The Dark Workshop

Nietzsche uses the concept of a “dark workshop” to describe the inner forces and motivations that lead people to embrace moral beliefs and ideals. it paints a picture that seems to emphasize a level of self-deception and willful blindness necessary to generate or derive moral beliefs.

the fact of ‘darkness’ seems to imply just that-- the absence of knowledge, enlighened perspectives, and it could even be interpreted to mean dark with regard to emotion. the concept of a ‘workshop’ also is a very apt way of showing how the creation or manufacture of ideal beliefs is a process, an interaction of forces–

"—I see nothing, but I hear all the more. It is a careful, crafty, light rumour-mongering and whispering from every nook and cranny. It seems to me that people are lying; a sugary mildness clings to every sound. Weakness is going to be falsified into something of merit. There’s no doubt about it—things are just as you said they were.” (GM, 14),


"—And powerlessness which does not retaliate is being falsified into ‘goodness,’ anxious baseness into ‘humility,’ submission before those one hates to ‘obedience’ (of course, obedience to the one who, they say, commands this submission—they call him God). The inoffensiveness of the weak man—cowardice itself, in which he is rich, his standing at the door, his inevitable need to wait around—here acquires a good name, like ‘patience,’ and is called virtue itself. That incapacity for revenge is called the lack of desire for revenge, perhaps even forgiveness (‘for they know not what they do—only we know what they do!’). And people are talking about ‘love for one’s enemies’—and sweating as they say it.” (GM, 14)

both demonstrate how psychological forces manipulate, and are manipulated by, man. the genesis of this duality of manipulation and self-manipulation seems to be an inversion of meaning, the artificial valuation of that which is without value, such as weakness and powerlessness.

i think the concept of a workshop is fairly straight-forward, as a process of force interactions, a manufacturing based on rules of interaction and intended outcomes… of course, any comments on the significance of the ‘workshop’ metaphor would be welcome as well, but primarily, what is your interpretation of the significance of “darkness” in Nietzsche’s description? does darkness imply only ignorance, or a willful blindness, or perhaps both (and can one even exist without the other)? or does darkness extend also to the emotions and to the will itself, draining happiness, power and self-actualization from the individual?

or perhaps Nietzsche was wrong about this process; what then would be a better way to describe it? is the manufacture (fabrication?) of ideals and moral beliefs even a seperate process from belief formation in general? if so, what then, if anything, distinguishes moral beliefs from non-moral beliefs? how does the perception of truth factor into belief formation, moral or otherwise?

N couched his critiques of morality in a (highly effective) moralistic rhetoric. The ethical conclusions of the geneology comprise a moral system of their own - one which emerged the same way as the traditional moralities being (justifiably, in many ways) attacked therein: namely, from the interactions of the thinking organism with it’s environment, circumstances and social heritage - the workshop is not dark, or if it is, it’s only because N left the lights off in order to scare people …

he was also no doubt entirely aware of what he was doing, which is what makes it so admirably brilliant. He was saying what needs to be said - but the rub is that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s entirely true or accurate.

im not sure how you can call Nietzsche’s critique of moral ideals as “moralistic rhetoric”… Nietzsche did what no one else had, he separated moral beliefs from regular beliefs, he showed how they are different in their formation and content. morality for Nietzsche was completely artificial, there is no good or bad, no right or wrong, only social norms and false ideals (“idols” such as good and evil).

Nietzsche did not speak about his own theories or ideas in this manner, he wrote factually and with historical emphasis, he wrote like a philologist and a naturalist (not Naturalist per se but in terms of “non-supernaturalist”) and a psychologist. Nietzsche did not “moralize” his writing… where do you think he does? please cite me some examples of his writings where you think he is moralizing, because everything ive read of his rests on psychological/historical/empirical evidence. Nietzche does construct broad abstract theories, but that in itself doesnt mean they are “moral”. i think maybe you should read GM or BGE or even EH, skim to where hes talking about christianity or moral ideals, and you will see how he characterizes them in a unique way, a way in which no one else had done.

