Nietzsche, Nihilism and the Death of God
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche while producing many works, consistently wrote on five main concepts: nihilism; revaluation of values; will to power; the eternal return; and the overman. Yet all these concepts stem from another concept which was not previously mentioned and is possibly what Nietzsche is most well known for. Even those who can merely utter Nietzsche’s name can usually tie it to the proclamation of the death of God. This essay aims to focus not on Nietzsche the man, but his concepts of nihilism and the death of god with reference to Nietzsche’s works themselves as well as input from secondary sources, on Nietzsche and his philosophy. However neither of these concepts can be fully explained without delving into the other major concepts in Nietzsche’s philosophy of nihilism, revaluation of values, will to power, the eternal return and the overman. The ways in which these concepts all link to the death of God will be discussed throughout this essay, so as to further explain the condition of nihilism. Firstly the concept of the death of God, in Nietzsche’s philosophy is key to explaining nihilism. The death of God was proclaimed by Nietzsche in The Gay Science (1974), through a parable entitled The Madman, in which two main points are evident. The Madman in an early morning market place states to his audience “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him” (Nietzsche, in Van Tongeren 2000, p. 279). The key point, from which a question can be raised, is how did we (human kind) kill god? Walter Kaufmann (in Solomon, p. 10) believed that human kind killed God by losing faith in God, by falling into a void in which humankinds dignity and values are lost. That is to say, that human kind no longer is governed by God and no longer fears his rapture; all rules laid down by God are no longer adhered to by mankind (Heidegger 1979, p. 4). From this we can understand the death of god as the cause of nihilism, as nihilism is when the highest of values are devalued (Goudsblom 1980, p. 11). That is to say that all values in place to the advent of the death of god, must be re-valued, thus beginning the onset of nihilism. The other key point in the madman parable is that the madman also states “I come too early … my time has not come yet” (Nietzsche, in Van Tongeren 2000, p. 279), which indicates that the message of the death of God failed because it was delivered to an audience who did not believe in God (Van Tongeren 2000, p. 283). Therefore the key problem with the death of God is that human kind did “not understand or admit” (Van Tongeren 2000, p. 285) what this meant. Nietzsche provided, for those willing to accept the death of God, a path by which to live. Nihilism was for Nietzsche a response to the death of God. For when the previous way of life had become redundant, and new way of life had to be made, nihilism. Yet Nietzsche said that prior to this there was the first instance in which the values by which humankind lived by were to be shaken, outlined in On the Genealogy of Morals (1887) Essays. In the beginning, mankind found itself divided into the high and low classes. The higher class consisted of those that had power namely the priests or high religious officials. These priests felt a sense of superiority, which was justified by the fact that they were indeed superior and highly ranked clergymen. This sense of superiority Nietzsche called the pathos of distance in which they became alienated from the low. Through this feeling what was considered good and bad gained its meaning, that which was associated with the priests was good and that which was associated with the lower class was bad. The lower class, from this situation, began to have growing resentment of those in the higher class. The ideas of what was good and bad reversed and the low became pious and the high became impious. From this change came the slave morality, where the low were good and the...
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