Nietzsche’s values

I just wrote this this morning, and am hoping to get some feedback on it. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory:

This distinction, between the life-affirming and the life-denying, is the basis for Nietzsche’s revaluation of values. To get a sense of how this revaluation works, imagine somehow being put in charge of some intergalactic zoo filled with all kinds of animals, including human beings. It is your job not just to provide natural habitats for the animals, but to showcase each species’ abilities and talents. Your employers, for whatever reason, want to see the most powerful specimens of all the species. When it comes to human beings, what will you do? You will have to examine what capacities for strength each human being has. Your concern is not simply physical strength, but intellectual and emotional as well. You will try to cultivate humans who are cunning, brave, unpredictable, stealthy, creative, tough, patient, and unrestrained by “dos” and “don’ts”. They will be at times violent and mocking. If the exhibit is to showcase all strengths, your humans should be artists as well, creating works that stand as emblems for the species. In all, you will want to know all the capacities humans can have, and find ways to strengthen those capacities in your specimens as much as possible. You will want to diminish and eliminate any signs of weakness, timidity, fear, stupidity, and passivity. Your sole standard will not be “Is this what God or the Church would approve?”, but instead: “Is this a strength?”

About Huenemann

Curious about the ways humans use their minds and hearts to distract themselves from the meaninglessness of life.
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14 Responses to Nietzsche’s values

  1. Kleiner says:

    Why will the best specimens be ‘sometimes violent and mocking’? Why would they be ‘unpredictable’? Just because men are sometimes this way does not mean that the best men would be this way.

    Couldn’t Aristotle play this same game, and the most life-affirming specimen would have all of the intellectual and moral virtues? In fact, Aristotle has a very high view of man, he can ‘become all things’.

    In other words, I like the idea but I disagree on the details. There is room enough for human greatness, just a disagreement about which qualities are ‘great-making’. But almost no one agrees with Nz. If you, Huenemann, were in charge of this zoo, would an (occasionally) unpredictable and violent man be your showcase man? (that is, your picture of what the best man is)


  2. Huenemann says:

    I’ve elaborated the paragraph a bit, now to include the idea that the owners of the zoo are interested in seeing combat and competition among the species — a “survival of the fittest” tournament. So it won’t be a showcase of “admirable” human qualities, but a program to bring out the best set of human powers for facing unforeseen challenges. Capacity for violence would come in handy, obviously. “Mockingness” itself is not necessarily advantageous, except insofar as it stems from a (possibly intimidating) confidence in one’s abilities.

    In this imagined competition, I think Aristotle’s man of practical wisdom would do pretty well — surely better than the Pauline Xian — but would still suffer to the extent that he held himself back out of a concern for balance or sociability. At times, being imbalanced and unpredictable is good maneuver both defensively and offensively.

    As we’ve discussed before, I think there is a lot of agreement between Aris and Nz, but with two important differences: (1) Nz thinks there’s more variation in human “nature”, and (2) the measure of what is right/appropriate/fitting isn’t determined by the opinions of “those who have been raised well,” but by the resulting power.


  3. Mike says:

    It might just be me but I wanted the word “deliberate” to show up there somewhere.

    Even with Nietzsche though, shouldn’t mockiness and violence only show up where they’re needed for honesty and life-necessity? unpredictable perhaps but not arbitrary. Nietzsche’s man doesn’t need to pay attention to mockiness or violence for their own sake. He’s free to pursue goals, unfettered.

    I don’t think I understand what the “resulting power” is. It’s hard for me to think of it in ordinary terms of ambition-power because that sort of power seems really fettered and I don’t see how Nietzsche’s individual could value that sort of power. But that leaves open the question of what sort of power we’re talking about.


  4. Huenemann says:

    What do you mean by “deliberate”? that each action is done purposefully? That would be good. Or do you mean something like “authenticity”? I’m not sure if that is a strength or not. If it is understood minimally, as “non-coerced,” then that is probably good. If it is more than that, as “drawn from self-knowledge,” then that may be bad, since self-knowledge is pretty hard to come by, if Nz’s psychology is right.

    I think the value of violence and “mockiness” would be dispositional: you always need to be able to pull out those abilities (and you may want to for fun, if nothing else). You’d have to be ready for anything and capable of everything.

    The power in question is somewhat raw. It’s not necessarily power over others (though that will result), but power over advancing circumstances. Like Odysseus: “And if a god will wreck me yet again on the wine-dark sea, / I can bear that too, with a spirit tempered to endure. / Much have I suffered, labored long and hard by now / in the waves and wars. Add this to the total– / bring the trial on!” (5.244-248)


  5. Pingback: On Discovering Nietzsche’s Values « Shaun Miller’s Weblog

  6. Mike says:

    I wasn’t thinking of authenticity in relation to “deliberate” but that’s an interesting discussion. If actions aren’t drawn from self-knowledge then whose purpose is being fulfilled? Dionysus?

