Nietzsche’s Free Spirit

Amy Mullin. Journal of the History of Philosophy. Volume 38, Issue 3. July 2000.

On The Back Cover of the original 1882 edition of The Gay Science, Nietzsche tells us that this book represents “the conclusion of a series of writings by Friedrich Nietzsche whose common goal is to erect a new image and ideal of the free spirit.” He furthermore tells us that to this series belong: Human, all too Human (1878), The Wanderer and His Shadow (1880), Daybreak (1881), and The Gay Science (1882, Books 1-4). Nietzsche’s interest in the topics of fate and freedom dates back to some of his earliest writings, those written in the spring of 1862 and recently translated by George Stack as “Fate and History,” and “Freedom of Will and Fate.” Furthermore, Nietzsche’s writings after 1882 remain dedicated, unto the last, to the importance of this new ideal of the free spirit. Thus, for instance, Part Two of Beyond Good and Evil (1886) is entitled “The Free Spirit,” and in the autumn of 1888, in plans for his never written Revaluation of All Values, Book 2 was to be entitled “The Free Spirit. Critique of Philosophy as a Nihilistic Movement.”

Yet little attention has been paid to interpreting Nietzsche’s corpus, particularly the works from his middle period, as characterized by a common goal, that of erecting a new image and ideal of the free spirit. Furthermore, too often little distinction is made between what Nietzsche admired in the past, nobility or the master, what he admires in the present, the free spirit, and what he hopes to come in the future, philosophers of the future and the Ubermensch. The philosophers of the future will be very free spirits, but they will not be merely free spirits. Nietzsche tells us that he and his fellow free spirits are merely the “heralds and precursors” of the philosophers of the future. This suggests that we cannot simply equate, as Alexander Nehamas does, the free spirit and the “philosopher of the future,” and we should not speak interchangeably of masters or nobles, free spirits, philosophers of the future, and Ubermenschen.

In a related error, free spirits are said to possess all the traits Nietzsche praises. Ruth Abbey, for instance, characterizes the values constitutive of free spirithood as “autonomy in thought and action, intellectual strength and daring, desire and ability to pursue the truth, capacity for cruelty and the skills of dialogue.”9 While it is true that Nietzsche does suggest that the dialogue is the perfect conversation,10 he nowhere associates skills in dialogue with a free spirit. Instead, the free spirit is strongly associated with isolation, which would tend to preclude conversation, skilful or otherwise.

We need to give an account of the free spirit which distinguishes it from Nietzsche’s other ideals, while also connecting the new ideal of a free spirit to other aspects of Nietzsche’s thought, most particularly his condemnation of universalistic moralities, and his account of the possibility of controlling one’s interpretations of the world in order to carry on experiments in knowledge. It is only once we have become clear about what a free spirit is like that we can evaluate Nietzsche’s claim to have constructed a new ideal, and begin to consider whether this ideal has any appeal for us today, and why.

In order to understand what a free spirit is and is not, we need (1) to distinguish between so-called free spirits and Nietzsche’s new ideal of a free spirit, and (2) to appreciate the radical distinction between freedom of spirit and freedom of will. We will then be in a position (3) to see that, far from being opposed to necessity, free spirits are a product of it. We will then need (4) to look at the details of Nietzsche’s account of the free spirit. Do free spirits share characteristic traits? Since free spirits all begin as fettered spirits, we will need to see what trajectory Nietzsche sees free spirits taking from fetters to freedom. Here it will be important to recognize that Nietzsche speaks of several stages of free spirits. Once we recognize that there are quite distinct stages of free spirithood, we can also begin (5) to make the distinction between the free spirit and the philosopher of the future, and to understand why the two may be confused.

I will begin with the simplest of these tasks, an account of what Nietzsche believes, before him, a free spirit or freethinker was generally taken to be, with an indication of Nietzsche’s grounds for disdaining this particular ideal. I will then offer an account of Nietzsche’s attack on the notion of freedom of will, such that the denial of this kind of freedom is for Nietzsche a “mark of a philosophical head.” Free spirits do not believe their wills to be free. Here it will be important to observe that Nietzsche’s fatalism is no simple determinism, for he denies equally that there are free and unfree wills, and regards causal determinism as inevitably oversimplified in its isolation of events from one another. I will then move onto a positive characterization of Nietzsche’s new ideal of a free spirit, and his account of the paths free spirits must take in leaving behind the unfreedom of their attachment to commonly endorsed faiths and values. Finally, I will attempt to distinguish between free spirits and philosophers of the future.

Free-Thinkers Versus Free-Spirits

In Ecce Homo Nietzsche tells us that his first Untimely Meditation, David Strauss, the Confessor and Writer (1873) was an attack on the “foremost German free spirit! Indeed, an altogether new type of free spirit thus gained his first expression: to this day nothing is more foreign and less related to me than the whole European and American species of libre penseurs.” In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche writes that he wishes to dispel the misunderstanding that has obscured the concept “free spirit” like a fog. Those who have been falsely named free spirits are men committed to democratic ideals. They have courage and moral respectability, but are unfree and superficial in their sympathy for all that suffers. They search after the herd ideals of “security, safety, comfort and an easier life for all.” They are all men without solitude, and they stand opposed to what Nietzsche’s free spirits endorse: experimentation without limits, and a stance beyond good and evil which recognizes that all which has been deemed evil and tyrannical in man does at least as much to enhance the species as all that has been deemed safe and therefore good.

