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This is a previous version of the paper sent to the editor.

For quotations please refer to the published version:

Paolo Stellino, Nietzsche on Suicide, Nietzsche-Studien, 42 (2013), pp. 151-177.

PAOLO STELLINO

NIETZSCHE ON SUICIDE

Abstract: Nietzsches view of suicide is a topic which in the last years has been the focus of works such
as Julian Youngs and Paul S. Loebs. Within this context, this paper seeks to add new elements to the
discussion. To this purpose, Nietzsches attitude to suicide will be explored from two different points of
view. The first part of the paper focuses on the distinction between voluntary (free) and involuntary
(natural) death. Nietzsches appraisal of both will be scrutinized. In particular, through the comparison
with the Classical and, especially, Stoic philosophy and through the critique of the religious (particularly
Christian) conception of death, it will be shown, among other things, that Nietzsche defends the
rationality of suicide, presents a view of voluntary death as emptied of morality and fights against the
Christian denaturalization of suicide. In the second part of the paper, suicide will be considered from a
philosophical-existentialist viewpoint, that is, as a possible consequence of the meaninglessness of human
existence. The problem is to judge whether life is or is not worth living in a world devoid of meaning and
purpose. Nietzsches attitude to suicide will be analyzed in a chronological way (early, middle and late
Nietzsche). Special attention will be given to the role played by art. The relevant conclusion is that,
although in different ways, Nietzsche gives an affirmative answer to the question whether life is worth
living in a world devoid of meaning and purpose.
Keywords: Suicide, free death, quick death, emptied of morality, denaturalization, meaninglessness, art.

Zusammenfassung: Nietzsches Sicht des Suizids ist ein Thema, das in den letzten Jahren im Focus von
Forschern wie Julian Young und Paul S. Loeb stand. In diesem Kontext will die Abhandlung neue Punkte
zur Diskussion stellen. Zu diesem Zweck wird Nietzsches Haltung zum Suizid unter zwei
unterschiedlichen Gesichtspunkten betrachtet: Im ersten Teil wird die Unterscheidung zwischen
freiwilligem (freiem) und unfreiwilligem (natrlichem) Tod ins Auge gefasst und Nietzsches Bewertung
beider untersucht. In einem Vergleich mit der klassischen und vor allem stoischen Philosophie und
anhand der Kritik der religisen (vor allem christlichen) Auffassung des Tods wird insbesondere (u.a.)
gezeigt, dass Nietzsche die Rationalitt des Suizids verteidigt, eine Sicht des freiwilligen Tods als
entmoralisierte prsentiert und sich gegen die christliche Entnatrlichung des Suizids wendet. Im zweiten
Teil wird der Suizid aus einem philosophisch-existentialistischen Gesichtspunkt betrachtet und zwar als
mgliche Konsequenz der Sinnlosigkeit des menschlichen Daseins. Das Problem dabei ist zu beurteilen,

1
ob das Leben in einer sinn- und zwecklosen Welt zu leben wert ist oder nicht. Nietzsches Haltung zum
Suizid wird chronologisch (beim frhen, mittleren und spten Nietzsche) untersucht. Besondere
Aufmerksamkeit wird der Rolle der Kunst geschenkt. Das Ergebnis ist, dass Nietzsche obwohl in
verschiedener Weise die genannte Frage, ob es sich lohnt, das Leben in einer sinn- und zwecklosen
Welt zu leben, bejaht.
1
Schlagwrter: Suizid, freier Tod, schneller Tod, entmoralisiert, Entnatrlichung, Sinnlosigkeit, Kunst.

Perch mi scerpi? non hai tu spirto di pietade alcuno?Uomini fummo, e or siam fatti sterpi
(Dante, Inferno, XIII, 35-37)2

One of the several and heterogeneous epigrams and interludes, of which the fourth part
of Beyond Good and Evil is made, reads as follows: The thought of suicide is a strong
means of comfort: it helps get us through many an evil night. (BGE 157)3 Some
readers might find this epigram somewhat enigmatic and take it as an isolated thought
on this topic. There is little doubt that they would be mistaken. As a matter of fact,
Nietzsche dealt with the issue of suicide (more or less directly) in several occasions. As
tends to be the case with Nietzsche, in his works we cannot find a methodical approach
to the question at hand, only some remarks and observations which, for the most part,
are not connected to each other. Nevertheless, it is possible to piece together
Nietzsches position on suicide and approach this topic from two different viewpoints.
On the one hand, Nietzsche considers suicide in specific situations as a fully rational

1
This paper is the result of a long-lasting interest for Nietzsches notion of free death. This
interest dates back to my PhD years and was aroused in me by one of my supervisors, Juan Carlos
Siurana Aparisi (director of the Bioethics Research Group of the University of Valencia), to whom I
express my gratitude. At that time my approach focused on the analysis of Nietzsches possible
contribution to the actual debate on euthanasia. The result of my work was presented in two papers: Paolo
Stellino, Eutanasia y autonoma del paciente: la muerte libre nietzscheana, in: Enric Casaban Moya (ed.),
XVI Congrs Valenci de Filosofia, Valencia 2006, pp. 493-506; Paolo Stellino, Nuevas tecnologas y
suicidio asistido. Una perspectiva nietzscheana, in: Joaqun Valdivieso et al. (ed.), Actas del 43 Congreso
de Filsofos Jvenes. Filosofa y Tecnologa(s), Palma de Mallorca 2006 [published in CD-ROM format].
Both papers develop Nietzsches notion of free death, although in a less detailed way than I have done in
the present paper. Some years afterwards I took part to the International Conference Kant & Nietzsche,
held on April 21, 2012, in Lisbon. That conference gave me an opportunity to revisit the work I had done
on Nietzsches free death. The present paper develops the second part of the talk Kant and Nietzsche on
Suicide and Autonomy which I gave on that occasion. I wish to thank all the participants, especially
Mattia Riccardi, for their questions, remarks and suggestions. I am also grateful to the anonymous
reviewers and to Pietro Gori, Maria Joo Branco and Joo Constncio for their helpful comments on the
final draft of this paper. Finally, I wish to thank particularly Andreas Rupschus for his remarks and
advices.
2
Why do you tear me? Do you have no spirit of pity at all? We were men once and have now
become brush. (Dante, Inferno, XIII, 35-37, transl. by Stanley Lombardo)
3
Most of the translations used in this paper are from the Cambridge Edition of Nietzsches works.
However, BT and GM are quoted from Kaufmanns translation, TI from Larges translation. For the
Nachlass, I have used when available either the Cambridge Edition (Writings from the Late
Notebooks) or Kaufmanns and Hollingdales translation of The Will to Power. Posthumous fragments
are however identified with reference to the Colli and Montinari standard edition.

2
and natural act in which the suicide (re)affirms his freedom and will. Accordingly,
Nietzsche criticizes the religious (especially Christian) conception of death and
compares it unfavourably with the attitudes of the ancient Greeks and Romans. On the
other hand, his position on suicide is rather philosophical and if I may say so
existentialist. The background is now the meaninglessness of human existence and the
problem is to judge whether life is or is not worth living in a world devoid of meaning
and purpose. In what follows I will take both these aspects into consideration.4

1. Voluntary and Involuntary Death

In section 80 of Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche poses the following question: Why
should it be more laudable for an old man who senses the decline of his powers to await
his slow exhaustion and dissolution than in full consciousness to set himself a limit?
(HH I 80). A similar question is asked in section 185 of The Wanderer and His Shadow,
whose title is Of Rational Death: What is more rational, to stop the machine when the
work one demands of it has been completed or to let it run on until it stops of its own
accord, that is to say until it is ruined? (HH II, WS 185). As these two questions clearly
show, Nietzsche tackles the problem of suicide from a highly specific point of view:

4
Nietzsches view of suicide is a topic which in the last years has been the focus of works such as
Julian Youngs and Paul S. Loebs (see Julian Young, The Death of God and the Meaning of Life,
London / New York 2003, and Paul S. Loeb, Suicide, Meaning and Redemption, in: Manuel Dries (ed.),
Nietzsche on Time and History, Berlin / New York 2008, pp. 163-190). Both these works have been very
helpful in writing this paper. Youngs book examines the way in which various philosophers (among
others, Schopenhauer and Camus) approached the problem of the meaning of life before and after the
death of God. Three chapters are dedicated to Nietzsche (the early, the later and the posthumous
Nietzsche). Loebs paper develops an analysis of Nietzsches theory of suicide and explores the
connections with Schopenhauers pessimism and Camus The Myth of Sisyphus. My discussion of the
eternal recurrence and the comparison with the myth of Sisyphus is particularly indebted to his
examination of these topics. Also the framework of the second part of my paper is partially indebted to
his, but the methodology I have employed is quite different: indeed as already pointed out in the
abstract in the second part of my paper I approach Nietzsches attitude to suicide in a chronological way
(early, middle and late Nietzsche), giving special attention to the role played by art. In the main, however,
I am not sympathetic to Loebs interpretation of Nietzsches theory of suicide. Indeed, as it will be shown
(see footnote 64), his paper and mine reach diametrically opposed conclusions. Particularly, Loebs
interpretation of the counter-ideal as giving humankind a legitimate reason to die and as offering a
meaning and justification for its suicide (p. 171) seems to me difficult to reconcile with the late
Nietzsches conception of art as the great seduction to life, the great stimulant to life, which opposes
every kind of life-negating will. Loeb has also investigated in detail the topic of Zarathustras free death
in his recent book Paul S. Loeb, The Death of Nietzsches Zarathustra, Cambridge 2010. The approach of
this book is undoubtedly original: rather than focusing on Zarathustras doctrinal aspects, Loeb
emphasizes its narratives aspects which Nietzsche construed so that they would embody and enact his
thought of eternal recurrence. Accordingly, the narrative of Zarathustras life is so conceived as to
display the unconditional and endlessly repeated circular course of Zarathustras life (p. 2). Within this
picture, a particular relevance is given to the doctrine of free death which, according to Loeb, Zarathustra
would himself enact at the end of Part III of Z.

