Friedrich Nietzsche, Human All Too Human (Menschliches, Allzumenschliches), subtitled A Book for Free Spirits (Ein Buch für freie Geister).

First published in 1878.   A second part, Assorted Opinions and Maxims (Vermischte Meinungen und Sprüche), was published in 1879, and a third part, The Wanderer and his Shadow (Der Wanderer und sein Schatten), followed in 1880.

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Previous Section   107. IRRESPONSIBILITY AND INNOCENCE   Next Section

IRRESPONSIBILITY AND INNOCENCE.  The complete irresponsibility of man for his actions and his nature is the bitterest drop which he who understands must swallow if he was accustomed to see the patent of nobility of his humanity in responsibility and duty.  All his valuations, distinctions, disinclinations, are thereby deprived of value and become false, his deepest feeling for the sufferer and the hero was based on an error; he may no longer either praise or blame, for it is absurd to praise and blame nature and necessity.  In the same way as he loves a fine work of art, but does not praise it, because it can do nothing for itself; in the same way as he regards plants, so must he regard his own actions and those of mankind.  He can admire strength, beauty, abundance, in themselves; but must find no merit therein, the chemical progress and the strife of the elements, the torments of the sick person who thirsts after recovery, are all equally as little merits as those struggles of the soul and states of distress in which we are torn hither and thither by different impulses until we finally decide for the strongest as we say (but in reality it is the strongest motive which decides for us).  All these motives, however, whatever fine names we may give them, have all grown out of the same root, in which we believe the evil poisons to be situated; between good and evil actions there is no difference of species, but at most of degree.  Good actions are sublimated evil ones; evil actions are vulgarised and stupefied good ones.  The single longing of the individual for self gratification (together with the fear of losing it) satisfies itself in all circumstances: man may act as he can, that is as he must, be it in deeds of vanity, revenge, pleasure, usefulness, malice, cunning; be it in deeds of sacrifice, of pity, of knowledge.  The degrees of the power of judgment determine whither any one lets himself be drawn through this longing; to every society, to every individual, a scale of possessions is continually present, according to which he determines his actions and judges those of others.  But this standard changes constantly; many actions are called evil and are only stupid, because the degree of intelligence which decided for them was very low.  In a certain sense, even, all actions are still stupid; for the highest degree of human intelligence which can now be attained will assuredly be yet surpassed, and then, in a retrospect, all our actions and judgments will appear as limited and hasty as the actions and judgments of primitive wild peoples now appear limited and hasty to us.  To recognise all this may be deeply painful, but consolation comes after: such pains are the pangs of birth.  The butterfly wants to break through its chrysalis: it rends and tears it, and is then blinded and confused by the unaccustomed light, the kingdom of liberty.  In such people as are capable of such sadness and how few are!  The first experiment made is to see whether mankind can change itself from a moral into a wise mankind.  The sun of a new gospel throws its rays upon the highest point in the soul of each single individual, then the mists gather thicker than ever, and the brightest light and the dreariest shadow lie side by side.  Everything is necessity so says the new knowledge, and this knowledge itself is necessity.  Everything is innocence, and knowledge is the road to insight into this innocence.  Are pleasure, egoism, vanity necessary for the production of the moral phenomena and their highest result, the sense for truth and justice in knowledge; were error and the confusion of the imagination the only means through which mankind could raise itself gradually to this degree of self enlightenment and self-liberation who would dare to undervalue these means?  Who would dare to be sad if he perceived the goal to which those roads led?  Everything in the domain of morality has evolved, is changeable, unstable, everything is dissolved, it is true; but everything is also streaming towards one goal.  Even if the inherited habit of erroneous valuation, love and hatred, continue to reign in us, yet under the influence of growing knowledge it will become weaker; a new habit, that of comprehension, of not loving, not hating, of overlooking, is gradually implanting itself in us upon the same ground, and in thousands of years will perhaps be powerful enough to give humanity the strength to produce wise, innocent (consciously innocent) men, as it now produces unwise, guilt conscious men, that is the necessary preliminary step, not its opposite.  

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