Neitzsche provided an argument for the genesis of morality, its artificial nature and how it originiated-- what the methods and motivations of those who created and believed in it are. if you are claiming that Nietzsche actually succombed to these same flawed methods and motivations in his own writings, i would say that you dont have a very good grasp of his distinction between idea and ideal, or of his theory of morality. but regardless, quote me some passages and i would be happy to indulge you.

Well, you’ll have to wait until i’m home with my books before I can start quoting my own passages - but you can start with either of the sections you quoted in the OP - i’m surprised if that doesn’t strike you as moralistic - albeit, in a reactionary way. It’s clearly condemnatory - he speaks of lies and cowardice - those are morally loaded terms - i’m not saying it’s unfounded - quite the opposite - but it surely rests on a position of critical judgement which is every bit as aesthetic (strength and self-actualization as the truer “good”) as he is exposing traditional moralities to be.

Please don’t think i am trying to disparage N - i’m simply pointing out that either way, we still end up in a situation where we are making moral-style judgments of people’s actions - the judgements are different, but the ground from which they are issued is not - N was just more honest about what he was doing in issuing them than those he was criticizing.

What upf is saying isn’t that far from what Derrida said in a number of places, but most obviously in Structure, Sign & Play:


Moreover, I don’t think anyone understood that complicity better than Nietzsche himself, hence all those passages that evoke lightness, playfulness and dancing, the Dionysian spirit; stand still too long and you’re liable to be petrified.

yes, i agree that Nietzsche’s terminology is “value-judgmental” in that it uses values as standards of comparison. however, his system of valuation is FAR different from religious or moral systems-- Nietzsche openly admits that he has values. This in and of itself does not mean he is advocating or using MORAL values, however. The key is to understand the distinction he is painting between “moral” ideals and ideas of value. Nietzsche valued strength, freedom, willpower, honesty with onesself-- these things are NOT moral values at all. they are, for Neitzsche at least, natural values, those things which are aspects if reality and human nature, and NOT some metaphysical concept.

the “ground from which they are issued” is indeed VERY different for Nietzsche; yes, he makes critical judgments of religion and morality, but he is not saying that “morality is bad” or “religion is evil” in the same way that a christian would say “Nietzsche is evil”. he is using a different system of valuation, different hierarchical structures of “goodness” (to appropriate the term here even though it is used differently for Nietzsche). for him, something is “good” when it is a reflection of reality, of human nature, of strength and will to power-- such things as being honest with onesself, being free in thought and action (and therefore not tied down to arbitrary systems of social conventions and metaphysical rules), and strong of character are reflections of the will to power, which is a physical concept (physical meaning as opposite of a metaphysical concept).

so if you are reading Nietzsche and thinking that he is “moralizing” when he says that christians are self-deceptive, cowardly and false, then you miss the point entirely-- he is saying that they are unreal, and that this is undesirable and harmful (“bad”) because it reflects a loss of will to power and strength, which are the basic human drives and purposes. Nietzsche DOES criticize other concepts and theories, but not all criticism is moral. First, it is vital to understand Neitzsche’s system of valuation-- afterwards, and only after this is grasped, can we truly read and interpret his meaning behind his critical judgment of idealism and morality.

i would think that Nietzsche would have disagreed. in GM Neitzsche carefully analyses the genesis and historical origins of ideas such as “good” and “bad”, and finds their root in languages of debt. Nietzsche may need to USE words like “value” in order to get his point across, but what is going on inside his head (and in the head of anyone who understands him) is most decidedly NOT metaphysical.

Derrida is trying to rationalize metaphysics as a primary-- he appears to be saying that NOTHING can be non-metaphysical, and this is clearly absurd. just because our words of language have evolved from different initial meanings yet kept the same syntactical and lexical forms does not mean that the CONTENT of those words cannot change. why would the concept or content behind a word need to be fixed to the original meaning when the word appeared initially? such things as meaning change all the time.

to imply that we cannot negatively criticize any concept or idea is rediculous. there is nothing absolutist or “fixed” about the meanings behind words. to understand Nietzsche is to go beyond mere word and sentence structures, to think abstractly and conceptually. if we are only analyzing the superficial symbols that Nietzsche is using (language-- how is he supposed to communicate his ideas otherwise?) and ignoring the meaning behind these words, we miss the point completely.

i would argue that Nietzsche saw a way of envisioning the world and concepts about the world that was completely different from metaphysical theories of others, because he rejected the concepts of “goodness” and “badness” as they were previously understood (as absolutes, authoritative commands or things which were fundamentally beyond human understanding and immediate relevance). saying “every particular borrowing drags along with it the whole of metaphysics” is focusing exclusively on previous concepts and fixed word-structures, and the underlying assumption seems to be that concepts are fixed to previous meanings. this is just not true.