3
that of the old man or, to use the metaphor of the machine, the man who has completed
his task and reached his goal.5 From this viewpoint, a voluntary (freiwillig) death, a
suicide,6 appears to Nietzsche to be a rational choice, a wholly natural and obvious
action, a victory for reason (HH I 80), while an involuntary (natural) death is
considered on the contrary an irrational one, for in this case the annihilation of the
rational being depends on the irrational entity (the body) to which it is tied.7 In this way,
Nietzsche criticizes the boundless and pusillanimous attachment to life shown by those
who lack the strength to get any closer to the actual goal of ones life (HH I 80).
Nietzsche was aware that such a conception of death would sound immoral to
his contemporary audience and could only belong to a future morality. Nonetheless, this
conception was not far removed from that of the Classical World. In Human, All Too
Human Nietzsche himself refers to the reverence that a suicide accomplished by an old
man who senses the decline of his powers would have aroused among the heads of
Greek philosophy and the most upright Roman patriots (HH I 80). 8 Then why did
Nietzsches contemporaries consider voluntary death to be unnatural? Nietzsche held

5
We must keep this clarification in mind if we aim to understand Nietzsches view of suicide.
Indeed, as Hctor Wittwer pointed out, there are different kinds of suicide; they have to be distinguished
depending on the way they are performed, their primary and secondary purposes, the cultural milieu, and
so on (see Hctor Wittwer, Selbstttung als philosophisches Problem. ber die Rationalitt und Moralitt
des Suizids, Paderborn 2003, p. 40). It would therefore be a mistake to ignore the differences in
Nietzsches approach and evaluation of the suicide of, e.g., an old man, a young nihilist, a sick person or a
Christian decadent.
6
In the passage quoted from Human, All Too Human Nietzsche uses the word Selbsttdtung.
However he uses the word Selbstmord much more often, very seldom the word Selbstvernichtung.
The form freier Tod is introduced in the homonymous speech in Zarathustra. For a terminological
analysis of these words, see Wittwer, Selbstttung als philosophisches Problem, pp. 27-29.
7
Nietzsche uses two images to illustrate the irrationality of natural death: the wretched substance
of the husk which determines how long the kernel shall continue to exist, and the stunted sick prison
warder who decides the moment at which the noble prisoner shall die.
8
It is highly plausible that Nietzsche is referring here to the Stoic view of suicide to which his
own position was in fact very similar. Indeed he knew the Stoic philosophy through primary Seneca,
Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Cicero and secondary sources Diogenes Laertius and Plutarch, among
others (see Martha C. Nussbaum, Pity and Mercy. Nietzsches Stoicism, in: Richard Schacht (ed.),
Nietzsche, Genealogy, Morality: Essays on Nietzsches On the Genealogy of Morals, Berkeley 1994, pp.
139-167, p. 149: Nietzsches classical education focused intensively on Stoicism. Among his first
scholarly publications were three studies still valuable of Diogenes Laertiuss Lives of the
Philosophers, one of our major sources for Stoic thought. And the works of Seneca and Epictetus are
among the most heavily read and annotated in his library.). However, it should be remembered that
among ancient philosophers Epicureans, Cynics and Cyrenaics also generally admitted the possibility of
suicide. On Nietzsches confrontation and reception of Stoic philosophy, see, in addition to the study by
Nussbaum, Thomas H. Brobjer, Nietzsches Reading of Epictetus, in: Nietzsche-Studien 32 (2003), pp.
429-434; R. O. Elveton, Nietzsches Stoicism: The Depths Are Inside, in: Paul Bishop (ed.), Nietzsche
and Antiquity. His Reaction and Response to the Classical Tradition, Rochester, NY 2004, pp. 192-203;
Andrea Christian Bertino, Nietzsche und die hellenistische Philosophie. Der bermensch und der Weise,
in: Nietzsche-Studien 36 (2007), pp. 108-143; Barbara Neymeyr, Selbst-Tyrannei und
Bildsulenklte. Nietzsches kritische Auseinandersetzung mit der stoischen Moral, in: Nietzsche-
Studien 38 (2009), pp. 65-92. However, none of these studies tackles the theme of suicide.

4
religions responsible for this view: in fact, as he explains in the section from The
Wanderer and His Shadow mentioned above, in the religious way of thinking it is God
(the higher reason) who gives humans (the lower reason) the command to depart, and
humans have no other choice than to submit to it.9 However, outside a religious
worldview, in Nietzsches opinion men had no reason to glorify natural death or despise
a voluntary one.
Zarathustras speech On Free Death follows the same line of thought as the
one presented in the two sections mentioned, with the difference that this time
Nietzsche explains his own conception of suicide more carefully. As the speechs title
suggests, Nietzsche conceives of voluntary death as a supreme affirmation of freedom
and will in other words, as the occasion to reaffirm them yet again, now for the last
time.10 The formula free for death [zum Tode] and free in death clearly indicates that
suicide represents not only the freedom to die, but that in dying by suicide we assert our
freedom. Indeed, it is by freely choosing the moment of our death free death comes to
me because I want, Zarathustra says that we have the opportunity to affirm the
freedom of our will, a freedom that has nothing to do with that concept of free will
dismissed by Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil ( 21) as pure mythology, but one that
is more akin to the freedom of the sovereign individual from the Genealogy, who is

9
Wittwer explains that the oldest argument against suicide, which the history of philosophy has
handed down to us, is based on the assumption that only God or the Gods can dispose about our life and
death (see Wittwer, Selbstttung als philosophisches Problem, pp. 312-320). One of the most famous
expositions of this argument, which dates back to the Orphic and Pythagorean tradition, can be found in
Platos Phaedo where Socrates argues that the gods are our guardians and that we men are one of their
possessions (Phaedo 62 b). A similar argument can be found also in Kants Lectures on Ethics: Men are
stationed here like sentries, and so we must not leave our posts until relieved by the beneficent hand of
another. He [God] is our proprietor, and we His property, and His providence ensures what is best for us
(Collins, AA vol. 27.1: p. 375; the translations used in this paper are from the Cambridge Edition of
Kants works). Regarding the command from higher reason, to which Nietzsche refers in The Wanderer
and His Shadow, Michael Seidler says the following: to answer the general question of legitimation
facing the potential suicide, some Stoics turned occasionally to the idea of a divine calling which Socrates
had already used as a justification in the Phaedo (62C): it is wrong to leave life, to forsake our post in the
world, unless God calls us (Michael Seidler, Kant and the Stoics on Suicide, in: Journal of the History of
Ideas 44 (1983), pp. 429-453, p. 432). A clear reference to the divine calling can be found in the
following passage from Epictetuss Discourses: And I on my part would say, Friends, wait for God;
when He shall give the signal and release you from this service, then go to Him; but for the present
endure to dwell in this place where He has put you. [...] Wait then, do not depart without reason
(Epictetus, Disc., I, 9, 16).
10
As Georgia Noon has pointed out: Suicide is an intensely private act, yet its social impact is
profound, Georgia Noon, On Suicide, in: Journal of the History of Ideas 39 (1978), pp. 371-386, p. 371.
Nietzsche basically focuses his attention on the private dimension of suicide which he considers as an
individual act involving a personal decision (hence the stress on ones freedom and will). The same
approach will be taken up later by Camus and the existentialist philosophers. However, as will be shown,
Nietzsche also partially takes into consideration the social dimension of suicide, in both its positive aspect
(the free death consecrated as a festival) and negative aspect (the quick death preached to the superfluous
ones).

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liberated again from morality of custom, autonomous and supramoral (GM II 2).11
For Nietzsche the freedom we gain by a voluntary death is multiple. First of all,
it is a freedom over our body the stunted, often sick and thick-witted prison warder
of The Wanderer and His Shadow.12 It is also a freedom over death, or to use a better
expression, over the human, all too human fear of death which is maybe older than
pleasure and pain (Nachlass 1884, 25[399], KSA 11.116) and a European disease
(Nachlass 1884, 25[159], KSA 11.55).13 Moreover, suicide symbolizes liberation from
Christian morality which has traditionally condemned the choice of a voluntary death.14
In this sense, Nietzsche made a double effort: on the one hand, he sought to present a
view of suicide that we may define as emptied of morality (entmoralisiert);15 on the
other hand, he fought against the denaturalization (Entnatrlichung) of voluntary death

11
On the relation between freedom, autonomy and sovereignty in Nietzsche, see Ken Gemes,
Simon May (ed.), Nietzsche on Freedom and Autonomy, Oxford 2009.
12
A clarification has to be made: Nietzsches approval of suicide in the case of old and sick men is
not in contradiction with the high value for life he attached to sickness. The fight against sickness simply
loses its meaning when it becomes a mere desire to carry on existing from day to day (HH I 80).
However, at the same time suicide cannot be a cowards escape from suffering. A passage from Senecas
Letters synthesizes this concept well: I shall not avoid illness by seeking death, as long as the illness is
curable and does not impede my soul. I shall not lay violent hands upon myself just because I am in pain;
for death under such circumstances is defeat (Seneca, Ep. 59, 36).
13
See Karl Jaspers, Nietzsche: An Introduction to the Understanding of His Philosophical
Activity, Baltimore, MA 1997, p. 324: In Nietzsches view, ascendency over death is properly actualized
above all in suicide.
14
Georges Minois explicates that it is Saint Augustine who established the Christian doctrine on
suicide in The City of God, basing himself on the fifth commandment You shall not murder. However,
Minois quotes several cases of suicide described in the Old Testament and notes that: aucun argument
premptoire ne peut tre tir des textes bibliques pour ou contre le suicide. La loi mosaque interdit certes
par le cinquime commandement de tuer, mais rien ne spcifie que cela sapplique sa propre vie, et []
les suicides mentionns dans la Bible ne sont jamais accompagns dune rprobation explicite lgal des
meurtres dautrui (Georges Minois, Histoire du suicide. La socit occidentale face la mort volontaire,
Paris 1995, p. 33). For its part, the New Testament does not deal with the argument directly. The
Churchs position on suicide nonetheless became consolidated and hardened throughout the Middle Ages.
15
One of the reasons why, despite all similarities, Nietzsches view of suicide differs from that of
the Stoics is the profound moral dimension that the Stoics conferred on it. Indeed, for them, suicide
guaranteed the possibility of moral autonomy. As Seidler puts it: It is important to realize [...] that
suicide in Stoicism is not only a freedom from but also (even primarily) a freedom for. The man for
whom suicide is a genuine option, in William Jamess terminology, is at liberty to be what he wants to be
(or what he believes he ought to be), and this precisely because he is free from any sort of external
compulsion or manipulation. He can always choose to die rather than to compromise the integrity of his
character and the consistency of his principles (Seidler, Kant and the Stoics on Suicide, p. 436). It was
precisely for this reason that even if Kant did not permit suicide, he nonetheless recognized that there was
something moral in the Stoic freedom to dispose of ones life, for anyone who has the power to depart
from the world when he pleases need be subject to nobody (Collins, AA vol. 27.1: p. 374). With regard
to Nietzsches Entmoralisierung of suicide, a clarification is in order: on the one hand, it is true that
Nietzsche conceives of the voluntary death as a courageous and laudable choice which should inspire
reverence, but, on the other hand, for him suicide does not pose a moral dilemma. This means that
Nietzsche does not enquire whether this action entails a violation of morality or a debasement of
humanity, as Kant believed. He simply thinks of this action as something rational and natural, at least in
the case of old men.

