1000-Word Philosophy: An Introductory Anthology

1000-Word Philosophy: An Introductory Anthology

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“God is dead”: Nietzsche and the Death of God

Author: Justin Remhof Categories:  Phenomenology and Existentialism ;  Philosophy of Religion ;  Ethics ;  Historical Philosophy Word Count: 985

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Nietzsche is perhaps most famous for making the striking claim that God is dead. He writes, “God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him!” (GS 125).

What does this mean? Straightforwardly, it seems nonsensical. God is supposed to be eternal, and thus cannot die. Nietzsche’s claim, however, is that “God” is a fiction created by human beings. Thus, God “dies” when there is no good reason to believe that God exists.

This essay will help us understand this claim, his arguments for it, and its potential implications for contemporary religious and ethical thought.


1. Nietzsche on Why People Believe in God

What is Nietzsche’s justification for claiming that God is a fiction? The answer lies in the  function  of the idea of God.

According to Nietzsche, the idea of God was created to help people handle widespread and seemingly senseless suffering. The ancient Israelites, who brought forward the Judeo-Christian God, lived in horrible conditions: for many generations, they were enslaved, beaten, and killed. Under such immense duress, it’s perfectly reasonable for them to find some reason to explain suffering and hope that those responsible for suffering will be punished.

The idea of God plays that role. The idea of God emerges to provide light in a dark world. From antiquity to today most people turn to God when awful tragedies happen – for example, when loved ones are gunned down by active shooters, trapped in cities bombarded by hurricanes, or diagnosed with cancer. For many, belief in God provides strength to endure such misery. Belief in God also provides hope that when our loved ones pass away we can live with them again for eternity. Belief in God ensures that no loss is inconsolable, no injustice unrequited, and that we can finally have everlasting peace, no matter the misery gone through to get there.

For Nietzsche, then, there is a natural explanation for belief in God. God is a psychological fabrication created to soothe distress, ease trauma, and provide companionship in the face of suffering.

2. Nietzsche’s Critique of Belief in God

But, Nietzsche says, we don’t  need  to believe in God to address these challenges. Rather than try to escape suffering by embracing some otherworldly entity, Nietzsche thinks we should utilize suffering to better ourselves. A truly meaningful life turns on achieving personal excellence, and such excellence requires overcoming struggle. People like Nelson Mandela, Emma Goldman, and Ludwig van Beethoven achieved greatness by facing down hardship. Nothing truly exceptional in this world comes from peace and satisfaction. Nietzsche says, “The discipline of suffering, of  great  suffering—do you not know that only this discipline has created all enhancements of man so far”? (BGE 225).

Moreover, belief in God sustains weakness: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Mathew 5:5). Walking with God, for Nietzsche, is walking with a crutch. If we face suffering  on our own , we are stronger, and have greater potential for excellence.

Interestingly, Nietzsche holds that many modern atheists continue to believe in God, though they don’t recognize it. “This deed [the death of God] is still more remote to them than the remotest stars— and yet they have done it themselves !” (GS 125). Atheists often fail to understand the true extent of atheism. How could this be? The answer is this: atheists continue to embrace traditional moral principles – e.g., that we should respect people or reduce suffering – and these principles imply that all people are morally equal. Nietzsche claims that belief in God is the  only  way to ensure moral equality. [1]

If God were to exist, then we would all be equal as God’s children. But what makes us equal if God is dead? For Nietzsche: nothing. Why think a freedom fighter in Syria, for example, is morally equal to a Ku Klux Klan member in Wisconsin? Our capacities and abilities to respect others, to feel pain, to empathize, and so on, are vastly different. Thus, we lack universally shared characteristics necessary for moral equality. Atheists continue to believe in God as long as they believe that we are equal.

Nietzsche also thinks belief in God binds excellence. Equality benefits the social order, invites mediocrity, and stamps out genuine individuality. The Judeo-Christian tradition values selflessness, humility, and weakness, and demands that everyone on Earth should embrace such values or suffer eternal consequences. But certainly not all individuals flourish while embracing Judeo-Christian values. Some individuals are exceptionally self-affirmative, prideful, and strong. What would happen to someone such as Beethoven, for example, if at a young age he were to accept that he should avoid feeling pride because it runs against God’s commandments? What if potentially excellent individuals were forbidden by some eternal order to feel self-affirmative, proud, and strong? Nietzsche’s worry is that they might not become excellent.

If potentially excellent individuals get duped into believing that everyone is equal, such that they never prioritize their needs and interests over the needs and interests of others, they might not become great. Belief in God hinders greatness. God is dead, Nietzsche says, and advancing humanity requires defeating the vestiges of God found in traditional morality and moral equality.

3. Evaluating Nietzsche’s Critique

Nietzsche is not merely atheist. He is  anti -theist. Belief in God stifles flourishing. For Nietzsche, we should junk belief in God and focus on developing our own values, setting our own goals, and achieving personal excellence.

There are important questions to consider. First, which is more plausible: Nietzsche’s view about the origin of the idea of God, or other accounts, such as that it’s true that there really is a God and that’s why people believe? Second, does belief in God indeed encourage weakness and sap self-reliance? Third, does morality require equality, and does belief in equality require belief in God? Finally, does belief in God indeed limit the development of excellence? Answers to these questions are necessary for a full evaluation of Nietzsche’s provocative claims.

[1]  Nietzsche writes, “You higher men, learn this from me: in the market place nobody believes in higher men. And if you want to speak there, very well! But the mob blinks: ‘We are all equal’. ‘You higher men’—thus blinks the mob—‘there are no higher men, we are all equal, man is man, before God we are all equal’. Before God! But now this god has died. And before the mob we do not want to be equal…. You higher men, this god was your greatest danger. It is only since he lies in his tomb that you have been resurrected….” (Z IV: “On the Higher Men”). Also, when discussing how “Moral judgments and condemnations constitute the favorite revenge of the spiritually limited against those less limited,” Nietzsche says those who “fight for the ‘equality of all men before God’… almost  need  faith in God just for that” (BGE 219).

Nietzsche, Friedrich.  Beyond Good and Evil  (BGE), trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1989 [1886]).

Nietzsche, Friedrich .  The Gay Science  (GS), trans. Josefine Nauckoff, ed. Bernard Williams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001 [1882]).

Nietzsche, Friedrich.  Thus Spoke Zarathustra , trans. Adrian del Caro, ed. Adrian del Caro, Robert Pippen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Further Reading

Anderson, R. Lanier. “Friedrich Nietzsche,”  The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy  (Summer 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/nietzsche

Gemes, Ken and John Richardson (eds.).  The Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

Nietzsche, Friedrich.  On the Genealogy of Morals , trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1989).

Reginster, Bernard.  The Affirmation of Life: Nietzsche on Overcoming Nihilism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006).

Schacht. Richard.  Nietzsche  (London: Routledge, 1985).

Solomon, Robert.  Living with Nietzsche: What the Great “Immoralist” has to Teach Us  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

Related Essays

The Concept of God: Divine Attributes  by Bailie Peterson

The Problem of Evil  by Thomas Metcalf

The Problem of No Best World  by Kirk Lougheed

Divine Hiddenness  by David Bayless

Because God Says So: On Divine Command Theory  by Spencer Case

Agnosticism about God’s Existence  by Sylwia Wilczewska

Meaning in Life: What Makes Our Lives Meaningful? by Matthew Pianalto

Hope  by Michael Milona & Katie Stockdale

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About the Author

Justin Remhof is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Old Dominion University. He is the author of Nietzsche’s Constructivism: A Metaphysics of Material Objects (Routledge, 2017). His work has appeared in journals such as  European Journal of Philosophy ,  Journal of Nietzsche Studies ,  History of Philosophy Quarterly , and  Nietzsche-Studien . jremhof.academia.edu

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God is dead Nietzsche

God is Dead: Nietzsche’s Most Famous Statement Explained

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous declaration that God is dead echoed down the 20th century. This article explains what Nietzsche really meant by the oft-misunderstood statement.

Jack Maden


“G od is dead,” the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously declares in his 1882 work, The Gay Science : “God remains dead. And we have killed him.”

By these words, Nietzsche does not so much mean that atheism is true — indeed, in the passage from which they’re taken, these words are presented as fresh news to a group of atheists — he more means that, because “the belief in the Christian God has become unbelievable”, everything that “was built upon this faith, propped up by it, grown into it”, including “the whole of our European morality,” is destined for “collapse.”

Nietzsche was writing, of course, in the aftermath of the Enlightenment, a time in which science, mathematics, and philosophy arose across Europe to displace Christianity as the guiding authority on truth about life and the universe. For centuries, Christianity’s teachings about reality — that there exists a Creator outside time and space, and that we should abide by the rules of this Creator to ensure a good afterlife — were entirely dominant.

“Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche”, by Edvard Munch, c. 1906.

However, the scientific revolution and the separation of Church and State across Europe pulled the authoritative rug from underneath Christianity’s feet. Atheism became not only acceptable among citizens, but popular.

Without a divine power underpinning our existential situation and moral outlooks, however, our paths into the future became rather uncertain. “How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?” Nietzsche questions:

Who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

In other words: where do we go from here? If God’s authority is no longer unquestionable, how on Earth should we live our lives?

We must face up to the enormity of the death of God

T he appropriate response to the age of Enlightenment leading to the death of God, Nietzsche argues, should not be a jeering celebration, nor a shrug of indifference, but a period of deep disorientation and mourning. God was not just an innocuous source of faith and worship, Nietzsche recognizes: God was the indubitable authority that lent power and legitimacy to Judeo-Christian moral values.

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While Judeo-Christian moral values aren’t exactly Nietzsche’s preference (he argues in On the Genealogy of Morality , for instance, that Christianity is characterized by an ascetic ideal , the twisted, harmful condemnation of desires we cannot help but have, like those for food and sex) — he sees their sudden removal as dangerous.

Indeed, regardless of its degenerative, life-denying properties (i.e. the valorization of self-denial in the name of ‘virtue’), the Judeo-Christian moral system is at least a mechanism for value creation, Nietzsche says. And this mechanism is so deeply embedded within Western culture — with many of its values like pity, altruism, and compassion regarded as commonsensical or even natural — that coming to terms with its collapse will be painful, psychologically damaging, and extremely difficult.

We thus face a long, daunting task of dismantling our now foundationless values to rebuild them in healthier, life-affirming ways. After all, as Nietzsche puts it (in a typically pithy statement that features in our list of Nietzsche’s cleverest quotes ):

God is dead, but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown. And we — we still have to vanquish his shadow, too.

Overcoming nihilism

N ietzsche worries that, if we fail to vanquish and decisively replace the shadow of values derived from God, we risk our culture slipping into a deep nihilism.

The death of God means there is no going back: we either find a new mechanism for value creation — a “revaluation of values”, as Nietzsche puts it — or we will eventually descend into a world where, recognizing our values are ultimately foundationless and meaningless, we will become apathetic and cynical — even despairing.

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As Kierkegaard also suggests when discussing the meaning of life , removing the comfort of God, Judeo-Christian morals, and an afterlife, and having nothing to really replace them with — moving from certainty about what life is for, to uncertainty about what life is for — could lead to an all-pervading numbness or anguish about our lives not mattering in a seemingly pointless universe.

If we are unable to become our own determiners of value (the blueprint for which Nietzsche famously hints at with his character of the ‘Übermensch’ or ‘superman’ , as well as his doctrine of the eternal recurrence ), then we’ll inevitably respond, Nietzsche laments, by burying our existential angst deep down, and by distracting ourselves with meaningless entertainment.

Nietzsche characterizes this predicament in his 1883-5 work Thus Spoke Zarathustra (which features in our reading list of Nietzsche’s best books ), presenting us with a devastating sketch of an apathetic, shallow, distracted humanity:

Behold! I shall show you the Last Man ....The earth has become small, and upon it hops the Last Man, who makes everything small... A little poison now and then: that produces pleasant dreams. And a lot of poison at last, for a pleasant death. They still work, for work is entertainment. But they take care the entertainment does not exhaust them... No herdsmen and one herd. Everyone wants the same thing, everyone is the same: whoever thinks otherwise goes voluntarily into the madhouse... ‘We have discovered happiness,’ say the Last Men, and blink.

Perhaps we can recognize aspects of ourselves in Nietzsche’s sketch of the Last Man; perhaps we might think he’s being a little dramatic.

Regardless, his questions stand: if there is no longer an absolute, incontestable authority telling us how to live our lives, then how should we go about living? How can we evolve our values to avoid slipping into meaninglessness and nihilism?

Learn more about Nietzsche

A s we discuss in our overview of Nietzsche’s life, insanity, and legacy , Nietzsche has his own fascinating answers to the question of how we can overcome nihilism. These answers are most explicitly embodied in his character of the ‘Übermensch’ , commonly translated as the ‘superman’ or ‘overman’ — a picture of what we could be, were we to move beyond good and evil, establish our own naturalized foundations for value, say ‘yes’ to the eternal recurrence , and each fulfill our potential to become who we truly are .

