#5 Daybreak

E. Burt 


D. Tilsley


Nietzsche’s Self and the Tensions it Depends Upon  – E. English

Daybreak, arguably Nietzsche’s least known text, offers thoughts on a range of themes, including the concepts of morality and freedom, the work of St. Paul, and bizarre rants on Europe’s Jewish population and the plight of the European working class.[1]  The present analysis will explore Nietzsche’s approach to the self – particularly with reference to allusions to selfhood found in Daybreak.

Taking into account Nietzsche’s earlier work, namely Schopenhauer as Educator and Human, All Too Human, Miner outlines what he calls ‘Nietzsche’s Fourfold Conception of the Self’.[2]  To summarise, for Miner, Nietzsche’s work consistently displays a construction of the self which can be broken down as follows:

  • The conscious ego
  • The ideal version of the self
  • The ‘Deepest’ self
  • The true self[3]

Sadly, it is not possible to explore the relationships between each of Miner’s selves, nor the strength of the fourfold distinction itself, at this time.  Nevertheless, the so called ‘Deep’ self, alluded to in Daybreak, shall be explored here.  Section 48 of Daybreak runs as follows:

Know yourself’ is the whole of science. – Only when he has attained a final knowledge of all things will man have come to know himself.  For things are only the boundaries of man.[4]

One interpretation of this section that I have heard recently suggests that the self is equated to the ways in which one relates to the world.  From this, the boundaries of oneself are the ways in which you have related to the world – as opposed to the potentially infinite number of ways you could have related to the world.  Therefore, in order to know yourself better it is suggested that you seek out a greater variety of relations with other people and the world, in order to move the boundaries of your existence.  There are several issues with this interpretation.  Firstly, through constantly seeking out new ways of relating to the world, new relationships, new experiences and so on, are you not simply changing how you see and experience the world?  Rather than finding your ‘self’ you are just changing yourself – assuming that your self is equal to your experiences and relations.

Secondly, under this interpretation Nietzsche is rejecting any underlying essential self – as the self is constantly in change.  This process of constant change appears to be of value and attributed to selfhood.  Such a conception of the self is at odds with Miner’s Fourth distinction – the Highest Self which is unknowable.  Here the criticism of the anecdotal interpretation is not merely that it is not concurrent with Miner’s interpretation, but that it displays the self as forever in flux, whilst retaining a sense of direction to that change.  There remains a reason why someone would aim to seek out new ways of relating to the world.  And, for me at least, it is the tension between aiming to better one’s existence – through seeking out new relations – and the change itself that is key to Nietzsche’s thought.  If the self was purely the ability to change, the change would become meaningless as it would lack anything to be changing relative to.  The ‘changeability’ of the self requires something, itself changing, as its basis.  Therefore, it is the individualistic tension felt between the need to find oneself and the changing, and therefore unfulfillable, end of that search that best constitutes the self.

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‘Language is restrictive and, as Nietzsche goes on to say, can lead to a restricted or distorted impression of one’s self.’

Section 115 – entitled The so-called ‘ego’ – also sheds light on Nietzsche’s idea of selfhood.  Language is described as ‘a manifold hindrance to us when we want to explain inner processes and drives’.[5]  Hence, language is restrictive and, as Nietzsche goes on to say, can lead to a restricted or distorted impression of one’s self.  However, this does not mean – as Miner suggests – that the self is in no way constructed by us, nor that we can have no valuable knowledge of it.[6]  This is as language is not as simplistic as Nietzsche suggest when he states that all language can only express the superlative form of a feeling.[7]  Moreover, it is precisely because we are aware that language may be somewhat inadequate for describing internal processes that it has developed into a complex system.  For instance, an individual may employ a variety of adjectives etc. to suggest gradations of what they are feeling; after all, is this not what the majority of the literary arts aims to do?  As a result, it remains that we must have some indication of what are self is in order to recognise that language is inadequate to express it fully.  Thus, language only remains inadequate for our purposes when we have not yet recognised that it is inadequate.  By attempting to express our thoughts in the belief that language can do them justice we can only fall into the trap of allowing language to change how we view ourselves.  As above, there again is a tension in play here.  Namely, a tension between what our self really is, the recognition of language’s inadequacy, and the continued effort to express ourselves with this in mind.  To summarise, we can know the self; if only in a sense that we recognise that it is beyond the constraints of language.  The self, then, is constructed by individuals in two ways.  Firstly, it is constructed accidentally through the use of poor language, which has an inverted effect upon conceptions of the self (as Nietzsche outlines).  Secondly, the self is also constructed via the tension between the desire to fully express one’s self and the unachievable goal of full expression.

Read part 4 of the Nietzsche series here – Human, All Too Human


[1] Bizarre in the sense that they appear out of place within the text (granted, this random approach is not unfamiliar to Nietzsche), and arguably offer no real philosophical contribution to Daybreak.

[2] Robert Miner, ‘Nietzsche’s Fourfold Conception of the Self’ in Inquiry 54, 4 (Aug, 2011) p. 337

[3] Robert Miner, ‘Nietzsche’s Fourfold Conception of the Self’ in Inquiry 54, 4 (Aug, 2011) p. 337

[4] Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality’ in The Nietzsche Reader edited by K. Ansell Pearson and D. Large (Blackwell, 2006) p. 194

[5] Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality’ in The Nietzsche Reader edited by K. Ansell Pearson and D. Large (Blackwell, 2006) p. 197

[6] Robert Miner, ‘Nietzsche’s Fourfold Conception of the Self’ in Inquiry 54, 4 (Aug, 2011) p. 351

[7] Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality’ in The Nietzsche Reader edited by K. Ansell Pearson and D. Large (Blackwell, 2006) p. 197

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