16. Phenomenon and thing-in-itself

Reading Friedrich Nietzsche’s Human all too human

Read the introduction here

You can read the aphorism I discuss here in English an German below the main article.

Synopsis, quote from the translation by Helen Zimmern and my take on it

Philosophers see life and experiences as a picture that never changes. This picture must be correctly interpreted in order to come to a conclusion about the being that produced the picture or about the thing-in-itself1 what is regarded as sufficient ground for the world that appears to us. Philosophers see life as not changing Opposite to this, more logical minded people, after they described the metaphysical or unseen world as without a cause, have concluded that there was no connection between unseen world and the world which is known to us. Scientist see no connection between unseen and seen world So that the thing-in-itself should most certainly not appear in the phenomenon, (existing thing) and every conclusion from the former as regards the latter is to be rejected. Both sides forget that this painting of our life and experiences is still growing and cannot be used to look for a conclusion for the cause of it or deny one. (the sufficing cause)2 Our life and experiences are growing and cannot be used to predicts its cause. For ages we looked into the worlds pretentions, with blind inclination, passion, or fear, and illogical thoughts that this world has gradually become so terrible, full of meaning and of soul, it has acquired color—but we were the colorists. Our subjective eyes colored the world It is the intellect that has made this picture of life and experiences appear and put its mistaken fundamental conceptions into things. Later the philosophers started to see that the world we experience and the thing-in-itself are completely different and stopped drawing conclusions from our experiences out of the thing-in-itself, the philosophers will finely see that you cannot draw experience out of the thing-in-itself And in the worst case they will demand that we reject our personal will, so we can reach that what is real, that one may become real. Don’t know what F.N. meant with this Others have collected all the characteristic features of our world of appearance that is, the idea of the world spun out of intellectual errors and inherited by us, instead of blaming the intellect, they blamed the world-in-itself as the cause of the fact of this very sinister character of the world. Others blamed the world-in-itself and not the interpreter.  With all these opinions, the thorough process of science, that one day will celebrate its place in a history of thought, will deal with maybe as follows: That which we now call the world is the result of a mass of errors and fantasies which arose gradually in the general development of organic being, which are inter-grown with each other, and are now inherited by us as the accumulated treasure of all the past and it is a treasure, for the value of our humanity depends upon it. From this world of representation strict science is really only able to liberate us to a very slight extent—as it is also not at all desirable—inasmuch as it cannot essentially break the power of primitive habits of feeling; but it can gradually clarify the history of the rise of that world as representation,—and lift us, at least for moments, above and beyond the whole process. Perhaps we shall then recognize that the thing in itself is worth a Homeric laugh; that it seemed so much, indeed everything, and is really empty, namely, empty of meaning.”

Maybe it was not my day but I had a hard time with this aphorism, as if the different parts not really fitted with each other.

In one sentence:

Science will overcome the mistakes made by interpreting  life and experiences.

1 Objects as they are independent of observation (Read more)

2The Principle of Sufficient Reason is a powerful and controversial philosophical principle stipulating that everything must have a reason, cause, or ground. (Read more)


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

  1. PHENOMENON AND THING-IN-ITSELF.—Philosophers are in the habit of setting themselves before life and experience—before that which they call the world of appearance—as before a picture that is once for all unrolled and exhibits unchangeably fixed the same process,—this process, they think, must be rightly interpreted in order to come to a conclusion about the being that produced the picture : about the thing-in-itself, therefore, which is always accustomed to be regarded as sufficient ground for the world of phenomenon. On the other hand, since one always makes the idea of the metaphysical stand definitely as that of the unconditioned, consequently also unconditioning, one must directly disown all connection between the unconditioned (the metaphysical world) and the world which is known to us ; so that the thing-in-itself should most certainly not appear in the phenomenon, and every conclusion from the former as regards the latter is to be rejected. Both sides overlook the fact that that picture—that which we now call human life and experience—has gradually evolved,—nay, is still in the full process of evolving,—and therefore should not be regarded as a fixed magnitude from which a conclusion about its originator might be deduced (the sufficing cause) or even merely neglected. It is because for thousands of years we have looked into the world with moral, æsthetic, and religious pretensions, with blind inclination, passion, or fear, and have surfeited ourselves in the vices of illogical thought, that this world has gradually become so marvellously motley, terrible, full of meaning and of soul, it has acquired colour—but we were the colourists; the human intellect, on the basis of human needs, of human emotions, has caused this ” phenomenon ” to appear and has carried its erroneous fundamental conceptions into things. Late, very late, it takes to thinking, and now the world of experience and the thing-in-itself seem to it so extraordinarily different and separated, that it gives up drawing conclusions from the former to the latter—or in a terribly mysterious manner demands the renunciation of our intellect, of our personal will, in order thereby to reach the essential, that one may become essential. Again, others have collected all the characteristic features of our world of phenomenon,—that is, the idea of the world spun out of intellectual errors and inherited by us,—and instead of accusing the intellect as the offenders, they have laid the blame on the nature of things as being the cause of the hard fact of this very sinister character of the world, and have preached the deliverance from Being. With all these conceptions the constant and laborious process of science (which at last celebrates its greatest triumph in a history of the origin of thought) becomes completed in various ways, the result of which might perhaps run as follows :—”That which we now call the world is the result of a mass of errors and fantasies which arose gradually in the general development of organic being, which are inter-grown with each other, and are now inherited by us as the accumulated treasure of all the past —as a treasure, for the value of our humanity depends upon it. From this world of representation strict science is really only able to liberate us to a very slight extent—as it is also not at all desirable—inasmuch as it cannot essentially break the power of primitive habits of feeling ; but it can gradually elucidate the history of the rise of that world as representation,—and lift us, at least for moments, above and beyond the whole process. Perhaps we shall then recognise that the thing in itself is worth a Homeric laugh ; that it seemed so much, indeed everything, and is really empty, namely, empty of meaning.”