Those previously thought to be free spirits were antiauthoritarian social reformers committed to democratic ideals. Nietzsche is certainly not opposed to their antiauthoritarian stance, and is certainly opposed to democratic ideals, which do not respect the fundamental order of rank between the weak and the strong. Is he opposed to social reform? Many philosophers, including Kaufmann, Berkowitz, Nehamas, Blondel, and Thiele, interpret Nietzsche as antipolitical, and concerned only with the transformation of the individual. There are passages in Nietzsche which do sound as if he condemned any kind of social or political action, including reform. However, Nietzsche’s philosophers of the future do concern themselves with politics, albeit “grand politics,” and vent their organizational energy equally upon themselves and upon society. It then appears to be chiefly their commitment to equality, their condemnation of suffering, and their equation of happiness with comfort and security that lead Nietzsche to condemn so-called free spirits. So-called free spirits therefore seem to be disqualified from free spirithood simply because their values are ones Nietzsche condemns.

This, however, must be an erroneous impression. For, even though the values of so-called free spirits are values Nietzsche despises, it will emerge that free spirits are not characterized by values that they have in common, but are instead identified by their ability to shake loose of contemporary value judgments and to interpret differently. It must therefore be the case that so-called free spirits, while having a certain courage and willingness to challenge authority, are not sufficiently free of contemporary values, and are not sufficiently isolated from or despised by their contemporaries to qualify as free spirits. In particular, David Strauss, although he began to de-deify Christ in his mammoth Life of Jesus, is deemed by Nietzsche not to have made a sufficient break from Christian values, and therefore not to have sufficiently freed himself from his childhood reverences.

In his 1886 Preface to Human, All too Human, Nietzsche makes it clear that his attack on Strauss in David Strauss, the Confessor and the Writer (1873) was an attack on German culture. This is clear evidence that he took Strauss to have insufficiently broken from the values of that culture, despite his isolation in the academic community and the actual threats of violence he received.18 Here it is important that Nietzsche associated sympathy for all that suffers and a belief in equality with Christianity. The reasons why so-called free spirits, like Strauss, are not-or not sufficiently-free spirits, therefore requires us to understand not simply that (and why) Nietzsche abhorred sympathy for suffering and a belief in equality, but how these traits of so-called free spirits are related to Christianity.

We must remember, however, that Nietzsche tells us that being a free spirit is a matter of degree (HAH 225). While men of democratic ideals and sympathy for all that suffers are held to be insufficiently free spirits, Nietzsche exaggerates the difference between them and his more favoured free spirits who are committed to the notion that there is an order of rank among men: “It is the problem of order of rank of which we may say that it is our problem, we free spirits” (HAH Preface 7). Indeed, by the time of the Genealogy of Morals, the distinction between free thinkers and Nietzsche’s new free spirits is blurred to the extent that both may be deemed to be still too Christian. Those who still have faith in the absolute value of truth may think themselves “free, very free spirits” but are still rigidly bound by that faith. (GM III, 24) Once we take into account Nietzsche’s analysis of the stages of progress toward mature freedom of the spirit, it will become clear that supposed free spirits who remain committed to the ultimately Christian/metaphysical faith in the value of truth have more in common with their freethinking democratic brethren than Nietzsche acknowledges.

Freedom of Will Versus Freedom of Spirit

Just as democratic free thinkers are to be distinguished from Nietzsche’s new image and ideal of a free spirit, so too must we distinguish freedom of will and freedom of spirit. The distinction between the two is key to an understanding of the latter. Nietzsche repeatedly denies the former and maintains the latter as a possibility. Free spirits not only possess a different type of freedom from supposed freedom of will, but are only possible when freedom of will is denied. Indeed, Nietzsche sometimes speaks of knowledge of the illusory nature of freedom of the will as the great liberator of free spirits. My next topic is therefore Nietzsche’s account of the illusion of free will.

Nietzsche will sometimes speak very casually about this illusion, speaking in passing of the superstition of free will in The Gay Science 345, for instance. He attacks the notion of freedom of will so often, in fact, that he writes that the “doctrine of freedom of will has human pride and feeling of power for its father and mother” and then interjects: “Perhaps I say this too often: but at least that does not make it an error” (D 128).

Nietzsche suggests that belief in freedom of will has many causes: it flatters our vanity and gives us a feeling of power; it subjects us to the power of priests who encourage us in this belief; it grows out of our increasing desire to hold others accountable for their deeds, motives, and finally their nature; it is the result of our falsely translating a social or political experience into the metaphysical realm such that strength is taken to equate with freedom of will; and it reflects our misleading grammar. Because of imprecise observance and necessarily imprecise language, we falsely see actions as isolated and do not recognize the extent to which “all our doing and knowing is not a succession of facts and empty spaces but a continuous flux” (WS 11). Belief in freedom of will (like belief in unfreedom of will) represents individual actions “as isolate and indivisible; it is an atomism in the domain of willing and knowing” (WS 11).

