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Journal of Philosophy, Inc.

Ethics--Apollonian and Dionysian
Author(s): Mary L. Coolidge
Source: The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 38, No. 17 (Aug. 14, 1941), pp. 449-465
Published by: Journal of Philosophy, Inc.
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FOR the logical positivist, ". . . ethics, as a branch of
is nothing more than a department of psychology and sociol-
By such statements as this the logical positivists mean,
course, that to the social sciences belongs the task of
assembling and
sorting the facts concerning what human
beings have
thought and
felt, and do think and feel, about what are
ordinarily called moral
problems, and concerning human behavior in making moral choices.
And they mean also that anything to be found in ethical discus-
sions and theories over and above such tabulation of facts can be
allowed no standing as science, or as
in the traditional
sense-i.e., it can make no valid claim to be or to yield truth or
knowledge-but must be accepted as mere "expressions and exci-
tants of
Now when language is used not to convey information but to ex-
press or excite feeling the result is commonly accepted as being not
a bit of science but a bit of art. Thus ethics, in so far as it is any-
thing more than a statement of the facts about thinking, feeling,
and behavior, becomes, according to the analysis of the logical posi-
tivists, an art. Various members of this group have suggested that
this is the case, and the conclusion is an obvious one if the prior
conclusions concerning the nature of knowledge, the meaningless-
ness of the propositions of traditional metaphysics and value theory,
etc., are accepted.
That the traditional philosophical view of the nature of ethics
differs sharply from that just described would not, I believe, be
doubted by anyone. The difference lies not in any denial in the
traditional accounts that an ethical theory is in some sense a work
of art but in the positive claim made in these accounts that it is
also something more. The reinterpretations of ethics which have
been important in the history of thought have always been ex-
pressions of the fused thought and feeling of one person or of a
group of persons, and they have always had in greater or less degree
Alfred J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic (1936), p. 168. A similar
account of ethical statements may be found in Rudolf Carnap 's Philosophy
and Logical Syntax (1935). See Chapter I, Section 4.
Op. cit., p. 163.
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the power to arouse similar fusions of thought and feeling in other
persons. No reasonably sensitive student of Socratic, or Aris-
totelian, or Spinozistic, or Kalntian, or Spencerian ethical systems
-however unsympathetic or even antagonistic his own response
to one or all of these systems may be-can fail to recognize that
each is the embodiment of a certain emotional attitude on the
part of its author and that each has been the means of transmit-
ting the emotion expressed to countless other individuals and of
persuading them to adopt the attitude recommended. But it is
clear that neither Socrates, nor Aristotle, nor Spinoza, nor Kant,
nor Spencer thought of himself as merely transmitting an emotion
or bringing about the duplication of an attitude. On the contrary
each believed that he was offering a true account of the nature of
moral values and of the basis of moral judgments. And each also
undertook to relate his ethical conclusions to the general conclu-
sions of a wider philosophical system which dealt with metaphysical
and epistemological matters as well as with ethical ones.
The historically important interpretations of Christianity have
a like character. In them also the ethical teachings are presented
as authoritative. And while one can not extract from the Gos-
pels statements on metaphysical and epistemological matters so
phrased that they are readily matched with the statements of
Greek or later European philosophers, yet assumptions and asser-
tions concerning the nature of God, the nature of man, and man's
ability to know good and evil are essential parts of New Testa-
ment teachings; and these doctrines are accepted as having a very
definite relationship to the ethical conclusions.
Thus the orthodox, traditional view of philosophers and theo-
logians has been one according to which an ethical theory gives a
knowledge of values and is accepted as being logically allied to,
if not explicitly deduced from, a metaphysical theory or a theol-
ogy. If one looks in the past for exemplifications of a point of
view towards ethics not unlike that of the logical positivists, one
finds them at times when older interpretations of the tradition have
come to seem inadequate and newer ones are not yet available. In
such periods men have wearied of metaphysical and theological
speculations and have been content to accept their ethical beliefs
as relatively detached accounts of human wishes and hopes, often
as more or less moving and more or less persuasive descriptions
of the life that "our fathers" or "the wise" have led and that we
suppose it might be well for us and our children to lead. The
writings of some of the Latin authors of Cicero's time and later,
when the ideals of the Stoics and the Epicureans were being merged
and the original metaphysical bases of the two systems were for-
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gotten or deliberately rejected, have this character. And Chris-
tian ethical theory has also at times slipped its metaphysical or
theological moorings and drifted with the tide of inherited senti-
There is, however, nothing that suggests weariness or drift in
the writings of the contemporary logical positivists. On the con-
trary there is a crisp and positive incisiveness about them. They
suggest that the writers have little interest in the conclusions of
the past and appeal to the thinking of the present and the future
-a thinking envisaged as essentially scientific and logical-for
confirmation of the rightness and fruitfulness of their contentions.
