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Between Cynicism and Idealism:
Nietzsche Against the Slanderers of Human Nature
(work in progress)

By Rony Guldmann

Electronic copy available at:
This paper is a response to what I see as an important and hitherto
unresolved tension in the Nietzsche corpus. In many contexts, Nietzsche seems
quite cynical about human nature. Whether or not Nietzsche is a psychological
egoist is debatable. But at the very least, he displays a deep suspicion of
ostensibly altruistic or idealistic motivations. At the same time, Nietzsche clearly
rejects the economic view of human nature which has come to inform our
understanding of egoism, the picture of homo economicus inexorably striving to
maximize his gains. Indeed, Nietzsche often lauds the idealism of free spirits and
other admirable personages, while scorning the more calculating attitudes of the
bourgeois. Finally, Nietzsche often expresses his uneasiness with egoism as a
concept, suggesting that it is a historically contingent idea that obscures the nature
of human agency.
Having describing this tension, I argue that Nietzsches penchant for
cynicism is best understood as but a tool by which to expose the limitations of
slave morality, and does not reveal his most basic views on human nature.
Nietzsches anti-teleological conception of human action, I argue, forbids the easy
assimilation of the will to power to psychological egoism. With this in mind, I
seek to demonstrate that the Genealogy of Morals is intended to illustrate how the
concept of egoism could only have arisen out of, and is only intelligible within the
context of, slave morality, which wielded suspicion about human egoism as a
mechanism through which to caricature the hated masters and slander human
nature in general. Nietzsches brand of cynicism, therefore, is to be understood as
a means of undermining a cynicism of another sort. As the secular heirs of slave
morality, modern cynics are less perspicuous and hard-nosed than they imagine.
In praising egoism at the expense of altruism, Nietzsche is actually encouraging
self-realization, not endorsing the caricature which slave morality has been made
of it. Nietzsches view of human nature and is far from rosy, and his morality
may be difficult to swallow. But given Nietzsches views on human agency, it
would be a mistake to interpret him as a psychological or ethical egoist, for these
views raises questions about the basic philosophical premises that underlie these

La Rochefoucauld and those other French masters of soul searching.are like
accurately aimed arrows, which hit the mark again and again, the black mark of
mans nature. Their skill inspires amazement, but the spectator who is guided not
by the scientific spirit, but by the humane spirit, will eventually curse an art which
seems to implant in the souls of men a predilection for belittling and doubt.

Human, All Too Human

We misunderstand the beast of prey and the man of preythoroughly, we
misunderstand nature, as long as we still look for something pathological at
the bottom of these healthiest of all tropical monsters and growths, or even for
some hell that is supposed to be innate in them; yet that is what almost all
moralists have so far done. Could it be that moralists harbor a hatred of the
primeval forest and the topics? And that the tropical man must be discredited at
any price..?

Beyond Good and Evil

1. Introduction
Nietzsche is an all-round elusive thinker. Yet his elusiveness may be greatest with
respect to the question of egoism. Despite all that Nietzsche says about the topic, his actual
position on the desirability and possibility of altruism of both egoism and altruism is far from
clear. It is clear that Nietzsche seeks to overthrow slave morality and its idealization of altruism,
but it is not obvious how he hopes to replace it. Certain passages suggest Nietzsche idealizes
egoism while others indicate he despises it. Some passages would seem arguments for
psychological egoism, while others claim that the very concept of egoism is confused. Is
Nietzsche of two or more minds on these questions, or is he, as one might expect, but
superficially self-contradictory? Sophisticated Nietzsche scholars know better than to reduce
Nietzsches highly nuanced views to garden-variety ethical and psychological egoism.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human, Marion Faber and Stephen Lehmann (trs.) (Lincoln:
University of Nebraska Press, 1984), Sec. 36.
Nevertheless, it remains difficult to articulate the nature of Nietzsches attitudes toward these
doctrines. As Nietzsches moral psychology is anything but sentimental, but the theoretical
upshot of his general temper is ambiguous.

What appear as contradictions may simply reflect the unsurprising fact that Nietzsches
claims regarding egoism and altruism are always informed by the subtle shades of meaning
indigenous to the particular context of the discussion. An adequate analysis of these contexts
would then reveal that superficially contradictory positions hang together in the context of his
larger project. But Nietzsches own account of his project is not particularly helpful reaching this
goal. In Daybreak, Nietzsche distances himself from the deep cynicism about human nature
characteristic of Human, All Too Human:
To deny morality this can mean, first: to deny that the moral motives which men
claim have inspired their actions really have done so it is thus the assertion that
morality consists of words and is among the coarser or more subtle deceptions (especially
self-deceptions) which men practice, and is perhaps so especially in precisely the case of
those most famed for virtue. Then it can mean: to deny that moral judgments are based
on truths. Here it is admitted that they really are motives of action, but that in this way it
is errors which, as the basis of all moral judgments, impel men to their moral actions.
This is my point of view: though I should be the last to deny that in very many cases,
there is some ground for suspicion that the other point of view that is to say the point of
view of La Rochefoucuald and others who think like him may also be justified and in
any event of great general application.

Later in The Gay Science, Nietzsche appears to reject the agenda he embraced enthusiastically in
The mistake made by the more refined among [the historians of morality] is that they
uncover and criticize the perhaps foolish opinions of a people about their morality, or of

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Walter Kaufmann (tr.) (New York: Vintage Books,
1989), Sec. 197.
Frithjof Bergman writes If one reads Nietzscheand in particular his most basic injunction concerning
what he most wants us to dotaking for granted the assumption of egoism and the image of human
nature that such egoism generates, Nietzsche simply does not make sense! What sense could it make to
preach to those already possessed by a monomaniac self-centerednessby only one divinity and worship,
namely of their own greatest benefit and advantagethat they should become themselves? Nietzsche
and Analytic Ethics, in Richard Schacht (ed.), Nietzsche, Genealogy, Morality (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1994), p. 92.
DayBreak 103
humanity about all human moralityopinions about its origin, religions sanction, the
superstition of free will, and things of that sortand then suppose that they have
criticized morality itself. But the value of a command thou shalt is still fundamentally
different from and independent of such opinions about it and the weeds of error that may
have overgrown itjust as certainly as the value of a medication for a sick person is
completely independent of whether he thinks about medicine scientifically or the way old
women do. Even if a morality has grown out of an error, the realization of this fact
would not as much as touch the problem of its value.

The neat distinctions articulated in these passages cannot do justice to the complex texture of
Nietzsches actual thinking. The evolution of Nietzsches views on morality and egoism is more
ambiguous than a transition from the psychological to the metaphysical to the normative. While
Nietzsche break with the utilitarian moral psychology of Human, All Too Human is clear, he
never really abandons his attraction toward the La Rochefoucauld-style cynicism most strongly
evinced of Human, All-Too Human. Far from being a mere point of view which may often be
illuminating, suspiciousness about the roots of ostensibly altruistic and idealistic motivations
seems always to lie near the core of his thinking. Moreover, it is clear that Nietzsches
psychological, metaphysical, and normative views hang together in ways that the above passages
fail to acknowledge. Nietzsches analysis of slave morality, while centrally concerned with the
value of our values, is facilitated by distinctive views about moral psychology and human
agency. Slave morality is pernicious not merely because it is deceptive, but because it refuses to
come to terms with some basic truths about what it is to be human, and so promotes a distorting
conception of humanity and its needs.

2. Four Strains of Nietzsche
I want to explore, and hopefully go some way in resolving, the complexities of
Nietzsches attitude toward that long philosophical tradition of pessimism about human nature. I

GS 345
will begin by laying out four strains of Nietzsches thought, which each touch on the question of
egoism from very different directions. I will then argue that the conceptual connections between
these strains are intelligible in the context of a sophisticated naturalism about human agency, and
that the unadulterated cynicism characteristic of the younger Nietzsche is profitably understood
as indicative of a less sophisticated naturalism, which Nietzsche gradually overcomes.

a. Nietzsche as Cynic
The cynic, according to Georg Simmel, is someone [whose] awareness of life is
adequately expressed when he has theoretically and practically exemplified the baseness of the
highest values and the illusion of any differences in values.
While claiming that cynicism is
the only form in which base souls approach honesty,
Nietzsche is himself cynical in many
respects. Thus, he laments that the lie of the ideal has so far been the curse on reality; on
account of it, mankind has itself become mendacious and false down to its most fundamental
Nietzsche identifies idealism with higher swindle and beautiful feelings.
It is
also a form of presumptuousness, for the idealist is someone who assumes, by virtue of a higher
origin, a right to cast strange and superior looks at actuality, and presumes that the the spirit
soars in pure self-sufficiency.

The cynical temperament, which appears from Platos Thrasymachus to Hobbes, and
from La Rochefoucauld to some strains of contemporary sociobiology, insists that things are not
as they seem, that ostensibly altruistic actions are often, if not always, expedients by which

Georg Simmel, The Philosophy of Money, David Frisby (tr.) (London and New York: Routledge and
Kegan Paul Ltd, 1990), p. 255.
Beyond Good and Evil, Sec. 26.
Ecce Homo, p. 218 (Preface, Sec. 2).
Ecce Homo, p. 288 (Human, All Too Human, Sec. 5).
Twilight 131
agents bolster their social status, disingenuously augment their self-esteem, or advance their most
private interests at the expense of the common good. Nietzsches insistence that Christian love
and humility are born of unsatisfied resentment is well known, but the scope of Nietzsches
suspicions extends well beyond Christianity and unto human nature itself. Citing the jealousy
and possessiveness that often accompany romantic love, Nietzsche expresses his amazement
with the fact that this wild avarice and injustice of sexual love has been glorified and deified so
much in all agesindeed that this love has furnished the concept of love as the opposite of
egoism while it actually may be the most ingenious expression of egoism.
The suspicion that
ostensibly sympathetic sentiments are egoistic at their core pervades Nietzsches corpus. Here is
another, not atypical, example:
Let us reflect seriously upon this question: why do we leap after someone who has
fallen into the water in front of us, even though we feel no affection for him?
..The truth is: in the feeling of pity I mean in that which is usually and
misleadingly called pity we are to be sure, not consciously thinking, of ourself
but are doing so very strongly unconsciously..An accident which happens to
another offends us: it would make us aware of our impotence, and perhaps our
cowardice, if we did not go to assist him.

The cynical Nietzsche may here be exposing particular forms of self-deception, rather than
building a broader case for psychological egoism. But the cumulative effect of such forays into
moral psychology is to leave his readers incredulous before most of what normally passes for
altruism. This could not have gone by unnoticed by Nietzsche, and he says little to preempt or
qualify the generalized cynicism that many of these passages seem crafted to instill.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Walter Kaufmann (tr.) (New York: Vintage Books, 1974), Sec.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak, R.J. Hollingdale (tr.) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982),
Sec. 133.
b. Critique of the Ego
Robin Small observes that Nietzsches tendency to emphasize unconscious egoism
leave[s] the notion of egoism still largely unexamined and, in particular, fails to consider the
nature of the ego that gives egoism its name. However, Small also notes that Nietzsche is
aware of that issue and, although adopting the language of egoism, does not take it at face
This awareness, thought perhaps inchoate in earlier writings, comes to fruition only
later. Indeed, Nietzsches analysis of the motivations for succoring drowning persons seems
sophomoric by comparison with the moral psychology of later writings, which aspire to far
greater philosophical and psychological sophistication. Less preoccupied with impugning the
motivations of ostensibly altruistic actors, the mature Nietzsche is more concerned to scrutinize
the egoism/altruism dichotomy itself. Being more complex and ambiguous than is usually
recognized, the concepts of egoism and altruism cannot yield a rich understanding of human
nature if employed uncritically.
The younger Nietzsche, along with his major influence at the time, Paul Ree, imputes a
high degree of self-deception to human beings. But in so doing, this Nietzsche also imputes a
higher degree of self-possession that the later Nietzsche can countenance. The spontaneous urge
to jump in a river to save a fellow man is unconsciously calculated to preserve his self-image as
courageous. But such explanations are incongruous with the theoretical framework informing
Nietzsches later analysis of the ego:
As every drive lacks intelligence, the viewpoint of utility cannot exist for it.
Every drive, in as much as it is active, sacrifices force and other drives: finally it
is checked; otherwise it would destroy everything through its excessiveness.
Therefore: the unegoistic, self-sacrificing, imprudent, is nothing specialit is
common to all the drivesthey do not consider the advantage of the whole ego
(because they do not consider at all), they act contrary to our advantage, against
the ego: and often for the ego. WP 372


Our actions are more automatic, and less calculating, than is presupposed by psychological
egoism. This doctrine is vitiated by the mistaken philosophical anthropology that underpins it.
Because the ego is only a conceptual synthesis, there are not actions prompted by egoism
WP 371. Because [t]he subject is only a fiction, the ego of which one speaks when one
censures egoism does not exist at all. WP 370. In Ecce Homo, Nietzsche goes so far as to label
the concepts of egoistic and unegoistic acts as both psychological absurdities.

Nietzsche comes to recognize that it is impossible to determine what egoism and altruism
ultimately consist in without first scrutinizing the culturally conditioned conceptions of human
agency that structure our moral psychology.
Yet despite Nietzsches many attacks on the ego
as the mistaken presupposition of egoism, Nietzsche nevertheless frames many of his
psychological observations in the language of egoism and altruism. For Nietzsche also
announces in the Will to Power that there could not be anything other than egoism. WP 362.
While Small is surely right that Nietzsche does not accept the language of egoism at face value,
this unwillingness is never adequately articulated. For surely, Nietzsches critiques of the ego as
a substantial, disembodied subject does not render meaningless all talk of egoism and altruism.
The will to power replaces egoism as the pivot of his moral psychology, but as this term hardly
suggests disinterested beneficence, it is natural to understand it as a species of egoism, or as the
explanation for it. It would be facile to articulate Nietzsches view of human nature in the terms
set forth by Hobbes or Rousseau, in terms of inherent egoism or altruism, yet it is all the same
easier to identify Nietzsche more closely with Hobbes. The often unsystematic character of

Ecce Homo, p. 266 (Good Books, Sec. 5).
The seeds of this project are already to be found in earlier writings like Daybreak, alongside
Nietzsches less groundbreaking observations.
Nietzsches philosophizing leaves it unclear what distinguishes his moral psychology from the
less nuanced thinking of such predecessors.

c. The Heroic Ideal
Nietzsches plain hostility to utilitarianism reveals that his sympathy for psychological
egoism coexists with a powerful aversion to the notion that human beings are rational calculators
of self-interest who, in the spirit of homo economicus, tough-mindedly employ social
institutions, if not social interaction itself, as mediums through which to maximize gains. He
famously claims that [m]an does not strive after happiness; only the Englishman does that. T33
Although Nietzsche sometimes suggests that individual egoism indirectly benefits the species,

he does not have anything like Adam Smiths invisible hand in mind. Rather than being a
Darwinian jungle in which the strongest, wiliest, or most adaptable prevail, commercial society
represents the triumph of asceticism and herd instinct over self-realization and individuality.
Only the contemptible bourgeois, not man as such, is a cool, cautious calculating machine. In
The Gay Science, Nietzsche suggests that this overly pessimistic moral psychology is the
hallmark of common natures:
Common natures consider all noble, magnanimous feelings inexpedient and
therefore first of all incredible. They blink when they hear of such things and
seem to feel like saying: Surely, there must be some advantage involved; one
cannot see through everything. They are suspicious of the noble person, as if he
surreptitiously sought his advantage. When they are irresistibly persuaded of the
absence of selfish intentions and gains, they see the noble person as a kind of fool;
they despise him in his joy and laugh at his shining eyes. How can one enjoy
being at a disadvantage? How could one desire with ones eyes open to be
disadvantaged? Some disease of reason must be associated with the noble
affection. Thus they think and sneer, as they sneer at the pleasure that a madman
derives from his fixed idea. What distinguishes the common type is that it never
loses sight of its advantage, and that this thought of purpose and advantage is

See The Gay Science, Sec. 1,4.
even stronger than the strongest instincts; not to allow these instincts to lead one
astray to perform inexpedient actsthat is their wisdom and pride.

