This has to be the most difficult book to read I’ve ever encountered! I had to re-read several paragraphs several times. Eventually, I just began reading and going with the flow. This is my attempt at explaining the main concepts of Beyond Good and Evil,
There seem to be many misconceptions in Nietzsche’s philosophy: related to Nazism, nihilism, misogyny – you name it. So, I want to be clear that I believe that his philosophy is ultimately life-affirming.
He was a critic of his era, a genius at that. Beyond Good and Evil, along with Thus Spoke Zarathustra, set the stage for everything he had to say, on “how we are to live”, or more poignantly, “how we are to endure life.”
In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche explores why we need values at all, or more in line with his terminology, what is the value of values? How is it that the values the vast majority of our culture have been either bad from the beginning or have degenerated into bad values? And what is the right perspective on values, or what should we expect values to be?
He also explores how values arise psychologically and discusses why values such as pity, fairness, and willingness to help each other have been cultivated in society. At the base of our most habitualised normative evaluations, what is considered “good” and “evil” in every sphere of human activity, if we scratch the surface, a mixture of appalling character traits emerge, ranging from weakness and fear to wishful thinking and self-betrayal, and all these find their symptomatic expression in the modern condition.
Human life is value oriented in its very essence, without adherence to some set of values or other, human life would be virtually impossible. So, if there are no values out there and we cannot live without values, then there must be some value-creating capacity within ourselves which is responsible for the values we cherish, and which organise our lives.
This ties in with the noble types (‘master morality’), the opposite of the ordinary and mediocre types (‘slave morality’). This chasm between these two types is what he calls the “pathos of distance”. We should strive for belonging to the noble types, one who honours everything he sees in himself, a self-glorifying morality, a faith in yourself, a pride in yourself, and a fundamental hostility with respect to selflessness.
Nietzsche stated that the modern man would have to create his own values and morals in a world void of religion and belief, while avoiding the risk of falling into nihilism, the belief that life is meaningless, devoid of any value structure.
The values we should strive for are: selbstüberwindung (self-overcoming), perspectivism, vornehmheit (human nobility), the will to power, the eternal recurrence and the Übermensch (overman).
The self-overcoming of man allows to gain important insights and having the psychological resources needed to live with them. It indicates a certain stance towards reality superior to “normal” or “common” attitudes.
We must face suffering; it is part of life. It is not to be eliminated, it is to be overcome, leading to growth. We make everything around us so easy, superficial, and bright, unable to face reality. Is this truly freedom, a free spirit? For Nietzsche, this is a simplified and falsified world. He explores why it is that people believe that their life has some sort of purpose and are not nihilists. He believes that people cling to true world theories. Since we don’t like this world, we create a more ideal one – from Plato’s world of forms, to religions such as Christianity and the eternal heaven or Hinduism and the illusion of the individual self. To Nietzsche, these true world theories are human invented realities. People use them to satisfy the unfortunate reality.
To delight in life itself, we must confront it at face value – Everything evil, terrible, and snakelike in humanity serves just as well as its opposite to enhance the species “humanity”. Grateful for even difficulties and inconstant health, since they allow for growth.
His doctrine of perspectivism claim that our view of the world and the statements we take to be true, depend on our perspective of the world. Thus, it gives rise to the epistemological thesis that our knowledge claims can never be true in an absolute or objective sense. He elaborates on that all philosophy is just the subjective perspective of a person. Perspectivism lays the foundations of Nietzsche’s thought, philosophy is subjective, and no philosophy is ultimate – but helps as a base to allow others to see the world differently.
3. Human nobility
The idea of vornehmheit or human nobility is not within the knowledge per se. Knowledge is not something one can have like a detached thing that one possesses, but rather the knowing subject has to live his knowledge, it becomes associated to how much truth one can endure.
The nobility in these free spirits resides in putting oneself at a distance from people and things: to have a sense of differences in rank between people and strive for higher distinction (‘pathos of distance’). Nietzsche is concerned with issues of cultural decadence, not just individual decadence. He is concerned with life-affirming, great individuals, not merely for their own sake, but for the rejuvenation and flourishing of culture.
However, Nietzsche does not intend to elevate all of humanity. His intent is to elevate those who can be elevated. He is fine with the herd staying the herd, he wishes to seduce people away from the herd, and expects the herd to hate him.
4. Will to Power
Nietzsche entertains the idea that the will to power is an integral part of reality, if we look at organic life, we find that we live in a dynamic and chaotic process of creation and decay, of overpowering and becoming overpowered. This Will to Power is ultimately decisive for life to develop itself and to survive, or as Nietzsche puts it: for its potential to become what it is.
Unlike traditional metaphysics, there is no difference between being and becoming, since being is static and is in the end nothing but a degenerative form of becoming, nothing but an unactualized power process.
The will to power is the true way, not the Schopenhauer approach of the will to survival or the will to knowledge. We need knowledge for a purpose, to live it, not to have it, but to experience it. The will to power is ingrained in our deepest self, where the smallest of actions have a will to do something, it is always present – it might be potentially discoverable or paralysed, but there is always a will to power – which we should strive for.
As Nietzsche puts it: “If we succeed in explaining our entire life of drives to one basic form of will, it would be this will to power and nothing else.”
However, the most important concept of the will to power, and the one Nietzsche was most likely to emphasise, is that the will to power is becoming who you truly are. It is pure self-expression and self-overcoming, without being enslaved by things. In essence, it is the main drive force in humans.
5. Eternal Recurrence
Nietzsche proposed finding a new set of values in this life, loving life and not just accepting the good, but also accepting that there is evil, suffering, pain, and annihilation. And that the best afterlife we can experience is none other than another repetition of the life we just experienced, not an eternal heaven. This is what is known as the Eternal Recurrence, the ideal of the most high-spirited and world-affirming individual, who has learned not just to accept and go along with what was and what is, but who wants it again just as it was life after life.
The root of our misery and suffering is our constant tendency to divide our lives into “Yes” and “No”. By declaring that happiness means the presence of “yes” and that misery means the presence of “no”, we surrender control of our happiness into the hands that we cannot control. His solution was what he called amor fati, the love of fate, to love everything that happens, to become a Yea-sayer.
Nietzsche created the concept of the ubermensch or overman, whose antithesis is the last man, a mediocre animal without dignity and comfortably surrounded by the herd, who despises everything the overman has to say. The man who is master of himself. But to master oneself is the hardest of all tasks, that which requires the greatest increase in power, and if happiness is the feeling that power increases, that a resistance is overcome, the overman will be the happiest man and, as such, the meaning and justification of existence. It is the pinnacle of self-overcoming, to rise above the human norm and above all difficulties, embracing whatever life throws at you.
The vast majority does not establish the human norm, the great man must exceed the average man through self-overcoming, to rise above all difficulties and embrace whatever life throws at you.
“Man is something that shall be overcome.“
“For believe me! – the secret of harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is to live dangerously!”
Nietzsche’s extravagant style and eccentricity makes his work seem like a sort of mental tonic, designed to encourage his readers to continue to confront their doubts about the well roundedness of many of our most fundamental ideals about ourselves and our world.
We conceive of ourselves as subjects trying to live a decent life, guided in our doings by aims that fit the normal expectations of our social and cultural environment; we believe certain things to be true beyond any doubt, and we hold others and ourselves to many moral obligations.
For Nietzsche, to give life a meaning, it isn’t something to be discovered, but rather to be created. The overman is the truth that shall be. The overman, the will to power, self-overcoming, to live dangerously, amor fati, the eternal recurrence, these are all signs by which Nietzsche found meaning in life.