Ascetic Ideals and Science by Friedrich Nietzsche

… The ascetic ideal has an aim — this goal is, putting it generally, that all the other interests of human life should, measured by its standard, appear petty and narrow; it explains epochs, nations, men, in reference to this one end; it forbids any other interpretation, any other end; it repudiates, denies, affirms, confirms, only in the sense of its own interpretation (and was there ever a more thoroughly elaborated system of interpretation?); it subjects itself to no power, rather does it believe in its own precedence over every power — it believes that nothing powerful exists in the world that has not first got to receive from “it” a meaning, a right to exist, a value, as being an instrument in its work, a way and means to its end, to one end. Where is the counterpart of this complete system of will, end, and interpretation? Why is the counterpart lacking? Where is the other “one aim”? But I am told it is not lacking, that not only has it fought a long and fortunate fight with that ideal, but that further it has already won the mastery over that ideal in all essentials: let our whole modern science attest this — that modern science, which, like the genuine reality-philosophy which it is, manifestly believes in itself alone, manifestly has the courage to be itself, the will to be itself, and has got on well enough without God, another world, and negative virtues.

With all their noisy agitator-babble, however, they [proponents of science] effect nothing with me; these trumpeters of reality are bad musicians, their voices do not come from the deeps with sufficient audibility, they are not the mouthpiece for the abyss of scientific knowledge — for to-day scientific knowledge is an abyss — the word “science,” in such trumpeter-mouths, is a prostitution, an abuse, an impertinence. The truth is just the opposite from what is maintained in the ascetic theory.

Science has to-day absolutely no belief in itself, let alone in an ideal superior to itself, and wherever science still consists of passion, love, ardour, suffering, it is not the opposition to that ascetic ideal, but rather the incarnation of its latest and noblest form. Does that ring strange? There are enough brave and decent working people, even among the learned men of to-day, who like their little corner, and who, just because they are pleased so to do, become at times indecently loud with their demand, that people to-day should be quite content, especially in science — for in science there is so much useful work to do. I do not deny it — there is nothing I should like less than to spoil the delight of these honest workers in their handiwork; for I rejoice in their work. But the fact of science requiring hard work, the fact of its having contented workers, is absolutely no proof of science as a whole having to-day one end, one will, one ideal, one passion for a great faith; the contrary, as I have said, is the case.

When science is not the latest manifestation of the ascetic ideal — but these are cases of such rarity, selectness, and exquisiteness, as to preclude the general judgment being affected thereby — science is a hiding-place for every kind of cowardice, disbelief, remorse, despectio sui, bad conscience — it is the very anxiety that springs from having no ideal, the suffering from the lack of a great love, the discontent with an enforced moderation. Oh, what does all science not cover to day? How much, at any rate, does it not try to cover? The diligence of our best academics, their senseless industry, their burning the candle of their brain at both ends — their very mastery in their handiwork — how often is the real meaning of all that to prevent themselves continuing to see a certain thing? Science as a self-anæsthetic: do you know that?

You wound them — every one who consorts with academics experiences this — you wound them sometimes to the quick through just a harmless word; when you think you are paying them a compliment you embitter them beyond all bounds, simply because you didn’t have the finesse to infer the real kind of customers you had to tackle, the sufferer kind (who won’t own up even to themselves what they really are), the dazed and unconscious kind who have only one fear — coming to consciousness.

 

——

On the Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic (1887) by Friedrich Nietzsche. Selection from the essay What Do Ascetic Ideals Mean?, part 23.

Translated by Horace B. Samuel (1913).