I've just started Nietzsche's "Beyond Good and Evil." I am confused about this section.

Point 15 from "On the prejudices of philosophers"

When Nietzsche refers to people who "say that the external world is the product of our organs," does he mean that there are people who literally believe just that, or is he referring to philosophers who may believe that the entire universe is some sort of dream, cooked up by one being (i.e. a disembodied mind of some sort)? What are the "organs" to which he is referring? Can someone explain to me the belief that Nietzsche is ridiculing here, as if from the perspective of someone who would actually subscribe to that belief?

1 Answer 1


The organs are the sense organs mentioned at the top of the passage. Nietzsche mocks sensualists, who insisted since antiquity that "every thought comes from sense-perception" (Sextus Empiricus), "there is not anything in mind, which hasn't been in the sensations" is even sometimes attributed to Aristotle. Closer to Nietzsche's time the torch was carried by British empiricists like Locke, Hume and Mill, but especially Berkeley, who declared that esse est percipi, to be is to be perceived.

Still, Nietzsche's mockery of "external world is the product of our organs" exaggerates even him. What British empiricists actually claimed, contrary to rationalists like Descartes and Leibniz, was that mind has no "innate ideas" or "rational intuition", and that all its content is the product of processing sensations. Apparently, Nietzsche's did not take kindly to the idea, but his "reductio" of sensualism does not work of course, and he suggests it half in jest. Technically, he equivocates on the word "product", sensualists use it epistemologically, while Nietzsche needs ontological meaning for his "reductio".

It is interesting that on causality Nietzsche fully sides with Hume's sensualist treatment against Kant's a priori, and "sense organs are not appearances in the way idealist philosophy uses that term" is a stab at Kant, who sharply separated "things in themselves" from "appearances", and refused to grant the former status to anything sensual.

  • 1
    I can tell that I'm going to have trouble deciding whether or not Neitzsche is being completely serious in situations like these.
    – ztforster
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 1:28
  • 1
    I think he is serious enough
    – John Am
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 6:21

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