Selected Nietzsche Readings

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Human, All to Human (1878)

On The History of the Moral Sensations


At the waterfall.— When we see a waterfall, we think we see freedom of will and choice in the innumerable turnings, windings, breakings of the waves; but everything is necessary; each movement can be calculated mathematically. Thus it is with human actions; if one were omniscient, one would be able to calculate each individual action in advance, each step in the progress of knowledge, each error, each act of malice. To be sure, the acting man is caught in his illusion of volition; if the wheel of the world were to stand still for a moment and an omniscient, calculating mind were there to take advantage of this interruption, he would be able to tell into the farthest future of each being and describe every rut that wheel will roll upon. The acting man’s delusion about himself, his assumption that free will exists, is also part of the calculable mechanism.

Assorted Opinions and Maxims (1879)


Power without victories.— The strongest knowledge (that of the total unfreedom of the human will) is nonetheless the poorest in successes: for it always has the strongest opponent, human vanity.

The Gay Science: Book I-IV (1882)

Book III


Cause and effect.— "Explanation" is what we call it: but it is "description" that distinguishes us from older stages of knowledge and science. Our descriptions are better—we do not explain any more than our predecessors. We have uncovered a manifold one-after-another where the naive man and inquirer of older cultures saw only two separate things, "cause" and "effect" as the saying goes; but we have merely perfected the image of becoming without reaching beyond the image or behind it. In every case the series of "causes" confronts us much more completely, and we infer: first, this and that has to precede in order that this or that may then follow—but this does not involve any comprehension. In every chemical process, for example, quality appears as a "miracle," as ever; also, every locomotion; nobody has "explained" a push. But how could we possibly explain anything! We operate only with things that do not exist: lines, planes, bodies, atoms, divisible time spans, divisible spaces—, how should explanations be at all possible when we first turn everything into an image, our image! It will do to consider science as an attempt to humanize things as faithfully as possible; as we describe things and their one-after-another, we learn how to describe ourselves more and more precisely. Cause and effect: such a duality probably never exists, — in truth we are confronted by a continuum out of which we isolate a couple of pieces, just as we perceive motion only as isolated points and then infer it without ever actually seeing it. The suddenness with which many effects stand out misleads us; actually, it is sudden only for us. In this moment of suddenness there is an infinite number of processes that elude us. An intellect that could see cause and effect as a continuum and a flux and not, as we do, in terms of an arbitrary division and dismemberment—would repudiate the concept of cause and effect and deny all conditionality.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part IV (1885)

§79 The Drunken Song

Part 10

Have you ever said Yes to a single joy? O my friends, then you said Yes too to all woe. All things are entangled, ensnared, enamored; if ever you wanted one thing twice, if ever you said, "You please me, happiness! Abide, moment!" then you wanted all back. All anew, all eternally, all entangled, ensnared, enamored--oh, then you loved the world. Eternal ones, love it eternally and evermore; and to woe too, you say: go, but return! For all joy wants--eternity.

The Gay Science: Book V (1887)


Two kinds of causes that are often confused. — This seems to me to be one of my most essential steps forward: I learned to distinguish the cause of acting from the cause of acting in a certain way, in a certain direction, with a certain goal. The first kind of cause is a quantum of dammed-up energy waiting to be used somehow, for something; the second kind, by contrast is something quite insignificant, mostly a small accident in accordance with which this quantum 'discharges' itself in one particular way: the match versus the powder keg. Among these small accidents and matches I consider all so-called 'purposes' as well as the even more so-called 'vocations': they are relatively random, arbitrary, nearly indifferent in relation to the enormous force of energy that presses on, as I said, to be used up somehow. The usual view is different: one is used to seeing the driving force precisely in the goals (purposes, professions, etc.), in keeping with a very ancient error; but it is only the directing force -- one has mistaken the helmsman for the steam. And not even always the helmsman, the driving force... Is the 'goal', the 'purpose', not often enough a beautifying pretext, a self-deception of vanity after the fact that does not want to acknowledge that the ship is following the current into which it has entered accidentally? That it 'wills' to go that way because it -- must? That it certainly has a direction but -- no helmsman whatsoever? We still need a critique of the concept of 'purpose'.

