Nietzsche on consciousness

Early in his writings, Friedrich Nietzsche experimented with the idea of the origins of consciousness, which he saw as primarily a social phenomenon. (What follows is from his writings and my extrapolations.) In a postulated primieval era, both the individual act and the individual thought was filtered through the group. The group established the behavioral patterns for its members by conformity or subordination or the beginnings of a vertical or hierarchical system.

An act is an external behavior but a thought is not. Both, however, if contradicting the group, result in guilt. Guilt is the shame concerning what is “in here.” This is the beginning of morals. In the social sphere, as guilt is transformed over time and space, the sense of tragedy emerges, that is, guilt over what is happening “out there.” Tragedy becomes the basis of an historical or cultural ethos. Thus, an act of violence within the group would engender guilt. War among people “over there” eventually engenders a tragic sense of the universe. Aescylus, Shakespeare, and Dostoyevsky magnificently exemplify an articulation of what we come to interpret as tragedy.

The counterpart to the act is the thought or feeling on the part of the individual, since a thought or feeling does not begin as a social phenomenon. The counterpart of guilt over the act is the same, and the counterpart of tragedy is compassion, that is, compassion towards those who are “over there.”

The sense of tragedy over time and space is universalized. Socially it represents a profound discontent, which potentailly threatens the hierarchy, threatens authority. Authority will always want to limit actions on the part of the group or its members. On the thought/feeling level, compassion is universalized as well and transmutes into suffering. Suffering is the discontentment of the individual, the first noble truth identified by the Buddha.

Here is a schema of sorts:

ACT –> guilt –> tragedy –> discontent <-- consciousness
THOUGHT –> guilt –> compassion –> suffering <-- consciousness

Concludes Nietzsche, consciousness is the product not of society or groups. Consciousness developed and matured in the manner described is the product of individuals. Refined and reflected upon, consciousness grows and is further qualified by time and space and cultural circumstances — but not by society, only by individuals.

What is the relevance of these ideas for a philosophy of solitude? These ideas help form an anthropology of eremitism, if not just of individualism. They show that no one can look to society or the group for an acute sense of reality or insight into reality. Groups can preserve a certain ethos or disposition or cultural personality, but one must look within to find that grand tool of being called consciousness.