If you’re interested in learning more about Nietzsche, then consider exploring my fuller Introduction to Nietzsche guide . You might also like the following related reads:

  • Friedrich Nietzsche’s Life, Insanity, and Legacy
  • Eternal Recurrence: What Did Nietzsche Really Mean?
  • Übermensch Explained: the Meaning of Nietzsche’s ‘Superman’
  • Amor Fati: the Stoics’ and Nietzsche’s Different Takes on Loving Fate

The Apollonian and Dionysian: Nietzsche On Art and the Psyche

  • Friedrich Nietzsche: the Best 9 Books to Read

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God Is Dead and We Killed Him (Explaining Nietzsche)

image inspired by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, featuring distinctive elements that reflect his iconic appearance and philosophical depth

Friedrich Nietzsche’s bold assertion “God is dead, and we have killed him” stands as one of the most iconic and provocative statements in the history of philosophy .

This declaration, found in Nietzsche’s work “The Gay Science,” captures a momentous shift in Western culture and thought.

This article aims to explore the depths of Nietzsche’s statement, examining its context, implications, and the challenges it poses for contemporary society.

Table of Contents

Understanding Nietzsche’s Proclamation

The context and meaning.

Nietzsche’s declaration does not concern the physical demise of a deity but signifies the collapse of the metaphysical and moral frameworks that had underpinned Western society for centuries.

In declaring “ God is dead,” Nietzsche points to the Enlightenment’s secularizing force, which eroded the societal and individual reliance on religious doctrines to dictate moral and existential orientations.

Implications for Morality and Truth

The death of God represents a vacuum in the source of absolute truth and morality.

Nietzsche foresaw the ensuing disorientation and nihilism as traditional values and moral absolutes lose their grounding.

This section delves into how Nietzsche’s observation reflects the transition towards a more relativistic and subjective understanding of morality and truth.

The Consequences of the Death of God

The rise of nihilism.

Nietzsche’s prediction of nihilism as a consequence of the death of God is a central concern.

Nihilism , the belief in the absence of any inherent meaning or value in life, poses a significant existential challenge. This part explores Nietzsche’s analysis of nihilism’s impact and his strategies for overcoming it.

Reevaluating Values and Meaning

In a world devoid of divinely ordained purpose, Nietzsche advocates for the reevaluation of values and the creation of new meanings.

The Übermensch, or Overman, is introduced as an ideal for humanity, signifying the capacity to craft and live by values born of individual will and creativity, rather than adherence to a now obsolete moral order.

Nietzsche’s Legacy and Contemporary Relevance

Influence on modern thought.

Nietzsche’s pronouncement has profoundly influenced various fields, including philosophy, literature, and psychology. This influence extends to existentialism , postmodernism, and secular humanism, where the focus shifts to individual autonomy and the construction of meaning in a godless world.

Challenges for Contemporary Society

The article concludes by reflecting on the enduring relevance of Nietzsche’s declaration. In an age marked by rapid technological advancement and shifting moral landscapes, the task of finding or creating meaning remains as pressing as ever. This section considers the ways in which contemporary society grapples with the legacy of the death of God, from the ongoing debate between science and religion to the search for a secular ethics.

Q&A – God Is Dead and We Killed Him

What does nietzsche mean by “god is dead”.

Friedrich Nietzsche’s assertion “God is dead” signifies the decline of the Christian God’s moral and metaphysical dominance in Western society.

This statement, far from being literal, suggests that the traditional religious and moral frameworks, which had underpinned Western culture for centuries, no longer hold convincing authority over modern humanity.

Nietzsche saw this as a consequence of the Enlightenment, scientific progress, and rationalism , which eroded the faith in a central, divine figure as the source of moral guidance and purpose.

Who killed God according to Nietzsche?

Nietzsche provocatively claims that “we have killed him” — referring to modern humans, particularly those embracing secular science , rationality, and the Enlightenment ideals. This “murder” is not a single act but a gradual process through which the reliance on religious explanations and moralities diminished due to the advancement of human knowledge and critical thinking.

Why is the idea that “God is dead” significant in philosophy?

The significance of “God is dead” in philosophy lies in its profound implications for morality, meaning, and truth. It challenges the foundation of ethical values, questioning the basis of morality in the absence of a divine lawgiver.

Nietzsche’s declaration represents a pivotal point in existential and postmodern thought, prompting philosophers to explore new foundations for values, ethics, and the meaning of life without relying on divine or external absolutes.

How does Nietzsche’s declaration relate to the Enlightenment?

Nietzsche’s declaration is both a consequence of and a critique of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment’s emphasis on reason, science, and individual autonomy contributed to the erosion of the traditional, unquestioned authority of religion.

However, Nietzsche critiqued the Enlightenment for its naive optimism in human reason and progress, suggesting that the death of God leaves humanity in a void of values and meaning, a challenge the Enlightenment had not fully anticipated or addressed.

What are the consequences of God’s death for morality and ethics?

The death of God leads to a moral and ethical vacuum where traditional absolutes and universal values are called into question. Nietzsche foresaw a period of nihilism, where conventional moralities are seen as baseless. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity: the challenge of living without predetermined moral guidelines, and the opportunity to create new values and meanings through individual will and creativity.

How does Nietzsche propose we deal with the death of God?

Nietzsche proposes that we confront the death of God and the ensuing nihilism by reevaluating our values and creating new ones through a process he calls “revaluation of all values.” He advocates for the embrace of life, creativity, and the will to power as means to craft a life-affirming ethical framework. This path leads to the emergence of the Übermensch, an individual who overcomes old values and creates new ones, embodying humanity’s highest potential.

What is the concept of the Übermensch and how does it relate to the death of God?

The Übermensch, or “Overman,” is Nietzsche’s ideal of a person who transcends traditional morals to create their own values, thus overcoming the nihilism that follows the death of God. The Übermensch symbolizes the potential for human beings to define their essence through their own will, creativity, and power, rather than adhering to a moral code imposed by society or religion.

This concept is directly related to the death of God because it represents the next evolutionary step for humanity in a post-religious world, where individuals take responsibility for their own moral and existential meanings.

How has Nietzsche’s statement “God is dead” influenced modern thought?

Nietzsche’s statement has profoundly influenced modern philosophy, existentialism, postmodernism, and theology by challenging the foundations of morality, truth, and the meaning of life. It catalyzed a critical reexamination of values and the role of religion in society, inspiring thinkers to explore new bases for ethics and morality in a secular age.

This declaration also contributed to the rise of existentialism, which emphasizes individual freedom, choice, and responsibility in creating meaning in an indifferent universe.

What are the criticisms of Nietzsche’s declaration that “God is dead”?

Critics argue that Nietzsche’s declaration and its implications lead to moral relativism, where if there are no absolute truths or moral standards, then any action can be justified, potentially leading to nihilism or anarchic individualism. Some religious thinkers contend that Nietzsche underestimated the resilience and adaptability of religious faith.

Others criticize his concept of the Übermensch as elitist or unattainable, suggesting it might justify authoritarianism or disregard for the welfare of others.

How does Nietzsche’s idea of the death of God challenge traditional religious beliefs?

Nietzsche’s idea directly challenges traditional religious beliefs by suggesting that the authority of religious institutions and the belief in a divine moral order are no longer tenable in the modern world.

This challenges the foundations of religious morality and the role of God as the ultimate source of meaning and moral legislation, prompting a reevaluation of the role of religion in individuals’ lives and in society at large.

In what works does Nietzsche discuss the idea that “God is dead”?

Nietzsche discusses the idea that “God is dead” in several of his works, most notably in “The Gay Science” (where the phrase first appears) and “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” In “The Gay Science,” the idea is presented in the form of a parable involving a madman who declares that “we have killed God.”

“Thus Spoke Zarathustra” further explores the implications of this idea through the narrative of Zarathustra, a prophet-like figure who proclaims the death of God and the rise of the Übermensch.

How do contemporary philosophers interpret Nietzsche’s statement?

Contemporary philosophers interpret Nietzsche’s statement in various ways, often focusing on its implications for postmodernism, ethics, and the critique of Enlightenment rationality.

Some view it as a call to reexamine the foundations of morality and truth in a secular age, while others see it as a challenge to construct new frameworks for understanding meaning, ethics, and human existence without relying on transcendental or religious justifications.

There is also a focus on how Nietzsche’s critique of nihilism and his vision for overcoming it remain relevant in contemporary debates on meaning and morality.

What role does nihilism play in Nietzsche’s philosophy regarding the death of God?

Nihilism plays a central role in Nietzsche’s philosophy as both a challenge and a condition to be overcome following the death of God. Nietzsche identified the advent of nihilism as the inevitable result of the loss of faith in traditional moral and metaphysical structures.

However, he also saw it as an opportunity for profound transformation, where individuals could take upon themselves the task of creating new values and meanings. Nihilism, in this sense, is a transitional phase that opens the possibility for the emergence of the Übermensch and the creation of life-affirming values.

How can society find meaning in a world where “God is dead”?

Nietzsche suggests that society can find meaning in a world where “God is dead” through the individual and collective creation of new values and meanings. This involves embracing the reality of the absence of absolute moral or metaphysical truths and taking responsibility for the creation of one’s own purpose and values.

By affirming life, embracing creativity, and striving for excellence, individuals and societies can construct a meaningful existence based on freedom, creativity, and the will to power rather than on external, divine commands or traditional moral codes.

What are the implications of the death of God for individual freedom and responsibility?

The implications of the death of God for individual freedom and responsibility are profound. Without a divine authority to dictate moral laws and purposes, individuals are thrust into a position of absolute freedom where they must choose their own values and meanings.

This freedom is accompanied by a heavy burden of responsibility, as each person must navigate the moral and existential uncertainties of life without relying on predetermined guidelines. Nietzsche’s philosophy emphasizes the potential for individual growth and transformation in this context, encouraging a proactive and creative approach to life’s challenges.

Nietzsche’s “God is dead” is not merely a historical observation but a challenge that continues to resonate. It compels us to confront the foundations of our beliefs and the sources from which we derive meaning and value.

As we navigate the complexities of the 21st century, Nietzsche’s insights offer a valuable perspective on the perpetual quest for understanding and purpose in a post-religious world.

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Models of God and Alternative Ultimate Realities pp 709–725 Cite as

Nietzsche on the Death of God and the God of Life

  • Jason Smick 3  
  • First Online: 15 November 2012

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Nietzsche’s account of the death of God is usually seen either as a sociological analysis of late modernity or as a philosophical thesis intended to undermine the God of metaphysics and morality. However, these readings overlook a central concern of his discourse on the death of God: that God, metaphysical philosophy, and the religions, as traditionally conceived and enacted, are opposed to life. I argue that Nietzsche’s discourse on the death of God ought to be seen, first, as a description of a cultural landscape that is now open to radical revision. Second, following Pierre Hadot, I show how his deconstruction of this God and his construction of a God of life can be understood as complementary spiritual exercises meant to reshape this landscape by transforming how those who perform them see and relate to the world.

  • Religious Tradition
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  • Philosophical Theology
  • Spiritual Exercise
  • Philosophical Life

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

That philosophers pertain to the history of religion can scarcely be doubtful to anyone who regards theoretical investigation as inseparable from some commanding experience of Power. Gerhardus van der Leeuw , Religion in Essence and Manifestation [God] the supreme power – that suffices! Everything follows from it, “the world” follows from it! Friedrich Nietzsche , The Will to Power

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Vattimo ( 2004 , pp. 4–5).

Here and throughout, I will use the term “God” in the singular. Though the God of philosophy (or metaphysics) and the God of the religions are distinct, with overlapping but separate histories, the use of this term in the singular is meant to reflect Nietzsche’s belief that there is a common link between terms like God related to his claim that both religion and metaphysics display and embody an anti-life tendency.

Nietzsche ( 1974 , pp. 181–182).

Magnus and Higgins ( 1999 , p. 36).

Nietzsche ( 1974 , p. 182).

While attempts to schematize the process of radical historical and cultural change have their limits, Bruce Lincoln’s discussion of three conditions that need to obtain in order for a religious or philosophical movement to become a revolutionary movement are helpful in this regard. See Lincoln’s ( 1985 , pp. 275–277).

Haar ( 1998 , p. 158).

Cox ( 1999 , p. 193).

Nietzsche (Nietzsche, Friedrich 1967b , p. 377).

Haar ( 1998 , pp. 158–159); and Huskinson ( 2009 , p. 44).

Ibid., p. 161.

Nietzsche ( 1975 , p. 267).

Nietzsche ( 1990 , pp. 50–51).

Nietzsche ( 1967a , p. 258).

Cox ( 1999 , p. 207).

Cohen and Ulfers ( 2002 , pp. 21–29).

Nietzsche (( 1962 , p. 62).

Nietzsche ( 1967b , p. 534).

Haar ( 1998 , pp. 157–176).

Here I would note that Heidegger in several places argues for the identity of the Sacred and chaos. Though in at least one of these places he does so by way of criticizing Nietzsche for overlooking chaos’ reference to “the yawning, gaping chasm, the open that first opens itself, wherein everything is engulfed,” his critique of Nietzsche seems largely to miss the mark. After all, to speak as Nietzsche does of a horizon of Becoming or a non-teleological field of coming-to-be and passing away is to speak of a notion of life as constituted by multiple centers of will to power, that is, of multiple openings which unfold their being and are then consumed in the very same process. See Heidegger (( 1991 , p. 77, 2000 , p. 85).

Vattimo ( 1988 , p. 46).

Ibid., p. 95.

Vattimo ( 2006 , p. 37).

Nehamas ( 1998 , p. 2).

See Schact ( 1983 ); Heidegger ( 1991 ); Kaufmann ( 1974 ).

Hadot ( 2004 , p. 270).

For an extended discussion of both the spiritual exercises common to the predominant schools of ancient philosophy (the Academicians, the Peripatetics, the Stoics, the Epicureans) and the common objects of philosophical practice in the ancient period, see Hadot ( 2004 , pp. 172–233).

Nietzsche ( 2006 , p. 12).

Nietzsche’s critique and deconstruction of Christianity and religion per se can easily seem inadequate for anyone familiar with the actual range of meanings and possibilities historically operative in Christian tradition and other analogous “anti-life” tendencies in other religions. His attack on Christianity and religion more generally appears nevertheless to be applicable to certain forms of it, as Jorg Salaquarda argues; see Salaquarda ( 1999 , p. 107). Still, one might wonder whether Nietzsche’s attitude toward religion, and his often Manichean view of it, does not indicate the difficulty of resisting the desire to say “No” to at least a portion of what Becoming gives to the world, and thereby result in a corresponding attempt to take revenge upon certain of those “gifts.” For a discussion of the traces of the ‘spirit of revenge’ in Nietzsche, see Müller-Lauter ( 1998 , pp. 148–165). Even more so, one might – must – ask whether life as it is can be simply accepted as it is. Nietzsche’s inability to appreciate the relation of ethics to the eschatological hope for a better world makes his thought veer in the direction of a justification and alibi of those aspects of the world that are simply unacceptable.

Cohen, Mark Daniel, and Friedrich Ulfers. 2002. Nietzsche as a bridge from nineteenth-century atomistic science to the process philosophy of twentieth-century physics, literature, and ethics. West Virginia University Philological Paper 49: 21–29.

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Haar, Michel. 1998. Nietzsche and the metamorphosis of the divine. Trans. M. Gendre. In Post-secular philosophy , ed. Philip Blond, 82–92. New York: Routledge.

Hadot, Pierre. 2004. What is ancient philosophy? Trans. Michael Chase, Cambridge, MA: Belknap.

Heidegger, Martin. 1991. Nietzsche , vol. III. Trans. David Farrell Krell. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Heidegger, Martin. 2000. As when on a holiday. In Elucidations of Holderin’s poetry . Trans. Keith Hoeller, 67–101. Amherst: Humanity Books.

Huskinson, Lucy. 2009. An introduction to Nietzsche . London: Hendrickson Publishers.

Kaufmann, Walter. 1974. Nietzsche . Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Lincoln, Bruce. 1985. Toward a theory of religion and revolution. In Religion, rebellion, revolution: An interdisciplinary and cross-cultural collection of essays , ed. Lincoln Bruce, 266–292. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Magnus, Bernd, and Kathleen M. Higgins. 1999. Nietzsche’s works and their themes. In The Cambridge companion to Nietzsche , 21–70. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Müller-Lauter, Wolfgang. 1998. The spirit of revenge and the eternal recurrence: On Heidegger’s later interpretation of Nietzsche. In Nietzsche: Critical assessments , vol. III, 148–165. New York: Routledge.

Nehamas, Alexander. 1998. The art of living: Socratic reflections from Plato to Foucault . Berkeley: University of California Press.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1962. Philosophy in the tragic age of the Greeks . Trans. Marianne Cowan. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1967a. Ecce Homo . Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Random House.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1967b. The will to power . Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Random House.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1974. The gay science . Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Random House.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1975. Thus Spake Zarathustra . Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Viking Press.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1990. The twilight of the idols . Trans. R.J. Hollingdale. New York: Penguin Books.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 2006. Fate and history: Thoughts. Trans. George J. Stack. In The Nietzsche reader , ed. Keith Ansell Pearson and Duncan Large, 12–15. Oxford: Blackwell.

Salaquarda, Jorg. 1999. Nietzsche and the Judeo-Christian tradition. In The Cambridge companion to Nietzsche , 90–118. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schact, Richard. 1983. Nietzsche . New York: Routledge.

Vattimo, Gianni. 1988. Metaphysics, violence, secularization. In Recoding metaphysics: The new Italian philosophy , ed. Borradori Giovanna, 45–61. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Vattimo, Gianni. 2004. Nihilisim and emancipation . Trans. William McCraig. New York: Columbia University Press.

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Smick, J. (2013). Nietzsche on the Death of God and the God of Life. In: Diller, J., Kasher, A. (eds) Models of God and Alternative Ultimate Realities. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-5219-1_58

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What Does Nietzsche Mean When He Says That God Is Dead?

An explanation of this famous bit of philosophical graffiti

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“God is dead!”  In German, Gott ist tot!  This is the phrase that more than any other is associated with Nietzsche . Yet there is an irony here since Nietzsche was not the first to come up with this expression.  The German writer Heinrich Heine (who Nietzsche admired) said it first. But it was Nietzsche who made it is his mission as a philosopher to respond to the dramatic cultural shift that the expression “God is dead” describes.​

The phrase first appears at the beginning of Book Three of The Gay Science (1882). A little later it is the central idea in the famous aphorism (125) titled The Madman , which begins:

“Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!" — As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? — Thus they yelled and laughed. The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you.  We have killed him  -- you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”

The Madman Goes on to Say

 “There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us — for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”  Met by incomprehension, he concludes: “I have come too early….This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars —  and yet they have done it themselves .”

What Does All This Mean?

The first fairly obvious point to make is that the statement “God is dead” is paradoxical. God, by definition, is eternal and all-powerful. He is not the kind of thing that can die. So what does it mean to say that God is “dead”? The idea operates on several levels.

How Religion Has Lost Its Place in Our Culture

The most obvious and important meaning is simply this: In Western civilization, religion in general, and Christianity, in particular, is in an irreversible decline. It is losing or has already lost the central place it has held for the last two thousand years. This is true in every sphere: in politics, philosophy, science, literature, art, music, education, everyday social life, and the inner spiritual lives of individuals.

Someone might object: but surely, there are still millions of people all over the world, including the West, who are still deeply religious. This is undoubtedly true, but Nietzsche doesn’t deny it. He is pointing to an ongoing trend which, as he indicates, most people haven’t yet fully comprehended. But the trend is undeniable.

In the past, religion was central to so much in our culture. The greatest music, like Bach’s Mass in B Minor, was religious in inspiration. The greatest artworks of the Renaissance, like Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, typically took religious themes. Scientists like Copernicus , Descartes , and Newton , were deeply religious men. The idea of God played a key role in the thought of philosophers like Aquinas, Descartes, Berkeley, and Leibniz. Whole education systems were governed by the church. The vast majority of people were christened, married and buried by the church, and attended church regularly throughout their lives.

None of this is true anymore. Church attendance in most Western countries has plunged into single figures. Many now prefer secular ceremonies at birth, marriage, and death. And among intellectuals–scientists, philosophers, writers, and artists–religious belief plays virtually no part in their work.

What Caused the Death of God?

So this is the first and most basic sense in which Nietzsche thinks that God is dead. Our culture is becoming increasingly secularized. The reason is not hard to fathom. The scientific revolution that began in the 16th century soon offered a way of understanding natural phenomena that proved clearly superior to the attempt to understand nature by reference to religious principles or scripture. This trend gathered momentum with the Enlightenment in the 18th century which consolidated the idea that reason and evidence rather than scripture or tradition should be the basis for our beliefs. Combined with industrialization in the 19th century, the growing technological power unleashed by science also gave people a sense of greater control over nature. Feeling less at the mercy of incomprehensible forces also played its part in chipping away at religious faith.

Further Meanings of "God Is Dead!"

As Nietzsche makes clear in other sections of The Gay Science , his claim that God is dead is not just a claim about religious belief. In his view, much of our default way of thinking carries religious elements that we are not aware of. For instance, it’s very easy to talk about nature as if it contains purposes. Or if we talk about the universe as like a great machine, this metaphor carries the subtle implication that the machine was designed. Perhaps most fundamental of all is our assumption that there is such a thing as objective truth. What we mean by this is something like the way the world would be described from the “god’s eye point of view”–a vantage point that is not just among many perspectives, but is the One True Perspective. For Nietzsche, though, all knowledge has to be from a limited perspective.

Implications of the Death of God

For thousands of years, the idea of God (or the gods) has anchored our thinking about the world. It has been especially important as a foundation for morality. The moral principles we follow (Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Help those in need.  etc.) had the authority of religion behind them. And religion provided a motive to obey these rules since it told us that virtue would be rewarded and vice punished. What happens when this rug is pulled away?

Nietzsche seems to think that the first response will be confusion and panic. The whole of the Madman section cited above is full of fearful questions. A descent into chaos is seen as one possibility. But Nietzsche sees the death of God as both a great danger and a great opportunity. It offers us the chance to construct a new “table of values,” one that will express a new-found love of this world and this life.  For one of Nietzsche’s main objections to Christianity is that in thinking of this life as a mere preparation for an afterlife, it devalues life itself. Thus, after the great anxiety expressed in Book III, Book IV of The Gay Science is a glorious expression of a life-affirming outlook.

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the meaning of nietzsche's death of god thesis

Nietzsche and the Death of God

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The following is a transcript of this video.

In his book Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche announces:

“What is called idol on the title page is simply what has been called truth so far. Twilight of the Idols – that is: the old truth is approaching its end.” (Twilight of the Idols, Friedrich Nietzsche)

In the last lecture, we investigated true world theories, which were examples of some of the old ‘truths’ Nietzsche thought were on the decline.

In this lecture we will investigate why Nietzsche thought these ‘old truths’ were approaching their end. To do this we’ll analyze what is perhaps Nietzsche’s most famous and controversial statement: “god is dead”. We’ll look at what such a statement meant to Nietzsche, what led   him to make such a bold pronouncement, and   what he thought would happen if this belief were to become as widespread as he anticipated.

So what did Nietzsche mean by his statement ‘god is dead’? On the surface it may appear that he was referring to the observation that belief in the   monotheistic god of Christianity was on the decline. However, such a view is not generally accepted by modern day scholars,   rather many suggest instead that with this statement Nietzsche wante to symbolize his conviction that faith in true world theories in general were deteriorating. 

Many scholars and philosophers who have been influenced by Nietzsche have claimed that in communicating the death of god to the masses, Nietzsche should be characterized as a modern day prophet. What is it about his message that qualifies him for such an honorable title?

Nietzsche was only one of a number thinkers in his time to recognize the growing skepticism towards Christianity, as well as other less prominent true world theories. So surely this alone does not qualify him for the title of ‘prophet’.  

Rather, the uniqueness of Nietzsche’s message lay in his remarkable ability to foresee the potentially devastating consequences which would befall those individuals unable to retain their faith in true world theories.

Nietzsche thought that when true world theories lost their influence, individuals would be torn from the very worldviews which gave their lives meaning, and the strength to persevere in life despite sometimes miserable conditions. In short, Nietzsche understood that the death of god could potentially vault a large majority of the human race into a state of nihilism.

The great Walter Kaufmann, in his classic work on Nietzsche, described exactly why Nietzsche is often heralded as a modern day prophet:

“Sometimes prophecies seem to consist in man’s ability to experience his own wretched fate so deeply that it becomes a symbol of something larger. It is in this sense that one can compare Nietzsche with the ancient prophets. He felt the agony, the suffering, and the misery of a godless world so intensely, at a time when others were yet blind to its tremendous consequence, that he was able to experience in advance, as it were, the fate of a coming generation.” (Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, Walter Kaufmann)

The generation following Nietzsche in many ways seemed to have experienced the fate he had prophesied. As the historian Ronald Stromberg, in his book Redemption by War, explained, the turn of the 20th century marked a time when   intellectuals in Europe were gripped by a growing sense that life was meaningless – and it was this feeling which can help to explain the now forgotten fact that the vast majority of European intellectuals were in fact pro-war in the years leading up to World War I.

Stromberg wrote:

“How, in the end, are we to explain this so fateful explosion of warlike ideas and sentiments among all manner of European intellectuals in 1914? Of the ingredients we have found to be pervasive, all are important: hatred of the existing society; the apocalyptic “sense of an ending”; need for some kind of worthy cause to give meaning to one’s life; sheer thirst for adventure against the background of a dreary materialism…”  (Redemption by War, Ronald Stromberg)

Fortunately the modern age is much different than the spirit of the early 20th century, as today most individuals are not fervent war supporters. Instead, modern individuals seem to search for a cause which will give meaning to their life in different ways. However, this search for many appears to be a lost cause, as despite the high standard of living we enjoy in the West, the question ‘what is it all for?’ still grips most of us in our moments of solitude.

As the psychologist Victor Frankl pointed out:

“For too long we have been dreaming a dream from which we are now waking up: the dream that if we just improve the socioeconomic situation of people, everything will be okay, people will become happy. The truth is that as the  struggle for survival  has subsided, the question has emerged:  survival for what?  Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.” (Viktor Frankl)

Nietzsche announces the death of god in a famous aphorism in his book The Gay Science , called The Madman. In this passage he tells a tale of a   madman who runs out onto the street screeching   “I seek God! I seek God!” Understandably, those on the street give him a strange look and continue on with their evening, however, the madman does not cease.

“God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murderers…There was never a greater event,- and on account of it, all who are born after us belong to a higher history than any history before this!” (The Gay Science, Friedrich Nietzsche)

Despite the madman’s attempt to enlighten his fellow citizens regarding the enormity of the death of god, the individuals on the street pay little attention to him. When he noticed the utter indifference of those around him, “he threw his lantern on the ground so that it broke in pieces and was extinguished”.

