Book Summaries Philosophy

The Gay Science Summary (8/10)

The Gay Science Summary

The Gay Science by Friedrich Nietzsche is a collection of masterfully written musings about art, religion, God, literature, human psychology, the difference between the sexes, thinking, the illusion of the contemplative minds, free will, actors, and morality.

Nietzsche despises systematic thinking, he rejects the British philosophical tradition and the German tradition.

The urge to categorize information is the primary pursuit of these thinkers and it is not that he rejects this mode of thinking as useless, but that it is fatally flawed. He points out that our conception of cause and effect and virtue are neither self-evident nor logically sound.

Nietzsche considers himself an artist and a thinker and presumes that his audience are artists. What artists have in common is a subject that is much discussed in this book. He tells us about the place that artists love to be, and the place they want to avoid at all costs. And he dispatches valuable advice to anyone who wishes to live creatively.

The artists are always inventing things, and they withdraw from life, until no one sees them very much. He writes about the incompleteness of the life of the artist, for it is tempting to remove oneself from reality either by living contemplatively or escaping fully into the world of ones imagination. And it is a wonderful thing to learn, how an artist is careful about his invention and artifice, but we must go beyond the artist, we must use art to design our daily lives.

In addition to these higher pursuits, we are also in control of our destinies, we have an active role to play in the shaping of life.

The Conceit of Artists

I think artists often do not know what they can do best , because they are too conceited , and have set their minds on something loftier than those little plants appear to be , which can grow up to perfection on their soil , fresh , rare , and beautiful . The final value of their own garden and vineyard is superciliously underestimated by them , and their love and their insight are not of the same quality.

To Nietzsche, there are two types of human beings. There are the saintly, weak, victimized, virtuous natures that are often prized as an example to follow in society. And then there are the strong-willed, the daring, creative, imaginative, rebellious souls who refuse to box themselves into a corner. Those that choose to surrender their primitive urges and fundamental needs are the herd. They are in constant need of direction and of recognition.

In contrast, the courageous souls that he admires only need the approval of themselves. But what is interesting is not to see the stark contrast that Nietzsche points to, but everything in between. It is his subtle reading of human psychology that is captivating.

Most people are afraid of individuality. Historically, it was considered the harshest punishment to be banished from the group, to be condemned to thinking for oneself. It was a crutch, a condemnation. And for this reason, people still retain these feelings. Herd behavior is natural, it is the rare ones that dare to oppose the general order of things, to think for themselves, to reject the life of being a herd animal.  

Epicuranism vs Stoicism

Today, there is a movement towards stoicism, and many popular books have reinvigorated this old philosophy. But Nietzsche points out that it is not appropriate for all people. It is more fitting for some people who must deal with uncertainty, but not so much to those with a different fate, one that is more stable and continuous. To the latter group, Epicureanism makes more sense.

The Epicurean chooses the situations, persons, and events that suit his sensitive, intellectual constitution, and he renounces everything else – this includes the greater part of experience, for it is too heavy for him.

But the Stoic gets used to swallowing stones and vermin, glass and scorpions, without disgust. He has a stomach for all the accidents of existence. Stoicism is advisable for men who go through difficult and violent times. But those who have a more stable life should make Epicurean arrangements, all men that have devoted themselves to intellectual labor have done this.

For it would be . a supreme loss to them to forfeit their fine sensibility , and to acquire the hard , stoical hide with hedgehog prickles in exchange.

The Gay Science, Nietzsche

Nietzsche is famously known for his harsh criticism of Christianity, and in this book there are passages that confirm his disdain for organized religion and any doctrine that attempts to undermine human freedom and induce feelings of guilt about our own natures. The construction of religion has resulted in a pathological self-hatred that has become almost incurable. The modern man is ashamed of his body and of his wicked thoughts; he is indoctrinated to reject what he is for an abstract ideal that is neither attainable nor desirable.

But Nietzsche tells us that Christianity has endowed us with a wonderful gift, that is, the uncompromising pursuit of truth. And in that way, it has undermined itself.

The void that Christianity has left behind will not be easily digested by western civilization. After the death of God, human beings will be required to think about nature differently, and about morality differently. There is no authority, there is no right and wrong, and there is nothing that is absolute or formulaic about life.

There is constant change, and we must recognize that our minds are ruled by impulses outside our conscious control. We are not fully autonomous, perfectly logical beings. But instead of rejecting this error or casting it as a sin that we cannot integrate into ourselves, we must embrace error. We must accept that it is only by error that progress was ever made. We must acknowledge that it is a fundamental part of life.

We have arranged for ourselves a world in which we can live – by the postulating of bodies , lines , surfaces , causes and effects , motion and rest , form and content : without these articles of faith no one could manage to live at present ! But for all that they are still unproved . Life is no argument ; error might be among the conditions of life .  

The Gay Science, Nietzsche

In fact, when we consider something like deception or untruth, we must carefully think to ourselves why we should reject them as evil. If we start off with the idea that truth is whatever advances the cause of our species and for that reason whatever is true is good, we must also consider the other side. There are instances when untruth is just as valuable for our species, where deception is necessary. And since these cases exist, we cannot say that morality is about truth.

The Madman

Nietzsche highlights the struggles we will face after the death of God in the story of the madman. There was a madman who lighted a lantern on a bright morning and ran to the market, calling out repeatedly, “I seek God! I Seek God!”

There were many people standing around who were unbelievers, and they were amused by him. “Why! Is he lost?” said one. “Has he strayed away like a child?” said another. “Has he emigrated?” the people cried out in laughter. The insane man jumped in front of them and transfixed them with his glances. He tells them that we have killed God, that we are all his murderers.

But how have we done it ? How were we able to drink up the sea ? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon ? What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun ? Whither does it now move ? Whither do we move ? Away from all suns ? Do we not dash on unceasingly ? Backwards , sideways , forewards , in all directions ? Is there still an above and below ? Do we not stray , as through infinite nothingness ? Does not empty space breathe upon us ? Has it not become colder ? Does not night come on continually , darker and darker ? Shall we not have to light lanterns in the morning ? Do we not hear the noise of the grave – diggers who are burying God ? Do we not smell the divine putrefaction ? — for even Gods putrefy ! God is dead ! God remains dead ! And we have killed him ! How shall we console ourselves , the most murderous of all murderers ? The holiest and the mightiest that the world has hitherto possessed , has bled to death under our knives , — who will wipe the blood from us ? With what water could we clean ourselves ? What festivals , what sacred games shall we have to devise ? Is not the magnitude of this deed too great for us ? Shall we not ourselves have to become Gods , merely to seem worthy of it ?

The Gay Science, Nietzsche

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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