Making the Ordinary Unknown: On ‘Knowledge’ & Its Opposite…*

The source of our concept ‘knowledge’.—I take this explanation from the street; I heard someone of the people say ‘he knew me’— : I asked myself: what does the people really understand by knowledge? What does it mean when it wants ‘knowledge’? Nothing more than this: something strange shall be traced back to something familiar. And we philosophers—have we really understood anything more by knowledge? The familiar, that is to say: that to which we are accustomed, so that we are no longer surprised at it, the everyday, some rule or other to which we stick, each and every thing with which we feel ourselves at home. What? Is our need to know not precisely this—need for the familiar, the will to discover among all that is strange, unaccustomed, questionable, something which no longer disturbs us? Is it not the instinct of fear which bids us know? Is the rejoicing of the man of knowledge not precisely the rejoicing of the feeling of security re-attained? … This philosopher supposed the world ‘known’ when he had traced it back to the ‘idea’: was it not, alas, because the ‘idea’ was so familiar to him, because he was so accustomed to it and now had so little to fear from the ‘idea’? –Oh this complacency of men of knowledge! Just consider their principia and their solutions of the universal enigma in this light! Whenever they re-discover something in things, under things, behind things which is unfortunately very familiar to us, for example our one-times table or our logic or our willing and desiring, how happy they immediately are! For ‘what is familiar is known.’ : over that they are of one accord. Even the most cautious among them think at any rate that the familiar is easier to know than the strange; it is, for example, a law of method to start out from the ‘inner world’, from the ‘facts of consciousness’, because they are the world more familiar to us! Error of errors! The familiar is that to which we are accustomed; and that to which we are accustomed is hardest to ‘know’, that is to see as a problem, that is to see as strange, as distant, as ‘outside us’…The great assurance of the natural sciences in comparison with psychology and critique of the elements of consciousness—unnatural sciences, one might almost say—rests precisely on the fact that they take the strange as their object: while it is something almost contradictory and contrary to sense to want to take the non-strange as object at all…  – Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1887)



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