Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Nietzsche on the Neighbour; Hume on Sympathy

It seems to me that Nietzsche’s comments on the neighbour could be taken as comments on Hume’s view of sympathy in moral philosophy. I have placed a shortened version of aphorism 146 from Dawn at the bottom of this post, which I think is paticularly pertinent.

This is not a question of Hume directly influencing Nietzsche, or of Nietzsche consciously reflecting on Hume. As far as I know, Nietzsche did not read Hume and he certainly not discuss his texts. However, he was concerned with ‘English psychologists’ (On the Genealogy of Morality, Essay I, mentioned explicitly in 1 and discussed from 1 to 3) and had an idea of Hume’s ideas from their influence on German Idealist philosophy, Schopenhauer’s references, and the work of his friend Paul Rée. He refers to Rée’s book 0f 1877 in The Origin of the Moral Sensations in the Genealogy (Preface, 4).

The point is that I am arguing that there is something to be gained from thinking about some passages in Nietzsche’s as if they were polemical comments on Hume. Discussion of the ‘Neighbour’ are particularly relevant here. Nietzsche takes a critical view of the relation of ‘neighbour’ and implications he finds in it of dependence and herd existence. In particular, in this passage from Dawn, he questions the value of concerning ourselves with the suffering of the neighbour. Our automatic reaction to the pain and pleasures of others, is the most important component of moral sense for Hume (rather complicated by his scepticism and sense of social evolution), and is what he refers to as sympathy. Sympathy comes from seeing ourselves in others, and is increased by closeness in space and similarity of qualities to ourself. This is in line with what Nietzsche says about the Neighbour, who is clearly part of a general relation not just defined by living next door. This context for the ‘Neighbour’ is justified by ephorisms 143-5. 132 mentions sympathy in relation to Mill and Schopenhauer,

Nietzsche rejects sympathy for the suffering of the Neighbour in the strongest terms, welcoming the sacrifice of a few neighbours to the future, in what is is his most apparently sinister tone. However, what he also says is that we should sacrifice the Neighbour in so far as we are willing to sacrifice ourselves. This indicate that Nietzsche is probably not referring to the culling of a few people to serve the future, there is no way in which he suggests suicide in the service of the future. There are various ways in which he suggests that a willingness to take risks, and encounter danger, are valuable for the self.

What Nietzsche suggests is that we benefit the Neighbour by placing such a person under the same values of risk and danger, struggle and over-coming, as we place ourselves. In one way that is a return to ‘sympathy’, to the value a concern for commonness of concern. However, it is also a rejection of Humean sympathy, because it avoids reduction and dependency in our own sense of self. Nietzsche proposes the value of demanding sacrifice and self-overcoming, from ourselves, in the creation and promotion of a sense of individuality. Aphorism 175 takes an unfavourable line on how commerce creates a sense of the wishes of the consumer, limiting the sense of self; and Nietzsche compares the competition of commercial society unfavourably with the contests of Ancient Greece. 146 (including sentences I’ve replaced with ellipses). refers unfavourably to a morality of consequences and utility. All these remarks could be taken against Hume.

Dawn 146

Out beyond our neighbour too.— […] May we not at least treat our neighbours as we treat ourselves? And if with regard to ourselves we take no such narrow and petty bourgeois thought for the immediate consequences and the suffering they may cause, why do we have to take such thought in regard to our neighbour? Supposing we acted in the sense of self-sacrifice, what would forbid us to sacrifice our neighbour as well? […] Finally: we at the same time communicate to our neighbour the point of view from which he can feel himself to be a sacrifice, we persuade him to the task for which we employ him. Are we then without pity? But if we also want to transcend our own pity and thus achieve victory over ourselves, is this not a higher and freer viewpoint and posture than that in which one feels secure when one has discovered whether an action benefits or harms our neighbour? We, on the other hand, would through sacrifice — in which we and our neighbour are both included —strengthen and raise higher the general feeling of human power, even though we might not attain to more.

Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Original version of this post at Barry Stocker's Weblog.

No comments: