Nietzsche can hardly be called a
consistent or exhaustive thinker. His aphoristic approach leant itself to
a philosophy that asked more questions and attempted to demolish more
traditions than it offered anything like a systemic answer. Indeed,
Nietzsche himself saw his various works and stages as “masks” that
were taken away as he advanced in his great reversal of the Classical
Western and Judeo-Christian traditions. Nonetheless, it is possible to
isolate his key ideas. As you read the selections from Thus Spoke
Zarathustra, ask yourself how his protagonist anti-sage embodies and
gives voice to these various conceptions:
is Dead”—Nietzsche by this did not mean that God had ever existed, but
rather that the divine in any form is a human idea, one increasingly
disappearing with the rise of modern science and cosmopolitanism. He
saw the God-concept as one ultimately hostile to life as it could be
lived. This is not to say that Nietzsche was entirely happy with this
change. On the one hand, he prophesied a coming nihilistic culture
that would follow from the West’s loss of its traditional
metaphysics and ethics. On the other hand, he urged that new systems
of values could be forged in the future once the old theism was
saw these as two principles always existent in life. Dionysus
represents the life-giving dynamism of life, one charged with an
erotic and bodily energy able to create beauty and revitalize tired
social conditions. Yet this force was also chaotic, destructive, and
violent. Apollo, its opposite, represents the “principle of
individuation,” the control of life’s dynamism giving it order and
restoration. This force is able to harness the Dionysian energy to
create works of art. It is the symbiosis of these two that makes the
best culture in Nietzsche’s mind, for true aesthetics needs
Dionysian energy with Apollonian restraint.
these as two moralities that always exist in tandem, sometimes even in
the same person, though giving rise to the two classes of
humanity-masters and slaves. Master morality is that which renews life
through its high creativity, its energy, force, and hardness. It has
the potential to determine new systems of values and human purpose.
Slave morality, on the other hand, is the morality of the “herd,”
the mass of mediocrity which suffers greatly, and therefore, enshrines
those values that lessen its suffering—kindness, patience, pity,
- Resentment—This is the often psychologically unacknowledged desire for
vengeance of the slave classes against their masters that expresses
itself in a religion of damnation and divine justice, a system that is
held an especially strong hatred of Christianity, ironic perhaps since
he was the son and grandson of ministers. He saw Christianity as
embodying the worst in slave morality, a joyless religion that denies
the value of life, the body, instinct, the passions, and beauty. He
saw it as a faith that denied itself this life for a non-existent life
to come. Ultimately, belief such as this is decadent and mad.
as Perpetual Fiction—Nietzsche
held that all claims to truth were in fact only fictions imposed on
the universe. There is no uniform or universal system of ethics.
Instead, all claims to knowledge are instruments of power that impose
order on reality, giving it shape and understandability. All
“truth” is interpretation crafted for the ends of power.
- Transvaluation—“Beyond good and evil” as he called it. If all truth is
fictional power plays, then “good” and “evil” are but names
imposed by humans to map reality; therefore, new values can be created
in the future. Human nature is ever plastic, so we may reimagine the
past and reinvent what is to come.
to Power—By the will to power, Nietzsche meant a description of the world
as it is, not a metaphysic of what should be. The will to power
underlies everything that humans do and can explain why they do it.
Willing itself becomes the basis for valuation. Life is ultimately not
a question of “good” or “evil” but the form that aesthetics
can give all of life. Tragedy is an aesthetic category not a moral
one; suffering is given form, not dismissed as imperfect.
as Fiction—Not only are
truths and ethics fictional willed constructions that order life’s
chaotic energy, so are conceptions of self and the ego. They are
convenient masks that explain our bodies’ needs and desires.
expression of transcending life, the next stage in our evolutionary
development. The overman rises above the herd, both politically and
aesthetically—a sort of merger of Napoleon and of Goethe.
both fascinated and horrified at the idea that nothing is new in
life--that existence moves in gigantic, perpetual cycles. Thus, even
the overman is but a part of the great circle of life. He,
nevertheless, held hope that this idea preserved some since of
continuity in life, gave some Being to an otherwise perpetual
Becoming, and offered something like God without any hint of the
Questions for Thus Spoke Zarathustra
The Three Metamorphoses: What are the three metamorphoses and what do they
reveal about the creation of values according to Nietzsche?
On the Teachers of Virtue: Why
is the teaching of the sages really about the virtue of sleep?
On the Afterworldly: How does Nietzsche propose to answer the problem of
evil? What is the purpose of the new will and the new ego?
On the Despisers of the Body: What is the body’s role and relationship
to the self?
On Enjoying and Suffering the Passions: Hoe does he redefine evil and the
On the Preachers of Death: What is wrong with those who preach
On the Friend: What keeps hermits, slaves, tyrants, and women from not
being able to be friends?
On the Thousand and One Goals: How have different values expressed
themselves in different eras?
On the Love of the Neighbor: What motives underlie the love of one’s
On the Way of the Creator: What separates the “lonely one” from the
masses? What kind of ethic results from such a one?
On Little Old and Young Women: What is the narrator’s view of women?
On the Adder’s Bite: How does this passage reverse the Sermon on the
Mount of Jesus?
On the Gift-Giving Virtue: What are the two kinds of selfishness? How do
they relate to bodily existence?
Book II selections
Upon the Blessed Isles: What is Zarathustra's view of God? How does he
compare it with willing?
On the Pitying: What is the problem with pity in his view?
On Priests: What is wrong with the Redeemer and the churches of Christianity?
(II.5) On the Virtuous: What is the origin of virtue and where is it
On Self-Overcoming: What is the relationship of self-obedience and the
will to power?
On Those Who Are Sublime: Why is sublimity ugly? How do you describe the
beauty of rulers?
On the Land of Education: Why does he condemn education as hiding in the
On Scholars: What does he see as wrong with the scholarly way of learning?
The Soothsayer: What do you think Zarathustra's dream means?
On Redemption: What are "inverse cripples"? How does redemption
differ from the preachers of madness?
Book III selections
The Wanderer: How does one go about the journey to greatness? What are its
Before Sunrise: Why is an accidental cosmos a blessing?
On Virtue That Makes Small: How would you characterize small virtue?
Moderation? Comfort? Self-love?
On Apostates: Why is praying a disgrace? What is his view of the
Judeo-Christian Father God?
On the Three Evils: What are the three evils, and does he embrace each
On Old & New Tablets: This section functions as a summary of his key
ideas: Try identifying the key concept in each subsection.
Retired: Why is the last pope more godless than Zarathustra? What is
Zarathustra’s view of the incarnation and crucifixion of Christ?
The Ugliest Man: Why is he the murderer of God? What is his view of Christ
and his pity?
The Welcome: Why does Zarathustra resist their veneration?
The Last Supper: How does this scene function as a parody of communion?
On the Higher Man: Why does he recommend evil, unclean birth, laughter,
The Awakening: Describe their prayer to the ass? How does it mock
The Ass Festival: Why does Zarathustra come to accept their new form of
The Drunken Song: How does the midnight hour with its celebration of death
and eternal recurrence function as an apocalypse?
The Sign: What is Zarathustra’s “final sin”? Why is it significant?