Far from endorsing psychological egoism here, Nietzsche holds the doctrine suspect as typical of
common natures, whose prejudices regarding human nature are a reflection of their own
mediocrity. Their egoism is contrasted not with the altruism of a Mother Theresa but with the
nobility of individuals who pursue a single goal in disregard of its difficulties, relishing hardship
for the challenges it represents. The noble person admired here is not straightforwardly an
altruist or egoist. Unlike both these types, he is ultimately motivated by a sense of his actions
importance or needfulness a fixed idea not the benefits he anticipate they will reap, either
for himself or for others. Nietzsches cynicism thus appears to be in tension with an equally
powerful streak of idealism. While not an altruist in any ordinary sense, Nietzsches prophet
Zarathustra is genuinely concerned with mankinds future (though in ways it cannot appreciate,
and actually resents). Zarathustra wants, like his wisest men, to create the world before
which [he] can kneel,
and admires those acting out of steely conviction, even at great cost to
themselves. Zarathustras audience is encouraged neither to pursue its advantage, nor to
recognize that it is already doing so, but to wean itself from its attachment to comfort and
convenience and embrace higher ideals. For all his reservations about both the possibility and
the value of altruism, Nietzsche genuinely embraces a certain conception of self-sacrifice. For
he admires the one who keeps back no drop of spirit for himself but wants to be the spirit of his
virtue entirely.
Rejecting the notion that human beings are ends in themselves, Nietzsche
urges them to recognize themselves as means to the instantiation of an ideal. What is great in
man is that he is a bridge and not a goal.. Z 44,I love him whose soul is lavish, who neither

The Gay Science, Sec. 3.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, R.J. Holingdale (tr.) (Penguin Books, 1969), p. 136 (Of
wants nor returns thanks: for he always gives and will not preserve himself. Z44. But
Niezschean self-sacrifice differs from that of slave morality in fundamental ways. Whereas slave
morality interprets such lavishness as necessarily implying a self-effacing submission to a higher
power, Nietzsche understands it as potentially indicating a self-affirming allegiance to an ideal
or virtue. It is the sacrifice, not of ones interests to those of another, but the sacrifice of ones
identity to a project.
Following Ree, the younger Nietzsche regards vanity as arising out of habitual reflection
upon the utility of our qualities, as these are perceived by others. But for the mature Nietzsche,
positive self-feeling is not an afterthoughtmerely the internalization of the value that others
assign our altruismbut a core need of human agents. In emphasizing the foibles of human
vanity, the younger Nietzsche (and Ree) disregard that our sense of self-importance is always
rooted in a particular worldview in the context of which our qualities are intelligible as virtues.
The mature Nietzsche possesses a stronger sense that there may be differences in criteria of
value, and that human conflict is a product of conflicting criteria, rather than individuals self-
interested pursuit of scarce resources, for the concept of advantage is not intelligible in
abstraction from a heroic self-understanding founded on some broader cosmology which must be
accepted as a given if our agency is to function effectively. To employ Charles Taylors term,
human agents are defined by their strong evaluators. At the most basic level, they understand
themselves as in terms of a conception of what is ultimately significant in life, a conception that
structures their interpretations of the situations to which they are responding.
The importance Nietzsche attaches to such convictionand the possibility of its
deteriorationis evident in the evolution of his conceptualizations of slave morality. In The Gay
Science, Nietzsche describes this moralitys motivations through the rubric of egoism and

Thus Spoke Zarathustra, p. 44 (Zarathustras Prologue).
altruism, accusing its adherents of hypocrisy in their celebration of selflessness: The praise of
the selfless, self-sacrificial, the virtuous.certainly was not born from the spirit of selflessness.
The neighbor praises selflessness because it brings him advantage.
By the Genealogy,
however, slave morality (now labeled as such) becomes an object of genuine belief, and not
merely an expedient to its adherents interests as the sovereign is an expedient to the interests
of Hobbesian agents. As David Owen has argued, the mature Nietzsche ultimately wants to re-
evaluate slave ideals as intrinsic values, and not merely as instrumental ones in disguise.

While it is true that Nietzsche does sometimes cast the slave revolt in morality as plotting and
self-consciously vengeful (particularly in describing the priests
) Nietzsches slaves believe or
at least need and wish to believe in the truth of their morality.
They could maintain their
artificial self-esteem only by persevering in the belief that their standard of goodness e.g.
mildness and self-effacement is an objective one. The slaves would not, as might be expected
of genuine egoists, have been content with merely bamboozling the masters into accepting their
worldview, though this would have sufficed to secure a victory over them.
The slaves resented the masters not only for wounding their self-esteem but, more
importantly, for weakening their conviction in their right to self-esteem. Unlike homo
economicus, Nietzschean agents are ultimately concerned with their value, not merely with

The Gay Science, Sec. 21.
David Owen, Nietzsche, Re-evaluation and the Turn to Genealogy, European Journal of Philosophy
11:3, p. 251.
Nietzsche describes God of Judaism during its decadent period as an instrument in the hands of
priestly agitators, T147, and calls the Church Fathers of early Christianity were shrewd to the point of
holiness. T195 The so-called improvers of mankind never doubted their right to tell lies. T69-70.
See Rudiger Bittners Ressentiment (in Richard Schacht (ed.), Nietzsche, Genealogy, Morality
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), pp. 127-138) for an interesting discussion of this tension
in Nietzsche. Bittner sees an irreconcilable contradiction between the slaves need to believe in the truth
of their invented morality and their recognition of it as an invention. Bittner concludes that we must do
away with the second element, arguing that slave morality must have arisen unselfconsciously among the
slaves. This move, while intrinsically plausible, is unnecessary. Sartre offers a compelling explanation
getting things of value. As Robert Solomon put it, Nietzsche holds that human beings ultimately
prefer a sense of self-importance to mere satisfaction.
Retaining this sense requires that one be
partial to whatever worldview endows ones particular qualities with significance, and seek to
convince oneself and others of its truth, even in the face of ones own doubts.
In sometimes suggesting that human ideals are epiphenomenal upon the will to power,
Nietzsche is arguing that what gets misinterpreted as contact with a transcendent realm reflects
the peculiarities of individuals physiological and psychological constitutions. Nevertheless,
while meaning may not be inherent to the fabric of the universe, the need for meaning is, or has
become, an inescapable feature of human agency: Gradually man has become a fantastic animal
that has to fulfill one more condition of existence than any other animal: man has to believe, to
know, from time to time why he exists..
Prior to the rise of the ascetic ideal, man suffered
from the problem of what he meant, the problem of the justification or explanation or
affirmation of his existence.
The meaninglessness of suffering, not the suffering, was the
curse which has so far blanketed mankind.
This is because [i]f we possess out why of life,
we can put of with almost any how. T33
Nietzsches concern with the problem of nihilism reflects an underlying conception of
agency. For Nietzsche, ideals are prerequisites for willing itself.
In arguing that the ascetic

for how one can both believe and disbelieve something at the same time (see the discussion of Bad Faith
in Being and Nothingness).
Robert C. Solomon, One Hundred Years of Ressentiment: Nietzsches Genealogy of Morals, in
Richard Schacht (ed.), Nietzsche, Genealogy, Morality (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994),
p. 98.
The Gay Science, Sec. 1.
On the Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay, Sec. 13.
On the Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay, Sec. 28.
Robert Guay takes up this point: To be engaged in a particular activity involves conformity to
standards that obtain independent of that performance. The possibilities of action are thus only distinct
against a context of standards; in the complete absence of any such constraint, there would be no means
by which to make sense of that activity as such (Nietzsche on Freedom, European Journal of
Philosophy 10:3, p. 308). Guay draws attention to the same tension noted by Bittner (above): Nietzsche
ideal triumphed because a counterideal was lacking and because man would rather will even
nothingness than not will,
Nietzsche suggests that the will necessarily aims at an ideal, and
will opt for the paradoxical ideal of nihilism when other candidates are not available. Human
agents will, not simply to procure various goods, internal and external, but to instantiate their
understanding of what human existence is about. That is, while ideals may function to obscure
the contingent, animal like-nature of the human condition and, therefore, of their own origin,
Nietzsche recognizes that such distortion has, in the vast majority of cases, been indispensable
for surviving this condition. Thus, Nietzsche is concerned with our judgments as to the worth of
life; it is the ability or inability to judge life worthwhile which explains human motivation, not
egoism and altruism. T39. Egoism and altruism are therefore derivative values. Neither is
lauded or condemned as such because each carries value only insofar as it facilitates, or fails to
facilitate, optimism toward life. For morality must be understood, not simply as a response to
the problem of social organization, but also as a solution to the problem of meaning.
Yet it remains unclear precisely how Nietzsches existential concerns for human beings
as strong evaluators bears on the issue of egoism. Lou Salome interpreted the difference
between the positivist Ree and the Nietzsche of Daybreak as involving deeply different
interpretations of the egoistic. Small 200. Whereas Rees egoism aspires to a comfortable and
happy life, Nietzsche is concerned that [i]f one gives up a happy life, what remains of the
heroic life? In the same sprit she contrasts Rees sober positivism with Nietzsches more
heroic, quasi-religious temper, which passionately aspires to knowledge as an ideal. 201 But

wants to maintain both that ideals are creations of the will and that willing presupposes allegiance to an
already existing ideal. As a metaphysical proposition, the first point is obviously subject to debate. As a
thesis of moral psychology, the second strikes me as difficulty to dispute: We must regard ideals as
objective (in some sense) because the mere fact that an ideal happens to be ours provides insufficient
motivation for keeping it as ours.
Ecce Homo, pp. 312-313 (Genealogy of Morals).
what is the theoretical content of what appear as temperamental differences? Comparing
Nietzsches valorization of egoism with that of Herbert Spencer, Small suggests that Nietzsche
embraces a heroic, non-bourgeois form of egoism, an ideal is wrapped in poetic symbolism.
164-5 But given that egoism is so often associated with bourgeois attitudes of calculation, what
precisely remains of egoism once it is stripped of its bourgeois aspect? Given that the heroic is
often understood as a kind of hypertrophied altruism, the conceptual distinction between the
heroic and the egoistic is elusive.

d. Egoism as Cultural Artifact
Beyond conflicting with his idealism, Nietzsches attraction towards psychological
egoism is also in tension with his insistence that the concept of egoism originated as part and
parcel of the slave morality he rejects, that it expresses a mode of perception with a particular
cultural and, in turn, physiological origin. The First Essay of The Genealogy of Morals is
profitably read as an effort to explain how the concept of egoism and its opposite assumed the
center stage of our moral tradition. Nietzsche asks how the most inoffensive, and (to his mind)
most unimpressive, human being came to be celebrated as the most admirable. How did the
Christian virtues of humility and submission become the paramount values around which so
many now organize their lives? What could have made these ideals so appealing that they could
displace the pagans affirmative virtues of pride, strength, and courage? As Bergmann argues,
self-abnegation achieved its appeal only because it was sold as a vital corrective to egoism.

But egoism was never, in Nietzsches view, a genuine danger, for the concept of egoism itself
was not even in currency prior to the rise of slave morality. Far from being that to which slave
morality was reacting, egoism was its invention: it was only when aristocratic value judgments
declined that the whole antithesis egoistic unegoistic obtruded itself more and more on the
human conscience.
Life had previously carried on without much thought given to the very
concept of egoism. The whole business of praising and criticizing proceeded unimpeded by its
absence, with the spectrum of good and bad providing the vocabulary through which
individuals judged themselves and one another. The world was understood to consist of good
masters and bad slaves, rather than egoists and altruists.
The slaves were downtrodden and disadvantaged in every respect, while the masters were
blessed with an optimism and exuberance that could only inspire the slaves resentment. Being
too impotent to vent this resentment directly, the slaves ingeniously resorted to a spiritual
revenge. They recast their ineluctable weakness as admirable self-restraint, a willed virtue
embraced in recognition of their place in the order of things and in reaction to human egoism,
while caricaturing the masters health and vitality as this egoism, a stubborn if not malicious
rebellion against Gods order:
[The one who is] evil in the sense of the morality of ressentiment [that of the
slaves] is precisely the good man of the other morality [the masters], precisely
the noble, powerful man, the ruler, dyed in another color, interpreted in another
fashion, seen in another way by the venomous eye of ressentiment.

