In aphorism 335 in the Gay Science, that book or montage of aphorisms, written both carefully and carelessly; Nietzsche writes:

Long live Physics!...what? You admire the categorical imperative within you? This "firmness" of your so called moral judgement? This "unconditional" feeling that "here everyone here must judge as I do"?

He goes on:

Rather admire your selfishness at this point. And the blindness, frugality, pettiness of your selfishness.

To which he explains:

For it is selfish to experience ones own judgement as a universal law; and this selfishness is blind, petty and frugal because it betrays that you have not discovered yourself, nor yet created an ideal for yourself, your very own - for that could never be somebody else's; much less that of all, all!

Who is Nietzsche accusing? And why? For I suppose it is historically situated; and why drag physics of all things into it - when it appears to have no connection with the rest of the aphorism.

What, man...is physics then not a gay and joyful science? In a book called the gay science...!?

(for surely it must be to the true physicist caught up in its magic; for physics must surely be a physick to the true physicist - if not to anyone else caught up in some other purposeful magic).

And why call selfishness "blind, frugal, petty"?

When on a simple-minded reading selfishness only enhances power? So it ought not to be "frugal"; and why "blind", when one needs eyes to take advantage? To look around hungrily...

The pettiness seems to be obvious, however.

I don't imagine he's accusing Kant, or is he?

(For did Kant smuggle the categorical imperative into himself or set it free like a dove; and if not as dove then as a hawk? Or both? Into the sky that is both hawk and dove).


4 Answers 4


You seem to miss that only this selfishness is blind, petty and frugal. Partly because it is "projective identification" to steal from a later theory, and not actual wholehearted selfishness. Putting yourself in other people's heads is both arrogant and cowardly at the same time. If you really wanted to know what was in there, you would engage them, not project yourself. Substance is here for a reason, there is no excuse for behaving like a ghost.

Working back from there, I think he is insulting Kant, but even more so, the general user of Kant's imperative, who can only see so far, but presumes to take account of the whole of human experience in every action.

So one somehow needs to admire the drive to be so bold without getting deluded that one is succeeding. I think @jowehler is right that this delusion, that uniform coverage of the field by a set of rules constitutes some kind of success, comes to us from physics, and the title is about the inapplicability of those principles to everything else. Uniformity and rules are positive aspects of Kant, and of science, but not of life.

I do not buy the reading that selfishness increases power. Power is not acquired, it grows. So taking what one needs or wants is another incomplete notion of selfishness, which is again both arrogant and cowardly. It focuses you back on weakness, making you a servant of weakness, in the form of needs and wants, which nets you a fragile and unfulfilling kind of power. And deciding that what you want right now is worth taking and not cultivating presumes you are complete at the moment of decision, that there is no art yet to be done on you that would allow you to provide for yourself, and in that way it flees from self-awareness.

One should, by nature, be selfish, and should avoid arbitrary limitations on one's selfishness. But selfishness should not be a motive, or a reason for anything. Selfishness has to be a part of power itself, to the extent that that selfishness is whole and realistic, not an affectation or a drive.

(This point of view is from Starhawk's "Truth or Dare", which to my mind owes most of its notions to Nietzsche. The central themes she injects are lack of the fear of scarcity and genuine selfishness.)

  • I found it difficult to parse the first paragraph; do you mean 'this selfishness' refers to N's, but perhaps not others; I don't buy the notion that 'selfishness increases power' either - which is why I called it a 'simple-minded reading'; Heideggers notions on this seem more apposite. Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 14:12
  • I'd also add thinking about ethics on a universal manner seems to be in the tradition of philosophy; ie Platos notion of the Good; as well as Wittgensteins 'a value that is of real value' Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 14:14
  • 1
    I emphasize the this in the text, which you seem to read past. He is not characterizing all selfishness this way, just Kantians'. I buy Starhawk's notion that he would approve of selfishness of other varieties wholeheartedly. Your "And why call selfishness..." seems to imply you read the pronoun as decoration, not as delimiting scope.
    – user9166
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 16:28
  • ok, I didn't read past it, just stumbled over it. Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 16:32

Yes, Nietzsche is accusing Kant. Not for the first time. In this passage because Kant propagates the categorical imperative:

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.

What is the relation to physics?