Nietzsche is so committed to the notion that freedom of will is an illusion that he tells us in Assorted Opinions and Maxims that the test of a philosophical head is whether or not a person can accept the unconditional unfreedom and unaccountability of the will (33). The Wanderer and His Shadow opens with the rather ironic maxim that the tree of knowledge consists of the knowledge that there is probability but no truth and the appearance of freedom but no freedom (WS 1). Moreover, the later works do not deviate from this denial of freedom of will, although they do develop the notion, already implicit in the critique of the atomism of individual actions, that wills are neither free nor unfree.

We are mistaken in taking the will to be the cause of our actions, and we are furthermore mistaken in thinking that events, like events involved in forming intentions and events involved in actions, are separable enough from one another to speak of an action being compelled by its cause. In a strongly Kantian tone, Nietzsche writes that we must “employ ’cause’ and ‘effect’ only as pure concepts, that is to say as conventional fictions for the purpose of designation, mutual understanding, not explanation … It is we alone who have fabricated causes.” While no one gives a man qualities, and his existence and nature reflect no one-else’s purpose (not God, society, or his ancestors), this does not mean he is free-it means instead that “the fatality of his nature cannot be disentangled from the fatality of all that which has been and will be” (TI, “The Four Great Errors,” 8).

Instead of modifying his claim that freedom of will is an illusion, in Nietzsche’s later works there is an extended development of the connections between belief in freedom of will, the attempt to punish and shame, and the weakening of the causal sense, such that the precondition of knowledge is destroyed. Not only must freedom of will and freedom of spirit therefore be sharply distinguished, with the former vehemently denied as an illusion and a dangerous illusion at that, but also Nietzsche will sometimes suggest that knowledge of the illusory nature of freedom of will is “alone” the great liberator. Now knowledge of the illusion that the will is metaphysically free, or capable of being a first cause, is positively correlated with freedom of spirit, for the latter sort of freedom, Nietzsche tells us, always requires first an experience of great liberation.

Before I can go on to discuss the details of Nietzsche’s account of this great liberation, and the other stages on the route to free spirithood, I need first to ask about the status of Nietzsche’s claim that freedom of will in an illusion, and knowledge of this illusion is the strongest knowledge, given his oft-repeated critique of the distinction between appearance and reality. One aspect that might be thought to explain his claim that freedom of will is an illusion is his claim that to isolate events from one another is necessarily a simplification of the flux and connectedness found in the world. However, as Nietzsche makes clear, all claims to knowledge, and indeed all acts of language involve necessary simplifications, so this could not distinguish belief in freedom of the will from any other belief.

Instead it is clear, from what I have said above, that Nietzsche finds the belief in freedom of the will harmful. With its connections to blame, shame, priests and punishment, all of which he condemns, belief in freedom of the will is said by Nietzsche to confuse the instincts. It also gives people, as already observed, an inflated sense of their importance, and is one more contributor to the belief in human equality. I cannot go into Nietzsche’s famous arguments against blame, punishment, Christianity, and human equality here, but I do need to note that Nietzsche does not limit his attack on freedom of the will to these types of consequences. He also condemns it for the bad intellectual habits it both results from and fosters. This condemnation is important for understanding the connection between the denial that wills are either free or unfree (BGE 21) and the possibility of freedom of spirit.

This is particularly clear in the abovementioned account of the Four Great Errors in The Twilight of the Idols. Belief in freedom of the will is associated with the error of conflating cause and consequence, and the error of imputing imaginary causes of events. These errors, born themselves of weakness, help destroy the causal sense, which is a precondition, Nietzsche tells us, for all knowledge. Thus the illusion of freedom of will has a special role to play in entrenching the bad intellectual habits—such as a taste for the unconditional, a reliance on authority, and the tendency to view the world from one or a drastically limited number of perspectives—which are precisely the sorts of habits from which the free spirits seek to escape.

Free Spirits are Bred

That they seek to escape from these habits, however, is clearly not within their voluntary control. Free spirits have to be bred, and both their birth and their future life circumstances jointly influence whether or not they will develop that freedom. It is important to understand, therefore, that when Nietzsche condemns apostates of the free spirit, those who once possessed some freedom of spirit and then lost it in becoming believers, he is perfectly consistent in continuing to maintain his denial of freedom of will. He makes it clear, first, that he does not condemn the apostate for changing his mind, for free spirits greatly honour the capacity to change opinions. Second, he makes it clear that free spirits hold all actions and all opinions innocent. In repudiating the illusion of freedom of will, they also refuse to enact the roles of judge and hangman.” Free spirits therefore do not blame the apostate or hold him responsible for his apostasy. Instead, free spirits feel a sort of visceral disgust as the sight of him, such as “the sight of someone with a repulsive disease touches a physician: physical disgust at something fungous, mollified, bloated, suppurating” at the sight of the “tremendous dishonesty which must have prevailed in the apostate of the free spirit.”