And it is clear that this is the proper, and indeed the inevitable,
testing ground. Fundamental criticism-either sympathetic or
adverse-of their theories must in the end concern itself with the
logical assumptions on which the theories are based and the argu-
ments by which they are supported. It is not such criticism,
however, that will be presented in this paper. There is room and
need, also, I believe, for another sort of investigation, i.e., for an
examination of the implications of the assumptions made and the
conclusions drawn. And the task to be undertaken here is that of
an inquiry as to what ethical discussion is likely to be if it is
understood to have the character and the limitations that the log-
ical positivists ascribe to it. We shall, in other words, accept pro-
visionally the logical positivists' summary account of what ethics
can be and then attempt to make clear to ourselves how, within
the bounds prescribed, it might be expected to develop. I shall
assume that there is no need to consider what may, and should,
be done by psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, etc., in col-
lecting facts about moral beliefs and the feelings, emotions, and
reactions connected with them. The methods to be used, and the
limitation of the ends that can be reached by these methods, are
clear and generally recognized. What will be considered is the
residual talk about ethical matters, and specifically such talk as
purports to be not about facts but about values and ultimate ends.
I understand that the logical positivists agree that such talk is
bound to go on, and that they have no wish to discourage it so
long as it is recognized as laying no claim to be asserting truths
or extending knowledge. As an "emotive" use of language it is
held to have the character of art; and it is as such that I propose
to consider it.
If we are to expect ethical discussion to have the character not
of theory purporting to give knowledge but of art, an obvious first
step in inquiry is to ask what character is to be ascribed to art and
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what has been found to be the most generally useful classification
of the arts.
Historically, of course, all sorts of answers have been given to
the question, "What is art?" But most of these answers we need
not in our present discussion consider. We need not, for example,
consider interpretations in which a claim is made that art reveals
Ideal beauty, or the character of the universe as a whole, or the
Absolute, or the nature of Spirit, etc. We can disregard such
interpretations because we are attempting to confine our discus-
sion within the bounds set by the logical positivists, and since they
assert that we can never know anything about Platonic Ideas,
the universe as a whole, or the Absolute, or Spirit, etc., we can
not be expected to entertain theories of art according to which art
is said to yield such knowledge. This means that we can disre-
gard all the generally idealistic theories of art from that of Plato
to those of Bosanquet and Croce-and their number is very large.
Other theories which might not ordinarily be regarded as ideal-
istic but in which similar claims are made that art gives a "vision
of reality" or reinforces ultimate ethical or religious truths-those
of Bergson and Tolstoi, for example-may be eliminated on much
the same ground; they presuppose that we can have a sort of
knowledge which the logical positivists deny that anyone can ever
One may put the matter in a somewhat different way by point-
ing out that the logical positivists deny the validity of a normative
esthetics just as they deny that of a normative ethics. And the
interpretations of the nature of art which we have just said that
we can disregard are ones in which the claim is made that esthetic
norms do exist and that good art is good in so far as it exemplifies
them. Since we are attempting to ascertain what ethical discus-
sion can be within the limits prescribed by logical positivist doc-
trine, we can-and indeed must-refrain from translating it into
the terms of an esthetic theory which the upholders of such a doc-
trine would regard as itself invalid.
The interpretations of the nature of art which we have left to
consider, after the eliminations of which we have spoken have been
made, are ones in which art is accepted as the expression of hu-
man feeling and emotion in some form by means of which this
feeling or emotion can, under favorable conditions, be transmitted
to others. There are variations in the formulation of interpreta-
tions having this general character. In some accounts emphasis
falls on the expression itself, in others on the transmission of it.
In some accounts works of art are thought of as reflecting the
emotions of an individual,
in others as expressions of a social or
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group consciousness. But the accounts are alike in
art from science and from strictly utilitarian activities as
immediately "expressive." The sciences of psychology, sociology,
etc., give us knowledge about human wishes, feelings, and emotions.