On The Genealogy Of Morals (1887)

Essay I — Good and Evil, Good and Bad


But let us return: the problem of the other origin of the "good," of the good as conceived by the man of ressentiment, demands its solution.

That lambs dislike great birds of prey does not seem strange: only it gives no grounds for reproaching these birds of prey for bearing off little lambs. And if the lambs say among themselves: "these birds of prey are evil; and whoever is least like a bird of prey, but rather its opposite, a lamb — would he not be good?" there is no reason to find fault with this institution of an ideal, except perhaps that the birds of prey might view it a little ironically and say: "we don't dislike them at all, these good little lambs; we even love them: nothing is more tasty than a tender lamb."

To demand of strength that it should not express itself as strength, that it should not be a desire to overcome, a desire to throw down, a desire to become master, a thirst for enemies and resistances and triumphs, is just as absurd as to demand of weakness that it should express itself as strength. A quantum of force is equivalent to a quantum of drive, will, effect — more, it is nothing other than precisely this very driving, willing, effecting, and only owing to the seduction of language (and of the fundamental errors of reason that petrified in it) which conceives and misconceives all effects as conditioned by something that causes effects, by a "subject," can it appear otherwise. For just as the popular mind separates the lightning from its flash and takes the latter for an action, for the operation of a subject called lightning, so popular morality also separates strength from expressions of strength, as if there were a neutral substratum behind the strong man, which was free to express strength or not to do so. But there is no such substratum; there is no "being" behind doing, effecting, becoming; "the doer" is merely a fiction added to the deed — the deed is everything. The popular mind in fact doubles the deed; when it sees the lightning flash, it is the deed of a deed: it posits the same event first as cause and then a second time as its effect. Scientists do no better when they say "force moves," "force causes," and the like — all its coolness, its freedom from emotion notwithstanding, our entire science still lies under the misleading influence of language and has not disposed of that little changeling, the "subject" (the atom, for example, is such a changeling, as is the Kantian "thing-in-itself"); no wonder if the submerged, darkly glowering emotions of vengefulness and hatred exploit this belief for their own ends and in fact maintain no belief more ardently than the belief that the strong man is free to be weak and the bird of prey to be a lamb—for thus they gain the right to make the bird of prey accountable for being a bird of prey.

When the oppressed, downtrodden, outraged exhort one another with the vengeful cunning of impotence: "let us be different from the evil, namely good! And he is good who does not outrage, who harms nobody, who does not attack, who does not requite, who leaves revenge to God, who keeps himself hidden as we do, who avoids evil and desires little from life, like us, the patient, humble, and just" — this, listened to calmly and without previous bias, really amounts to no more than: 'we weak ones are, after all, weak; it would be good if we did nothing for which we are not strong enough"; but this dry matter of fact, this prudence of the lowest order which even insects possess (posing as dead, when in great danger, so as not to do "too much"), has, thanks to the counterfeit and self-deception of impotence, clad itself in the ostentatious garb of the virtue of quiet, calm resignation, just as if the weakness of the weak—that is to say, their essence, their effects, their sole ineluctable, irremovable reality—were a voluntary achievement, willed, chosen, a deed, a meritorious act. This type of man needs to believe in a neutral independent "subject," prompted by an instinct for self-preservation and self-affirmation in which every lie is sanctified. The subject (or, to use a more popular expression, the soul) has perhaps been believed in hitherto more firmly than anything else on earth because it makes possible to the majority of mortals, the weak and oppressed of every kind, the sublime self-deception that interprets weakness as freedom, and their being thus-and-thus as a merit.

Twilight of the Idols (1888)

The Four Great Errors


The error of confusing cause and effect. There is no more dangerous error than that of mistaking the effect for the cause: I call it the real corruption of reason. Yet this error belongs among the most ancient and recent habits of mankind: it is even hallowed among us and goes by the name of “religion” or “morality.” Every single sentence which religion and morality formulate contains it; priests and legislators of moral codes are the originators of this corruption of reason.

