An exercise in pedantism – short notes on Nietzsche

From Nietzsche’s The Gay Science:

Being able to contradict.Everybody knows now that being able to stand contradiction is a high sign of culture. Some even know that the higher human being desires and invites contradiction in order to receive a hint about his own injustice of which he is as yet unaware. But the ability to contradict, the acquired good conscience accompanying hostility towards what is familiar, traditional, hallowed–that is better yet than both those abilities, and constitutes what is really great, new, and amazing in our culture; it is the step of all steps of the liberated spirit: who knows that?

In this passage, Nietzsche constructs a loose hierarchy of cultural values, stating that one’s ability to recognize contradiction is a hallmark of a sophisticated mind capable of enacting the Socratic method with some level of efficiency. While efficiency may not be a term that Nietzsche himself would use, contradiction is employed for this purpose in the context of philosophical inquiry, despite contrary appearances. Nietzsche talks about using contradiction to “receive a hint about his own injustice of which he is as yet unaware”–in other words, as a tool to make the geography of one’s ideological world more navigable by mapping its hazards. This serves the dual purpose of increasing the efficiency with which one can maneuver in the greater world of ideas, and also of helping them locate where they stand in that world at any given time. The critical question of this passage, however, is who has the capacity to contradict. Nietzsche has already stated that “higher” human beings recognize and invite contradiction, but who is to act as the dispensary? It seems almost an obvious answer that Nietzsche may have left blank as a lame joke, or perhaps as a sign of modesty, but I would assume that unless I am missing something crucial, it is the philosopher who has the “ability to contradict.” I am surprised that Nietzsche would call this something “new” in his culture, however, as he was no doubt aware of, for example, Socrates’ role as an agitator and frenetic contradictor in ancient Greece. Perhaps this was an oversight in what was probably quick sketch in Nietzsche’s journal, or perhaps he means something entirely different. Whatever the case, his primary point of contradiction as an essential tool of cultural advancement stands firm.

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