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orchestrated by Christianity over the centuries.16
It is important to recall that even if Nietzsche defended the idea of free death,
this should not be understood as a more or less extended invitation to suicide. Indeed,
there is little doubt that Nietzsche considered not only natural death at old age, but also
premature death to be unnatural. It is precisely for this reason that one of the most
important features of Zarathustras free death is that suicide has to be accomplished at
the right time: Many die too late, and some die too early. The doctrine still sounds
strange: Die at the right time! (Z I, On Free Death, KSA 4.93). How is this call for a
death at the right time to be understood? First of all, it is interesting to note that
Nietzsche establishes a parallelism between the way one lives and the way one dies:
Die at the right time: thus Zarathustra teaches it. To be sure, how could the person who
never lives at the right time ever die at the right time? (ibid.) Death becomes the mirror
of ones life: only he, who has fully and courageously lived his life, is able to desire to
take leave at the right time. Thus conceived, death represents not the opposite of life,
but its coronation: For love of life writes Nietzsche in the Twilight of the Idols,
one ought to want death to be different, free, conscious, no accident, no ambush... (TI,
Reconnaissance Raids of an Untimely Man 36).
Zarathustra himself recognizes that to leave at the right moment is a difficult art.
The question, then, is: how does one know that the time has come? Nietzsche gives us
some indications, the most important of which is without doubt the reference to the goal
and the heir: Whoever has a goal and an heir wants death at the right time for his goal
and heir. And out of reverence for his goal and heir he will no longer hang withered
wreaths in the sanctuary of life (Z I, On Free Death, KSA 4.94). In this conception,
free death is seen as the peaceful and respectable completion of a meaningful life which
has achieved its goal and now finds its ideal continuation in an heir.17 He who has
become too old for his truths and victories says no when it is no longer time to say
yes and takes leave of life like a ripe apple falling from the tree when it is time. Only
in this way is a true leave-taking among children and witnesses still possible, when
the one who is taking his leave is still there (TI, Reconnaissance Raids of an Untimely

16
See the following previous version (Vorstufe) of the section 80 of Human, All Too Human: das
Christenthum hat das Gefhl der Menschen hierin verflscht: wir mssen lernen natrlich zu fhlen
(KSA 14.29).
17
This conception in which a goal and an heir are linked together is typical of the whole of
Zarathustra and reappears at the end of the speech On Free Death: Truly, Zarathustra has a goal, he
threw his ball. Now you my friends are the heirs of my goal, to you I throw the golden ball. More than
anything I like to see you, my friends, throwing the golden ball! (Z I, On Free Death, KSA 4.95 f.).

7
Man 36).18
A peculiar feature of the way Nietzsche presents his own view of suicide is his
use of strict antitheses in describing the opposition between voluntary and involuntary
death. Voluntary death is rational, free and truly natural while involuntary death is
irrational, not free and a suicide of nature (HH II, WS 185). The former is a
consummating [vollbringend] death, in which the one who is dying dies his death,
victorious, surrounded by those who hope and promise (Z I, On Free Death, KSA
4.93)19; the latter is a grinning death, which creeps up like a thief and yet comes as
master (ibid.). One of the main differences between these opposite conceptions of
death is therefore that voluntary death is conscious and makes possible not only a leave-
taking from ones family and friends, but also a true assessment of achievements and
aspirations, a summation of life (TI, Reconnaissance Raids of an Untimely Man 36). In
contrast, involuntary death happens under the most contemptible conditions (ibid.).20
For Nietzsche dying should be bright and joyful, and consecrated as a festival,
that is, exactly the opposite of that pitiful and ghastly comedy which Christianity has
made of the hour of death (ibid.). Generally speaking, in Nietzsches opinion
Christianity has falsified the natural perception of death: it is precisely for this reason
that Zarathustra rejecting the immortality of the soul represents death as a natural
phenomenon: I want to become earth again, so that I may have peace in the one who

18
See also the definition of right time given by Loeb: the right time for someone like himself
[Zarathustra], who has a goal and heirs, is the time when he has become sweetly ripe and when his spirit
and virtue still glow (glhn) like a sunset around the earth. Such a time is best if he wants to be loved
longest and if he does not want to become too old for his truths and his victories (Loeb, The Death of
Nietzsches Zarathustra, p. 134). As mentioned above, according to Loebs interpretation, Zarathustra
himself enacts a free death at the end of Part III of the Zarathustra. He thus fulfils, Loeb argues, his
promise to show his disciples his own free death (the reference here is particularly to the following
passage from the speech On Free Death: Thus I myself want to die, so that you my friends love the earth
more for my sake). In Loebs view, Zarathustras death is consistent with his preaching: it is freely
chosen, timely and victorious. It is freely chosen because as the greatest of all humans who is able to
command humanitys self-overcoming, Zarathustra also commands his own self-overcoming; it is timely
because it takes place in that seventh-day evening when Zarathustra has completed his creative work and
become ripe and perfect (p. 77); it is victorious because the intended coincidence of peak moment and
last moment redeems or makes good (macht gut) all of the fragments, riddles, and accidents in his life
up to that point (p. 80).
19
Voluntary death could be therefore defined as mors triumphans. See Paolo Stellino, Eutanasia y
autonoma del paciente: la muerte libre nietzscheana, p. 494.
20
More differences can be seen: voluntary death happens at the right time and is courageous;
involuntary death also defined by Nietzsche as slow death happens at the wrong time and is
cowardly. A similar conception of suicide as a courageous act can be found in Senecas Letters: For life,
if courage to die [moriendi virtus] be lacking, is slavery (Seneca, Ep. 77, 15); A man who sluggishly
awaits his fate is almost a coward [Prope est a timente qui fatum segnis expectat] (Seneca, Ep. 58, 32).

8
bore me (Z I, On Free Death, KSA 4.95).21
However, Nietzsche makes an even stronger charge against religions and,
particularly, against Christianity: they have created excuses for evading the demand of
suicide (HH I 80). Indeed, as Nietzsche writes in a posthumous fragment of 1884, this
is precisely the meaning of religion that is, to keep the failures and the miserable ones
alive through hope and fear and to prevent them from committing suicide (see Nachlass
1884, 25[300], KSA 11.88). In the case of Christianity, Nietzsche gives a specific
explanation for this social-historical phenomenon: When Christianity came into
existence the inclination to suicide was very strong Christianity turned it into a lever
of its power (GS 131). According to Nietzsches interpretation, what Christianity did
was to redirect the nihilistic tendencies lurking within the ill-constituted and sick.
Through the idea of the immortal private person and the hope of resurrection,
Christianity deterred them from the deed of nihilism, which is suicide it substituted
slow suicide: gradually a petty, poor, but durable life; gradually a quite ordinary,
bourgeois, mediocre life, etc. (Nachlass 1888, 14[9], KSA 13.222). By so doing,
however, Christianity perverted the work of selective nature (see ibid.).
Only within this context can we understand Nietzsches claim that a
thoroughgoing practical nihilism should be encouraged, a severe form of really
contagious nihilism: such as teaches and practices voluntary death with scientific
conscientiousness (ibid.).22 Here we face the most delicate and troubling part of
Nietzsches view of suicide: the concept of quick death, that is, that kind of death which
should be preached to the superfluous ones. As Zarathustra puts it: Far too many live
and far too long they hang on their branches. Would that a storm came to shake all this
rot and worm-food from the tree! / Would that preachers of the quick death came! They
would be the right storms and shakers of the trees of life for me! (Z I, On Free Death,
KSA 4.94)23 Thus, Nietzsche becomes the spokesman of a new fearsome philanthropy

21
See also HH II, WS 322: The certain prospect of death could introduce into every life a
precious, sweet-smelling drop of levity and yet you marvellous apothecary souls have made of it an ill-
tasting drop of poison through which all life is made repulsive!
22
In the quoted posthumous fragment there is a fine pun between practical nihilism [Nihilismus
der That] and the deed of nihilism [That des Nihilismus] which Kaufmanns translation does not
reproduce. Practical nihilism is the kind of nihilism which leads to action, that is, either to annihilate
ones self or anothers life. For Nietzsche, suicide is therefore the true deed of nihilism: it is nihilism
translated into practice and brought to completion (self-annihilation).
23
See also Z I, On the Preachers of Death: There are preachers of death, and the earth is full of
people to whom departure from life must be preached. / The earth is full of the superfluous, life is spoiled
by the all too many. May they be lured from this life with the eternal life!; Everywhere sounds the
voice of those who preach death: and the earth is full of people to whom departure from life must be

9
The weak and the failures should perish [...], he writes in The Antichrist (A 2), And
they should be helped to do this and of a ruthless morality for physicians:

A sick person is a parasite on society. Once one has reached a certain state it is indecent to live any
longer. Vegetating on in cowardly dependence on physicians and their methods, once the meaning of life,
the right to life has been lost, should be greeted with societys profound contempt. The physicians, for
their part, ought to convey this contempt not prescriptions, but every day a new dose of disgust at their
patient... Create a new kind of responsibility, the physicians, to apply in all cases where the highest
interest of life, of ascending life, demands that degenerating life be ruthlessly pushed down and aside
for example in the case of the right to procreate, the right to be born, the right to live... (TI,
Reconnaissance Raids of an Untimely Man 36)

At the end of this section Nietzsche refers to pessimists and other dcadents
and suggests a voluntary death for them. Indeed, according to Nietzsche, we have no
power to prevent our being born: but we can make up for this mistake (ibid.).24 In this
case the most admirable thing a pessimist can do is to do away with himself: in
Nietzsches opinion, this almost earns him the right to live. Nietzsches idea is basically
that pessimists should take the logic of their pessimism a step further (that is, to commit
suicide) and not simply deny life with will and representation, as Schopenhauer did
(ibid.). The ironical reference is here to Schopenhauers repeated refusal in The World
as Will and Representation to consider suicide as a possible way out of mans absurd
existence.25 In what follows, Schopenhauers position will be briefly clarified; we will
then be in a position to examine Nietzsches philosophical-existentialist approach to
suicide. However, before we consider Schopenhauers position, it might be helpful to
remind the reader of the aim of the following section.
A characteristic feature of Nietzsches worldview is that existence is in itself
meaningless and valueless. Given this premise, the question of whether life is or is not

preached. / Or the eternal life. Its all the same to me if only they pass away quickly!. The concept of
quick death also appears in relation with the pale criminal who having committed a crime has
condemned himself: There is no redemption for one who suffers so from himself, unless it were the
quick death (Za I, On the Pale Criminal).
24
According to Caldern, quoted by Schopenhauer in The World as Will and Representation (
51), the greatest offence of man, / Is that he was born [Pues el delito mayor / Del hombre es haber
nacido] (Life is a Dream, I, 2).
25
According to Loebs reading of TI, Reconnaissance Raids of an Untimely Man 36, Nietzsche
would take the decadent or the pessimists suicide as a life-affirming and life-enhancing act. He would
thus agree with the logic of Schopenhauer (and Camus; see Loeb, Suicide, Meaning and Redemption, p.
168). In my view, Nietzsches attitude towards Schopenhauer is quite ironical and the focus of his interest
is the denial of the latters pessimism (one must deny Schopenhauer first of all, TI, Reconnaissance
Raids of an Untimely Man 36) rather than the agreement with his logic.

10
worth living is of pivotal importance. Within this context, suicide is taken into
consideration as a possible (though not a necessary) consequence of the awareness that
life is meaningless and, therefore, not worth living. This attitude, which Robert Wicks
defines as defeatism,26 is typically expressed by the pessimist soothsayer of the
Zarathustra:

and I saw a great sadness descend over humanity. The best became weary of their works. / A doctrine
circulated, a belief accompanied it: Everything is empty, everything is the same, everything was! / And
from every hilltop it rang out: Everything is empty, everything is the same, everything was! / We
harvested well, but why did all our fruits turn foul and brown? What fell down from the evil moon last
night? / All work was for naught, our wine has become poison, the evil eye seared yellow our fields and
hearts. [] Oh where is there still a sea in which one could drown? thus rings our lament out across
the shallow swamps. / Indeed, we have already become too weary to die; now we continue to wake and
we live on in burial chambers! (Z II, The Soothsayer, KSA 4.172)

In what follows, attention will be focused on the answer Nietzsche gave, in the
different periods of his life, to the question of whether life is or is not worth living. As
in the case of the particular attitude to suicide considered in the first part of the present
study, Nietzsches philosophical-existentialist attitude is also unmethodical. Sometimes
he raises the question directly as, for instance, in the section 34 of Human, All Too
Human; at other times he is concerned with topics (such as the eternal recurrence,
nihilism or the Dionysian affirmation of life) that are either directly or indirectly related
to the question. In my opinion, even in this second case, it is possible to derive an
answer to the dilemma of whether, according to Nietzsche, suicide may or may not be a
possible solution to a meaningless existence.
Finally, the reader has to bear in mind that the following section does not
attempt to provide an exhaustive analysis of a theme which has several related aspects
of primary importance in Nietzsches philosophy (art, the death of God, eternal
recurrence, nihilism, truth, among others).27 The aim is rather to show that throughout
his philosophical life Nietzsche was concerned either directly or indirectly with the
question of whether life is or is not worth living, and that this question is of vital
26
Robert Wicks, Nietzsches Yes to Life and the Apollonian Neutrality of Existence, in:
Nietzsche-Studien 34 (2005), pp. 100-123, p. 107.
27
A thorough analysis of Nietzsches affirmative attitude towards life can be found in Bernard
Reginsters The Affirmation of Life. Nietzsche on Overcoming Nihilism (Cambridge, MA 2006). Although
Reginster does not directly tackle the theme of suicide he considers many related aspects, to which I can
only briefly allude here.

11
importance in the context of his philosophy.28

2. Meaninglessness and Suicide

Section 69 of The World as Will and Representation contains a complete presentation of


Schopenhauers argument against suicide. Schopenhauer describes suicide as the
voluntary abolition of the individual appearance of the will (W I, 471)29, but he by no
means considers it as the negation of the will to life. On the contrary, self-annihilation is
precisely a symptom of a strong affirmation of the will. Indeed, according to
Schopenhauer, the person who commits suicide wills life, and is only unsatisfied with
the conditions under which life has been given to him (ibid.). Together with self-
preservation and procreation, self-killing therefore expresses the will to life in its
highest degree. Within this view, suicide appears as the most glaring contradiction of
the will to life with itself, for the violence with which he [the single individual] wills
life and fights against the restrictions on life, against suffering, brings him to destroy
himself (W I, 472). The reason why Schopenhauer considers suicide as a futile and
foolish act (ibid.) is, however, of a different nature: by annihilating oneself, the
individual destroys not the will to life, but only its appearance in a particular place and
at a particular time. In this sense, suicide leaves the thing in itself untouched (ibid.).30
Schopenhauers worldview, as is well known, constitutes the background of the
artists metaphysics in The Birth of Tragedy. The young Nietzsche also conceived of
human existence as meaningless and absurd, full of pointless suffering and pain. So
what, if anything, made life worth living? Nietzsche answers this question by reference
to the solution the ancient Greeks had provided to the same dilemma, a solution which
28
For a different reading, see Loeb, Suicide, Meaning and Redemption, p. 163: Camus problem
[the allusion is to the well-known opening of Camus The Myth of Sisyphus: There is but one truly
serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts
to answering the fundamental question of philosophy P. S.] is thus absolutely worthy of consideration
for Nietzsche: not as a question to be answered, but as a symptom of the profound and ineradicable drive
to suicide built into the human animal.
29
The translation is from the Cambridge Edition of Schopenhauers works.
30
See also 54: [...] someone who is oppressed by the burdens of life, who certainly desires life
and affirms it, but detests its sufferings and in particular does not want to put up with the difficult lot that
has fallen to him any longer: a person like this cannot hope for liberation in death, and cannot save
himself through suicide [...]. The earth turns from day into night; the individual dies: but the sun itself
burns its eternal noontime without pause. For the will to life, life is a certainty: the form of life is the
endless present; it does not matter how individuals, appearance of the Idea, come into existence in time
and pass away like fleeting dreams (W I, 331). On Schopenhauers view of suicide, see Dale Jacquette,
Schopenhauer on Death, in: Christopher Janaway (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Schopenhauer,
Cambridge 1999, pp. 293-317; id., Schopenhauer on the Ethics of Suicide, in: Continental Philosophy
Review 33 (2000), pp. 43-58.

12
aimed to counteract the pessimistic view expressed in the myth of Silenus:

There is an ancient story that King Midas hunted in the forest a long time for the wise Silenus, the
companion of Dionysus, without capturing him. When Silenus at last fell into his hands, the king asked
what was the best and most desirable of all things for man. Fixed and immovable, the demigod said not a
word, till at last, urged by the king, he gave a shrill laugh and broke out into these words: Oh, wretched
ephemeral race, children of chance and misery, why do you compel me to tell you what it would be most
expedient for you not to hear? What is best of all is utterly beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to
be nothing. But the second best for you isto die soon (BT 3, KSA 1.35).

According to Nietzsche, the ancient Greeks reversed Silenuss wisdom through


art, specifically through an instinct of transfiguration that gave birth to the creation of
the Olympian gods and, ultimately, of tragedy as form of art. The Olympian gods, who
stood at the pinnacle of Apollinian culture, were produced by the need to endure the
terror and horror of existence. The ancient Greeks made use of the Olympian world as a
transfiguring mirror: they saw themselves in the higher sphere of beauty and glory of
the Olympians. Existence had therefore become desirable through a theodicy: the gods
themselves lived the life of men, and thus justified it. The will now longed vehemently
for existence, for it appeared transfigured in the exuberant, triumphant life of the
Olympian gods, in which all things, whether good or evil, are deified (ibid.).
Silenuss wisdom was also counteracted by the effect that Nietzsche attributed to
tragedy, an effect which differs from the one described by Schopenhauer. For
Schopenhauer, the goal of tragedy is to portray the terrible aspects of life and the wills
conflict with itself that is visible in human suffering, partly brought about through fate,
partly through the clashes between the strivings of individual wills. Thus, the spectator
reaches a complete cognition of the essence of the world, which acts as a tranquillizer
of the will and leads to resignation, the abandonment not only of life, but of the whole
will to life (W I, 299). Even for Nietzsche, tragedy allowed the spectator to cast a
glance into the true essence of things. The Greeks, having looked right into the terrible
destructiveness of so-called world history as well as the cruelty of nature, were in
danger of longing for a Buddhistic negation of the will (BT 7, KSA 1.56). What makes
Nietzsches view diverge from that of Schopenhauer, however, is the different effect of
every true tragedy: if for Schopenhauer tragedy led to resignation and to the
abandonment of the whole will to life, for Nietzsche tragedy left the spectator with the
awareness that life is at the bottom of things, despite all the changes of appearances,

13
indestructibly powerful and pleasurable (ibid.). In this way, the profound Hellene was
saved: art had saved him.31
Here Nietzsche emancipates himself from Schopenhauer. Whereas for
Schopenhauer the only way to suppress the will to life was cognition, which led to the
negation of will,32 for Nietzsche knowledge kills action; action requires the veils of
illusion (BT 7, KSA 1.57). Art precisely provides man with these veils. In this regard,
its function is not merely to offer a temporary respite from suffering or to be a
palliative, as Schopenhauer had thought,33 but to save and heal: She alone knows how
to turn these nauseous thoughts about the horror or absurdity of existence into notions
with which one can live (ibid.). So what distinguishes Nietzsches early philosophy
from Schopenhauers is the fact that, despite the absurdity and meaninglessness of
existence, Nietzsche does not deny life, which he still considers possible and worthy,
through art (BT 1, KSA 1.27 f.).34 Thus, the young Nietzsche gives an affirmative

31
According to the young Nietzsche, not just art but science as well seeks a justification of
existence. The mission of science is in fact to make existence appear comprehensible and thus justified
(BT 15, KSA 1.99), and the theoretical man is protected against the practical ethics of pessimism by the
satisfaction and delight he finds in uncovering and unmasking the truth. With their faith that the nature of
things can be fathomed, knowledge and insight become a panacea, a violent stimulus towards existence.
However, despite his will to honesty, the life of the theoretical man is based on a profound metaphysical
illusion: the unshakable faith that thought, using the thread of causality, can penetrate the deepest
abysses of being (ibid.). Here we find a new form of Greek cheerfulness [Heiterkeit] and blessedness
of existence, but the faith of the theoretical man is nonetheless doomed to crumble: Science, spurred by
its powerful illusion, speeds irresistibly toward its limits where its optimism, concealed in the essence of
logic, suffers shipwreck. For the periphery of the circle of science has an infinite number of points; and
while there is no telling how this circle could ever be surveyed completely, noble and gifted men
nevertheless reach, eer half their time and inevitably, such boundary points on the periphery from which
one gazes into what defies illumination. When they see to their horror how logic coils up at these
boundaries and finally bites its own tail suddenly the new form of insight breaks through, tragic
insight which, merely to be endured, needs art as protection and remedy (ibid., KSA 1.101). In this way,
the hunger for insatiable and optimistic knowledge the enemy of art on its lower level turns
paradoxically into tragic resignation and destitute need for art: the function of art is once again to make
existence endurable to us despite its whole meaninglessness and absurdity. For a general overview of the
relation between art and science in Nietzsche, see Babette E. Babich, Nietzsches Philosophy of Science.
Reflecting Science on the Ground of Art and Life, Albany, NY 1994.
32
See W I, 474: The will to life itself cannot be suppressed by anything except cognition. That is
why the only path to salvation is for the will to appear without restraints, so that it can recognize its own
essence in this appearance. Only as a result of this recognition can the will abolish itself and in so doing
put an end to suffering too, since suffering is inseparable from the wills appearance. But this is not
possible by way of physical violence, such as the destruction of the seed, or by killing infants, or
committing suicide.
33
See Ivan Soll, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and the Redemption of Life through Art, in: Christopher
Janaway (ed.), Willing and Nothingness. Schopenhauer as Nietzsches Educator, New York 1998, pp. 79-
115, p. 88. According to Schopenhauer, the role of the subjective component of aesthetic pleasure is: the
liberation of cognition from service to the will, forgetting oneself as an individual, and the elevation of
consciousness to the pure, will-less, timeless subject of cognition, independent of all relations (W I,
234).
34
See Volker Gerhardt, Friedrich Nietzsche, Mnchen 1992, p. 87: An sich betrachtet hat das
menschliche Dasein keinen Reiz und keinen Wert, doch durch die Kunst wird es mglich und
lebenswerth. In the later Attempt at a Self-Criticism Nietzsche asks whether there exists a pessimism of

14
answer to the question whether life is or is not worth living and does not embrace
suicide as a remedy for a meaningless existence, albeit for different reasons than those
given by Schopenhauer.35
Nietzsches view of existence as meaningless does not change in his middle
period; in fact, we could say that with the madmans announcement of the death of God
in The Gay Science the awareness of this meaninglessness increases even more.
Nietzsche continues to ask how and why one should go on living in a world devoid of
meaning: the last two sections of the first part of Human, All Too Human directly tackle
this issue.
In the first of these two sections, Nietzsche claims that every belief in the value
and dignity of life rests on illusion and false thinking. Men can believe in the value of
existence only because they do not empathize with the universal life and suffering of
mankind (HH I 33), they exist for themselves alone. Those who can participate in other
beings misfortunes and suffering would despair of this value; for mankind has as a
whole no goal, and the individual man when he regards its total course cannot derive
from it any support or comfort, but must be reduced to despair (ibid.). But who could
bear the awareness that life is aimless? In Nietzsches opinion, only a poet can do so, for
poets always know how to console themselves (ibid.).36

strength, establishing a clear dividing line between Schopenhauers resigned pessimism and his
Dionysian valuation of life. An open question is to what extent Nietzsche is here reinterpreting The Birth
of Tragedy through the lens of his later philosophy of art. However, I would personally reject Julian
Youngs reading, according to which The Birth is a life-denying work, life is not worth living and
that, like Schopenhauer, Nietzsche denies (human) life (see Julian Young, Nietzsches Philosophy of
Art, Cambridge 1992, p. 48 and p. 54). Such a pessimistic picture sits uneasily with Nietzsches hopes
that beneath this restlessly palpitating cultural life and convulsion there is concealed a glorious,
intrinsically healthy, primordial power that, to be sure, stirs vigorously only at intervals in stupendous
moments, and then continues to dream of a future awakening (BT 23, KSA 1.146 f.).
35
For a wider analysis of the similarities and differences between Schopenhauers and the young
Nietzsches view of art, life and tragedy, see Martha C. Nussbaum, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and
Dionysus, in: Christopher Janaway (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Schopenhauer, pp. 344-374. One
of Nussbaums conclusions is that: Nietzsches view is, then, not the simple inversion of
Schopenhauers. For he agrees with Schopenhauer that what an honest gaze discovers in the world is
arbitrariness and the absence of any intrinsic meaning. But he disagrees about the consequences of this
discovery for humanitys view of itself. Schopenhauers human being, noticing that his positing of an
order in things is negated by the experience of life, becomes nauseated with life and with himself for
having lived a delusion. Nietzsches human being, noticing these same things about the world, is filled
with Dionysian joy and pride in his own artistry. For if there is no intrinsic order in things, how
wonderful, then and indeed, how much more wonderful that one should have managed to invent so
many beautiful stories, to forge so many daring conceptual schemes, to dance so many daring and
improbable dances. The absence of a designing god leads to a heightened joy in the artistic possibilities of
humanity (pp. 364-365).
36
Here Nietzsche alludes again to the veils of illusion which art provides to man (in this case, the
poet). The relation between poets and illusion/lie is a recurrent theme in Nietzsche. Well-known is
Zarathustras claim that poets lie too much (Z II, On Poets, KSA 4.163). In section 148 (titled Poets as
Alleviators of Life) of the first part of Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche claims that there are several

15
In the following section Nietzsche asks whether his philosophy thus becomes a
tragedy and truth inimical to life.37 He then poses two more questions which reveal that
he was genuinely aware of the possible nihilistic consequences of a worldview like his:
whether one could consciously reside in untruth? or, if one were obliged to, whether
death would not be preferable? (HH I 34). Here Nietzsche directly considers the
possibility of suicide as an escape from a valueless, aimless existence. This possibility
becomes even more concrete if we consider that Nietzsche had annihilated morality as
well as religion and, therefore, there was no longer a moral obligation on man to keep
on living. The whole of human life is sunk deeply in untruth, Nietzsche writes, the
individual cannot draw it up out of this well without thereby growing profoundly
disillusioned (ibid.). Is all that remains despair and, on a theoretical level, a
philosophy of destruction, that is to say, a practical nihilism? Nietzsches answer to
this question will basically remain unchanged over the years: the nature of the after-
effect of knowledge is determined by a mans temperament (ibid.). In other words, it is
simply a question of spiritual strength.38 Despair and resignation in the face of the
meaninglessness of existence are but one possibility: one could easily conceive of a
completely different after-effect by virtue of which a life could arise much simpler and
emotionally cleaner than our present life is (ibid.).
The emphasis that Nietzsche places on ones spiritual strength highlights an
important difference between The Birth of Tragedy and Human, All Too Human. In the

things to be said against the poets means of alleviating life: They soothe and heal only provisionally,
only for a moment; they even hinder men from working for a real improvement in their conditions by
suspending and discharging in a palliative way the very passion which impels the discontented to action
(HH I 148). On this subject, see Gerhard Kaiser, Wie die Dichter lgen. Dichten und Leben in Nietzsches
ersten beiden Dionysos-Dithyramben, in: Nietzsche-Studien 15 (1986), pp. 184-224.
37
Lev Shestov defines Nietzsches philosophy precisely as philosophy of tragedy. According to
Shestov, Nietzsche like Dostoevsky and unlike systematic philosophers does not avoid confronting
and acknowledging lifes horror and chaos, recognizing that philosophy cannot help being but tragic
philosophy (see Shestovs Dostoevsky and Nietzsche: The Philosophy of Tragedy). On the tragic
consequences of knowing and acknowledging the truth, see in particular section 109 of the first part of
Human, All Too Human: The tragedy [...] lies in the fact that one cannot believe these dogmas of religion
and metaphysics if one has in ones heart and head the rigorous methods of acquiring truth, while on the
other hand one has, through the development of humanity, grown so tender, sensitive and afflicted one
has need of means of cure and comfort of the most potent description; from which there thus arises the
danger that man may bleed to death from knowledge of truth.
38
The relation between knowledge, truth and strength of a spirit is clearly highlighted by the
following passage from Beyond Good and Evil: the strength [Strke] of a spirit would be proportionate
to how much of the truth he could withstand or, to put it more clearly, to what extent he needs it to be
thinned out, veiled over, sweetened up, dumbed down, and lied about (BGE 39). See also MA II, Preface
7: there is a will to the tragic and to pessimism that is as much a sign of severity and strength of intellect
(taste, feeling, conscience). With this will in ones heart one has no fear of the fearful and questionable
that characterizes all existence; one even seeks it out. Behind such a will there stands courage, pride, the
longing for a great enemy.

