on 12 March 2007
Many start with the better-known "Thus spoke Zarathoustra" but this book is a clearer and more accessible exposition of Nietzsche's mature philosophy. The book is organized under chapter headings dealing with the main areas Nietzsche was concerned with : philosophy and philosophers, religion, art, the genealogy of morals etc. as well as various brilliant aphorisms. Above all, do not believe the bitter reviews of those who were probably looking for a manual of traditional or religious morality - Nietzsche's aim was precisely to attack these and replace them with something better. But beyond his polemical aspect, Nietzsche is an ESSENTIAL philosopher for our self-understanding because he reintroduced the body into the western philosophical tradition, thus reversing the idealistic tradition which started with Plato. Thus he is of the highest importance whether or not one agrees with all of his conclusions. This is the best and clearest introduction to his thought.
on 14 April 1999
"Beyond Good And Evil" was written immediately after Nietzsche's "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" and contains none of its elaborate metaphors and imagery. "Zarathustra" was literature compared to this book. This is mature Nietzsche, the philosopher, at his most witty, most serious, and most perpetually devastating.
All of the classic Nietzsche themes are present here; most notably and consummately the Will To Power. Chapter 4 consists of 122 razor-edged aphorisms, each only one or two sentences in length, which slice through the skin of human ulterior motive and the flesh of psychology, right down to the bones of mankind. Other chapters deal with the prejudices of philosophers, history of morals, people and nations, religion and "free-spirits" with the same healthy scepticism.
Nietzsche never entangles the reader in nets of abstract philosophical systems or lengthy and boring dissertation as most philosophers are compelled to do. "Beyond Good And Evil" is always to the point and the density of the language is far outweighed by the prolific content and profundity of thought. What at first glance may seem to be lead is revealed as pure gold with a scratch to the surface. For the uninitiated reader, all it takes is a little patience, (and perhaps, occasionally, a dictionary!) to unlock the books undeniable value for those "philosophers of the future" to whom "Beyond Good And Evil" is dedicated.
Nietzsche went on to outline his philosophy further in other truly great books, but "Beyond Good And Evil" represents a pinnacle in his work and is the best introduction to his philosophy. Nietzsche challenges his readers; he does not command but bids us to take a look through different eyes, and then to view ourselves, our wise men, and the world. And, above all, enquire.
on 19 February 2013
Like all books by Nietzsche, this one contains brilliant thoughts, brilliantly written down. Here is my favourite fragment, much abbreviated: "Everything profound loves the mask; the profoundest things of all hate even image and parable. Should not nothing less than the opposite be the proper disguise under which the shame of god goes abroad?...Every profound spirit needs a mask: more, around every profound spirit a mask is continually growing, thanks to the constantly false, that is to say shallow interpretation of every word he speaks, every step he takes, every sign of life he gives" (BGE: 40).
But as Kaufmann has warned us, Nietzsche is easy to read but difficult to understand. This self-riddling style goes back to Heraclitus, Nietzsche's most revered pre-Socratic. And Pythia of Delphi was not lacking ambiguity in her pronouncements either.
on 19 May 2016
This is a bit more of what I was expecting from a philosophy novel. Aware of philosophy, broadly speaking, I never investigated it further until just recently, an adverse effect from reading ‘The Red Book’ by C.G Jung. I expected the books themselves to be smaller, more interesting textbooks and this is exactly what ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ was, but with a great deal of energy and wit included throughout it. I had introduced myself to Nietzsche through ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’ but as I bought all three books (the third was ‘Twilight of the Idols and the Anti-Christ’) at once I figured I would read them in linear order. Having not been blown away by Zarathustra, though interested in what Nietzsche was trying to say in it (apparently the subsequent books were elaborations on Zarathustra) I had to persuade myself to read this one, and I was pleased I did.
This book is far more clear in its ideas than Zarathustra was (or maybe I’m just thick and it was slightly beyond me, but anyway…) and the tone of it was almost as if you were hearing someone ranting in a pub, but occasionally making good points that do in fact make you think intently about what’s being said. (Though Nietzsche blamed alcohol almost as much as Christianity for the suppression of the ‘Superman’, so he ever being in a pub to rant after a few pints is highly unlikely). This is the more popular one of his books, as far as I’m aware, as my friends who have read Nietzsche have all read this one and it changed their view of life.