“I come too early, I am not yet at the right time. This prodigious event is still on its way, and is travelling, – it has not reached men’s ears.”

Later in his life, Nietzsche reached the opinion that the loss of faith in true world theories   was in fact the most glorious event to befall mankind. In his book, The Gay Science, he wrote:

“In fact, we philosophers and “free spirits” feel as if we are illumined by a new dawn, on receiving the news that “the old God is dead”; our hearts overflow with gratitude, wonder, premonition, anticipation. At last the horizon seems to us open again…the sea, our sea again lies open before us; perhaps there has never yet been such an “open sea.” (The Gay Science, Friedrich Nietzsche)

A universe without god, or without a transcendent purpose driving the lives of men toward a common end, was in fact a universe, according to Nietzsche, where strong and creative individuals could freely sculpt their own worldviews.

However, this attitude of Nietzsche’s did not come naturally, but was an attitude that he came to adopt only after years of struggle, pain, and suffering.   Early in his life, Nietzsche experienced first-hand the misery of living in what he believed to be a godless world; it was a world with no transcendent purpose and thus no meaning, in which mankind had no special place in the scheme of things. In other words, this worldview led him to experience the agony of nihilism.

In one of his earlier works, Human, all too Human , Nietzsche expressed this agony, he wrote:

“But the tragic thing is that we can no longer believe those dogmas of religion and metaphysics, once we have the rigorous method of truth in our hearts and heads, and yet on the other hand, the development of mankind has made us so delicate, sensitive, and ailing that we need the most potent kind of cures and comforts—hence arises the danger that man might bleed to death from the truth he has recognized. Byron expressed this in his immortal lines: Sorrow is knowledge: they who know the most must mourn the deepest o’er the fatal truth, the tree of knowledge is not that of life.” (Human, all too Human, Friedrich Nietzsche)

The question we will now examine is why he held the conviction that god was dead. In our modern times, it is usually taken for granted that the general decline of faith in religions and true world theories is a result of the growth of the natural sciences.

However, Nietzsche took a different stance. In his book   The Dawn , he illuminated his position:

“In former times, one sought to prove that there is no God – today one indicates how the belief that there is a God could arise and how this belief acquired its weight and importance: a counter-proof that there is no God thereby becomes superfluous. When in former times one had refuted the “proofs of the existence of God” put forward, there always remained the doubt whether better proofs might not be adduced than those just refuted: in those days, atheists did not know how to make a clean sweep. ” (The Dawn, Friedrich Nietzsche)

Nietzsche didn’t think it was possible to refute the existence of true worlds by putting forth an argument which utilized the latest findings ascertained by science, as he understood that true world believers would counter with arguments of their own.

Instead, Nietzsche thought he had refuted the existence of true worlds with his keen and penetrating psychological insights.   He looked into the mind of the believer and understood why it was that they held such beliefs. Faith in true world theories, Nietzsche espoused, fulfilled deep seated psychological needs – such theories were created by individuals in need of solaces to protect them from the harsh realities of this life.

Before we conclude we will examine an apparent contradiction in Nietzsche’s thought with regards to his views on the death of god. In a very important, and often neglected passage from his book Human, all too Human , Nietzsche admits that for all we know a true world, or what here he calls a metaphysical world, could indeed exist. He wrote:

“It is true, there could be a metaphysical world; the absolute possibility of it is hardly to be disputed.” (Human, all too Human, Friedrich Nietzsche)

Of all the misunderstandings Nietzsche has been the victim of in the last century, and there have been many, one of the most erroneous of them all would be to call him a dogmatist. Nietzsche, as the above quote signifies, admitted that a true world, or gods for that matter, could exist for all he knew. As human beings we are fallible animals, and our knowledge of   this vast universe is extremely limited. In terms of the existence of true worlds we really have no way of knowing one way or the other.

This may appear, at first glance, to be a contradiction in Nietzsche’s thoughts. How could he proclaim the death of god while also stating that a true world could exist for all we know?

This possible contradiction is cleared up with the realization that Nietzsche thought that his psychological insights into the mind of the believer had discredited the validity of true world theories, but he did not think it had disproved the existence of a true world, whatever that may be, altogether. In the back of his mind Nietzsche was always aware that he, like all other humans, did not have special access to ultimate truths, whatever such truths would entail. So although he claimed ‘god is dead’, he admitted that in fact a true world in some form or another could indeed exist.

However, Nietzsche himself was steadfast in his conviction to live the rest of his life without believing in any form of a true world. The reason for such a conviction being utilitarian, that is, he thought that his life, and in fact the lives of all human beings, would be more successful without such a belief.

By believing a better life is awaiting one following death, the individual escapes from the responsibility and burden of having to make the most of this life. Thus in discarding faith in true world theories, an individual is left alone in this world with the choice of either making the most of it or spending their days in a state of guilt and self-pity over what could have been.

Therefore, for more than any other reason, Nietzsche proclaimed the death of god because he felt that a world composed of individuals who did not believe in true world theories would be a much better world.

In his autobiography, Ecce Homo , written shortly before Nietzsche descended into madness, he conveyed this idea. He wrote:

“The concept ‘beyond’, ‘true world’ invented in order to devalue the only world there is—in order to retain no goal, no reason, no task for our earthly reality!” (Ecce Homo, Friedrich Nietzsche)

In the next lecture we are going to investigate the phenomenon of nihilism from Nietzsche’s perspective, looking at, among other things, the difference between active and passive nihilism, and why Nietzsche thought nihilism was a ‘transitional stage’. We will then have put ourselves in a good position for the final lecture, where we will look at different ideas Nietzsche thought would help an individual overcome nihilism.  

Further Resources

Good Places to Start One’s Study of Nihilism The Specter of the Absurd: Sources and Criticisms of Modern Nihilism (1988) – Donald Crosby The Self Overcoming of Nihilism (1990) – Keiji Nishitani The Dark Side: Thoughts on the Futility of Life from the Ancient Greeks to the Present (1994) – Alan Pratt The Banalization of Nihilism: Twentieth Century Responses to Meaninglessness (1992) – Karen Carr

Nietzsche and Nihilism The Will to Power – Friedrich Nietzsche The Affirmation of Life: Nietzsche on Overcoming Nihilism (2009) – Bernard Reginster Nietzsche: A Collection of Critical Essays (1973) – Robert Solomon

Other Nihilistic Works The Trouble with Being Born – Emile Cioran A Short History of Decay – Emile Cioran The Plague – Albert Camus The Fall – Albert Camus The Rebel – Albert Camus

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N2 - A compact introduction to Nietzsche's writings about God, language, truth, and myth, this collection will engage and appeal to both veteran and novice readers. Fritzsche's insightful introduction presents valuable historical, biographical, and cultural guidelines for exploring Nietzsche's ideas and influence, without ignoring his literary acumen. The samples of Nietzsche's writing were carefully chosen to represent Nietzsche's enduring relevance for contemporary life.With "the death of God" as his starting point, Fritzsche selected and translated documents from the full range of Nietzsche's explosive writings to expose readers to key ideas he developed. His bold concepts ignited reactions in his time and continue to energize and shape worldviews. Selections include Nietzsche's thoughts on such topics as how humans have fallen into a subordinate relationship with systems of morality of their own making, and the importance of recognizing new possibilities; how different cultures and languages enable unique interpretations—that is, there is no common or real world; and how the "slave mentality" of the West inclines people to see each other as victims instead of masters of their own lives.

AB - A compact introduction to Nietzsche's writings about God, language, truth, and myth, this collection will engage and appeal to both veteran and novice readers. Fritzsche's insightful introduction presents valuable historical, biographical, and cultural guidelines for exploring Nietzsche's ideas and influence, without ignoring his literary acumen. The samples of Nietzsche's writing were carefully chosen to represent Nietzsche's enduring relevance for contemporary life.With "the death of God" as his starting point, Fritzsche selected and translated documents from the full range of Nietzsche's explosive writings to expose readers to key ideas he developed. His bold concepts ignited reactions in his time and continue to energize and shape worldviews. Selections include Nietzsche's thoughts on such topics as how humans have fallen into a subordinate relationship with systems of morality of their own making, and the importance of recognizing new possibilities; how different cultures and languages enable unique interpretations—that is, there is no common or real world; and how the "slave mentality" of the West inclines people to see each other as victims instead of masters of their own lives.

UR - http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/477033807

SN - 9781478611806

BT - Nietzsche and the death of God

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The Death of God and The Meaning of Life

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Young, Julian, The Death of God and The Meaning of Life , Routledge, 2003, 248pp, $25.95 (pbk), ISBN 0415307902.

Reviewed by Thomas Baldwin, University of York

Julian Young is the author of some excellent books on Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Heidegger. In this book he returns to themes from these German philosophers, but now in the context of a broader attempt (as his title indicates) to suggest how life can be worth living even after the death of God. The book is organised as a narrative: Part I (’Before the death of God’) is a discussion of some of the ways in which philosophers have offered accounts of the meaning of human life in the context of a conception of a ’true world’ distinct from the everyday world. The basic idea is that the sufferings and injustices of ordinary life are to be punished or redeemed through some ultimate valuation of human conduct in the true world (a last judgment). In Part II (’After the death of God’) Young turns to the philosophers who lack faith in any such true world; for them, the challenge is one of showing how it remains possible for life to have a meaning when it is not a contribution to some grander metaphysical story.

Young’s topic is potentially all-encompassing and his treatment is therefore necessarily highly selective. Not surprisingly his main emphasis falls on the work of German philosophers. Of his fifteen chapters, nine are devoted to discussions of Germans (Kant, Hegel, Marx, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche (3), Heidegger (2)); French philosophers are allotted five chapters (Camus, Sartre (2), Foucault, Derrida); and the book starts with a chapter about Plato’s Phaedrus . So British and American philosophers such as Hume and James receive no attention; nor does Kierkegaard or any serious Christian philosopher. These omissions are a pity, but since much of the book concerns a reasonably unified debate, Young’s selective attention is defensible (though one could of course make a case for the inclusion of others, such as Kafka or Levinas). What is nonetheless a bit odd is the way in which Young has chosen to organise the debate: for example, the book ends with a chapter about Heidegger’s later philosophy which occurs after chapters about Foucault and Derrida, both of whom advert to Heidegger’s later philosophy. As we shall see below, however, there is a reason for this re-ordering of the dialectic.

In Part I Young begins from an exposition of Plato’s discussion in the Phaedrus of the soul’s relationship to the world of forms. This provides Young with a paradigm ’true world’ account of human life; furthermore Plato’s emphasis here on beauty as a way in which the forms become manifest within the everyday world prefigures Young’s subsequent emphasis on the importance of art to the possibility of living a meaningful life. Young then follows Nietzsche in asserting that Christianity is just a disguised form of Platonism and thus that he does not need to consider Christianity in any detail, either as a different type of ’true world’ philosophy or in order to assess the significance of the ’death of God’. It seems to me that this fails to do justice to the supposed significance of the life of Christ as developed in the doctrines of incarnation, atonement and resurrection, obscure though they are. Indeed many theologians have argued that the ’Platonisation’ of Christianity by St. Paul and others injected an alien metaphysical element into the religion which it does not need to have. If this is right, it follows that there will be forms of Christian faith, offering their own account of the meaning of life, which are largely unaffected by the metaphysical scepticism whose path Young traces. Kierkegaard’s works offer one prominent example of the possibility of a faith of this kind and Simone Weil provides another example. But it does not follow that Young’s discussion of the ’God of the philosophers’ and of the significance of his death is unimportant; for there is no doubt that this has been an important strand of Western culture and for those who are not attracted by religion, the question of the possibility of finding a non-religious meaning for life is of inescapable importance.

Young jumps from Plato all the way to Kant in order to discuss the way in which philosophers began to deal with the challenge to traditional faith posed by the rise of the natural sciences and the Enlightenment. It is a bit startling that Young provides no discussion at all of the French Encyclopédistes and of Hume, but one has to accept that Young’s interest lies primarily in discussing the German debate. Young notes that Kant takes it that religion has to find its vindication through its connection with morality, but he does not pursue the important questions as to what conception of morality is presupposed here and what connection between morality and human motivation Kant supposes there to be (he does not discuss Kant’s Religion within theLlimits of Reason Alone , in which Kant attempts to deal with these issues). Instead Kant seems to be introduced primarily as a way of setting the scene for Schopenhauer, whose pessimism and ’European Buddhism’ are discussed sympathetically. Young is very good at elucidating Schopenhauer’s long discussions of the will and at criticising his abstract arguments for pessimism, though he firmly endorses Schopenhauer’s rejection of traditional theodicies. Young also argues that Schopenhauer’s positive recommendation that one should renounce individual striving itself rests on ’true world’ philosophy which offers the hope of salvation through unification with a universal will that is the true world, though he comments that this supposed method of salvation is puzzling since Schopenhauer also holds that the will is the source of all evil; and I would add that it is unclear how renunciation can be a way of affirming the ultimate reality of the will.

