Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak:  Reflections on Moral Prejudice. Morgenröte: Gedanken über die moralischen Vorurteile (also could be translated as The Dawn).

Written and published in 1881.

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Let us seriously consider why we should jump into the water to rescue someone who has just fallen in before our eyes although we may have no particular sympathy for him.  We do it for pity's sake; no one thinks now but of his neighbour—so says thoughtlessness.  Why do we experience grief and uneasiness when we see someone spit blood although we may be really ill disposed towards him and wish him no good?  Out of pity; we have ceased to think of ourselves—so says thoughtlessness again.  The truth is that in our pity— I mean by this what we mistakenly call "pity "— we no longer think consciously of ourselves but quite unconsciously exactly as when slipping we unconsciously make the best counter motions possible in order to recover our balance and in doing so clearly use all our intelligence.  An accident befalling another concerns us; it would bring our impotence or perhaps our cowardice into strong relief if we could do nothing to help him; or in itself it would give rise to a diminution of our honour in the eyes of others and of ourselves.  Or again, accidents that happen to others act as warnings of our own danger and even as indications of human peril and frailty they can produce a painful effect upon us.  We shake off this kind of pain and offence and balance it by an act of pity behind which may be hidden a subtle form of self defence or even revenge.  That at bottom we strongly think of ourselves may easily be seen from the decision that we arrive at in all cases where we can avoid the sight of those who are suffering or starving or crying out.  We make up our minds not to avoid such people; when we can approach them as powerful helpers, when we can safely reckon upon their applause or wish to feel the contrast of our own happiness or again when we hope to get rid of our own boredom.  It is misleading to call the suffering that we experience at such a sight - and which may be of a various kinds - pity.  For in all cases it is a suffering which the suffering person before us does not share: it is our own suffering just as his suffering is his own.  It is thus only this personal feeling of misery that we get rid of by acts of pity.  Nevertheless we never act thus from one single motive: as it is certain that these acts we wish to free ourselves from suffering it is also certain that by the same action we yield to an impulse of pleasure.  Pleasure arises from surveying the contrast to our own condition, in the knowledge that we should be able to help if only we wish to do so, at the thought of the praise and gratitude which we should gain if we did help, at the very act of helping in so far as this might prove successful (and because something which is executed successfully gives pleasure to the doer); but even more particularly at the feeling that our intervention brings to an end some deplorable injustice—even the outburst of one's indignation is invigorating.  All this including things still more subtle comprises "pity".  How clumsily with this one word does language fall foul of such a complex and polyphonous being!  That pity on the other hand is identical with the suffering that causes it or that pity has a particularly subtle and penetrating comprehension of suffering: this is contradicted by experience and he who has glorified pity under these two qualities lacks sufficient experience in the realm of morals.  That is why I am seized with some doubts when reading of the incredible things attributed by Schopenhauer to pity.  It is obvious that he thereby wished to make us believe in the great novelty he brought forward viz.  that pity—the pity which he observed so superficially and described so badly—was the source of all and every past and future moral action—and all this precisely because of those faculties which he had begun by attributing to it.  What is it in the end that distinguishes men without pity from men who are really compassionate?  In particular to give merely an approximate indication they have not the sensitive feeling for fear the subtle faculty for perceiving danger: nor yet is their vanity so easily wounded if something happens which they might have been able to prevent—the caution of their pride commands them not to interfere uselessly with the affairs of others; they even act on the belief that everyone should help himself and play his own cards.  Again in most cases they are more habituated to bearing pain than compassionate men and it does not seem at all unjust to them that others should suffer since they themselves have suffered.  Lastly the state of soft—heartedness is as painful to them as is the state of stoical impassability to compassionate men: they have only disdainful words for sensitive hearts as they think that such a state of feeling is dangerous to their own manliness and calm bravery—they conceal their tears from others and wipe them off angry with themselves.  They belong to a different type of egoists from the compassionate men—but to call them in a distinct sense evil and the compassionate ones good is merely a moral fashion which has had its innings just as the reverse fashion had also its innings and a long innings too.  
 

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