Menschliches allzu menschlich 1878/80

  1. Erscheinung und Ding an sich. – Die Philosophen pflegen sich vor das Leben und die Erfahrung – vor Das, was sie die Welt der Erscheinung nennen – wie vor ein Gemälde hinzustellen, das ein für alle Mal entrollt ist und unveränderlich fest den selben Vorgang zeigt: diesen Vorgang, meinen sie, müsse man richtig ausdeuten, um damit einen Schluss auf das Wesen zu machen, welches das Gemälde hervorgebracht habe: also auf das Ding an sich, das immer als der zureichende Grund der Welt der Erscheinung angesehen zu werden pflegt. Dagegen haben strengere Logiker, nachdem sie den Begriff des Metaphysischen scharf als den des Unbedingten, folglich auch Unbedingenden festgestellt hatten, jeden Zusammenhang zwischen dem Unbedingten (der metaphysischen Welt) und der uns bekannten Welt in Abrede gestellt: so dass in der Erscheinung eben durchaus nicht das Ding an sich erscheine, und von jener auf dieses jeder Schluss abzulehnen sei. Von beiden Seiten ist aber die Möglichkeit übersehen, dass jenes Gemälde – Das, was jetzt uns Menschen Leben und Erfahrung heisst – allmählich geworden ist, ja noch völlig im Werden ist und desshalb nicht als feste Grösse betrachtet werden soll, von welcher aus man einen Schluss über den Urheber (den zureichenden Grund) machen oder auch nur ablehnen dürfte. Dadurch, dass wir seit Jahrtausenden mit moralischen, ästhetischen, religiösen Ansprüchen, mit blinder Neigung, Leidenschaft oder Furcht in die Welt geblickt und uns in den Unarten des unlogischen Denkens recht ausgeschwelgt haben, ist diese Welt allmählich so wundersam bunt, schrecklich, bedeutungstief, seelenvoll geworden, sie hat Farbe bekommen, – aber wir sind die Coloristen gewesen: der menschliche Intellect hat die Erscheinung erscheinen lassen und seine irrthümlichen Grundauffassungen in die Dinge hineingetragen. Spät, sehr spät – besinnt er sich: und jetzt scheinen ihm die Welt der Erfahrung und das Ding an sich so ausserordentlich verschieden und getrennt, dass er den Schluss von jener auf dieses ablehnt – oder auf eine schauerlich geheimnissvolle Weise zum Aufgeben unsers Intellectes, unsers persönlichen Willens auffordert: um dadurch zum Wesenhaften zu kommen, dass man wesenhaft werde. Wiederum haben Andere alle charakteristischen Züge unserer Welt der Erscheinung – das heisst der aus intellectuellen Irrthümern herausgesponnenen und uns angeerbten Vorstellung von der Welt – zusammengelesen und anstatt den Intellect als Schuldigen anzuklagen, das Wesen der Dinge als Ursache dieses thatsächlichen, sehr unheimlichen Weltcharakters angeschuldigt und die Erlösung vom Sein gepredigt. – Mit all diesen Auffassungen wird der stetige und mühsame Process der Wissenschaft, welcher zuletzt einmal in einer Entstehungsgeschichte des Denkens seinen höchsten Triumph feiert, in entscheidender Weise fertig werden, dessen Resultat vielleicht auf diesen Satz hinauslaufen dürfte: Das, was wir jetzt die Welt nennen, ist das Resultat einer Menge von Irrthümern und Phantasien, welche in der gesammten Entwickelung der organischen Wesen allmählich entstanden, in einander verwachsen [sind] und uns jetzt als aufgesammelter Schatz der ganzen Vergangenheit vererbt werden, – als Schatz: denn der Werth unseres Menschenthums ruht darauf. Von dieser Welt der Vorstellung vermag uns die strenge Wissenschaft thatsächlich nur in geringem Maasse zu lösen – wie es auch gar nicht zu wünschen ist -, insofern sie die Gewalt uralter Gewohnheiten der Empfindung nicht wesentlich zu brechen vermag: aber sie kann die Geschichte der Entstehung jener Welt als Vorstellung ganz allmählich und schrittweise aufhellen – und uns wenigstens für Augenblicke über den ganzen Vorgang hinausheben. Vielleicht erkennen wir dann, dass das Ding an sich eines homerischen Gelächters werth ist: dass es so viel, ja Alles schien und eigentlich leer, nämlich bedeutungsleer ist.

Sources:

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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