Nietzsche did talk a lot about “lightness, playfulness and dancing, the Dionysian spirit”, but these things were not metaphysical in the same way that phenomenology is metaphysical. how Nietzsche used these terms depends on the context they are taken from-- often, he means freedom from lies, strength of self-determination, and detachment from arbitrary systems of idea-repression such as christianity. Dionysus was the affirmation of life through suffering, rather than the rejection of life through suffering, as Nietzsche characterized christ.

what Nietzsche meant when he wrote about lightness/dancing/etc depends on context, but usually it was referring to a positive affirmation of life, especially through suffering, rather than the negative rejection of life and the embracing of an artificial moral construction such as religion.

i must add further that “lies” and “cowardess” are most definitely NOT necessarily “morally loaded terms”. lying encompasses deception, an embracing of untruth as opposed to truth. cowardess encompasses (at least for Nietzsche) the inability to act, the inability to desire revenge or retaliation or action.

these concepts are certainly used as moral terms in religion and moral systems… however, for Nietzsche they had clear factual meanings, they related directly to reality and to concepts of truth, action and desire– and these underlying concepts are not inherently moralistic. it is vital to understand this distinction if any progress is to be made with regard to understanding Nietzsche’s critique of morality.

N’s explanations of human nature fall flat on their face. Robert Trivers, Hamilton, Westermack etc have all done endlessly more to explain morality.

I think you may have slightly missed the point of what Derrida was trying to say, although I accept that his language was at times somewhat excessive (although I do believe there were good reasons for this). The point is not to criticise or reject Nietzsche, at least not in the formal sense, but to view his writing genealogically, as it were. His preoccupation with Nietzsche, Heidegger and Freud is about the desire to go beyond or close off metaphysics, to do away with it, and the enormous difficulty of such a task given the weight of existing tradition.

Not exactly. Derrida was saying that nothing could be entirely non-metaphysical, that however hard we try (witness most especially Heidegger) our language always brings with it certain metaphysical presuppositions, some of those being simply a feature of language itself (logocentrism). In everyday linguistic activity, this probably isn’t that much of a problem, but when it comes to the attempted “destruction” of metaphysics that complicity is evidently more of an issue. It’s not that Derrida thought that words were “fixed” - quite the opposite, in fact - or that he believed Nietzsche or anyone else was wrong to seek a new approach to language (he did something very similar himself). Indeed, he argued that we should always, in a Nietzschean spirit, be open to new linguistic possibilities, but that we should always do so in full awareness of the manner of their construction. So, a concept like “the Dark Workshop” is evidently quite novel in the history of philosophy, which is to say that Nietzsche deployed it in a specific context, but it is surely not without precedent and I imagine that N was well aware of that when he made the choice to use it (I envisage D describing it as a “limit-concept”, in that it presses at the boundaries of metaphysical/philosophical understanding through its materialist metaphor). Moreover, we should also remember that the reception of a language is just as pivotal to its understanding: the way you deploy the idea of “the Dark Workshop” is not exactly the same as N - although you clearly use his definition as a point of departure you do so from the unique historical perspective of your own decision.

I quite agree, but you seem to be assuming that “metaphysics” is always a negative act, that it never has positive (that is, creative) consequences. That would not only be quite uncharitable, but also a tad presumptive.

ok, you agree with Nietzsche that morality is a component of human nature, thats a start…

so what do you base this claim on? surely you have some evidence for this statement?