Unfortunately it didn’t change my life... yet, but I can see me getting angry in a few years with the mundanity of work and referring back to it for guidance if things don’t go my way between now and then. It has sowed a seed that makes me question why does it matter in the end? Which is quite a worrying concept when you think about it. Also it’s quite anti-socialist and with its anger directed at Judaism and Christianity for creating a religion and race of slaves, I can see how The Nazi’s took aspects of it to further their cause and persecute the different groups already mentioned, though technically they were Christians, I guess.
This could be deemed as a dangerous book, if you are an angry person filled with prejudice and intolerance it might indeed fuel your desire to do what you want, regardless of who it hurts however, if you’re an open-minded person anyway, it can be a liberation from the mundanity of working to live day in, day out, then feeling ashamed when we do, say or think something ‘bad’ which has been ingrained in our consciences since birth, taught in our childhood, continued through school and then beat in again through work. We are slaves to what we think we should do, rather than slaves to what we want to do. Perhaps Bob Proctor and other lifestyle Gurus over the years have taken some hints here with their paradigm shifts. Though I’m sure Bob Proctor believes firmly in a God and this book questions that belief. To be clear, not so much the belief of a God, as apparently ‘God is Dead and We Killed him’ which suggests there was one, but the translation of Morality through scripture and religious teachings.
Either way this book had more urgency than Zarathustra, was more direct with its questions and answers, or lack there-of and had a fire and passion throughout it that was quite entrancing, yet informative. It has lasted with me and has made me think harder about why we should accept these restrictions upon our very being- and with this mention of being- it has expanded my philosophical outlook to Heidegger and Sartre’s works, which can only be a good thing, right?
An easy four stars, four and a half if I could give it.
on 31 October 2012
This book is so challenging and full of firm, intelligent opinions about the nature of morality, its history and its future. Here, Nietzsche pushes the boundaries of human thought and succeeds in attacking simple-minded dichotomies. His work is freeing and empowering in a way that traditional religious theology just isn't!
Some of his prose is a little hard to read, particularly if you are new to philosophy like me, but I would strongly recommend buying this book and dipping into it when you feel ready to partake of some of this man's considerable wisdom.
Friedrich Nietzsche shouts in a relentless torrent of raging prose and a sometimes obscene vocabulary his anger about the concepts of Christian morality, God, sin, democracy and socialism. For him, all `eternal' values must be inverted or revalued.
Plato, Christianity, democracy, socialism
For Nietzsche, the decline of mankind began with the Greek `dogmatist', Plato, who invented the pure spirit and the good as such.
His ideas were adopted by Christianity, `Platonism for the people'. But, Christian faith constitutes a sacrifice of all freedom, enslavement and self-mutilation. Its morality of pity, humility and utility worsens the human race. By preserving all that is sick, mankind breeds `a mediocre herd animal', `ugly plebeians'.
The democratic movement is the heir of Christianity. Democracy, `the nonsense of the greatest numbers', with its `equality of rights', is a form of political decay and, more importantly, a decay of `man' through the creation of a `dwarf animal'.
The `socialist dolts and flatheads are the scribbling slaves of the democratic taste striving for the universal green-pasture happiness of the herd.'
Nietzsche's evangel (master and slave morality)
The cardinal instinct of man is not self-preservation, but the discharge of strength. The essence of life is will to power. Everything evil, terrible, tyrannical in man, everything that is kin to beasts of prey and serpents serves the enhancement of the species `man'.
Good is the distinction, the determination of rank. Every enhancement of the type `man' has so far been the work of an aristocratic society. The noble soul lives as a leader who feels the compulsion to exploit his strength. Egoism is the nature of the noble soul. Exploitation belongs to the essence of what lives.
The master creates his own morality, his own good and evil. He despises those who adopt a slave morality of pity and utility. He has only `contempt for the unfree, the common people, the humble, the doglike people who allow themselves to be maltreated'.
Besides his unacceptable profound misogyny (`woman's great art is the lie, her highest concern is mere appearance'), Friedrich Nietzsche's brutal evangel is not less than a call for war, not peace. The rabble must be crushed, in order to make place for an enhanced type of man, the superman.
On the other hand, his attacks on the power of the churches and on the ideas of some German philosophers (Kant, Hegel), as well as his call for men to become really independent and free spirits, masters not slaves, remain the bright parts of his virulent diatribes.
This formidable work written by `a fascinating human being of exceptional complexity and integrity' (P. Gay) is a must read for all those interested in Western philosophy.
Nietzsche's political, literary and philosophical influence continues to be immense.
This is probably the best, though not the most famous, book Nietzsche wrote. As a highly readable starting point for the reader new to the author it can hardly be bettered, giving a taste of Nietzsche in both extended and aphoristic modes, written late enough to represent his mature thought, free of the rather artificial and now dated manner that Nietzsche deployed in 'Thus Spake Zarathustra', and offering examples of his thinking on major issues. The reader who is familiar with Camus, Foucault and other representatives of modern Continental thinking may be startled by how many anticipations and premonitions of these thinkers appear in this book.
This edition is a good modern translation (1998) with a useful introduction and notes by the translator.
on 13 April 2012
What I want to draw attention to in my brief review is to this particular edition of Beyond Good and Evil (BGE). R J Hollingdale did the translation work, so top marks there, even though I tend to favour certain more recent translators simply as matter of weight (see my review of On the Genealogy of Morals translation by Douglas Smith).
This edition contains two extra goodies worth a mention. The first is an introduction by Michael Tanner. Tanner and I have form (he said, flattering himself). I reviewed his book on Nietzsche and flung it a mere two stars. That book was about a hundred pages long; this introduction is twenty. It seems that less is more after all.
Tanner not only provides a workable context for a reading of BGE, he uses it as a launch pad to fire off illuminating flashes in the direction of Nietzsche's thought as a whole. Such as?
"Nietzsche regards all of us, insofar as we subscribe to a system of values, as being philosophers." (p.11)
"So, in Nietzsche's view, we inevitably do create values, whether we want to or not...Value is not something that we discover, it is something that we invent...Values are dependent on one kind of fact - the nature of those doing the valuing." (p.20)
Tanner also makes insightful comments on Nietzsche's "much misunderstood" doctrines of persprctivism (p. 19) and particularly the Superman (ps. 17, 21), whose task it is to overcome decadence by turning every event in into an affirmation, carrying "self-sufficiency to a degree which virtually meant total exile from society." He is "self-important in the best sense of that term" and delights in his "sense of being different from others". At last, some meat on the bones of steel!
Of course, Tanner being Tanner has to inject a few choice opines into the mix. Taking on the mantel of an average reader (?) Tanner states that Nietzsche's questioning of truth's value "seems provokingly silly" and that his account of master morality might read as "a repulsive general view of things". However:
"It becomes clear that Nietzsche is trying to formulate the conditions under which we may hope to recover a conception of greatness, above all of that kind of greatness which we associate with creativity, at least before that term was so debased by pop psychologists and educational theorists." (p. 22)
As much as I would love to digress into a defence of creativity techniques, I will instead point to the only real issue I have with Tanner's Nietzsche, one that he seems to share with the rest of the Nietzsche scholars. He quotes BGE: 209 where Nietzsche mentions Napoleon and Goethe as historical exemplars of master morality and enemies of the "legalization of life". Then, forgetting Napoleon, Tanner asserts that for Nietzsche art was the "the peak human activity", the field of greatest risk and importance, "the realm in which man can celebrate existence most completely" (25).
Really? So why does Nietzsche refer to Julius Creaser as often as Leonardo Di Vinci (BGE: 200)? How can he dare mention Cesare Borgia at all (BGE: 197)? Or why does he, in the same chapter, decry "feminine" traits (BGE: 202) along with "socialists dolts and blockheads" (BGE: 203). Why does he equate the aristocratic spirit with the military spirit (BGE: 239)? Are we to take his book-long polemic against pity sentimentality (e.g. BGE: 293), and for cruelty and wildness as anything other than seriously meant?
Speaking of Cesare Borgia, I also need to mention the excellent commentary at the back of this Penguin edition. Some of the comments are fairly basic in terms of philosophical definitions and explanations. However, what impressed me is that in several places, where Nietzsche mentioned something requiring reference in the text, the commentary as gathered together other references to the same subject in his other works. For instance, we have Nietzsche's main comments on Epicurus (p. 226), anti-teleology (p. 277), the French Revolution (p. 288), cruelty and 'de capo' (p. 229), Jewry and Borgia (p.231), Napoleon and fear (p. 232), Homer (p. 233), Wagner (p. 234), Jesus (p. 236), and laughter (p. 237).
May I conclude by suggesting you read Nietzsche's comments in 56 and 58 (plus maxim 94) where he equates life-affirmation with the concepts of play and game? Relevance to review? Not much really. Only this. Don't they apply to all areas of life, not just art? And not excluding war?
Counter-cultural, yes. But 'evil' for that?
Or should that be 'bad'?
PS BGE should be the second work of Nietzsche's a noob should tackle after GOM IMHO.
on 21 January 2014
This is philosophy from an era when Napoleon Bonapart could be considered the example of the perfect man - because he had the free will to rise above petty societal norms and forge his own view of the world. History has judged differently. Nietzsche is an entertaining writer, if difficult to follow, but slightly unhinged and a bigot to boot.
I've given this book 4/10 or 2 stars but I could just as easily have given it 10/10 and 5 stars. I don't say Nietzsche is a genius but he is an extremely interesting writer, both for his intellectual insights and the very high quality of his prose. On the other hand this is a densely written work that requires a high level of concentration - not because of the difficulty of the message but because Nietzsche is a compulsive rambler who makes Proust look succinct. Moreover it is necessary to be familiar with the history and period in which he is writing to understand many of the references since he constantly invokes his contemporaries - either to criticise or applaud them - as well as figures from recent European history, notably Goethe and Napoleon. In fact, it's almost unreadable without significant background and I would strongly recommend instead a modern Nietzsche primer before reading this volume. Even if you do decide to take him on in the original form then this is not the book to start with, since Thus Spoke Zarathstra is considered the key work in the Nietzsche canon and was written three years before, so you will be reading in the wrong order.
His philosophy today looks a little bit old fashioned and parts of it could be construed as dangerous at worst and offensive at best.
He starts by rejecting the idea that philosophy is about truth and says instead that philosophy is about how we react to facts. In other words we all have our own philosophy coloured by our nature and background. Since many people have similar backgrounds - they are German or Christian for example, lots of people have similar philosophies and outlooks and these norms have come to be seen as truths. Nietzsche suggests that it would be theoretically possible to have a Superman who rises above these conditioned norms to reinterpret facts as the Superman sees best. The Superman's behaviour would not be bound by societal norms of good and bad and he would act according to his own interpretation of the world, to be judged by history.
Thus in one breath (well 223 pages) he permits Nelson Mandela, Florence Nightingale and Mahatma Ghandi but he also allows for Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler, and Ghengis Khan. In fact he allows us all to behave as we like according to our own morality - Napoleon, who completely rode roughshod over Europe, is his perfect man.
Actually this seems pretty much the conclusion that much of modern society has arrived at - where we hear as much talk about `My Rights and Entitlements' as about `My Responsibilities'.
Along the way Nietzsche takes a swipe at Christians - whom he derides, women - who have no place in philosophical thought - and Jews - where there's a distinct (but cleverly worded so you can't quite catch him red handed) whiff of anti semitism.
For all that, he's not boring and quite a lot of what he says made me laugh or engaged my brain box in a new way. If I was a script writer I would be plundering this book for off beat dialogue.
It's a fantastic translation by R J Hollingdale but the introduction by Michael Tanner is too uncritical and too academic for the casual reader.
on 30 January 2008
Our college accidentally bought the Penguin version of BGE, and as a student of languages I can tell you that the translation quality is very poor. Some passages seem to lose their meaning entirely for lack of a feeling for the overall text on the part of the translator. Eventually I gave up on the Penguin copy and went for the Cambridge one - the difference was immense. I would definitely recommend the Cambridge copy.
In terms of the text itself, BGE is one of the most important books ever written, and one of the most fun.