Colloquium: Jessica Berry (Georgia State University)

Fri May 27th 2022, 3:30 - 5:30pm
Building 90, Room 92Q and Zoom

TITLE: Poor mankind!—”: Nietzsche’s Compassionate Critique of Christianity

ABSTRACT: In his Introduction to The Gay Science, Bernard Williams observes that “Nietzsche has been thought by some people to have had a brutal and ruthless attitude to the world.” Between his determination on the one hand to call into question the very value of compassion, and his refusal on the other hand to concede that suffering is unconditionally bad, Nietzsche has been understood by many as expressing a callous indifference, or worse, to most human suffering. My aim here is to challenge this reading. Popular though it has been, this interpretation is sustainable only on a grossly oversimplified characterization of the relevant moral emotions. ‘Compassion’ (or ‘pity’, either of which can be used to translate the German ‘das Mitleid’) is “a polyphonous being,” as Nietzsche insists in Daybreak (1881). Through a close look at some important passages in this text, and with the help of those Greek thinkers with whom Nietzsche was always in one way or another in conversation, we will see that this term has meanings that have been lost to us and that we may now have difficulty even conceiving. Recovering those meanings and restoring their nuance and complexity of will shed light on Nietzsche’s own response to suffering and on what, if anything, it demands of us.

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