16
latter work Nietzsche rejects his earlier artists metaphysics and the theme of suicide
inevitably acquires a personal dimension: whether or not we want to go on living
whether we can or cannot go on living depends exclusively on our spiritual strength,
that is, our ability to endure a meaningless life without the help of any metaphysical
comfort.39
The same logic is taken to extremes in the thought of the eternal recurrence. In
the same way as in Human, All Too Human knowledge is presented in a disjunctive
form and can lead either to despair or to the acceptance of the tragic character of life, in
The Gay Science ( 341) the thought of the eternal recurrence can provoke two
opposing reactions: on the one hand, the idea that life will return unchanged
innumerable times, with every pain and every joy, can be perceived as the heaviest
weight the thick black snake which in Zarathustras speech On the Vision and the
Riddle hangs from the mouth of the young shepherd and is about to choke him; on the
other hand, eternal recurrence can be seen as the most divine and sublime thought, in
which the extreme form of yes-saying to life and the unconditional love for ones fate
are expressed.40 The effect of this thought is therefore determined by ones spiritual
strength, in exactly the same way in which a mans temperament to use the expression
from Human, All Too Human is the decisive factor in his reaction to the
announcement of the death of God: he can experience either anguish and fear (life has
now no meaning and purpose) or joy and enthusiasm (the horizon is again free and
infinite and our ships may set out again, set out to face any danger (GS 343)).
Interestingly, scholars have related the thought of eternal recurrence to the myth

39
Nietzsches change of attitude towards art in Human, All Too Human is already patent in the
section 3: It is the mark of a higher culture to value the little unpretentious truths which have been
discovered by means of rigorous method more highly than the errors handed down by metaphysical and
artistic ages and men, which blind us and make us happy (HH I 3). For an analysis of the relationship
between art and science in Human, All Too Human see Aaron Ridley, Nietzsche on Art, London / New
York 2007, pp. 41-46.
40
Amor fati is the keyword used by Nietzsche to express his new love towards a world which is
for all eternity chaos, not in the sense of a lack of necessity but of a lack of order, organization, form,
beauty, wisdom, and whatever else our aesthetic anthropomorphisms are called (FW 109). This new
love, however, is not merely a conforming of ones will to fate, or a passive acceptance of what is
necessary in things (GS 276) as Bernard Reginster has pointed out, we should not confuse amor fati
either with resignation (the acceptance of aspects of life we deplore but recognize to be inevitable) or
with concealment (the effort to mask the necessity of those deplorable aspects), see Reginster, The
Affirmation of Life, p. 229 but a truly active disposition, an affirmation of both sublime and tragic
aspects of life. As Nietzsche puts it later in Ecce Homo: My formula for greatness in a human being is
amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not
merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it all idealism is mendaciousness in the face of what is
necessary but love it (EH, Why I Am So Clever 10).

17
of Sisyphus.41 Just as the gods condemned Sisyphus for all eternity to push a rock up to
the top of a mountain only to see it roll down again, similarly, Nietzsche condemns
man to live a meaningless existence that returns innumerable times and always
unchanged. In the Lenzer Heide fragment the thought of the eternal recurrence is
indeed defined as the most extreme form of nihilism: existence as it is, without
meaning or goal, but inevitably recurring, without any finale into nothingness
(Nachlass 1886/87, 5[71], KSA 12.213).42 The thought of an existence in which any
metaphysical teleology is rejected43 is paralyzing all the more so if suicide provides
no way out: everything becomes and recurs eternally escape [entschlpfen] is not
possible! (Nachlass 1883/84, 24[7], KSA 10.646). But this is precisely the selective
function which Nietzsche assigns to this thought: it strengthens the strong and paralyzes
the world-weary.
Within this picture, the revaluation has an essential role as a means to endure the
thought of the eternal recurrence. As Nietzsche puts it in a note dated 1884:

Means of enduring it [the thought of the eternal recurrence]: the revaluation of all values. No longer joy
in certainty but in uncertainty; no longer cause and effect but the continually creative; no longer will to
preservation but to power; no longer the humble expression, everything is merely subjective, but it is
also our work! let us be proud of it! (Nachlass 1884, 26[284], KSA 11.225)

41
See particularly Ivan Soll, Reflections on Recurrence: A Re-examination of Nietzsches
Doctrine, Die ewige Wiederkehr des Gleichen, in: Robert C. Solomon (ed.), Nietzsche: A Collection of
Critical Essays, Garden City, NY 1973, pp. 322-342; Maudemarie Clark, Nietzsche on Truth and
Philosophy, Cambridge 1990, p. 272; Loeb, Suicide, Meaning and Redemption, pp. 186-189. As already
mentioned (see footnote 4), this part of my paper is indebted to the analysis of the eternal recurrence Loeb
develops in relation to Camus discussion of the myth of Sisyphus. Loebs interpretation of the eternal
recurrence is, however, very different if not opposed from the one I have given. See the following
passages from Loeb, Suicide, Meaning and Redemption: When, therefore, Nietzsche describes eternal
recurrence as the highest formulation of life-affirmation that is at all attainable, his point is not that the
human animal should aim to will this eternal recurrence and thereby achieve the highest life-affirmation
possible. Instead, his point is that the human animal can never will this and that therefore the human
animal can never achieve such life-affirmation. (p. 181) The interpretation I have just outlined stands
in stark contrast to the usual existentialist reading according to which Nietzsche hopes that eternal
recurrence, a doctrine that intensifies this meaninglessness to the highest degree, will enable the human
animal to become strong and healthy enough to accept, affirm, and even thrive on this meaninglessness.
(p. 183) The interpretation of the eternal recurrence I give is in line with the reading Loeb labels as
existentialist: as pointed out, it is a matter of spiritual strength whether one is able to accept the tragic
character of life, to love his fate and to endure the eternal recurrence of a meaningless existence without
the help of any metaphysical comfort. Within this context, the Umwertung plays a pivotal role in bearing
this thought (on this point, see what follows in the main text).
42
As Loeb has rightly emphasized: It is not just the thought of meaninglessness, but the thought
of meaninglessness eternally, Loeb, Suicide, Meaning and Redemption, p. 181.
43
We deny final goals, Nietzsche writes in the same fragment, if existence had one, it could not
fail to have been reached.

18
Only through a revaluation of the old values which have been devaluated can man
endure the eternally returning vacuity of existence: in order to subsist, he needs to create
and give a new meaning to the world. It is at this point, I believe, that the comparison
between the myth of Sisyphus and the doctrine of the eternal recurrence falls down. In
fact, even if we concede that Sisyphus may scorn and transcend his fate at the moment
at which he becomes conscious of it, and that the struggle itself toward the heights is
enough to fill a mans heart,44 still we have to recognize that there is no place for the
creative dimension in his existence. As Loeb puts it:

The task performed by Sisyphus is imposed on him by the gods and is not in any way his or created by
him. Nor, despite the providential reasoning Camus attributes to Sisyphus, is this task in any way
meaningful. The gods deliberately select an arbitrary stone, an arbitrary mountain, and the completely
meaningless task of pushing the stone up the mountain. That the stone always rolls back down after it has
been pushed up shows that there is nothing meaningful or successful in Sisyphus reaching the mountain
top, or in pushing the stone up there, or even less in achieving a moment of lucidity there. 45

To equate mans eternally recurring life with that of Sisyphus is to repeat the
error of the defeatist for whom, since life has no meaning, nothing really matters.46 But
the aim of Nietzsches philosophy is precisely to break out of this dichotomy. A brief
analogy with Nietzsches late epistemological position may help to elucidate this point.
In the sixth point of the well-known section How the Real World Finally Became a
Fable in The Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche claims that, together with the real world,
we have also done away with the apparent one. By continuing to refer to an apparent
world we remain prisoners of the same metaphysical dichotomy which has been refuted.
Similarly, once we have done away with the belief that existence has a meaning in
itself, to continue to ask the philosophical-existentialist question about suicide would
mean that we remain prisoners of the old metaphysical way of thinking which holds that

44
Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, New York 1955, p. 91.
45
Loeb, Suicide, Meaning and Redemption, p. 188. In Youngs opinion (also quoted by Loeb),
Camus account is not convincing: [...] toughness is not enough; not enough to constitute a worthwhile
life. Do we, in fact, imagine Sisyphus happy? Surely not. Surely our response to his predicament is not
admiration but rather pity. [...] Sisyphus is of course immortal. To make him relevant to the question of
suicide, however, he has to be given that option. And given the option it is far from clear that he should
not take it (Young, The Death of God and the Meaning of Life, pp. 165-166).
46
A typical example of this defeatist attitude can be found in the speech The Shadow from the
fourth part of Zarathustra. Having smashed anything his earth ever honoured and unlearned his faith in
words and values, Zarathustras shadow feels disoriented and now has neither a harbor to sail towards,
nor a home in which to rest: Where is my home? I asked, and I search and searched for it, but I have
not found it. Oh eternal everywhere, oh eternal nowhere, oh eternal in vain! (Z IV, The Shadow, KSA
4.341).

