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Emergence and descendence

By acknowledging that the conviction-force of an ascription of responsibility and of causal efficacy relies upon the subjectivities of the historian and their audience rather than upon a detached world of substantial entities, Nietzsche’s genealogical account of the ‘causes’ of the history of morals entails an important consequence for morality generally, and herd morality in particular. For:

[m]orality in Europe today is herd animal morality - in other words, as we understand it, merely one type of human morality beside which, before which, and after which many other types, above all higher moralities, are, or ought to be, possible. But this morality resists such a ‘possibility,’ such an ‘ought,’ with all its power: it says stubbornly and inexorably, ‘I am morality itself and nothing besides is morality!’[1]

Conventional moralities, Nietzsche supposes, are built on the premise that they are the one single interpretation of how things were - that because the past ‘really was like this,’ then acting in such a way is really good and not acting in such a way is really evil. The premise is an obvious abuse of the genetic fallacy. Yet more inimical is that the herd belief in the reality of their representation has become absolute. The diversity of perspectives has gradually been whittled down to the point where entire masses of people bow assent to a single univocal judgment about the past. Whether the assumption of what the US Founding Fathers really intended when writing the Constitution or what Jesus really said on Mount Eremos, the normative force of any system of values depends on a representational realist vision of history. Each form of morality holds its standard of value as the correct one, indeed as the only one possible, precisely because its account of the past is the way things were.

Michel Foucault is credited as the first to grasp the significance of Nietzsche’s undermining of the traditional realist notion of historical causation for moral arguments.[2] And Foucault also bears the clearest mark of influence of any philosopher in his own ‘Nietzschean’ attempts to do away with historiography of the ‘arche’ and embrace one of the ‘archive.’ One can argue that all of Foucault’s writings attempt to displace the representation of real origins for the sake of examining several archival “systems that establish statements as events and things.”[3] While some of the quotations of Nietzsche above show that Foucault was rather heavy-handed in reducing the variety of Nietzsche’s causes to ‘Herkunft’ and ‘Entstehung,’ his characterization highlights the important deconstructive force of Nietzsche’s historiography.

The traditional historiographical notion of cause presumes a single sufficient condition that explains why something became what it did. Where Judeo-Christian moral rules are believed to have a divine source, one expects the immutability of their status today. Where the scientific ideal of subject-free objectivity is believed to have come from a pure and innocent desire for truth, that ideal carries an almost sacred value as well. But where, as Nietzsche hopes to show, the allegedly single origin of those values is stripped away and revealed to be a collection of various all-too-human and self-interested reinterpretations, our faith in such hypostasized values falls away psychologically.[4] Nietzsche’s conception of ‘descent’ highlights this accidental character of what is typically considered essential in the development of a phenomenon. In the more usual denotation of genealogy as a family-tree or pedigree, the thing or person is assigned a particular esteem on the basis of what past has ‘gone into them.’[5] Horses and dogs are valued on the basis of their bloodlines, as often enough are people. Institutions and even values themselves are valued at least in part for the history that has ‘gone into them’ as well. Genealogical historiography, by contrast, works to efface the coins, dissolve ossified systems of value. It “disturbs what was previously considered immobile; it fragments what was thought unified; it shows the heterogeneity of what was imagined consistent with itself.”[6]

Apart from esteeming the origin, the other side of more typical historical norm-idealization concerns the value of the instantiated thing - as if the value of a thing today justifies the long history of its development. If an economy thrives today, then the generations-old policies of its stewards must have been wise. If Christianized countries enjoy a relatively decent way of life today, then all the violence of crusades and colonization and inquisitions must have been worth it. Whereas ‘descent’ challenges the value of the present on the basis of its past, Nietzsche’s concept of ‘emergence’ resists justifying the past on the basis of the present. Events are not some end point or goal of a thought-out process. Emergent phenomena are ephemeral, capable of arising only through conflict and confrontation, but never justify some cause from which they are believed to result.[7] History is a sort of struggle of forces, where what emerges does so by virtue of a momentarily stronger power ofexpression over its counter. The masters and slaves of the Genealogie never experience a Hegelian Aufhebung.[8] The belief in the glory of the ‘last day,’ for which Nietzsche ridiculed Hartmann and Strauss and through them Hegel and Marx, never comes about if antithetical emergents never reach their final synthesis.

Punishment, for a particularly good example of emergence, stands as a single word to name a diverse manifold of phenomena whose various attributed meanings emerge within an artificially ossified structure - an attempt to ascertain (feststellen) something which does not stand fast (feststehen).

