This is a juicy little aphorism. To say and attack so much with so few words has an elegance which I find lacking in modern times. Nietzsche returns to this subject time and again but before I begin to parse this tightly packed and humble looking grenade of a statement I’d like to call out one of the most childish of philosophic stances I’ve ever seen. Solipsism, the idea that only the mind exists, and only in the person observing. It’s one of those circular philosophic copouts in higher level discussions that I see occur so often that it sickens me. So let me make it clear, if you are making the Solipsist argument that “well you can’t prove that X exists because all you KNOW is your mind exists” then you should never joined the discussion in the first place. A true Solipsist, recognizing that nothing but his mind is sure to exist, would not continue interacting with the world in any way shape or form, because it might not exist. Since you clearly don’t TRULY believe the argument, and are only using it because you can’t think of anything better, just leave while you still have some level of dignity left.
“It is probable that the objects of the religious, moral and aesthetic sensations belong only to the surface of things.”Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human
And here we go! This one statement calls into question three of the major pillars of human thought. Lets start with aesthetics, which at its heart is what we like and do not like, what we appreciate and do not appreciate, what we enjoy and what we don’t enjoy. The aesthetics of any age is different than the age before, beauty a moving target because of course what we enjoy we class as beauty and what we don’t we class as ugly. All of this would be fine if we kept our likes and dislikes in hand but… Morality rears it’s ugly head. A person does not enjoy an idea, does not like it, finds it less than beautiful. Well that is his perspective, but then he cloaks it in the guise of morality! What he does not like is no longer a matter of taste but a matter of right and wrong!
And so enough human’s turn their personal preference into a moral necessity and they get together…. and you have what will be considered a religion thousands of years later. They have taken a personal aesthetic choice, turned it into a moral imperative, then institutionalized it so that what they like and dislike can be forced apon a hundred generations past them! How often have you heard a killer shout about God, how many times have you seen hatred cloaked in “religious humility” acting as if using metaphysical reasoning justifies the pettiness that hides behind that holy book. In one sentence Nietzsche dismisses these titans of human thought as simply referring to the surface of things. petty, shallow, casting their own failings and imperfections onto others so they never have to face their own flawed and decrepit souls.
The moral man presupposes that which concerns himself most nearly must also be the heart and soul of things.Nietzsche, Human All Too Human
I decided to use a slightly different translation for the last bit, I find it fits better into the overall feel of the aphorism. The supposed “religious and moral” confuse personal preference with understanding of the world and right and wrong. To explain, just because one has a strong preference, feeling or desire does not mean that you have understood what you are experiencing. It is certainly no basis for determining right and wrong, good and evil or truth and fiction. Our emotions are unrational, and to try and turn a personal perspective based on personal viewpoint and experience into some sort of code others should be forced to follow is abomination. I do not call our emotions irrational but they certainly do not follow the same paths that the human mind does. Perhaps in time we will begin to truly get to the heart of this dichotomy in humans, this underlying chemical storm that we call emotions and this chilly and frozen height where our logic springs.