The young Nietzsche of The Birth of Tragedy is then ushered in as offering a coherent version of what is essentially Schopenhauer’s position; the importance of Greek tragedy is that it enables the audience to lose their sense of their own individuality and to gain an intimation of the possibility of salvation through unification with others and the world in Dionysiac acts that are not evil but ’beyond good and evil’. This is still a ’true world’ story; but for Young, the crucial break comes when Nietzsche moves on to announce ’the death of God’ in The Gay Science , no longer advocating the renunciation of individuality, but himself renouncing the prospect of any true world which provides a kind of salvation that is not to be found in the ordinary everyday world, which is the only world there is. Before he gets to this, however, Young turns back the clock to discuss Hegel and (very briefly) Marx. They come after the early Nietzsche in Young’s discussion because, according to Young, they do not belong in the tradition of post-Kantian idealism: Hegel’s objective idealism is said to be a realist doctrine (surely it would be better to represent Hegel as rejecting the idealism/realism contrast). Young then embarks on a brisk exposition of some central themes from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit and explains that, despite his rejection of Kant’s noumenal world, Hegel counts as a ’true world’ philosopher because of his faith in the utopian rationality of history; and the familiar criticism of this is then that we have overwhelming reason to abandon any such faith (Marxism is briefly criticised for the same reason). This is indeed fair enough; but although Young discusses the master/slave dialectic sensitively there is so much more of interest in the social and ethical philosophy of Hegel and Marx which bears on Young’s main theme that, as with his discussion of Kant, I was left in the end with the sense of an opportunity lost.

Young starts Part II of his book with Nietzsche’s announcement of the ’death of God’ and he then turns to the issue of whether the philosophical tradition he is exploring offers a way of giving meaning to one’s life without the promise of redemption in another world. Unfortunately Young does not take time to examine the presuppositions of this issue; for example, why is it not enough to say ’Do good and abjure evil’? Sometimes it seems as though we are supposed to be worrying about the epistemological grounds of morality; at other times to be asking why we should care about morality. As it is we get a rather breathless survey of some suggestions by German philosophers and their alleged French disciples. Young begins, however, with two excellent chapters on Nietzsche. In the first (’Later Nietzsche’) he sets out what he takes to be the positive thesis of The Gay Science , namely that we should seek to lead our lives as works of art. Young then raises two challenges for this account, both arising from what he takes to be Nietzsche’s emphasis on the will: first, how does my choice of a life connect with morality? Is any life that is suitably aesthetic a life worth living? Second, if my construction of myself is a matter of choice, are these choices constrained at all by my commitments and responsibilities? Or is the specification of these commitments and responsibilities dependent upon my choices? These set much of the agenda for much of the subsequent discussion. But before we get to this Young adds a further chapter on Nietzsche (’Posthumous Nietzsche’) in which he roundly criticises Heidegger’s claim that Nietzsche’s unpublished writings show that his fundamental doctrine was a metaphysical affirmation of the ultimate reality of ’the will to power’.

Young is, however, much more sympathetic to Heidegger’s own positive philosophy. The ’early’ Heidegger of Being and Time gives us an account of ’authenticity’ which builds on Nietzsche’s position but, according to Young, takes matters further by emphasising that the task of achieving authenticity can be accomplished only by taking account of the values inherent in one’s own historical context (one’s ’heritage’). The issue that Young raises here, as to how far the achievement of authenticity is a matter of self-discovery as opposed to choice of oneself, is both interesting and difficult. I disagree with Young’s claim that for Heidegger it is fundamentally a matter of self-discovery, for this conflicts with Heidegger’s basic characterisation of Dasein as that whose ’essence’ lies in its ’existence’. What is needed here is something that stands between arbitrary choice and discovery of a true self, though it is not easy to characterise this - Heidegger himself seems to me both suggestive and elusive on this issue. A different, and more troubling, issue which Young does not raise is that of whether Heidegger’s valuation of authenticity is not a further variant of the ’true world’ philosophy that was supposed to have been buried at this stage of the dialectic, with a ’true self’ standing in for the ’true world’. After all, in abandoning the ’true world’ hypothesis we accept that this everyday world is the only world there is; similarly, then, should we not also accept that our ordinary everyday existence is the only kind of life available to us, and that denigrating it as ’inauthentic’ by the standards of some higher existence is just as pernicious as the old habit of denigrating the everyday world by the standards of some abstract perfect world? It seems to me that there is no more reason to have faith in authenticity than in the true world ideals which Young dismisses.

Young now introduces the French contribution to his debate, starting with two chapters about Sartre. He gives Sartre two chapters because he finds two different, and conflicting, lines of thought in Being and Nothingness : according to the first, our lives are ’absurd’ (=meaningless) because the ’original’ choice through which we choose the kind of person to be is necessarily a choice made for no reason, since in choosing ourselves we choose our values; whereas according to the second line of thought, our choice of ourself is absurd (= futile) because it is informed by the impossible ideal of becoming a perfect God-like person. Young argues that this second line of thought is unwarranted, though it includes an important insight concerning our dependence upon others; but he allows that the first line of thought is a way of expressing the stark challenge which arises from the death of God, conceived as the denial that values are facts either within the familiar world or in some other world. It seems to me, however, that Young misrepresents Sartre here, in that the lines of thought he separates in his two chapters are actually intertwined. In brief, the second line of thought motivates the first: Sartre holds that any choice we make of ourselves is necessarily informed by an ideal; but, he argues, if the ideal is specified in terms of a realist conception of value (a ’true world’), it cannot be fulfilled; hence, in recognising this, we may well be drawn to the conclusion that our lives are meaningless. What is much more serious than this misrepresentation of Sartre’s position, however, is that Young altogether fails to discuss Sartre’s own conception of authenticity (’pure reflection’) and the ’conversion’ whereby he envisages that it is after all possible to have a life worth living. Admittedly this is not discussed in Being and Nothingness , though its possibility is explicitly hinted at there; but it is discussed at great length in Sartre’s posthumous Notebooks for an Ethics from 1947-8. This material connects closely with Sartre’s growing enthusiasm for socialism which Young also passes over, with the result that Sartre’s positive contribution to the debate Young is discussing never gets aired, and it is important to note this omission not simply to set the record straight on behalf of Sartre, but also because Sartre’s proposal for giving meaning to one’s life by contributing to a collective enterprise of social liberation is never properly addressed by Young.

After Sartre, Young moves on to Camus, whose individualist perspective he finds more congenial; he nonetheless, and surely rightly, rejects the exclusive emphasis on the joys of present experience that Camus sometimes (though certainly not always) seems to endorse. There then follow chapters on Foucault and Derrida. Although there are some good observations here, for example on the close relationship between Foucault’s ’normalisation’ and Heidegger’s Das Man , I think these two chapters are misguided in that both Foucault and Derrida would want to question the presuppositions of Young’s ’German’ debate about the possibility that life has a ’meaning’. Foucault, who of course proclaims that the death of God brings with it the death of ’man’, would argue that Young’s question has ’humanist’ presuppositions that need to be set aside through a ’genealogical’ critique. Derrida, in turn, would want to deconstruct the terms of the debate, while allowing that life must have some kind of meaning insofar as the work of differance is sustained. It is also striking that Young does not discuss the texts in which Foucault and Derrida come closest to his question – in Foucault’s case, his last writings on sexuality, and in Derrida’s case, his ethical writings such as The Gift of Death . So although Young judges that neither Foucault nor Derrida make any contribution to his debate, I think that on a more sympathetic and reflective reading they would be found to offer lines of argument which suggest that the issues are not best conceived as he takes them to be.

But in the final chapter Young moves back onto ground with which he is much more familiar, Heidegger’s later philosophy. Young’s reason for reorganising history in this way is that he takes it that Heidegger does here offer a way of finding meaning in our lives after the death of God which is not just a matter of adopting an arbitrary personal project which one can reject at any moment. Heidegger’s message for us is that we should be ’guardians’ of the world, in the sense of recognising and caring for the aspects of things which are ’holy’ and thus merit ’respect and reverence’ – which, for Young appear to be primarily the natural flora and fauna of wooded hillsides and suchlike. Young seems content to take over Heidegger’s obscure language of Being, but the substance of the position seems to be just an affirmation of a theory of intrinsic value combined with a strongly ethical conception of the self – it is our ’essence’ to be guardians. But if that is the answer to Young’s quest then it is unclear to me why we have had to pursue such a tortuous path to it and also what reason we have to believe in it. I am not, in fact, unsympathetic to it; values are here in our world and we find meaning in our lives by recognising and working with them. But if this position is to be vindicated, it needs to be set out and worked through in a language with which we are at home.


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The History of the Dead God – The Genesis of ‘the Death of God’ in Philosophy and Literature Before Nietzsche

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[2] Blumenberg, H. (1979): Arbeit am Mythos, Suhrkamp.

[3] Brobjer, Th. H. (2008): Nietzsche's Philosophical Context: An Intellectual Biography. University Of Illinois Press.

[4] Browning, E. B. (1844): The Dead Pan, in Poems, in Two Volumes, Edward Moxon.

[5] Byron, G. G. (1823): Aristomenes, in Marchand, L. A. (ed.) (2001), Selected Poetry of Lord Byron, Modern Library, 236.

[6] Freier, F. (1976): Die Rückkehr der Götter. Von der ästhetischen Überschreitung der Wissensgrenze zur Mythologie der Moderne. Eine Untersuchung zur systematischen Rolle der Kunst in der Philosophie Kants, Hegels und Schellings, J. B. Metzler.

[7] Fuhrmann, M. (ed.) (1971): Terror und Spiel. Probleme der Mythenrezeption, W. Fink.

[8] Giese, F. (1919): Der romantische Charakter, Bd. I: Das Androgynenproblem in der Frühromantik, Wendt & Klauwell.

[9] Habermas, J. (1968): Nachwort, in Habermas, J. (ed.), Friedrich Nietzsche. Erkenntnistheoretische Schriften, Suhrkamp, 237–261.

[10] Hegel, G. W. F. (1802): Glauben und Wissen oder Reflexionsphilosophie der Subjektivität in der Vollständigkeit ihrer Formen als Kantische, Jacobische und Fichtesche Philosophie, Kritisches Journal der Philosophie, 2. Band, 1. Stück, Tübingen, Cotta.

[11] Hegel, G. W. F. (1977): Faith & Knowledge, Translated by Walter Cerf and H. S. Harris, State University of New York Press.

[12] Heidegger, M. (1953): Die Frage nach der Technik, in GA 7 Vorträge und Aufsätze, W. Klostermann 2000, 5–36.

[13] Heine, H. (1853): Die Götter im Exil, in Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe der Werke, Band 9: Elementargeister, Die Göttin Diana, Der Doktor Faust, Die Götter im Exil. Hoffmann und Campe 1987.

[14] Holmstedt, G. (1933): Speculum Christiani, Humphrey Milford.

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[18] Keats, J. (1818), Endymion, Taylor and Hessey.

[19] Knight, R. P. (1786): A Discourse on the Worship of Priapus: A History of Phallic Worship, T. Spinsbury.

[20] Nickel, R. (2003): Gesta Romanorum, Stuttgart, Reclam (cf. Die Gesta Romanorum nach der Innsbrucker Handschrift vom Jahre 1342 und vier Münchener Handschriften, ed. W. Dick, Erlangen – Leipzig 1890).

[21] Nietzsche, F. (1871): NF-1870,7[8], NF-1870,7[15] – Nachgelassene Fragmente Ende 1870 – April 1871.

[22] Nietzsche, F. (1873): Zur Religion, in NF-1873,29[203] – Nachgelassene Fragmente Sommer – Herbst 1873.

[23] Nietzsche, F. (1882): Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, E. W. Fritzsch, in D'Iorio, P. (ed.) Friedrich Nietzsche, Digital critical edition of the complete works and letters, based on the critical text by G. Colli and M. Montinari, de Gruyter 1967, online: https://www.nietzschesource.org/#eKGWB/FW . (Further refered to as 'KSA').

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[27] Plutarch, de Defectu oraculorum. Translated by Philemon Holland (1603), The Philosophie, commonlie called The Morals, 1320–1359.

[28] Reschke, R. (Hg.) (1989): Friedrich Nietzsche: Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (›la gaya scienca‹), Reclam.

[29] Reschke, R. (2009): Zeitenwende – Wertewende: Internationaler Kongreß der Nietzsche-Gesellschaft zum 100. Todestag Friedrich Nietzsches vom 24.–27. August 2000 in Naumburg, de Gruyter.

[30] Richter, J. P. F. (Jean Paul, 1796): Leben des Quintus Fixlein, Johann Andreas Lüdecks Erben.

[31] Richter, J. P. F. (Jean Paul, 1797): Flower, Fruit and Thorn Pieces: Or, the Wedded Life, Death, and Marriage of Firmian Stanislaus Siebenkaes, Parish Advocate in the Burgh of Kuh-schnappel, Franklin Classics 2018.

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[34] Vernier, R. (2016): The Dream of Bernat Metge, Routledge.

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the meaning of nietzsche's death of god thesis

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God is dead, and so is morality, the death of god and the death of moral egalitarianism.

