Published Works | Dawn 1881/1887 | Preface © The Nietzsche Channel
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Thoughts on the prejudices of morality.

First edition, 1881. Second edition, 1887.
Translation by The Nietzsche Channel © 2014.

Preface (1887)


In this book you will find an "underground man" at work, a driller, miner, and underminer. [In late 1886/early 1887, Nietzsche had read a French translation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's 1864 novel Notes from the Underground (L'esprit souterrain, traduit et adapté par E. Halpérine et Ch. Morice, Paris, 1886). See the entry for Dostoevsky in Nietzsche's Library.] You will see him, provided that you have eyes for such work of the depths —, how he goes forward, slowly, calmly, with gentle inexorability, without revealing too much of the hardship that is the product of every long deprivation of light and air; you might even call him content with his work in the dark. Does it not seem that some faith is leading him on, some consolation compensating him? That he perhaps might want to have his own protracted darkness, want to be someone incomprehensible, hidden, enigmatic, because he knows what he will also acquire: his own morning, his own redemption, his own dawn? ... Of course, he will return: do not ask him what he wants down there, he will tell you himself, this seeming Trophonius and underground man, once he has "become man" again. One completely unlearns silence when one has been a mole, all alone, for as long as him — — [The source of Nietzsche's book title, Dawn, may lie in his reference to Trophonius, although it's more likely that this 1887 reference merely accentuates the 1881 title. Plutarch, in his De genio Socratis (On the Sign of Socrates), relates the story of Timarchus and his descent into the cave of the oracle of Trophonius. Afterwards, Timarchus "arose at dawn with a radiant countenance." (In German: Plutarch, "Der Schutzgeist des Sokrates." In: Werke. Bd. 33, 1818.) In addition, cf. Pausanius, Description of Greece, IX, 39, 5-14. See the entries for Plutarch and Pausanius in Nietzsche's Library.]


In fact, my patient friends, I'll tell you what I was doing down there, here in this late preface, which could easily have become an obituary, a funeral oration: for I have gotten back and — have gotten away. Do not think that I would call on you to be just as daring! Or even to have the same solitude! For whoever goes his own way in this fashion encounters no one: that's what happens when taking one's "own way." No one comes along to help him; with all that befalls him from threats, accidents, malice and bad weather, he alone must be ready. He has just his own way for himself — and, as is only fair, his own bitterness, his own occasional frustration with this "for himself": including, for example, knowing that even his friends are unable to guess where and whither he is going, that they will sometimes ask themselves, "What? Is he going at all? Does he still have — a way?" — At that time I undertook something that might not be to everyone's taste: I descended into the depths, I drilled into the ground, I began to investigate and to excavate an ancient faith upon which we philosophers have been accustomed to build for a few thousand years, as if upon firm ground — again and again, even though every building up to now has collapsed. I began to undermine our faith in morality. But you do not understand me?


Up to now, it is good and evil that has been reflected on in the worst way: this was always too dangerous a subject. Conscience, good reputation, hell, in certain circumstances even the police, have not and do not permit impartiality; in the presence of morality, as in the face of all authority, one is not even supposed to think, let alone speak: here one shall — obey! As long as the world has existed, no authority has even been willing to permit itself to be the object of criticism; and to criticize morality at all — to take up morality as a problem, as problematic: what? was that not — is that not — immoral? — But morality has at its disposal not just any kind of scarecrow to keep critical hands and instruments of torture away from its body: it's security lies even more in a certain art of enchantment at which it is skilled, — it knows how to "inspire." It often succeeds in paralyzing the critical will with a single glance, even enticing it over to itself, indeed there are cases in which it knows how to turn it against itself: so that it then, like the scorpion, stings its own body. Morality has for ages been acquainted with every devilish trick of the art of persuasion: there is no orator, even today, who does not engage with it for assistance (just listen, for example, to our anarchists: how morally they speak in order to persuade! In the end, they sometimes even call themselves "the good and the just"). As long as there has been discourse and persuasion on earth, morality has just shown itself to be the greatest mistress of seduction — and, as far as we philosophers are concerned, the actual Circe of philosophers. Yet why is it that, from Plato onwards, every philosophical architect in Europe has built in vain? That everything which they themselves honestly and earnestly considered as aere perennius is under threat of collapsing or already lies in ruins? [Cf. Horace, Odes 3.30: "Exegi monumentum aere perennius" (I have finished a monument more enduring than bronze). In, e.g., Nietzsche's copy of Horace in Latin/German trans. Horace, Theodor Obbarius, hrsg., Horatii Opera Omnia. Pars I. Odarum et Epodorum Libri. Horaz' sämmtliche Werke. 1. Theil. Oden und Epoden. Paderborn: Schöningh, 1872, 91.] Oh how false is the answer, which even today one still has at the ready, to that question, "because they had all neglected the presupposition of it, the examination of the foundation, a critique of reason as a whole" — that fateful answer of Kant, which has actually not thereby enticed us modern philosophers to firmer and less treacherous ground! (— and then asked wasn't it somewhat odd to require that a tool should criticize its own excellence and suitability? that the intellect itself should "recognize" its value, its power, its limits? was it not even a little absurd? —) The correct answer would rather have been that all philosophers have built under the seduction of morality, even Kant —, that their apparent intention was to aim at certainty, at "truth," but in reality at "majestic moral edifices": to use once again Kant's innocent language, who describes it as his own "not so glittering, but yet also not undeserving" task and work to level and solidify the ground for these majestic moral edifices" (Critique of Pure Reason II, S. 257). [Nietzsche refers to Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft. In: Sämmtliche Werke. Hrsg. von Karl Rosenkranz und Friedrich Wilhelm Schubert. Bd. 2. Leipzig: Voss, 1838, 257.] Alas, he did not succeed with this, on the contrary! — as we have to admit today. With such an enthusiastic aim, Kant was just the true son of his century, which more than any other can be called the century of enthusiasm: as he fortunately remained, including in regard to its more valuable aspects (for example, with that good piece of sensism [Sensualismus], which he took over into his theory of knowledge). He too had been bitten by the moral tarantula Rousseau, he too was suited to the idea of moral fanaticism in the depths of his soul, as its executor, another disciple of Rousseau, was and had confessed, namely Robespierre, "de fonder sur la terre l'empire de la sagesse, de la justice et de la vertu" (speech of June 7, 1794). ["To found the empire of wisdom, justice and virtue on earth." Nietzsche quotes from Edmond Scherer, Etudes sur la littérature contemporaine. Bd. 8. Paris: 1885, 79.] On the other hand, with such French fanaticism in his heart, one could not cultivate it in a less French, less profound, more thorough, more German way — if the word "German" is still permitted in this sense today — than Kant has: in order to create room for his "moral empire," he was compelled to recognize an undemonstrable world, a logical "beyond," — and that's why he needed his Critique of Pure Reason! In other words: he would not have needed it, if one thing would not have been more important than everything, to make that "moral empire" unassailable, even more to make it incomprehensible to reason, — for he felt the moral order of things was just too vulnerable to reason! For in the face of nature and history, in the face of the thorough immorality of nature and history, Kant was, like any good German from time immemorial, a pessimist; he believed in morality, not because it is demonstrated by nature and history, but in spite of the fact that it is consistently contradicted by nature and history. In order to understand this "in spite of the fact that," you may perhaps remember something similar in Luther, that other great pessimist who with all of his Lutheran audacity once conveyed to his friends: "If one could grasp by reason how God could be merciful and just and show so much wrath and malice, then what would one need of faith?" [Nietzsche quotes from the German translation of William Hartpole Lecky's History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe. See his annotated copy of Geschichte des Ursprungs und Einflusses der Aufklärung in Europa. Deutsch von Dr. H. Jolowicz. Bd. 1. Leipzig: Winter, 1873, 301. See New Sources of Nietzsche's Reading: William Edward Hartpole Lecky in Nietzsche's Library.] For nothing has for ages made a deeper impression upon the German soul, nothing has "tempted" it more than this most dangerous of all conclusions, which to every real Roman was a sin against the spirit: credo quia absurdum est [I believe it because it is absurd]:— with it German logic first entered the history of Christian dogma; but even today, a thousand years later, we Germans of today, late Germans in every respect — still sense something of the truth, of the possibility of the truth behind the celebrated real-dialectical principle, with which Hegel in his day helped the German spirit to conquer Europe — "contradiction moves the world; all things contradict themselves" —: we are just, even in logic as well, pessimists. [Nietzsche quotes Friedrich Reiff, Über die Hegel'sche Dialektik. Tübingen: Laupp, 1866, 6. See New Sources of Nietzsche's Reading: Jakob Friedrich Reiff. In: Nietzsche's Library.]


Logical value judgments, however, are not the deepest and most fundamental to which the courage of our distrust can descend: the faith in reason, with which the validity of these judgments stands or falls, is, as faith, a moral phenomenon ... Perhaps German pessimism has yet to take its last step? Perhaps it once again has to set its credo and its absurdum beside each other in a terrible manner? And if this book is pessimistic in regard to morality, to the point of being beyond faith in morality, — should it not for this very reason be a German book? For, in fact, it portrays a contradiction and does not fear it: in it the faith in morality is withdrawn — but why? Out of morality! Or what should we call it, that which is going on within it — in us? for our taste prefers more modest expressions. But there is no doubt that a "thou shalt" still speaks to us as well, we too still obey a strict law above us, — and this is the ultimate morality, which still makes itself audible to us, which we too know how to live; here, if anywhere at all, we are still men of conscience: namely in that we do not want to return to that which we deem to be outlived and decayed, to anything "beyond belief," ["Unglaubwürdiges"] be it called god, virtue, truth, justice, charity; that we do not permit ourselves any bridge-of-lies to ancient ideals; [Cf. "Nur Narr! Nur Dichter!" (Only Fool! Only Poet!): "Nur Narr! Nur Dichter! / Nur Buntes redend, / aus Narrenlarven bunt herausredend, / herumsteigend auf lügnerischen Wortbrücken, ..." (Only fool! Only poet! / Merely speaking colorfully, / From fools' masks shouting colorfully, / Climbing about on deceptive word-bridges, ...). In: Dionysos-Dithyramben (Dionysus-Dithyrambs).] that we are thoroughly hostile to everything that wants to mediate and meddle with us; [Cf. Also sprach Zarathustra, 3. "Vor Sonnen-Aufgang": "Diesen Mittlern und Mischern sind wir gram, den ziehenden Wolken: diesen Halb- und Halben, welche weder segnen lernten, noch von Grund aus fluchen." (We are aggrieved by these mediators and meddlers, the passing clouds: these half-and-halves that have learned neither to bless nor to curse thoroughly.) Also see Nachlass, Sommer 1883 13[13].] hostile to every kind of faith and Christianness existing today; hostile to the half-and-halves of all romanticism and fatherlandishness; hostile too to the contentedness and lack of conscience of artists which would like to persuade us to worship where we no longer believe — for we are artists —; hostile, in short, to all of European feminism (or idealism, if one prefers that word), which is forever "drawing one upward" [Cf. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, 12110f: ""Das Ewig-Weibliche / Zieht uns hinan." (The Eternal-Feminine / Draws us upward.) In: Goethe's sämmtliche Werke in vierzig Bänden. Bd. 12. Stuttgart; Augsburg: Cotta, 1856, 310.] and precisely for this reason forever "bringing one down": — only as men of this conscience do we still feel ourselves related to the German righteousness and piety of millennia, even if as its most questionable and final descendants, we immoralists, we godless men of today, and even, in some sense as its heirs, as the executors of its innermost will, a pessimistic will, as I said, which is not afraid of denying itself, because it denies with joy! In us is being fulfilled, supposing that you want a formula, — the self-cancellation of morality. — —


— But, in the end, why do we have to say so loudly and with so much fervor what we are, what we want and do not want? Let us view it more coldly, from a distance, more wisely, from a height, let us say it as it would be said among ourselves, so secretly that the whole world does not hear about it, that the whole world does not hear us! Above all, let us say it slowly ... This preface is late but not too late: what, ultimately, do five or six years matter? Such a book, such a problem is in no hurry; moreover, we are both friends of the lento, I just as much as my book. [Cf. Jenseits von Gute und Böse (Beyond Good and Evil), §256: "... eines vornehmen tempo, eines lento ..." (... a noble tempo, a lento ...).] It is not for nothing that one has been a philologist, perhaps one is still a philologist, that is to say, a teacher of slow reading: — in the end one also writes slowly. Now it is not only my habit, but also my taste — a malicious taste, perhaps? — no longer to write anything which does not bring every kind of person who "is in a hurry" to despair. For philology is that venerable art which demands of its devotees one thing above all, to go aside, to take one's time, become silent, become slow — for a goldsmith's art and connoisseurship of the word, which has nothing but delicate, cautious work to do, achieves nothing if it does not achieve it lento. But for precisely this reason it is more necessary than ever today, by precisely this means does it entice and enchant us the most, in the midst of an age of "work," that is to say: an age of hurry, of indecent and perspiring haste, which wants everything "to get done" at once, including every old or new book: — it itself does not so easily get anything done, it teaches to read well, which means slowly, deeply, carefully and considerately, with reservations, with doors left open, with delicate fingers and eyes ... My patient friends, this book wants for itself nothing but perfect readers and philologists: learn to read me well! —

Ruta near Genoa,
in the autumn of 1886.

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Published Works | Dawn 1881/1887 | Preface © The Nietzsche Channel