Reflections on Aphorisms #16

Tomorrow I’m going to get back into doing multiple aphorisms per day. Until then, this is the last single aphorism reflection for a while.

Aphorism 23

So long as men praise you, you can only be sure that you are not yet on your own true path but on someone else’s.

Friedrich Nietzsche, from The Viking Book of Aphorisms

Interpretation

One of the things that keeps drawing me to Nietzsche is that he manages to make good on what Rousseau claims to do in his Confessions. Nietzsche may not always be right, and probably is not always even good, but at the very least he is interesting.

Nietzsche is a firm believer in the individual, and while he his work is often corrupted for the purpose of collectivists, he believes heavily in the purpose of finding one’s own destiny. It is this that the psychoanalyst Carl Jung would take from his teachings and apply to his concepts of the self.

I disagree with Nietzsche in general, but not in particular. Receiving praise may actually mean that one is a visionary, pursuing one’s path does not necessarily result in any ostracism. Of course, he is correct in a sense. Sometimes pursuing goodness and purpose, particularly in the realm of morality, does come with social rejection. This is especially true in a corrupt society.

The fact that Nietzsche believes this way may come from two points:

  1. That he was frequently misinterpreted, and
  2. That he didn’t manage to make many friends on account of his willingness to make bold statements.

One of the things that sent out to me from this is a counterpoint from the Bible. In Galatians, there is a statement about the “fruit of the Spirit” found in believers’ lives.

In a secular sense we might call these the virtues that come from good living and philosophical examination, though they are presented strictly as religious goals.

The fruit of the Spirit consists of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The writer of Galatians then states: “Against these things there is no law.”

Now I believe that verse itself could be subject to interpretation, in that it is ambiguous as to whether there is no law which bans those virtues, or whether any law that decides to ban those virtues is itself not lawful. Personally, I lean to the former interpretation.

In the sense that virtues and social praise coincide, it is actually possible to walk the path of virtue, be oneself, and be praised for doing so.

It is simply that most people are not willing to elevate themselves to virtue because it comes at other personal prices.

I haven’t posted anything about music in a while, so I’ll bring up Project 86’s song “My Will be a Dead Man” which talks about the conflict between desire and moral life, in lieu of wasting too much of the reader’s time on the particular prices that come with virtue.

My Life

Part of the reason that I disagree with Nietzsche is because I do not feel that this assertion that he makes is backed up in my own life. Other than some people who have questioned my judgment in minor decisions, I do not generally find that people judge me when I make decisions that I find to be the best. As such, I have walked my own way, and others seem to approve. Now, I am open to the idea that I may be incorrect, and that I will need to change this opinion at some point, but until some tremendous evidence comes, I am comfortable in contradicting Nietzsche.

I do think, in some ways, that it is correct in part. When I left my teaching position to return to school, something which I feel an intense personal draw to do, several people expressed consternation. However, I do not think so much that this was disapproval of me as an expression of my importance and influence in their lives.

One thing that I think confuses people is that we draw too much association between what we consider good and bad events in our lives. It is the tendency to focus on the immediate consequences rather than the more nuanced effects of any action which leaves us with problems determining what we really believe and want.

This confusion is the root of many ills.

Resolution

Make mistakes costly, then avoid making them.

If what you do attracts attention, it is probably significant.

When you make a decision, pay attention to how others respond. It is not necessarily how they respond, but that they respond, which you should observe carefully.

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