Theres a huge amount of evidence that many aspects of morality are adaptations or byproducts of such. I don’t even want to get into it. 90% of my posts endlessly go on about this subject. Three quick sources of evidence: Check out Leda Cosmides study of moral sentiments regarding incest being biological (cont from westermack), check out the trolley problem cross cultural results on top of the adaptations they found (in the brain) regarding that and finally Brown’s “human universals” some concepts of morality exist in all studied human societies.

Its easy to find reviews of the literature.

People’s consideration of right/wrong concerning how you treat relatives/non relatives is another example. If I had a child and gave that money to a friend instead, people routinely make negative moral judgements around that. Even if I couldn’t point to vast studies, the real world makes that obvious upon examination.

Or the studies showing we have adaptations to catch social cheaters, when theives are caught they’re actions are judged immoral/outrageous in most societies. (exceptions can exist where thief is starving) etc

yes, i do not claim to be an expert on or know very much about Derrida, i was only going off what your post stated. if Derrida is affirming Nietzsche’s “doing-away” with metaphysics or metaphysical ideas, then they would seem to be agreeing on that point. at the point where Derrida is claiming the “weight of existing tradition” makes such a task very hard or impossible, however, he seems to deviate from Nietzsche’s criticisms of metaphysics (and indeed Nietzsche’s criticism of likewise all previous philosophy) in that Nietzsche did not regard metaphysical beliefs, platonism, german idealism, etc as needing any serious contemplation whatsoever. Nietzsche rejected such thing out of hand, easily and with a humorous attitude of one disregarding a child’s simple, false concepts of the world. --"The spectacle of the Tartuffery of old Kant, equally stiff and decent, with which he entices us into the dialectic by-ways that lead (more correctly mislead) to his “categorical imperative” - makes us fastidious ones smile, we who find no small amusement in spying out the subtle tricks of old moralists and ethical preachers."

…Nietzsche would certainly be the first to agree that geneological or historical analysis of his ideas is very relevant… i guess i just dont see what Derrida’s take on Nietzsche’s criticizms of metaphysics are, or why they are relevant here.

my readings of Nietzsche, particulatly here from BGE, see his views on metaphysics (i.e., on all previous philosophy with maybe one or two exceptions) as seeing the value in understanding the limitations and flaws of these theories, as well as the central aspect of ego and justification with regard to the motivations of the various philosophers who create the theories. Nietzsche rejected idealism out of hand, he showed that good and evil are concepts that are created, that do not exist in nature or in reality but are expressions of human meaning, such as obligation/debt/desire to inflict pain-- it seems that Nietzsche thought “ok, well all this idealistic stuff is made up, just childish crap, but at least we can understand where it comes from, why people are motivated to believe it, and how it can be used as a starting-point for a new, real vision of reality and human nature”…

the dark workshop metaphor is not so much about a materialistic interpretation of mental activities as it is a symbolic metaphor of processes and desires. i think that describing the dark workshop metaphor only as a “limit-concept” is to miss what Nietzsche was trying to show us about moral idealism.

i can accept that my understanding of the dark workshop is not exactly what Nietzsche meant it, but only in the sense that i still am not nearly as fully-versed in Nietzsche’s ideas. if my understanding is limited, then it is so out of a lack of fullness or completeness of understanding, and not out of a fundamental misreading. what makes you think that interpreting the metaphor as “an understanding of the inner-workings of motivations and desires that produces a fabrication of arbitrary concepts such as moral goodness and badness, and the re-valuing of positive into negative, and vice versa” is not the way that Nietzsche intended the metaphor to be meant? what is your personal interpretation of the meaning that he was trying to get across here?

negative here is in terms of negating reality, or falsiflying truth (i.e. creation of fantasy or idealism)-- i thought we were considering Nietzsche’s interpretation here, which is the viewpoint i am taking up at present. if i appear presumptive, i have no problem with that, however remember that i am only seeking to understand Nietzsche’s meanings, not assert my own. if my interpretations of his meanings are flawed, that is my fault for lack of understanding, but at present i see no reason to assume that my understanding of Nietzsche’s criticisms of moral idealism as demonstrated through the dark workshop metaphor are flawed.

