June 15, 2001

Nietzsche on Pain and Suffering

To put it mildly, Friedrich Nietzsche believes that living the human life is hard. Life is hard, he believes, because the universe does not possess the values, purpose, and meaning that people have long believed in and found comfort in; moreover, life is filled with pain, suffering, and constant trials. These facts, however, do not mean that life should be condemned as “evil,” or that it is not worth living. To the contrary, Nietzsche believes that the strong and noble person will embrace life’s miseries, and allow them to make him a stronger and nobler person. In the following paper, I briefly explicate how Nietzsche believes one ought to respond to the miseries of life by contrasting how he believes both the strong man and the weak man respond to these hardships.

The weak man, Nietzsche believes, deals with the miseries of life by pretending that this life is not the ultimate state of reality. This world, the weak man claims, is only the “apparent world” and not the “true world.” The “true world,” he holds, is “another,” “better” world. By inventing this fictitious “true world” and thereby fooling himself into believing that this existence is not all that there is, the weak man is able to find an escape from this life and is able to avoid dealing with this life’s painful realities. Christians have escaped from life’s miseries by inventing Heaven. “The true world,” they have claimed, is “unattainable for now, but promised for the sage, the pious, the virtuous man (‘for the sinner who repents’)” (Twilight of the Idols 484-85). Likewise, Plato has escaped from life’s miseries by creating a World of Forms. Wanting to escape from the evils of this constantly changing world, Plato “flees into the ideal” and puts his hope in a world of immutable ideas. Nietzsche believes that any attempt to make a distinction “between a ‘true’ and an ‘apparent’ world” is a symptom of “the decline of life” (484).

Far from trying to escape from this world’s problems by inventing another world, Nietzsche believes that the strong person boldly embraces life, along with its many hardships. The early Greeks, Nietzsche believes, were such strong individuals. Even though they were “keenly aware of the terrors and horrors of existence,” the Greeks embraced life and were somehow able to find joy in it (The Birth of Tragedy 3). As Nietzsche writes in Twilight of the Idols, they did not try to liberate themselves from the “terror and pity” of life, but instead said “Yes to life even in its strangest and hardest problems” (562). Nietzsche claims that his own philosophy, which, like that of the Greeks’, abolishes the “true world,” marks the “high point of humanity” (486).

Along with trying to escape from the miseries of life by inventing another world, Nietzsche believes that the weak man responds to life’s hardships by condemning and trying to avoid suffering. Such people, Nietzsche believes, hold to a “religion of pity,” and “experience suffering and displeasure as evil, hateful, worthy of annihilation, and as a defect of existence” (The Gay Science 338). Along with having an “almost feminine inability to remain spectators, to let someone suffer” (BGE 306), these people go to great lengths to prevent themselves from suffering (GS 338). A good example of how the weak person tries to avoid suffering can be seen in his hatred of his enemies. Christians, Nietzsche writes, have always dreaded opposition and have, therefore, always wanted to destroy their enemies. Not only have they sought to get rid of their external enemies, but they have also sought to get rid of “internal enemies,” as can be seen in their desire to attain “peace of soul” (TI 488).

The strong man, on the other hand, finds great value in suffering. Far from dreading suffering, he welcomes it, recognizing that it is through opposition, hardship, and pain that he is made strong and noble. Just like the solider, who is only able to become a stronger and better soldier through warfare, the strong man realizes that he is only able to become stronger and better by experiencing and enduring life’s most difficult hardships. As Nietzsche puts it, “The discipline of suffering” has created “all enhancements in man so far” (BGE 225); and “[p]rofound suffering makes noble” (BGE 270). For this reason, while the weak person wants to abolish suffering, the strong person—who believes, “What does not destroy me, makes me stronger” (TI 467)— wants suffering “higher and worse than ever” (BGE 225). Unlike the Christian, the strong man does not try to get rid of his enemies. Rather, he values opposition, believing that he “needs enemies more than friends.” And unlike the Christian, who attempts to attain “peace of soul,” the strong man even sees value in internal conflict (TI 488).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

very succinct!