Nietzsche’s belief that free spirits are the product of necessity is also reflected in his desire to write “travel books” to speed their coming. He tells us that earlier he invented his fellow free spirits because he had need of the illusion of companions. Now he believes his fellow free spirits can still come. He hopes to speed their coming. The Preface to Assorted Opinions and Maxims expresses similar ambivalence over whether or not anyone but Nietzsche can be a free spirit, and a similar hope that his books can help form part of the circumstances that give rise to free spirits. Free spirits must of necessity take their own paths toward freedom (D 484), but Nietzsche hopes that he can write “travel books” (Preface AOM), which describe for them the sorts of paths they must take.

Free spirits do not believe that wills are either free or unfree (because the will is insufficiently isolated from other events to be thought to be either free of them or constrained by them). Both they, and Nietzsche, understand their freedom to be compatible with necessity. To think otherwise, and to view necessity as a constraint that limits one’s freedom is for Nietzsche a marker of weakness of will (BGE 21). To this extent I am in agreement with both Roderick Stewart’s and John Richardson’s claim that, for Nietzsche, freedom and necessity are consistent. However, the “freedom consistent with necessity” of the free spirits must be distinguished from the “freedom consistent with necessity” of the masters. Richardson writes:

At its root, Nietzsche’s new freedom isjust that activeness: a will’s ability or tendency to cleave to its own viewpoint, to press and develop what distinguishes it, and not to be (in the main) swayed or jostled away from this by other forces, whether those impinge on it with physical pains or with tempting alternatives to its own point of view. Freedom is strength or health of will, and it is quite consistent with no will being (‘metaphysically’) free to will in this way. (213)

Richardson does not for the most part discuss freedom of spirit. However he does, in footnote 139 on the same page, indicate that “This sense of free is also at work in Nietzsche’s notion of the `free spirit’ “ (213). This must be mistaken. The free spirit, as we will see, precisely does not cleave to his opinions. Instead the free spirit greatly honours “the capacity to change his opinions” (D 56. See also HAH 629, 632, and 637). In Human All Too Human, Nietzsche notes that “we usually endeavour to acquire a single deportment of feeling, a single attitude of mind toward all events and situations of life” but urges that “for the enrichment of knowledge” it is more important that one be able to avoid such uniformity (HAH 618). Free spirits learn to assume a variety of perspectives in the service of knowledge-and they owe this ability to take on a variety of perspectives not to the master but to the slave.

The Traits of the Free Spirit

Having distinguished between so-called free spirits and Nietzsche’s new ideal of a free spirit, and shown the radical difference between freedom of will and freedom of spirit, I am now ready to move onto my third task, necessarily anticipated somewhat, of analysis of the details of Nietzsche’s account of free spirithood. First, however, I should make a few preliminary remarks about the meaning of “spirit” as Nietzsche uses the term, one he is surprisingly hesitant to define. Probably the most developed account of spirit comes at Beyond Good and Evil (230). Here he notes that what the people call “spirit” is “that commanding something” which “wants to be master within itself and around itself and to feel itself master.” The spirit is that which binds together. Strong spirits can assimilate the new to the old, and simplify what is complex in the service of enhancing growth and the feeling of power. Spirit digests and assimilates when it is strong, but also knows what not to digest, and when to close itself off from outside influences: “indeed `the spirit’ is more like a stomach than anything else.”

Free spirits take it upon themselves to decide what and whether and how to assimilate the new to the old. They refuse to be dictated to by tradition, authority, or the power of habit, and are resolutely experimental. The free spirit is immoral because he is determined to depend upon himself in all things, and not upon a tradition (D 9). Convictions and habits are for them prisons (HAH 4, A 54). A free spirit is the opposite of a fettered spirit, a spirit governed by habits and faith, because a free spirit demands reasons (HAH 226). Free spirits therefore find their antithesis in men of faith, particularly religious faith (D 192, GS 343, A 54). However, as noted above, a free spirit is, for Nietzsche, a relative concept. We call people free spirits when they do not behave and believe as those around them behave and believe (HAH 225).

Four aspects of Nietzsche’s thought complicate my (and his) assertion that free spirits find their antithesis in men of faith. First, founders of religious faiths must be seen to have more freedom of spirit than their adherents. After all, Nietzsche admires those who have the strength to found a religion (BGE 52), and remarks that those who found a religion have psychological insight into the average types of souls who don’t yet recognize that they belong together (GS 353). Nietzsche is also perfectly content to have his philosophers of the future use religion as a means of educating and breeding others. Yet it is clear that they themselves will not be men of religious faith, at least insofar as “acquired habituation to spiritual principles without reasons is called faith” (HAH 226).

Second, while free spirits do not have any fixed faith or fixed habits, they do, as I will explain in the pages that follow, allow themselves to explore a variety of faiths. They are permitted convictions—so long as the convictions are not permanent. Grand passion, Nietzsche tells us, permits such convictions as means. The same passage continues to assert, however, that faith and belief (now associated with self-alienation) are the antitheses of the strong emancipated spirit (A 54).

