Royal Institute of Philosophy Lecture Series

Papers

Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Michael Tanner

Although Nietzsche's greatness is recognized more universally now than ever before, the nature of that greatness is still widely misunderstood, and that unfortunately means that before I discuss any of Beyond Good and Evil (henceforth BGE) in any detail, I must make some general remarks about his work, his development and the kind of way in which I think that it is best to read him. Unlike any of the other philosophers that this series includes, except Marx and Engels, Nietzsche is very much concerned to address his contemporaries, because he was aware of a specific historical predicament, one which he would only see as having worsened in ways which he predicted with astonishing precision in the century since he wrote his great series of works. For he was above all a philosopher of culture, which is to say that his primary concern was always with the forces that determine the nature of a particular civilization, and with the possibilities of achievement which that civilization consequently had open to it. One of the reasons that The Birth of Tragedy, his first book, published when he was twenty-eight, created such a surge of hostility in the world of classical scholarship was that in it, whilst undertaking an investigation of what made possible the achievements of fifth century BC Greece in tragic drama, he felt it necessary to elicit the whole set of fundamental beliefs which the Greeks shared, and also to draw metaphysical conclusions from the fact that they were able to experience life in such a way that they needed great tragedies in order to endure it.