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					Ethics in Business, Government, and Society               Mark Tunick & Dan White   1




Nietzsche on Promises:

Unpublished Fragments (Nachgelassene Fragmente), spring 1878-Nov. 1879

Human beings cannot hear the tone of a promise and of fulfillment together: for
they have to detect something in the promise, which was not there.—So I: I
promised the hard truth—freely with some fantastic expression: and now have I
knocked over the milk pot of these innocent children.1 (D. White, trans.)

Human, All Too Human, I, ii, sec. 58-59, “On the History of Moral Sensations”

                                         58.
What one can promise. One can promise actions, but not feelings, for the latter
are involuntary. He who promises to love forever or hate forever or be forever
faithful to someone is promising something that is not in his power. He can,
however, promise those actions that are usually the consequence of love, hatred,
or faithfulness, but that can also spring from other motives: for there are several
paths and motives to an action. A promise to love someone forever, then, means,
"As long as I love you I will render unto you the actions of love; if I no longer love
you, you will continue to receive the same actions from me, if for other motives."
Thus the illusion remains in the minds of one's fellow men that the love is
unchanged and still the same. One is promising that the semblance of love will
endure, then, when without self-deception one vows everlasting love.

                                         59.
Intellect and morality. One must have a good memory to be able to keep the
promises one has given. One must have strong powers of imagination to be able
to have pity. So closely is morality bound to the quality of the intellect.
(“Nietzsche Channel” Translation. Online: Human, All Too Human, I, ii, 58-59 )


Human, All Too Human, I, ix, sec 629), “Man Alone with Himself”

On convictions and justice. To carry out later, in coolness and sobriety, what a
man promises or decides in passion: this demand is among the heaviest burdens
oppressing mankind. To have to acknowledge for all duration the consequences
of anger, of raging vengeance, of enthusiastic devotion—this can incite a
bitterness against these feelings all the greater because everywhere, and

1
  Die Menschen können den Ton des Versprechens und den Ton der Erfüllung nicht
zusammen hören: denn sie haben sich aus dem Versprechen etwas herausgehört, was
nicht darin war. — So ich: ich versprach Wahrheits-Härte — freilich mit manchem
phantastischen Ausdrucke: und nun habe ich diesen unschuldigen Kindern ihren
Milchtopf umgestoßen.
Ethics in Business, Government, and Society               Mark Tunick & Dan White    2


especially by artists, precisely these feelings are the object of idol worship. Artists
cultivate the esteem for the passions, and have always done so; to be sure, they
also glorify the frightful satisfactions of passion, in which one indulges, the
outbursts of revenge that have death, mutilation, or voluntary banishment as a
consequence, and the resignation of the broken heart. In any event, they keep
alive curiosity about the passions; it is as if they wished to say: without passions
you have experienced nothing at all.

Because we have vowed to be faithful, even, perhaps, to a purely imaginary
being, a God, for instance; because we have given our heart to a prince, a party,
a woman, a priestly order, an artist, or a thinker, in the state of blind madness
that enveloped us in rapture and let those beings appear worthy of every honor,
every sacrifice: are we then inextricably bound? Were we not deceiving
ourselves then? Was it not a conditional promise, under the assumption
(unstated, to be sure) that those beings to whom we dedicated ourselves really
are the beings they appeared to be in our imaginations? Are we obliged to be
faithful to our errors, even if we perceive that by this faithfulness we do damage
to our higher self?

No—there is no law, no obligation of that kind; we must become traitors, act
unfaithfully, forsake our ideals again and again. We do not pass from one period
of life to another without causing these pains of betrayal, and without suffering
from them in turn. Should we have to guard ourselves against the upsurging of
our feeling in order to avoid these pains? Would not the world then become too
bleak, too ghostly for us? We want rather to ask ourselves whether these pains
at a change of conviction are necessary, or whether they do not depend on an
erroneous opinion and estimation. Why do we admire the man who remains
faithful to his conviction and despise the one who changes it? I fear the answer
must be that everyone assumes such a change is caused only by motives of
baser advantage or personal fear. That is, we believe fundamentally that no one
changes his opinions as long as they are advantageous to him, or at least as
long as they do him no harm. But if that is the case, it bears bad testimony to the
intellectual meaning of all convictions. Let us test how convictions come into
being and observe whether they are not vastly overrated: in that way it will be
revealed that the change of convictions too is in any case measured by false
standards and that until now we have tended to suffer too much from such
changes. (“Nietzsche Channel” Translation. Online: Human, All Too Human I,
ix, 629 )


Daybreak (Morgenröte), Book IV, Sec. 350

How best to promise.—When a promise is made, it is not the word that is said,
but what is unspoken behind the word. Indeed, the word makes the promise less
powerful [unkräftiger], insofar as it discharges and consumes a power [Kraft] that
Ethics in Business, Government, and Society                       Mark Tunick & Dan White       3


is a part of the power [Kraft] that promises. Therefore let your hand rise and lay
your finger on your mouth, --so you will make the surest vows.2 (D. White, trans.)




2
  Wie man am besten verspricht. — Wenn ein Versprechen gemacht wird, so ist es nicht das
Wort, welches verspricht, sondern das Unausgesprochene hinter dem Worte. Ja, die Worte
machen ein Versprechen unkräftiger, indem sie eine Kraft entladen und verbrauchen, welche ein
Theil jener Kraft ist, die verspricht. Lasst euch also die Hand reichen und legt dabei den Finger
auf den Mund, — so macht ihr die sichersten Gelöbnisse.

				
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