The first association which comes up to my mind is the common usage of the term “universal law” in the categorical imperative and in physics.

In physics the term denotes a law of nature. I assume that according to Nietzsche laws of nature have been detected as objective laws and that they are considered universally valid. Laws of nature are not spoiled by human prejudice and self-deception.

All this is different with moral laws. Nietzsche describes in distinct sayings what he considers wrong with them, notably that they are subjective. Because the categorical imperative is stated by Kant as the paradigm of an ethical maxim, it is in the center of Nietzsche's criticism.

  • I'm not sure this hangs together; N wants to move away from objectifying ethics; ie grounding ethics in a universal way - theorising about ethics in a theoretical manner; I'd suggest also that N is attacking Kant in the same way he attacks Socrates - as strawmen; not the philosophers themselves, who are properly philosophers; but their later followers; still turning over the same ground that they themselves turned over first and not moving the idea forward, or breaking new ground; still good try :). Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 7:57
  • Kant is a philosopher properly, in certain ways. But this notion is a elaborate attempt to intellectualize Christianity's "Love your neighbor as yourself". He can therefore be seen in this context as a follower and not a creator. So Nietzsche may very well be attacking him directly.
    – user9166
    Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 15:37

Full context of the quote makes Nietzsche's meaning clear, he is contrasting moral and physical laws, natural necessity and imposed moral one.

Indeed, he clearly sides with Hume in affirming no path from is to ought:"He who still thinks that "each would have to act in this manner in this case," has not yet advanced half a dozen paces in self knowledge: otherwise he would know that there neither are, nor can be, similar actions, that every action that has been done, has been done in an entirely unique and inimitable manner, and that it will be the same with regard to all future actions... our opinions of the "good," "noble" and "great" can never be proved by our actions".

And characterizes Kant as betraying the critical spirit of Hume (and his own earlier one) with his practical reason and categorical imperative:"I recollect old Kant, who, as a punishment for having gained possession surreptitiously of the "thing in itself" also a very ludicrous affair! was imposed upon by the categorical imperative, and with that in his heart strayed back again to "God," the "soul," "freedom," and "immortality," like a fox which strays back into its cage..." This is a parody of Kant's reconciliation of moral freedom with causality by placing true self beyond space and time, sticking it with categorical imperative, and then bringing back metaphysics he rejected at the front door of pure reason through the back door of practical one, i.e. of morality.

But according to Nietzsche, imposing your own moral judgements on others is not only unjustified, but selfish and self-ignorant:"For it is selfishness in a person to regard his judgment as universal law, and a blind, paltry and modest selfishness besides, because it betrays that you have not yet discovered yourself, that you have not yet created for yourself any personal, quite personal ideal: for this could never be the ideal of another, to say nothing of all, of everyone! To sit in judgment morally ought to be opposed to our taste! Let us leave this nonsense..."

And finally, Nietzsche describes his alternative of creativity and self-determination. This is where physics comes in, we should follow nature and use its laws to unleash our creativity, rather than run counter to it under false pretenses of morality:"We, however, would seek to become what we are, the new, the unique, the incomparable, making laws for ourselves and creating ourselves! And for this purpose we must become the best students and discoverers of all the laws and necessities in the world. We must be physicists in order to be creators in that sense, whereas hitherto all appreciations and ideals have been based on ignorance of physics, or in contradiction thereto. And therefore, three cheers for physics! And still louder cheers for that which impels us to it, our honesty".


Yes, of course, this is Nietzsche attacking Kant, and Kant's transcendental limitation upon the material or "physical" knowledge one can gain through experience...experiment, empiricism.

It is yet another example of why Nietzsche is the favorite philosopher of teenagers. A new modern version of what Kant would call humankind in its "self-imposed minority."

Kant was attempting to understanding how "experience," which is singular, can lead to "universal" laws of nature, or Newtonian physics. Which was decidedly not based on experience, but on mathematical inferences.

Nietzsche is rightly paranoid about the emergence of a new dogma in "modernism." And he shifts the scale of observation. But compared to the likes of a Newton or Kant, he really is a literary figure, a "mere" romantic. His struggle to understand himself precludes any attempt to understand "species being" or "society," except as the background to "myself."

Hence his potent and odious effect upon the emerging commodity culture. Sorry, one man's opinion.

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