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Basic Writings

Basic Writings

Translated from the German and Edited by Robin Small
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Basic Writings
    Book Description:

    This book contains the first English translations of The Origin of the Moral Sensations and Psychological Observations, the two most important works by the German philosopher Paul Ree. These essays present Rees moral philosophy, which influenced the ideas of his close friend Friedrich Nietzsche considerably. _x000B_Nietzsche scholars have often incorrectly attributed to him arguments and ideas that are Rees and have failed to detect responses to Rees works in Nietzsches writings. Rees thinking combined two strands: a pessimistic conception of human nature, presented in the French moralists aphoristic style that would become a mainstay of Nietzsches own writings, and a theory of morality derived from Darwins theory of natural selection. Rees moral Darwinism was a central factor prompting Nietzsche to write On the Genealogy of Morals and the groundwork for much of todays evolutionary ethics.?_x000B_In an illuminating critical introduction, Robin Small examines Rees life and work, locating his application of evolutionary concepts to morality within a broader history of Darwinism while exploring Rees theoretical and personal relationship with Nietzsche. In placing Nietzsche in his intellectual and social context, Small profoundly challenges the myth of Nietzsche as a solitary thinker.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09224-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    Robin Small
    (pp. xi-4)

    Paul Rée is a figure remembered today for his friendship with and philosophical influence on another writer: Friedrich Nietzsche. To a lesser extent, he figures in biographies of Lou Andreas-Salomé, again as a personal and intellectual influence during a particular period of her life. Yet Rée is of interest in his own right as a writer and thinker. He was not only a pioneer in the application of the Darwinian theory of natural selection to moral psychology but also an author who tried to continue the tradition of the French moralists in expressing insights into human nature in an aphoristic...


    • On Books and Authors
      (pp. 5-11)


      Aphorisms are a thought concentrate that anyone can expand for themselves according to their taste.

      Such a writing style is to be recommended. In the first place, it is not very easy to express a real stupidity in a short, pithy way. For it cannot hide itself behind few words nearly as well as behind many. In any case, the great quantity of literature makes a short mode of expression desirable.


      The value of an aphorism cannot be judged by its author until he has forgotten the concrete cases from which it has been abstracted.


      The fact...

    • On Human Actions and Their Motives
      (pp. 12-36)


      Observing the motives for his behavior is useless for the practical person, indeed disturbing and harmful to his activity, but very useful for the theoretical person.


      Every action arises out of a mosaic of motives without our being able to tell from how much egoism, vanity, pride, fear, benevolence, etc., it is composed. The philosopher cannot, like the chemist, apply a quantitative and qualitative analysis to the case.

      In any case, the expressions “egoism,” “vanity,” etc., do not at all coincide with the feelings they indicate; they are really only pointers.


      We usually think our actions are...

    • On Women, Love, and Marriage
      (pp. 37-49)


      It is characteristic of first love that we do not understand how other people before us could have loved, since they had no knowledge of the only object that appears to us worthy of love.


      Few have loved. With most, a mixture of sensuality and vanity occupies the place of love.


      Dangers and women are like nettles—not be grasped cautiously.


      Women need only a little wit to be regarded as witty.


      Every wife prizes most highly the qualities in men that are lacking in her husband.


      Every wife is unhappy with her husband...

    • Mixed Thoughts
      (pp. 50-62)


      So-called good company tends to be bad company to itself, and vice versa.


      To maintain oneself easily on the surface of the social element, one must not have a greater specific gravity than this element. Otherwise one sinks under, like a stone in water.


      One pronounces the name of the person introduced more clearly the more distinguished it sounds, and conversely.


      We emphasize differences in status in relation to persons who stand only slightly beneath us more sharply than in relation to those who stand far beneath us.


      The person who is always afraid of...

    • On Religious Things
      (pp. 63-66)


      Belief and disbelief are not moral qualities, but only opinions.


      Should we be condemned by God to the eternal torments of hell because our God-given intelligence finds divine revelation obscure and incredible?


      The orthodox hate the free spirits because they are afraid of being regarded as stupid by them.


      Whoever is given a ministry by God is also given the political and religious opinions of his ministry.


      We are given religious instruction at the same age that we have childhood diseases.


      The state concerns itself only with the utility, not with the truth, of...

    • On Happiness and Unhappiness
      (pp. 67-74)


      The worst thing that can happen to someone who enjoys reflecting on life is that he should find the time to do so.


      Nobody loves life out of reason.


      The head destroys our illusions, but the heart always rebuilds them.


      Even the smallest care is accompanied by the illusion that we would be happy once it were set aside.


      People commonly bear a small misfortune worse than a great one, since they surrender themselves to it fully; whereas they do not fully surrender themselves to the great misfortune, since they instinctively feel they would be...

    • Essay on Vanity
      (pp. 75-78)

      For two reasons, it is not a matter of indifference to people whether others take them to be good or bad, clever or stupid, good-looking or ugly, poor or rich, friendly or unfriendly: (1) because they are self-interested, and so hope for advantages from a good opinion and are afraid of disadvantages from a bad opinion; or (2) because they are vain, so that a good opinion (i.e., being pleasing, admired, envied) is itself pleasant and a bad opinion (i.e., being mistrusted, ridiculed, disparaged, despised) is itself unpleasant.

      Positive vanity can be divided into vanity in a narrower sense and...