Just as they allow themselves to explore a variety of faiths, free spirits also permit themselves habits, but not the bad intellectual habits associated with belief in the freedom of the will. Instead they permit themselves only brief habits (GS 295). These brief habits make it possible for them to view things from many perspectives, and to explore multiple interpretations of phenomena. Nietzsche writes that brief habits are “inestimable means for getting to know many things and states.” It is important to recognize that the free spirit does not approach each new perspective cynically, for Nietzsche observes that in the midst of one of his brief habits: “I always believe that here is something that will give me lasting satisfaction brief habits, too, have this faith of passion, this faith in eternity” (GS 295). Free spirits may, therefore, have faiths so long as the faiths are not long-lasting.

The third reason why free spirits may not be entirely dissociated from faith is the most complicated. Here Nietzsche can appear to be entirely selfcontradictory, unless we appreciate the extent to which there are stages of free spiritedness. This is because the free spirit is strongly associated by Nietzsche with an intellectual conscience—and this intellectual conscience, when overly dominant, goes so far as to consist in a faith in the unconditional value of truth, or at least of that inquiring spirit which demands reasons for all of its beliefs. Indeed, Peter Berkowitz thinks that free spirits are marked by precisely their intellectual conscience. He writes that Beyond Good and Evil makes “its distinctive contribution in the service of the intellectual conscience. For it brilliantly exemplifies Nietzsche’s free-spirited skepticism, the very philosophical skepticism that can reveal Nietzsche’s own dogmatic excesses and place them in perspective.”

I believe it is Berkowitz’ failure to appreciate that the philosopher of the future is less, not more, committed to the value of knowledge than are these (intermediate stages of) free spirits, that causes him to argue that Nietzsche ultimately blurs the distinction between philosophers of the future and free spirits (249). While Berkowitz acknowledges that Nietzsche’s free spirit sees his honesty as a prejudice, he believes that the free spirit “affirms this prejudice as his own distinguishing mark” (250). Moreover, while he correctly observes that Nietzsche writes of honesty as a “virtue” of free spirits, he fails to make note of the many passages (which I will discuss in the next few pages) where Nietzsche argues that a free spirit must be able to “master” his virtues.

Fourth and finally, Nietzsche will sometimes speak of that “joyful and trusting fatalism” which he associates with both Dionysus and amor fati as a faith. In the Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche speaks of Goethe as a strong and emancipated spirit who has “faith that only what is separate and individual may be rejected, that in the totality everything is redeemed and affirmed… Such a faith is the highest of all possible faiths; I have baptised it with the name Dionysus” (T, “Expeditions of an Untimely Man,” 49). For the first time, faith is not held to be inimical to emancipation of spirit, but to be consistent with it, albeit only this highest of all possible faiths.47 This faith, moreover, is thought by Nietzsche to be consistent with, not opposed to, philosophical inquiry, for “Dionysus is a philosopher” (BGE 295). It is opposed to the “four great errors” discussed in Twilight of the Idols, and recognises that “One is necessary, one is a piece of fate, one belongs to the whole, one is in the whole” (T, “The Four Great Errors,” 8).

Both Nietzsche and the emancipated spirit believe that ultimately no one is isolated. It therefore seems odd at first, until we remember that free spirits must master even their virtues, that the free spirit is so much associated with solitude. Nietzsche writes: “For solitude is with us a virtue: it is a sublime urge and inclination for cleanliness which divines that all contact between man and man `in society’ must inevitably make unclean” (BGE 284). He also writes that “this highest instinct of cleanliness … precisely is saintliness” (BGE 271). While Nietzsche is ultimately clearest that honesty is a virtue that must be mastered, I believe that solitude also belongs not to the fully emancipated free spirit, but to certain stages of his development. While Nietzsche never specifically warns us not to become saints or bores in our pursuit of solitude as a virtue, he does warn us against becoming saints or bores in our quest for honesty (BGE 227). Moreover we are told that Nietzsche’s ideal is the master of all of his virtues (BGE 212), which suggests that ultimately the free spirit must master his “saintly” desire for solitude as well.

Free spirits are isolated from others for many reasons. Their difference is often feared and hated (HAH225, 229, AOM 211). Their strong evil inclinations lead them to be isolated from others (GS 35). They find relationships with others stifling, particularly relationships with women, (HAH 427-432, WS 306) and they sometimes suffer when others regard their inevitable changes as betrayal (D 146). They have to be traitors in order to advance (HAH629, D 484, 562). They must be capable of sacrificing their dearest friend (GS 98). They need to foster their independence by supplying as many of their own necessities as possible (WS 318). They need solitude and must drink from no one else’s well if they are to think according to their own lights (D 491). They need to wander, to avoid becoming attached to people, places or things-however, Nietzsche writes that this is true when they have attained “to only some degree of freedom of mind” (HAH638, GS 377, 380). Recall that both Zarathustra and Nietzsche (at the end of Beyond Good and Evil) are left waiting for “new friends.”

