On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life Summary

On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life Summary

The original title for Nietzsche's essay is Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie für das leben. This is sometimes translated as the "Advantage and Disadvantage," but is often translated, "Use and Misuse," which connotes the type of accusation in 'misuse' that Nietzsche articulates in the essay. Which English phrase best captures the intent of the title is unclear. 

The essay has a specific and a general application. Its specific goal is to criticize the nationalizing effects of historical studies following the Franco-Prussian war. Its broad application is to shift the paradigm of academia away from its focus on history and toward a detached, forward-oriented one. 

The essay is notably modernist. For instance, it begins with the essential question whether man and beast are the same or different. To this effect, Nietzsche positions memory as a curse, not an asset, calling it a "burden," and a "difficulty." Nietzsche argues that man's discontent is rooted in his memory. He expresses skepticism at the memory of man, arguing that man is so attached to the present moment that any act of memory is stained by what we want to remember, stained by subjectivity. 

This makes history as an academic art essentially flawed. He discusses the "plastic force" of memory, its power by "reshaping and incoporating the past and the foreign, of healing wounds, compensating for what has been lost". After lowering man's confidence in his mind allows him to see the hidden assumptions in the historical narrative. 

On the broad perspective, Nietzsche argues that man ought to "elevate himself to a super-historical standpoint." He reminds us how infinitely same the present is to the past, calling the super-historian to do what is most progressive. If studying the history of a nation would help that nation progress into the future, the leaders ought to do that. If analyzing the present apart from history is most helpful, do that. Nietzsche then argues for how hurtful the first option is, through a series of philosophical systems. 

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