‘These English psychologists,’ Nietzsche wrote in 1887, ‘just what do they want?’
You always find them at the same task, whether they want to or not, pushing the partie honteuse of our inner world to the foreground, and looking for what is really effective, guiding and decisive for our development where man’s intellectual pride would least wish to find it (for example, in the vis inertiae of habit, or in forgetfulness, or in a blind and random coupling and mechanism of ideas, or in something purely passive, automatic, reflexive, molecular and thoroughly stupid) – what is it that actually drives these psychologists in precisely this direction all the time?
Nietzsche’s complaint is not that morality should be protected from explanation – this passage opens On the Genealogy of Morality – but rather that the ‘English psychologists’ appear to be driven by self-loathing. Under the cover of cool empiricism lies a ‘secret, malicious … instinct to belittle humans’, or a disillusioned idealism, or maybe just ‘a bit of everything, a bit of vulgarity, a bit of gloominess, a bit of hostility to Christianity, a little thrill, and a need for pepper’.
LRB 6 December 2012 | PDF Download