6. The scientific spirit partially but not wholly powerful

You can read the aphorism  I discuss here below the main article.

Synopsis and my take on it:

“The smallest subdivisions of science” are treated objectively but science “as a whole” is not.1  Science as an entity is treated more personally, People take questions about science more personal than question about specific aspects of science like the functioning of a telescope, we can find use in that, compared to the conclusion taken from its observations, what can we do with that kind of knowledge?   In philosophy, “as the apex of the entire pyramid of science” there is the involuntarily questioning of the usefulness of knowledge and as an unconscious intention of the philosophy they give it (knowledge) the highest usefulness. Knowledge is questioned because that’s what philosophers do, but to do this they need knowledge. Nietzsche sees this unconscious reaction to give knowledge the highest usefulness as a reason for the dominance of metaphysics (thoughts2) over physics in philosophy. Because the questioning of knowledge is a thought process, philosophers see little value in solving real world problems.   Philosophy “desires, what art does, to give the greatest possible depth and meaning to life” and science seeks knowledge. “So far there has been no philosopher in whose hands philosophy has not grown into an” defense for knowledge. Both science and philosophy value knowledge because logic dictates it. “They are all tyrannized over by logic, and this is optimism—in its essence.” And Nietzsche throws in at the end the concept of logic and optimism that are both hard to place in the rest of this aphorismand logic is by its nature optimism” (Hollingdale) Maybe it’s logical to search for knowledge and by doing so you assume you find an answer, hence the optimism.

In one sentence:

Philosophers think knowledge, scientist see knowledge.

1The translation by Zimmern translate “…werden rein sachlich behandelt” with “…are dealt with purely in relation to themselves” while the Dutch translation, Hollingdale and I translate it more like “are treated purely objectively”. It might not be of much significance, but it got my attention.

2 …The modern view assumes that the objects studied by metaphysics exist inside the mind of an observer, so the subject becomes a form of introspection and conceptual analysis. … (Wikipedia)

Human, all too human a book for free spirits Part I, translated by Helen Zimmern 1909

  1. THE SCIENTIFIC SPIRIT PARTIALLY BUT NOT WHOLLY POWERFUL.—The smallest subdivisions of science taken separately are dealt with purely in relation to themselves,—the general, great sciences, on the contrary, regarded as a whole, call up the question—certainly a very non-objective one—”Wherefore? To what end?” It is this utilitarian consideration which causes them to be dealt with less impersonally when taken as a whole than when considered in their various parts. In philosophy, above all, as the apex of the entire pyramid of science, the question as to the utility of knowledge is involuntarily brought forward, and every philosophy has the unconscious intention of ascribing to it the greatest usefulness. For this reason there is so much high-flying metaphysics in all philosophies and such a shyness of the apparently unimportant solutions of physics ; for the importance of knowledge for life must appear as great as possible. Here is the antagonism between the separate provinces of science and philosophy. The latter desires, what art does, to give the greatest possible depth and meaning to life and actions ; in the former one seeks knowledge and nothing further, whatever may emerge thereby. So far there has been no philosopher in whose hands philosophy has not grown into an apology for knowledge ; on this point, at least, every one is an optimist, that the greatest usefulness must be ascribed to knowledge. They are all tyrannised over by logic, and this is optimism—in its essence.

Menschliches allzumenschlich 1878/80

  1. Der Geist der Wissenschaft im Theil, nicht im Ganzen mächtig. – Die abgetrennten kleinsten Gebiete der Wissenschaft werden rein sachlich behandelt: die allgemeinen grossen Wissenschaften dagegen legen, als Ganzes betrachtet, die Frage – eine recht unsachliche Frage freilich – auf die Lippen: wozu? zu welchem Nutzen? Wegen dieser Rücksicht auf den Nutzen werden sie, als Ganzes, weniger unpersönlich, als in ihren Theilen behandelt. Bei der Philosophie nun gar, als bei der Spitze der gesammten Wissenspyramide, wird unwillkürlich die Frage nach dem Nutzen der Erkenntniss überhaupt aufgeworfen, und jede Philosophie hat unbewusst die Absicht, ihr den höchsten Nutzen zuzuschreiben. Desshalb giebt es in allen Philosophien so viel hochfliegende Metaphysik und eine solche Scheu vor den unbedeutend erscheinenden Lösungen der Physik; denn die Bedeutsamkeit der Erkenntniss für das Leben soll so gross als möglich erscheinen. Hier ist der Antagonismus zwischen den wissenschaftlichen Einzelgebieten und der Philosophie. Letztere will, was die Kunst will, dem Leben und Handeln möglichste Tiefe und Bedeutung geben; in ersteren sucht man Erkenntniss und Nichts weiter, – was dabei auch herauskomme. Es hat bis jetzt noch keinen Philosophen gegeben, unter dessen Händen die Philosophie nicht zu einer Apologie der Erkenntniss geworden wäre; in diesem Puncte wenigstens ist ein jeder Optimist, dass dieser die höchste Nützlichkeit zugesprochen werden müsse. Sie alle werden von der Logik tyrannisirt: und diese ist ihrem Wesen nach Optimismus.


I will read a Dutch translation that is based on the work of researchers Colli and Montinari. I also use a translation from R.J.Hollingdale and the Gary Handwerk translation from the Colli-Montinari edition. Both are more modern than the copyright free translation I use here. This is a translation from 1909 by Helen Zimmern, who knew Nietzsche personally, but there was no critical study of Nietzsche’s work done back then and this translation suffers from that. The same goes for the translation from Alexander Harvey. My German is not good enough to pretend that I can translate it better than the professionals do but I will use the original as a referee.

  1. Menselijk al te menselijk een boek voor vrije geesten, translated by Thomas Graftdijk, 2000. Buy it here
  2. Human, all too human a book for free spirits, translated by R.J.Hollingdale, 1986
  3. Human, all too human a book for free spirits I V3, translated by Gary handwerk 1997
  4. Human, all too human a book for free spirits Part I, translated by Helen Zimmern 1909. Read it  here
  5. Human, all too human a book for free spirits, translated by Alexander Harvey, 1908. Read it here
  6. Menschliches allzu menschlich 1878/80. Read it here


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