Rhetorical Method and the Affects

In 1888, the year after the Genealogy appeared, Nietzsche composed his supposed autobiography, Ecce Homo. Although in general this work is approached with some degree of caution by many writers on Nietzsche, it is worth risking the thought that the single page of description entitled 'Genealogy of Morals. A Polemic', which purports to be a resume of the intentions informing the rhetoric of the Genealogy's three treatises and an assessment of their achievement, can be taken at face value as a cogent summary analysis. Nietzsche here uses the vocabulary of discovering psychological truths, but equally strongly presents the achievement of the three treatises in artistic and rhetorical terms, pointing out their overall musical shape and mood, their ironic deceptions, and the powerful disorienting emotional effects they are calculated to have upon the unsuspecting reader. Thus:

Regarding expression, intention, and the art ofsurprise, the three inquiries which constitute this Genealogy are perhaps uncannier than anything else written so far. [...]

Every time a beginning that is calculated to mislead: cool, scientific (wissenschaftlich), even ironic, deliberately foreground, deliberately holding off.Gradually more unrest; sporadic lightning; very disagreeable truths are heard grumbling in the distance—until eventually a tempo feroce is attained in which everything rushes ahead in a tremendous tension. In the end, in the midst of perfectly gruesome detonations, a new truth becomes visible every time among thick clouds.

(EH, 'On the Genealogy of Morals')

I suggest that a rhetoric that arouses the affects is an appropriate part of Nietzsche's intended critique of morality because of the central role he assigns to the affects in his view ofhow we came to be attached to morality. His view of the latter is perhaps at its clearest in some passages from Daybreak:

It is clear that moral feelings are transmitted in this way: children observe in adults inclinations for and aversions to certain actions and, as born apes, imitate these inclinations and aversions; in later life they find themselves full of these acquired and well-exercised affects and consider it only decent to try to account for and justify them. [In] [t]his 'accounting', however, [...] all one is doing is complying with the rule that, as a rational being, one has to have reasons for one's For and Against, and that they have to be adducible and acceptable reasons. To this extent the history of moral feelings is quite different from the history of moral concepts. The former are powerful before the action, the latter especially after the action in face of the need to pronounce upon it.

'Only feelings, not thoughts, are inherited,^0 says Nietzsche, and (in The Gay Science), 'You still carry around the valuations of things that originate in the passions and loves of former centuries!' (GS 57).

Other passages from Daybreak complicate the picture in certain ways, notably in that, while judgements originate in feelings, feelings also originate in past judgements:

Feelings and their origination in judgments. — 'Trust your feelings!'—But feelings are nothing final or original; behind feelings there stand judgments and evaluations which we inherit in the form of feelings (inclinations, aversions). The inspiration born of a feeling is the grandchild of a judgment—and often of a false judgment!—and in any event not a child of your own! To trust one's

20 My trans. of nur Gefühle, aber keine Gedanken erben sich fort (D 30).

feelings—means to give more obedience to one's grandfather and grandmother and their grandparents than to the gods which are in us: our reason and our


And finally, feelings and judgements are related in Nietzsche's conception of a future change in values:

I do not deny—unless I am a fool—that many actions called immoral ought to be avoided and resisted, or that many called moral ought to be done and encouraged—but I think the one should be encouraged and the other avoided for other reasons than hitherto. We have to learn to think differently—in order at last, perhaps very late on, to attain even more: to feel differently.

There are a number of relations pertaining between reason and the emotions in these passages. At the most fundamental level we inherit not moral concepts, but moral feelings, or aversions and inclinations, feelings 'for' and feelings 'against', acquired through unthinking cultural imitation. Our current moral concepts are ex post facto rationalizations of our relatively more basic inherited feelings, but our feelings themselves are, as Nietzsche says, 'nothing final or original'—just these positive and negative feelings were around to be inherited because they had fitted former moral judgements, which themselves were the rationalization of the feelings of earlier human beings. Affects enter at two stages in the account. In the Genealogy's First Treatise, Nietzsche talks of a slave morality as the origin of Christian and post-Christian values. We, his readers, are not slaves, but we have inherited an affective allegiance to what counted as good in the conceptual scheme of slave morality. And in turn that conceptual scheme (including the thoughts that it is good not to express strength, good to suppress natural instincts, that all agents ought to feel responsibility and guilt for acting in certain ways, that all are equally capable of acting in the same way, and so on) arose because it resolved certain affects and drives for its inventors: in brief, it enabled them to resolve their feelings ofpowerlessness and resentment into a feeling of superiority over their masters.

We saw that to discover the prehistory of our values we require a stern self-examination in which the questions 'How did it emerge there?' and

21 D 35. Cf. also D 99: 'We still draw the conclusions of judgments we consider false, of teachings in which we no longer believe—our feelings make us do it.'

'What is really impelling me to listen to it?' must be asked of any value judgement we are inclined to make. Now we see that on Nietzsche's view a large amount of inherited affect is packed into our current attitudes. From this we may conclude that the process of self-examination he urges upon us cannot succeed unless it takes on the task of separating out these many affective strands, in order to discover truths about which inclinations and aversions cause me to hold certain beliefs, what cultural institutions and conventions cause me to have those inclinations and aversions, what drives and affects brought about and sustained those cultural institutions, and so on.

In Leiter's naturalist account of Nietzsche central place is given to the explanation of moral beliefs in terms of a fixed set of psychophysical characteristics of the individual, which Leiter refers to as 'type-facts'.22 Leiter suggests the following as a 'typical Nietzschean form of argument': 'a person's theoretical beliefs are best explained in terms of his moral beliefs: and his moral beliefs are best explained in terms of natural facts about the type of person he is'.23 But if the schematic account I have offered here is somewhere near correct, we can suggest a more articulated interpretation of Nietzsche's naturalist position. It is not simply that my value beliefs are explained by my psychophysical constitution: rather that my value beliefs are rationalizations of my inclinations and aversions, that my inclinations and aversions are acquired habits inculcated by means ofthe specific culture I find myself in, that this culture inculcates just these habits because it has a guiding structure of value beliefs, and that this structure of value beliefs became dominant through answering to certain affective needs of individuals in earlier cultural stages. This yields two points that are not brought out in Leiter's account^ (1) the explanatory facts about me, even if located somehow in my psychophysiology, are essentially shaped by culture: I could not have the specific inclinations and aversions (and perhaps even drives) that give rise to my beliefs except by having learned them culturally; (2) the psychophysical element in the explanation of my beliefs cannot be given solely in terms of my psychology and physiology, but must encompass a huge host of affects, drives, and rationalizations located in human beings other than myself.

24 Though he may not wish to deny them, as was implied in an earlier version of this chapter; Janaway (2006: 346—7).

Let us return to the question of Nietzsche's emotive rhetoric and his demand for personal attachment in one's enquiries into morality. Given that he sets himself to arouse the reader's feelings, is there any principled reason internal to Nietzsche's enterprise why he should do so? Does calling the reader into a personal affective engagement have a deeper justification, or is it nothing more than a vivid shock tactic that could be eliminated without real loss to the fundamental enterprise? It seems clear that the revaluation of values Nietzsche ultimately seeks is not just a change in judgements but a revision at the level of affects too. After we have learned not to make judgements using the standard moral vocabulary of 'good', 'evil', 'compassionate', and 'egoistic', we finally may come, says Nietzsche, to feel differently—an even more important attainment, it seems. It is plausible that this therapeutic or educative aim of bringing about revised affective habits has the arousal of affects as a prerequisite: it is likely, in other words, that only a certain training through experiencing feelings will fundamentally alter my dispositions to feel positively or negatively in specific ways. If my understanding of the origins of my moral prejudices is to be genuinely transformative of my attitudes, it must proceed from and work upon my feelings, not consist in my merely holding as true certain hypotheses about myself.But the arousal of affects could be even more deeply embedded than this in Nietzsche's philosophical project. It could be, I want to argue, that the very task of arriving at truths about the origin of my values demands the activation of my own feelings.

