is the truth, that the truth is divine. . . But how can we do that, if this very claim is constantly getting more and more difficult to believe, if nothing reveals itself as divine any more, unless it`s error, blindness, and lies, if God himself manifests himself as our oldest lie?

At this point it`s necessary to pause and reflect for a while. Scientific knowledge itself from now on requires some justification (by that I don`t mean to claim that there is such a justification for it). People should examine the oldest and the most recent philosophers on this question. They all lack an awareness of the problem of the extent to which the will to truth itself first needs some justification - here is a hole in every philosophy.

How does that come about? It`s because the ascetic ideal up to this point has been master of all philosophies, because truth has been established as being, as god, as the highest authority itself, because truth was not allowed to be problematic. Do you understand this "allowed"? The moment where the belief in the god of the ascetic ideal is denied, there is a new problem: the problem of the value of truth. - The will to truth requires a critique. Let`s identify our own work with that requirement - to place in question, as an experiment, the value of truth. . .

(Anyone who thinks this has been stated too briefly is urged to read over that section of The Gay Science, pp. 160 ff, which carries the title "The Extent to Which We Also Are Still Devout" - or better still, the entire fifth book of that work, as well as the preface to The Dawn.)






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Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - have not perused this site much but it appears chalk full o info

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Nietzsche Chronicle - if its from Dartmouth, its got to be good

Nietzsches Features - claims to be the best resorce out there

The Influence of Nietzsche - An outline of the effects of Nietzsches ideas

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