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The Death of God and the Death of Morality

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Brian Leiter, The Death of God and the Death of Morality, The Monist , Volume 102, Issue 3, July 2019, Pages 386–402, https://doi.org/10.1093/monist/onz016

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Nietzsche famously proclaimed the “death of God,” but in so doing it was not God’s death that was really notable—Nietzsche assumes that most reflective, modern readers realize that “the belief in the Christian god has become unbelievable” (GS 343)—but the implications of that belief becoming unbelievable, namely, “how much must collapse now that this faith has been undermined,” in particular, “the whole of our European morality” (GS 343). What is the connection between the death of God and the death of morality? I argue that Nietzsche thinks the death of God will undermine the “moral egalitarianism” that is central to modern morality, in both its deontological and utilitarian forms. I offer an account of how Nietzsche sees the connection, arguing that no one has yet offered a nontheistic defense of moral egalitarianism (I focus, in particular but not only, on Rawls). I conclude with some skeptical considerations about whether Nietzsche was right that atheism would, in fact, undermine morality.

A popular conceit in recent Anglophone philosophy, familiar from the writings of Derek Parfit and Peter Singer in particular, is that until philosophical ethics frees itself from “religion,” it will not be able to make progress. Parfit and Singer think of themselves as vanguards in this movement, a claim rich in irony for any student of Nietzsche. 1 For Parfit and Singer both, though in slightly different ways, treat everyone’s sentience and suffering as of decisive moral importance, 2 aligning themselves firmly with the egalitarian moral thinking central to Christianity. To be sure, Parfit and Singer detach themselves from certain sectarian doctrines of, say, the Catholic Church (Singer, for example, is happy to see infants and the disabled killed under the right circumstances), but their basic moral outlook is Christian to its core, as any Nietzschean would notice. 3

That fact is not of much significance, of course, if there were some reason, separable from Christianity, for thinking everyone’s suffering deserves equal moral salience. But I take it to be one of Nietzsche’s most radical claims that a certain kind of Christian morality cannot survive the “death of God,” that is, the repudiation of a particular metaphysics and cosmology that has, in some sense to be specified, underwritten such morality. Anglophone philosophers, in their insular complacency, think the “death of God” does not matter to morality; Nietzsche, by contrast, does. My topic, in short, is why Nietzsche thinks the “death of God” also means the “death of morality,” or, at least, the death of Christian morality, or herd morality, or, as I have called it, “morality in the pejorative sense” (MPS) to mark off the diverse moral views he takes as his critical target. 4

[T]he struggle against Plato, or, to speak more clearly and “for the people,” the struggle against the Christian-ecclesiastical pressure of millennia—since Christianity is Platonism “for the people”—has created a magnificent tension of the spirit [ hat … eine prachtvolle Spannung des Geistes geschaffen ] in Europe the like of which had never yet existed on earth: with so tense a bow we can now shoot for the most distant goals. The European feels this tension as a state of distress, to be sure; and there have already been two grand attempts to relax the bow, once by means of Jesuitism, the second time by means of the democratic Enlightenment … . But we, who are neither Jesuits nor democrats, nor even sufficiently German, we good Europeans and free, very free spirits—we have it still, the whole need of the spirit and the whole tension of its bow! And perhaps also the arrow, the task, and who knows, the goal.

Nietzsche says the magnificent tension of the bow was created by the struggle ( Kampf ) against Platonism/Christianity. But who exactly was involved in this “struggle”? Obviously Nietzsche deems himself to be part of this struggle, but that is hardly illuminating in this context. The question is: who else besides Nietzsche ? Presumably he has in mind at least the various nineteenth-century German Materialists, from Ludwig Feuerbach to Friedrich Lange and Ludwig Büchner, among other contemporaneous empiricists and naturalists who were opponents of religion. But their “struggle” against Platonism and Christianity was overwhelmingly against, roughly, Platonic/Christian metaphysics or cosmology (e.g., supernatural beings, disembodied souls, an afterlife, and so on), not against Platonic/Christian morality. In undermining the former, they generally did not take themselves to imperil the latter. Yet the thought was certainly prominent in the nineteenth century that the collapse of Platonic/Christian cosmology might pose a threat to morality: Dostoevsky was the most famous exponent of the idea that if God does not exist “everything is permitted” (or, more accurately, nothing is prohibited!). I take it Nietzsche thinks the real feeling of tension results from repudiating Platonic/Christian metaphysics while trying to hold on to its morality.

Thus, we should think of attempts to “unbend” the bow as attempts to resolve the feeling of tension that arises from rejecting Platonic/Christian metaphysics, on the one hand, and continuing to accept Platonic/Christian morality, on the other. The latter was certainly a tension Dostoevsky felt keenly, to the point where he thought it was not possible: if God is dead, nothing is morally prohibited any longer! And this way of thinking about the tension would also make sense of the two intellectual movements Nietzsche names, Jesuitism and the democratic Enlightenment, both of which tried to block Dostoevsky’s dreaded conclusion. Jesuits cultivated the method of casuistic reasoning as a way of defending Christian morals, without recourse to claims about God’s will, Biblical authority, and so on. 5 So, too, the democratic Enlightenment tried to put reason’s imprint on central aspects of Christian morality (think of Kant or Bentham), while either expressing open skepticism about aspects of Christian cosmology or relegating it to the sphere of private faith, not public dogma. The tension, in both cases, results from the attempt to salvage the morality without its traditional metaphysical foundations. (Indeed, although Jesuits and the Enlightenment try to unbend the bow, their commitment to truth, and knowledge of the truth, has actually brought about “the death of God,” though most do not realize its ramifications, precisely the point of the famous “Madman” passage from The Gay Science [GS] to which we will turn momentarily.)

Nietzsche obviously rejects Platonic and Christian metaphysics and cosmology—so does most of reflective modernity, one of Nietzsche’s central points—but, as the title of Beyond Good and Evil and much of its content makes clear, Nietzsche also wants to repudiate the Platonic/Christian morality that went hand-in-hand with it, indeed, that was the actual motivation for the metaphysical systems of the “great” philosophers (as we learn in BGE 6). So Nietzsche will have nothing to do with the efforts of Jesuits and Enlightenment democrats to unbend the bow, by showing how a naturalistic and scientific world view—one which is incompatible with Platonic/Christian metaphysics—is, appearances notwithstanding, really compatible with Platonic/Christian morality. Nietzsche, instead, intends to repudiate the whole Platonic/Christian package, both its metaphysics and its morality. And this is why, by Nietzsche’s lights, this tension is “magnificent”: it enables one to shoot the “arrow” into a future “beyond good and evil,” in which the struggle against Platonism and Christianity is won on all fronts, metaphysical and moral. That, in any case, is the thesis I propose to defend in what follows.

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!”—As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter … The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his look. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him —you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? … . Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the godly decomposition—Gods, too decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” “How shall we console ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? … Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods if only to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us—for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.” Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men … . This deed is still most distant from them than the most distant stars— and yet they have done it themselves .”

My topic is not the sense in which Nietzsche thinks we have “killed” God, that we “have done it” ourselves: that is obvious enough. The Socratic elevation of knowledge of the truth to the highest value, conjoined with Christianity’s popularized Platonism (“the truth will set you free”), led naturally to the high estimation of pursuing the truth manifest in the modern sciences, whose discoveries then sealed the fate of Christian metaphysics: every advance in knowledge of the truth rendered more and more incredible every central claim of religious cosmology. 7 The “madman” of The Gay Science is a madman not because of this atheism, which his audience, as Nietzsche acknowledges, accepts: it is because he understands the import of that atheism in a way none of his listeners do. What is that import? Why is the “death of God” such a catastrophe, equivalent to unchaining the earth from the sun?

Much less may one suppose that many people know as yet what this event really means—and how much must collapse now that this faith has been undermined because it was built upon this faith, propped up by it, grown into it; for example, the whole of our European morality.
You higher men, learn this from me: in the market place nobody believes in higher men.And if you want to speak there, very well! But the mob blinks: “We are all equal.”“You higher men”—thus blinks the mob—”there are no higher men, we are all equal, man is man, before God we are all equal.”Before God! But now this god has died. And before the mob we do not want to be equal … .You higher men, this god was your greatest danger. It is only since he lies in his tomb that you have been resurrected … .God died: now we want the overman [or “higher man”] to live … . (Z IV:13) 8

There are, of course, complications and nuances on each kind of view. On utilitarian views, trade-offs among humans (or among humans and sentient nonhuman animals) are permissible, based on differences in the morally salient property, but what is crucial on this kind of view is that all utility-capable beings count equally: it is neither permissible to fail to count some creature’s utility nor permissible to make trade-offs on the basis of criteria unrelated to utility. On this kind of view—what I will call Counting Moral Egalitarianism —no one’s morally relevant attribute can be discounted and trade-offs are only permissible based on the morally relevant attributes that count. It is crucial for Counting Moral Egalitarianism that everyone (at least most humans) have the feature that counts (even if they do not have it equally) : this is central to the dispute with Nietzsche as we will see. On deontological views, by contrast, moral egalitarianism is more demanding: trade-offs among humans are forbidden, and one’s rights or interests set a floor below which treatment can never fall. I will call these views Minimal Treatment Moral Egalitarianism . What both views share is that (at least) all humans are equal in a morally relevant respect.

It warms the bottom of their hearts for there to be a standard that makes them the equal of even people who are teeming with all the qualities and privileges of spirit:—they fight for ‘equality of all before God’ and almost need to believe in God for this reason alone. Among them are the strongest opponents of atheism. (BGE 219)
The ‘equality of souls before God,’ this falseness, this pretext for the rancor of everything low-minded, this explosive concept which finally became a revolution, a modern idea, and the principle of the decline of the whole social order—is Christian dynamite. (A 62) 12
Christianity owes its victory to this miserable flattery of personal vanity,—it is precisely the failures, the rebellion-prone, the badly developed, all the rejects and dejects of humanity, that Christianity has won over by these means. ‘Salvation of the soul’—in plain language: ‘the world revolves around me’ … . The poisonous doctrine ‘ equal rights for everyone’—Christianity disseminated this most thoroughly … . Christianity has waged a deadly war on every feeling of respect and distance between people, which is to say the presupposition of every elevation, of every growth of culture,—it has used the ressentiment of the masses as its main weapon against us , against everything on earth that is noble, joyful, magnanimous, against our happiness on earth … . Granting ‘immortality’ to every Tom, Dick, and Harry 13 has been the most enormous and most vicious attempt to assassinate noble humanity. (A 43)

That Nietzsche sees this connection between “the death of God” and moral egalitarianism explains why the “madman” of The Gay Science concludes that the event has not yet been understood: for despite the fact that belief in God is incredible, belief in moral egalitarianism has, during this same time, become more and more widespread. That is central to Nietzsche’s complaint in the Genealogy (GM) that those he derisively calls “free spirits” affirm that, “Leaving the church aside, we, too, love the poison” (GM I:9), i.e., the “poisonous doctrine” of moral egalitarianism (cf. A 43, above). Or as Nietzsche puts it in Beyond Good and Evil : “God ‘the Father’ has been thoroughly refuted … [yet] [i]t seems to me that the religious instinct is indeed growing vigorously—but that it rejects any specifically theistic gratification with profound distrust” (BGE 53). This “religious” instinct does not express itself in terms of a belief in God (which would be a “theistic gratification”), but rather in belief in a kind of Christian morality, in particular moral egalitarianism. As Nietzsche writes in one of his last books, “everyone knows” that God is dead, that, as he says explicitly, “‘free will’ and ‘moral world order’ are lies ” and “ yet everything goes on as before ” (A 38). That, of course, describes our contemporaries, Parfit and Singer, and most contemporary moral philosophers. Most believe that God is dead, and yet believe in free will and morality: in the domain of moral egalitarianism, “everything goes on as before.”

But what precisely is the connection between the nonexistence of God and morality? The connection is partly discursive or inferential: belief in the existence of a certain kind of God appears to justify moral egalitarianism. But it is not only discursive or inferential: it is central to Nietzsche, as it is to David Hume, that reason underdetermines what to believe, such that no beliefs are actually epistemically warranted (see Chapter IV of Leiter [2019 ] for a more detailed discussion). Belief fixation—the psychological fact that someone believes some proposition and will act upon it—must always be explained by reference to some nonrational fact about persons, such as a disposition or a desire (or what Nietzsche often calls an “affect”), that explains the leap from the point where discursive justification runs out and belief fixation sets in. Consider Hume: people observe the constant conjunction of X and Y, but then a brute fact about creatures like us, a natural disposition to view such constant conjunctions as involving the causal necessitation of an effect, explains why we believe that X necessarily causes Y. I take it that Nietzsche’s view about the relationship between the death of God and the demise of morality is similar: it will suffice to establish a relevant connection, for Nietzsche’s purposes, between belief in God and belief in Christian morality that the former stands in some strong but underdetermining justificatory relationship with the latter, with the explanatory gap between the justification and the belief fixation filled in by some other nonrational facts about creatures like us (e.g., that belief in God satisfies our instinctive cruelty, or appeals to our desire to punish, or renders ressentiment meaningful, etc.). If the nonrational factors are fairly stable dispositional characteristics of creatures like us, then the only way, on this psychological scenario, to undermine the belief is to undermine the justificatory element, and that is Nietzsche’s target.

