Value of an action lies in what is not intentional

Friedrich Nietzscheweb
Friedrich Nietzsche

Throughout the longest period of human history – one calls it the prehistoric period – the value or non-value of an action was inferred from its consequences; the action in itself was not taken into consideration, any more than its origin; but pretty much as in China at present, where the distinction or disgrace of a child redounds to its parents, the retro-operating power of success or failure was what induced men to think well or ill of an action.
Let us call this period the pre-moral period of mankind; the imperative, “Know thyself!” was then still unknown. In the last ten thousand years, on the other hand, on certain large portions of the earth, one has gradually got so far, that one no longer lets the consequences of an action, but its origin, decide with regard to its worth: a great achievement as a whole, an important refinement of vision and of criterion, the unconscious effect of the supremacy of aristocratic values and of the belief in “origin,” the mark of a period which may be designated in the narrower sense as the moral one: the first attempt at self-knowledge is thereby made. Instead of the consequences, the origin – what an inversion of perspective! And assuredly an inversion effected only after long struggle and wavering! To be sure, an ominous new superstition, a peculiar narrowness of interpretation, attained supremacy precisely thereby: the origin of an action was interpreted in the most definite sense possible, as origin out of an intention; people were agreed in the belief that the value of an action lay in the value of its intention.
The intention as the sole origin and antecedent history of an action: under the influence of this prejudice moral praise and blame have been bestowed, and men have judged and even philosophized almost up to the present day. Is it not possible, however, that the necessity may now have arisen of again making up our minds with regard to the reversing and fundamental shifting of values, owing to a new self-consciousness and acuteness in man – is it not possible that we may be standing on the threshold of a period which to begin with, would be distinguished negatively as ultra-moral: nowadays when, at least among us immoralists, the suspicion arises that the decisive value of an action lies precisely in that which is not intentional, and that all its intentionalness, all that is seen, sensible, or “sensed” in it, belongs to its surface or skin – which, like every skin, betrays something, but conceals still more? In short, we believe that the intention is only a sign or symptom, which first requires an explanation – a sign, moreover, which has too many interpretations, and consequently hardly any meaning in itself alone: that morality, in the sense in which it has been understood hitherto, as intention-morality, has been a prejudice, perhaps a prematureness or preliminariness, probably something of the same rank as astrology and alchemy, but in any case something which must be surmounted.
The belief in “immediate certainties” is a moral naiveteā€¦but we have now to cease being “merely moral” men!
Excerpted from Beyond Good and Evil
The 168th birth anniversary of Friedrich Nietzsche will be observed on October 15
Friedrich Nietzsche

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