Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science.  Die fröhliche Wissenschaft.

First published in 1882.

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The Genius of the Species?

The problem of consciousness (or more correctly: of becoming conscious of oneself) meets us only when we begin to perceive in what measure we could dispense with it: and it is at the beginning of this perception that we are now placed by physiology and zoology (which have thus required two centuries to over take the hint thrown out in advance by Leibnitz).  For we could in fact think, feel, will, and recollect, we could likewise "act" in every sense of the term, and nevertheless nothing of it all need necessarily "come into consciousness" (as one says metaphorically).  The whole of life would be possible without its seeing itself as it were in a mirror: as in fact even at present the far greater part of our life still goes on without this mirroring, and even our thinking, feeling, volitional life as well, however painful this statement may sound to an older philosopher.  What then is the purpose of consciousness generally, when it is in the main superfluous?  Now it seems to me, if you will hear my answer and its perhaps extravagant supposition, that the subtlety and strength of consciousness are always in proportion to the capacity for communication of a man (or an animal), the capacity for communication in its turn being in proportion to the necessity for communication: the latter not to be understood as if precisely the individual himself who is master in the art of communicating and making known his necessities would at the same time have to be most dependent upon others for his necessities seems to me however to be so in relation to whole races and successions of generations: where necessity and need have long compelled men to communicate with their fellows and understand each other rapidly and subtly, a surplus of the power and art of communication is at last acquired as if it were a fortune which had gradually accumulated, and now waited for an heir to squander it prodigally (the so called artists are these heirs in like manner the orators, preachers, and authors: all of them men who come at the end of a long succession, "late-born" always, in the best sense of the word, and as has been said, squanderers by their very nature).  Granted that this observation correct, I may proceed further to the conjecture that consciousness generally has only been developed under the pressure of the necessity for communication: that from the first it has been necessary and useful only between man and man (especially between those commanding and those obeying) and has only developed in proportion to its utility.  Consciousness is properly only a connecting net work between man and man - it is only as such that it has had to develop; the recluse and wild beast species of men would not have needed it The very fact that our actions, thoughts, feelings and emotions come within the range of our consciousness at least a part of them - is the result of a terrible, prolonged "must" ruling man s destiny: as the most endangered animal he needed help and protection; he needed his fellows, he was obliged to express his distress, he had to know how to make himself understood and for all this he needed "consciousness" first of all: he had to "know" himself what he lacked, to "know" how he felt, and to " know " what he thought.  For, to repeat it once more, man, like every living creature, thinks unceasingly, but does not know it; the thinking which is becoming conscious of itself is only the smallest part thereof, we may say, the most superficial part, the worst part: for this conscious thinking alone is done in words, that is to say, in the symbols for communication, by means of which the origin of consciousness is revealed.  In short, the development of speech and the development of consciousness (not of reason, but of reason becoming self-conscious) go hand in hand.  Let it be further accepted that it is not only speech that serves as a bridge between man and man, but also the looks, the pressure and the gestures; our becoming conscious of our sense impressions, our power of being able to fix them, and as it were to locate them outside of ourselves, has increased in proportion as the necessity has increased for communicating them to others by means of signs.  The sign-inventing man is at the same time the man who is always more acutely self-conscious; it is only as a social animal that man has learned to become conscious of himself, he is doing so still, and doing so more and more.  My idea is, as you can see, that consciousness does not really belong to the individual existence of man, but rather to the social and gregarious nature in him; that, as follows from this, it is only in relation to communal and gregarious utility that it is finely developed; and that consequently each of us, in spite of the best intention of understanding himself as individually as possible, and of "knowing himself” will always just call into consciousness the non-individual in him, namely, his "averageness"; that our thought itself is continuously as it were outvoted by the character of consciousness by the imperious "genius of the species" therein and is translated back into the perspective of the herd.  Fundamentally our actions are in an incomparable manner altogether personal, unique and absolutely individual there is no doubt about it; but as soon as we translate them into consciousness, they do not appear so any longer.  This is the proper phenomenalism and perspectivism as I understand it: the nature of animal consciousness involves the notion that the world of which we can become conscious is only a superficial and symbolic world, a generalised and vulgarised world; that everything which becomes conscious becomes just thereby shallow, meagre, relatively stupid, a generalisation, a symbol, a characteristic of the herd; that with the evolving of consciousness there is always combined a great, radical perversion, falsification, superficialisation, and generalisation.  Finally, the growing consciousness is a danger, and whoever lives among the most conscious Europeans knows even that it is a disease.  As may be conjectured, it is not the antithesis of subject and object with which I am here concerned: I leave that distinction to the epistemologists who have remained entangled in the toils of grammar (popular metaphysics).  It is still less the antithesis of "thing in itself" and phenomenon, for we do not "know" enough to be entitled even to make such a distinction.  Indeed, we have not any organ at all for knowledge or for "truth": we "know" (or believe, or imagine) just as much as may be of use in the interest of the human herd, the species; and even what is here called "usefulness" is ultimately only a belief, something fanciful and perhaps precisely the most fatal stupidity by which we shall one day perish.  

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