The practical, utilitarian crafts procure for us
things that
them. The arts express them directly in some "emotive"
-for example, in sound, line, color, words, etc.3
The commonest and most generally accepted classification of
the arts is that based on the differences in the media used in the
different arts. Croce has denied that these differences have any
real significance. But the fact remains that artists, critics, and
members of the general public do constantly take for granted that
there is an obvious and significant distinction between the art of
the painter who uses color and line, that of the sculptor who uses
three dimensional forms, that of the musician who uses tones in
temporal sequences, that of the writer who uses words, etc. There
would seem to be no doubt that "ethical emotions"-i.e., the emo-
tions experienced in connection with situations involving moral
choices or moral judgments-are more often and more clearly ex-
pressed in words than in the fine arts or music. Thus ethical dis-
course as art is more nearly related to literature than to other forms
of art. Both can manage to convey incidentally a good deal of
information and to include an examination and analysis of ideas;
but neither has as its chief function the giving of knowledge or the
analysis of ideas. As a matter of fact it is difficult to see how if
ethical discussion is developed and accepted as an art any sharp
distinction can be drawn between it and "pure" literature except on
some arbitrary basis. Since ethical writers are in general willing
to be more directly hortatory than literary ones, we might find it
convenient to rule that a work is to be considered ethical if it has
a given degree of hortatoriness, and literary if it has not. It is
clear that on the basis of any such distinction there would be doubt-
ful, borderline cases; but there were, for that matter, doubtful,
borderline cases in the past when ethical writers who believed their
proper task was to deal with norms made use in formulating them
of literary techniques, and men of letters incorporated in their
works-and that quite without apology-the normative and meta-
physical conclusions of philosophers.
Thus a brief preliminary consideration as to what according to
the view of the logical positivists ethical discourse will be leads to
the conclusion that it will resemble literature in being an expres-
sion of human wishes, feelings, and desires, but that it will be in
Carnap's acceptance of a theory about art such as that outlined is
shown on pages 28 and 29 of Philosophy and Logical Syntax.
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typical cases distinguishable from "pure" literature in being more
directly hortatory. It will doubtless exhibit the influence of the
times and places in which it is produced; and it will be the task
of the historians to note, and in so far as possible to explain in
terms of psychological, social, economic, political, and other causal
factors, the differences between given examples. This will, of
course, be no new task for critics and historians to undertake, since
any history of ideas has always offered some analysis of this sort.
There remains one general classification of the arts-over and
above those already noted-the importance of which has been
stressed in countless critical and historical treatments of the arts
which would seem to be quite applicable, although not heretofore
very often actually applied, in an analysis of types of ethical
theory. This is the classification of art as classic or romantic, or
in Nietzschean terms as Apollonian or Dionysian. For this is a
classification that cuts across and beneath the distinction between
one literary form and another, and across and beneath the distinc-
tion between one form of art and another, and deals with funda-
mental differences in human wishes, desires, and feelings. It ex-
hibits the latter as springing from two different sources and as
pressing for expression in two widely diverging directions.
It is, of course, possible to treat the cont-rast between the classic
and the romantic in art in various ways. One may define classic
art literally and historically as that produced at a certain time or
times in the Graeco-Roman world. Or one may, widening the con-
cept to some extent, accept as "classics' all art whenever and
wherever produced which appears to be like that of Greece and Rome
in spirit or in execution. When such characterizations of "classic'"
art are adopted, the term "romantic 'is left to cover, often rather
vaguely, the art of other places and periods in which there are
signs of a revolt against the established classic tradition. Or
some such formula as that of "unity in variety" may be used to
define art; and one may distinguish classic forms of drama or
sculpture as those in which the emphasis is placed on the unity
of the whole from romantic forms in which the emphasis is placed
on the variety of interests displayed or details elaborated. But
while all these distinctions have some usefulness, there is a deeper
and more significant one; and it is this distinction that Nietzsche
has made clear in his account of the difference between the Apol-
lonian and the Dionysian
sources of artistic expressioii.
Nietzsche, it will be remembered, speaks of Apollonian art as
that of the dream. It is an art of "fair appearance," of fantasy
and image; and it has always its "measured limitation" and "free-
dom from the wilder emotions. " It is a shaped and individualized
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art with "all the joy and wisdom of 'appearance' together with
its beauty." Dionysian art on the other hand is that of drunken-
ness. It is an art of enchantment, of
of ecstatic
revelry; it celebrates a breaking of bonds and forms, a limitless and
exuberant vitality. It rejoices in the expression of
depths of primitive, non-individualized
feeling, feeling that belongs
to many men together or to man and nature when the two are felt
to be one.4
There is, of course, exaggeration in Nietzsche's vivid description
of the classic-romantic antithesis. But his description has haunted
the imagination of the critics ever since The Birth of Tragedy was
published. It is true, their attention to his theory goes to show
that there are two very different drives or sets of impulses at
work in man, the one seeking expression that is orderly, beautiful,
serene, the other finding its only possible outlet in the mysterious,
the passionate, and the tumultuous. The development of romantic
art is not for Nietzsche simply a pleasant excursion into new coun-
try, an experimenting with new forms by those who have become
somewhat tired of the old. It is an expression of forces at work
in the depths of human nature. And in these depths one finds
not only the traditionally recognized desire for pleasure and se-
curity but "the longing for the ugly, the good resolute desire . . .
for pessimism, for tragic myth, for the picture of all that is
evil, enigmatical, destructive, fatal at the basis of existence. . . .
