Dr. Scott Austin
December 6, 2011
Nietzsche and the Ascetic Ideal
According to Friedrich Nietzsche in his third essay of “On the Genealogy of Morals” the ascetic ideal is nothing more than a false sense of moral codes and boundaries set to fill what would be an otherwise void part of the human mind. Nietzsche believes that any true philosopher will reject the notion of ascetic ideals as a creation of the misguided masses of society. He believed that to make sense of the world around us we must make a set of codes of ethics to create a more simple and easily understood picture of our universe, because we cannot cope with the vast nothingness of reality. However, is there a possibility that the supposedly “created” morality is nothing less than an integral part of who and what we are? Nietzsche’s “Genealogy of Morals” is a call to erase the restraint of these “Ascetic Ideals,” but if we are to remove all our morals and values based on ascetic ideals, what values then can we base our morals on or can there be any morality in a world where these ideals are removed? One of Nietzsche’s main focuses in “The Genealogy of Morals” is the meaning and impact of ascetic ideals and morality on western culture, and what Nietzsche wants to know is what is the reason humanity has created these Ideals? In the previous essays he had assessed what makes something ‘good or bad’ and the cause of the human ‘conscience’, determining that both were merely concepts brought about by ones culture. He wants to know what it is that developed this ideology in our cultures, and of course he gets his answer in the Ascetic Ideals. To understand what it is Nietzsche wants and why it is he believes that it is so important we must first know what he is talking about in the first place. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary “ascetic” is defined as, “Practicing strict self-denial as a measure of personal and especially spiritual discipline.”(Webster) So an “ascetic ideal” refers to a set of personal rules and boundaries set up by that persons set of personal beliefs. Nietzsche puts it as, “something like an instinctive sense for the preconditions favorable to a higher spirituality.” (Nietzsche 77) “The Genealogy of Morals” was written during a time of great change throughout the western world. With the recent inventions of widespread electricity and the telephone, and the widespread use of the steam locomotive and telegraph, the world was becoming smaller. Industrialization had brought more attention to the importance of science and technology and had also belittled the church and its once dominant part in the world. (Montagna) Nietzsche believed that science had effectively killed god, in that we no longer required a set of morals based on a “god” figure. Nietzsche wanted to completely remove any precursors of morals derived from, what he considered nothingness [god]. Nietzsche does not hesitate to divulge into what he perceives to be the problems of “ascetic ideals” spending a majority of his third essay completely on describing why it is the “ascetic ideal” is so corrupt. Nietzsche list’s several specific impacts the ascetic ideal has had on Western culture including the destruction of: our minds, our health, and our self-confidence. He believed that because of the limits and boundaries set upon us by our society we have been constrained and thus have lost confidence in ourselves and our abilities saying, “there is reason enough […] for our inability […] to shake off a degree of mistrust towards ourselves… we are still the victims […] of this moralized taste of the time.” (Nietzsche 116) Though it has diminished in the western world since Nietzsche died, the effect that ascetic ideals can have on health is still very visible in the poorer countries of the world where religion and medicine are often synonymous, relying on faith to save them, and throughout history this has had no more effect than to bring up ones hope of a...