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 Class Forums - Spring 2013
 PHIL 200-002 - Friedrich Nietzsche
 Anti-Darwin
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Tucker Blake
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Posted - Apr 12 2013 :  1:46:01 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche says some things in his section "Anti-Darwin" ("Skirmishes" §14, p. 522 in The Portable Nietzsche) that confused me very much on the first reading. In this section, he says that the weak prevail over the strong; not only do they have more intelligence, but they also have more spirit. When I first read this passage, I was very confused because it seemed that Nietzsche here contradicts many things he had written previously about the differences between the weak and the strong.

After I reread and reread this passage, I came up with an understanding for myself. I thought that perhaps he is saying here that while the weak have spirit and intelligence, they do not actively seek those more of those virtues because they think they have them found, and there is nothing more to learn or add to their spirit. I was thinking that this lack of a goal, this sedentary life of not trying to improve the spirit or intelligent, will lead to the loss of both virtues, instead of holding them still. While the weak think they have intelligence and spirit, they actually lose both, and it is the strong who are able to possess those qualities, only because they are on a constant search for more intelligence and a stronger spirit.

Did anyone else wind up reading this passage along these lines, or can anyone help me clarify my interpretation?

[Lightly edited to enhance readability -TT]

David Berger
Journeyman

77 Posts

Posted - Apr 12 2013 :  2:22:04 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I had a rather different interpretation.

Here Nietzsche helps us out at the end of this passage: "It will be noted that by 'spirit' I mean care, patience, cunning, simulation, great self control, everything that is mimicry"--so called virtue. Nietzsche says nothing about the value of being intelligent or spirited--he simply comments on their apparent presence in the weak.

Think about it like this. A man in a weak position is often in danger, so he must take care. He may not have what he needs, and may have to hide, and thus be patient. He uses tricks to get what he needs, and is thus cunning. He does not have what he wants so he simulates it. He must control himself lest he waste precious energy. He mimics what to him seems great. And the better to do it all with intelligence.

Conversely, consider the man in a position of power. He is carefree, having no fears. He gets what he wants directly, and rather than wait, he will go take it -- no need for patience! He has no need to devise tricks when it is his dominion. He has no need for dreaming up simulations. Self-control -- for what? The revelry of a fabulous feast has no place for self-control! But perhaps most important, greatness is centered on the powerful being -- he sees no image of anything greater than he that he thinks he ought to mimic.

These descriptions seem fitting. Think of how the weak can use his abilities to gain advantage over the strong, though. Think of how the Christian Church came to power over what was a system of kings, replacing "nobility" with "piety." The weak with their careful words, their long waiting, their clever maneuvering, their stenciled mythology, their ascetic will. Somehow these characteristics of the "weak" have helped them thus far to come into a position over the strong.

I can perhaps paint a metaphor of the relationship Nietzsche is describing. Think of a survival of a group of gorillas, in close territory with a group of men. I use this example to illustrate the relevance to Darwin's theory -- survival of the fittest. Surely the apes are incredibly strong; they can climb trees with ease, leap great distances, frighten away tigers, shout with the loudness to intimidate any other creature of the jungle. The most powerful of the apes, the silverback, could have dozens of mates, and a great pile of food. However, we know which group is most likely to prevail over time. The humans have intelligence, and what's more, the qualities of spirit, and these allow the group to concoct all kinds of devious traps, to farm and have food through the harsh times, to harness flame. Yet compared to the mighty ape, they seem so weak. So the example illustrates Nietzsche's point: strength is not necessarily the key factor in the growth of a species. If one does indeed consider humans to be the epitome of evolution, then survival of the fittest, i.e., the strongest, certainly does not seem the viable theory.

Nowadays of course, we have a much more refined theory of natural selection that focuses more on a species' ability to reproduce. I think this is slightly different from the more basic "survival of the fittest," only in the sense of making finer distinctions.

Nietzsche is of course, not an evolution-specialist, and I'm not sure what he means by a species' growing in "perfection."

Does my interpretation provide you with any additional clarity?

[Lightly edited to enhance readability -TT]
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David Berger
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77 Posts

Posted - Apr 12 2013 :  2:25:17 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Perhaps he does consider a growth in strength a growth towards perfection. It seems to make sense. But as we do not place value on weakness or strength, let us not take the extra step of saying perfection is itself good.
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Tom Trelogan
Forum Admin

1420 Posts

Posted - Apr 14 2013 :  10:53:58 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Also, Tucker, take another look, for more on this by Nietzsche himself, at On the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay §6 and Second Essay §16, and at The Antichrist §14. As for whether Nietzsche sees increase in strength as growth toward perfection, I don't think so. That would seem to presuppose that there can be such a thing as an animal that's absolutely strong -- that possesses the greatest possible strength. When Nietzsche speaks of maximums in this sort of context, he always speaks of "the maximum so far."
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