Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science.  Die fröhliche Wissenschaft.

First published in 1882.

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Morality as a Problem.

A defect in personality revenges itself everywhere: an enfeebled, lank, obliterated, self-disavowing and disowning personality is no longer fit for anything good it is least of all at for philosophy.  "Selflessness" has no value either in heaven or on earth; the great problems all demand great love, and it is only the strong, well-rounded, secure spirits, those who have a solid basis, that are qualified for them.  It makes the most material difference whether a thinker stands personally related to his problems, having his fate, his need, and even his highest happiness therein; or merely impersonally, that is to say, if he can only feel and grasp them with the tentacles of cold, prying thought.  In the latter case I warrant that nothing comes of it: for the great problems, granting that they let themselves be grasped at all, do not let themselves be held by toads and weaklings: that has ever been their taste- a taste also which they share with all high-spirited women.  How is it that I have not yet met with any one, not even in books, who seems to have stood to morality in this position, as one who knew morality as a problem, and this problem as his own personal need, affliction, pleasure and passion?  It is obvious that up to the present morality has not been a problem at all; it has rather been the very ground on which people have met after all distrust, dissension and contradiction, the hallowed place of peace, where thinkers could obtain rest even from themselves, could recover breath and revive.  I see no one who has ventured to criticise the estimates of moral worth.  I miss in this connection even the attempts of scientific curiosity, and the fastidious, groping imagination of psychologists and historians, which easily anticipates a problem and catches it on the wing, without rightly knowing what it catches.  With difficulty I have discovered some scanty data for the purpose of furnishing a history of the origin of these feelings and estimates of value (which is something different from a criticism of them and also something different from a history of ethical systems).  In an individual case I have done everything to encourage the inclination and talent for this kind of history in vain, as it would seem to me at present.  There is little to be learned from those historians of morality (especially Englishmen): they themselves are usually, quite unsuspiciously, under the influence of a definite morality, and act unwittingly as its armour bearers and followers perhaps still repeating sincerely the popular superstition of Christian Europe, that the characteristic of moral action consists in abnegation, self-denial, self sacrifice, or in fellow feeling and fellow suffering.  The usual error in their premises is their insistence on a certain consensus among human beings, at least among civilised human beings, with regard to certain propositions of morality, from thence they conclude that these propositions are absolutely binding even upon you and me; or reversely, they come to the conclusion that no morality is binding, after the truth has dawned upon them that among different peoples moral valuations are necessarily different: both of which conclusions are equally childish follies.  The error of the more subtle amongst them is that they discover and criticise the probably foolish opinions of a people about its own morality, or the opinions of mankind about human morality generally (they treat accordingly of its origin, its religious sanctions, the superstition of free will, and such matters), and they think that just by so doing they have criticised the morality itself.  But the worth of a precept, "Thou shalt" is fundamentally different from and independent of such opinions about it, and must be distinguished from the weeds of error with which it has perhaps been overgrown: just as the worth of a medicine to a sick person is altogether independent of the question whether he has a scientific opinion about medicine, or merely thinks about it as an old wife would do.  A morality could even have grown out of an error: but with this knowledge the problem of its worth would not even be touched.  Thus, no one hitherto has tested the value of that most celebrated of all medicines, called morality: for which purpose it is first of all necessary for one to call it in question.  Well, that is just our work.  
 

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