Brian Leiter:

Why does Nietzsche write in such an unusual, more aphoristic style?

The explanation really comes in the first chapter of the book where Nietzsche tells us that the great philosophers are basically fakers when they tell you that they arrived at their views because there were good rational arguments in support of them. That’s nonsense, says Nietzsche. Great philosophers, he thinks, are driven by a particular moral or ethical vision. Their philosophy is really a post-hoc rationalisation for the values they want to promote. And then he says that the values they want to promote are to be explained psychologically, in terms of the type of person that that philosopher is.

The relevance of this is that if this were your view of the rational argumentation of philosophers, it would be quite bizarre to write a traditional book of philosophy giving a set of arguments in support of your view. Because in Nietzsche’s view consciousness and reasoning are fairly superficial aspects of human beings. What really gets us to change our views about things are the non-rational, emotional, affective aspects of our psyche. One of the reasons he writes aphoristically and so provocatively – and this, of course, is why he’s the teenager’s favourite philosopher – is connected to his view of the human psyche. He has to arouse the passions and feelings and emotions of his readers if he’s actually going to transform their views. There’d be no point in giving them a systematic set of arguments like in Spinoza’s Ethics – in fact he ridicules the ‘geometric form’ of Spinoza’s Ethics in the first chapter of Beyond Good and Evil.

The longer I live, the more convinced I am of the truth of this idea. It’s not impossible for rational arguments to persuade someone to change a course of action, of course, but even I, as far-seeing and judicious as I am, can struggle to present such a change to myself in a way that doesn’t make me feel diminished or threatened by it. How much more difficult, then, for ordinary mortals to face up to the crushing awareness that they are wrong, wrong, wrong!

This also reminded me of a passage from Thomas Levenson’s Newton and the Counterfeiter:

As Newton developed his thinking, his new physics grew ever more hospitable to his vision of an omnipresent, omnipotent, all-knowing, and above all, an active deity, fully present in the material cosmos of space and time. He explicitly offered the Principia as testimony to the existence and glory of all-creating divinity: “When I wrote my treatise upon our System, I had an eye on such Principles as might work with considering men for the beliefe of a Deity,” he wrote to Richard Bentley, an ambitious young clergyman preparing the first of the series of lectures Robert Boyle had endowed in defense of Christian religion. “Nothing can rejoice me more,” Newton added, than that his work would prove “useful for that purpose.”

…Newton’s God existed everywhere, “substantially”—really, materially there, able to impinge on matter instantly, through all of space and time. The observed fact of cosmic order, combined with Newton’s demonstration that human mathematical reason could penetrate that order, implied (necessarily, to Newton) the existence of that perfect being from whom both order and intelligence derived. Newton’s natural philosophy was thus, as he told Bentley, explicitly an inquiry into what could be discovered through the properties of nature about the divine source of all material existence.

Newton was convinced. Nonetheless, some uncharitable louts remained unpersuaded, disdainful. Leibniz, for one, ridiculed the notion of a divine sensorium and what he saw as Newton’s flight to an occult explanation for gravity. What was wanted, what Newton sought, was an eyewitness demonstration of divine action in nature. Hence, alchemy. Alchemy seemed to offer a way for him to rescue his God from the threat of irrelevance—salvation through the ancient alchemical idea of a vital agent or spirit.

…He knew that all the theorizing, all the theological argument, all the indirect evidence from the perfect design of the solar system could not match the value of one actual, material demonstration of the divine spirit transforming one metal into another in the here and now. If Newton could discover the method God used to produce gold from base mixtures, then he would know—and not just believe— that the King of Kings would indeed remain triumphant, forever and ever.

Moreover, Kant, one of Nietzsche’s favorite targets, was startled into the thinking that would result in his Critique of Pure Reason by David Hume’s radical skepticism, thinking that was explicitly enlisted to “beat back reason to make room for faith.” It didn’t honestly work, of course; the fact that so many people took, and continue to take, seriously Kant’s idea of a noumenal realm existing outside our apprehension or comprehension (which can somehow magically still be asserted to exist at all) simply speaks to the yearning so many have felt these last few centuries to keep finding a way to believe in the personal God of monotheism — a God, it greatly amuses me to point out, who was apparently done away with by the rigorous search for pure, objective truth engendered by monotheism to begin with.