Frederick Nietzsche, and his influence on psychology...
In 1888, Frederick Nietzsche wrote :
"That a psychologist without equal speaks from my writings, this is perhaps the first insight gained by a good reader."
Nietzsche viewed himself as the first real psychologist among the philosophers.
He said "Who among the philosophers before me was in any way a psychologist? Before me there simply was no psychology."
Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Alfred Adlerwere were all heavily influenced by Nietzsche, and his psychological insights.
This grandiose self-assessment that Nietzsche expressed about himself, contained some truth....
Nietzsche's psychological investigations were not conducted for the sake of a purely theory exercise.
He thought that knowledge should always be sought first and foremost, for the purpose of energizing life itself.
I.e Not just a theorizing pursuit.
He quoted Goethe to affirm this perspective:
"I hate everything that merely instructs me without augmenting or directly invigorating my activities."
Countless philosophers have attempted to understand the human mind, discern its tendencies, biases, potentials, nature, and even it's origins.
Nietzsche claimed that those before him were blinded in their psychological ventures.
By the unquestioned acceptance of the socially prevailing beliefs and moral standards within any culture that the philosophers found themselves in.
This would lead to a fear of exploring the depths within themselves.
In 'Beyond Good and Evil' Nietzsche said:
"All psychology so far has got hung up on moral prejudices and fears. It has not dared to descend into the depths."
Nietzsche saw the psyche as being constituted by multi-dimensional layers, and possessing a complexity which renders total and complete knowledge of it an impossibility.
Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher whose thoughts had a heavy influence on the development of Nietzsche's ideas,
captured the complex quality of the psyche as "If you went in search of it, you would not find the boundaries of the soul (the psyche).
"How can the human being know itself?", asked Nietzsche,
Most individuals - who fear the complex depths within themselves , prefer to remain at the superficial and surface layer of their own psyche's.
"I undertook something that not everyone may undertake.
I descended into the depths, I bored into the foundations."..
The fear of descending into the depths of one's psyche is not for the feint of heart - it is "something that not everyone may undertake."
For those who lack the sufficient courage, a voluntary drilling down into the inner foundations of one's mind could engender temporary, or even permanent - insanity.
Writing about the dangers which confront the "adventurer and circumnavigator of that inner world called 'the human being'", Nietzsche wrote:
"He enters a labyrinth, and multiplies a thousandfold the dangers that life in itself brings with it of which not the least, is that nobody can see how and where he loses his way".
Exploring the self is a solitary endeavor - and one which most do no have the fortitude - the strength of character - to ever conduct.
Exploring the depths within may be a foolish exercise for many - but for some - it is a necessary endeavor.
The psyche of a small minority of individuals is constituted by both greater depths - and a higher degree of - turmoil.
Contradictions, conflicts, and abysses lie within, and such individuals are driven inwards so as to explore and impose order on their psyche.
Nietzsche presented Goethe as the exemplary example - the individual who was able to impose form on his inner chaos.
"What he wanted was totality...", Nietzsche wrote, " He disciplined himself to wholeness, he created himself."
To 'create oneself' however, does not mean to form oneself out of nothing.
As humans, we cannot be fashioned in any way that we please.
A five foot man cannot be a six foot man, an imbecile cannot be intellectually gifted.
Therefor, there can be no empirical measure of 'equality' within the human sphere.
Each of us (according to Nietzsche), has a deep and abiding nature - One which places definite set limits on who and what we can become.
Our nature is sculpted, firstly by early personal life experiences and also the traits and dispositions inherited from our ancestors. (genetic).
And, (according to Nietzsche), by historical forces. The traditions of past cultures that continue to live on within us.
These 'historical forces' are continually influencing our lives and choices.
Nietzsche proposed that to attain self knowledge, we need to engage in an active exploration of history.
He wrote: "Direct self-observation is not nearly sufficient for us to know ourselves, we need history, for the past flows on within us in a hundred waves."
Our psyche's have been shaped and sculpted by past ages.
Thus, knowing history, is part of the journey of knowing thyself..
If you have no conscious connection to the past, and therefore fail to find one's roots through the history, you will, inevitably, feel unhinged, and without foundation.
In a state of chaos...
In an essay titled:
'On the Use and Abuse of History for Life', Nietzsche noted that "the condition of a people which has lost faith in its ancient history and has fallen into a restless - and a constant- search for novelty after novelty".
....For in the deeper layers of ourselves there still exists prehistorical drives and impulses - and in our psyche also.
Prehistory of humanity and it's animal instincts
continue to reside in human being, no matter how civilized and developed on the surface we may appear.
These potentially destructive instinctive inclinations can overtake and possess the human being, especially if there is no self awareness at play.
Instead of advocating for the repression of 'the beast within', Nietzsche recommended that we explore it, and become familiar with these potentially destructive vestiges of the ancient past...
The uncivilized layers of the psyche - if channeled and handled properly - can vitalize life itself.
The "divine animal"
These are ancient instincts, ones "regulating unconscious and infallible drives"
These less destructive elements of our psyche enabled our ancestors to survive and flourish in harsh and uncertain environments prior to the modern form of consciousness.
The modern individual has all but lost touch with these instincts, relying solely on the consciousness - this being the "weakest and most fallible organ" (according to Nietzsche).
"...he stumbles blindly through life, oblivious that in the recesses of his mind are archaic helpers, which, if he knew how to harness them, could assist him in the many situations in life where consciousness fails...".
In contrast to other philosophers who have posited the human mind to be above all something unitary, Nietzsche radically proclaimed it to be a multiplicity.
An aggregation of intertwined psychological entities.
He wrote, "is an association of drives, with constant rivalry and particular alliances with each other."..(the basis of super ego, Id and Ego, in Freud's psychoanalytical hypothesis).
The task Nietzsche set for himself was to harmonize the "abundance of contrary drives and impulses", and thus
provide coordination to the plethora of competing forces within.
He proposed that such coordination can be best attained via the agency of an "organizing idea" or "ruling passion".
A kind of dominant "master" drive that forms the "living center" of the psyche (ego?), and tries to co-opt all the other drives to act in subordination to its end.
One has to remain on the lookout for such a master drive within oneself, and to not hinder its growth and activity.
The 'organizing idea' arranges the plethora of competing forces in one's psyche in a manner that allows one to strive with single-minded devotion towards some heroic goal which gives a meaning to life.
Nietzsche summarized the importance of the organizing idea in the following:
"It is a myth to believe that we will find our authentic self after we have left behind or forgotten one thing or another...
Nietzsche's psychological insights are wide, varied, and penetrating.
It was his ardent conviction that the psyche of modern man was in dire need of being dissected.
Despite his observations, there are critics of him who claim that his insights into the nature of the human mind are irrelevant - because of the fact that at the very young age of only 44 - he fell victim to a mental illness which remained with him until the end of his short life.
Why on earth should anyone pay attention to ideas on how to "become who you are" from a man who went mad?
Nietzsche wrote about this very thing. He said: