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Nietzsche and Sartre Nietzsche on Teleology Nietzsche’s Critique of Christianity Sartre on Human Nature Thick vs. Thin Conceptions of Nature Nietzsche Nietzshe, Plato and Aristotle Natural vs. Supernatural Values Nietzsche’s Critique of Faith, Hope & Love

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Nietzsche and Sartre

Nietzsche on Teleology

Nietzsche’s Critique of Christianity

Sartre on Human Nature

Thick vs. Thin Conceptions of Nature

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  • Nietzshe, Plato and Aristotle

  • Natural vs. Supernatural Values

  • Nietzsche’s Critique of Faith, Hope & Love

  • An Evaluation of Nietzsche’s Critique

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Nietzsche, Plato and Aristotle

Teleology in Nietzsche

  • Nietzsche, like Plato and Aristotle, has a teleological conception of human nature.

  • The final cause, natural end = a complete life, lived according to instinct & natural wisdom

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Evidences of teleology

1. Contrast between health and sickness, advancing life and decadence.

  • Applied to our mental, spiritual life, as well as to ordinary physiology.

  • Compare Plato's use of the same metaphor in the Gorgias.

    2. Human life is guided by instincts, drives, whose purpose is to move us toward a complete, fully human existence.

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Nietzsche on the Classical Virtues

  • The word virtue in Greek (arete) and Latin has a meaning that isn't limited to morality. Any kind of strength or competency (like intelligence, wit, strength, endurance) would count as a "virtue".

  • Moral virtues are those virtues that concern one's character, one's capacity for rational choice and action.

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Seven "cardinal virtues"


  • Courage

  • Temperance (self-control, moderation)

  • Practical wisdom (prudence)

  • Justice


  • Faith

  • Hope

  • Love (charity)

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Nietzsche’s Attitude

  • Nietzsche says nothing against the natural virtues. In fact, he repeatedly affirms them.

    • Example: N.'s attitude toward marriage (p. 104). The essence of marriage is the indissoluble bond between man & woman.

  • His attack is restricted to the supernatural (Christian) virtues.

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Faith, Hope & Charity

  • Faith = unreason, dogmatism

  • Hope = other-worldiness, denial of senses, body

  • Love = equality, pity, rejection of distinction, hierarchy & authority

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  • N. sees the discipline of faith as being destructive of reason & science.

  • Trains us to believe things we cannot verify or understand.

  • The scientific mind is based in doubt, in independence from tradition and authority.

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  • The hope for eternal life causes a devaluation of this life.

  • Necessarily results in hostility to pleasure, especially sexual pleasure.

  • The fiction of eternal life is rooted in a hatred of the actual world.

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Consequences of Otherworldiness

Health and earthly life are denied, denigrated:

  • Deny yourself

  • Take up your cross

  • Crucify the flesh and its desires

  • If your eye offends you, pluck it out

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  • Unconditional, universal love obliterates all distinctions. Nullifies all principles of selectivity: "integrity, intelligence, manliness, pride, beauty and liberality of heart"

  • This leads to the political ideals of democracy and equality, by which the strong are hobbled by the masses.

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  • Pity enables the weak and sickly to survive, and makes their weakness contagious.

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The concept of "power" in Nietzsche

  • Not simply identical to political power, or the domination of others

  • Compare the treatment of "true power" in Plato's Gorgias and in Boethius.

  • Power = the capacity to live well.

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Power vs. Political Power

  • Political power is neither necessary nor sufficient for "power":

  • Not necessary: a creative loner can be powerful, even though politics, social life are avoided.

  • Not sufficient: a politician who rules by being inoffensive, likeable, demogoguic can be lacking in true power.

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Power in Politics

  • However, power can be exercised in the political sphere.

  • When it is, the powerful human will be realistic, cunning, masterful, authoritative.

  • Like Machiavelli's ideal prince.

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Evaluation of Nietzsche's Critique

  • G. K. Chesterton: Christian values are attacked for opposite reasons.

  • E.g., Nietzsche vs. post-modern multiculturalist.

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  • Christians have been extreme rationalists, extreme irrationalists, and everything in between.

  • Rationalism: Aquinas, Leibniz

  • Those who emphasize the tensions between faith and reason:

    • Tertullian, Luther, Kierkegaard.

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Faith vs. Reason

  • Even in Tertullian & Luther, reason is encouraged as good in itself, bad only when in conflict with faith.

  • Kierkegaard: faith presupposes a vigorous, active reason, and does not damage it.

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Hope & This World

  • Again, we find a broad spectrum.

  • Some extreme asceticism: desert fathers in Egypt.

  • For the most part: moderation.

  • Example: the Song of Songs, a poetic celebration of physical love in Bible.

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Does hope for eternity necessarily devalue this life?

  • Kierkegaard argued that the opposite is true.

  • The double movement of faith: first away from this world, and then back to it.

  • Everything we do takes on infinite significance because done coram Dei (in the presence of, and for the glory of, God).

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Eternity vs. Eternal Recurrence

  • Without hope for eternity, this world becomes meaningless, insignificant.

  • Nietzsche recognized this problem, and tried to cope with it through his myth of eternal recurrence.

  • Everything that happens will happen over and over again infinitely often. So, your actions take on infinite significance.

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Problem for Eternal Recurrence

  • But -- the path not taken now will presumably be taken infinitely often also -- so everything is leveled out.

  • It doesn’t matter which path I choose this time -- they will all be chosen infinitely often.

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Love & Inequality

  • Mainstream Christian theology seeks to maintain both an ultimate equality and a provisional, this-worldly inequality.

  • All humans are of equal (infinite) value, but we have unequal functions and status in this world.

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Slavery & Christianity

  • This is why slavery was a difficult and disputed question.

  • Had it been readily justified and accepted, the post-modernists would have been right.

  • Had it been universally and immediately repealed, Nietzsche would have been right.

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Is compassion for the weak (pity) necessarily destructive of health and strength?

  • Suppose compassion is combined with a demand for responsibility and self-development?

  • What if a duty of gratitude and reciprocity is recognized?

  • “Love your enemies,” but “Don’t throw your pearls before swine”

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Sartre on Human Nature health and strength?

  • There is an apparent inconsistency in Sartre.

  • On one hand, he says that there is no such thing as human nature or a human essence, and consequently there are no "a priori" values.

  • That is, there exist no values prior to our choice of a "configuration" for our life.

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Universal value? health and strength?

  • On the other hand, Sartre affirms the existence of a universal human condition, and he derives from this condition a number of universal, a priori values:

    • 1. Truth/rationality/honesty. (p. 44) These are not "moral" values, but they clearly involve a value judgment.

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Universal values, cont. health and strength?

  • 2. Responsibility/ethical consistency. The Golden Rule

  • If we claim rights for ourselves that we do not acknowledge for others, we suffer an "uneasy conscience".

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More universal values health and strength?

  • 3. Freedom. (p. 46)

    "...he can no longer want but one thing, and that is freedom, as the basis of all values."

    "I am obliged to want others to have freedom at the same time I want my own freedom."

  • Freedom plays the role for Sartre that eudaemonia plays for Aristotle, or the Tao for Lewis.

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Universal values health and strength?

  • 4. Unity, harmony, correspondence to reality. (pp. 42-43; the analogy to art)

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Absurdity of Self-Creation health and strength?

In addition, the radical negation of human nature is absurd:

Nothing can create itself from nothingness: to create anything, the self must already exist. Hence, the self cannot create itself.

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How to Interpret Sartre? health and strength?

  • Most charitable interpretation is to take the earlier, negative statements as hyperbole (intentional exaggeration for effect).

  • We have a human nature, and that human nature is the basis for value.

  • What, then, is Sartre rejecting?

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Thick vs. Thin Conceptions of Human Nature health and strength?

  • Key: story of the young man and the Resistance

  • Thick conception of human nature (Aristotle): we can find a definite answer, by consulting human nature and the young man's concrete situation.

  • Which action will in fact most fully realize that nature?

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A Straw Man? health and strength?

  • Straw man version of this view: we can find a mechanical recipe for doing this.

  • Some eudaemonistic calculating device.

  • This is clearly not Aristotle's position: discerning what to do requires the virtue of prudence or practical wisdom.

  • Practical wisdom cannot be reduced to a set of instructions. It requires the exercising of sound judgment.

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Sartre’s Thin Conception health and strength?

  • What Sartre is clearly rejecting is this thick conception of human nature.

  • Thin conception of human nature: we have a human nature, and it does provide a basis for value, but it also suffers from considerable indeterminacy.

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Implications of the Thin Conception health and strength?

  • There are many questions of value and of decision for which human nature provides no answer.

  • We can partially define ourselves: fill in the blank slots in our nature through our own decisions.

  • Human nature itself gives us the capacity and the responsibility of doing so.

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The Young Man and the Resistance health and strength?

  • Sartre is claiming that all the ethical insight and practical wisdom in the world does not suffice to justify a unique solution to the young man's dilemma.

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Sartre vs. Kierkegaard health and strength?

  • Kierkegaard anticipated this problem, and Sartre's solution, in The Sickness Unto Death.

  • According to Kierkegaard, it is precisely dilemmas like the young man's that provide us the opportunity of becoming an individual self.

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Kierkegaard’s Critique of Sartre stamped out by the cookie cutter of human nature, universal ethics. We are different only to the extent that we are defective.

  • The problem lies in the temporality of the self. I change through time, and since my individuality is not yet fully formed, there is an element of caprice, accident and arbitrariness to these changes.

  • I cannot now bind myself in the future.

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Temporality and Eternity must fail.

  • To use the analogy to a work of art: I am like a mural, each part of which is painted by a different artist. The overall work lacks unity, continuity.

  • In contrast, God is eternal, timeless. If I can discern His will for my life, the result will be a life that is simultaneously unified and unique.