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Beyond Good and Evil

Friedrich Nietzsche

6 - "We Scholars"

5 - "Natural History of Morals"

6 - "We Scholars", page 2

page 1 of 2


The main contrast of this chapter is between real philosophers as Nietzsche conceives of them and "philosophical laborers" and scholars. The great success of science and scholarship has generally encouraged philosophy to lower itself to the level of laboring on behalf of science, concerning itself with the theory of knowledge. A real philosopher must be able to rise above all this science, but this becomes increasingly difficult as our body of knowledge grows increasingly larger.

Nietzsche is critical of the objective spirit of modern scholars. A removal of oneself from one's work and a craving for generalities can be beneficial in that it helps us make sense of what we already know and thereby helps us to come to terms with and overcome our past. However, we should not see this objective spirit as an end in itself. Rather, it is a means that can be used by philosophers and artists to create something new. Nietzsche characterizes true genius as "one who either begets or gives birth," and mockingly associates scholars with old maids: neither is "conversant with the two most valuable functions of man." These scholars are not self- sufficient or creative, they lack self-knowledge and strong passions, and they thrive on a mediocrity that seeks to eliminate everything that is unusual or irregular.

Nietzsche also discusses two kinds of skepticism that he associates with these two different types. The first kind of skepticism, which he associates with mediocrity, is plagued by doubts that inhibit all kinds of action. By reassuring themselves with doubts, these skeptics pursue science and objectivity. By means of contrast, Nietzsche discusses a different kind of skepticism that he associates with Frederick the Great's influence. This kind of skepticism is strong-willed and intrepid, never resting content with easy answers but always questioning, seeking, and discovering.

Philosophers, as opposed to "philosophical laborers," are legislators and creators. While scholars and philosophical laborers seek to clear up the past, philosophers look to the future and say "thus it shall be." Because they speak for tomorrow, they are necessarily out of place in the here and now, and are always struggling against the spirit of the present. Socrates, for instance, rebelled against the aristocratic spirit of his day, showing the nobles by means of his irony that they were just as stupid and weak as he or anybody else. Today, on the contrary, a philosopher would rebel against the democratic spirit of the time, seeking solitude and difference.

For these philosophers, thinking is a light and easy process. Most of us find careful thinking difficult, and therefore serious. Most of us, Nietzsche suggests, don't have the strength of will to be philosophers. Such great minds need to be bred and cultivated.


Nietzsche spends most of this chapter blasting modern scholarship or exalting his vision of what a philosopher should be in vague but vigorous language. As a result, he is often unclear as to what precisely a "real" philosopher might be like and how precisely the common university philosopher differs from this ideal.

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