The masters overflowing energy was represented by the slaves as the eruption of a diabolical
force. The unselfconscious athleticism of the Greco-Roman warrior became transformed into the
image of sneering gargoyles
a caricature of the masters real motivations, which according to

Only after presupposing egoism will we be inclined to see morality as a necessary institution that
restrains the presumptuous and overbearing and protects the disadvantaged, weak, and frail
(Bergmann, p. 84).
On the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay, Sec. 2.
On the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay, Sec. 11.
For evil conjures up a sense of threat, connotes dark, demonic forces set out to defile all purity
(Bergmann, p. 81).
Nietzsche were no more sinister than a desire to overcome, a desire to throw down, a desire to
become master, a thirst for enemies, resistances and triumphs.
Rather than indicating spite,
malice, or concern for narrow advantage, these desires flowed ineluctably from the masters
enviable health and vitality their enthusiastic impulsiveness in anger, love, reverence,
gratitude, and revenge.
Who (if anyone) was to benefit from this celebration of vitality was a
decidedly secondary consideration for the masters. It was only the slaves who imagined that
masters were somehow driven by self-love or some other vice, mistakenly inferring from the
masters neglect of the slaves well-being that they were self-consciously occupied with their
The same kind of distortion will inform the herds understanding of the contemporary
free-spirit, who will necessarily be regarded as evil by their complacent contemporaries:
The strongest and most evil spirits have so far done the most to advance
humanity: again and again they relumed passions that were going to sleepall
ordered society puts the passions to sleepand they reawakened again and again
the sense of comparison, of contradiction, of the pleasure in what is new, daring,

Nietzsche argues not that the strong are genuinely evil but that they will inevitably be so
regarded by those too small-minded to appreciate their virtues. Unable to recognize the free
spirits iconoclastic creativity for what it is, the herd will suspect him of harboring sinister
intentions and resent him for disrupting their equanimity in his pursuit of surreptitious advantage,
or out of an ingrained maliciousness. Nietzsche exhorts free spirits against internalizing this
misrepresentation, encouraging them to understand their mission in terms of its long-term
contribution to humanity rather than in terms of the short-term suffering it inflicts on their
myopic contemporaries: I love him who justifies the men of the future and redeems the men of

On the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay, Sec. 13.
On the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay, Sec. 10.
the past: for he wants to perish by the men of the present.
Nietzsches ideal human being is
not disposed toward the spontaneous beneficence of a Mother Teresa, he nonetheless contributes
to humanity, and in ways this his contemporaries will of necessity misunderstand.
Of course, the modern sensibility is more ambiguous in its attitude toward egoism that is
slave morality. Indeed, the very concept of egoism has mutated. Whereas egoism understood
theologically, as rebellion against God, against ones place in his order, and against the
recognition of other human beings as his creatures, it is, with the secularization of slave morality
in the modern bourgeois ethos, identified with hard-nosed concern with benefit-maximization.
Nevertheless, the instrumentalist moral psychology of homo economicus has its origins in a
distinctively religious outlook. Nietzsche believes that the rise of an instrumental conception of
human motivation can be observed in the decay of ancient Israel, which laid the fertile soil for
Christianity. This was facilitated by the most shameful act of historical falsification, by which
Israels past became interpreted under the influence of its priestly class. T149 Formerly,
Yahweh was worshiped as the expression of [Israels] consciousness of their power, of their
delight in themselves. T147. Originally an expression of Israels gratitude for its good fortune,
only later did sacrifice to God come to be understood as a means of expiating guilt and securing
rewarda stupid salvation-mechanism of guilt towards Yahweh and punishment, piety towards
Yahweh and reward. 149/26. The Jewish God became an instrument in the hands of priestly
agitators, who interpret all good fortune as reward, all misfortune as punishment. Only out of
a preoccupation reward and punishment could the concept of rational-interest develop.
By contrast, the earlier master morality represented an expressive rather than instrumental
ethos. The higher castes rule not because they want to but because they are. T 190. With

The Gay Science, Sec. 4.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, pp. 44-5 (Zarathustras Prologue).
virtue, one renounces advantage T34. For Nietzsche, the inclination to prudently deliberate
upon the probable costs and benefits of ones actions is to be contrasted with the sense of
necessity, of compulsion characteristic of the noble disposition. While the weak seek to derive
happiness as the reward for religious piety, a well-constituted human being, a happy one, must
perform certain actions and instinctively shrinks from other actions, he transports the order of
which he is the physiological representative into his relations with other human beings and with
things. T58-9.
The rise of slave morality and its concern with the egoistic introduces into our moral
tradition a misunderstanding of human nature originating in the psychological needs of the
resentful and self-loathing, who insist that health, well-constitutedness, strength, pride, and the
sense of power [are] necessarily vicious things for which one must one day pay.
The slaves
willed misunderstanding of the masters led to a more general misunderstanding of human nature
itself, with the masters becoming only the most unrepentant of sinners, the ultimate symbols of
human corruption. Nietzsche is concerned that, as part of a broader shift in cultural values, the
concept of egoism distracts us from the masterly virtues by obscuring the very problems to
which they represent a solution:
Now consider the way the moral man is dressed up, how he is veiled behind
moral formulas and concepts of decencythe way our actions are benevolently
concealed by the concepts of duty, virtue, sense of community, honorableness,
self-denialshould the reasons for all this not be equally good? I am not
suggesting that all this is meant to mask human malice and villainythe wild
animal in us; my idea is, on the contrary, that it is precisely as tame animals that
we are a shameful sight and in need of the moral disguise, that the inner man in
Europe is not by a long shot bad enough to show himself without shame (or be
beautiful). The European disguises himself with morality because he has become
a sick, sickly, crippled animal that has good reasons for being tame, for he is
almost an abortion, scarce half made up, weak, awkward.

On the Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay, Sec. 14.
The Gay Science, Sec. 352.
In preparing us for some variety of the tough-minded suspiciousness characteristic of Hobbes
and La Rochefoucauld, the first lines of this passage seem deliberately crafted to obscure
Nietzsches actual position. Nietzsche seeks to draw our attention to, and thereby call into
question, our culturally sustained credulity before this dim view of human nature, which
underpins the moral tradition he seeks to overthrow. Though themselves secular, modern cynics
are heirs to a moral psychology that originated in an other-worldly religious movement. Their
putative perspicacity into human nature is therefore suspect, for in fixating our attention on
egoism, they, like their Christian predecessors, discourage concern with mans overall health and
vitality. Nietzsche draws our attention to these problems by shifting the tone abruptly so as to
provoke sentiments of contempt and disappointment rather than of resentment or righteous
indignation. The central human problem is not self-centeredness but sickness, despair, and
overall underdevelopment. The needed corrective is not moral enjoinders against egoism but
some contemporary version of the master morality brought into disrepute by the slaves.

3. Basic Problems
Is Nietzsches cynicism ultimately compatible with his idealism? Can his partiality
toward psychological egoism be reconciled with his views on the historical contingency of
egoism and his reservations about its usefulness as a concept? It would be convenient to dismiss
Nietzsches La Rochefoucauld-style cynicism as but a stage in the development of his mature
thought. But it is unclear whether and how the older Nietzsche would correct the younger one.
For in reflecting on Human, All Too Human in Ecce Homo, Nietzsche is very far from
repudiating its tone. In general, Nietzsches later writings retain much of the flavor of his earlier
La Rochefoucauld-style predilection for belittling and doubt.
I will argue that the seemingly inconsistent strains of Nietzsches moral psychology can
be profitably understood as complementary aspects of an overarching effort to rescue master
morality from the disrepute into which the slaves have cast it. To do this, Nietzsche must recast
human agency in a way that places the masters in a new, more appealing light. As Richard
Schacht put it, Nietzsche wishes to reveal the various possibilities that our attained humanity
opens up to us.
In the process of exploding our inherited moral prejudices, Nietzsche seeks to
simultaneously expose the mistaken conception of human nature that endows these prejudices
with their superficial plausibility. In recasting human agency, Nietzsche is concomitantly
recasting what counts as egoism and altruism, reconceptualizing common moral distinctions in
order to render them meaningful to human beings as they are.
Raymond Geuss argues that the various phenomena designates as morality by
Nietzsche are united by no more than a family resemblance.
Against this, I will argue that the
various values and attitudes Nietzsche associates with morality pity, asceticism, altruism,
suspicion of power are united in deriving their appeal from a particular misunderstanding of
human agency and its possibilities. I want to interpret Nietzsches Genealogy along the lines
Geuss elsewhere suggests illuminate Foucault as a historical dissolution of self-evident
Nietzsche seeks to demonstrate how moral concern as we have come to understand
it is intelligible only on the basis of a heretofore unquestioned picture of agency. The slaves
understanding of morality as a response to inherent egoism and their understanding of agency
constitute a logically interconnected whole. For the concept of selfishness as understood by the
slaves was the product of their misconceptions about the human self ones begotten by the

Richard Schacht, Of Morals and Menschen, in Richard Schacht (ed.), Nietzsche, Genealogy, Morality,
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), p. 428.
Raymond Geuss, Nietzsche and Morality, European Journal of Philosophy 5:1, pp. 1-3.
Raymond Geuss, Genealogy as Critique in European Journal of Philosophy 10:2, p. 212.
peculiarities of their self-understanding. To establish the slaves view of the masters as but an
expression of a contingent self-understanding is therefore to bring into the question the universal
value of any morality that is logically predicated upon this view.
I will not argue that Nietzsche is consistently lucid about the direction of that I claim can
be discerned in his thinkingthat he self-consciously formulated the project in the light of which
I am suggesting he should be read. For Nietzsche is fundamentally conflicted, possessed of an
inchoate suspicion of slave morality while at the same time being under its sway, intellectually
beholden to the conceptual tools that our moral tradition has bequeathed him. Nietzsches
progressively struggles to free himself from this inheritance by reinterpreting the meaning of
traditional moral concepts, in the pursuit of a language through which to express and justify a
different vision of humanity. The early Nietzsche was still lacking [his] own language for [his]
own things.
Nevertheless, his ideas arose within him not as isolated, capricious, or sporadic
things but from a common root, from a fundamental will of knowledge, pointing imperiously into
the depths, speaking more and more precisely, demanding greater and greater precision.

Nietzsches earlier, less sophisticated, moral psychology is a harbinger of his later, explicit
attempts to unearth the philosophical presuppositions of slave morality. Given that Nietzsches
very attempt to overcome slave morality is conditioned by it, we must approach Nietzsches
cynicism from a retrospective standpoint, so as to untangle his mature brand of suspicion from
that indigenous slave morality and its secular intellectual heirs, like Hobbes and La
Rochefoucauldto which some of Nietzsches arguments give unwitting expression.
To untangle these, we must examine the relationship between two strains of reductionism
that manifest themselves throughout Nietzsches work. The first is a naturalism involving the

On the Genealogy of Morals, Preface, Sec. 4.
Ibid., Sec. 2.
reinterpretation of what have traditionally been conceived as supernatural phenomenonbe it
spirituality, our sense of ourselves as free, moral judgmentas natural occurrences to be
explained in terms of the particularities of an individuals physiological constitution, life-history,
and the culture. For instance, in Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche observes that the ideal of
justice with its respect for the weak originated in the fact of the slaves usefulness to the
Nietzsche seeks to demonstrate that habits of conduct that originated as responses to
particular conditions were thoroughly internalized and thereby misinterpreted as moral intuitions
of a seemingly ethereal origin, a misinterpretation that came to sustain a false, because
etherealized conception of human nature. Thus, Nietzsche explains the capacity for self-criticism
as reflecting, not the existence of some transcendent rational faculty, but a struggle between two
opposing drives.
Our moral intuitions reflect habits responsive to our empirical condition.
Morality is the union of the pleasant and the useful, and is embraced because long habit has
rendered it the only possibility of feeling at ease.
The conviction that lying is immoral
expresses not our access as rational beings to Kants intelligible realm, but the humble fact that
effective lies can involve considerable calculation and the path of compulsion and authority is
surer than that of cunning.
What strike us as categorical imperatives are misinterpretations
originating in the internalizations of principles that first arose as hypothetical ones.
The second reductionist strain in Nietzsche is his already-examined cynicism about
human motivation, his propensity to redescribe other-regarding and idealistic sentiments as
egoistic at base. This, second strain of reductionism is strongly connected to the first, because

Human, All Too Human 92, 93
Daybreak 109
Human, All Too Human 97; see also sec. 98 (the social instinct grows out of pleasure), sec. 99
(Morality originates as compulsion but eventually becomes custom, -- later still, free obedience, and
finally almost instinct before it becomes associated with virtue.)
Human, All Too Human 54.
the early Nietzsche, in line with our moral tradition, believes that the reduction of altruistic to the
egoistic follows from the reduction of the distinctively human to the merely animal. For
example, Nietzsche argues that the saints the religiously-justified ideal of self-control and self-
mastery merely manifests his desire to tyrannize. The condition of the soul in which the saint or
embryo saint, was composed of elements which we all know well, only that under the influence
of other than religious conceptions they exhibit themselves in other colors and are then
accustomed to encounter mans blame.
Nietzsche here naturalizes religious feeling, by
demonstrate that the saintly sensibility is ultimately an amalgam of primitive animal power-
instincts, instincts of which we would disapprove in other contexts, where the egoistic nature of
such animal-like dispositions can be readily recognized in the absence of a religious narrative
does not obfuscate their objective character.
This association of the natural with the egoistic reflects the influence of Schopenhauer on
the early Nietzsche. While Nietzsche understood himself as reacting against Schopenhauer, the
cynical Nietzsche actually adopts some of the Schopenhauerian worldviews most fundamental
premises. Unlike Schopenhauer, Nietzsche denies the metaphysical possibility of altruism. But
in so doing, he incorporates Schopenhauers conception of what counts as altruism, and so what
counts as egoism. It is important to note that, for Schopenhaur, egoism is not, most
fundamentally, a calculating concern with achieving our advantage, as it is usually conceived,
but the ineluctable intuition of the ontological primacy of our perspective on the world.
Calculating attitudes are derivative upon an egoism that is coterminous with life itself, with our
very sense for reality. [Man] is all in all to himself: and since he feels that he contains within
his ego all that is real, nothing can be of greater importance to him than his own self.

Human, All Too Human 142.
Id. at 77
Ordinarily, the pain and pleasure of others simply strikes us as unreal by comparison with our
own. This experience does not originate in some conscious or unconscious decision to favor
ourselves, but from the basic structure of human agency as a natural, empirical phenomenon. It
originates in the fact that we are directly conscious of own subjectivity while only indirectly so
of others, or, in other words, the fact that our nervous system ends at our own skin. Egoism
and human agency naturalistically conceived are coextensive. Egoism is, both in animals and
men, connected in the closest way with their very essence and being; indeed, it is one and the
same thing. Egoism exists in consequence of the subjectivity which is essential to our
consciousness that each person is himself the whole world and the urgent impulse to exist, and
exist under the best circumstances.

Having identified egoism with the very structure of our agency as embodied, natural
beings, Schopenhauer must conclude genuinely non-egoistic acts are not only rare and difficult,
but downright miraculous. Experiencing others pain is mysterious because [r]eason can give
not direct account of, and its causes like outside the field of experience.
Altruism is
miraculous in involving nothing less that the removal of the difference between two agents, the
fact that one is not the other, since this difference is the precise raison detre of their egoism.
S85 Compassion obliterate[s] the distinction between ego and the non-ego,
dissolving the illusion of individuation. This dissolution permits a kind of contact with a higher
reality, the transcendence of mere appearance, action out of which accrues genuine moral worth.
This is because genuine altruism requires that the others weal and woe must directly constitute
my motive; just as, ordinarily, my own weal and woe form it. S85.

Id. at 75
The Basis of Morality, 103.
Having identified egoism with human agency itself, Schopenhauers analysis necessarily
places human nature in the shadow of egoism. On the Schopenhauerian criterion of altruism,
any behavior motivated otherwise than by the purely objective desire of simply knowing that
the other has been helped qualifies as egoistic.
Anything other that that pure, disinterested,
objective participation in the condition and lot of others
is tantamount to egoism. For
altruism requires the very transcendence of ones empirical condition, the rendering non-
operational of our natural proclivities that generally contaminate our attitudes towards others
welfare. Schopenahuers cynicism originates not in suspicions about unacknowledged
motivations, as with La Rochefoucauld, but in a certain conception of the ethical significance of
a naturalistic conception of human beings, in which egoism and the structure ofhuman agency
are collapsed. This conception is clearly operative in the following passage from Human, All-
Too Human:
[A] nature that is only capable of purely un-egoistic actions is more fabulous than
the phoenix; it cannot even be clearly imagined, just because, when closely
examined, the whole idea un-egoistic action vanishes into air. No man ever did
a thing which was done only for others and without any personal motive; how
should he be able to do anything which had no relation to himself, and therefore
without inward obligation (which must always have its foundation in a personal
need. How could the ego act without ego?

In denying the possibility of altruism, Nietzsche is here affirming Schopenhauers identification
of egoism with agency, and the resulting conception of altruism as a super-empirical
phenomenon. Human beings are inherently egoistic merely by virtue of having desires,
regardless of these desires particular objects.
For irrespective of its objects, desire expresses

Id. at 140.
Id. 102.
The Basis of Morality, 110.
Human All Too Human 103
The desire for something (wish, inclination, longing) is present in all instances mentioned: to give way
to it, with all its consequences, is certainly not un-egoistic. Human, All Too Human 57.
needs originating in our constitution as natural beings, needs incompatible with the
transcendence of nature presupposed by Schopenhauerian altruism. Nietzsche may seem guilty
of what John Dewey called the obvious fallacy of transforming the (truistic) fact of acting as
a self into the fiction of always acting for self.
But in claiming that no on is capable of doing
anything which had no relation to himself, Nietzsche is arguing that our actions express the
logic of our physiological constitutions which is never responsive to an ethical principle that acts
on us directly, that is, independently of our physiological constitutions. Nietzsche assumes that
act as a self and acting for a self are morally equivalent because he, like Kant and Schopenhauer,
accepts that such direct influence is the sine qua non of genuine morality.
Having naturalistically rejected the metaphysical possibility of such influence, Nietzsche
must necessarily be suspicions of morality as it is ordinarily conceived. Thus, he attacks the
notion that morality is a miraculous phenomenon,
targeting the worshipers of the morally
marvelous, for their belief that morality is inherently inexplicable, absolutely unnatural,
Nietzsches skepticism about Schopenhauerian compassion is a direct extension
of his naturalism. Because our nervous system extends no farther than our skins, and as such
requires us to infer others pain rather than feeling it. Our sympathies being bounded by the
limitations of our nervous system, any sympathy we feel for others is the product of analogy,

rather than the direct experience which would require suspending the laws of nature. Nietzsches

John Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University
Press, 1988), p. 96.
Are these deeds of morality miracles, because, to use Schopenhauers expression, they are impossible
yet performed? Human, All Too Human 57
Human, All Too Human 136
As far as our nervous system extends we protect ourselves from pain; if it extended farther, to our
fellow-men, namely, we should do no one an injuryWe conclude by analogy that something hurts
somebody, and through memory and the strength of imagination we may suffer from it ourselves. But
still what a difference there is between toothache and pain (pit) that the sight of toothache calls forth.
HAH 104 To cause pain per se does not exist, except in the brains of philosophers, neither does to give
pleasure per se (pity in Schopenhauers sense. HAH 99
skepticism about Schopenhaerian malice is similarly motivated. We cause pain merely in order
to experience the sensation of our own power, and not to induce pain in othersof which we
have no direct intuition.

Conceptually, then, the younger Nietzsches cynicism is highly dependent upon a long
philosophical tradition, stretching from Plato to Kant and Schopehnauer, that, in various ways
dichotomizes the real and the apparent, the noumenal and the empirical, the free from the unfree.
The mature Nietzsche, by contrast, is characterized by an increasingly acute awareness that these
are false dichotomies that, in pervading traditional interpretations of the human condition, have
distorted our self-understanding as agents. This Nietzsche argues that the idea of the real or
intelligible world is not only false in itself, but furthermore falsifies that with which it is
contrasted, the apparent world. Only if we first posit a changeless real world is the actual
world relegated to the status of mere appearance.
Only then does the world of our experience
then seem almost irredeemable corrupted, as contaminated by a lack of being, as a sphere of
mere becoming. Nietzsche accuses German philosophy, and Kant in particular, of re-introducing
an ideal world and thereby distorting the character the real, physical world: One had made of
reality an appearance; one had made a completely fabricated world, that of being, into reality. .
This is because [t]he characteristics which have been assigned to the real being of things
are the characteristics of non-being, of nothingness
Overcoming this fabrication will permit
us to attach value to becoming in its own right, rather than merely as the process of rectifying a
lack. Once the fictitiousness of the Platonic heaven of is recognized, that to which it has
traditionally been contrasted will appear in a different light: with the abolition of the real world,

The aim of malice is not the suffering of others itself, but our own enjoyment, as the feeling of
revenge or stronger nervous excitement. Human, All To Human 103/50
Twilight 49
Twilight 133
we have also abolished the apparent one.
Our sense that the natural is vitiated by some
inherent ontological imperfection is thus to be explained in terms of contingent cultural values.
The real world can be found lacking only against the backdrop of an ideal that, properly
understood, is ultimately an expression of nihilism.
It follows that Schopenhauers ideal of altruism, predicated as it is on the intelligible-
empirical dichotomy, has distorted that with which it is contrasted, the world of humanly
possible motivations, as mere egoism. Slave morality destroys any meaningful contrast between
egoism and altruism by casting the latter as an ethereal, quasi-mystical act of self-surrender,
rather than one particular expression of physical and psychological vitality. Only on the basis of
this rarefied ideal does human desire appear irredeemably egoistic. This unreal, and unneeded,
ideal of altruism unfairly devalues every realistically human attitude, reducing all these to mere
By virtue of these errors we have hitherto accorded certain actions a higher value
than they possess: we have segregated them from egoistic and unfree actions.
If we now realign them with the latter, as we shall have to do, we shall certainly
reduce their value (the value we feel they possess), and indeed shall do so to an
unfair degree, because the egoistic and unfree actions were hitherto evaluated
too low on account of their supposed profound and intrinsic difference. Will
they from then on be performed less often because they are now valued less
highly?Inevitably! At least for a good length of time, as long as the balance of
value feelings continues to be affected by the reaction of former errors. But our
counter-reckoning is that we shall restore to these actions their valuewe shall
deprive them of their bad conscience! And since they have hitherto been by far
the most frequent actions, and will continue to be so for all future time, we
remove from the entire aspect of action and life its evil appearance! This is a very
significant result! When man no longer regards himself as evil he ceases to be

Nietzsche suggests that, having recognized the structural similarities between egoism and
altruism, we will initially dismiss what has been traditionally accepted as altruism as egoism in

Twilight 49
Twilight 51
disguise and see no more value in ostensibly other-directed actions than in transparently self-
centered ones. But we will eventually recognize that much that is customarily condemned as
egoism is objectionable only against the backdrop of a heretofore unquestioned ascetic ideal that
divorces altruism from the feeling of power, as through the latter threatens our actions moral
worth by displacing all genuinely sympathetic sentiments. The contrast between two classes of
actionbetween pure, Christ-like altruism and human action as it actually isinvolves in act of
abstraction, whereby the essence of human action becomes reduced to what all action has in
common, that it expresses the idiosyncracies of our constitutions as natural beings. The contrast
between the inclinations and reason obscures qualitative differences between various kinds of
inclinations, reducing them to their deficiency vis--vis a noumenal realm. The Schopenhauerian
conceptualization of egoism and altruism manifests a broader cultural tendency to devalue the
natural. For ressentiment invented another world from whichlife-affirmation would appear
evil, reprehensible as such.
The concept of egoism facilitates this devaluation by functioning
to obscure the very great differences in the range of humanly possible motivations, reducing
them to their common status as inclinations of physiological, this-worldly origin. The
devaluation of the natural has caused human beings to misunderstand themselves in fundamental
ways: It is the trump-card of religion and metaphysics, which wish to have man evil and sinful
by nature, to cast suspicion on nature and thus really to make him bad, for he learns to feel
himself evil since he cannot divest himself of the clothing of nature. The moral demands of
Christianity have from its inception, been exaggerated in order that man cannot satisfy them;
the intention is not that he should become more moral, but that he should feel himself as sinful as
possible. 142

Daybreak, Sec. 148.
AntiChrist 24
Against this, Nietzsche invites us to approach the clothing of nature with a new
openness, to recognize that the association of nature with egoism reflects a particular experience,
rather than the kind of metaphysical insight as which Schopenhuaer represents it: I find those
people disagreeable in whom every natural inclination immediately becomes a sickness,
something that disfigures them or is downright infamous: it is they who have seduced us to hold
that mans inclinations and instincts are evil. They are the cause of our great injustice against
our nature, against all will always be the mark of nobility that one feels no fear of
oneself, expects nothing infamous of oneself..

4. Teleology and the Psychology of Power
Small observes that the mature Nietzsche comes to reject Rees contention that human
action is the site of two competing drives, one egoistic and the other. 82. This rejection is in fact
present already in Human, All-Too Human, where seeks to explain away what appears as non-
egoistic motivation. But the rejection assumes a different, more complicated shape in
Nietzsches more mature work, where he seeks to understand both the egoistic and the non-
egoistic to a phenomenon resistant to the procrustean bed of psychological egoism. Whereas the
younger Nietzsche holds that virtues arise out of vice, the later Nietzsche holds that virtue and
vice alike express the will to power. As Small observes, the will to power represents Nietzsches
rejection of the hedonistic moral psychology that the younger Nietzsche shared in common with
But it remains unclear how the will to power, which carries a sinister ring, is to be distinguished
from egoism. As Nietzsche says little to explicitly distinguish it from egoism, it is natural to read
egoism into it. Ivan Soll, for instance, interprets Nietzsche as holding that a will to power is the

The Gay Science, Sec. 294.
deepest and most general motive of human behavior, that the ultimate goal of all human striving
is the acquisition and increase of power.

But such interpretations of the will to power are in tension with the mature Nietzsches
rejection of teleological accounts of human agency, which is illustrated in the following passage:

This seems to me to be one of my most essential steps and advances: I have learned to
distinguish the cause of acting from the cause of acting in a particular way, in a particular
direction, with a particular goal. The first kind of cause is a quantum of dammed up
energy that is waiting to be used up somehow, for something, while the second kind is,
compared to this energy, something quite insignificant, for the most part a little accident
in accordance with which the quantum discharges itself in one particular waya match
versus a ton of powder. Among these little accidents or matches I include so-called
purposes as well as the even much more so-called vocations: They are relatively
random, arbitrary, almost indifferent in relation to the tremendous quantum of energy that
presses, as I have said, to be used up somehow.
.Is the goal, the purpose not often enough a beautifying pretext, a
self-deception of vanity after the event that does not want to acknowledge that the ship is
following the current in which it has entered accidentally?

The notion that we seek power in the ordinary sense of the term is inconsistent with Nietzsches
anti-teleological conception of action. Whatever the role of power in Nietzsches moral
psychology, it is not as an object of desire. Denying that human action is most profoundly
understood in acquisitive, instrumental terms, Nietzsche argues that purposes are derivative
phenomena, compromises between our general dispositions as natural beings and the
opportunities to express it afforded by the situation. We settle upon our purposes not to advance
a calculating self-interest, but because they offer us the opportunity they offer to expend our
energies in ways congruent with our constitutions.
Our purposes are arbitrary in the sense that the situations precipitating them are
contingent, but Nietzsche also recognizes that they may also reflect a deep logic that guides us

Soll, p. 168.
The Gay Science, Sec. 360.
Every animal.instinctively strives for an optimum of favorable conditions under
which it can expend all its strength and achieve a maximal feeling of power; every
animal abhors, just as instinctively and with a subtlety of discernment that is
higher than all reason, every kind of intrusion or hindrance that obstructs or
could obstruct this optimum.

While maintaining that purposes are in some sense accidental, Nietzsche also remarks that [t]he
healthy human being transports the order of which he is the physiological representative into his
relations with other human beings and things.
The healthy human being remains attuned to
her deepest inclinations, whatever the shifting winds of her life, and is thereby able to distinguish
the matches that enliven her from stimuli to which she is temperamentally insensible. She
thereby retains the instinctive discernment to embed herself in situations that will draw upon her
particular energies.
Like La Rochefoucauld and other cynics, Nietzsche endeavors to expose human self-
deception. But unlike the cynics, who trace self-deception to self-love, Nietzsche traces self-
deception to the very structure of human agency to our need to maintain the kind of activities
through which we can continue to express our natural dispositions. If purposes are compromises
between our constitution and the possibilities for expressing it which the situation holds out, the
ideals through which we justify our purposes are intellectual expressions of our temperamental
tendencies. They are the post-hoc legitimation of the patterns of activity that most animate us,
rather than revelations from the noumenal realm.
This picture of human nature is exemplified in the character of Don Quixote, who cannot
grasp how his understanding of the world and of his place within it is conditioned by his

On the Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay, Sec. 7.
Friedrich, Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols/The Anti-Christ, R.J. Hollingdale (tr.) (Penguin Books,
1990), p. 59 (Twilight of the Idols: The Four Great Errors, Sec. 2)
idiosyncratic psychological needs.
Imagining that he has chosen his knightly vocation as a
rational response to the worlds many evils, the knight from La Mancha actually hallucinates
non-existent evils out of his temperamental disposition towards the knightly ideal. The
windmills he confronts are so many matches igniting his knightly urges. As his choice of
vocation is only intelligible in a world in which knights have a role to play, Don Quixote must
mistake the windmills for giants if he is to retain his own self-understanding. While we think
ourselves motivated by our actions ostensible ends, we are in fact driven by our disposition to
pursue certain kinds of ends.

As what we normally mistake for Platonic essences are expressions of our biological
constitutions, there is certainly a sense in which we are mistaken about our own motivations. But
this self-deception, if we wish to call it such, is not that emphasized by defenders of
psychological egoism. Human ideals are not expedients to the abstract expression of power, but
expressions of the concrete ways in which we are constitutionally disposed to discharge our
energies. Nietzsche observes that
[The great human beings] greatness lies in the fact that he expends
himselfThe instinct of self-preservation is as it were suspended; the
overwhelming pressure of the energies which emanate from him forbids him any
such care and prudence. One calls this sacrifice; one praises his heroism
therein, his indifference to his own interests, his devotion to an idea, a great cause,

..suppose a drive finds itself at the point at which it desires gratification or exercise of its strength, or
discharge of its strength, or the saturation of an emptiness these are all metaphors : it then regards
every event of the day with a view to seeing how it can employ it for the attainment of its goal
(Daybreak, Sec. 119).
why could a purpose not be a epiphenomenon in the series of changes in the activating forces that
bring about a purposive action a pale image sketched in the consciousness beforehand that serves to
orient us concerning events, even as a symptom of events, not as their cause (Friedrich Nietzsche, The
Will To Power, Walter Kaufmann (tr.) (Vintage Books, 1968), Sec. 666). This offers another way of
interpreting Nietzsches opposition to moralities assigning moral worth to our intentions. Such moralities
are objectionable not simply because we can never ascertain the unconscious intentions that actually
move us (see Brian Leiter, Nietzsche on Morality (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), pp. 101-
104), but because intentions are epiphenomenal to the interaction between drive and situation. Any
interpretation of Nietzsches moral psychology that assigns causal efficacy to intentions (whether they be
conscious or not) is inconsistent with his anti-teleological orientation.
a fatherland: all misunderstandingsHe flows out, he overflows, he uses himself
up, he does not spare himself with inevitability, fatefully, involuntarily, as a
river bursting its banks is involuntary.