If with this description of the two sources of art in mind we
turn, not as Nietzsche himself did to an interpretation of literature
and music, but to an examination of ethical writings, we shall find
the clearest examples of an Apollonian treatment of the good for
man in the Utopias. For these are descriptive not of any world
that does exist or that has existed but of an ideal world. Some
accounts of Utopia have been fantastic in the extreme, and even the
communities described by such relatively sober thinkers as Plato
and Bacon belong clearly among the dream worlds. They differ
from the real world in being more orderly, more beautiful, and
more cheerful. If the beings who inhabit them are like enough to
ourselves to be recognizably human-and this is usually the case,
-they are generally healthier, wiser, more virtuous, and happier.
Plato, whose interests were moral and political, implied in his two
descriptions of Utopian communities, The Reputblic and The Laws,
that their superiority had been brought about by education and
by the use of the right legal, political, and economic organization.
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy (3rd ed. of Eng. translation;
N. Y.: Macmillan, 1924), pp. 22-28.
5 Ibid., p. 7.
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Bacon, whose interests were scientific, put more stress upon the ad-
vantages to be obtained by an increase of scientific knowledge and
invention. The Utopias of other writers have usually been built
upon one or the other of these models. A curious modern version
of a conspicuously Apollonian Utopia is to be found in the forecasts
of those Marxist thinkers who look forward to a time when, after
class struggles have ended and classes have been abolished, the
millennium of a peaceful anarchy will at last pervade the earth.
(Of course a description of Utopia-as The Republic-may be more
than an artistic description of a dream world. It may include a
complete metaphysics or a theology. But as a description-and
it is as such that we are interested in it here-it is a bit of Apol-
lonian art.)
During the latter half of the last century and the first decades
of this one, a wide-spread acceptance of doctrines of evolution made
the projection of Utopian dreams into a not-too-distant "real"
future a common habit of mind with many men of the western
world. Bacon's faith that when man understood nature he could
use her to make his own life continually safer, fuller, and richer
seemed to be rapidly justifying
itself. And had not Nature her-
self been discovered to be furthering man's highest hopes in a man-
ner which Bacon himself had not anticipated but which Spencer
confidently explained to a countless number of attentive readers?
This optimistic belief in progress was found particularly congenial
by persons living in the United States. The wealth of an undevel-
oped country made the prophecies of unprecedented abundance of
material goods to be enjoyed in the near future seem far more
possible of fulfillment in America than in the poorer countries of
the old world. And Plato's faith in the power of education to re-
make human society and to improve human nature itself has been
widely and continuously preached in this country from Jefferson's
day to that of John Dewey. If descriptions of Utopia, labelled as
such, have not been especially numerous among American literary
and ethical writings, the general temper of many of the most im-
portant works on ethical and social theory produced here has been
without question optimistic and Apollonian.
The ideal worlds of different writers are, of course, different-
Apollonian art is an individualized art. But these worlds are alike
in exhibiting order, harmony, and "fair appearance." And the
lives that men lead in them are lives of order, peace, and pleasant-
ness, although the necessity for discipline and for self-sacrifice in
certain cases need not be denied. If these descriptions are accepted
-as ethical discourse on the logical positivist premises
must be
accepted-as expressive only and without reference to any norma-
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tive or absolute presuppositions, they can be judged solely on the
basis of their persuasiveness. Since the Apollonian artist is char-
acteristically optimistic, he seldom lacks confidence in his own
powers of persuasion. "This is the world of my dreams. Can
anyone fail to find it beautiful ?" He waits for no negative reply.
If he heard one he could do nothing about it. He has not pre-
sented an argument but has attempted to move mankind by the
portrayal of what is pleasant to himself.
The sketch of the good life presented by the logical positivist,
Moritz Schlick, in Problems of Ethics seems to me typical of the
kind of Apollonian ethical discourse just described. Much of this
volume is devoted to an exposition of the general position of logical
positivism and to a criticism of older ethical theories. The rest
of it consists of an account of the satisfactoriness of a life of kindly
happiness. This is a sort of life to secure, we are told, for it is a
way of life in harmony with natural desires for what is pleasant.
Thus one has a description running true to the pattern of tradi-
tional egoistical hedonism, a description which when offered as
without metaphysical or theological implications and when advo-
cated by a person of a naturally optimistic temperament yields a
typically Apollonian picture of man and society.
