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   50. THE WISH TO AROUSE PITY   Next Section

THE WISH TO AROUSE PITY.  In the most remarkable passage of his auto portrait (first printed in 1658), La Rochefoucauld assuredly hits the nail on the head when he warns all sensible people against pity, when he advises them to leave that to those orders of the people who have need of passion (because it is not ruled by reason), and to reach the point of helping the suffering and acting energetically in an accident; while pity, according to his (and Plato's) judgment, weakens the soul.  Certainly we should exhibit pity, but take good care not to feel it, for the unfortunate are so stupid that to them the exhibition of pity is the greatest good in the world.  One can, perhaps, give a more forcible warning against this feeling of pity if one looks upon that need of the unfortunate not exactly as stupidity and lack of intellect, a kind of mental derangement which misfortune brings with it (and as such, indeed, La Rochefoucauld appears to regard it), but as something quite different and more serious.  Observe children, who cry and scream in order to be pitied, and therefore wait for the moment when they will be noticed; live in intercourse with the sick and mentally oppressed, and ask yourself whether that ready complaining and whimpering, that making a show of misfortune, does not, at bottom, aim at making the spectators miserable; the pity which the spectators then exhibit is in so far a consolation for the weak and suffering in that the latter recognise therein that they possess still one power, in spite of their weakness: the power of giving pain.  The unfortunate derives a sort of pleasure from this feeling of superiority, of which the exhibition of pity makes him conscious; his imagination is exalted, he is still powerful enough to give the world pain.  Thus the thirst for pity is the thirst for self gratification, and that, moreover, at the expense of his fellow men; it shows man in the whole inconsiderateness of his own dear self, but not exactly in his "stupidity” as La Rochefoucauld thinks, In society talk three fourths of all questions asked and of all answers given are intended to cause the interlocutor a little pain; for this reason so many people pine for company; it enables them to feel their power.  There is a powerful charm of life in such countless but very small doses in which malice makes itself felt, just as goodwill, spread in the same way throughout the world, is the ever ready means of healing.  But are there many honest people who will admit that it is pleasing to give pain?  that one not infrequently amuses one's self and amuses one's self very well in causing mortifications to others, at least in thought, and firing off at them the grape shot of petty malice?  Most people are too dishonest, and a few are too good, to know anything of this pudendum; these will always deny that Prosper Merimee is right when he says, "Sachez aussi qu’il n’y a rien de plus commun que de faire le mal pour le plaisir de le faire”?  

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