    I think we’re on the same page with the violence and mockiness thing but I still wonder how closely tied to identity they are.

    The Odysseus quote reminded me of this — Emptying Hell.


  7. Eric says:

    “Why would they be ‘unpredictable’?” -Kleiner

    Unpredictable can have positive connotations. I would call someone who is easily lead or gullible a predictable person.

    Nietzsche did not use “unpredictable” as meaning mentally or emotionally unstable.


  8. justin young says:

    “admirable” seems vague and subjective. how would they measure this quality? and “the best set of human powers for facing unforeseen challenges” is even more difficult to define and therefore measure. I would imagine a human that Nietzsche would appreciate might be the guy who left the theater/zoo all together. Find an exit, if you will. Not wanting to be bound to a system, but a conflicting series of perspective and possibility. The best way to display these qualities might be to just ignore the challenge all together. Or not ignore it, but overcome it by finding an alternative way to measure human power.


  9. Huenemann says:

    There’s certainly something to the idea that a truly powerful person (in Nietzsche’s sense) would not submit to being a showcase animal in someone else’s blood carnival! But the sci-fi scenario is only meant to be a “thought-pump,” or a device to get us to think about what human power is. It seems to me that one of the least subjective, most verifiable criteria would be how successfully a person can meet a variety of obstacles and challenges. The scenario is just meant to dramatize that criterion.


  10. Rob says:

    I find it so extremely difficult to respond to this provocative thought experiment because what, as I read Nietzsche, distinguishes the human animal from the rest of them — the capacity to internalize aggression and all the elaborate reflexivity which follows from it — is the same source of both what is marvelous and awful about the human animal. And I take Nietzsche to believe that this capacity — crystallized into “bad conscience” — is fundamental to human being. For instance, in GM 2.24 Nietzsche raises the possibility not of “bad conscience” eventually being overcome, but the possibility of reorienting its content (towards “the *unnatural* inclinations”). So, I guess I would imagine the human exemplar in your proposed menagerie as being somehow gloriously “compliant-conflicted with itself” (GM 2.18), revealing both both an inclination towards morbid wretchedness that is unique among animals, and the equally unique glory produced by the triumph over that natural inclination.


  11. Huenemann says:

    As I read GM 2.24, Nz flirts with the idea of orienting a moral conscience along the same axis as what he regards as healthy/unhealthy. So, for example, when I pass up a difficult challenge, I would feel guilty; when I pass an unfortunate person and feel not a shred of pity, I would feel justified; when I feel guilty over some natural desire, I would then feel guilty for having felt guilty about something natural. No doubt, it could get very complicated, and the exemplar could be “conflicted” in that sense. (Though I think that perhaps the true exemplar would have worked out all these conflicts — maybe that’s impossible, though. I’m not sure Nz worked out his exemplars in great detail!)

    Rob, where do you get the idea that the exemplar would triumph over bestial inclinations? I agree that he might in at least two circumstances: 1. when greater strength can be obtained by doing so, and 2. for aesthetic or “nobility” considerations (which Nz frequently appeals to, but doesn’t ground or justify).


  12. Rob says:

    It’s not triumph over bestial inclinations but over those “unnatural” ones indicated in GM 2.24 that I suggest the exemplar would represent (along, perhaps, the lines you’ve just indicated). Maybe a better way of putting what I am suggesting is that the human exemplar cannot appear as a static finished product, as (at least most of) the other animal exemplars might. To appear in its fullest splendor, the human exemplar would have to appear dynamically, as “the eternally future one” (GM 3.13). I’m thinking, too, of Zarathustra who seems to be in a chronic state of prophecy, a herald and prelude.

    I’m also not sure how to reconcile your thought experiment with Nietzsche’s characterization of the human animal’s superiority over the rest in terms of its being more “interesting” (AC 14, GM 1.6, 2.16), especially in light of this quality’s source in “man’s sickliness”.


  13. Huenemann says:

    I see what you mean. It seems to me Nz has to employ the idea of a fixed exemplar at least as a device — the one who has surmounted the great obstacle, the one who has finally transcended good vs. evil, and so on. But he has very little to say about the specifics of that ideal, and you are right to point out that his interest mainly is on the individual trying to become the ideal. (Good thing, too; what are the odds of anyone ever becoming the perfect Nzean ideal?) My thought experiment misses the motion and striving so important to Nz’s thought, and so to that extent misses Nz. Still, I think it’s important to have a sense of the direction we are supposed to take, according to Nz, and the galactic zoo illustrates the destination. How to get there is a different and more interesting story.


  14. Dexter says:

    I think the violence (aggression) and unpredictability are traits that diminish limits in a human. Limits in our charachter, slave morality representations, prevent human evoloution and prevent the next stage; ubermensch. I think human strength can only be measured in one thing: Conviction. This conviction however must be noble but without consideration. Morals and values must be forgotten. The ‘your with us or against us’ attitude must return and slave moralilty, democracy and religion must be abolished. There will be chaos, and only the fittest will survive.


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