Dionysian ethical theories are less easily recognized than are
Apollonian ones. This is the case because they express impulses
that are more primitive and chaotic and hence less readily organ-
ized and made articulate. Nietzsche suggests that in the realm of
pure art the most natural outlet for Dionysian emotion is music,
while the most natural embodiment of Apollonian dreams is in pic-
tures. And music is less readily translated into verbal descrip-
tion than are pictures. We can not, therefore, expect to find as
systematic a working-out of the romantic view of life in ethical
discourse as we did of the classic view in the case of the Utopias.
Fragmentary expressions of the Dionysian view can, however,
be found in many places. If, for example, we turn to the Old
Testament writings, the existence of a great variety of teachings,
and the contradictions that are easily pointed out between the
teachings of one book and that of another, will suggest that we have
in the Old Testament neither the systematic development of a single
line of philosophical-ethical argument nor the unified presentation
of a world-dream. And an outpouring of primitive desires and
feelings similar to that which, as Nietzsche pointed out, appear in
the Greek choruses is to be found in many parts of many books.
There are romantic stories, as that of Belshazzar's feast; passionate
bursts of oratory, as Ezekiel's discourse on the sword of the Lord;
mysterious references to the Strange Woman even in the midst of
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advice to be wise; and countless vivid descriptions of battles, of
plagues, and of doomed cities. The emotion displayed is not that
of an individual but that of a people whose ties are the deep and
at times the secret ones of a common blood and a common devotion
to special rites and special holy places. Exhortation is sometimes
for one and sometimes for another sort of action: for courage in
battle, for rejection of alien customs, for expiatory suffering, for
participation in national repentance or national rejoicing. But in
each case the presupposition is that the action will be the result
of feelings and hopes that belong to the deep under-currents of a
common life. No one could, of course, wish to deny that there is a
great deal more in the ethical teaching of the Old Testament than
an expression of the romantic side of human nature. There are
books, or at least parts of books, which show something like a classi-
cal serenity and love of order. And in the chronologically later
writings "righteousness" has an absolute and eternal validity and
the account of it yields a normative ethics logically bound up with
a theology. Even in the earlier books it is probably true that one
could always trace some connection between the ethical teaching
and a taken-for-granted-theology. But in so far as one can sort out
the non-normative and non-theological elements they would appear to
be more often Dionysian than Apollonian.
The more important interpretations of Christian ethics have
been, as we have already noted, essentially normative. Specifically
it is the concept of sin-really a theological concept but one with-
out which an ethical system is not Christian-that can not be re-
duced to purely esthetic or expressive terms. But Christian ethical
theories have not infrequently shown the influence of classic or ro-
mantic ideals. In accounts of either the Garden of Eden or the King-
dom of Heaven it has always been easy to incorporate Utopian-Apol-
lonian elements. St. Augustine, Dante, and Milton are among
those who have seized and exploited this opportunity. When
writers have been impressed by the importance in human nature of
its Dionysian elements, they have been called upon to use somewhat
more ingenuity to make this fact apparent within the framework
of a Christian theology or metaphysics. But it has proved quite
possible to give romantic passions in the shape of vices to the Devil
or the damned, and romantic passions in the shape of heroic virtues
to the saints in their struggle against the forces of evil.
On the whole the influence on Christian teaching of the Aristo-
telian doctrine that man is a rational being-and the influence has
been a strong one-has tended to an emphasis on an Apollonian
rather than a Dionysian interpretation of the good life. A Utopian
dream appears more rational than ecstasy. The result has been
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that writers who have recognized most strongly the
romantic impulses at work in human
nature, and who did not wish
to break entirely with the Christian
have often
ethical theories exhibiting strange compromises between conflict-
ing ideals. In this group I should include Hobbes, Rousseau, and
Schopenhauer. Another
this instance
one between the Apollonian ideal of Greek rationalism and a deeply
inherent sense of the dark and mysterious forces in nature and in
man-can be found in the
writings of Lucretius.
In the case of the writers just mentioned, as well as in that of
the more orthodox upholders of a Christian interpretation of ethics,
the ethical theories are parts of wider metaphysical or theological
systems and offer definite, normative accounts of ethical good. I
have referred to them here because they illustrate the fact that
even when the general current of thought and feeling runs strongly
in the direction of a normative or an Apollonian ethics there are
those who see life and human nature as Dionysian or romantic.
And it has also seemed to me important to note the fact that the
combined influence of Greek rationalism and Christian dogma upon
European thought tended to make any open expression of a thor-
oughly Dionysian ethics difficult, if not impossible, before the time
of Nietzsche.
Before taking up Nietzsche's case, however, it may be as well
to look briefly at that of
Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer did not
break entirely with traditional Christian ethics but his reinterpre-
tation of this ethics is unorthodox in the extreme. His doctrine of
the existence of an underlying blind will would seem entirely com-
patible with a Dionysian ethics, but his ethical ideal of complete
and final asceticism is not. Some of the ideas borrowed by him
from eastern philosophies show his own strong inclination to ac-
cept life as a Dionysian phenomenon. But in the end he aligns
himself with those in the group of eastern thinkers who reject all
positive, earthly values. It is for this refusal to accept life that
Nietzsche, who in his
youth was
strongly influenced by Schopen-
hauer, in the end denounces him.
Nietzsche also interprets human life in terms of will. But unlike
Schopenhauer he rejoices in the multifold manifestations of this will.
And this secret spoke Life herself unto me. "Behold," said she, "I am
that which must ever surpass itself.
"To be sure, ye call it will to procreation, or impulse towards a goal,
towards the higher, remoter, more manifold: but all that is one and the same
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"That I have to be struggle, and be coming, and purpose, and cross
pose-ah, he who divineth my will, divineth well also on the crooked
paths it
bath to tread!
"Whatever I create, and however much I love it,-soon must I be adverse
and to my love: so willeth my will.
"Thus did Life once teach me: and thereby, ye wisest
do I solve
you the riddle of your hearts.
"Verily, I say unto you: good and evil which would be everlasting-it
doth not exist! Of its own accord must it ever surpass itself anew. " 6
The exultantly romantic character of Nietzsche 's ethics is so well
recognized that it needs no stressing or elaboration. There is no
attempt to compromise with Christian or rational
The ethical theory has little connection with any metaphysical or
epistemological doctrine. It is offered as a call to a new attitude
toward life and makes little pretense at being based on argument
or defended by other than a poetic and oratorical
logic. Those who
refuse to acknowledge its importance do so on the ground that it
is the expression of the abnormal feeling and imagination of a man
of unbalanced mind. If we are to accept it as an outstanding ex-
ample of ethical discourse regarded as romantic art-and I believe
it must be so accepted,-it is necessary to give some consideration
to this criticism. The point of the criticism seems to be that
Nietzsche's feeling and thinking was as a result of his ill health
so a-typical that (1) the study of it yields little useful information
about how ordinary-and healthier-people feel and think, and
(2) that few persons are likely to be interested in or influenced by
it. My own view is that neither of these conclusions is legitimate.
As for the first contention, the very principle implied in it can
easily be seen to be false. There is no field of natural or social
science in which we have not learned much about usual occurrences
from a study of unusual ones. The astronomer does not refuse to
take eclipses seriously because they are unusual, nor the political
scientist revolutions. In Nietzsche's case the very peculiarities of
his physical and mental make-up render him and his work an
especially useful subject for study. It is certainly no accident that
it was he who interpreted the antithesis between the classic and
the romantic in such a way as to throw new light on an old and
much discussed theme. He was
temperamentally sensitive to some
of the factors involved in the artistic
expression of emotion that
had escaped the attention of other critics. If in expressing his
views on life in general this sensitiveness makes his reactions seem
Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus
Spake Zarathustra
(3rd ed. of Eng. transla-
N. Y.:
Macmillan, 1911), pp. 136,
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exaggerated in comparison with those of others, can one not say
the same of the reactions of many romantic artists? And if one
is engaged in an examination of romantic art as such, is it not clear
that the most romantic examples are especially worthy of study?
Moreover the anti-rationalism that underlies Nietzsche's repu-
diation first of orthodox normative ethics and secondly of the Apol-
lonian ideal of the good life, is no isolated phenomenon. On the
contrary his insistence that all life and all human conduct can be
nothing but an expression of will, either free and exultant or
thwarted and perverted, is only one instance of an anti-rationalism
that is typical of much European thinking in the last one hundred
years. Schopenhauer 's preceded it, and Bergson 's followed it.
And the anti-rationalism of the psychologists and the psycho-
analysts who have explored the phenomena of the unconscious
is especially interesting in its connection with contemporary
discussions of ethical problems. The conclusions of this group
of writers are complex, and not infrequently conflicting. But
there is general agreement among them that much of man's
thinking, feeling, and conduct is the result of strong, primitive, im-
pulses and emotions the expression of which is varied, highly
charged, and often characterized by a mysterious symbolism of its
own. In other words, they are at one with Nietzsche in giving us
a Dionysian rather than an Apollonian picture of human nature.