I give an example. Everybody knows the book of the famous Cornaro in which he recommends his slender diet as a recipe for a long and happy life—a virtuous one too. Few books have been read so much; even now thousands of copies are sold in England every year. I do not doubt that scarcely any book (except the Bible, as is meet) has done as much harm, has shortened as many lives, as this well-intentioned curiosum. The reason: the mistaking of the effect for the cause. The worthy Italian thought his diet was the cause of his long life, whereas the precondition for a long life, the extraordinary slowness of his metabolism, the consumption of so little, was the cause of his slender diet. He was not free to eat little or much; his frugality was not a matter of “free will”: he became sick when he ate more. But whoever is no carp not only does well to eat properly, but needs to. A scholar in our time, with his rapid consumption of nervous energy, would simply destroy himself with Cornaro’s diet. Crede experto. [Believe him who has tried.]


The error of a false causality. People have believed at all times that they knew what a cause is; but whence did we take our knowledge — or more precisely, our faith — that we had such knowledge? From the realm of the famous “inner facts,” of which not a single one has so far proved to be factual. We believed ourselves to be causal in the act of willing: we thought that here at least we caught causality in the act. Nor did one doubt that all the antecedents of an act, its causes, were to be sought in consciousness and would be found there once sought—as “motives”: else one would not have been free and responsible for it. Finally, who would have denied that a thought is caused? that the ego causes the thought?

Of these three “inward facts” which seem to guarantee causality, the first and most persuasive is that of the will as cause. The conception of a consciousness ("spirit") as a cause, and later also that of the ego as cause (the “subject"), are only afterbirths: first the causality of the will was firmly accepted as given, as empirical.

Meanwhile we have thought better of it. Today we no longer believe a word of all this. The “inner world” is full of phantoms and will-o'-the-wisps: the will is one of them. The will no longer moves anything, hence does not explain anything either — it merely accompanies events; it can also be absent. The so-called motive: another error. Merely a surface phenomenon of consciousness, something alongside the deed that is more likely to cover up the antecedents of the deeds than to represent them. And as for the ego! That has become a fable, a fiction, a play on words: it has altogether ceased to think, feel, or will!

What follows from this? There are no mental causes at all. The whole of the allegedly empirical evidence for that has gone to the devil. That is what follows! And what a fine abuse we had perpetrated with this "empirical evidence"; we created the world on this basis as a world of causes, a world of will, a world of spirits. The most ancient and enduring psychology was at work here and did not do anything else: all that happened was considered a doing, all doing the effect of a will; the world became to it a multiplicity of doers; a doer (a “subject") was slipped under all that happened. It was out of himself that man projected his three “inner facts"—that in which he believed most firmly: the will, the spirit, the ego. He even took the concept of being from the concept of the ego; he posited “things” as “being,” in his image, in accordance with his concept of the ego as a cause. Small wonder that later he always found in things only that which he gad put into them. The thing itself, to say it once more, the concept of thing is a mere reflex of the faith in the ego as cause. And even your atom, my dear mechanists and physicists—how much error, how much rudimentary psychology is still residual in your atom! Not to mention the "thing-in-itself,” the horrendum pudendum of the metaphysicians! The error of the spirit as cause mistaken for reality! And made the very measure of reality! And called God!


The error of free will. Today we no longer have any pity for the concept of “free will”: we know only too well what it really is—the foulest of all theologians’ artifices aimed at making mankind "responsible” in their sense, that is, dependent upon them. Here I simply supply the psychology of all “making responsible.”

