Of Scholars

Introduction Friedrich Nietzsche is the most critical thinker among the contemporary philosophers, in my own opinion. His opus Thus Spoke Zarathustra is no other than a critique of the society in which he lived. His very declaration, “God is dead”1 was accordingly a campaign against morality2. What appears then is that Nietzsche is trying to deconstruct the normal mode and common belief of his present society. On the far extent, Nietzsche criticizes Christianity in its doctrine and in its teaching. He further motioned that Christianity negates life, thus, he is tasked to take the part of affirming life. In Martin Heidegger’s own reading of Zarathustra he says, Zarathustra speaks on behalf of life, suffering, the circle, and this is what he advocates. These three things, “life, suffering, circle,” belong together, are the same. If we were able to think this threefoldness correctly, as one and the same thing, we could surmise whose advocate Zarathustra is, and who he himself would be as that advocate. Of course, we could now break in with a crude explanation, and assert with undeniable correctness that in Nietzsche’s language, “life” means the will to power as the fundamental characteristic of all beings, not only of man. What “suffering” means Nietzsche states the following words: “All that suffers, wills to live;” i.e., everything whose way is the Will to Power. This means: “The formative powers collide.” “Circle” is the sign of the ring, which flows back into itself and so always achieves the recurring selfsameness.3 In this line, the section of his book Zarathustra Of Scholars delivers the same point of reflection. It is no other than a critique of the scholars during his time. Accordingly, the scholars are not searching the knowledge

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (London: Penguin Books, 1969), 41.

Samuel Enoch Stumpf and James Fieser, Socrates to Sartre and Beyond: A History of Philosophy 7th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005), 378. Martin Heidegger, “Who is Nietzsche’s Zarathustra?” in The New Nietzsche ed. David B. Allison (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985), 65.


that will shatter and compel people to think instead they seek and provide knowledge which makes people mediocre. What is left then is a negation of life’s exuberance than its promotion. Contrarily, Nietzsche wants to provoke the idea that scholars should refrain from merely establishing systems of self-evident truth. Rather they should be like Socrates who is dialectical in approaching the issue on truth. Thus, one should be willing at times to declare oneself against ones previous opinions.4 At this point, one could infer that Nietzsche is asserting that truth is not something static and stagnant but dialectical which means motion and change.

An Exposition Primarily, the section “Of Scholars” as what was mentioned earlier is a criticism to the scholars during the time of Nietzsche. If I have understood it well, Nietzsche was saying that the scholars are afraid of going out of their comfort zones that they are contented of delivering knowledge that never shakes the people to live and affirm life. Like in Nietzsche’s famous labeling in the section Of the Preachers of Death, the scholars are inclined to teaching the doctrine of slow-death and nihilism. Hence, they fall under the same contention: “‘He who goes on living is a fool, but we are such fools! And precisely that is the most foolish thing in life...‘Life is only suffering’ – thus others of them speak, and they do not lie: so see to it hat you cease to live! So see to it that the life which is only suffering ceases!”5 It is worth noticing that previous to the section Of Scholars Nietzsche placed before it a section under the title Of Immaculate Perception. What message might be found or deduced from the said well thought arrangement done by Nietzsche himself is that “scholars seek only an ‘immaculate perception’ of the truth, looking to dig up knowledge without any particular goal in mind.”6 Moreover, Nietzsche’s criticism, which is expressed through the character of Zarathustra, conveys the notion that scholars a becoming Samuel Enoch Stumpf and James Fieser, Socrates to Sartre and Beyond: A History of Philosophy, 380.
5 4

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 72.

Sparknotes, “Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra Commentary and Analysis,” Sparknotes online; available from www. sparknotes.com; accessed 28 January 2010.