Understanding our values properly will, given Nietzsche's picture of their genesis, require understanding the roles of our affects in producing and sustaining them—but the question is whether such understanding is itself conditional upon our feeling the affects Nietzsche is bent upon arousing in us. Let us suppose that revaluation will involve both thinking differently and feeling differently, and that it has among its instrumental conditions both an engagement of the affects and an understanding of truths concerning the history of our values: can the second of these conditions be fulfilled for Nietzsche independently of the first? If not, Nietzsche appears to depart even more strongly from standard scientific and scholarly methods, as he conceives them, and to follow the implicit principle 'Unless one becomes affectively engaged, one cannot attain truths about the causal history of one's moral evaluations'. Does Nietzsche believe something like that? If so, then his typical rhetoric is not extraneous to his central aims, but, in arousing the reader's emotions, functions as an indispensable means towards the task of discovering the affective causal origins of one's moral evaluations.

How happy should we be to attribute such a view to Nietzsche? Suppose someone reads the Genealogy and remains stalwartly unresponsive to the rhetoric. Could we stipulate that he or she could have reached no understanding of any of Nietzsche's hypotheses about the origin of values? Must someone who never felt the slightest twinge of compassion or thrill of hero-worship or shame at their own reactions fail to grasp the explanation offered for the transition from master-values to slave-values? It is not a plausible position. But there is a less extreme view that would take the relevant understanding to be a matter of degree: that the more we allow ourselves to feel, the better we unlock the causal truth about ourselves, or as Nietzsche himself puts it, 'the more affects we allow to speak about a matter [...] that much more complete will our ''concept'' of this matter, our ''objectivity'' be'.25 In support of such a view one can argue that arousing feelings helps our capacity to identify the true subject matter of the self-scrutinizing genealogical investigation. If the target explananda are my own moral values, and my personal affects are an essential rung on the explanatory ladder, then in order to understand the origin of my values I must recognize that these affects are explanatory, and that they have a cultural-psychological prehistory; and in order to recognize this about my affects I must recognize what my affects are, to do which, arguably, I would first have to feel them consciously. The argument would be that unless we feel specific affects we will be unable to identify them as ours, and hence unable to assign them any role in explaining the origin of our own moral evaluations.

A related consideration is as follows: when one is investigating the nature and origin of morality, acknowledgement of the role of one's own affects may be blocked by rationalization. This is especially likely given the conception of impersonal, dispassionate objectivity that dominates philosophical enquiry, but which Nietzsche opposes and diagnoses as an outgrowth from the very evaluative attitudes of selflessness that he is out to expose in Christian and post-Christian morality. As inheritors of the values of selflessness, philosophers 'all act as if they had discovered and arrived at their genuine convictions through the self-development of a cold, pure,

25 GM III. 12. See Ch. 12 below for a full discussion of this passage.

divinely insouciant dialectic' (BGE 5). So from Nietzsche's point of view entering into conventional theorizing about our values already stacks the odds against discovering the huge affective dimension to them. Without Nietzsche's provocations our temptation might be to rest upon our learned attitudes and concepts, listening to the voice within us that tells us that compassion, equality, humility, and so on are 'right', regarding these values by default as unique and canonical, and justifying them by argument that we tell ourselves is rational, impersonal, and detached—nothing to do with the affects. If, as Nietzsche often reminds us, it is easy for the investigator to be complicit in ignoring the explanatory role of his or her own affects, the self-scrutinizing investigation Nietzsche advocates will be likely to succeed better to the extent that I feel and engage with the inherited affects which are at the basis of my attachment to morality.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment