Sunday, April 25, 2010


Last class, we discussed the conclusion we reached: that Nietzsche claims that intelligence is a characteristic of the weak. (I say “conclusion we reached” because I don’t think Nietzsche, himself, ever says anything about intelligence. As I recall he says that cunning, which we have equated with intelligence, is a characteristic of the weak.) As a result, a debate ensued. As I remember it, most of the students found this claim problematic, citing the many cases in which intelligence trumps physical strength, while Dr. J stood as Nietzsche’s lone defender.

As intriguing as this debate was, I think it was our own great philosophical error that rendered it so unsolvable. As I see it, the problem was that we failed to clearly define the term in question. This problematic move was made even more dubious by the fact that the term was intelligence, a word that has a lot of baggage tied to it. I think the truth of our conclusion is dependent on what we mean by intelligence.

In senior seminar, we recently read an essay by Kiersgaard. Embarrassingly, I can’t remember the title, but I do remember a very relevant distinction between reason and intelligence, a term that we were probably including in our hazy definition of intelligence. Kiersgaard defines intelligence as the ability to choose between different means to achieve some end. He explains that reason, on the other hand, is the ability to choose different ends. For instance, I exercise my intelligence when I try to figure out how to get food, while I exercise my reason when I decide that I’ll refrain from eating in order to study.
In light of this distinction, I think the conclusion we reached becomes more acceptable. In fact, it seems right to say that an Ubermensch would not have much development in this area—the area of moving between different means in order to achieve some end—because of the fact that he never faces any real opposition. He’s so strong that whatever end he employs successfully brings him to his goal. The weak, on the other hand, are constantly running into obstacles as they pursue their aims, and as a result, they have a highly developed capacity for selecting different means. Furthermore, I think it is important to note that intelligence is not a characteristic that is essential to the weak, but rather that it is one that developed as an accident of their weakness.

Despite all this, I don’t think Nietzsche would say the Ubermensch lacks reason. For being able to select what end one pursues despite his animal urges seems to be a sign of strength. Returning to my earlier example, the decision to postpone eating in order to study would require great strength.

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