If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

The Good Life: Nietzsche

Chris Surprenant (University of New Orleans) discusses the account of human well-being and the good life presented by Friedrich Nietzsche in his moral, political, and religious writings. He explains why Neitzsche believes that living a full human life requires rational reflection and taking a cautious attitude toward conventional moral categories. JP Messina (UC San Diego) assisted in the production of content for this video.

Speaker: Dr. Chris Surprenant, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of New Orleans.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

I'm Chris Harper nan and I teach in the Department of Philosophy at the University of New Orleans this video is part of my series on human well-being and the good life and it examines Friedrich Nietzsche's attitude towards conventional views of how individuals believe they ought to live as expressed in his moral and religious writings Nietzsche is best known for his proclamation that God is dead although he does not explicate this claim in any great detail and its significance to his philosophical position remains uncertain it is clear that he believes this metaphorical death of God the Christian God in particular allows us the possibility of living more meaningful and fulfilling lives examining the conditions of this possibility is one of Nietzsche's primary concerns in his discussion of morality although Nietzsche takes a critical attitude towards morality and often proudly describes himself as an immoral list he also emphasizes the need for a revaluation of values and a critical examination of the value of morality itself in this way he is able to distinguish discussion of conventional morality such as the judeo-christian ethic of which he was a forceful critic from broader philosophical questions concerning value and the nature of human flourishing Nietzsche appears to be deeply concerned with these questions of value and believes that the conventional moral frameworks do not address them satisfactorily for example he criticizes traditional moral frameworks for the importance they place on a Cetus ism or the belief that self-denial is at the root of praiseworthy behavior he claims that acidic morality is like those advanced by Plato Conte and the church encourage individuals to see their desires and passions as things to be overcome and extirpated from our lives if we are to live well or attain salvation these moral frameworks embrace values like equality compassion and self-sacrifice at the expense of excellence individual development and nobility and as a result they are life denying they encourage leveling down and suppressing human greatness in order to uphold democratic values and making life better for everyone and in doing so they express hostility towards life and what it means to live well instead Nietzsche argues the values associated with human flourishing must be life-affirming compassion and self-sacrifice are out excellence and individual development are in while compassion and self-sacrifice may benefit people in the short term by helping to relieve their suffering Nietzsche claims that the dominance of these life denying values leads us to neglect the degree to which suffering and struggle are necessary conditions of individual development and human excellence but while Nietzsche associates human flourishing with life-affirming values he is also cautious to avoid giving the impression that he means to prescribe a course of action or set of values as being appropriate for all individuals this reluctance to issue universal prescriptions may be best explained by the fact that Nietzsche's skepticism extends beyond particular questions about morality and to more general questions about knowledge and our ability to escape our own perspectives Nietzsche is not looking for followers nor is he concerned to develop a theory of morality or what it means for a human being to live well instead his writing attempts to disrupt old conceptual schemes he wants to encourage individuals to think for themselves about what matters beyond the confines of conventional categories of good and evil and to encourage them to structure their lives and the societies in which they live accordingly this emphasis on self-reflection reaches its pitch and a criterion Nietzsche cites as the measure of human greatness amor fati or love of one's fate for persons who succeed in loving his fate he must look back on all of his experiences the suffering and the hardship as well as the success and to want nothing to be different and to recognize that in some sense its we could not have been different sometimes Nietzsche suggests that it is only when a person is capable of taking this attitude toward his personal history that he has lived a truly meaningful life but other times he seems to raise doubts that taking this sort of attitude as possible whatever we think about the possibility of wholly affirming one's past Nietzsche's constant approval of the aspiration to do so makes clear the extent to which living a full human life requires individual reflection and taking a cautious attitude towards conventional moral categories you