Book Notes Beginner’s Guide to Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil

Beginner’s Guide to Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil Hot


Nietzsche is arguably one of the most misunderstood and criticized philosophers in history. He's been blamed for so much — including Nazism, which is by itself more than enough — that people who have never read him seem to assume the worst about him. It's true that some of his ideas are hard for people today to swallow, but for the most part people's worst assumptions are far off from reality.


Nietzsche is a challenging philosopher who dares to challenge a lot of traditional assumptions, but that doesn't make him an evil philosopher. On the contrary, it means he's a philosopher who's even more important to read and try to understand.

Gareth Southwell writes in his book A Beginner's Guide to Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil:


The bad press surrounding Nietzsche has been around for some time, but it began in earnest around the time of the First World War, as a contribution by British intellectuals to the war effort, and continued with the Second World War, as part of the anti-Nazi propaganda of the Allies. Before that, his ideas had already been distorted by his anti-Semitic sister into a form that was to appeal to the young Adolf Hitler.

So, whilst his reputation among serious thinkers is well established, you can usually still find those who will happily trot out the old accusations: he was a proto-Nazi who inspired Hitler; he was a racist who hated Jews; he was a sexist who hated women; he was an atheist who proclaimed that ‘God is dead’, and himself to be the ‘Anti-Christ’; he was an amoralist who believed that ‘might is right’, and that all morality is just ‘will to power’; he believed in a ‘Master Race’ of ‘Supermen’, whose destiny it was to rule over the genetically weak members of the ‘Slave Race’; his works stem from a deranged mind, and he wrote most of them whilst in the process of going insane.

Like any good slurs, all of these accusations have a grain of truth in them – but only enough to make the untruths plausible. I will, at various points in this book, address each of these claims, and – while attempting to be as unbiased as possible – try to show what is myth, what is lie, and what has grounds for debate. In all of this, however, I will be very biased in trying to convince you that, whether you agree with him or not, whether you like him or not, Nietzsche is one of the great philosophers, and deserves to be studied seriously.

Nietzsche was one of those very rare philosophers who was willing to challenge anything and everything — or at last any and all of the popular assumptions that were taken for granted in his culture. This is especially true when it comes to morality. He didn't write only about morality, but it can be argued that his writings about morality are at the center of his philosophical writings generally. Given the central role which values and morality play in human society overall, this is probably to be expected.


Unfortunately, Nietzsche is a difficult philosopher to read not just because he is challenging things we take for granted, but also because of his style. He uses language in a way most people are unaccustomed to (especially in philosophy!) and he structures his ideas in an aphoristic fashion that makes him very difficult to pin down at times.


Let’s face it: reading philosophy can be difficult enough when the writer is trying to make himself understood; where the author is not primarily concerned with those who might otherwise find it difficult to ‘get’ him, then the task of understanding can be very difficult indeed. This is not to say that Nietzsche aimed at being deliberately obscure, merely that he is writing for a particular sort of well-read, cultured and serious reader – a high standard that few of us can live up to completely.

So if you don't understand Nietzsche, then he wasn't writing for you — but that's a little unfair, because Nietzsche was assuming not simply a "well-read, cultured, and serious" audience, but one that was "well-read and cultured" by the standards of late 19th century Europe. Those standards don't always translate readily across time and cultures, which means that even a fairly "well-read, cultured" audience in a very different place and time can have trouble with him. Maybe this was a set of assumptions which Nietzsche should have challenged himself on...?

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