Beyond Good and Evil | Study Guide

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

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Beyond Good and Evil | Part 6 : We Scholars | Summary



In Part 6 Nietzsche turns his laser-like intellect on scholars, whom he equates with those who practice science, but it is important for a modern reader to understand, according to translator Walter Kaufmann, that the German term wissenschaft also has the meaning of scholarship and does not primarily refer to the natural sciences as understood in current English usage. Thus, Nietzsche's scholars are more akin to academics and critics who have the temerity to attempt "to lay down laws for philosophy." Nietzsche allows that some of recent scholars' disgust with philosophy is because of recent bad philosophy, and he again faults Schopenhauer for "wrenching the whole last generation of Germans out of the context of German culture" and opening "the gates to the instinct of the rabble." Philosophy that has been reduced to "theory of knowledge" is no philosophy at all, in Nietzsche's view.

Unlike the scholar, a true philosopher lives "'unphilosophically' and 'unwisely,' above all imprudently." While genius "begets or gives birth," a scholar is like an old maid—remaining respectable but barren. The "scientific man" (scholar or critic) is not "noble"—neither dominant and authoritative, nor self-sufficient. He works hard and is patient, accepting his place in life. He honors the needs of his peers for recognition and a good name, which offsets the "mistrust which is the sediment in the hearts of all dependent men and herd animals." Scholars are also envious, however, of their betters, which is why they "instinctively [work] at the annihilation of the uncommon man."

Nietzsche writes that the objective person ("the ideal scholar") is an instrument, not an end in themselves. Such people are mirrors that reflect "whatever wants to be known." They are passageways who remember themselves "only with an effort and often mistakenly." Nietzsche claims that scholars avoid taking a definitive stand on a subject, proving themselves "inauthentic, fragile, questionable, and worm-eaten." The scholar is a "sublime type of slave," but a slave nevertheless. When a philosopher disavows skepticism, they are criticized because skepticism is the "soporific and sedative" of scholars and their ilk. The skeptic is "a delicate creature ... frightened all too easily; his conscience is trained to quiver at every No, indeed even at a Yes that is decisive and hard." The skeptic is afraid to claim knowledge or to take a stand, an indication of "paralysis of the will." According to Nietzsche, the philosophers of the future will not be skeptics, in this weak-willed sense. Rather, they will be able to say No and take things apart, know how to "handle a knife," and say that "critics are the instruments of the philosopher."

In Section 211 Nietzsche insists emphatically that people should stop confusing philosophers with philosophical laborers (i.e., scientifically minded scholars and critics as well as philosophers that Nietzsche does not respect as the genuine article). At one time a philosopher may have been a scholar—as was the case for Nietzsche. But his work in that realm was merely a "precondition" for his task as a philosopher—wholly different—which is the creation of values. Philosophical laborers create formulas within a discipline, which "are for a time called 'truths.'" According to Nietzsche, their job is to synthesize previous knowledge and make it intelligible and in so doing "to overcome the entire past."

Nietzsche says that "genuine philosophers, however, are commanders and legislators." They use the work of the philosophical laborers to look toward the future: "Their 'knowing' is creating, their creating is a legislation, their will to truth is—will to power." Such a philosopher will always find themselves in contradiction with the thinking of their own time period, Nietzsche says in Section 212. In their own time, they are "disagreeable fools and dangerous question marks"; their task is to be the "bad conscience" of their era. They expose the hypocrisy of contemporary morality and reveal "a new greatness of man." Philosophers are "compelled to find the greatness of man ... precisely in his range and multiplicity, in his wholeness in manifoldness." They measure a person according to how much they can take on themselves, how far they can "extend ... [their] responsibility." For Nietzsche, the philosopher holds an ideal of "strength of the will" and the ability of the "higher man" to stand alone against the herd. Such a human being is "beyond good and evil, the master of his virtues, he that is overrich in will."


In Part 6 Nietzsche discourses on the differences between philosophers and scholars and faults the latter for attempting to reduce philosophy to a mere theory of knowledge (epistemology). He scolds these philosophical laborers for trying to tell philosophers how to do their business and once again blames Arthur Schopenhauer, this time for people's losing faith in philosophy. In Nietzsche's view Schopenhauer further imbued philosophy with nihilistic, life-denying values akin to Buddhism when it was already suffering from the nihilistic influences of Christianity.

Nietzsche points out several differences between scholars and "philosophical laborers" and philosophers. First, the scholars are part of the herd and practice slave morality, even if they are a "sublime type of slave." By this he means that they ascribe to slave/Christian values such as patience, hard work, and respect for authority. Nonetheless, they are also hypocritical practitioners of ressentiment (suppressed hatred and envy), which is why they would like to smash the "uncommon man." These scholars are skeptics in the worse sense of the term, being too cowardly to take a stand on anything. When pushed to the wall, they hypocritically quote Socrates: "I know that I know nothing." For Nietzsche, they are unoriginal, and the best of them (and here Nietzsche mentions "real" philosophers like Kant and Hegel)—philosophical laborers—simply "overcome" the past (i.e., exercise some degree of will to power) by organizing and synthesizing ideas. On the other hand, the real philosophers create new ways of thinking and being in the world—these are "commanders" and "legislators." The translator Walter Kaufmann notes that Nietzsche's appraisal of these so-called philosophical laborers (like Kant and Hegel), as compared to the philosophers (like Nietzsche and the people he imagines following him), is "highly questionable," defending Nietzsche's colleagues in the philosophical canon.

Nietzsche's use of the word wissenschaft, which can be translated as either science or scholarship (as explained by Kaufmann) is important to take into consideration when reading this part on scholars. Nietzsche rails against the scholars who belong to the herd, in the service of raising up the new philosopher—whom he equates with the higher man or "overman"—a term he has used in other works. That is his primary purpose here. But he anticipates the future, to some degree, in his objection that non-scientific thinkers ought not to appropriate the language of science to justify their positions. For example, current practitioners of the social sciences—particularly psychology—attempt to equate their disciplines with the hard sciences. But theories in the social sciences are mostly unprovable, while scientific theories are continually proved, revised, and changed as new evidence comes to light. Moreover, science actually produces a tangible product—technology. Nietzsche believed religion was losing its authority and that science would become the new "religion." Not surprisingly, the scholars he describes are trying to move philosophy toward the scientific paradigm.

But Nietzsche has full faith in philosophy and wants to rehabilitate it and wrest it away from religious ideas—which it has imbibed since the advent of Christianity. He believes new philosophers, no longer married to the old paradigms, have the ability to put humanity on a new track and bring to birth the "higher man." These genuine philosophers will create new values, as opposed to the scholars who can only rework what has already been said. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Nietzsche's ideas about these new values are much less clear than his critique of the old values. However, critics may be looking at Nietzsche through the wrong lens. According to Robert Wicks, the author of the Stanford Encyclopedia's entry on Nietzsche, his unsystematic philosophy makes it hard to discern a programmatic approach to values. He does make some specific claims, even if he himself was less concerned with creating "'positive ethics' to accommodate certain 'moral intuitions.'"

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