On Nietzsche’s Late Notebooks
Notebook 36, June - July 188536
It is unlikely that our ‘knowing’ would go any further than what’s justnecessary for the preservation of life. Morphology shows us how the
senses and nerves, also the brain, develop in proportion to the di
culty of nding food.
A note like this one rather shows how Nietzsche routinely goes be- yond a caricatured vitalism; which is to say, the vitalism that a histo-
ry-of-philosophy approach would like to ascribe to him doesn’t t at all.
This note with its hypothesis/observation has nothing whatever to dowith living forces, energies, will-to-power, and so on. It is one of many,
many attempts by Nietzsche to oer a causal explanation for something,to put forward a scientic or empirical ground for, in this case, ‘know
Rather than dismiss these thoughts as ‘pseudoscientic’, they areexamples of what thinking is supposed to do: take risks. At the edge of
knowledge, Nietzsche discerns in the biological in a broad and yet un-determined sense a ground for human knowledge. Nietzsche is estab-
lishing a new dimension of sucient ground for reason, knowing, and
so on. It is precisely because this new biological dimension (when lined
up with psychology and ontology) is so fertile as a eld of causal expla
-nation that Nietzsche is preoccupied with it. Nietzsche is not a Jung whocreates a mythology-as-knowledge with categories like ‘archetypes’ andso on with no basis in the world outside our declaration of them. Ni-
etzsche should be taken at his word: he is a scientic thinker. He simply
has a larger scope than those physical scientists who like their own rats inmazes see only what is in front of them.
The rst sentence in the note can be read a variety of dierent ways.
Keeping closest to its wording (at least in translation), we have a scenarioin which ‘knowing’ is simply an operation within the organism’s primary
functioning: self-preservation. The image comes to mind of a factory
with hundreds of employees all pounding out widgets. One employeeis pissing in an upstairs water closet. Would we say that the function of