Nietzsche does not accept altruistic characterizations of the great mans expenditure of his
energies. But nor does he characterize it as a surreptitiously egoistic gambit. This is because, at
base, this expenditure is a structural characteristic of life itself, and not the object of any
particular kind of desire. A river does not use a riverbed in order to flow, but rather flows
through it simply because it is waters nature to fill up the empty spaces towards which gravity
draws it. Similarly it is the nature of human moral perception to seize upon aspects of the
situation that legitimate the activities towards which one is disposed. Don Quixotes
predisposition towards knightly ideals inclines him to interpret the windmills blades as the arms
of giants, to fixate upon the respects in which the blades resemble arms of giants while ignoring
the more numerous respects in which they do not.
The fact that altruism and idealism have a natural explanation in our physiological
constitutions does not vitiate their authenticity as elements of our experience because the
selective perception exemplified in Don Quixote need not be self-conscious or calculating. We
are persuaded of our interpretation of the situation much as we are enraptured by a piece of
music. Our very engrossment in the situation preempts reflection on this absorptions rational
grounds. A tasks very power to engage us is experienced as evidence of its intrinsic
significance, a sign that it is inherently compelling. As William James aptly observed, the
unconscious premise of our thinking is nothing which I can feel like that can be false.
further we become engaged in a situation, the more our sense of our actions meaningfulness is

William James, The Principles of Psychology, Volume II (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1950),
p. 308.
corroborated, the less likely we are to reflect upon our commitments.
The more Don Quixote
becomes engrossed in tilting at his giants, the less energy he has available to consider that these
might actually be windmills, the more reasonable the attack must strike him. Our first-person
experience of our agency is not, most primordially, instrumental. While we obviously plot
objectives and their means of attainment, such calculations are derivative upon a sense of loyalty
to ones dispositions and, therefore, to the ideals in which they are consciously experienced.
Like Don Quixote, we cannot recognize the matches providing an outlet for our dispositions
for what they are, as mere stimuli facilitating his engagement in the situation at hand. For they
would cease to be effective did we so conceive of them. To the extent that we are to remain
effective as strongly evaluating agents, we must understand our actions as response to the
situations needs, not expressions of our own.
As is well-known, Nietzsche rejects the moral tradition of evaluation the worth of an
action in terms of the intentions that accompany it:
everything that is intentional [about an action], everything about it that can be
seen, known, conscious, still belongs to its surface and skinwhich, like every
skin, betrays something but conceals even more. In short, we believe that the
intention is merely a sign and symptom that still requires interpretation
moreover, a sign that means too much and therefore, taken by itself alone, almost

Nietzsches suspicion toward the morality of intentions has sometimes been interpreted as
involving the thesis that our actual motivations are unconscious rather than unconscious, and that
we are therefore determined in a way that precludes moral responsibility. But positing
unconscious intentions would not be a particularly radical break with the moral tradition, which
has always recognized the possibility of such motivation. Nietzsches rejection of the morality

For this reason, particularly healthy individuals are more likely to be unreflective. As Nietzsche
observed, spiritual progress depends the weak. It is the weak and self-doubting who do the most to
advance humanity (see Human, All Too Human, Sec. 224).
of intentions bears not simply on whether we may, as conscious actors, be properly blamed for
our egoism, but on the very structure of this alleged egoism. From the beginning to the end of
his writings, Nietzsche is keenly aware of what Ree refers to as the difference between the
appearance and reality of human nature.
But Nietzsches understanding of what this
difference consists in evolves in important ways. During the cynical phase, this is the
difference between our appearance as altruists and our reality as egoists. But as Nietzsches
thought develops, the difference becomes one between our appearance as teleologically
motivated and our reality as bundles of instincts seeking discharge. Like Nietzsche of Human,
All-Too Human, the mature Nietzsche insists that every action has a foundation in personal
need, that an action must have some relation to the agent. But Nietzsches conceptualization
of these needs and this relation has changed. For these needs now consist, not in a conscious or
unconscious objectivebut the disposition to discharge our strength in particular ways.
Nietzsche seeks to understand human agency not in terms of unconscious rather than conscious
motivations, but in terms that altogether dispense with the teleological language of motivation.
Thus, Nietzsche argues that
The will no longer moves anything, consequently, no longer explains anything it
merely accompanies events, it can also be absent. The so-called motive: another
error. Merely a surface phenomenon of consciousness, an accompaniment to an
act, which conceals rather than exposes the antecedentia of the act. T60

The temptation is to imagine that the acts antecedentia possess the structure of a motive, so that
unconscious motivations wield conscious ones as tools in the service of their egoistic ends. But
that is to anthropomorphize what must ultimately be understood as natural forces operating
according to a non-teleological language. Our actions are most fundamentally expressive, not of
conscious or unconscious motives, but of what Nietzsche calls cause-creating drives, which

BGE 132
structure our conscious understanding of the situation and self-understanding in a way that
legitimates actions according to these dispositions:
A particular kind of cause-ascription comes to preponderate more and more,
becomes concentrated into a system and finally comes to dominate over the rest,
that is to say simply to exclude other causes and explanations. The banker thinks
at once of business, the Christian of sin, the girl of her love. T62

While we are strong evaluators, our strong evaluations originate in causal forces that cannot in
themselves be understood in the language of strong evaluations. Our strong evaluations reflect
the sorts of activity toward which we are physiologically disposed. These normative frameworks
lend intelligibility to these dispositions by embedding them in a narrative about the good.
Morality is thus the legitimation of who we are. For we want to have a reason for feeling as we
do for feeling well or for feeling ill. It never suffices us simply to establish the mere fact that
we feel as we do: we acknowledge this fact become conscious of it only when we have
furnished it with a motivation of some kind. T61 Human beings have developed in such a way
that their manifold and sometimes contradictory instincts function through a strongly evaluative
consciousness. This is precisely why Nietzsche regards consciousness as a potentially great
liability. To the extent that our instincts depend on the maintenance of a cultural worldview,
they are vulnerable in the face of our cultural worldviews disintegration. The will is inherently
normative, since it is experienced by us as response to the nature of the situation interpreted in
accordance with a worldview expressive of our biological drives.

Ree 143
See also DB 119 Moral evaluations are only fantasies based on physiological processes unknown to
us. Totality of drives The causes which we believe motivate us are actually inventions of our drives:
Every drive requires seeing the world in a particular way.

Our drives comment on our experiences: They impart our experiences with the significance to which we
consciously react. Our motives are responses to this significance, which itself is a reflection of our drives.

Rather than being an unconscious force deviously manipulating our conscious purposes
towards surreptitious ends, the will to power is but the more or less well integrated totality of our
unexamined dispositions to act on ideals expressive of our constitution (and interpret the
situation accordingly). If we ignore the teleological language in which Nietzsche sometimes
indulges but theoretically eschews, the upshot of Nietszches doctrine is only the uncontroversial
thesis that biological organisms respond differently to different stimuli. The absence of effective
stimuli leaves us unfulfilled, prompting us to seek new conditions that will facilitate re-
engagement in the situation and re-absorption in the moment. Human beings perennial
selfishness appears differently against this backdrop, as it now consists in no more than our
disposition to become engaged by some situations and deadened by others, and our consequent
attraction to the former and aversion to the latter. William James observes that much that gets
characterized as self-interest is an expression of interests that cannot themselves be properly
characterized as egoistic. These consist in basic impulses that are constitutive of what we are,
rather than motivations instrumental to the attaining of ones self-interest:
Our interest in things means the attention and emotion which the thought of them
will excite, and the actions which their presence will evoke. Thus every species is
particularly interested in its own prey or food, its own enemies, its own sexual
mates and its own young.
Well, it stands not in the least otherwise with our bodies. They too are
precepts in our objective fieldthey are simply the most interesting precepts
there. What happens to them excites in us emotions and tendencies to action
more energetic and habitual than any which are excited by other portions of the
field. What my comrades call my bodily selfishness and self-love, is nothing
but the sum of all the outer acts which this interest in my body spontaneously

What then are our experiences? Much more that which we put into them than that which they already

draws, from me. My selfishness is here but a descriptive name for grouping
together the outward symptoms which I show. When I am led by self-love to
keep my seat whilst ladies stand, or to grab something first and cut out my
neighbor, what I really love is the comfortable seat, is the thing itself which I
grab. I love them primarily, as the mother loves her babe, or a generous man a
heroic deed. Wherever, as here, self-seeking is the outcome of simple instinctive
propensity, it is but a name for certain reflex acts. Something rivets my attention
fatally, and fatally provokes the selfish response..But my thoughts, like my
acts, are here concerned with the outward things. They need neither know nor
care for any pure principle within. In fact the more utterly selfish I am in this
primitive way, the more blindly absorbed my thought will be in the objects and
impulses of my lust.

As embedded organisms, our actions are continuously directed toward modifying our
environment. We are, in this respect, outer-directed, the ego to which our activity is typically
imputed is an illusion, the hypostasis of what are but so many outer-directed instincts. This
distortion was facilitated by the internalization of man wrought by slave morality, in
consequence of which we are disposed to imagine that a subject exists independently of our
activity, for whom the latter is a mere expedient.
In sometimes suggesting that ideals are epiphenomenal to the will to power,
encourages the conclusion that their biological origin vitiates their value as moral commitments.
But Nietzsche also opposes the moral prejudice according to which everything of the first rank
must be causa sui.
T47 The fact that our first-person ethical commitments are expressions of
ordinarily unrecognized organic needs does not necessarily compromise their authenticity,
rendering them somehow unreal. Such cynicism is not merely a moral psychology but also an

William James, The Principles of Psychology, Volume I (New York: Dover Publications, Inc.,
1950), p. 320.
The ignorant, to be sure, the people they are like a river down which a boat swims: and
in the boat, solemn and disguised, sit the assessments of value.
You put your will and your values upon the river of becoming; what the people believe to
be good and evil betrays to me an ancient will to power.
It was you, wisest men, who put such passengers in this boat and gave them splendour
and proud names you and your ruling will! Thus Spoke Zarathustra, p. 136 (Of Self-
ontology. The cynic prioritizes abstract characterizations of action over the concrete ones,
reducing the significance of what appear as concrete ethical commitments to their genesis in a
more abstract propensitythe pursuit of pleasure, power, self-interest, etc. In rejecting
teleology, Nietzsches mature naturalism preempts such reduction, because the abstract
propensity is not to be understood in motivational terms.
The cynical interpretation of Nietzsche originates commits the same error that guides
some interpretations of natural selection, which anthropomorphize our genes as puppet-masters
controlling our conscious intentions in the service of their own perpetuation. But once we we
eschew anthropomorphism, it becomes clear that natural selection speaks not to the possibility,
but merely the preconditions of altruism, by explaining why the conditions under which we may
experience genuine altruistic sentiments are heavily circumscribes by our evolutionary history,
that an individuals continued altruism is a product, not of ethereal moral commitment, but of
circumstances that activate ones altruistic instincts. The selectivity of our altruism logically
flows from our being, from the fact that we are natural organism. It is not an expedient by which
we navigate towards our advantage.
Nietzsches conception of human nature does metaphysically preclude Schopenhauerian
morality, which Small describes as a selfless benevolence that is unconditional and
But the discriminatory character of ordinary altruism no longer interpreted
as evidence of surreptitious egoism, because this character is assigned a new meaning from
within an anti-teleological conception of agency. The naturalism of the early Nietzsche was
actually contaminated by teleological notions that are at home within the moral worldview he
comes to reject.

SMALL Xxxiii
Nietzsches positions are difficult to discern precisely because he is often conflicted
between slave and master morality in ways he does not recognize. This is evidenced in his
propensity to describe human agency in teleological terms like striving, abhorrence, discernment,
that have no place within his considered philosophical anthropology. Nietzsches tendency to
anthropomorphize our drives and thereby identify a motivating intention is an inheritance of
slave morality, which indulges the innate human propensity to seek a cause for [our] suffering;
more specifically, a guilty agent who is susceptible to suffering..
But slave morality also
prepares the ground for its own overcoming. The practice anthropomorphizing of our drives
culminates in a level of self-reflexivity characteristic of free-spirit, who can recognize the true
structure of his agency and thereby pierce the veil of slave morality. As we penetrate the
mystique that normally enshrouds our ends, we recognize that our energies need not be
expressed through the purposes into which they are habitually channeled, and thereby expand the
scope of our agency.
Nietzsches conflict is on display in the following passage:
Benefiting and hurting others are ways of exercising ones power upon others;
that is all one desires in such cases. One hurts those whom one wants to feel
ones power, for pain is a much more efficient means to that end than pleasure;
pain always raises the question as to its origin while pleasure is inclined to stop
with itself without looking back. We benefit and show benevolence to those who
are already dependent on us in some way (which means that they are used to
thinking of us as causes)
Certainly a state in which we hurt others is rarely as agreeable, in an
unadulterated way, as that in which we benefit others; it is a sign that we are still
lacking power, or it shows a sense of frustration in the face of this poverty; it is
accompanied by new dangers and uncertainties for what power we do possess,
and clouds our horizon with the prospect of revenge, scorn, punishment, and

On the Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay, Sec.15.
The Gay Science, Sec. 13.
In emphasizing the structural similarities between benefiting and hurting, Nietzsche reduces what
appears like a qualitative difference in intention to a quantitative difference in power, implying
that beneficence and malice are different means to an identical end, the exercise of power one
presupposing more power, the other requiring less. In the same spirit, the second paragraph
suggests that beneficence is preferable to malice only by virtue of its greater agreeableness for
the agent, not for moral reasons. Nietzsches cynicism might seem strident and unqualified here.
But the second paragraph also hints that benefiting and hurting may not be as qualitatively
similar as was implied earlier in the passage. As only the weak need be preoccupied with
exacting recognition for their power, only they will be filled with anxiety that it may not be
forthcoming and with recriminations when it is withheld. More powerful individuals are
spared such sentiments and so can afford a less calculating, more genuinely magnanimous
attitude towards others. Consider the following passage from Ecce Homo:
Has anyone at the end of the nineteenth century a clear idea of what poets of
strong ages have called inspiration? If not, I will describe it.If one had the
slightest residue of superstition left in ones system, one could hardly reject
altogether the idea that one is merely incarnation, merely mouthpiece, merely a
medium of overpowering forces. The concept of revelationin the sense that
suddenly, and with indescribable certainty and subtlety, something becomes
visible, audible, something that shakes one to the last depths and throws one
downthat merely describes the facts. One hears, one does not seek; one
accepts, one does not ask who gives; like lightning, a thought flashes up, with
necessity, without hesitation regarding its formI never had any choice.