    • NOTES
      (pp. 79-80)

      (pp. 85-86)

      The point of view of this essay is a purely theoretical one. Just as the geologist begins by seeking out and describing different formations and then inquires into the causes from which they have arisen, so too the author has begun by taking up moral phenomena from experience, and has then gone into the history of their beginning, as far as his abilities allowed.

      No doubt what he gives is not so much a systematic work as a collection of individual observations. If he were blamed for that he would, making a virtue of necessity, defend himself in the following...

      (pp. 87-88)

      Moral philosophy is concerned with human actions. At the outset it states that certain actions are felt as good, others as bad; that bad actions often give rise to remorse; that on account of the so-called sense of justice we demand punishment for bad actions.

      These moral phenomena are often considered to be something supersensible—the voice of God, as the theologians put it. In his essay Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, Kant denied decisively the communication between this world and the other, which the church calls revelation. He had also demonstrated in his Critique of Pure Reason...

    • CHAPTER 1 The Origin of the Concepts “Good” and “Evil”
      (pp. 89-99)

      Every person combines two drives within himself, namely, the egoistic drive and the non-egoistic drive.

      Through the egoistic drive he strives for his own welfare, above all his own preservation, the satisfaction of his sexual instinct, and the satisfaction of his vanity.

      The satisfaction of each of these particular forms of the egoistic instinct can possibly do harm to the welfare of other people; for instance, to preserve one’s own life, one will perhaps destroy someone else’s; to satisfy one’s sexual instinct, one will perhaps destroy a woman’s happiness, or kill one’s rival. Vanity finally inspires the desire to please...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Origin of Conscience
      (pp. 100-103)

      Once the distinction had been established between egoistic behavior as bad and non-egoistic behavior as good, people set out to impress it upon children.

      Today too this distinction is forced into us from childhood. We constantly hear the selfless person praised and the egoist condemned. The books we read and the plays we see present the same opposition; finally we are directly taught that unselfishness, compassion, benevolence, and sacrifice are good, and that hard-heartedness, envy, and malicious pleasure are bad.

      If anyone were raised in exactly the opposite conditions, if from his childhood he heard hard-heartedness, envy, and malicious pleasure...

    • CHAPTER 3 Responsibility and Freedom of the Will
      (pp. 104-112)

      Remorse differs according to whether whoever feels it bears in mind the necessary character of human actions or not.

      First of all, some people think the human will is free, but Hobbes, Works, ed. Molesworth, vol. IV, p. 239 et seq.; cf. also his De Homine, chap. IX; Spinoza, Ethics, First Part, prop. 32; Second Part, last scholium; Leibniz,* in particular his Theodicy, I, 166, 167; Wolff, Psychologica empirica, para. 889 ff., esp. 925; Hume, Essay on Liberty and Necessity; Priestley, The Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity; Montaigne, Essays, II; Bayle, Réponse aux questions d’un provinciale, t. II, p. 116 et...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Origin of Punishment and the Feeling of Justice: On Deterrence and Retribution
      (pp. 113-125)

      We discussed the origin of punishment already in chapter 1. We saw there that the welfare and peace of all makes its existence necessary. In fact, if punishment did not exist, if it disappeared at this moment, then each person would snatch as much of the property of others as could be acquired by force, without concern for their happiness or indeed life. The other passions too, such as hate and vengeance, would be pursued without regard for others, unless their defenses frightened us off. For the non-egoistic drive and its forms, compassion and benevolence, are not strong enough to...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Origin of Vanity
      (pp. 126-152)

      It is not a matter of indifference to us whether others have a good or bad opinion of us for two main reasons: (1) because we are self-interested, and so hope for advantages from a good opinion, and are afraid of disadvantages from a bad opinion; (2) because we are vain, so that a good opinion is itself pleasant and a bad opinion is itself unpleasant.

      Vanity thus has a positive and a negative aspect: we hope for a good opinion, that is, to please, to be admired and envied; we are afraid of a bad opinion, that is, of...

    • CHAPTER 6 Moral Progress
      (pp. 153-157)

      Moral progress occurs when people become better, that is, less egoistic, in the course of time. This can happen in two ways: through natural selection, that is, through the survival (in the struggle for existence) and reproduction of those individuals who are the most non-egoistic, or of those tribes that contain the greatest number of non-egoistic individuals; or through the frequent experience of non-egoistic feelings and frequent performance of nonegoistic actions.

      (1) Natural selection. It is self-evident that non-egoistic individuals have no prospect of leaving behind more descendants than egoistic individuals. It only remains to consider whether the peoples whose...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Relation of Goodness to Happiness
      (pp. 158-160)

      By a “good person” is meant, as we have already explained, the one who takes a non-egoistic, unselfish interest in the fate of others.

      The question now arises whether this character is a source of happiness for the person who has it; whether the good person has a prospect of gaining happiness through his goodness.

      In answering this question, it clearly depends on whether those in whose fate the good person is interested are happy or unhappy: if they are happy, his own happiness will grow through his interest in their fate, through his sympathetic joy—in that case, being...

      (pp. 161-165)

      When we examine our moral sense, we find that we praise as a good person someone who refrains from harming others or takes care of them out of benevolence, while we condemn as a bad person anyone who does harm to others out of selfishness or vanity (e.g., a desire for vengeance). In addition, we describe as irrational (weaknesses, errors, vices) those qualities and drives that are harmful to those who possess them.

      These moral distinctions are a product of habit, that is, of the lessons and impressions felt from childhood onward. No doubt things do not seem this way...

    • NOTES
      (pp. 166-168)
    (pp. 169-174)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 175-178)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 179-182)