There are stages of free spirithood, from the less to the more mature. This is particularly clear in the 1886 Preface to Human, All Too Human, although itwas also hinted at earlier (HAH 287). In the Preface, Nietzsche speaks of steps on the route to mature freedom of spirit, also here called the great health. (1) First all begin as fettered spirits, the most noble are fettered by their oldest reverences and childhood forms of worship. (2) Next, for some few of those fettered spirits, comes the great liberation. At this stage one drive or impulse rules and masters the whole soul, and estranges the soul from all it had previously loved. As suggested above, Nietzsche varies in his account of what may initiate this great liberation—great pain and knowledge that wills are neither free nor unfree are both said to play this role. (3) Immediately after the great liberation a man is driven by a will to self-determination, a desire to tear things apart, and to reverse all values. Here he is necessarily isolated and requires solitude. (4) Next comes a stage of bird-like freedom, coolness and detachment. Idols and ideals are frozen to death. (5) However, as the convalescence continues, the free spirit draws nearer to life, feeling, and feeling for others. He begins to open his eyes again to what is close at hand. (6) During this period he begins to ask himself why he needed to renounce his reverences, and be so isolated. The answer to this question is that he needed to be master over himself and master over his virtues in order to have spaciousness of perspective. (7) Mature freedom of spirit permits access to many and contradictory modes of thought, and involves the master’s privilege of living experimentally.

At the second stage of freedom of spirit, a dominating drive takes possession of the free spirit and estranges it from all it had loved. This stage involves ascetic cruelty toward oneself, and Nietzsche clearly indicates that this dominating drive is (at least most often) the drive toward knowledge. Thus, for instance, he urges us to consider “how even the man of knowledge, when he compels his spirit to knowledge which is counter to the inclination of his spirit and frequently also to the desires of his heart-by saying No, that is, when he would like to affirm, to love to worship” is practicing ascetic self-denial (BGE 229). He also writes that service to truth requires that “almost everything else dear to our hearts” must be sacrificed (A50).

As mentioned above, one of the most striking features of the free spirit is his passion for knowledge-his need for reasons rather than faith. It is important, however, to recognize that the free spirit is only free if his love of truth is conditional, and if his methods for arriving at knowledge are resolutely experimental. Otherwise, Nietzsche tells us, those who think they are free spirits but still have faith that truth is necessarily valuable, and who refuse to deceive or deceive themselves whatever the cost, are still victims of the ascetic ideal, and are still pious (GM II, 24, GS 344, BGE 41). To the extent that free spirits cannot get free of their honesty, and at times Nietzsche suggests that they will never be free of this virtue, they are not fully free (BGE 227). At other points, however, Nietzsche suggests that free spirits are free of even their honesty, and have declared war on “all ancient conceptions of ‘true’ and `untrue.’” Now he writes that “we ourselves, we free spirits, are already a `revaluation of all values’“(A 13). They are this revaluation precisely because of their methods—and their experimentation with methods (D 432).

Free spirits need to be free even from their virtues—and this shows the distinction between free spirithood and more stoic ideals, a distinction that can easily be lost because of Nietzsche’s discussion of the relationship between free spirits and self-mastery or self-control (HAH, Preface, 3). Free spirits know how to practice radical self-control, and to this extent may be associated with stoic ideals, but they know as well how to lose themselves, and only thus will they learn many things (GS 305, WS 306. See also GS 5, 266).

Free spirits can prune their drives like gardeners (D 560, see also log) precisely because they do not believe themselves unchangeable. However, they do not practice the ascetic self-control Nietzsche associates with the stoics—this is “the right discipline for those who have to exterminate their sensual drives because the latter are raging beasts of prey. But only for those!” (D 331. See also GS 99, 306). Instead a thinker is only worth something if he knows “how to escape from his own virtues occasionally” (D 510. See also BGE 284). If you cannot free yourself from your virtues, then you become their victim and are deprived of your strength for autonomy (GS 21). You become “as a whole the victim of some part” of you (BGE 41).

This ability to free oneself from even one’s virtues, however, must be distinguished from blanket self-tolerance (T, “Expeditions of an Untimely Man,” 18). After all, Nietzsche is strongly committed to the claim that there is an order of rank, and that this order of rank separates not only one person from another, but also separates aspects of the self from one another. Nietzsche never suggests that the mature free spirit should strive equally to express all aspects of his personality. Instead, as will become clear, this would reflect that particular form of organizational weakness that Nietzsche calls decadence.

There are aspects of the earlier stages of freedom of spirit, particularly the flight from fixity, which do have a great deal of resonance with the modern (and slavish) conception of freedom as “laisser aller.” Nietzsche writes: “our modern conception of `freedom,’ which involves freedom from compulsion, is one more proof of degeneration of instinct” (T, “Expeditions of an Untimely Man.” See also BGE 21). It contrasts with the master’s conception of freedom as strength of one’s instincts, and precisely the ability to be fixed (GM II, 2), or, as Richardson puts it for the will to “cleave to its own viewpoint” (213).