How then might belief in God seem to supply a justification for moral egalitarianism? We need here to start with a brief detour into what is known in contemporary philosophy as the “basis of equality” problem, for the absence of a nontheistic basis for moral egalitarianism helps explain why belief in God is the necessary causal element to bring about belief in egalitarianism. The “basis of equality” problem is this: on what basis, or in virtue of what, is it that all human beings are entitled to equal moral concern? 14 We can remain agnostic on the relevant metric of moral concern (e.g., utility or respect). The debate about the basis of equality problem assumes that there must be some loosely-speaking empirical attribute the possession of which creates an entitlement to (or desert of) equal moral concern. It turns out that no one has an answer to this question, even though moral egalitarianism is now assumed across the spectrum of academic philosophers and political theorists in the capitalist societies. 15

Here is the dilemma that haunts the basis of equality problem: any feature of persons one might identify as justifying their equal treatment is not, in fact, shared equally by persons, thus raising the question how it could justify equality of moral consideration. People differ, for example, in their rationality, their sensitivity to pleasure and pain, and their moral capacities, not to mention, to put it in more banal terms, their intelligence, alertness, and empathy. 16 If what warrants equal moral consideration is reason, sentience, or moral sensitivity, then there is no reason to think humans per se warrant equal moral consideration given how much they differ in these attributes.

[T]he property of being in the interior of the unit circle is a range property of points in the plane. All points inside this circle have this property although their coordinates vary within a certain range. And they equally have this property, since no point interior to a circle is more or less interior to it than any other interior point. (1971, 508) 17
The difficulty with Rawls’s proposal regarding the basis of equality is that no plausible reason is given for regarding the possession of more or less of the Rawls features once one is above the threshold as irrelevant to the determination of one’s moral status. For simplicity, consider just the sense of justice … . This is a steady disposition to conform one’s conduct to what one takes to be basic norms of fairness along with some ability reasonably to identify these fairness norms. But the disposition to be fair obviously admits of degrees; one can be more or less committed to behaving as one thinks fair. And the ability to deliberate about candidate norms of fairness and select the best of them also varies by degree. Offhand the task of specifying some threshold level of these abilities such that further variations in the abilities above the thresholds should have no bearing on moral status looks hopeless. A further clue that something is amiss is that Rawls makes no attempt to specify the relevant threshold. Rawls stipulates that these features of moral personality are range properties. Once one is above the threshold, one is in the range, and no one, whatever his exact levels of the moral personality capacities, is in the range to a greater extent than anyone else with above-threshold levels. But it is not at all clear where one might nonarbitrarily place this threshold such that all beings above it are persons and all beings below are nonpersons. It might be thought problematic that according to a range view, it matters immensely whether one is just above or just below the threshold that marks the line separating persons and nonpersons. This problem arises from conceiving of the threshold line as very thin, so a tiny difference in possession of a capacity makes a disproportionately huge difference to one’s moral status. But one need not conceive the threshold line as very thin. The line separating persons and nonpersons might be very thick, such that below the lower boundary of the line it is clear that beings in this range are not persons and above the upper boundary of the line it is clear that beings in this range do qualify as persons. Beings with rational capacities that fall in the gray area between the upper and lower boundaries are of indeterminate status. My worries then are that even if the line separating persons and nonpersons is taken to be thick, it seems arbitrary where exactly the line is placed, and that above-threshold differences are stipulated not to affect fundamental moral status. 18

Given the absence of real arguments for moral egalitarianism, it should not be surprising that contemporary philosophers betray the flabbiness of their dialectical position when it comes to the problem of basic equality. 21 Ronald Dworkin, for example, says “the best, perhaps the only, argument for the egalitarian principle lies in the implausibility of denying” it. 22 He is echoed by Will Kymlicka who endorses “the idea that each person matters equally is at the heart of all plausible political theories.” 23 Plausibility, like beauty, is usually in the eye of the beholder, absent some further argument—but no such argument is actually in the offing as we have already seen. It certainly seems “plausible” to Nietzsche that the interests of higher human beings—human beings like Goethe and Beethoven, who really did have greater talents and capacities than most people—deserved more weight than the interests of the “herd” of mediocre humanity. His sympathies on this score may be shocking, but it is not clear they involve any cognitive error, as the failure to produce a rational justification for moral egalitarianism might suggest.

There exists a God.

God determines moral value.

All human beings have the following property: an immortal soul bestowed by God.

This soul is the basis of moral equality because God deems it so.

Therefore, all human beings enjoy basic equality.

When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident … . Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one’s hands. (TI “Skirmishes,” 5)

Consider: human beings differ along a multitude of dimensions, from intelligence to beauty, from strength to emotional sensitivity, from artistic talent to athletic acumen, from congeniality to sexual prowess. Why think creatures that differ along so many dimensions, and sometimes differ dramatically, are all entitled to equal moral concern? It is certainly true that antiegalitarianism has acquired a bad reputation precisely because its proponents have reverted to proxies for worth or value—proxies like class or race or gender—that, to put it mildly, fared badly under scrutiny in the sense that they did not end up tracking any characteristics that were in fact actually deemed valuable. (Plenty of White people turned out to be tedious brutes; plenty of Black people turned out to be inspired creative geniuses.) But that does not change the fact that human beings really do differ with respect to all kinds of important attributes , and it simply is not self-evident why these differences would not (or should not) matter to the standing of humans in practical deliberation, in particular, in thinking about how they ought to be treated, in how their interests ought to be weighed.

Egalitarian moral philosophers are all familiar with the Trolley Problem, the problem of when it is permissible to sacrifice one to save five. Many contributors to the literature (largely middle-class and upper-class academics in Western universities) share the intuition that it would be permissible to throw the rail switch so that a runaway trolley hurtling down the tracks towards five individuals, would be diverted on to a track where it would hit only one person. Many of the same participants in the debate feel it would be wrongful, however, to push a “fat man” off a bridge so that he blocks that same trolley hurtling towards five innocents on the track. The puzzle is to explain the difference between the cases, on the assumption that the outcome is the same.

But for a nonegalitarian like Nietzsche, the Trolley Problem is misconceived from the start: for him, the most important question is: who are the five, and who is the one to be sacrificed ? More precisely, an inegalitarian like Nietzsche denies that the features of the five and the one are in any way related to the features that are deemed morally significant by either the Counting Moral Egalitarian or the Minimal Treatment Moral Egalitarian, both of whom find ways to treat humans , or at least most humans , as within the sphere of moral consideration. Consider the “Nietzschean Trolley Problem” (apologies for anachronism): a runaway trolley is hurtling down the tracks towards Beethoven, before he has even written the Eroica symphony (which, of course, he will write if he lives); by throwing a switch, you can divert the trolley so that it runs down five (or fifty) ordinary people, nonentities (say university professors of law or philosophy) of various stripes (“herd animals” in Nietzschean lingo), and Beethoven is saved. 29 For the Nietzschean antiegalitarian, this problem is not a problem: one should of course save a human genius at the expense of many mediocrities. 30 Indeed, for the antiegalitarian, this misstates the conclusion: the interests of the mediocrities do not count at all. To reason that way is, of course, to repudiate moral egalitarianism. Belief in an egalitarian God would thwart that line of reasoning; but absent that belief, what would? 31

The evidence that Nietzsche believes that the “death of God” implicates the “death of morality” is overwhelming. But why does Nietzsche believe that? I have argued that the moral egalitarianism that is central to modern morality cannot be defended on any basis other than the supposition that there is an egalitarian God that invests everyone with equal moral worth. Defenders of morality argue that this aspect of morality can be defended without any theistic assumptions, even though, as I have suggested, moral egalitarianism appears to be nothing more than a legacy of Judaism and Christianity.

Counting against Nietzsche’s skepticism about the ability of morality to survive the death of God is precisely the fact that he calls repeated attention to, namely that, in the domain of moral thought “ everything goes on as before ” (A 38), that is, that the egalitarian moral ideals have expanded their scope rather than receding in the wake of modern atheism (cf. Leiter 2013a ). Of course, the more accurate thing to say is that, for the last 150 years or so , “everything goes on as before.” Might this change in a Nietzschean direction? Of course, it could, and we cannot rule that out. But it counts against Nietzsche’s prediction that the death of God will produce the death of morality that 150 years later, it really is true that “everything [still] goes on as before.” 32

To be sure, to the extent Nietzsche is making a prediction—as when he says “Christianity as dogma perished of its own morality [i.e., the demand to be truthful]; in this manner Christianity as morality must now also perish—we stand at the threshold of this event” (GM III:27) 33 —he presumably is not making a prediction about what the vast “herd” of humanity will come to believe, only about his rightful readers, that elite he imagined were predisposed for his insights—or at least those benighted atheists who have not yet thought clearly about the implications of the death of God. Even if we assume the prediction pertains to the latter, it is still striking that even among atheists , “everything goes on as before” in matters of morality.

That it does so perhaps should not be surprising. The best scholarly evidence suggests that moral attitudes shift in response to changes in the economic and material circumstances in which people live, a thesis defended, in different forms and with different kinds of evidence, by the economist and social theorist Karl Marx, the anthropologist Marvin Harris, and the classical archaeologist Ian Morris. It could turn out that Nietzsche was, as it were, insufficiently naturalistic, ascribing too much causal import to an obviously incredible belief—belief in a supernatural agency called “God”—and not enough to the material circumstances affecting the vast majority. 34 If the paradigmatic failing of Marx was to pay insufficient attention to individual psychology, the paradigmatic failing of Nietzsche, that other giant of nineteenth-century debunking of morality, was to pay insufficient attention to the socioeconomic world. Of course, Marx thought that the eventual collapse of capitalism would fatally undermine theism, and if he is right, then we may yet find out whether Nietzsche is right about what remains of our so-called “moral” beliefs and practices in a nontheistic world. But, ironically from a Marxian point of view, the evidence so far is that where capitalism has triumphed—namely, Europe and North America—theism has declined compared to other parts of the world. 35 (Theism declined in former communist countries that suppressed it by force, but that is less surprising or interesting.) Why that should be true is also not surprising: the rationality of capitalism is the rationality of “what do you want?” and “what is the most efficient way to get what you want?” and until God interferes with the price mechanism, his dominion is bound to shrink—assuming, as seems plausible, that humans want lots of things (wealth, power, glory, sadistic or sexual pleasure, etc.) of which the Judeo-Christian God, at least officially, does not approve. So God is dead, but morality may yet outlive him. 36

As Nietzsche quips (thinking of George Eliot, not Parfit or Singer obviously, but apparently the habit is of longstanding with Anglophone writers): “When the English actually believe that they know ‘intuitively’ what is good and evil, when they therefore suppose that they no longer require Christianity as the guarantee of morality, we merely witness the effects of the dominion of the Christian value judgment and an expression of the strength and depth of this dominion … ” (TI “Skirmishes”: 5). I return to this important passage later.

Indeed, Singer takes it a step further: every creature’s sentience and suffering counts the same.

One irony is that Parfit and his followers like to argue that because secular “moral theory” is a young field, it has not made the kind of progress that would produce convergence of opinion. Yet most fields with factual subject matters have usually managed to make progress, as measured by convergence among researchers, over the course of a century—and especially during the last century, with the rise of research universities. Moral theory is the odd man out, when compared to physics, chemistry, biology, or mathematics. Even psychology, the most epistemically robust of the ‘human’ sciences, managed to make progress: e.g., the repudiation of behaviorism, and the cognitive turn in psychology in just the last fifty years. Even more importantly, the idea that “secular” moral theory is a recent development is implausible—once one recognizes, of course, that contemporary secular moral theory is an heir to Christian sentiments as well. Spinoza, Hume, Mill and Sidgwick (among many others) may not have advertised their secularism, but the idea that their moral theories are for that reason discontinuous with the work of the past hundred years does obvious intellectual violence to the chains of influence of ideas and arguments. It should be particularly striking that so-called “secular” moral theory regularly conceives itself in relation to a history that stretches back in time (sometimes back to the Greeks)—contrast that with the relative youth of modern physics!—so that it becomes unclear why the bogeyman of the deity was supposed to have constituted the insuperable obstacle weighing down intellectual progress. Most contemporary deontologists may be atheists, for example, but it is not obvious that their atheism enabled them to make stunning intellectual progress beyond Kant.

As I argue in Leiter (2015a [especially Chapters III and IV]), MPS has deontological and utilitarian elements, with the wrongfulness of suffering looming large along both dimensions.

In the Nachlass , Nietzsche says Jesuits “weakened and softened the claims of Christianity” as a way of asserting its power (KSA 7:30[33], p. 743). Late in BGE, he again accuses the Jesuits of working towards the “annihilation of the exceptional man” and trying “to break every taut bow or—even better!—“unbend[ing] it … with friendly pity: that is the true art of Jesuitism, which has always known how to introduce itself as a religion of pity” (BGE 206). As will become clear, the role of “friendly pity” is in defending moral egalitarianism. (Thanks to Chris Fowles for guidance on these passages.)

The first mention of “God is dead” in The Gay Science (GS 108) introduces the idea that its import will not be known for a long time: “After Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave … . God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown.—And we—we still have to vanquish his shadow too.” GS 109 then describes these “shadows” as including the supposition that the world reflects “order, arrangement, beauty, wisdom and whatever other names there are for our aesthetic anthropomorphisms”; the supposition that any “of our aesthetic and moral judgments apply to it”; that it has “any instinct for self-preservation”; that “there are laws in nature [when in fact] there are only necessities: there is nobody who commands, nobody who obeys, nobody who trespasses.” The passage concludes: “When will all these shadows of God cease to darken our minds? When will we complete our dedeification of nature? When may we begin to ‘naturalize’ humanity in terms of a pure, newly discovered, newly redeemed nature?”