And it would seem to me impossible for anyone who has examined
this picture with care to assert dogmatically that the picture drawn
earlier by Nietzsche is too exaggerated to be worth attention. I
may add that while I spoke earlier of the generally Apollonian
temper of most American thinking on ethical matters, I also believe
that the Dionysian point of view of the psycho-analysts represents
a cross current in thought and feeling of no little significance.
In commenting upon the first of the criticisms which we noted
as having been made by Nietzsche's critics, some points have been
suggested that are relevant also to the second criticism-that,
namely, that few persons are likely to be interested in it or influ-
enced by it. But it is when we approach this second criticism
from another side that its weakness becomes most obvious. The
thinking of the contemporary upholders of Nazi and Fascist doc-
trines has been influenced by it. Just how extensive and how di-
rect the influence has been is a matter of
dispute among the inter-
preters of the movements in
All that I wish to make
clear is the falseness of the contention that the
extravagance and
so-called "abnormality"
of Nietzsche's
is such that it is
unlikely to be accepted
In the
light of the events
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of the last two decades it seems
unnecessary to labor this
There are no extravagances about the
supremacy of the will to
power in any of Nietzsche's statements that can not be matched
by similar extravagances in the utterances of men of
standing in
Nazi and Fascist circles. In the philosophies of these men we have
the assumption that the assertion of the will is itself a
good of the
highest order. The point is not argued; we are presented with
accounts of strong men asserting their wills and told to admire
them. (When there is argument it centers around the question
of the relation of the individual to the state and is, of course,
Hegelian rather than Nietzschean in
character.) The qualities
which it is taken for granted we will admire in a Nazi leader are
those which Nietzsche gave to his
Supermen-loyalty to those to
whom one is bound by ties of race, native
habitation, and shared
desires for
overlordship, and a passion to live
dangerously and
heroically rather than safely and pleasantly. That we have here a
Dionysian ideal is evident; and that this romantic ideal is different
from other romantic ideals-for
example, from that of Rousseau-
is also clear.
It has seemed to me that only by the citation of a number of
ethical theories could one
expect to establish
directly the fact that
when ideals of conduct and of life are presented to individuals to
be judged on
expressive principles only, that is, as persuasive or
compelling simply as
presented, some of these individuals will find
an Apollonian ideal more sympathetic and some a Dionysian. But
this result is what we
might well have
expected in advance from
observations of different
people's attitudes towards works of art.
There are those whose emotional
response to classic art is much
stronger and more favorable than their
response to romantic art,
and vice versa. It is
also, of
course, true that as one may prefer
one or another
of either classic or romantic art so one may
prefer one or another
interpretation of either an Apollonian or a
Dionysian account of the good life.
However, differences within
the two groups seem to me far less important in the case of ethical
ideals than the differences between them.
The thesis of The Birth of Tragedy is that the highest form of
tragedy was the result of the synthesis of Apollonian and Dionysian
elements. And a question that naturally presents itself to anyone
following the outline of Nietzsche's argument is to what extent simi-
lar syntheses may be supposed to have existed in the past, and may
be expected in the future. If one's interest is in the expression
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of ethical ideals it is clearly especially necessary to inquire whether
anything like a stable synthesis of the classical and the romantic is
to be hoped for. For a continuing conflict in ethical ideals is ob-
viously more likely to lead to confusion and ineffectiveness in the
life of an individual or to the disruption of a society than is such
a conflict in the realm of esthetics. The evidence available would
seem to imply that synthesis is likely to be temporary and-even
when temporarily prevailing-more apparent than real. If the
feelings and emotions that underlie the expression, either in art
or in interpretations of life, of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals
are as different from one another as Nietzsche himself suggests-
and the exposition of the preceding section of this paper has given
us reason to suppose that this is the case-the a priori presumption
against the possibility of a stable and lasting synthesis is great.
It is moreover a commonplace of art history that there is a cycle
in esthetic preferences. The flowering of a period of classic art
is followed-often after a period of artistic confusion and decay
-by a renewal of interest in romantic art; and this interest again,
in due course of time, exhausts itself and is replaced by a swing
back to the ideals of classicism. It is very generally assumed that
this cycle will continue; it is supposed by many critics to be the
result of a precarious balance characteristic of life in all its mani-
festations, a balance involving a continuous alternation of periods
of relaxation and of tension. If ethical interpretations of life are
accepted and judged as expressive phenomena, it would seem only
reasonable to suppose that the appreciation of them will exhibit
the same alternations found in the history of artistic expression.