While the modern conception of freedom as escape from compulsion is associated with decadence, Nietzsche also tells us that we cannot go back to the master’s conception of freedom. Instead, we need to go “step by step further into decadence” (A43). The free spirit is a site of tension between opposition to fixity, on the one hand, and ascetic self-control mandated by the drive for knowledge, on the other. I suggest that, while he cannot be identified straightforwardly with the slavish understanding of freedom as escape from control, he needs to be seen as nonetheless immersed still in decadence.

Decadence, as Nietzsche conceives it, involves a lack of integration. Psychological decadence involves a lack of integration of the drives or instincts that make up the self. While Nietzsche clearly associates decadence with weakness, he also finds it instrumentally valuable. He writes in Ecce Homo that he can revalue values only because he has experienced both decadence and health (EH “Why I am so Wise,” 1). I am suggesting that free spirits, with their flitting from brief habit to brief habit, and their investigation of one system of values after another, are precisely this kind of instrumentally valuable decadent. Nietzsche’s discussion in The Anti-Christ of Jesus Christ makes it clear that one and the same person (in this case Christ) can be both free spirit (A 32) and decadent (A 31).

Nietzsche tells us that “One could, with some freedom of expression, call Jesus a `free spirit’ he cares nothing for what is fixed” (A32). Similarly, Laurence Sterne, is said by Nietzsche to be “the most liberated spirit of the century” because of his artistic style in which “the fixed form is constantly being broken up” (AOM, 113). He goes on in the same passage to tell us that: “Unhappily, Sterne the man seems to have been only too closely related to Sterne the writer: his squirrel-soul leaped restlessly from branch to branch; he was familiar with everything from the sublime to the rascally.” Christ, for Nietzsche, is characterized by the extremity of his failure to resist this was his dominating instinct, and this, precisely, is decadence (EH, “Why I am so Wise” 4, “Why I am so Clever,” 8). Sterne’s familiarity with everything is again the opposite of good taste, and is decadence. Both lack a task and this is what Nietzsche’s late nineteenth century free spirits do have.

Philosophers of the Future Versus Free Spirits

I am now in a position to make some preliminary inquiry into the difference between even mature free spirits and the philosophers of the future. I cannot fully pursue the topic here, but have already suggested that (1) whatever philosophers of the future are, they are not decadent, while even mature free spirits may well be, particularly since cleverness and an eye for nuance are associated with decadence. This is because (2) the philosophers of the future integrate the many perspectives illuminated by the free spirit. Wanting to see differently, as the free spirits do, is preparatory to the task of the philosopher of the future, who employs a variety of perspectives and affective interpretations in the service of knowledge (GM III, 12). (3) The philosophers of the future are commanders and legislators. They are active organizers not only of themselves but of society. Finally (4), I will differentiate my account of the distinction between the free spirit and the philosopher of the future from those given by Coker, Lampert, and Berkowitz.

The second point of differentiation between philosopher of the future and free spirit relates to the first in that philosophers of the future, and not necessarily free spirits, are integrative, and they are equally manifold and whole (BGE 212; see also GM I, 2). This is what makes them beyond decadence. However the philosopher of the future, he who both becomes who he is and shapes his society to suit his needs, needs first to be a free spirit, if that organizing idea destined to rule him is to be free to develop, and if his exceptional multiplicity of inward states are to be unconsciously brought together (EH, “Why I am So Clever,” 9). It is important for Nietzsche that this integration be unconscious, for he believes that the will to a system is a lack of integrity. (See TI, Maxims and Arrows 26.) This reflects Nietzsche’s denigration of consciousness, for when a system is willed this reflects a conscious desire for integrity and wholeness.

Integration must not be willed but must instead reflect first exposure to a variety of perspectives, as provided by the free spirit, and second the good taste of a healthy spirit. Therefore the philosopher of the future must be, as Nietzsche writes, a free spirit but not merely a free spirit. The free spirit wanders far from home and explores all available perspectives, but only the philosopher of the future has good “taste”-the mode of self-defence that tells the spirit what it must not incorporate, as well as what it may (EH, “Why I am So Clever,” 8; “Why I am So Wise,” 2). The free spirit does not let others dictate what it will and will not incorporate, and therefore avoids attempts to view the world as decreed by either tradition or revered individuals. In addition, the philosopher of the future, who is the opposite of a decadent, has a taste only for what is good for him. This is what makes it possible for him to unconsciously integrate his many drives. It is important to observe that, contra Berkowitz who claims that the philosopher of the future is more wilful than the free spirit, this process of unconscious integration is precisely not wilful.

The philosopher of the future is active, not only in unconsciously making himself into an integrated whole, but also in consciously shaping the society around him. He is a commander and a legislator (BGE 211). Berkowitz recognizes this, but then claims “Nietzsche promptly initiates a visible though unheralded retreat from the idea that the philosopher is a commander and legislator” (247). I find instead that Nietzsche continues to develop the idea that the philosopher of the future uses his great capacity to organize to shape not only himself but also the society around him in the service of the elevation of the type man (BGE, 203, T, “Expeditions of an Untimely Man,” 37-39, A 55-61).