See, e.g., GS 357: “You see what it was that really triumphed over the Christian god: Christian morality itself, the concept of truthfulness that was understood ever more rigorously, the father confessor’s refinement of the Christian conscience, translated and sublimated into a scientific conscience, into intellectual cleanliness at any price” (see also GM III:27: “the awe-inspiring catastrophe of a two-thousand-year discipline in truth, which in the end forbids itself the lie involved in belief in God ”). In a later work, Nietzsche even says that “[t]he priest knows as well as anyone that there is no ‘God’ any more, that there is no such thing as ‘sin’, or the ‘redeemer’—that ‘free will’ and the ‘moral world order’ are lies —the seriousness, the profound self-overcoming of spirit does not allow people not to know this anymore” (A 38).

The image of the Übermensch is peculiar to Zarathustra , an artifact, in my view, of the rhetorical style of the book as a parody of the New Testament. Elsewhere, Nietzsche’s real concern is with higher human beings, not the “overman.”

See, e.g., Waldron (2002) (although partly an interpretation of Locke, Waldron’s aim is to raise doubts about whether secular political philosophers, like Rawls, have, in fact, justified moral egalitarianism); Taylor (1992) ; Wolterstorff (2009) .

See Leiter 2015b , 38–40.

It is not controversial, at least, among serious scholars, as opposed to superficial appropriators like Stanley Cavell or apologists like Walter Kaufmann. Nietzsche could hardly be clearer: “There is no more poisonous poison anywhere” than “the doctrine of equality” (TI “Skirmishes”: 48).

Cf. A 43: “That as immortal souls, everyone is on the same level as everyone else, that in the commonality of all beings, the ‘salvation’ of each individual lays claim to an eternal significance, that the small-minded and the half-mad can think well of themselves.”

Peter and Paul in the German, but the basic meaning is the same (though the German names have obvious Biblical connotations).

I am already prejudging an issue, since some do not treat species as even relevant to the actual basis of equality, but we should bracket that here, since it will turn out the problem cannot be resolved even with respect to the human species

I owe to Nethanel Lipshitz this understanding of the literature; in his brilliant Ph.D. dissertation, Lipshitz argues that there is a nonempirical answer to the question, one that avoids being question-begging. I bracket the possibility of such an account for purposes of discussion here.

Such differences may not necessarily matter to Counting Moral Egalitarianism, but they will if they are taken to justify a complete discounting of a person’s moral interests, as they seem to in Nietzsche’s case. See the discussion of the Nietzschean Trolley Problem, below.

Note that geometric properties do not seem to involve any thought about desert .

Cf. Arneson’s equally devastating discussion of the Kantian answer (1999, 119–20).

Thanks to Josh Cohen for raising this point.

I should acknowledge, as Manuel Vargas pressed on me in discussion, that there can be epistemic arguments for moral egalitarianism, such as doubts about whether we can really discriminate in the right way between the persons in terms of the treatment they deserve. Such arguments have to concede, however, Nietzsche’s main target, namely, that we have no reason to think of people as morally equal.

I was first helped to see this by an excellent, but still unpublished, paper by N.A.T. Coleman on “Nietzsche and ‘the Negro’: The Challenge of Aristocratic Radicalism.” Coleman confronts head on the nonresponses of philosophers like Dworkin and Kymlicka, though he is primarily concerned with the racialized dimension of antiegalitarian positions in the last century or so.

Dworkin 1983 , 37.

Kymlicka 2002 , 4.

Arneson 2013 .

This is a very important respect, obviously, in which Christianity is not simply “Platonism for the people” (BGE Pref), for Plato’s own doctrine was radically inegalitarian, in a way that has parallels to Nietzsche’s own views, a topic, on which, alas there has been little serious work to date.

The version of the argument in Waldron (2002) , which is attributed to Locke, is different, but as a matter of empirical psychology, it is doubtful the differences matter. The version in Wolterstorff (2009) is a bit closer to the version in the text. Wolterstorff argues that what is crucial is that all human beings are “redemptively loved by God permanently and equally” and that any “creature that stands in this relationship to God, does, on that account, have great worth” (2009, 419). In both cases, the idea that an omnipotent supernatural being values everyone equally is surely more than adequate to produce belief in moral egalitarianism.

The most obvious nonrational part of the argument comes in bringing about belief fixation regarding premise (1).

I am skeptical that the Euthyphro-style objection is successful if it takes seriously the idea of God’s perfection and infinite power, which voluntarist positions usually assume. A perfect and omnipotent God is infallible, and there is no reason to think we imperfect mortals could understand how. (Of course, why anyone should believe the latter nonsense will require nonrational explanation!)

The Trollyologists are after a different target to be sure—namely, why features that seem irrelevant in one case (flipping the switch) seem relevant in another case (pushing the “fat man”)—but that is a purely sectarian dispute, of no interest to antiegalitarians. Egalitarian Trollyologists are not going to endorse the considerations that a Nietzschean might think relevant.

This involves a kind of “counting,” as most forms of consequentialism do, but it is one in terms of attributes that are so unequally distributed as to make a mockery of the idea that such a view treats humans equally.

A rule-utilitarian might object in predictable ways, but rule-utilitarians have to admit that sometimes the rule is defeated by the circumstances of the particular act.

Perhaps Nietzsche thinks that the death of God should lead to loss of faith in morality. But that cannot be Nietzsche’s position, since he thinks no beliefs are rationally warranted. All we learn from any particular instances of belief fixation is something about the believer, his strength or weakness, his health or sickness.

Dergestalt gieng das Christenthum als Dogma zu Grunde, an seiner eignen Moral; dergestalt muss nun auch das Christenthum als Moral noch zu Grunde gehn,—wir stehen an der Schwelle dieses Ereignisses.

There is the further irony that Nietzsche is basically a kind of sentimentalist about moral judgments (see Leiter 2013b) , and given his largely noncognitive view of emotions, it should hardly be surprising that the sentiments underlying moral judgments can easily survive the abandonment of certain putatively factual premises.

On this point see, for example, Norris and Inglehart (2006 , 2011), which do a good job of both presenting data suggestive of a large-scale decline in religiosity in postindustrial societies, and responding to apparent counterexamples sometimes cited to deny this trend (i.e., the atypical stability in reported levels of religious observance in the United States, Italy, and Ireland).

I am grateful to Joshua Fox and Tes Hash for research assistance, and to Nethanel Lipshitz for conversations and writing that have helped me better understand the problem of basic equality. Earlier drafts have benefitted from presentations at Colgate University, Oxford University, Georgia State University, University of California at Berkeley, University of Chicago Law School, and Birkbeck College, University of London. My thanks in particular to Jessica Berry, Joshua Cohen, Manuel Dries, Chris Fowles, Ken Gemes, Leslie Green, Andrew Huddleston, Peter Kail, Niko Kolodny, Chris Kutz, Hallvard Lillehammer, Jonathan Masur, Alexander Prescott-Couch, Avery Snelson, Sheila Sokolowski, Sarah Song, Tom Stern, Kevin Toh, and Manuel Vargas.

References to Nietzsche’s texts are by part (Roman numeral) and section (Arabic numeral), not by pages. I use the standard English-language acronyms: Daybreak (D); The Gay Science (GS); Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Z); Beyond Good and Evil (BGE); On the Genealogy of Morality (GM); Twilight of the Idols (TI); The Antichrist (A). I have consulted a variety of translations, though in many cases have modified them or supplied my own; for that purpose, I rely on the Colli and Montinari standard edition of the Sämtliche Werke: Kritische Studienausgabe in 15 Bänden (KSA).

Arneson Richard 1999 . “What, if Anything, Renders All Humans Morally Equal?” in Peter Singer and His Critics , ed. Jamieson D. , Oxford : Blackwell , 103 – 28 .

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Wolterstorff Nicholas 2009 . “Can Human Rights Survive Secularization?” Villanova Law Review 54 : 411 – 20 .

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The death of God and its consequences for the practice of philosophy

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Patrick Roney

The aim of this essay is to reflect on the implications of the thought of the death of God with a view to two related themes. The first has to do with the a-teleological interpretation of Being and the world as a result of the collapse of the transcendent realm which heretofore had given a meaning to life. The death of God implies that no finality can be ascribed to either the world or human action. The investigation of this theme necessitates examining one of Nietzsche’s central doctrines, the Eternal Recurrence of the Same. It has long been considered to be the most puzzling idea in Nietzsche’s corpus, to which he himself offered no thorough explanation but simply referred to it obliquely as his “most abysmal thought.” The second theme to be discussed is the nature and the task of thinking after the death of God and its relation to suffering. The a-teoleological interpretation of life implies that reason and the good no longer guarantee one another, and that thinking cannot justif...

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During his late period, Nietzsche is particularly concerned with the value that mankind attributes to truth. In dealing with that topic, Nietzsche is not primarly interested in the metaphysical disputes on truth, but rather in the effects that the "will to truth" has on the human being. In fact, he argues that the "faith in a value as such of truth" influenced Western culture and started the anthropological degeneration of the human type that characterizes European morality. To call into question the value of truth is therefore necessary, if one wants to help mankind to find her way in the labyrinth of nihilism. In this new addition to Nietzsche scholarship, Gori explores the origin and aim of the philosopher's late perspectival thought by merging the theoretical with the historical approach, with a special focus on the epistemological debate that influenced Nietzsche. As a result, the book provides a contextual reading of the issue that supports the idea that Nietzsche’s attitude in addressing the problem of truth is, in a broad sense, pragmatic.

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  1. PDF The Meaning of Nietzsche's Death of God

    God's death as a passing away of the divine being in a manner similar to human passing.3 Neither should Nietzsche's proclamation be seen as a more grandiose way of expressing unbelief. "'God is dead,'" writes Stephen Williams, "is not a rhetorical way of saying 'God does not exist'" (Williams 97).

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    Belief in God hinders greatness. God is dead, Nietzsche says, and advancing humanity requires defeating the vestiges of God found in traditional morality and moral equality. 3. Evaluating Nietzsche's Critique. Nietzsche is not merely atheist. He is anti-theist. Belief in God stifles flourishing.

  3. God is dead

    "God is dead" (German: Gott ist tot ⓘ; also known as the death of God) is a statement made by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.The first instance of this statement in Nietzsche's writings is in his 1882 The Gay Science, where it appears three times. The phrase also appears at the beginning of Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra.. The meaning of this statement is that since, as ...

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    This article explains what Nietzsche really meant by the oft-misunderstood statement. "G od is dead," the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously declares in his 1882 work, The Gay Science: "God remains dead. And we have killed him.". By these words, Nietzsche does not so much mean that atheism is true — indeed, in the passage ...

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    February 28, 2024 Joe Buckley. Friedrich Nietzsche's bold assertion "God is dead, and we have killed him" stands as one of the most iconic and provocative statements in the history of philosophy. This declaration, found in Nietzsche's work "The Gay Science," captures a momentous shift in Western culture and thought.

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    ABSTRACT. Nietzsche famously proclaimed the "death of God," but in so doing it was not God's death that was really notable—Nietzsche assumes that most reflective, modern readers realize that "the belief in the Christian god has become unbelievable" (GS 343)—but the implications of that belief becoming unbelievable, namely, "how ...

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    The Death of God and the God of Life. Nietzsche's account of the death of God is most famously set forth in parable form in The Gay Science. The parable recounts the story of a madman who runs into a marketplace and calls out "unceasingly: 'I seek God! I seek God!'" 3 Those in the marketplace are not "believers.".

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    Semantic Scholar extracted view of "The Meaning of Nietzsche ' s Death of God" by Kevin L. Cole

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    The Death of God Friedrich Nietzsche Aph. 125 The madman.—Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!"—As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much

  11. God Is Dead: the Phrase Associated With Nietzsche

    An explanation of this famous bit of philosophical graffiti. "God is dead!". In German, Gott ist tot! This is the phrase that more than any other is associated with Nietzsche. Yet there is an irony here since Nietzsche was not the first to come up with this expression. The German writer Heinrich Heine (who Nietzsche admired) said it first.

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    Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for." (Viktor Frankl) Nietzsche announces the death of god in a famous aphorism in his book The Gay Science, called The Madman. In this passage he tells a tale of a madman who runs out onto the street screeching "I seek God! I seek God!".

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    2020 •. Krzysztof Skonieczny. This chapter provides a reevaluation of Nietzsche's atheism in response to Rüdiger Safranski's thesis that the prevalence of scientific naturalism in Nietzsche's time made his announcement that "God is dead" the equivalent of "braking down barriers that no longer existed". Skonieczny distinguishes ...

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    What for Nietzsche is the meaning of " The Death of God ". John Warren Antalika. Although Nietzsche is widely known, yet he is one who is not highly revered, especially in the religious circles, Christianity in particular. A read of the beginning statement may explain why. His declaration that God is dead has caused decades of confusion over ...

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    1. 12. Nietzsche's Death of God. Tom Grimwood. While Nietzsche resists easy logical formulation, the significance of his. critique of the ideas of truth and morality in western philosophy makes ...

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    With "the death of God" as his starting point, Fritzsche selected and translated documents from the full range of Nietzsche's explosive writings to expose readers to key ideas he developed. His bold concepts ignited reactions in his time and continue to energize and shape worldviews. Selections include Nietzsche's thoughts on such topics as how ...

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