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Nietzsche's sustained advocacy of an egoism involves both a rejection of what is usually taken to be its opposite, namely, selflessness or altruism, and a direct defense of both the positive value and inevitability of egoistic behavior. This chapter focuses on Nietzsche's rejection of moral behavior, in the sense of selfless or altruistic action. It might be tempting to make Nietzsche's vigorous advocacy of egoism, both as a motivational theory and as a human ideal, more palatable by reading it as the advocacy of a 'benevolent egoism'. Nietzsche's repeated remarks about the beneficial consequences of egoistically motivated actions are simply meant to disarm some of the major objections, and thus remove some of the impediments, to an egoism pursued consciously and with good conscience. Given his elitist criterion of human development, the broad social consequences of actions are irrelevant to their value to a society or to all humankind.
Nietzsche, in maintaining that all of our ordinary, everyday experience is illusory, is propounding a view that had long been championed in philosophy. Since Parmenides, philosophers have repeatedly drawn a distinction between appearance and reality and repeatedly claimed that all ordinary experience is illusory. But they have also often offered advice about how one could transcend or evade the illusions of ordinary experience and achieve an awareness of reality that does not involve distortion. One repeatedly offered strategy, the “rationalistic” one, is to ignore the misleading evidence of the senses and instead nonsensuously think one's way to the truth about things as they really are.
Among Nietzsche's predecessors it was Kant who rendered the distinction between reality and its illusory appearance particularly problematic by arguing that there is no way to evade or transcend these illusions. Kant's epistemological strictures dismayed the German philosophers who directly followed him and stimulated them to develop strategies and methods that might enable us to reach that undistorted knowledge of reality that Kant had deemed forever out of reach.
Much of the philosophical activity that took place in Germany in the nineteenth century was devoted to this task. At the beginning of the century the great interest in a special capacity for “intellectual intuition” or a special “dialectical method” arose in large part from an interest in finding ways to escape from the severe limitations Kant had placed upon human knowledge.
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