Beyond Good and Evil: or, Breathing is a Virtue

Quatre danseuses et Nijinski (Four Dancers and Nijinsky) by Adolf de Meyer, circa 1914.
Public domain via Wikimedia.

Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the FutureBeyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future by Friedrich Nietzsche

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The other evening, a few pages from the end of this work, I fell asleep listening to Alan Watts lecturing on virtues. I find it difficult to articulate the connection to Nietzsche, but what I comprehended as I awoke, while being in a state not dissimilar to that of Debussy's faun, was this rough recollection:
You cannot be virtuous. If you become virtuous and you are aware of being virtuous, then you are prideful and thus no longer virtuous. Virtues are not self-conscious, and you cannot consciously be virtuous. Breathing is a virtue. You don't think about it, you are not responsible for it, it happens 'un-self-consciously'. That is virtue.
I understand that Alan Watts was discussing elements of Eastern philosophy, but Nietzsche mentions Eastern philosophy numerous times. Following Mortimer Adler's guidance in How to Read a Book, I now take notes in pencil in the margins of my books. This rather short book is full of notations; Latin, French, Greek, German, and Italian words and phrases; class consciousness, waiting too long to display one's genius, "the herd"; the Will to Power; morality; and so on. Too much to summarise here appropriately. But I read in Nietzsche a critique of mediocrity, and it provides me with an awakening to the class-based cringe that has been highlighted by my reading and study over the years. Alan Watts said something like being self-conscious won't help one to be virtuous. Benjamin Franklin wrote that although he worked to consciously improve himself, using his 13-week virtues checklist, he was aware that he could never be perfect. If I take into account Nietzsche's critique of the herd morality and religion, and the privilege of rank and the position adopted by others in relation to my lowly class-based existence (which doesn't manifest itself in any meaningful way outside my own head), then the idea of "beyond good and evil" makes some intuitive sense. Nonetheless, I am far from articulating Nietzsche's ideas beyond what I can grasp from a handful of his work. I may take some solace in that Franklin couldn't be virtuous, that Adler tells me there is nothing wrong with interpreting my reading without the aid of others, that Nietzsche writes much like La Rochefoucauld, and that he thought the Stoics were wrong. This is interesting because the Stoics advocated "living according to one's nature". As it is so natural, then how can one "will" oneself to live in a way that is predestined? This is one of the most helpful explanations of the deductive method! On flicking back through my notes, two things are noticeable. First, the race elements the Nazis picked up on (thanks to Nietzsche's sister, I believe). This is no worse than Jack London, writing not that long after Nietzsche and I encountered parts that wouldn't fit with Nazism. Second, the attitude towards women. This was written before universal suffrage, but clearly, Nietzsche was no John Stuart Mill. Indeed, Nietzsche was a critic of utilitarianism. I will finish with this quote on scholars and artists (I had heavily underlined it while reading - there is always a pencil on hand these days), one that brings together in Nietzsche's words what I felt in my "faunish" moment while listening to Alan Watts (pp. 142-3):
One finds nowadays among artists and scholars plenty of those who betray by their works that a profound longing for nobleness impels them; but this very need of nobleness is radically different from the needs of the noble soul itself, and is in fact the eloquent and dangerous sign of the lack thereof. It is not the works, but the belief which is here decisive and determines the order of rank - to employ once more an old religious formula with a new and deeper meaning - it is some fundamental certainty which a noble soul has about itself, something which is not to be sought, is not to be found, and perhaps, also, is not to be lost. -The noble soul has reverence for itself.
It would seem that it is "beyond good and evil".