20. A few steps back

Reading Friedrich Nietzsche’s Human all too human

Read the introduction here

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

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

A few steps back1 back A high culture is attained when man rises above superstitious and religious notions and fears. If he has attained to this degree of freedom, he has still also to overcome metaphysics with the greatest exertion of his intelligence. Man has to overcome explanations that they got with the help of metaphysics, the unseen or not material world, after he rises above superstitious believes After this he has to look back and understand the historical and psychological basis of these mindsets. He must recognize how the greatest advancement of humanity has come therefrom, and how man would rob itself from the greatest achievements if it doesn’t look back. After this, man has to look back and realize that the greatest advancements of man came from this period,  With regard to philosophical metaphysics, I see more people that attained the negative goal of thinking that even positive metaphysics is an error, but more people think that positive2 metaphysics is bad. but few that take a few steps back on the ladder. one ought to look out, perhaps, over the last steps of the ladder, but not try to stand upon them. It is advised to remind yourself of the positive achievement of metaphysics, The most enlightened only succeed so far as to free themselves from metaphysics and look back upon it with superiority, while it is necessary here, too, as in the hippodrome, to turn around the end of the course. even the most enlightened, must turn around and acknowledge this fact.

In one sentence:

Don’t dismiss positive metaphysics to fast.

1The German word “Einige sprossen zurück” is normally translated in English as “some/a few rungs back. Zimmern, Harvey and Hollindale translated it as “A few steps back, Handwerk and Graftdijk as “A few rungs back/Een paar sporten terug”. It is probably not wrong, but I associate “steps back” more with a step backwards and not downwards on a ladder, and that is what Nietzsche uses in this aphorism, he probably meant seeing more or les depending on where you are on the ladder, “but as yet few who climb a few rungs backwards; one ought to look out, perhaps, over the last steps of the ladder”.

2Don’t know what Nietzsche meant with “positive metaphysics” other than metaphysics that has a positive effect. Don’t know what he counted as such.

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

  1. A FEW STEPS BACK.—A degree of culture, and assuredly a very high one, is attained when man rises above superstitious and religious notions and fears, and, for instance, no longer believes in guardian angels or in original sin, and has also ceased to talk of the salvation of his soul,—if he has attained to this degree of freedom, he has still also to overcome metaphysics with the greatest exertion of his intelligence. Then, however, a retrogressive movement is necessary ; he must understand the historical justification as well as the psychological in such representations, he must recognise how the greatest advancement of humanity has come therefrom, and how, without such a retrocursive movement, we should have been robbed of the best products of hitherto existing mankind. With regard to philosophical metaphysics, I always see increasing numbers who have attained to the negative goal (that all positive metaphysics is error), but as yet few who climb a few rungs backwards ; one ought to look out, perhaps, over the last steps of the ladder, but not try to stand upon them. The most enlightened only succeed so far as to free themselves from metaphysics and look back upon it with superiority, while it is necessary here, too, as in the hippodrome, to turn round the end of the course.

Menschliches allzu menschlich 1878/80

  1. Einige Sprossen zurück. – Die eine, gewiss sehr hohe Stufe der Bildung ist erreicht, wenn der Mensch über abergläubische und religiöse Begriffe und Aengste hinauskommt und zum Beispiel nicht mehr an die lieben Englein oder die Erbsünde glaubt, auch vom Heil der Seelen zu reden verlernt hat: ist er auf dieser Stufe der Befreiung, so hat er auch noch mit höchster Anspannung seiner Besonnenheit die Metaphysik zu überwinden. Dann aber ist eine rückläufige Bewegung nöthig: er muss die historische Berechtigung, ebenso die psychologische in solchen Vorstellungen begreifen, er muss erkennen, wie die grösste Förderung der Menschheit von dorther gekommen sei und wie man sich, ohne eine solche rückläufige Bewegung, der besten Ergebnisse der bisherigen Menschheit berauben würde. – In Betreff der philosophischen Metaphysik sehe ich jetzt immer Mehrere, welche an das negative Ziel (dass jede positive Metaphysik Irrthum ist) gelangt sind, aber noch Wenige, welche einige Sprossen rückwärts steigen; man soll nämlich über die letzte Sprosse der Leiter wohl hinausschauen, aber nicht auf ihr stehen wollen. Die Aufgeklärtesten bringen es nur so weit, sich von der Metaphysik zu befreien und mit Ueberlegenheit auf sie zurückzusehen: während es doch auch hier, wie im Hippodrom, noth thut, um das Ende der Bahn herumzubiegen.

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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