I am now in a position briefly to distinguish between my account of the distinction between free spirit and the philosopher of the future and the accounts given by Coker, Lampert, and Berkowitz. Coker claims that the free spirit views philosophers of the future as injudicious in choosing to shape not only their own selves but also the society around them. (78) This is in direct contradiction with Nietzsche’s claim that the proper care and concern-or task-of the free spirit concerns the arrival of such philosophers of the future. He writes that a “new kind of philosopher and commander will some time be needed” and continues: “The need for such leaders, the terrible danger they might not appear or might fail or might degenerate—these are our proper cares and concerns, do you know that, you free spirits?” (BGE 203) Moreover, Coker, throughout his account of all of the stages of free spirits, exaggerates the difference between immature free spirits and the skepticism, stoicism, and Epicureanism which he deems to be therapies of desire. For Nietzsche, a free spirit without a task would be entirely decadent, and this task requires the free spirit precisely to be sceptical, stoical, and Epicurean.

While Coker values the free spirit more than the philosopher of the future, Lampert devalues the free spirit and claims that Nietzsche has already reached the stage of the philosopher of the future. Lampert claims that in Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche wears the mask of a free spirit in order to avoid offending free spirits. He writes: “By appearing for now as a free spirit merely preparing the way for philosophers of the future who are beyond scepticism, Nietzsche parries the annoyance of the newly liberated free spirits for whom scepticism itself is the highest philosophical achievement.” I find Lampert’s claim problematic for three reasons. First, he claims, falsely I think, that both Zarathustra and his creator have become philosophers of the future. By contrast, I read Zarathustra, not as an overman but as seer, creator, bridge to the future and cripple on the bridge (TSZ II, “Of Redemption”). Even when writing The AntiChrist, Nietzsche still identifies himself with the free spirit, writing: “We all still have bad instincts, the Christian instincts, somewhere within us” and therefore need self-constraint to achieve a free view of reality (A 59).

Second, Lampert assumes Nietzsche would want to parry annoyance—rather than provoke it, and I hear no argument for this. Third, Beyond Good and Evil clearly indicates to free spirits, as I have demonstrated above, that their task is to help speed the coming of philosophers of the future, whose heralds they are. I see no reason, therefore, why Nietzsche’s purported donning of the mask of the free spirit would parry the annoyance of free spirits who believe themselves the pinnacle of creation. Finally, Lampert needs to give us an account of whom he takes free spirits to be, beyond this loose association between them and scepticism.

Berkowitz is like Coker in ultimately preferring Nietzsche’s free spirit to his philosopher of the future, but, as I have discussed, he differs from Coker in making an overly strong connection between the free spirit and the intellectual conscience. Here, both Coker’s attention to the stages of progress toward mature freedom of spirit, and his claim that free spirits are a site of tension between “philosophical profundity and artistic profound superficiality” (70) are useful correctives to Berkowitz.

We also need, contra Berkowitz, to see that the philosopher of the future is not more wilful than the free spirit. Berkowitz claims that Nietzsche thinks of the philosopher of the future as “a first cause and thereby a self-cause … the new philosopher is a kind of self-made god” (247). Not only does this contradict Nietzsche’s explicit claim in BGE 21 that the idea of a self cause or causa sui is a rape of logic, but it also ignores Nietzsche’s denial that the will is free due to his belief that all things are interconnected. I also differ from Berkowitz, as I have argued above,64 in that I think we need to appreciate the extent to which both philosophers of the future and fully emancipated free spirits are masters of their virtues-including both honesty and solitude.

I have now distinguished between so-called and Nietzschean free spirits, and made clear both the distinction between freedom of will and freedom of spirit, and the connection between denial of freedom of will and freedom of spirit. I hope that this preliminary account of the characteristics and characteristic pattern of development of the free spirit will make possible more probing investigation into the differentiation between free spirits and other of Nietzsche’s ideals, including, but not limited to, his ideal of that figure beyond decadence, the philosopher of the future.

I hope also, now that we can recognize that Nietzsche’s free spirit is neither associated with particular values, nor an exception to his general denial of freedom of the will, that we can begin to examine what may be appealing about the ideal of the free spirit. Furthermore, we can see that Nietzsche’s free spirit may be of interest even to those who do not share his repudiation of liberal democratic values, but who do share his enthusiasm for the ability to explore multiple ways of interpreting human behaviour and norms. We are also now in a position to investigate the details of his claims about this ability, and may begin to ask in particular whether Nietzsche has given us either good or sufficient reasons to think that a free spirit must be wary of, or possibly even entirely avoid, both commitment to others, and close association with them.

Finally, in our pursuit of what is attractive about the ideal of the free spirit, we should heed Nietzsche’s warning of the dangers of renunciation. He writes:

We must take care not to establish our life on too narrow an area of desires: for if we renounce the joys that position, honours, companionship, sensual pleasures, comforts, the arts afford, the day may come when we discover that through doing without these things we have acquired for a neighbour, not wisdom, but boredom with life. (HAH 337)