8. Pneumatic explanation of nature

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

Synopsis and my take on it:

Pneumatic 1 explanation of nature. “Metaphysics” 2 In this case Nietzsche means, in my opinion, the study of the relation between mind and matter explains the writing of Nature” (The natural science) Mystically “as the Church and her learned men formerly did with the Bible.” It requires the skill of a philologists 3 to understand the true meaning of a text. But bad interpretation “with regard to books” is not overcome and “one still constantly comes across in developed societies the remains of allegorical 4 and mystic interpretationAnd in the study of nature there is even worse interpretation and mystical thinking

In one sentence:

Nature mistakenly seen by former bible scholars

1 Pneumatology is the study of spiritual beings and phenomena, especially the spiritual aspect of human beings and the interactions between humans and God. (Wikipedia)

2 Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: It is not easy to say what metaphysics is. Ancient and Medieval philosophers might have said that metaphysics was, like chemistry or astrology, to be defined by its subject-matter: metaphysics was the “science” that studied “being as such” or “the first causes of things” or “things that do not change”. It is no longer possible to define metaphysics that way, for two reasons. (Read more)

3 Philology is the study of language in oral and written historical sources; it is a combination of literary criticism, history, and linguistics. It is more commonly defined as the study of literary texts as well as oral and written records, the establishment of their authenticity and their original form, and the determination of their meaning. A person who pursues this kind of study is known as a philologist. (Wikipedia)

4 As a literary device, an allegory is a metaphor whose vehicle may be a character, place or event, representing real-world issues and occurrences. Allegory (in the sense of the practice and use of allegorical devices and works) has occurred widely throughout history in all forms of art, largely because it can readily illustrate or convey complex ideas and concepts in ways that are comprehensible or striking to its viewers, readers, or listeners. (Wikipedia)

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

  1. PNEUMATIC EXPLANATION OF NATURE.—Metaphysics explains the writing of Nature, so to speak, pneumatically, as the Church and her learned men formerly did with the Bible. A great deal of understanding is required to apply to Nature the same method of strict interpretation as the philologists have now established for all books with the intention of clearly understanding what the text means, but not suspecting a double sense or even taking it for granted. Just, however, as with regard to books, the bad art of interpretation is by no means overcome, and in the most cultivated society one still constantly comes across the remains of allegorical and mystic interpretation, so it is also with regard to Nature, indeed it is even much worse.

Menschliches allzumenschlich 1878/80

  1. Pneumatische Erklärung der Natur. – Die Metaphysik erklärt die Schrift der Natur gleichsam pneumatisch, wie die Kirche und ihre Gelehrten es ehemals mit der Bibel thaten. Es gehört sehr viel Verstand dazu, um auf die Natur die selbe Art der strengeren Erklärungskunst anzuwenden, wie jetzt die -Philologen sie für alle Bücher geschaffen haben: mit der Absicht, schlicht zu verstehen, was die Schrift sagen will, aber nicht einen doppelten Sinn zu wittern, ja vorauszusetzen. Wie aber selbst in Betreff der Bücher die schlechte Erklärungskunst keineswegs völlig überwunden ist und man in der besten gebildeten Gesellschaft noch fortwährend auf Ueberreste allegorischer und mystischer Ausdeutung stösst: so steht es auch in Betreff der Natur – ja noch viel schlimmer


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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