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What Aphorism Does Nietzsche Explicate in GenealogyofMorals, Essay III ? JOHN T. WILCOX A picture held us captive. Wittgenstein ~ AS EVERYONE KNOWS, the dominant opinion is not always correct. Current scholarship, in all likelihood, makes assumptions which have not yet been questioned; and probably some of them will be seen to be false, once they have been examined. I will argue here that there is a dominant but erroneous assumption concerning the Third Essay in Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals. It will be obvious that correcting this error has some serious implications for almost all current interpretations of the essay. After acknowledging, at the end of his Preface to the Genealogy, that some might find his new book "incomprehensible," Nietzsche warns that "the fault.., is not necessarily mine." He assumes, he says, that readers have already worked hard at his earlier writings, themselves "not easy to penetrate ," and have been "wounded" and "delighted" by his Zarathustra. Then he begins one of several passages we must examine carefully: In other cases, people have difficulty with the aphoristic form: this arises from the fact that today this form is not taken seriously enough. An aphorism, properly stamped and molded, has not been "deciphered" when it has simply been read; rather, one has then to begin its exegesis,for which is required an art of exegesis. I have offered in the third essay of the present book an example of what I regard as "exegesis" in such ,"Ein Bild hielt uns gefangen." Ludwig Wittgenstein, PhilosophicalInvestigations,tr. G. E. M. Anscombe (3rd. ed., New York: Macmillan, 1958),I, 115. [593] 594 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 35:4 OCTOBER ~997 a case--an aphorism is prefixed to this essay, the essay itself is a commentary on it. (GM P 8)2 The apparently simple question the present study asks is this: What aphorism /s prefixed to the Third Essay? Or: What/s the Third Essay an exegesis of, or a commentary on? It is remarkable that Nietzsche claims to devote a third of the Genealogy to an aphorism and its exegesis. And given the current concerns with style, including aphoristic style, and with reading, and with Nietzsche on style and reading, this claim alone about Essay III should make it of great contemporary interest--even if the title question of the essay, "What Do Ascetic Ideals Mean?,"~ were not also of great interest. But of course to profit from, or to appraise, Nietzsche's lesson in exegesis, we must identify the aphorism he explicates. The thesis of the present paper is that, while some contemporary scholarship is noncommittal (perhaps out of honest uncertainty and scholarly scruple), the identification assumed by those who address the issue is clearly mistaken, if we interpret what Nietzsche writes in the most plausible way. An implication, not developed here but fairly clear, is that almost all current, substantial interpretations of Essay II I need to be reconsidered . Those that misidentify the aphorism need revision, of course. Those that are noncommittal are at best incomplete (on the very point Nietzsche stresses in the Preface). But both the mistakes and the incompleteness have consequences, some of which will be implicit in what follows. I'll mention one: it turns out that the identification of the aphorism reveals the structure of the essay, as Nietzsche understood it; and I think it highly unlikely that one could uncover that structure without seeing what aphorism is explicated (and reporting what one had seen). But the development of this and other implications must be left for other studies. ' Except as noted, I use the Walter Kaufmann translations, as found in his Basic Writings of Nietzsche,First Modern Library ed. (New York, Random House, 1968). (Here I present "taken" in Roman type; Kaufmann used italics.) In my abbreviation scheme, GM is On theGenealogyofMorals, GM I is its First Essay, and so on. GM III 9 is the ninth section ofGM III. GM P 8 is GM's Preface, Section 8. EH isEcceHomo;EH III 4 is the fourth section of EH's third (unnumbered) major part; EH GM is the part of EH (the part of EH III, actually) dealing with On theGenealogyofMorals; EH...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 593-610
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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