Twilight of the Idols

by

Friedrich Nietzsche

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Twilight of the Idols: “Reason” in Philosophy Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
1. Nietzsche discusses “the idiosyncrasies of philosophers.” One idiosyncrasy is their “Egyptianism.” Nietzsche claims that philosophers have killed and degraded the ideas they encounter, turning them into “conceptual mummies.” In this way of thinking, all aspects of life—“death, change, age”—become subject to debate. Philosophers these days think everything is “an illusion.” They claim that their “senses” deceive them and that it’s morally superior to deny the senses and reject the instincts of the body. 
Socrates and other ancient Greek philosophers weaponized reason and taught people to doubt their “senses.” Because of this, people could no longer rely on sensory experience to navigate reality—this perspective renders human instinct meaningless. Put simply, seeing is no longer believing. When Nietzsche accuses philosophers of “Egyptianism” and turning the ideas they encounter into “conceptual mummies,” he’s criticizing the way that philosophers continue to uphold and idealize this Socratic, skeptical view of the world. Nobody is thinking anything new anymore, Nietzsche argues—they’re just continuing to worship the flawed ideas of the past.
Themes
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The Ideal vs. The Real  Theme Icon
Christianity and the “Revaluation of All Values”  Theme Icon
Quotes
2. For Nietzsche, the philosopher Heraclitus is the worst of his (Heraclitus’s) contemporaries. Whereas other philosophers distrusted the senses because they “showed plurality and change,” Heraclitus rejected the senses because they configured the world as “possess[ing] duration and unity.” But Nietzsche thinks that Heraclitus, his contemporaries, and the Eleatics who came before them are all wrong. Nietzsche argues that the senses don’t lie—rather, people insert lies into the senses when they project ideas like “the lie of unity” or “the lie of materiality” onto them.
Nietzsche respects Heraclitus for the reason Heraclitus distrusted the senses: they gave the illusion that the world “possesses duration and unity” when the world is actually subjective and everchanging. Overall, though, Heraclitus and his predecessors (the Eleatics were pre-Socratic philosophers of the ancient Italian Greek colony of Alea) were all wrong for the same overarching reason: they distrusted the senses. Nietzsche thinks the senses never lie—the senses are only misleading because people project flawed ideas onto them. Once more, Nietzsche suggests that instinct is superior to reason. 
Themes
History and the Decline of Civilization  Theme Icon
The Ideal vs. The Real  Theme Icon
Christianity and the “Revaluation of All Values”  Theme Icon
3. Nietzsche considers the senses, scoffing that no philosopher has ever considered the nose in any of their treatises, despite the fact that it’s our most powerful sense. He continues, arguing that we owe all scientific progress to the senses.
Philosophers act as though empiricism and scientific progress are separate from the senses—but Nietzsche argues that this is wrong, because we need our senses to undertake the observation and reflection involved in scientific progress.
Themes
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The Ideal vs. The Real  Theme Icon
Christianity and the “Revaluation of All Values”  Theme Icon
Quotes
4. Another idiosyncrasy of philosophers is “mistaking the last for the first.” Nietzsche attacks foundational concepts of philosophy, such as the idea that “that which is, the unconditioned, the good, the true, the perfect” are “causa sui” (the cause of themselves). Nietzsche also attacks the idea that God is the first and most real being. Nietzsche thinks these foolish philosophers have harmed society.
Philosophers and moralizers claim that values and morals are “causa sui,” or self-evident. But they fail to recognize that identifying which values or morals are self-evident is an impossible task. People must choose which truths are true, which logical paths to truth are most logical. So, ideals cannot exist independently of human subjectivity and human instinct.
Themes
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Christianity and the “Revaluation of All Values”  Theme Icon
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5. Before, Nietzsche relates, people saw “change, mutation, becoming” as evidence that something had “led [society] astray.” Now, society sees reason as an antidote to this disorder. Nietzsche identifies language as the cause of philosophers’ misunderstanding of the world. Language makes us see the world in terms of “deed and doer,” in the self among the rest of the world—in the ego as being. This causes us to project ego onto everything we engage with in the world. And at some point, philosophers decided that reason couldn’t have come from the physical world—that it had to come from a higher place. Nietzsche blames this misguided thinking for the decline of intellectual culture.
Nietzsche suggests that that there was a turning point in history when humanity decided that reason wasn’t a fallible, imperfect human phenomenon, but rather something that came from a higher place. We used to be skeptical of reason and inquiry, thinking that “change, mutation, becoming” and interfering in the world’s natural order was bad. Then language changed this by teaching people to see themselves as separate from the rest of the world—as “deed and doer” (action and actioner, or object and subject). Once we accept that we are separate from the external world, we must also accept that there are things about the external world that we simply can’t know—and that everything we think we know comes not from the external world but from within ourselves. Thus, everything we know about the world is innate, subjective, and biased. The appeal of reason, thus, was that it offered a means for outsider humans to uncover objective, outside—higher—knowledge about the world.
Themes
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The Ideal vs. The Real  Theme Icon
Christianity and the “Revaluation of All Values”  Theme Icon
Quotes
6. Nietzsche offers four propositions. The first states that the only reality that exists is that which we can discern with our senses. The second proposition states that concepts that past philosophers have labeled “real being” are in fact “non-being.” The third proposition holds that it’s pointless to consider the existence of “another” or “better” world. And the fourth proposition holds that dividing the world into a “real” and an “apparent” world—as in Christianity or as in Kantian philosophy—is a sign of a “declining life.”
With these four propositions, Nietzsche challenges the idea that reason allows for a higher, more truthful understanding of the world. Since we need our senses to apply reason (even empirical, objective research requires sight, hearing, touch, etc.), it’s impossible to claim that reason gives us a more truthful understanding of reality than the senses. Using this logic, then, Nietzsche argues that philosophers’ idea that “real being” (the reality we discern through reason, not the senses) is in fact no more real than the reality we discern with our senses. And then, because the reality we discern through reason isn’t any more truthful or “real” than sensory reality, there simply doesn’t exist “another” or “better” or more ideal world (i.e. Heaven). Finally, Nietzsche suggests that prioritizing a "real,” idealized world over the “apparent” world (the physical world that we experience with our senses) is bad for society because it encourages people to care more about a hypothetical (and unattainable) reality than the one we actually have to exist in.
Themes
History and the Decline of Civilization  Theme Icon
The Ideal vs. The Real  Theme Icon
Christianity and the “Revaluation of All Values”  Theme Icon