19
if the world has no meaning in itself it cannot have any meaning at all, and therefore:
why not suicide? Nietzsches philosophy goes beyond this logic. A new human and
earthly meaning can be created through revaluation.47 In this way, existence becomes
meaningful once again (but this time immanently meaningful)48 and, as a result, the
question of suicide ceases to be so distressing.49
The revaluation thus becomes the key to overcome the nihilistic attitude towards
life and the resulting longing for suicide. Man cannot live in a world devoid of meaning,
nor can he act without a table of values. In order to fill the void of a meaningless and
absurd existence, he therefore needs to give life a new meaning and to create new values
or revaluate the old ones. This is one of the most important points in Zarathustra:
Humans first placed values into things, in order to preserve themselves they first
created meaning for things, a human meaning! [...] Only through esteeming is there
value, and without esteeming the nut of existence would be hollow (Z I, On a
Thousand and One Goals).50 But what kind of values did humans place on things? What
kind of meaning did they give to existence?
The answer to these questions can be found in the third treatise of the Genealogy
of Morals. In the final section Nietzsche makes the following claim: Apart from the
ascetic ideal, man [...] had no meaning so far. His existence on earth contained no goal
(GM III 28). According to Nietzsches genealogical interpretation, man suffered from
the lack of meaning and purpose of his life, being initially unable to fill this void. Man

47
In this light, Zarathustras claim that the overman is the meaning of the earth becomes fully
meaningful. Indeed, the overman has the function of filling the void left by Gods death, giving to human
existence a new earthly meaning.
48
See Paolo Stellino, Eutanasia y autonoma del paciente, p. 499: Siguiendo la perspectiva
nietzscheana, el valor de la vida no puede verse entonces como un valor incondicionado y apriorstico en
cada caso, sino slo como un valor condicionado, un valor que el hombre mismo atribuye a la vida que l
vive a partir de su individualidad, su particularidad concreta e histrica, y su estar insertado en una
comunidad social.
49
A similar reading has been proposed by Young who, however, focuses more on the individual
aspects of the creation of meaning than on the collective ones. See the following insightful passage: For
traditional thinkers [...] the meaning of life is something we discover: we do not choose or make it to be
the case. These two features universality and givenness characterise every grand-narrative philosophy.
All true-world philosophers, of whatever shape or hue, presuppose that these two features must
characterise any genuine answer to the question of the meaning of life. Suppose, however, that we now
reject both of them. Suppose we acknowledge that there are no true worlds, that every grand narrative is a
fiction, that reality is, in Nietzsches sense, chaos. And suppose we further conclude (at least, for the
time being) that there is no such thing as the universal meaning of life, that no meaning is written into
the metaphysical structure of reality. Still, one might reflect, that doesnt mean that my life cant have
meaning. It doesnt mean that I cant create meaning in my life, my own individual meaning (Young,
The Death of God and the Meaning of Life, p. 85). In few words: even in the absence of a grand
narrative there seems no reason why one should not be able to construct a personal narrative (p. 86).
50
See GS 301: Whatever has value in the present world has it not in itself, according to its nature
nature is always values-less but has rather been given, granted value, and we were the givers and
granters! Only we have created the world that concerns human beings!

20
also suffered in other ways; physiologically, he was a sick animal. The problem,
however, was not that he suffered, but that his suffering had no meaning. The pivotal
role played by the ascetic ideal in human history is precisely that it offered man a
meaning for his suffering: man was guilty, and suffered for his guilt! In this way, a
physiological condition was falsely interpreted from a moral-religious perspective, but
the goal was achieved: the tremendous void seemed to have been filled; the door was
closed to any kind of suicidal [selbstmrderischen] nihilism (ibid.).
Unfortunately, this interpretation was hostile to life and brought a deeper and
more poisonous suffering:

We can no longer conceal from ourselves what is expressed by all that willing which has taken its
direction from the ascetic ideal: this hatred of the human, and even more of the animal, and more still of
the material, this horror of the senses, of reason itself, this fear of happiness and beauty, this longing to
get away from all appearance, change, becoming, death, wishing, from longing itself all this means
let us dare to grasp it a will to nothingness, an aversion to life, a rebellion against the most
fundamental presuppositions of life [...]. (ibid.)

The ascetic ideal provided man with a solution to the riddle of his existence (GM III
25, KSA 5.404). He was no longer like a leaf in the wind (GM III 28); but at what
price? Paradoxically, the preservation of life was obtained through disgust with it: the
will was saved, but now man longed for nothingness.51 The result of Nietzsches
genealogical analysis is that man has only been able to create nihilistic and life-
devaluing values in order to give his life a meaning. In this sense, one of the purposes of
Nietzsches late philosophy is to show that a way out from this situation is possible only
through a revaluation of all values, which aims towards a new healthy life-affirming
valuation of life.52
In this context, art plays a key role. Already in The Gay Science Nietzsche had
realized that science alone was not able to fulfil a basic condition of human existence:
man must from time to time believe he knows why he exists; his race cannot thrive
without a periodic trust in life without faith in the reason in life! (GS 1) Art meets
this need by falsifying reality (albeit with good will) and making existence bearable to

51
For a deeper analysis of the third treatise of the Genealogy, see Werner Stegmaier, Nietzsches
Genealogie der Moral, Darmstadt 1994; Brian Leiter, Nietzsche on Morality, New York 2002.
52
See, instead, Loeb, Suicide, Meaning and Redemption: Properly understood, then, Zarathustras
doctrine of eternal recurrence is the counter-ideal to the ascetic ideal that has so far helped humankind to
survive in the face of its longing for death. It is the means whereby Zarathustra compels humankind to
will its own downfall. (p. 182)

21
us:

Our ultimate gratitude to art. Had we not approved of the arts and invented this type of cult of the
untrue, the insight into general untruth and mendacity that is now given to us by science the insight into
delusion and error as a condition of cognitive and sensate existence would be utterly unbearable.
Honesty would lead to nausea and suicide. But now our honesty has a counterforce that helps us avoid
such consequences: art, as the good will to appearance. [...] As an aesthetic phenomenon existence is still
bearable to us, and art furnishes us with the eye and hand and above all the good conscience to be able to
make such a phenomenon of ourselves. (GS 107)53

It is, however, in the late period that art54 again plays a pivotal role in
Nietzsches philosophy, especially as countermovement of nihilism.55 In the third
treatise of the Genealogy Nietzsche searches for opponents an opposing will or ideal
of the ascetic ideal. In this context, the science-art pairing emerges again. Nietzsche
rejects the idea that science represents the enemy of this ideal; on the contrary, in his
opinion science is rather the latest and noblest form of it (GM III 23, KSA 5.396 f.),
for it is animated by the faith in a metaphysical and absolute value of truth. Conversely,
art in which precisely the lie is sanctified and the will to deception has a good
conscience, is much more opposed to the ascetic ideal than is science (GM III 25, KSA
5.402).
How should we understand this claim? The posthumous fragment 11[415] of
November 1887-March 1888 in which Nietzsche makes some comments on The Birth
of Tragedy can help us.56 In order to live in a world which is false and meaningless,

53
This theme already plays a pivotal role in The Birth of Tragedy. However, as Gianni Vattimo
has pointed out, the meaning of the theme is quite different here: It is not a question here of following
Schopenhauer, of fleeing from the chaos of the will into a world of forms, which is removed from the
struggle for life that dominates the world of appearances. It is instead a question of making bearable the
knowledge that those errors on which life and knowledge are founded are unavoidable, and of
acknowledging that this is the sole source of the beauty and richness of our existence (Gianni Vattimo,
Nietzsche: An Introduction, Stanford 2002, p. 57). In his guidebook to Nietzsche on Art, Ridley draws
attention to a terminological distinction which reveals a conceptual difference between The Birth of
Tragedy (existence is justified [gerechtfertigt]) and The Gay Science (existence is bearable [ertrglich]):
Eternal justification requires, at the very least, that what does the justifying be true, and in The Birth of
Tragedy Nietzsche thought that he had a candidate for that. But in The Gay Science it is precisely the
truth that is the problem, and so art, which is enlisted in order to falsify, in order to evade the truth, can no
longer, even potentially, offer justifications of existence (eternal or otherwise). It can, at most, offer to
make it liveable (Ridley, Nietzsche on Art, p. 80).
54
Not every kind of art, of course: Christian and Romantic art are rather expressions of decadence.
55
See Nachlass 1888, 14[35, 47, 117, 119, 169, 170], 16[51], KSA 13.235, 241, 293-295, 296-
299, 355-357, 503.
56
As Johann Figl pointed out, although this note refers to The Birth of Tragedy, it expresses
anyway concepts which belong to the late Nietzsches thought (see Johann Figl, Interpretation als
philosophisches Prinzip, Berlin / New York 1982, p. 194).

22
man has need of lies.57 This need is satisfied by metaphysics, morality, religion and
science: all of them are only products of his will to art, to lie, to flight from truth, to
negation of truth (Nachlass 1887/88, 11[415], KSA 13.193). In this, they are all
similar to art. There are however two important differences that make art appear in a
different light. First, unlike metaphysics, morality, religion and science, art openly
sanctifies the lie and therefore is alone in having a good conscience.58 Second, like
metaphysics, morality, religion and science, art helps man to bear his life, but, unlike
them, does not devaluate it. On the contrary, art acts as a stimulant: Art and nothing
but art!, writes Nietzsche in his note, It is the great means of making life possible, the
great seduction to life, the great stimulant of life (ibid.).59
Nietzsches late conception of art as a stimulant of or to life appears not just in
the posthumous fragments, but is present also in the Twilight of the Idols. In section 24
of Reconnaissance Raids of an Untimely Man Nietzsche explicitly rejects the idea of
an aimless and purposeless art, that is, lart pour lart. On the contrary, in Nietzsches
view art cannot be conceived of as separate from life:

The struggle against purpose in art is always a struggle against the moralizing tendency in art, against its
subordination to morality. Lart pour lart means: the devil take morality! But even this enmity betrays
the overwhelming force of prejudice. Once you take away from art the purpose of preaching morality and
improving humanity, the result is still a far cry from art as completely purposeless, aimless, senseless, in
short lart pour lart a worm biting its own tail. [...] Art is the great stimulant to life: how could one
conceive of it as purposeless, aimless, lart pour lart ? (TI, Reconnaissance Raids of an Untimely Man
24).60

57
As Nietzsche puts it: The antithesis of a real and an apparent world is lacking here: there is
only one world, and this is false, cruel, contradictory, seductive, without meaning A world thus
constituted is the real world. We have need of lies in order to conquer this reality, this truth, that is, in
order to live That lies are necessary in order to live is itself part of the terrifying and questionable
character of existence (Nachlass 1887/88, 11[415], KSA 13.193).
58
See Nadeem J. Z. Hussain, Honest Illusion: Valuing for Nietzsches Free Spirits, in: Brian
Leiter, Neil Sinhababu (ed.), Nietzsche and Morality, New York 2007, pp. 157-191, p. 168: What is
special, for Nietzsche, about art is that it is honest about its use of illusion. Art is in the business of
generating honest illusions (my emphasis).
59
Martha C. Nussbaum makes the following remark: life is made worth living, made joyful and
made human, only by art that is to say, in the largest sense, by the human beings power to create an
order in the midst of disorder, to make up a meaning where nature itself does not supply one. In creative
activity (associated by Nietzsche not only with arts narrowly understood, but also with love, religion,
ethics, science all seen as forms of creative story making), we find the source of what is in truth
wonderful and joyful in life. And if we can learn to value that activity and find our meaning in it, rather
than looking for an external meaning in God or in nature, we can love ourselves and love life. Art is thus
the great anti-pessimistic form of life, the great alternative to denial and resignation (Nietzsche,
Schopenhauer, and Dionysus, p. 363).
60
See also Nachlass 1888, 15[10], KSA 13.409, where Nietzsche rejects Aristotles understanding
of tragedy and defines art as the great stimulant of life, an intoxication with life, a will to life.

