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Beyond Good and Evil

Friedrich Nietzsche

4 - "Epigrams and Interludes"

3 - "What is Religious"

4 - "Epigrams and Interludes", page 2

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Summary

This chapter is made up of 122 short one- or two-line epigrams on a wide range of topics. Rather than try to touch on each epigram individually, this summary and commentary will trace several themes that run throughout, and identify a few epigrams as particularly illustrative.

Nietzsche focuses largely on psychological observations. He challenges our habit of seeing our motivations and drives as transparent and easily understood. For instance, in section 100, he says: "In front of ourselves we all pose as simpler than we are: thus we take a rest from our fellow men." We seem to assume that we understand ourselves perfectly well, but Nietzsche suggests that in fact we are far more complicated than we think. We are made up of conflicting drives, and our reason is far from being able to take an unbiased perspective toward these drives. In section 158, he asserts that both our reason and our conscience bow toward "the tyrant in us," our strongest drive.

Nietzsche's observations dig up a number of facts we try to keep hidden. Our dislike for others, for instance, says more about ourselves than about those we dislike: "The vanity of others offends our taste only when it offends our vanity" (176); "The familiarity of those who are superior embitters because it may not be returned" (182). In a particularly brilliant epigram, Nietzsche suggests why we fail to recognize the darker motives behind many of our thoughts and actions: "'I have done that,' says my memory. 'I cannot have done that,' says my pride, and remains inexorable. Eventually--memory yields" (68). Our pride does not permit us to see ourselves as we really are, and will work all kinds of self-deception to hide us from ourselves. However, a careful observer can catch hints of what lies beneath by the way we unconsciously betray ourselves: "Even when the mouth lies, the way it looks still tells the truth" (166).

Our inner life is more like a battlefield than an open book. Nietzsche writes, "Under peaceful conditions a warlike man sets upon himself" (76). If our drives can find nothing in the world to struggle against, they turn inward and struggle against themselves. Our reason, thoughts, morality, etc., are all just expressions of different drives. There is no will that is purely our own: "The will to overcome an affect is ultimately only the will of another, or of several other, affects" (117). This inner struggle is a difficult one that only the strongest are adequately equipped to cope with, a thought Nietzsche expresses in one of his more famous epigrams: "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you" (146).

Nietzsche sees morality as born out of our inner struggle. In section 143, he suggests we might find the origin of a great deal of our morality in the fact that "our vanity desires that what we do best should be considered what is hardest for us." Morality does not exist in itself, but is instead just a way of looking at the world that is directed by our inner drives: "There are no moral phenomena at all, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena" (108).

The epigrams in this chapter also cover a number of other topics, including remarks on the nature and value of knowledge, the psychology of women (not Nietzsche's strong point), Christianity, sexuality, nationalism, and teaching and learning.

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