The approach we have used throughout this book has been to look at philosophers as the rational
spokesmen of their period. Thus there is a great deal of each philosophers ideas that we have
avoided because they were not important for this narrative. But there is another point that has
always been true but remained a minor strand until we reach nineteenth century Europe. This
concerns the relationship that prevails between the words and ideas of the philosopher and those
attributed to him by his period. In other words any philosopher who has not caught the pulse of
his own period will disappear from view simply because no one will care about what he has said.
However, that does not imply that the ideas behind those of his words that people find important
are the same as the ideas that he holds himself. This causes a distortion between the perceived
ideas of the philosopher and those same ideas as recognized by mature philosophical scholars.
For our case, however, it is the perceived ideas that are important. But, when there is a
significant difference they must be seen in context with at least a cursory view of his mature
Since Rousseau European philosophy has had a problem with reason as a source of truth.
Rousseau's popularity showed that this distrust of reason was endemic to the Europeans of his
time. Kant attempted to solve the problem and Hegel developed his own brand of reason. But
they were the last. Understand clearly that this was not a rejection of reasoning as a path toward
knowledge, but a rejection of reason as a source of truth.
But this leaves a difficult problem of the development and of the communication of important
concepts whose basis is derived from reasoning. Thus in later nineteenth and through much of
twentieth century Europe there was an expansion of the use of expressive language as a
substitute for pure reasoning. Of the earliest of these philosophers Nietzsche was without
question a master. But what is important for a complete understanding of Nietzsche's
philosophy and what was important to the development of western culture are not the same.
Perhaps much of this has to do with the difficulty in reading, much less understanding his works.
As a result we will be only examining two concepts which he developed that were to play
important roles in twentieth century Europe, the idea of the Superman (Overman), and the idea
that God is dead. There is no suggestion here that these are the most important concepts in his
Some excerpts from the prologue to
Zarathustra will provide some basic insight both to the new method of expressing
philosophical ideas and of the ideas themselves. Zarathustra is the original Iranian name for the
Persian religious leader the Greeks called Zoroaster. As you may recall from our earlier
discussions he proposed the existence of two Gods. Ahura Mazda, the God of light who was all
good, and Ahriman, the God of darkness who was all evil. The early Greeks also recognized the
sun and light as the source of knowledge, and darkness as the source of ignorance. Thus in a
search for wisdom the symbolism of light as truth and knowledge is basic to the thought of the
west. Nietzsche made ample use of symbolism.
When Zarathustra was thirty years old he left his home and the lake of his home, and
went into the mountains. There he enjoyed his spirit and his solitude, and for ten years
did not weary of it. But at last his heart changed, --and rising one morning with the rosy
dawn, he went before the sun, and spake thus unto it:
Thou great star! What would be thy happiness if thou hadst not those for whom thou
For ten years hast thou climbed hither into my cave: thou wouldst have wearied of thy
light and of the journey, had it not been for me, mine eagle and my serpent.
This journey that Zarathustra is about to make is from the past into the future. Leaving his home
at thirty to go into the mountains is reminiscent of Jesus leaving his home at thirty to go into the
desert. The sun as the source of wisdom and its need for a vessel, a person to whom to bring
wisdom, is a symbol of the union of God and man that existed in the past.
Zarathustra went down the mountain alone, no one meeting him. When he entered the
forest, there suddenly stood before him an old man, who had left his holy cot to seek
roots. And thus spake the old man to Zarathustra:
"No stranger to me is this wanderer: many years ago passed he by. Zarathustra he was
called; but he hath altered.
Then thou carriedest thine ashes into the mountains: wilt thou now carry thy fire into the
valleys? Fearest thou not the incendiary's doom?
Yea, I recognize Zarathustra. Pure is his eye and no l vcoathing lurketh about his mouth.
Goeth he not alone like a dancer?
Altered is Zarathustra; a child hath Zarathustra become, and awakened one is
Zarathustra: what wilt thou do in the land of the sleepers?
As in the sea hast thou lived in solitude, and it hath borne thee up. Alas, wilt thou now
go ashore? Alas, wilt thou again drag thy body thyself?"
Zarathustra answered: "I love mankind."
The Old Man represents the traditional religious ascetic who has turned his back on man. His
claim that he knew Zarathustra refers to Nietzsche's early upbringing as a religious scholar.
Next Nietzsche put into the old man's mouth words that were only his unspoken thoughts, his
secret motives. Of course you may say that these are only Nietzsche's opinion of his words, but
if they did not reflect the feelings of the people of his time we probably would not be reading
them now. In other words, by putting his own analysis of the old man's motives into his mouth,
he expressed the opinions of those who found him important.
"Why," said the saint, "did I go into the forest and the desert? Was it not because I loved
men far too well?
Now I love God: men I do not love. Man is a thing too imperfect for me. Love to man
would be fatal to me."
The religious ascetic who goes into the cloister, does he go there for the sake of man? No, it is
for himself. His love is for God and not for man.
Zarathustra answered "What spake I of love! I am bringing gifts unto men."
"Give them nothing," said the saint. "Take rather part of their load, and carry it along
with them --that will be most agreeable unto them; if only it be agreeable unto thee.
If, however, thou wilt give unto them, give no more than an alms, and let them also beg
The last statement, of course, is an expression of what Nietzsche saw as the ultimate hypocrisy
of the Christian religion. The idea that Christ shares the burden of the Christian along with the
idea that those who are more fortunate should help care for those less fortunate were both
concepts that Nietzsche condemned in all of his writings. Here, in
The Genealogy of Morals. he took issue with it
blaming it on the English psychological approach to the origins of morals.