uncreative and petty that they accumulate knowledge as if it were an amusing pastime.7 Consequentially, if this behavior becomes rampant the production of knowledge can never really soar high. Furthermore, such behavior will end up producing no new knowledge. So much so that the field of inquiry will never attain transcendence from culture and to whatever limits it, hence, the Overman remains in the realms of oblivion. As I lay asleep, a sheep ate at the ivy-wreath upon my head – ate and said: ‘Zarathustra is no longer a scholar.’ It spoke and went away swiftly and proud. A child told me of it. I like to lie here where children play, beside the broken wall, among thistles and red poppies. To children I am still a scholar, and to thistles and to red poppies, too. They are innocent, even in their wickedness. But to the sheep I am no longer a scholar: thus my fate will have it – blessed be my fate! For this is the truth: I have left the house of scholars and slammed the door behind me. Too long did my soul sit hungry at their table; I have not been schooled, as they have, to crack knowledge as one cracks nuts.8 From the above opening speech of Zarathustra, it is implied that deep within man is the craving and clutching spirit of rising above the human existential condition. This is very much clear when he expressed the line: too long did my soul sit hungry at their table. He happened to regret that he was not schooled after all. On the other hand, the innocent symbolized by the children, thistles and poppies still considers him a scholar. I would deduce that the symbolism used by Nietzsche such as the children, thistles and poppies which are quantifiably all in plural form represents the herd. It suggests the conception that the scholar should rise above the mentality of the herd. Being with the herd corrupts one’s power to create and the will to power. The herd will just eat up one’s energy for creation and suppress one’s desire towards excellence. The herd rather introduces the idea of the reading idler or mediocrity. It gives no space for human becoming as what Martin Heidegger would argue in his very own conception of the inauthentic existence of the “they”. There is no doubt that this herd mentality is a very nihilistic one in accordance to how Nietzsche views it. It also relates to Nietzsche’s declaration: “God is dead.” Accordingly, “Nihilism is customarily


Ibid. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 147.


thought to be a consequence of the death of God…”9 In effect, since most of the scholars during the time of Nietzsche were very much uncreative due to their submersion to the herd they add up to the decline. I love freedom and the air over fresh soil; I would sleep on ox-skins rather than on their dignities and respectabilities. I am too hot and scorched by my own thought: it is often about to take my breath away. Then I have to get into the open air and away from all dusty rooms. But they sit cool in the cool shade: they want to be mere spectators in everything and they take care not to sit where the sun burns upon the steps. Like those who stand in the street and stare at the people passing by, so they too wait and stare at thoughts that other thought.10 This portion is the genesis of Nietzsche critique to the scholars of his time. Here he is contrasting Zarathustra’s freedom from the slavery of the scholars or from their uncreativity. He even criticizes the so-called dignity of the scholars. Further, he implies that what places Zarathustra above and superior to the scholars is the fact that he is too hot and scorched by his own thought. The originality and creativity of Zarathustra’s thought is his greatest achievement against the scholars. Moreover, Zarathustra disgusts the comfort seeking scholars who prefers to sit cool in the cool shade. These scholars produce no other new knowledge but only the same and paraphrased ones. Furthermore, these scholars do not tickle the mind to think more. They simply rest in the comfort of the self-evident truth than taking the risk and venture into the realms of dialectic. Nietzsche wishes to make the scholars of his time like that of Plato and Socrates who instead of relying upon the self-evident truth urges through their dialectic the audience to think not just a mere thinking in a simple sense but to think critically. Another, criticism Nietzsche raises is the fact the scholars never tried going beyond of what is contemporarily thought of and even seeing the other side. What might Nietzsche is pointing out is that as scholars one should be able to transcend thinking. As what would Hans-Georg Gadamer imply that to think or to understand is to transcend because the reality of human understanding does not alone stresses the finitude of understanding but also the possibility of seeing what is beyond. As spectators, the scholars do not really possess the practical experience of the common people rather they Bernard Reginster, The Affirmation of Life (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006), 39.
10 9

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 147.

merely remain in theory. Their thought and conception of reality is detached from the dailyness of life. They made to believe that the theory they thought of correspond directly to what is practical in life and for this I remember David Hume saying that there is no such necessary connection. Moreover, being a spectator in the line of argument of Pythagoras might be great because as an spectator one can “reflect upon and analyze what is happening”11 in the game, however, as an spectator isn’t it true, that though one sees the whole game, in a high probability analyzes the game and can definitely see what the players cannot see in the game, that what he perceives is still a partial reality for surely the spectator cannot see and analyze what is at his back while he is observing the game and the place where he is situated. It is a fact that we only perceive singularly not totally but upon combining the singulars we establish the whole. The greatest crime that the scholars committed for Nietzsche is of waiting and staring at thoughts that other thought. This is just a product of mediocrity and complacency. By merely waiting and staring at thoughts that other have thought makes one not a scholar in Nietzsche’s own judgment. Being so only makes one a repeater of what has been said and it is like a tape being replayed again and again. On the other hand, Nietzsche is challenging the scholars to think beyond not just to think what others have thought of before. Now, in relation to his critique to the herd mentality which is highly Christian, scholars should transcend from such same line of thinking. I would infer that for Nietzsche to think differently is not wrong rather it is the venue for new horizon of knowledge. Furthermore, in not thinking beyond and differently one can never see the error(s) and flaw(s) of the pregiven mentality. By thinking differently one challenges the validity, credibility and truthfulness of the said mentality. It may even be found along the process of investigation that its claim of truth are mere inventions and unfounded. I would say that truth as truth must be able to remain standing against all inquiries and criticisms and through this alone can the claimed truth be purified, justified, and proved as truthful. When they give themselves out as wise, their little sayings and truths make me shiver: their wisdom often smells as if it came from the swamp: and indeed, I have heard the frog croak in it! They are clever, they have cunning fingers: what is my simplicity compared with their diversity? Their fingers

Samuel Enoch Stumpf and James Fieser, Socrates to Sartre and Beyond: A History of Philosophy, 12.


understand all threading and knitting and weaving: thus they weave the stockings of the spirit! They are excellent clocks: only be careful to wind them up properly! Then they tell the hour without error and make a modest noise in doing so. They work like mills and rammers: just throw seed-corn into them! – they know how to grind corn small and make white dust of it. They keep sharp eye upon one another and do not trust one another as well as they might. Inventive in small slynesses, they lie in wait for those whose wills go upon lame feet – they lie in wait like spiders. I have seen how carefully they prepare their poisons; they always put on protective gloves. They also know how to play with loaded dice; and I found them playing so zealously that they were sweating. We are strangers to one another, and their virtues are even more opposed to my taste than are their falsehoods and loaded dice. The scholars without hesitance profess that they are wise and possesses wisdom. But their wisdom is very meager, actually, that to those who really are able to think as the way thinking should be will just consider the wisdom of the scholars as mere joke like the frog that croaks in the swamp. There is an insightful proverb that says, “The most dangerous man in the world is the man who read only one book.” It is so because such a man will think that what he read is the whole truth and the only truth, no more and no less. It will be the same as with the scholars that Nietzsche criticizes. The scholars compared to Zarathustra are much diverse and, if I were to add, sophisticated. What they call wisdom might just be cleverness. In the end, as what I understood from Nietzsche’s critique, these scholars do not really understand the difference between true wisdom and cleverness more so that they misconstrue wisdom from cleverness. Nietzsche also labels them clocks and not only simple clocks but excellent clocks, which for me give the impression that they really mastered their trade. But they might be jacks of all trades but they are master of none. In addition, as clocks the scholars characteristically do not go outside the parameters of the structure and there is no hope in them to deconstruct whatever is pre-given and to create something new. They do not have any sense of wonder and they do not have the eyes of the eagle, as symbolically used by Nietzsche, which sees beyond the horizon. In a nut shell, one cannot find any will to create in the scholars. Also, as clocks they only function within the standards priorly handed down to them. Besides, their function is meaningless and paralyzed outside the identity of being a clock, metaphorically speaking. “Thus, Nietzsche

conjectures that we have become accustomed to interpreting the world in terms of three basic categories: the idea that the world proceeds toward a final aim, that its multiplicity can be subsumed under an all-encompassing unity, and that its essential character is being instead of becoming.”12 This state of being accustomed to the familiar way of interpreting the world is what identifies the scholars as excellent clocks but still clocks. A clock no matter how excellent it becomes will always be a clock and this means that it is devoid of any possibility of becoming and transcending from what is a clock. Due to their familiarity of what is there they really work well but beyond the sphere of their familiar world they are numb and dead as those in the graves. These scholars, according to Zarathustra, do not really trust each other more so that they prevent anyone to transcend. They do so because they are afraid of any will to power that is why they lie in wait like poisonous spiders waiting for some insects to trap and chain. Moreover, they do not trust each other because by leaving the other unguarded he might discover and expose the truth that will jeopardize the established conventional truth they preserved for thousands of years. This is really a hindrance for the will to create and it is even a death to whatever creative power lies therein. To those who try to rise above they already prepared a poison of which they themselves are putting on gloves for protection because they knew so well that such poison knows no friend and will even kill them if they remain reckless. With such identity and character of scholars, Zarathustra opposes and sets himself free. And when I lived among them I lived above them. They grew angry with me for that. They did not want to know that someone was walking over their heads; and so they put wood and dirt and rubbish between their heads and me. Thus they muffled the sound of my steps: and from then on the most scholarly heard me the worst. They put all the faults and weaknesses of mankind between themselves and me – they call this a ‘false flooring’ in their houses. But I walk above their heads with my thoughts in spite of that; and even if I should walk upon my own faults, I should still be above them and their heads. For men are not equal: thus speaks justice. And what I desire they may not desire! At this point, Nietzsche did not deny the fact he lived with scholars. The only distinction is that he thinks differently from them and this might

Bernard Reginster, The Affirmation of Life, 49.

be the point that qualifies Nietzsche’s assertion that he lived above them. As a result, this deviation of Zarathustra provoked the anger of the scholars against him. But this anger of the scholars, I believe, against Zarathustra is no other than the product of protecting the establish truth. Because compared to them Zarathustra goes beyond the limits of the conventionality and even endeavors to see what is beyond it. Moreover, the danger of such action is that by learning the truth of what is beyond it might challenge or even replace the truth which they held so dear since time immemorial. This unfortunately cannot be for the scholars because it yields only to their own dethronement and the power which they enjoy might just as well disappear from their grasp. Contrarily, Nietzsche conceives truth as “a mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphism. His view at this time is that arbitrariness prevails within human experience: concepts originate via the transformation of nerve stimuli into images, and ‘truth’ is nothing more than the invention of fixed conventions for practical purposes, especially those of repose, security and consistency. Viewing human existence from a great distance, Nietzsche further notes that there was an eternity before human beings came into existence, and believes that after humanity dies out, nothing significant will have changed in the great scheme of things.”13 Lastly, Zarathustra boast that he possesses a far superior thought to those of the scholars not because he has some sort of superhuman powers but that his thought, in my own opinion, is free compared to that of the scholars. It is free true to the fact that his thinking is not subject to the dictate of the society or the herd and to the commonly accepted norms which many believe as the truth. Although, the scholars promote the idea that all men are equal but Zarathustra endorses the other way around. For what reason? The will to power becomes an impossibility if all men are equal. The “will to power” is “a natural expression of strength. People are differentiated into ranks, and it is only quantity of power that determines and distinguishes one’s rank. Thus, ideals such as political and social equality are nonsensical. There can be no equality where there are in fact different degrees of power. Equality can only mean the leveling downward of everyone to the mediocrity of the herd.”14 Moreover, equality does not allow the making of the Overman. In the state of equality, no one is permitted to rise above Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Friedrich Nietzsche,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; available from www.plato.stanford.edu; accessed 30 January 2010. Samuel Enoch Stumpf and James Fieser, Socrates to Sartre and Beyond: A History of Philosophy, 386.
14 13

anyone else and from one’s existential condition. Any deviation is a crime, therefore.

Conclusion Friedrich Nietzsche has a point. Any knowledge that does not tickle the mind to think is useless because it does not make something which is new. Nevertheless, the danger and risk of introducing new way of thinking or knowledge may put the current authority or culture into the crucible of inquiry and doubt. What is worst is when the introduction of the new thinking removes and smashes the incumbent norms which the people believe to be the truth. In this relation, Nietzsche sets the notion that truth is dialectical. Therefore, it is not stable rather it is oriented towards becoming. People who are really considered and recognized as the thinking group of the society should, according to Nietzsche, liberate themselves from the comfort confines of the herd mentality. They should refrain from thinking what the others have already thought. Rather they must possess the will to create. This, however, implies taking risk that upon willing to create one might put oneself challenging the establish truth of the society. When most people concern and identify themselves only with what is acceptable and good according to the criteria set by the society, one should be able to think differently and away from such ideology. Well, what is wrong with thinking differently? Sometimes in doing so because one does no longer act to what is expected from him or her by the society the automatic response and remedy is to declare that one is insane and an outcast. It is like Jesus who upon correcting the flawed and distorted teachings of the Jewish authorities was judged worthy of crucifixion. For Nietzsche there is nothing wrong here, what is the most important is that compared to those who think that they have the truth and are slaves to such ideals, one, on the other hand, is free from such concerns and slavery. This liberation then for Nietzsche opens the way of the Overman. Above all claims, what remains certain is the truth that there is something we do not know. Knowing that we do not everything is much certain than what we already and about know, for who really can ascertain that what we know is what we really know. What we believe to be the truth might not be the truth after all. That is why the only sure thing is that there is something which we do not know.