Strength for human beings consist in well-integrated instincts, which permit one to experience
ones will as an act of obedience to a the situations demands, the surrender of the calculating
ego to that sense of necessity that feels inherent to the situation. Inherent in every will is the
straining of the attention, the straight look that fixes itself upon one aim, the unconditional

Ecce Homo, p. 300 (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Sec. 3).
evaluation that this and nothing else is necessary now..
Nietzsche understands agency as a
self-perpetuating, and typically self-deluding, commitment to an ideal. While potentially
complacent in our unwillingness to reflect upon the origins of these ideals in our own nature, it
does not follow that we are insincere in our embrace of them.
Despite the cynicism that colors Nietzsches analysis of power, it is clear that Nietzsches
admiration for the power of the powerful goes beyond that which one would accord the stronger
bodybuilder, whose moral experience is qualitatively indistinguishable from that of a weaker
competitor. In attributing morally questionable emotions to the weak, Nietzsche concedes,
perhaps despite himself, that quantitative differences in power may produce a qualitatively
different moral consciousness. Being powerful, in the sense of being well-positioned to discharge
their energies, the strong need not be preoccupied with acquiring power as suchwith becoming
well-positioned to do so. One self-consciously seeks power only to the degree that one first lacks
it. One who has power simply expends his energies, rather than seeking to produce the
conditions under which to do so.
What Nietzsche characterizes in a sinister light, as an exercise in power, could be re-
described in more neutral terms as our unobjectionable need to make a difference in the
world, to feel that we and our deeds somehow count. Still under the sway of slave morality,
Nietzsche suspects that, as fallen creatures, we are prone to esteem power at the expense of the
ends for which it is exercised. But struggling towards a perspective beyond good and evil,
Nietzsche implicitly assigns power a new meaning, describing it as a sense of efficacy rather than
the ability to control, as it is crudely understood. Efficacy need not presuppose control for the
strong. Like the sun addressed by Zarathustra in the Prologue, whose rays beam forth in all
directions, the strong can establish and maintain their relevance for others in ways that benefit

Beyond Good and Evil, Sec. 19.
rather than harm them.
The upshot of Nietzsches analysis is merely that, given the universally
human need to maintain the sense of efficacy, strength is the sine qua non of altruism.
Slave morality cannot recognize that altruism presupposes strength because it defines
genuine altruism ascetically, as involving the extirpations of the passions. Only on this
conception of altruism does our need to maintain a sense of efficacy render us egoists, because
sympathy and self-affirmation are here mutually exclusive. But this conception draws its
plausibility from the experience of the powerless, who, having to self-consciously seek power in
the abstract, conceptualize power as the object of desire. Less preoccupied with the need to
express power, the powerful can afford to conceptualize their aims concretely, seeking not power
as such but the power to act on specific virtues, towards specific goals in which they have
genuine conviction. While such conviction would wane with the loss of a sense of efficacy, it
does not follow that the powerful must experience their human relationships as expedients to
This, however, is the predicament of the weak. Having established that anything like the
unselfconscious altruism idealized by slave morality presupposes what its adherents themselves
lack, namely strength, Nietzsche argues that altruism as it is actually practiced by its loudest
advocates is but sadism in disguise. The weak and sickly relish the happiness of slight

According to Ivan Soll, Nietzsche holds that we derive satisfaction not from others suffering per se but
from the mere awareness of our power to cause suffering (Nietzsche on Cruelty, Asceticism, and the
Failure of Hedonism, in Richard Schacht (ed.), Nietzsche, Genealogy, Morality (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1994), p. 175). The satisfactions of cruelty are a subset of the satisfactions that
accompany causing anything happen to someone else, which are in turn are a subset of those that
accompany causing anything at all (p. 179). Cruelty draws its distinctive appeal from the fact that others
suffering offers particularly convincing evidence of ones causal efficacy, which is corroborated by ones
success in forcing someone to experience something (pain) against their will (p. 186). Soll argues that
Nietzsche holds out sublimation as a means of rendering our instinctive cruelty less objectionable,
allowing us to dominate others without humiliating them (p. 181). Soll does not describe the precise
nature of such sublimation, but it might involve, not simply overriding another persons will (as in the
infliction of pain) but transforming it. Rather than forcing others to experience what they do not wish to
superiority, involved in all doing good, being useful, helping, and rewarding, [which] is the
most effective consolation for the physiologically inhibited, and widely employed by them when
they are well advised: otherwise they hurt one another, obedient, of course, to the same basic
Far from reducing all of our sentiments to the same currency, Nietzsche holds that
both malice and what commonly passes for altruism express weakness because what is morally
problematic in each, anxious preoccupation with ones own importance, is the natural outgrowth
of weakness.

5. The Perception of Egoism
But what precisely facilitated the perception of egoism, such that the thesis of
psychological egoism could have achieved such widespread acceptance? How precisely did a
culture come to misunderstand the structure of human agency in a way that obscures its character
as will to power?
Nietzsches masters did not recognize each other as egoists, despite the fact that their
ways were far from genteel. Much like athletic contestants, they required tenacious,
uncompromising opponents in order to exercise the virtues upon which they prided themselves
courage, self-assurance, resilience. Like contestants, they were too engrossed with overcoming
the resistance offered by each others actions to protest these as egoism. For others obtuseness
was a presupposition of their own overcoming. The Homeric Greeks, whom Nietzsche admired
for respecting rather than demonizing their enemies, did not restrict the agonistic ethos to the
arena, but instead conceived of life in general as a contest with the greatest stakes, one
intensified by the possibility of a sudden, violent death. If the slaves were less thrilled at the

experience, we stimulate in them previously absent desires. Our power would be manifested in an agents
transformation, rather than in his capitulation.
sound of approaching marauders, cringing for their lives rather than cheerily sharpening their
blades, this is because they could not experience a tussle with a Roman Legion in a similarly
meaningful way. What the robust masters welcomed as an invigorating challenge, the more
delicate and sedentary slaves begrudged as a demoralizing frustration.
Conditions inimical to the flourishing of some persons may be indispensable for that of
Examine the lives of the best and most fruitful people and peoples and ask
yourselves whether a tree that is supposed to grow to a proud height can dispense
with bad weather and storms; whether misfortune and external resistance, some
kinds of hatred, jealousy, stubbornness, mistrust, hardness, avarice, and violence
do not belong among the favorable conditions without which any great growth
even of virtue is scarcely possible. The poison of which weaker natures perish
strengthens the strongnor do they call it poison.

Though we normally conceive of our actions helpfulness or harmfulness as clear-cut matters,
the meaning of another agents actions is often established retrospectively by the nature of our
response. What we initially resent as an intrusion on our peace of mind we may later welcome
as an opportunity for engagement, if we succeed in deriving meaning from it. Every obstacle can
in principle be employed to realize certain virtues by those resourceful enough. To the extent that
we succeed in doing so, our activity could be said to absorb others egoism, incorporating it
into our self-understanding as an occasion to express that for which we stand. What we
viscerally resent as egoism is a function of our inability to exploit such resistance. Self-assertion
does not always offend, for we may well desire, and indeed require, the resistance it offers. The
coefficient of adversity offered by persons and things creates possibilities for expending our
strength that we might not otherwise encounter. The slaves resentment of the masters self-
assertion is thus a direct reflection of the fact that they lacked the strength and resilience to relish

On the Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay, Sec. 18.
The Gay Science, Sec. 19.
the adversity it offered. They experienced this self-assertion as a limit to their comfort and
safety, rather than as a possibility for asserting themselves in action. Every human being, like
every inanimate coefficient of resistance, is potentially both a limit and an opportunity. Which of
these aspects is most salient depends on our ability to derive meaning from adversity.
The more undeveloped is ones ability to exploit adversity, the more problematic must be
others unpredictability and spontaneity. A morality directed principally against egoism will
appeal foremost to those needing to keep tight control over their life-circumstances, individuals
too frail or rigid to exploit to relish adversity and uncertainty as opportunities. Demoralized to
the point that they could not be invigorated by lifes vicissitudes, the slaves became preoccupied
with ensuring the satisfaction of their basic needs and erected a morality that placed a premium
on these ends at the expense of masterly virtue. Egoism was introduced into our moral
vocabulary because of the slaves unsportsmanlike attitude towards life
Preoccupied with physical and psychic survival, the slaves were unable to appreciate the
virtues inspiring the masters to action and so reduced the meaning of the masters actions to their
unwelcome effects on themselves, mere egoism. In so doing, they arrived at what Nietzsche
laments as the detestable petty conclusion at the origin of all morality: what harms me is
something evil.
To justify this reduction in their own eyes, the slaves had to cast master
morality as an empty conceit. What the masters held up as conviction and tenacity, the slaves
dismissed as obtuseness and insensitivity. What the masters considered legitimate pride in their
victories, the slaves dismissed as smug self-satisfaction. The masters celebration of life became

I am here in agreement with Raymond Geuss, who interprets Nietzsche as arguing that the slaves
fascination with unconditional obligations arises out of an extreme need for order and predictability
which is a frequently encountered trait of weak and helpless people who face a potentially dangerous and
unstable environment, and who are understandably ready to grasp at virtually any means to introduce
regularity into their world (Geuss, Nietzsche and Morality, p. 4).
Daybreak, Sec. 102.
a rebellion against the eternal, or, at best, willed ignorance before the other-worldly cosmology
informing the slaves more sedentary conception of the good. The masters were misrepresented
by the slaves as concerned with a form of self-satisfaction logically unconnected to any
conception of the good, as ravenous wolves, gluttonously obsessed with power and prideas
individuals who did not hold themselves accountable to principles or ideals.

Dewey obvious fallacy of transforming the (truistic) fact of acting as a self into the
fiction of always acting for self
is more than a crude philosophical blunder, but the direct
outgrowth of slave morality, whose caricature of the hated masters set the stage for a more
general misunderstanding of human agency within our moral tradition. The slaves needed to
misunderstand the masters as calculatingly seeking satisfaction rather than unselfconsciously

While some commentators interpret Nietzsche as a skeptic who regards master morality as no more
veridical than slave morality, there is reason to think otherwise:

When the noble mode of valuation sins against reality, it does so in respect (of the
sphere) with which it is not sufficiently familiar, against a real knowledge of which it has
inflexibly guarded itself: in some circumstances it misunderstands the sphere it despises,
that of the common man, of the lower orders; on the other hand, one should remember
that even supposing that the affect of contempt, of looking down from a superior height,
falsifies the image of that which it despises, it will at any rate still be a much less serious
falsification than that perpetrated on its opponentin effigy of courseby the
submerged hatred, the vengefulness of its opponent. (On the Genealogy of Morals, First
Essay, Sec. 10.)

Brian Leiters interpretation of Nietzsches much-debated and much-misunderstood perspectivism is
useful here (Perspectivism in Nietzsches Genealogy of Morals, in Richard Schacht (ed.), Nietzsche,
Genealogy, Morality (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), pp. 334-357). According to Leiter,
Nietzsche construes knowing on analogy with seeing. Just as every spatial vantage point requires that
certain aspects of the visual object remain hidden form view, so every epistemic perspective reveals
certain aspects of a thing while obscuring others. However, while no perspective is complete, it does not
follow that all are equal. Some perspectives are more encompassing, incorporating more of the objects
aspects than do others. And some perspectives falsify their object by positing the existence of non-
existent qualities. Along these lines, we can say that the masters were limited in their ability to
understand the profoundly different life-world and values of the weak, just as the slaves could not
appreciate masterly ideals. But while the masters epistemic limitations produced indifference and
insensitivity, the slaves limitations induced them to falsify the masters, to posit dark, malevolent
intentions where none existed.
John Dewey, Human Nature and Conduct (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University
Press, 1988), p. 96.
expressing virtues. For recognizing the masters virtues as such would also have involved
recognizing their own inadequacy with respect to them. To construe the masters as
embodiments of a dark, malignant force called evil preempts just this recognition,

Robert Solomon argues that resentment is notable among the emotions for its lack of any specific
desire because even the revenge at which it ostensibly aims would not satisfy it (Solomon, p. 103).
Interestingly, Solomon concludes the very same passage by dubbing resentment the ultimate emotion of
self-preservation (p. 104). This might seem contradictory, as resentment would then appear to involve a
desire for self-preservation. But these seemingly incompatible claims are in fact reconcilable on the
interpretation of resentment that I am proposing. Resentment aims not to physically change anything in
the world, but to cognitively deny the resented partys self-understanding (and the ideals upon which it is
predicated), and to thereby preserve that of the resenting party (and its ideals). The revenge for which
resentment seemingly pines is only a means to this end. This is illustrated in Tertullians hope that he
will be present when all those having espoused masterly ideals are disabused of their conceits through the
pain of hellfire. Until that day, he and other Christians must relish such images by faith (On the
Genealogy of Morals, First Essay, Sec. 15) the faith that the masters self-understanding will eventually
be undermined. The slaves were offended less by the masters actions than by the conviction with which
they entertained their self-conception, their visceral certainty that they embodied inherently noble ideals.
The slaves resented what Maudemarie Clark calls the masters easy sense of superiority (Nietzsches
Immoralism and the Concept of Morality, in Richard. Schacht (ed.), Nietzsche, Genealogy, Morality
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), p. 25), which in and of itself sufficed to undermine the
slaves self-image. By labeling the masters evil, the slaves hoped to magically deprive them of their
self-proclaimed goodness, to strip the masters of their self-conception, whether through actual hellfire
or at least in the slaves imagination of it. Resentment is indeed a highly philosophical emotion, as
Solomon argues (p. 116). Unlike envy, which aims to acquire something, resentment aims to institute an
ideal, imbue individuals with conviction in it, and undermine belief in rival ideals. Bittners sour
grapes interpretation of resentment, the idea that ressentiment is at work where people who are
unhappy, who wish to improve their lot and who are incapable of doing so, invent a story according to
which they really are well off (Bittner, p. 130), radically understates what is at stake in resentment,
which is ones self-conception rather than ones well-being.
Bernard Williamss treatment of resentment suggests that the emotion functions not to preserve
the self or ones self-understanding, but to preserve an individuals sense that his resentment is justified.
In resentment, the resenting party attempts to maintain its fantasy that the resented party somehow
acknowledges it, to magically change the agent from one who did not acknowledge me to one who did
(Bernard Williams, Nietzsches Minimalist Moral Psychology, in Richard. Schacht (ed.), Nietzsche,
Genealogy, Morality (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), p. 244). This is the case because,
as blamers, we have an interest in thinking of the offending party as wholly responsible for the harm he
has wrought. To sustain this perception, we must imaginatively cast it as a kind of pure, disembodied
intention to injure, one removed from the matrix of causal forces that might dilute its responsibility (and,
correlatively, the justice of our resentment). This imaginative uprooting is facilitated by what Williams
terms double counting, the conceiving of the offending agent not only as the harmful action but also as
this actions cause as a disembodied, and therefore gratuitous, desire to inflict pain.
It seems to me, however, that double-counting functions not simply to isolate the agents will
from the causal forces that would render it less morally culpable, but also to isolate it from the ideals that
would render it less morally objectionable. Resentment imaginatively divorces the agents action from
the broader ethos of which it is an expression. The issue of responsibility becomes pertinent only once
the action in question is cast in an objectionable light. The resenting party seeks to magically transform
the desire to direct ones view outward instead of backward to oneself...[which] is of the
essence of ressentiment.
The slaves misunderstood human agency out of their need to
preserve their self-esteem. For in disregarding the ideal element of the masters actions, the
slaves could fully indulge their resentments over the harm these actions wrought, and thereby
distract themselves from the fact that they were so easily harmed. Rather than recognizing
human agency as embedded, and, with this, recognizing action as the realization of virtues and
ideals in a situation, slave morality cast action as an instrument through which a disembodied
self extracts advantages from a situation.
As is well known, Nietzsche holds that the idea of a disembodied subject is the corollary
of slave morality, which required this idea in order to heap moral opprobrium upon the masters,
who would otherwise be understood as natural forces, which might be lamented but could not be
resented. Just as one might mistakenly conceive of lightning as existing independently of its
flashing, so slave morality mistakenly conceives of the self as existing apart from its actions.
The issue of free will speaks to the question of slave moralitys justification. But beyond
speaking to slave moralitys justification, Nietzsches reinterpretation of human agency also
addresses slave moralitys value. For the picture of a disembodied self also supports the idea of
egoism, and therefore legitimates slave morality as a response to egoism. Like Nietzsches
lightning that exists independently of its flash, the self so conceived was understood to possess
interests standing over and above its interest in the situation, interests for which its actions are

the nature of the offending partys intention in order to distract itself from the intentions ideal
component. To this end, the slaves needed to see themselves, rather than masterly ideals, as the masters
ultimate motivation.
On the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay, Sec. 10.
calculatingly chosen expedients.
Nietzsche seeks to delegitimize slave morality by
redescribing the reality to which it is purportedly a response.
Nietzsche seeks to do this by contextualizing what gets interpreted as egoism as a natural
phenomena, rather than the capitulation of a noumenal self to natural forces. On an embodied
conception of agency, the qualities we sometimes condemn as selfishness are also constitutive of
selfhood itself. Some degree of insensitivity before others needs and vulnerabilities is but the
corollary of the continuity of concern that is definitive of agency itself. As Nietzsche
emphasized, qualities that some lament as egoistic are, in other contexts, not only tolerated but
admired. One persons obtuseness and insensitivity are anothers conviction and tenacity.
Whether we understand an agents actions as expressing selfhood or manifesting selfishness
depends on the background conception of the good against which we interpret their meaning.
We readily forgive others for having neglected our welfare when we ourselves embrace the
ideals motivating them to action. Being in the service of what we regard as a higher end, their
inflexibility is understood as epiphenomenal to their virtues, and is not resented as egoism.
Embracing these virtues ourselves, we feel that it is incumbent upon us to tolerate their
unfortunate side-effects when they are acted upon by others.
The moralism of slave morality is morality unmored from any positive ideals through
which we might identify with others, despite their actions cost for us. The slaves inveigh against
selfishness as though motivated by an ideal of angelic perfection, but these accusations are but
distractions from their basic emptiness.
Their cynicism concerning the masters, and human