"Originally" --so they decree-- "one approved unegoistic actions and called them good
from the point of view of those to whom they were done, that is to say, those to whom
they were useful; later one forgot how this approval originated and, simply because
unegoistic actions were always habitually praised as good, one also felt them to be good --as if they were something good in themselves."
Of course the popularity of this view was insured by the dislike of the typical nineteenth century
German of anything English, particularly English thought. His rejection of this concept of the
good led to his exposition of a view of the good that was much more acceptable to nineteenth
Now it is plain to me, first of all, that in this theory the source of the concept "good" has
been sought and established in the wrong place": the judgment "good" did not originate
with those to whom "goodness" was shown! Rather it was "the good" themselves, that is
to say the noble, powerful, high-stationed and high-minded, who felt and established
themselves and their actions as good, That is, of the first rank, in contradistinction to all
the low, low minded, common and plebeian. It was out of this pathos of distance that
they first seized the right to create values and to coin names for values.
Nietzsche saw this return to these English and
Christian concepts of the good as a trap man has fallen into. He saw it as a rejection of man as
an individual and an approval of the common man, or as those of his time liked to put it, "the
"oh," replied Zarathustra. "I give no alms. I am not poor enough for that."
The saint laughed at Zarathustra, and spake thus,: :Then see to it that they accept your
treasures! They are distrustful of anchorites, and do not believe that we come with gifts.
The fall of our footsteps ringeth too hollow through their streets. And just as at night,
when they are in bed and hear a man abroad long before sunrise, so they ask themselves
concerning us: where goeth the thief?
Go not to men, but stay in the forest?! Go rather to the animals! Why not be like me --a
bear amongst bears, a bird amongst birds?"
"And what doeth the saint in the forest?" asked Zarathustra. The saint answered: I make
hymns and sing them; and in making hymns I laugh and weep and mumble: thus do I
With singing, weeping, laughing, and mumbling do I praise the God who is my God. But
what dost thou bring us as a gift?"
When Zarathustra heard these words, he bowed to the saint and said: "What should I have
to give thee! Let me rather hurry hence lest I take aught away from thee!" --And thus
they parted from one another, the old man and Zarathustra laughing like schoolboys.
When Zarathustra was alone, however, he said to his heart: "Could it be possible! This
old saint in the forest hath not yet heard of it, that God is dead!"
When Nietzsche said "God is dead" he did not imply that there once was a God who has passed
away. His view of religion was essentially that of the European enlightenment. He saw religion
as a comforting but limiting self-delusion because all values, and that includes religious values,
are the creations of human beings. Therefore God, as a creation of man, has been killed by man,
he is a notion no longer relevant to mans life. But this idea of the death of God refers not only to
the irrelevance of religion, it refers equally to the irrelevance of all idealism. His gift to man is
the Superman, the man who will make himself.
Lo I teach you the Superman!
The Superman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: The Superman shall be the
meaning of the earth!
I Conjure you, my brethren. remain true to the earth, and believe not those who speak
unto you of superearthly hopes! Poisoners are they, whether they know it or not.
Despisers of life are they, decaying ones and poisoned ones themselves, of whom the
earth is weary, so away with them!
Once blasphemy against God was the greatest blasphemy; but god died, and therewith
also those blasphemers. To blaspheme the earth is now the dreadfulest sin, and to rate
the heart of the unknowable higher than the meaning of the earth!
Once the soul looked contemptuously on the body, and then that contempt was the
supreme thing:--the soul wished the body meager, ghastly, and famished. Thus it thought
to escape from the body and the earth.
Oh, that soul was itself meager, ghastly and famished; and cruelty was the delight of that
This complaint looks back beyond Christianity to the fundamental facets of Western culture. It
is a rejection of the divine and with it the divinity of the soul. It calls us to leave our ancient
idealism behind as a relic of an outdated imagination. In the ancient battle between the Giants
and the Gods, the Giants are now back in control. The Gods and their divine world were
pointless creations of man and it is time to do away with them.
But ye, also, my brethren, tell me: What doth your body say about your soul? Is your soul
not poverty and pollution and wretched self-complacency?
Verily a polluted stream is man. One must be a sea, to receive a polluted stream without
Lo I teach you the superman: he is that sea; in him can your great contempt be
What is the greatest thing ye can experience? It is the hour of great contempt. The hour
in which even your happiness becometh loathsome to you, and so also your reason and
The hour when ye say: "What good is my happiness! It is poverty and pollution and
wretched self-complacency. But my happiness should justify existence itself!"
The hour when ye say: "What good is my reason! Doth it long for knowledge as the lion
for his food? It is poverty and pollution and wretched self-complacency!"
The hour when you say: "What good is my virtue! As yet it hath not made me passionate.
How weary I am of my good and my bad! It is all poverty and pollution and wretched
The hour when you say: "What good is my justice I do not see that I am fervor and fuel.
The just, however, are fervor and fuel.
The hour when you say: "What good is my pity! Is not pity the cross on which he is nailed
who loveth man? But my pity is not a crucifixion.
Have you ever spoken thus? Have you ever cried thus? Ah! would that I ever heard you
It is not your sin --it is your self-satisfaction that crieth unto heaven; your very
sparingness in sin crieth unto heaven!
Where is the lightning to lick you with its tongue? Where is the frenzy with which you
should be inoculated?
Lo I teach you the Superman: he is that lightning, he is that frenzy!
You can see from this that what Nietzsche is calling for is an active creation of a new kind of
man, one who must create himself. In fact his basic idea of "Will to Power," an idea he adapted
from Schopenhauer, is that existence itself is this active exercise not the power to become but the
will to activate that power.
But the return to the importance of the self as a self-created thing does not depend entirely on a
rejection of Christianity. Our next philosopher was a Lutheran theologian and his ideas furthered this strain of European thought farther from dependence on rational thought.