Wherever responsibilities are sought, it is usually the instinct of wanting to judge and punish which is at work. Becoming has been deprived of its innocence when any being-such-and-such is traced back to will, to purposes, to acts of responsibility: the doctrine of the will has been invented essentially for the purpose of punishment, that is, because one wanted to impute guilt. The entire old psychology, the psychology of will, was conditioned by the fact that its originators, the priests at the head of ancient communities, wanted to create for themselves the right to punish—or wanted to create this right for God. Men were considered “free” so that they might be judged and punished—so that they might become guilty: consequently, every act had to be considered as willed, and the origin of every act had to be considered as lying within the consciousness (and thus the most fundamental counterfeit in psychologicis was made the principle of psychology itself).

Today, as we have entered into the reverse movement and we immoralists are trying with all our strength to take the concept of guilt and the concept of punishment out of the world again, and to cleanse psychology, history, nature, and social institutions and sanctions of them, there is in our eyes no more radical opposition than that of the theologians, who continue with the concept of a “moral world-order” to infect the innocence of becoming by means of "punishment” and “guilt.” Christianity is a metaphysics of the hangman.


What alone can be our doctrine? That no one gives man his qualities—neither God, nor society, nor his parents and ancestors, nor he himself. (The nonsense of the last idea was taught as “intelligible freedom” by Kant—perhaps by Plato already.) No one is responsible for man’s being there at all, for his being such-and-such, or for his being in these circumstances or in this environment. The fatality of his essence is not to be disentangled from the fatality of all that has been and will be. Man is not the effect of some special purpose, of a will, an end; nor is he the object of an attempt to attain an “ideal of humanity” or an “ideal of happiness” or an “ideal of morality.” It is absurd to wish to devolve one’s essence on some end or other. We have invented the concept of “end”: in reality there is no end.

One is necessary, one is a piece of fatefulness, one belongs to the whole, one is in the whole; there is nothing which could judge, measure, compare, or sentence our being, for that would mean judging, measuring, comparing, or sentencing the whole. But there is nothing besides the whole. That nobody is held responsible any longer, that the mode of being may not be traced back to a causa prima, that the world does not form a unity either as a sensorium or as “spirit" — that alone is the great liberation; with this alone is the innocence of becoming restored. The concept of “God” was until now the greatest objection to existence. We deny God, we deny the responsibility in God: only thereby do we redeem the world.

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900) was a nineteenth-century German philosopher. He wrote critiques of religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy, and science, using a distinctive style and displaying a fondness for aphorism.

The son of a clergyman, Nietzsche began his career as a philologist before turning to philosophy. Nietzsche studied Greek and Latin at Bonn and Leipzig. In his early years he was friendly with the composer Richard Wagner, although later he was to turn against him. At the remarkably young age of 24 he became Professor of Classical Philology at the University of Basel, but resigned in 1879 due to health problems (which would plague him for most of the rest of his life); he then moved from place to place in a vain effort to improve his health, all the while writing prolifically. In 1889 he suffered a complete mental breakdown, from which he never recovered, living out his remaining years in the care of his mother and sister until his death in 1900.

Nietzsche was not a systematic philosopher but rather a moral theorist who passionately rejected Western bourgeois civilization. His key ideas include interpreting tragedy as an affirmation of life, eternal recurrence, and a reversal of Platonism. He regarded Christian civilization as decadent, and in place of its “slave morality” he looked to the overman, the creator of a new heroic morality that would consciously affirm life and worldly values. That overman would represent the highest passion and creativity and would live at a level of experience beyond the conventional standards of good and evil. His creative “will to power” would set him off from “the herd” of inferior humanity. Nietzsche's thought had widespread influence but was of particular importance in Germany.

In the early 20th century, apologists for Nazism seized on much of his writing as a philosophical justification for their doctrines, but most scholars regard this as a perversion of Nietzsche's thought (Nietzsche himself was strongly opposed to the anti-Semitism, proto-fascism, and German nationalism he saw developing in his own time). Nietzsche's influence remains substantial within and beyond philosophy, notably in existentialism and postmodernism. Nietzsche's style, his radical questioning of the value and objectivity of truth, as well as the abundance of his (published and unpublished) writings raise considerable issues for interpretation, generating an extensive secondary literature in both continental and analytic philosophy.

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