23
It should therefore not surprise us that the late Nietzsche who conceived of art as the
only superior counterforce to all will to denial of life, as that which is anti-Christian,
anti-Buddhist, anti-nihilist par excellence (Nachlass 1888, 17[3], KSA 13.521) saw
in art a countermovement of nihilism and a much stronger opposition to the ascetic ideal
than in science. As a great life-affirming force, art produced perfection and plenitude
and was essentially affirmation, blessing, deification of existence (Nachlass 1888,
14[47], KSA 13.241). Since truth is ugly, art transfigured the world and made
existence bearable We possess art lest we perish of the truth, Nietzsche wrote in
1888 (Nachlass 1888, 16[40], KSA 13.500): by so doing, art acted against every kind of
suicidal nihilism.61

3. Conclusion

Nietzsches worldview was strongly characterized by the absolute meaninglessness and


purposelessness of human existence. This conception clearly influenced his view of
suicide. On the one hand, since life has no value in itself and there is no God, in
principle nothing compels us to await the natural death to come. In contrast to Kant, for
Nietzsche there is no moral argument against suicide.62 In this sense, we could say that
the relation between life and morality is here reversed: it is not life that has to follow the
rules of morality, but morality that has to be adapted to or created according to mans
vital needs. What counts rather for Nietzsche is the rationality of an act that enables man
to avoid useless suffering and a debasing death; an act whose natural character and
correct appreciation we have to restore after two millennia of Christian tradition.

61
For a contrasting reading of Nietzsches late philosophy of art, see Young, Nietzsches
Philosophy of Art, pp. 117-147. According to Young, in the end, Nietzsche returns to the inauthenticity,
the illusionism of The Birth of Tragedy. Pessimism and the wisdom of Silenus are regarded as true:
Real life, the life of human individuality, is something it would be better we had never been born into.
To the extent, therefore, that its main aim is to be the antipode to Schopenhauerianism, to affirm life,
Nietzsches philosophy ends in failure (p. 148).
62
As Hctor Wittwer pointed out, Kant provides several arguments against suicide (see Hctor
Wittwer, ber Kants Verbot der Selbstttung, in: Kant-Studien 92 (2001), pp. 180-209, p. 182). An
exposition of what we might call the Moral Argument can be found in The Metaphysics of Morals ( 6,
On Killing Oneself, AA, vol. 6: p. 422): A human being cannot renounce his personality as long as he is
a subject of duty, hence as long as he lives; and it is a contradiction that he should be authorized to
withdraw from all obligation, that is, freely to act as if no authorization were needed for this action. To
annihilate the subject of morality in ones own person is to root out the existence of morality itself from
the world, as far as one can, even though morality is an end in itself. Consequently, disposing of oneself
as a mere means to some discretionary end is debasing humanity in ones person (homo noumenon), to
which man (homo phaenomenon) was nevertheless entrusted for preservation.

24
That life has no value in itself does not mean, however, that Nietzsche gave his
approval to every possible kind of suicide. As noted above, Nietzsches positive
evaluation of voluntary death mainly refers to the old man who, having lived his life
and reached his goal, refuses to hang like a coward on the branches of the tree of life. In
this sense, Nietzsche rejected those forms of nihilistic suicide which were rather signs
of decadence as a possible solution to the riddle of existence.63 He was also aware of
the genuine risk that the collapse of the Christian and moral interpretation of the world,
caused by the sense of truthfulness that it promoted, could culminate in the nihilistic
assertion everything is meaningless and in a longing for nothingness, which are both
Buddhist traits. It was precisely for this reason that the late Nietzsche so strongly
advocated a revaluation of those old values which had proven to be life-negating and
devaluating. A new meaning a life-affirming one was needed; for men, as the third
treatise of the Genealogy of Morals shows, cannot live without a meaning.
Nietzsches constant effort to affirm life and to justify existence proves that he
did not succumb to the nihilistic temptation. Strongly influenced by Schopenhauers
worldview, the young Nietzsche rejected his masters pessimistic solution to the riddle
of existence and considered that, through art, life was still possible and worthy. He thus
indirectly gave an affirmative answer to the philosophical-existentialist question of
whether life is worth living. Nietzsches view of existence as meaningless and valueless
did not change in his middle period; on the contrary, with the announcement of the
death of God the awareness of this meaninglessness increased even more. The rejection
of the earlier artists metaphysics helped to give the theme of suicide a personal
dimension: in this sense, the capacity to endure a meaningless existence without the aid
of any metaphysical comfort basically depended on the strength of ones spirit, which
thus became the decisive factor.
The same logic is taken to extremes in the thought of the eternal recurrence

63
Nietzsches reception of Kirillov one of the characters from Dostoevskys The Devils is in
this sense paradigmatic. Kirillov wants to deny Gods existence and affirm his self-will by committing
suicide, an act which, he thinks, would be the highest point of ones self-will. His denial of God leads him
to formulate an argument which Nietzsche calls in his notebook The Logic of Atheism: If there is God,
then the will is all his, and I cannot get out of his will. If not, the will is all mine, and it is my duty to
proclaim my self-will (Nachlass 1887/88, 11[334], KSA 13.143). I think C. A. Miller is right in claiming
that although Nietzsche noted similarities between Kirillovs idea of mans absolute autonomy and his
experimental philosophy, he nevertheless perceived the character as a study in the psychology of
dcadence (C. A. Miller, The Nihilist as Tempter-Redeemer: Dostoevskys Man-God in Nietzsches
Notebooks, in: Nietzsche-Studien 4 (1975), pp. 165-226, p. 170). Miller also points out that Kirillov is
paradoxically defeated by an idea which might have emancipated him from the tyranny of the old God. In
this sense, he succumbs to what Nietzsche called in the Antichrist the slavery (Sklaverei) of the
Believer-fanatic to his conviction (berzeugung) (Miller, The Nihilist as Tempter-Redeemer, p. 206).

25
which acts as a selective principle. Indeed, depending on ones spiritual strength, the
thought that a meaningless existence will return innumerable times, always unchanged,
could be perceived either as a paralyzing idea that leads to despair and nausea, or
alternatively as a life-affirming one. In Nietzsches philosophy, the revaluation of all
values conceived of as a means to endure this thought becomes the key to
overcoming the nihilistic attitude towards life and the resulting longing for suicide: for
it is only through a reassessment of the old values and the creation of a new human and
earthly meaning that nihilism, which derives from the awareness that the world we live
in has no meaning and no value in itself, can be overcome. It is precisely this creative
dimension that makes the comparison between the eternal recurring life of men and the
never-ending punishment of Sisyphus inadequate.
Nietzsches philosophy therefore breaks down the dichotomy typical of the
nihilist (or defeatist) for whom, since life has no intrinsic meaning, nothing really
matters, not even life. Nietzsches view is here analogous to his late epistemological
position. Indeed, if in The Twilight of the Idols the expression apparent world loses its
meaning once we have done away with the true world, similarly, the philosophical-
existentialist question of suicide ceases to be so distressingly urgent once we understand
that a new human and earthly meaning can be created through revaluation. Thus,
existence once again becomes meaningful, albeit this time immanently meaningful.
In Nietzsches late period the need for a revaluation of the old values and the
creation of new ones becomes even more pressing than before. In these years
Nietzsches diagnosis of the culture and society of his time clearly sheds light on the
nihilistic and decadent drift of modernity. A clear example of this is given in the third
treatise of the Genealogy of Morals, which shows how man had been unable to create
genuine opponents of the ascetic ideal and had closed the door on any kind of suicidal
nihilism only at the cost of introducing life-devaluing values and infecting himself with
disgust and aversion towards life. Within this context, art again plays a pivotal role: as
the great seduction to life, the great stimulant of life, art opposes every kind of life-
negating will and persuades man that, despite its tragic and meaningless character, life
is still worth living and being affirmed.64

64
For a diametrically opposed conclusion, see Loeb, Suicide, Meaning and Redemption:
Nietzsches recommendation of a life-affirming suicide, and his quest for a new counter-ideal that will
enforce this recommendation, is intended not just for the individual pessimists like Schopenhauer and
Camus [the allusion here is to TI, Reconnaissance Raids of an Untimely Man 36; P. S.], nor even just for
the weak and sick majority-herd of humankind that he everywhere deplores, but for humankind itself.

26
Whereas the hitherto reigning life-denying ideal gave suicidal humankind an illegitimate reason to live,
the new life-affirming counter-ideal must give it a legitimate reason to die. Whereas prior to the ascetic
ideal the void of meaning prompted humankind to suicide, the new counter-ideal will offer humankind a
meaning and justification for its suicide. (p. 171; my italics); I am simply going to assume that
Nietzsche does indeed envision his future philosopher as commanding the self-destruction of humankind.
(p. 173; my italics) The italicized passages emphasize those points in which, I believe, Loebs reading
diverges the most from my interpretation.

27