[T]he general history of punishment up to now, the history of its use for a variety of purposes, finally crystallizes in a kind of unity which is difficult to dissolve back into its elements, difficult to analyze and, what one must stress, is absolutely undefinable. (Today it is impossible to say precisely why people are actually punished: all concepts in which an entire process is semiotically concentrated defy definition; the definable is only that which has no history.)[9]

Here Nietzsche’s portrayal again suggests the preferability ofanti-realism. For punishment is no real subsistent thing to which we can realistically ascribe predicates and then insert into some real causal relationship. It is handled as a useful symbolic designation whose meaning itself contains a complicated history of over-writings and reinterpretations, to the point that whatever reality there was earlier on has been obfuscated by the increasing emergence of new interpreting forces. As a historian after his own conception of historiography, Nietzsche’s task is precisely the opposite of finding some real isolated phenomenon called punishment; it is instead “to at least supply a representation [ Vorstellungg] of how uncertain, retroactive and accidental the ‘meaning’ of punishment is, and how one and the same procedure can be used, interpreted, and adapted for fundamentally different projects.”47 By revealing punishment as an emergent interpretation rather than as a substantial essence, Nietzsche discomfits the confidence with which we ascribe a noble purpose to institutionalized rituals ofpunishment, when we seek to punish in the name of God, country, justice, human rights, the law, the state, common decency, or whatever other ground we employ to justify the institutionalized harming of another.

[T]he cause of the emergence [Ursache der Entstehung] of a thing and its ultimate usefulness, its practical application and incorporation into a system of ends, are toto coelo separate; that anything in existence, having somehow come about [Zu-Stande-Gekommenes], is continually interpreted anew, requisitioned anew, transformed and redirected to a new purpose by a greater power; that everything that occurs in the organic world consists of overpowering, dominating, and, in their turn, overpowering and dominating consist of new interpretation, adjustment, in the process of which their former ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ must necessarily be obscured or completely obliterated.48

Anti-realist historiography, as Nietzsche here conceives it, is particularly suited to overturning beliefs. Notice how he has progressed beyond his notion of critical history in Nutzen und Nachteil, where particular beliefs or values were undermined by revealing a discrepancy in the real traditions on which they were really built. He has progressed even further beyond the critical realism of his philological articles, where the authorship of particular written texts was undermined when compared with more trustworthy evidence. Genealogy is not just a useful hammer alongside an assortment of others tools of critique. It is a global contention about the possibility of relying on traditions as justifications generally. “The historical refutation [historische Widerlegung] as the decisive one. - Once it was sought to prove that there was no God - now it is shown how the belief that a God existed could have emerged [entstehen], and by what means the belief gained authority and importance: in this way the counterproof that there is no God becomes unnecessary and superfluous.”49 Subjecting God, or for that matter any other hypostasized belief, cultural norm, moral value, or typical practice, to a historical critique in terms of showing how such things come to be believed in the first place itself does the

47 GM ii, 13; KSA 5, 317. 48 GM11,12; KSA 5, 314. 49 M 95; KSA 3, 86.

refutational work - in the sense of dissuading conviction - that was previously believed to be the work of logic.[10]

  • [1] 39 See Foucault (1977). For two recent treatments of Foucault’s reception of Nietzsche, see Mahon(1992) and Saar (2007). An informative account about Nietzsche’s notions of origin and causation is
  • [2] Sommer (2003).
  • [3] Foucault (1972), 128. See also Flynn (1994), 28ff.
  • [4] Cf. Emden (2008), 235; Conway (1994), 328. 3 See Geuss (1994), 275ff; Stegmaier (1994), 63.
  • [5] 43 Bouchard (1977), I46ff. Note this is the very opposite of Habermas’ insupportable claim that forNietzsche, “That which is more originary is considered more venerable, respectable, natural and pure.
  • [6] Ancestry and origin serve simultaneously as the criteria of rank in the social as well as in the logicalsense.” Habermas (1982), 27.
  • [7] Cf. Smart (1985), 47-53.
  • [8] As Deleuze did well to point out, insofar as emergent qualia continually struggle, and are continuallyin conflict with other potentially dominating emergent qualia, they never in fact resolve themselvesinto some kind of ‘higher’ form of recognition that could in principle sanctify its origin. See generallyDeleuze (1983).
  • [9] GM11,13; KSA 5, 317. Further, “Constant transitions forbid us from speaking about ‘individuals’ [...]just as little about cause and effect [...] a world that becomes could not, in a strict sense, be‘comprehended’ or ‘known.’” NFJune-July 1885, 36[23]; KSA 11, 561.
  • [10] Cf. Emden (2008), 272.
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