Sunday, August 01, 2004

Another Example of Incoherence in Nietzsche

I love reading Nietzsche, just as I love reading his opposite number, Kierkegaard. There is so much to admire in them: their stylistic brilliance, the penetration of their psychological insight, the singlemindedness of their quest for truth. They are about as far away as you can get from the mere professor of philosophy. Nevertheless, both were hell-bent on tangling themselves up in absurdities. Herewith, yet another example.

Execution. -- How is it that every execution offends us more than a murder? It is the coldness of the judges, the scrupulous preparation, the insight that here a human being is being used as a means of deterring others. For it is not the guilt that is being punished, even when it exists; this lies in educators, parents, environment, in us, not in the murderer – I mean the circumstances that caused him to become one. (Human, All Too Human (1878), vol. I, sec. 70, tr. Hollingdale.)

So it is not the criminal who is guilty, but the circumstances in which he arose. But if the criminal is not guilty, then no one and nothing is. Either there is guilt on both sides, or on neither side. It is incoherent to displace guilt from the criminal onto his environment. What Nietzsche really wants to say is that that there is no guilt on either side, since “no one is accountable for his deeds...” (Sec. 39) But if so, then we are not accountable for our judging the criminal and punishing him. If he is a deterministic system, then so are we. It follows that it is absurd to say that we ought not punish him, or that “to judge is the same thing as to be unjust....” (Sec. 39) If there is no such thing as moral responsibility, then neither ‘just’ nor ‘unjust’ are words that apply to anything.

Why can’t Nietzsche appreciate this simple point? And in section 107, where he writes, “Everything is necessity.... Everything is innocence...,” why can’t he see that if all is necessity and there is no free will (cf. Sec. 102), then both ‘guilt’ and ‘innocence’ fail to apply to anything? Merely paradoxical formulations, or deep underlying confusion? I incline toward the latter view.