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Genealogy as history
In an 1887 letter to his friend Franz Overbeck, Nietzsche confesses a central fear for his philosophy of history. “At last my mistrust now turns to the question whether history is actually possible? What, then, does one want to ascertain [feststellen]? Something which, in a moment of happening, does not itself ‘stand fast’ [feststand]?”1 This mistrust illustrates a core problem for Nietzsche’s entire philosophical project. For since Nietzsche formulates a significant - it would not be an exaggeration to say the predominant — number of his arguments about truth, culture, religion, values, psychology, etc., in historical terms, that is, in claims about how things ‘used to be’ and how they have in some way become what they now are, the very cogency of his philosophy depends upon his account of the past — his ability to ‘set still’ that which does not ‘stand fast.’ And if his claims about ‘the slave revolt in morality,’ ‘the twilight of aristocratic values,’ ‘the birth of tragedy,’ ‘the instantiation of ascetic ideals,’ ‘how he became what he is,’ and so forth cannot be considered viable explanations of the phenomena in question, then Nietzsche may be a genius teller of stories, but no philosopher.
This dependency concerns not only the rhetorical devices that Nietzsche happened to employ — as if he could have written a non-historically framed philosophy. Historiography is essential to Nietzsche’s philosophy because its very subject matter concerns a reality that is historical through and through. In fact, Nietzsche considers it a major failing of the great philosophers that they ignore the intrinsically historical character of that very reality whose task it is theirs to explicate. “A lack of historical sense,” Nietzsche emphasizes in the opening sections of Human all-too-Human, “is the root mistake [Erbfehler] of all philosophers.”  This is precisely because “everything has come to be; there are no eternal facts: just as there are no absolute truths. From now on, therefore, historicalphilosophizing [historische Philosophiren] will be necessary, and along with it the virtue of modesty.” “[P]hilosophy [...] means for us only the widest extension of the concept ‘history.’” “What separates us from Kant, as well as from Plato and Leibniz: we believe in becoming alone, even in intellectual matters; we are historical through and through; [...] revived is the way of thinking of Heraclitus and Empedocles.” By contrast, “the morality of philosophers from Socrates onward is a sort of Don Quixotery,” a “selfmisunderstanding,” which evinces “a complete lack of historical sense” by virtue of its attempt to judge “sub specie aeterni.” It goes without saying that Nietzsche’s own ‘historical sense,’ his own “extension of the concept ‘history,’” will be very different from that inimical historisches Sinn for which he ridiculed his scientistic contemporaries in the mid-i87os. Nietzsche requires a new model, one different in fundamental epistemological and ontological ways from traditional methods of describing and explaining the past.
Nietzsche characterizes his own philosophical project as just such an attempt to make becoming ‘stand still.’ He is trying to conceptualize history in a meaningful way while at the same time acknowledging the past is “unconceptualized chaos.” Certainly not by ignoring reality’s historical character, nor by believing his concepts, words, and propositions successfully do arrest reality as it really was independent of his construction; Nietzsche’s unique accomplishment in the philosophy of history was to simultaneously recognize the developmental character of reality and that his own account of it represents a symbolic way of description, a way that admits the anti-realist, perspectival, and historical character of his historiography. “Philosophy, the way I alone regard it, as the most general form of history [Historie], as an attempt to somehow describe and abbreviate in symbols [Zeichen] the Heraclitean 11
The character of reality is, for Nietzsche, a constant process, a continual flux of forms and shapes, the meaning of which shifts and transmogrifies along with the conceptual symbols of those interpreters who try to encapsulate it. Our values, as a part of reality, will be no different. They will be no Platonic forms existing immutably beyond space and time, awaiting the philosopher capable of apprehending them beyond the flux of appearances. They will be no Schopenhauerian ideas, no timeless objects of speculation.  For Nietzsche, the flux of appearances is our reality, our only reality, and as such our task as philosophers cannot be to make reality really ‘stand fast,’ but to abbreviate it as if it did, to approximate reality in concepts and words, to interpret reality symbolically in ways that are meaningful for beings that are psycho-physiognomically arranged in the approximate ways our types are. In the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche must represent values like ‘good’ and ‘evil’ symbolically, while recognizing that in reality both are historically contingent interpretations and not timeless facts. “History can only be conceptualized through concepts [durch Begriffe begriffen werden]; the concepts, however, must be created by historical people.” Genealogy, as Nietzsche conceives it, is a historically contingent anti-realist representation set within and constructed to convince a specific and determinate type of perspective.
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