What I demand is that one should take the doer back into the deed after having conceptually removed
the doer from the deed and thus emptied the deed; that one should take doing something, the aim, the
intention, the purpose, back into the deed after having artificially removed all this and thus emptied the
deed (The Will to Power, Sec. 675).
One important difference between masters and slaves is usefully articulated in terms of Alisdaire
MacIntyres concept of virtue which was possessed by the masters but not by the slaves. A virtue as
nature as such, reflects the nihilism resulting from this emptiness, the slaves sense that nothing
in the world is so important as to redeem suffering and those responsible for it. What the slaves
advertise as their commitment to simple human decency betrays hostility to life itself: Morality
has it has been understood hitherto as it was ultimately formulated by Schopenhauer as denial
of the will to life is the instinct of decadence itself
At base, slave morality condemns not
any particular range of conduct and attitudes, but the structure of life itself as becoming. Egoism
and human agency become coterminous for slave morality, which identifies the perspectival
structure of our agency, our inescapably partial view of the world, with our original sin. But this
identification presupposes a misbegotten ideal of the true self, whose adoption functions to
distort our understanding of the self as it actually is. Thus, Nietzsche identifies the foundation of
Shopenhauerian morality as the fantastic picture of a being whose will is anterior to his

understood by MacIntyre is an acquired human quality the possession and exercise of which tends to
enable us to achieve those goods that are internal to practices and the lack of which effectively prevents
us from achieving any such goods (After Virtue (Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 2003), p.
191). Internal goods are forms of satisfaction the experience of which presuppose ones genuine
allegiance to the moral tradition within which the practice generating the good is intelligible. By contrast,
external goods (money, for example) do not presuppose any such allegiances. External goods are
connected to our actions extrinsically as their intended outcomes rather than intrinsically, as their
meaning. Nietzsche describes the slaves as deracinated social atoms who are only capable of appreciating
external goods. They are intent on narrow utility, begging flatterers, above all liars. Far from being
genuine virtues in MacIntyres sense, the qualities cherished by slave morality the warm hart, patience,
industry, humility, friendliness are valuable only instrumentally, as means to external goods, the only
means for enduring the pressure of existence. By contrast, the masters display qualities that MacIntyre
emphasizes are prerequisites for virtue. They are the truthful ones. It is the powerful who understand
how to honor; this is their art, their realm of invention. The profound reverence for age and traditionall
law rests on this double reverencethe faith and prejudice in favor of the ancestors and disfavor of those
yet to come are typical of the morality of the powerful (Beyond Good and Evil, Sec. 260). MacIntyre
accuses Nietzsche of [mythologizing] the distant past in order to sustain his vision. According to
MacIntyre, What Nietzsche portrays is aristocratic self-assertion; what Homer and the sagas show are
forms of assertion proper to and required by a certain role. The self becomes what it is in heroic societies
only through its role; it is a social creation, not an individual one (p. 129). As the above statements
suggest, this criticism is unfair. While Nietzsche may have valued heroic culture for the self-assertion
(and self-overcoming) it facilitated, he was well aware that such assertion was intelligible only in the
context of a broader ethos, which was not of the individuals own making.
Twilight 56
that is, a being who exists, and is therefore capable of acting, independently of his
physiological and psychological constitution.
The contemporary free-spirit will be misunderstood by his contemporaries for much the
same reason that the masters were misunderstood by the slaves. As Nietzsche understood,
individuals with strong convictions, great ambitions, or creative potential will provoke the
resentment of their unexceptional peers, who will belittle these traits as egoism. The free spirits
self-expression undermines the self-understanding, and self-esteem, of creatively sterile
personalities. For in expressing himself, he also affirms ideals that threaten the herds conviction
in its ideals, the values through which the mediocre glorify their complacency as law-abiding
uprightness, or steadfast commitment to God and Country. Though he deprives none of their life,
liberty, or property, the damage he wreaks on the self-esteem of the herd is real. While the free-
spirit understands himself as pursuing self-realization rather than self-interest, the herd will
interpret the former as the latter because [w]hat is always evil, being that which wants
to overthrow the old boundary markers and the old pieties.

The herd is motivated to impute good or evil to individuals in accordance with their level
of social and cultural conformity. When men determine between moral and immoral, good and
evil, the basic opposition is not egoism and selflessness, but rather adherence to a tradition or
law, and release from it.
But being disinclined to recognize itself as a herd, it cannot accuse
free spirits of upsetting its smug herd-like self-satisfaction through their example. The herd is
therefore more likely to express its resentment by accusing the resented party of egoism,
wrapping its recriminations in terms that allude to egoism, for example, through claims to the

Human, All Too Human 39
The Gay Science, Sec. 4.
Human, All Too Human, Sec. 96.
effect that the accused party is eroding societys moral fiber through its self-indulgent

6. Egoism and Inwardness
The great irony is that while the slaves inveighed against egoism, their entire mode of
perception was egoistic, since they interpreted the meaning of others actions in terms of their
disruptiveness for them. While the slaves portrayed the masters as deviously cunning, it was
actually the slaves themselves who were so. It was only with the priestly form of life that man
first became an interesting animal,only here did the human soul in a higher sense acquire
depth and become evil.
Only the slaves could have erected a morality opposed to self-
interest because only they were so intimately familiar with self-interest as a concept. Teetering
on the brink of despair, the slaves had to take an intense interest in their personal welfare if they
were to survive physically and psychically.
Contemptuous of comfort and convenience, the
masters were concerned with embodying heroic virtues and relatively indifferent to this quests
long-term impact on their health and safety, or that of others (Achilles is an obvious example,
here). What the slaves accepted as paradigmatic of desire concern for ones advantage or,
exceptionally, for that of others reflects a degenerate condition in which virtue has become
meaningless, so that relief from suffering and the provision of modest pleasures become primary
goals. The slaves happiness was essentially narcotic, consisting in rest, peace, sabbath,

On the Genealogy of Morals, Sec. 6.
It is often emphasized how the slaves belief in an independent subject arose either out of the seduction
of language, or out of their psychological need to blame the masters. Yet this beliefs genesis may also be
explained through the structure of the slaves own self-understanding. Out of the self-absorption
necessitated by their weakness, the slaves conceived of the self as a disembodied subject whose interests
are served by its deeds rather than as an embodied agent consisting in its deeds.
slackening of tension and relaxing of limbs.
Robust and optimistic, the masters would have
experienced as inimical the comforts whose equitable distribution was of such intense concern to
the slaves. Engrossed in overcoming resistance, the masters were too unselfconscious to love
themselves as did the slaves, and so could not have transferred this love unto others, or even
understood what this would require of them.
Nietzsche holds that modernity is not fully secularized because it surreptitiously retains
conceptual frameworks, including a conception of agency, that are of Christian origin. Slave
moralitys secular heir, the petty bourgeois, might seem to represent the overcoming of slave
morality. While slave morality renounces egoism as sinful, the bourgeois sanctifies it as the
tough-minded pursuit of rational self-interest. But while the bourgeois ethos rejects egoism, it
retains a conception of agency within which the psychological absurdities of egoism and
altruism can appear meaningful. Their common defect of Christianity and the bourgeois ethos
lies not in their embrace of egoism or altruism to the exclusion of the other, but in their mutual
acceptance of the egoism-altruism dichotomy itself. Unduly concerned with his private property,
the bourgeois appears selfish by comparison with the public-minded environmental activist who
seeks to preserve a natural habitat. But the difference between the two lies not between hard-
nosed egoism and starry-eyed idealism but in the activists ability to respond to which means,
to be stimulated by objects lying beyond his immediate possession or control. The selfish
bourgeois does not value his personal possessions over public resources because they are his but
experiences them as his because they evoke in him feelings considerably stronger than anything
else. As we observed in an earlier section, there is no special sensation by which to distinguish
altruistic from egoistic motivations, no Manichean struggle between egoism and altruism
transpiring within us, either consciously or unconsciously. The average persons much-lamented

On the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay, Sec. 10.
egoism consists only in the nature of the stimuli to which he can respond, the tenacity with which
a limited segment of the world claims his interest attention. What gets decried as egoism is often
but a manifestation of exhaustion or rigidity not an ontologically primitive tendency to
maximize gains or preserve oneself.
Individuals whose identifications revolve around security or expediency will, as
Nietzsche observed, be incredulous before broader ideals and suspect that persons who
ostensibly embrace them are surreptitiously pursuing advantage, or else are so nave as to have
been mystified by an ethereal moral principle. For more dynamic persons, however, whether
they experience a particular act of altruism as self-sacrifice or self-overcoming is a function of
their ability to broaden their identifications. These efforts success is difficult to predict as
difficult as it is to know oneself and so we may come to resent demands to which we initially
responded with enthusiasm or, conversely, become enthusiastic about actions we embarked upon
begrudgingly, out of moral obligation. The line between self-affirmation and self-denial is clear-
cut only for persons identifying exclusively with comfort and convenience. Such agents may
have no choice but to become self-consciously calculating in an effort to preserve the narrow
conditions under which they can act at all. Only for them are the possibilities exhausted in
selfishness which really means inertia and selflessness the abnegation of their nature. The
dichotomy of self-interest vs. self-sacrifice is meaningful only to the extent that self-realization is
impossible or undesired. Nietzsche opposes not egoism or altruism as such both are ineluctable
aspects of human action but the model of agency that reifies them into separate motivations,
and thereby obscures the flexible character of our identifications.
Being creatively sterile, the

Responding to Maudemarie Clarks befuddlement that Nietzsche could see too much altruism and pity
in the world (the opposite being more nearly the case), Leiter argues that Neitzsche is troubled not by the
actual extent of altruism in the world (which is minimal) but by its prevalence as an ideal, which hinders
the emergence of Neitzsches higher types (Leiter 2002, pp. 298-300). However, while Nietzsche is
egoist resigns himself to his present identifications, misinterpreting his mediocrity as hard-
nosed insight into his rational self-interest.
The altruist rejects these identifications as petty
and selfish, but in so doing he becomes alienated from parts of himself that might have been
sublimated into something nobler had it been recognized and cultivated as the seed of a unique

Nietzsches La Rochefoucauld-style predilection for belittling and doubt is not
intended to promote indiscriminate cynicism about human nature, as though the insincerity of
what pass for our most high-minded sentiments offers incontestable proof of the depravity of
human nature as such. This is to misunderstand the scope of Nietzsches concerns. Beyond
exposing the insincerity of what slave morality advertises as altruism, Nietzsche aims to dissect
the form of life for which considerations of altruism and egoism are pivotal. Being born of
weakness, the ideal of altruism is normally a tool of the weak, a means to their power. But it
does not follow that the altruism of the strong, of those who do not make an ideal of altruism, is
similarly insincere. After all, Nietzsche wants to stress, not downplay, what he takes to be the
very great differences between human beings. The essence of the slave revolt in morality was to
devalue power, to convince mankind that differences in its quantity cannot impinge on ones
quality as a human being. In imputing identical motivations to all humans, the cynicism that is
the modern outgrowth of slave morality carries that task forward by obscuring morally important

worried about the ideal of altruism, he is also concerned with the self-understanding that this ideal subtly
reinforces. Slave morality not only discourages self-love but caricatures it as loathsome. It obscures the
value of egoism by misrepresenting its nature. In so doing, it harms the higher types self-understanding,
not only by inducing guilt but by seducing them into accepting a self-limiting conception of their own
Like asceticism, such hard-nosed selfishness presupposes a level of reflexivity that arose historically,
as part and parcel of the internalization of man.
At bottom I abhor all those moralities which say: Do not do this! Renounce! Overcome yourself!
But I am well disposed toward those moralities which goad me to do something and do it again, from
morning till evening, and then to dream of it at night, and to think of nothing except doing this well, as
distinctions between persons, landing us in precisely in the nihilism from which Nietzsche seeks
to rescue us.
Nietzsches brand of cynicism, if we still wish to call it such, is only a means to an end.
In exposing the hypocrisy of slave morality, it serves to debunk the slaves criterion of moral
worth, the scheme according to which we have traditionally divided praiseworthy from
blameworthy actions and attitudes. In questioning this criterion, Nietzsche paves the way to a
new morality, revealing much of what gets labeled egoism as a degenerate expression of the will
to power. Whereas adherents of slave morality will respond to this revelation by attaching to the
will to power the pejorative connotations they had hitherto appended to egoism and reaffirm their
suspicions about human nature, Nietzsche seeks to demonstrate that egoism is objectionable
because of its degeneracy, not because it (like all else) expresses a power-drive. While
indispensable for the purpose of revealing the structural similarities between ostensibly different
sentiments, and thereby exploding the pretensions of slave morality, the cynical stance can be
abandoned once we recognize the nihilism of reducing these sentiments to their structural
similarities. Much of what we have known as egoism will remain lamented, but this will be for
the low degree of power it expresses. Altruistic acts will continue to be performed, but the
meaning we attach to them will change, as will our broader self-understanding.

