Ipseic/alteric moralities

I have been re-re-re-re-re-reading Daybreak. Having taken such a long break from reading Nietzsche, but meanwhile having carried his concepts — thoroughly and permanently internalized, but largely inarticulate — out into my reading of other thinkers and into my professional design practice and personal life — coming back and reading him again is revelatory.

One thing that is standing out sharply is a theme of ipseity and alterity: what is of myself, and what is of other?

(Metaphysical digression: I believe this is where I originally picked up my habitual (re)mapping of immanence and transcendence. If I am not mistaken, most religious people, when speaking of immanence and transcendence, map the terms objectively: the world of mundane objects in space is immanent, and this mundane reality is a manifestation of a divine realm which is transcendent. My view of transcendence is subjective — and more precisely phenomenological. Immanence is relative to self: it is the world as I know it, both tacitly and explicitly. An elegant way to express this idea is that, for any self, immanence is one’s own pragmatic meaning of the word “everything” — all that follows from one’s belief in the existence of “everything”, as one means it. Transcendence is what is real beyond one’s own conception of everything, and it generally makes itself known through novel immanence, aka surprise, leaving one apprehensively aware that reality is far more than what one experiences and knows of it. It is this subjective conception of transcendence that opens religion to me. If objective transcendence were the only option, I’d be an atheist, and until I found this alternative metaphysical mapping, I was an atheist. Fortunately, even traditional religions are entirely receptive to this understanding, and so I can participate in religious life and worship as a member of a community.)

The rest of this post sort of fell apart, but I want to post it anyway…

This theme of ipseity and alterity pervades all of Nietzsche’s writing, and he applies it many different ways. Where I am in Daybreak (the late 190s and early 200s) he is applying it to differentiate modes of morality. There are the forms of morality that resonate with us because they are so natural to us (which I will call ipseic morality), and there are other forms of morality that are compelling to us because they are so alien, but also compelling (alteric morality). He contrasts Greek and German cultures to demonstrate this concept.

Here he lays out a basic outline of the alteric moral mode:

When morality is not boring. — The chief moral commandments which a people is willing to be taught and have preached at it again and again are related to its chief failings, and thus it is never bored by them. The Greeks, who all too frequently failed to evidence moderation, cold courage, fair-mindedness or rationality in general, were glad to give ear to the four Socratic virtues — for they had such need of them and yet so little talent for them!

Two passages illustrate some ways the Greeks were deficient in the Socratic virtues.

Tragedy and music. — Men whose disposition is fundamentally warlike, as for example the Greeks of the age of Aeschylus, are hard to move, and when pity does for once overbear their severity it seizes them like a frenzy and as though a ‘demonic force’ — they then feel themselves under constraint and are excited by a shudder of religious awe. Afterwards they have their doubts about this condition; but for as long as they are in it they enjoy the delight of the miraculous and of being outside themselves, mixed with the bitterest wormwood of suffering: it is a draught appropriate to warriors, something rare, dangerous and bitter-sweet that does not easily fall to one’s lot.


This is the ignoble secret of every good Greek aristocrat: out of the profoundest jealousy he considers each of his peers to stand on an equal footing with him, but is prepared at any moment to leap like a tiger upon his prey, which is rule over them all: what are lies, murder, treachery, selling his native city, to him then! This species of man found justice extraordinarily difficult and regarded it as something nearly incredible; ‘the just man’ sounded to the Greeks like ‘the saint’ does among Christians.

The Germans, on the other hand, had a very different moral constitution:

German is capable of great things, but it is improbable he will do them: for, as befits a sluggish spirit, he obeys whenever he can. If he is brought to the necessity of standing alone and throwing off his sluggishness, if he no longer finds it possible to disappear as a cipher in an addition (in this quality he is not nearly as valuable as a Frenchman or an Englishman) — he discovers his strength: then he becomes dangerous, evil, profound, daring and brings into the light of the day the sleeping hoard of energy he carries within him and in which no one (not even he himself) had believed.

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