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The following aphorism from The Gay Science has long been one of my favorites:

One thing is needful. – To 'give style' to one's character – a great and rare art! It is practiced by those who survey all the strengths and weaknesses that their nature has to offer and then fit them into an artistic plan until each appears as art and reason and even weaknesses delight the eye. Here a great mass of second nature has been added; there a piece of first nature removed – both times through long practice and daily work at it. Here the ugly that could not be removed is concealed; there it is reinterpreted into sublimity. Much that is vague and resisted shaping has been saved and employed for distant views – it is supposed to beckon toward the remote and the immense. In the end, when the work is complete, it becomes clear how it was the force of a single taste that ruled and shaped everything great and small – whether the taste was good or bad means less than one may think; it's enough that it was one taste! It will be the strong and domineering natures who experience their most exquisite pleasure under such coercion, in being bound but also perfected under their own law; the passion of their tremendous will becomes less intense in the face of all stylized nature, all conquered and serving nature; even when they have palaces to build and gardens to design, they resist giving nature free reign. Conversely, it is the weak characters with no power over themselves who hate the constraint of style: they feel that if this bitterly evil compulsion were to be imposed on them, they would have to become commonplace under it – they become slaves as soon as they serve. Such minds – and they may be of the first rank – are always out to shape or interpret their environments as free nature – wild, arbitrary, fantastic, disorderly, and surprising – and they are well advised to do so, because only thus do they please themselves! For one thing is needful: that a human being should attain satisfaction with himself – be it through this or that poetry or art; only then is a human being at all tolerable to behold! Whoever is dissatisfied with himself is continually prepared to avenge himself for this, and we others will be his victims if only by having to endure his sight. For the sight of something ugly makes one bad and gloomy. [GS 290, Cambridge]

The word bad in the last sentence has long troubled me -- for me, it strikes a dissonant chord, which I have found rare in my reading of Nietzsche. I don't read German, but the English translations I've checked all use bad, so it doesn't appear to be a translation issue. If it's not a translation issue, what do philosophers think Nietzsche meant by his use of bad here? Is it related to his use of bad in On the Genealogy of Morality, which he wrote several years later?

  • I agree that it sounds off, and one is tempted to insert "feel" after "one". But Nietzsche did write "What is bad? Everything that comes from weakness" in The Antichrist, so perhaps "bad" here is supposed to be more than just part of a colloquialism, or at least his translators thought it did. – Conifold Aug 20 '16 at 22:00
  • @conifold Thanks for confirming that it sounds off to you, too. It's really obvious when you read the aphorism out loud, which I have done on many occasions. I agree re your reference to The Antichrist. In the master morality discussed in GM, he associated "good" with "strong" and "bad" with "weak", but I haven't been able to convince myself that works here. – Richard Kayser Aug 20 '16 at 23:21
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One thing to always keep in mind: Nietzsche wrote in German. And referring to translations without double-checking (with the original language, if possible!) is always problematic.

The original lines read:

Wer mit sich unzufrieden ist, ist fortwährend bereit, sich dafür zu rächen: wir Anderen werden seine Opfer sein, und sei es auch nur darin, dass wir immer seinen hässlichen Anblick zu ertragen haben. Denn der Anblick des Hässlichen macht schlecht und düster.

In the english translation, the first "ugly" is missing. And the main verb in the last sentence is missing in both languages. This is a poetical wording. I will fill in the missing words for fuller understanding:

Whoever is dissatisfied with himself is continually prepared to avenge himself for this[:] and we others will be his victims if only by having to endure his [ugly] sight. For the sight of something ugly makes one [feel] bad and gloomy.

In the end, the last sentence is explanatory for the statement just before, i.e. why we will be victims if having to endure one's ugly (i.e. revengeful!) sight if he isn't able to 'attain satisfaction with himself'? Because it makes us (feel) bad and gloomy.

The interpretations may vary, but as I take it, feeling bad and gloomy and becoming/being bad (in the sense of degenerated, mean) and gloomy is pretty much the same here.

  • I was aware of the potential translation issue and hoping a German speaker familiar with Nietzsche would weigh in -- one of the great benefits of Philosophy SE! Your translation and interpretation of the last two sentences help resolve the issue. Thanks. – Richard Kayser Aug 20 '16 at 23:37
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I would just grant Nietzsche charity here since the excerpt is a literary writing. If it was the case he was making a formal argument word choice based on the historical context of when and where it was written and defined terms of the author would come into play.

This may lead to people naturally object since most writings from philosophers are not formalized arguments. While I agree most did not make abounding volumes of formal arguments it is not to say the literary works are without merit. Instead I would suggest non-formal arguments as much weaker when it comes to their philosophical value, yet much stronger when it comes to pop-culture persuasion of the general public.

Both approaches have merit, though it is my expectation that modern philosophers do double duty through the exercise of writing both formal and informal arguments for the position for the two audiences to make the strongest case possible.

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