well as I alone can do it. When one lives like that, one thing after another that simply does not belong
such a life drops off (The Gay Science, Sec. 304).
It goes without saying that I do not deny unless I am a fool that many actions called immoral
ought to be avoided and resisted, or that many called moral ought to be done and encouraged but I think
that the one should be encouraged and the other avoided for other reasons than hitherto. We have to
learn to think differently in order at last, perhaps very late on, to attain even more: to feel differently
(Daybreak, Sec. 103). We might say that, like punishment, altruism was moralized by slave morality.
7. The Value of Egoism
The falsification of human agency has come to structure our contemporary self-
understanding, thereby hindering the self-realization of free-spirits. In regarding human beings
as beholden to insatiable self-aggrandizement, slaves and cynics alike mistakenly presume the
existence of a substantial self to be aggrandized. Consisting in no more than the sum of its
deeds, the embodied, Nietzschean self is maintained, not aggrandized, through action. As there
is no doer behind the deed, no doer would remain in the absence of the deed. We would be left
lethargic, withered, empty shells of persons did we cease to expend our strength as befits our
constitutions. For this reason, Nietzsche can claim that If we accept self-defense as moral, then
we must also accept nearly all expressions of so-called immoral egoism [as moral?]: we inflict
harm, rob or kill, to preserve or protect ourselves
This equation of aggression and self-
defense seems outrageous, an Orwellian sleight of hand. Surely, there is a meaningful
distinction to be drawn between self-defense and malice. But as an effective expedient for
activating our energies, aggression can be vital to our psychic survival, which may be threatened
even when life, liberty, and property are not. In promoting the illusion of a substantial self, slave
morality obscures the broader context of aggression and malice as means of self-preservation.
Nietzsche does not idealize persons whose psychic survival requires aggression. Even the non-
malicious sportsmanlike aggression of the masters may be too crude a mode of self-affirmation
for their contemporary heirs, the free spirits. But Nietzsche wants us to recognize what is at
stake in malice, that it is but the diseased expression of a morally unobjectionable need to
maintain ones sense of self. Moral enjoinders will fall on deaf ears when the selfs survival is in

What could be understood as a natural expression of vitality was reinterpreted as a way of resisting
nefarious, selfish forces obtruding from within the self.
While more refined than the sometimes brutish masters, the latter-day free spirit will
similarly be resented by his contemporaries, who will overlook the fact that, for the free spirit,
the alternative to the aggressive self-realization is not mere mediocrity but disintegration. A self-
absorbed concern for self-realization is inescapable for highly individuated persons, whose
energies cannot be channeled down conventional avenues. Whereas the slaves self-absorption
is necessitated by their overall weakness, that of free spirits is necessitated by their creative
potential, or, rather, by the position of weakness into which their creative potential has thrust
them. It is for this reason that the value of egoism depends on the physiological value of him
who possesses it...
The egoism of the weak is but a disguised drive to self-preservation, the
lowest form of the will to power.
That of the strong is a prerequisite to self-realization.
Individuality is pursued not as an egoistic self-indulgence but as the only solution to a vital
problem, as an attempt to maintain a sense of self in an original way because one cannot do so
through conventional avenues. The creative genius is like someone who has completely lost
his way in a forest, but strives with uncommon energy to get out of it in whatever direction, [and]
sometimes discovers a new unknown way: this is how geniuses come into being, who are then
praised for their originality.
Free spirits are more entitled to their egoism than are average
natures because, for free spirits, egoism is a response to an alienation that others will never

In encouraging us to understand ourselves primarily in terms of egoism and altruism,
slave morality seduces us to overestimate our level of self-integration and thereby underestimate

Human, All Too Human, Sec. 104.
Twilight of the Idols, p. 97 (Expeditions of an Untimely Man, Sec. 33).
The Will to Power, Sec. 774.
Human, All Too Human, Sec. 231.
In Ecce Homo (p. 292, Dawn, Sec. 2), Nietzsche describes egoism as a self-protective tendency,
identifying it with self-preservation and the restitution of ones energies.
our need for self-realization. The picture of human beings as substantive egos pursuing a generic
self-satisfaction (rather than potentials requiring realization in action) blinds us to the danger that
our drives may be poorly integrated with one another. Each of these will then seize the helm of
our consciousness temporarily, propelling us towards stimuli that feed it until a confluence of
external events and physiological changes deposes it from power, clearing room for other drives
to take their turn in guiding us. All our drives are weakened in the process, as this chaotic
infighting between them leaves us perpetually ambivalent and distracted, incapable of
establishing the conditions under which our drives can be integrated and satisfied. The result is
decadence, the incapacity for resisting whatever trivial, momentary pleasures can assuage this

If we escape this fate, the reason may be that our societies have molded us in accordance
with their needs. Exploiting the instinct in every virtue that refuses to be held in check by the
over-all advantage of the individual himself,
the social order strengthens those drives that
serve its purposes, at the cost of our overall development:
for educational purposes and to lead men to incorporate virtuous habits one
emphasizes effects of virtue that make it appear as if virtue and private advantage
were sisters; and some such relationship actually exists. Blindly raging
industriousness, for examplethe typical virtue of the instrumentis represented
as the way to wealth and honor and as the poison that best cures boredom and the
passions, but one keeps silent about its dangers, its extreme dangerousness..
How often I see that blindly raging industriousness does create wealth and
reap honors while at the same time depriving the organs of their subtlety, which
alone would make possible the enjoyment of wealth and honors; also that this
chief antidote to boredom and the passions at the same time blunts the senses and
leads the spirit to resist new attractions.

In decadent states, one loses ones power of resistance against stimuliand comes to be at the mercy
of accidents: one coarsens and enlarges ones experiences tremendouslydepersonalization,
disintegration of the will (The Will to Power, Sec. 44).
The Gay Science, Sec. 21.
Ibid., Sec. 21.
Slave morality blinds us to these dangers. The fear of being branded selfish or self-indulgent
deters us from realizing our unique virtues, whose expression will most certainly be branded as
egoism by the herd. The culturally inculcated presumption that we are social atoms consenting
to be governed solely out of self-interested considerations blinds us to the possibility that we
have already abdicated our potential for self-realization, by identifying ourselves with vitality-
sapping social roles.
Our religiously inspired desire to be less selfish than we imagine we are
disposes us to sacrifice our development in order to be more useful to some social institution or
goal. While normally interpreted as the regulated pursuit of self-interest, capitalism actually
trades on these inherited instincts, affording us opportunities to become productive members of
society and so allay the dread of being good for nothing. Morality trains the individual to be
a function of the herd and to ascribe value to himself only as a function.
The ostensible aims
of morality may be unobjectionable. But as a cultural institution it functions to diminish
individuals sense of self-worth and exploit the resulting insecurity in order to induce greater
social conformity.
8. The Value of Altruism
In praising selfishness, Nietzsche is encouraging not petty self-centered acquisitiveness
but the courage to recognize and cultivate our individual potentials, the self-reverence that is
too rare among human beings.
In criticizing altruism, Nietzsche is condemning not charity
and helpfulness as such but the broader ethos of which these are symptoms, the presumption that
the self is fundamentally unworthy, that its realization is therefore a needless self-indulgence

As David Owen puts it, Nietzsche criticizes herd-morality for construing agency in non-expressive
terms (Nietzsche, Re-evaluation and the Turn to Genealogy, European Journal of Philosophy 11:3, p.
260). In so construing it, slave morality obstructs self-realization by obscuring that there is anything that
needs realizing.
The Gay Science, Sec. 116.
See Beyond Good and Evil, Sec. 287.
(mere inclination, to adopt Kants term), and that we best serve mankind in becoming
oblivious to our potential. Selflessness as criticized by Nietzsche is the practice of living
thoughtlessly and modestly in relation to ourselves. For Nietzsche, selflessness means
impersonality (autonomy, in Kants lingo freedom from personality). Charity and
helpfulness, as we have come to understand them, are but means of cultivating impersonality. In
dissociating altruism from the expression of intelligence and imagination, the ethos of boy scout-
style benevolence prevents self-sacrifice from evolving into self-overcoming, inhibiting a narrow
conception of our interests from broadening into a more expansive one.
Rather than categorically rejecting the Golden Rule, Nietzsche gives this old idea what
seems like a perverse twist:
a higher and freer viewpoint, it seems to me, is to look beyond these immediate
consequences to others and under certain circumstances to pursue distant goals
even at the cost of the suffering of others for example, to pursue knowledge
even though one realizes that our free-spiritedness will at first and as an
immediate consequence plunge others into doubt, grief, and even worse things.
May we not at least treat our neighbor as we treat ourselves? And if with regard
to ourselves we take no such narrow and petty bourgeois thought for the
immediate consequences and the suffering they may cause, why do we have to
take such thought in regard to our neighbor?

We should pursue neither others nor our own welfare, but self-realization. We will have been
adequately altruistic in goading others towards this ideal. Whether self-realization is helped or
hampered by suffering naturally depends on the circumstances. As it is impossible to generalize
about the value of suffering, it is impossible to generalize about the value of relieving it. In some
cases, others can truly benefit from such relief. In others, our altruism will only undermine
them, depriving them of the opportunity to develop their unique strengths.
Nietzsche opposes

Daybreak, Sec. 146.
Nietzsche writes that the noble human being, too, helps the unfortunate, but not, or almost not, from
pity, but prompted more by an urge begotten by an excess of power (Beyond Good and Evil, Sec. 260).
See Oliver Conollys Pity, Tragedy, and the Pathos of Distance for a discussion of Nietzsches
only that species of altruism that categorically rejects the value of suffering for the sufferer. Pity
is a nihilistic emotion announcing that no worldly ideal can justify suffering and, correlatively,
that suffering is always meaningless except so as to preempt greater suffering for others (as in
utilitarianism). It is the very essence of the emotion of pity that it strips away from the
suffering of others whatever is distinctively personal. Our benefactors are, more than our
enemies, people who make our worth and will smaller.
Pity sees no value in suffering
because it recognizes no value in the self-overcoming for which it creates the opportunity.

While a potentially brutish emotion, pitilessness can also be a sign of respect, and indication of
ones faith in another individuals capacity to transform pain into growth.

9. Conclusion
Nietzsche seeks to eliminate both egoism and altruism as ideals and substitute self-
realization in their place. By revealing these ideals bankruptcy, Nietzsche hopes to aid the free
spirit in resisting the herds caricature of him as petty and self-centered. He exposes the self-
satisfied character of Mother Theresa-style altruism not out of cynical delight but to promote free
spiritedness as the genuine alternative to the self-centeredness lamented by slave morality. If

ambiguous attitude toward altruism (European Journal of Philosophy 6:3, pp. 277-296). Conolly argues
that Nietzsches primary, and most effective, argument against pity is that it fails to recognize tragic
suffering as such suffering that, resulting as it does from an individuals particular character flaws, is
necessary for his self-realization. If this is indeed Nietzsches position, there is no reason why he would
object to relieving non-tragic suffering. It can hardly be argued that every instance of suffering is equally
relevant to ones self-realization.
The Gay Science, Sec. 338.
Martha Nussbaum interprets Nietzsche as objecting to pity because of its false cognitive structure.
Nietzsche opposes pity because it acknowledges as important what has no true importance [the worldly
things from the absence of which the agent is suffering], as seriously bad what is not seriously bad
[suffering] (Pity and Mercy: Nietzsches Stoicism, in Richard. Schacht (ed.), Nietzsche, Genealogy,
Morality (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), p. 145). I would argue that the cognitive
structure of pity is best described as nihilistic, rather than false. There is no fact of the matter when it
comes to the meaning of ones suffering. The value of suffering is a function of ones resolve to
Nietzsche does little to clarify the distinction between self-realization and selfishness, this is in
order to draw attention slave moralitys unwillingness to distinguish them. Those beholden to
slave morality will read Nietzsche superficially. Presuming that he accepts the traditional terms
of the debate, they will conclude that whereas they oppose egoism, Nietzsche celebrates it as
inescapable and good. But Nietzsches praise of egoism is calibrated to direct our attention to
the reality that the concept has historically served to caricature, and thereby reveal the caricature
for what it is. Egoism has been slandered like the victim of yellow journalism. Certain of its
features have been exaggerated while others have been downplayed; all have been taken out of
context of ideals that serve as their backdrop.
Nietzsche celebrates pagan morality not to resurrect it in its original form, but to illustrate
through it the ideal element of what has been unfairly discredited as egoism. By exposing the
nihilistic ethos that has heretofore shaped our understanding of both egoism and altruism,
Nietzsche shows how self-affirmation and virtue can coexist. The contemporary free spirit will
be warlike only in his opposition to blind convention. Like his pagan forbearers, whose vitality
was caricatured as ruthlessness, he will find his willingness to assume responsibility for his life
slandered as self-indulgent narcissism by the herd.
On the other hand, let us not make Nietzsche too palatable. While slave morality may
have obscured the true meaning of what gets decried as egoism, it does not follow that egoism
should never be cause for worry but only that our worries will have to be more sophisticated
than slave morality seemed to require. While the caricature of self-realization bequeathed to us
by slave morality should be rejected, the human and social costs of free-spiritedness are real.
Though less acquisitive and socially ambitious than most others, the free spirit may unjustly

overcome, and realize, oneself through it. To feel pity is to feel that this is either impossible or
devalue the sympathetic sentiments that give meaning to many peoples lives.
Enraptured by
his own ideals, he may become insensible to the pain his actions, or, more likely, his inaction,
can cause others. Like Don Quixote, one can become blinded to the havoc one wreaks in the
name of an ideal. Both Greco-Roman masters, who idealized warlike courage, and the
contemporary free spirits, who cherish iconoclastic creativity, may quite mercilessly hold others
up to their ideals. Let the weak and cowardly perish under the sword; let the sensibilities of
bourgeois philistines be shocked. That this intolerance flows from ones more rugged
conception of the good, rather than malice or unprincipled selfishness, will be irrelevant to those
who suffer from it. Nor should the cost of self-realization to the free spirit himself be
overlooked. In seeking to realize his unique potential, he forgoes normal human satisfactions in
pursuit of what may be but a phantom of his imagination. As Nietzsche understood, for every
person who successfully realizes himself, many more degenerate in a futile attempt to assert
themselves against the forces of tradition. What has been slandered as selfishness is in their case
the ultimate self-sacrifice.

Raising the possibility that Nietzsches ideal of self-realization might turn out to be unshocking,
Philippa Foot argues that while so much is suggested by much of Nietzsches writing, Nietzsche cannot
accommodate the ideal of justice (Nietzsches Immoralism, in Richard. Schacht (ed.), Nietzsche,
Genealogy, Morality (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), pp. 3-14). I would add that,
beyond precluding such political ideals, Nietzsche cannot accommodate a host of ordinary sentiments
premised on human equality. This, I would argue, is the more serious objection to Nietzsche, since there
is no reason to read Nietzsches celebration of the pathos of distance as a political prescription for the
modern world (though it was certainly political in its original, non-sublimated incarnation).
See Beyond Good and Evil, Sec. 29: Independence is for the very few; it is a privilege of the strong.
And whoever attempts it even with the best right but without inner constraint proves that he is probably
not only strong, but also daring to the point of recklessness.