Furthermore it would seem clear that the constantly recurring
attempts which countless philosophers through the centuries have
made to establish a normative ethics is evidence that they have
believed that any ethics that was not normative was bound to be
unstable. The distrust which such philosophers have shown of the
relativistic tendencies in the thought of their contemporaries is
usually made very plain. Thus Socrates considered the ideals of
the sophists unstable and Kant held the same view of those of the
On the other hand, there have, of course, been and there now
are philosophers and others who believe that a non-normative ethics
can be a reasonably stable one. So far as I have been able to dis-
cover those who hold this view are themselves
upholders of an Apol-
lonian interpretation of the good life. And a little reflection sug-
gests that this must be the case. A
Dionysius is not
inclined to view stability as natural or desirable. It is the classicist
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who finds such balance and harmony as make for permanence and
peace good. The romanticist, on the contrary, is wearied rather
than pleased by them. An individual who like Schopenhauer feels
at one and the same time that life is essentially Dionysian and that
it is as such distasteful, would seem to be driven as he was to preach
annihilation as the ultimate good. But such a view is a perverse
and inverted romanticism and can not be regarded as typical. One
may put the whole
matter in a somewhat different way by point-
ing out that whereas the strong defender of classical principles in
art or life may claim to be able to assimilate and preserve-albeit
usually in some transmuted form-the values dear to the roman-
ticist, the romanticist himself has only a passing interest-all his
interests being indeed passing-in the values of the classicist.
A balanced satisfaction of man 's instincts and interests-in-
cluding the sympathetic ones because man is by nature a social
animal-resulting in an orderly and pleasant life, is the general
ideal of an Apollonian ethics. The ideal is presented and the
presenter of it assumes that if his account is sufficiently vivid his
hearers will see that it is without question the most persuasive of
all possible ideals and will decide to act in accordance with it. A
follower of Apollo is naturally optimistic. The upholder of such
an ethics argues that since the ideal presents each individual with
a portrait of himself leading an orderly life in which he enjoys the
maximum number of satisfactions that could be obtained by him,
it will appeal to everyone. This seems to me to be the tenor of
the argument of the book by Schlick referred to above. That ex-
amples of it could be found among the traditional theories of ego-
istical hedonism is clear. It is quite possible to include in the
account given-as Schlick does in his exposition-explanations
tending to show that even lives conspicuous for heroism and self-
sacrifice can be interpreted
as conforming to the pattern described.
It would seem as if in such a theory everything that could be done
has been done to give an account of the good life that offers all
things to all men. But can such an account ever really be given?
The answer would seem to me to be an unquestionable "No."
In the first place no one account ever has proved so universally
persuasive-both advocates of a different and more romantic ideal,
and persons not willing to be satisfied with anything
less than a
genuinely normative ethics, having constantly revolted against it.
And, in the second place,-to repeat what has been said above-if
the Dionysian elements in human nature are as deep seated and
as stubbornly untransmutable as our examination of them has sug-
gested, no single account ever can be universally persuasive.
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The inevitable conclusion would seem to be that
any attempt at
a synthesis of Apollonian and Dionysian ideals resolves itself
an attempt on the part of the upholders of the
Apollonian ideal
to incorporate in it the alien elements of the
Dionysian ideal, and
that such an enterprise can never be more than
partially and
porarily successful. Was not the synthesis in literature
Nietzsche recognized in the greatest Greek tragedies just such an
attempted incorporation of romantic ideals within an
classic pattern? And is not Nietzsche's lament a lament for the
lack of stability in the synthesis? If ethical discourse is expres-
sive only, it seems bound to exhibit the characteristics of esthetic
creation and appreciation, i.e., a continuous replacement of one
ideal by the other with intervals of active strife between the two
whenever the forces supporting them are more or less evenly
Nietzsche complained that the perfection and harmony of Greek
tragedy was broken in upon and destroyed by Socratic moralizing.
What seems likely to break in upon all attempts to develop a purely
persuasive ethics is the conviction held strongly by many persons
-some learned and some very simple-that ethics must be more
than persuasive. Such individuals will be content with nothing
less than an ethical theory which is an integral part of a meta-
physical or theological system, one in which the good for man is
interpreted in connection with an account of the nature of man and
of the universe. At least some members of the human race refuse
to be content either with an Apollonian dream, be it ever so charm-
ing, or with a Dionysian revel, be it ever so exuberant, or even
with an alternation between the one and the other. They insist
upon asking what in real life is really good.
The logical positivist's answer is, of course, that they can never
know. Scientific knowledge about facts is possible, artistic crea-
tion and esthetic enjoyment are possible, but any further knowl-
edge as to what is good in itself is impossible. I have not in this
paper attempted in any way either to expound or to criticize these
fundamental logical positivist doctrines. The single task under-
taken has been that of pointing out some of the consequences that
seem to follow in the field of ethics if the doctrines are true. No
doubt an attentive reader, who reads between the lines, would be
aware that the writer's conviction is that they are not true.
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