Nietzsche and Aristotle on Gods, Humans, and Beasts

Yesterday’s post looked at Nietzsche’s relation to Hume’s view of sympathy through his comments on the Neighbour in Dawn 146.  Altruism is an underlying issue there.  We could take Nietzsche as a following a precedent in Hume that undermines selfless altruism, we could take him as breaking with Hume in rejecting an altruism based on sympathy, we could take him as reworking Hume’s ideas of values based on common experience.  I don’t believe it would be a good idea to quickly come down for any of those three options.  Rather than getting into a full discussion of that, I will move onto Dawn 147 (reproduced in full at the bottom of this post, which follows on in discussing human experience of commonality and selfishness.

Just as 146 looks very much like a comment on Hume, or more likely a Humean way of thinking Nietzsche picked up from other sources; 147 looks very much like a comment on Aristotle.  I find this particularly interesting, since there is some recent work on seeing Nietzsche in terms of Aristotle (e.g. Christine Swanton) and Hume (e.g. Peter Kail), and certainly Nietzsche needs to be situated in relation to them.  The naturalist elements may be a big sources for naturalist elements in Nietzsche, though we would also need to think about Lucretius and Spinoza here.

What 147 suggests to me is certainly that we need to think about Nietzsche in relation to Aristotle, but not by seeing him as continuous with Aristotle.  There is a very strong opposition made in 147, though that is not the end of the story either,  A full account of Nietzsche on value (moral values or values of life, there is an interesting issue here of which is more appropriate), should certainly bring in Aristotle on virtue, or excellence. (arete/άρετή); more on that, and all these issues, on other occasions.

The first thing to note about 147 is that it is directed against Aristotle’s well known statement inPolitics I, that man is a political, or social animal.  Aristotle goes on to suggest that life outside the community (polis/πόλις), is only possible for a god or an animal.  In 147, Nietzsche refers to ‘divine selfishness’ and ‘the dear animal world’ in being alone.  He brings up that possibility as a reaction to the possibility of being loved by everyone.  Being loved by everyone, instead of one person, is an unbearable burden.  In this Nietzsche might be following Aristotle.  In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle does suggest that the more friends someone has, the less value friendship has.  He also suggests that a god has a perfect live, which does not need friends, in a life of self-contemplation.  That leads us back to the god in the Politics outside the community.  However, in the Politics, Aristotle suggests a rather grotesque kind of divinity, Polyphemus, the one eyed giant, son of Poseidon.  The divine and the bestial come together.  Nietzsche provides a more positive sense of how the divine and the bestial can combine.

This divine-bestial possibility is staged as a negative reaction to the extreme of universal love, but it is not just staged as a reaction to an extreme circumstance.  Nietzsche is drawing out attention to something disturbing about the ideal of love between humans, how can we respond to universal love? How can we keep our own individuality, decisions and actions?  Love as altruism, this seems not to be eros that Niezsche is discussing, is again undermined as it was in 146.  The implicit target was Hume, or ‘English psychologists’, now it is Aristotle.

Dawn 147

Cause of ‘altruism’. — Men have on the whole spoken of love with such emphasis and so idolised itbecause they have had little of it and have never been allowed to eat their fill of this food: thus it became for them ‘food of the gods’.  Let a poet depict a utopia in which there obtains universal love, he will certainly have to describe a painful and ludicrous state of affairs the like of which the earth has never yet seen — everyone worshipped, encumbered and desired, not by one lover, as happens now, but by thousands, indeed by everyone else, as the result of an uncontrollable drive which would then be as greatly execrated and cursed as selfishness had been in former times; and the poets in that state of things — provided they were left alone long enough to write — would dream of nothing but the happy, loveless past, of divine selfishness, of how it was once possible to be alone, undisturbed, unloved, hated, despised on earth, and whatever else may characterise the utter baseness of the dear animal world in which we live.

Translated by R.J. Hollingdale, Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Original version of this post as Barry Stocker’s Weblog

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