Philosophers and Priests: Nietzsche’s Engagement with Vedanta and his Problematic Confusions in On the Genealogy of Morals

Pranati Parikh, Harvard University

Description

Friedrich Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals seeks to deconstruct the seepage of slave morality, arising in and of Christian dogma, in the quotidian lives of people. A manifestation of slave morality is the motivation for people to imbibe or support an “ascetic ideal,” which consists of poverty, humility, and chastity. Nietzsche devotes one of his three treatises in On the Genealogy of Morals to explicating the ascetic ideal, presumptively in order to draw attention to the evils of slave morality. Nietzsche adopts a unique approach to this explication. Rather than to draw attention to the suffering of people victimized by the ascetic priest, he embarks upon a roundabout path to distinguish between the ascetic in general and the unaffected, rational philosopher, whom he sees as the priest’s foil. Nietzsche argues that the philosopher is also ascetic in some ways, but that the asceticism of the priest and the philosopher differ in important ways. He then introduces Vedanta philosophy in order to clarify this distinction. However, in misappropriating Vedanta philosophy, Nietzsche inadvertently makes his philosopher complicit with the very ascetic ideal he condemns. His characterization of the Vedanta ascetic is intended to draw a stark contrast between the ascetic priest and the ascetic philosopher, but I argue that the Vedanta ascetic ultimately shares much more with Nietzsche’s philosopher. This unintended complicity calls into question Nietzsche’s cure for the ascetic ideal and slave morality more generally—atheistic, rational philosophy that exposes the oppression of religious structures—since it suggests that ascetics and philosophers have similar dispositions, methods, and goals. This paper explores various sources in conversation with Nietzsche that support this suggestion, in the end arguing that on the whole, Nietzsche’s misappropriation of Vedanta asceticism and philosophy is both polemical and damaging to his rhetorical case against the ascetic ideal.

 
Jun 11th, 12:00 AM

Philosophers and Priests: Nietzsche’s Engagement with Vedanta and his Problematic Confusions in On the Genealogy of Morals

Friedrich Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals seeks to deconstruct the seepage of slave morality, arising in and of Christian dogma, in the quotidian lives of people. A manifestation of slave morality is the motivation for people to imbibe or support an “ascetic ideal,” which consists of poverty, humility, and chastity. Nietzsche devotes one of his three treatises in On the Genealogy of Morals to explicating the ascetic ideal, presumptively in order to draw attention to the evils of slave morality. Nietzsche adopts a unique approach to this explication. Rather than to draw attention to the suffering of people victimized by the ascetic priest, he embarks upon a roundabout path to distinguish between the ascetic in general and the unaffected, rational philosopher, whom he sees as the priest’s foil. Nietzsche argues that the philosopher is also ascetic in some ways, but that the asceticism of the priest and the philosopher differ in important ways. He then introduces Vedanta philosophy in order to clarify this distinction. However, in misappropriating Vedanta philosophy, Nietzsche inadvertently makes his philosopher complicit with the very ascetic ideal he condemns. His characterization of the Vedanta ascetic is intended to draw a stark contrast between the ascetic priest and the ascetic philosopher, but I argue that the Vedanta ascetic ultimately shares much more with Nietzsche’s philosopher. This unintended complicity calls into question Nietzsche’s cure for the ascetic ideal and slave morality more generally—atheistic, rational philosophy that exposes the oppression of religious structures—since it suggests that ascetics and philosophers have similar dispositions, methods, and goals. This paper explores various sources in conversation with Nietzsche that support this suggestion, in the end arguing that on the whole, Nietzsche’s misappropriation of Vedanta asceticism and philosophy is both polemical and damaging to his rhetorical case against the ascetic ideal.