Beyond Good and Evil

by: Friedrich Nietzsche

7 - "Our Virtues"

Summary 7 - "Our Virtues"

As if to prove that this core does indeed consist of stupidity, Nietzsche shares some of his unshakeable convictions about "woman as such," which he opens with the disclaimer: "these are after all only-- my truths." The rant goes on for several pages: Nietzsche argues that women are pretty and superficial and are at their best when using their charms to make men take care of them. He mocks the feminist movement for trying to make women more like men. To say that Nietzsche claims that women should be locked up in the kitchen is only half right: while he suggests that men should treat women as possessions, he also argues that women lack the subtlety and intelligence to make good cooks.

Commentary

Considering Nietzsche's cavalier attitude toward the truth, it might seem odd that this chapter essentially lauds the pursuit of knowledge as the highest goal for Nietzsche's philosophers of the future. While we normally associate "truth" with "knowledge," it is crucial to our understanding of Nietzsche to recognize that he does almost the opposite. When Nietzsche talks about "truth" he almost always uses a tone of derision. To believe in "truth" is to allow one's perspective to become locked, so that one is unable to see a matter from any different point of view.

Knowledge, on the other hand, involves free inquiry into the way things are. If we recall the earlier analogy of reality as a statue, and a "truth" as a fixed point of view, we might consider the pursuit of knowledge to be an inquisitive stroll around the statue, looking at it from all sorts of angles. The pursuit of knowledge, in Nietzsche's understanding of the phrase, is to see all "truths" as fixed perspectives, to doubt all assumptions, and to ponder what motivates our will to adopt this or that way of looking at the world and then proclaim it to be the only way.

For these reasons, Nietzsche condemns the shallowness of the utilitarian emphasis on pain and pleasure. Pain and pleasure are mere sensations that point to deeper drives working within us. To rest content with them as the ultimate basis of any system displays an unwillingness to dig deeper. Nietzsche claims that this pursuit of knowledge is a sublime form of cruelty to oneself: one never allows oneself to rest content with any truth, but is always digging deeper and upsetting one's assumptions.

This kind of inquiry takes mental courage and flexibility. Nietzsche calls it honesty--the ability to look oneself in the eye and challenge every last assumption. We suffer as the creature in us, while its instinct to rest content with simple "truths" writhes and screams, but this is done for the sake of our better half, the creator in us, and its sublimated will to power.

In the end, however, Nietzsche asserts that we cannot eliminate the creature in us. We may dig very deeply and overturn all sorts of prejudices and assumptions, but we have to stop somewhere, and wherever we stop there will be a set of assumptions, a set of "truths" lying underneath. Nietzsche's "truths" seem largely to be about women. Rather than dismiss it or laugh it off, however, we should ask what Nietzsche's misogyny can teach us about him and his thought.

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