let me post here the entire metaphor, so we may be clear exactly on what we are referring to, and able easily to point to specific passages or sections as needed (the quotation lacks the italics of the original text, as im not going to spend the time here going through and duplicating it… anyone who wants to read the text exactly as written may find it at"dark+workshop"+nietzsche&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us:

Geneology of Morals, First Essay, 14

you wont find Nietzsche disagreeing with you here… so what is your real objection to the metaphor of the dark workshop? you seem to share Nietzsche’s belief that morality is a false construct (an ‘adaptation’)…

I think its a real construct as in biology drives humans into it. Human sexuality isn’t a ‘false construct’ its produced by specialized biology. Not being universal truth doesn’t equal a false construct.

no one, including Nietzsche, is claiming that moral beliefs or ideals do not serve a purpose or are completely meaningless-- he is only claiming that they generate FALSE meanings and HARMFUL/DECEPTIVE purposes and end-results; there is no direct connection between the usefulness of a concept and its truthfulness… why do you think these two are necessarily related?

so then moral beliefs would have the same status as an emotion or instinct to pain/pleasure seeking? how could a belief (i.e. a thought) be a biological construct?

That’s what i mean when i say he was honest about it.

that’s an arbitrary distinction at best - go ahead, think about it (i mean, THINK about it - don’t just assume i’m wrong so you can add another gold star to your scorecard) What’s the difference between a natural value and a moral value once we’ve gone through the whole post-Christian angst stage that N so eloquently epitomized? We end up right back where we started - with a series of values being promoted as points which we should aspire to realize throughout the process of living - in other words - moral values (strength, honesty, will, etc …).

One can’t condemn a past morality without standing on a moral platform, and there is no doubt that N’s intent is to condemn. N stood on a naturalistic moral platform to shatter the Christian moral paradigm that dominated. He never left the moral realm in so doing however, particularly since such metaphors as “the dark workshop” are designed precisely to portray the objects of his attacks as “bad” …

Unreal, undesirable, harmful - in other words, WRONG - what more fundamental basis is there for morality besides wrongness (even, ultimately, in N’s own analysis)? To try to avoid the moralizing implications of N’s attack of Xtianity by claiming his values are somehow amoral is really to slide into semantics

to value “truth” as desirable is to establish one of the essential rudiments of any moral system; and cowardice is a judgmentally-negative (that is, moralistic) way of talking about selective risk aversion

I’m not saying N used them in a overtly religious way - only an ethical one which he presented (on purpose) in a moralistic fashion - i wouldn’t equate the three - tho, N certainly used them to establish his own quasi-religious themes of redemption, transcendence in suffering, etc. Truth, action and desire are indeed the bases of just about any ethical system - If you want to argue that N was being pragmatic as opposed to metaphysical, i won’t disagree, but simply being pragmatic about morals rather than spiritual doesn’t change the fact that one is dealing in morals.

I tend to agree with upf again here that this was a tactic in order to facilitate the attack on Christianity. There are other occasions when N appropriates parts of Plato or Kant or whomever, although those appropriations are always problematic. I need to dig up some references, though…

I bought it up in relation to your dispute with upf, it isn’t especially pertinent other than with reference to the “going beyond” that typified N’s view of metaphysics.

Sure, I’m just suggesting that as one reading, not the final word.

I didn’t say you’d “misread” N, but no matter how much you read and how hard you try you will not get to his ultimate meaning. There is ample evidence of that fact from some of the interpretations we see on this board every day. That doesn’t matter to me, though, what’s important is whether you can do something productive with your own reading.

Yes, I got that, but I think that is an unfair criticism of all metaphysics. There’s no need to argue that, by the way, it’s been done to death in Faust’s thread and I’m just clarifying my point.

I’ll have a look at the passage from BGE and get back to you.

A belief/thought isn’t what morals are they’re feelings in relation to circumstances, the thoughts are secondary. (with the adaptations or heavy byproducts i’m talking about NOT ALL morality). and 2 specialized cognitive neuromachinery to produce them depending on circumstances. The moral sentiments regarding incest or etc.

Its not hard to imagine evolution set us up with adaptations to avoid incestual relationships based on a sense of right/wrong.