Day 1936, Geist.

Daily picture, Poetry

The door

is concealed

and surrounded

by brightness


you have to close your eyes

and walk closer

in its direction


11. The Pessimist of the Intellect.—He whose intellect is really free will think freely about the intellect itself, and will not shut his eyes to certain terrible aspects of its source and tendency. For this reason others will perhaps designate him the bitterest opponent of free thought and give him that dreadful, abusive name of “pessimist of the intellect”: accustomed as they are to typify a man not by his strong point, his pre-eminent virtue, but by the quality that is most foreign to his nature.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Human all too human,  Miscellaneous Maxims And Opinions.

Translated By Paul V. Cohn, B.A. New York The MacMillan Company 1913, Free license from 

If you read books about free will you always get the impression that you have to dance a really special dance to get around all the contradictions, paradoxes and dead ends. With Nietzsche you always have to be careful end never assume that he made a mistake, he most often writes purposefully. In this text he writes: the “really free will thinks freely about the intellect itself” and then he goes on suggesting that there are “terrible aspects of its source and tendency”. In this translation from 1913 Nietzsche seems to question the source of the intellect but if you read a more modern translation by Gary Handwerk for instance “-Anyone who is truly free in spirit will think freely even about spirit itself and not conceal from himself certain dreadful facts” you will see that Nietzsche talks about spirit and not Intellect. (The other more modern translator R.J. Hollingdale translate the word Geist also to spirit and in the Dutch version we use the word “geest” which looks and sounds the same as the German word “geist” and they mean the same)

Here you can read the German text: Der Pessimist des Intellectes. — Der wahrhaft Freie im Geiste wird auch über den Geist selber frei denken und sich einiges Furchtbare in Hinsicht auf Quelle und Richtung desselben nicht verhehlen. Desshalb werden ihn die Andern vielleicht als den ärgsten Gegner der Freigeisterei bezeichnen und mit dem Schimpf- und Schreckwort „Pessimist des Intellectes“ belegen: gewohnt, wie sie sind, Jemanden nicht nach seiner hervorragenden Stärke und Tugend zu nennen, sondern nach dem, was ihnen am fremdesten an ihm ist.

Geiste in German can be translated into English in both spirit and intellect. This is a good example where you as the reader have to be careful if you read a translation (or when you read the German text and translate yourself) because it is up to the translator how to interpret Nietzsche because in my opinion there is a difference between where the “source and tendency” of your intellect and spirit comes from.

Intellect: the faculty of reasoning and understanding objectively, especially with regard to abstract matters.

Spirit: the prevailing or typical quality, mood, or attitude of a person, group, or period of time.

It is easier to see the intellect coming from our brain functions, chemistry, DNA, schooling and background. Intellect is something we might have pride in and get praise for but it is for the most part something you “inherit”.

For spirit you can say the same as I did for intellect but spirit is harder to catch so to say. You can not measure spirit in a person, intellect is on the other hand easier to measure thru tests for example.

The point of this small exercise is not to determine what Nietzsche meant with this aphorism. The point is that you have to understand that you cannot read a book from Nietzsche or most other philosophers, without realizing that you read a translation if you don’t read German and if you read German as a second league you have to ask yourself if you can do a better job translating German to your own language then the professionals can do. I read the translations from 1908 or 1913 mainly because they can be shared freely and I don’t have to worry if I quote the whole book on my blog. The other nice side effect is that the translations are often so…clunky…that I often pick up one of the modern translations and the original text to check, like I did today.   

In regards to my project “anarchy in the mind” (or is it spirit…intellect…) If you want to free yourself from some of the anchors that bind you to some of your behaviors you first need to understand what these anchors are. Reading a book and willy nilly “reading what you want” is “anchoring” yourself to your preconceived opinion and not being open for other interpretations.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s