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Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Death of God

Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Death of God: a Critical Evaluation



            Nietzsche (1844-1900) gave a unique face to morality. Human behavior, for him, is centered on human “will to power.”[1] the manifestations of the will become the determinant factor with regard to what should be held as good or evil.

            Thus, morality in philosophy is not universal but particular to individual depending on the manifestation of the will to power in the person. The origin of morality could be traced back to Pythagoras, while Socrates is seen as one who gave morality a basic position in philosophy.

            However, before Socrates, the Greek culture had accepted certain values as morally commendable. Such values are justice, courage, temperance and wisdom. Philosophy gave consolidation to these values, with addition and modifications. The values fall in line with Christian doctrine, hence Christianity perpetuates them.

            The problem Nietzsche had with this line of teaching is that it negates human nature, which is will to power. He termed this the morality of those herds enslaved by their weakness of will. The morality in question originated as a rejection of Christian morality. The original morality of man which allows his full manifestation of the will Nietzsche termed the morality of the noblest. He blamed the perpetrators of slave morality, i.e., Christian morality stating that through their teaching, the full manifestation of the will has been hindered. Nietzsche hence called for re-evaluation of values, which entails going beyond the traditional value and back to the original noble morality:

All of Nietzsche’s thought was directed towards turning his view of existence upside down. Consequently, he views his own thinking as reversed Platonism or as a re-evaluation of values.[2]

            Here, the person who through the manifestation of the will to power is able to live above the traditional values by turning them upside down is the superman.

            Observantly, Nietzsche is viewed as an existentialist who draws his drive partly from the conviction that a thinker should be concerned towards the issues bordering on human values and immediate problems with an attitude of fresh experimentation than rationalizing over abstract systems that more or less lack foundations in reality. It appears glaring that from variety of positions on various issues, there is the inevitability of interpreting his ideas in contradictory ways.

1.1    Background of the Study

            There is no denial that every philosopher has some factors that influenced and affected his philosophy. This is to say that philosophy does not just emerge from the air, rather it emerges from somewhere. As such, philosophers themselves are also influenced by the philosophy of their predecessors.

Nietzsche was born to Karl Ludwig and Franz on October 15, 1844, a day which coincided with the birthday of the Prussian King, Fredrick Wilhelm IV after whom Nietzsche was named. He was born into a deeply theistic family, for his father and grand father were all Lutheran ministers. He is mostly described as a philologist, classical scholar, philosopher and poet. After the death of his father as he was four years, his family moved to Naumburg where he lived with his mother, sister, grandmother and two maiden aunts.

            At the University of Bonn, Nietzsche got influenced by Freidrich W. Ritsch, a renowned classical philologist and followed him to the University of Leipzig in 1865. Two years later, Nietzsche attended his military service and came back to Leipzig University. During this period, he met Richard Wagner whose music impressed him and with whom he never lost contact till later part of his life. This Wagner’s music influenced him so much as is evident in his book, The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music. Through the recommendation of Ritsch, Nietzsche got a teaching appointment at the University of Basel in 1869 and at the age of 25, he became a professor even before completing his doctorate degree.

            At Leipzig, Nietzsche came in contact with the main work of Schopenhauer, whose atheism and anti-rationalism deeply influenced him and from there, he confirmed his own revolt against contemporary European culture:

At Leipzig, he made the acquaintance of Schopenhauer’s main work one of the features which attracted him was, as himself said, the author’s atheism.[3]

            Furthermore, Nietzsche read F. A. Lang’s work, History of Materialism and Critique of its Present Significance (1866), a work which criticized materialist metaphysical theories from the stand-point of Kant’s critique of metaphysics in general. This attracted Nietzsche’s interest in its view that metaphysical speculation is an expression of poetic illusion.

            Again, the Prussian army had made Germany a great power on the continent and there was great advance in science and technology. Yet, Nietzsche boldly prophesied that power politics and vicious wars were in store for the future. He foresaw the coming of nihilism. Nietzsche was a Heraclitean. Another influence to be recognized was his historian friend named, Jacob Burckhardt. Nietzsche shared a common fascination for ancient Greek and Renaissance Italy with Otto John, Paul Deussen, Erwin Rohdo, and Franze Overback left a lasting impact on him.

            However, Nietzsche held his greatest fact of his moral philosophy from his prophetic insight into the decline of the faith of Christians, during the 19th century. In other words, that faith in the Christian God was dead in the hearts of the Christians of the 19th century epoch. This led him to declare that “God is dead.”

            It is on this ground, therefore, that the title of this work came about – ‘Nietzsche’s philosophy of the death of God: a critical evaluation.’

1.2    Purpose of Study

            In fact, we do not pretend that what Nietzsche meant by this expression “God is dead” is simply and immediately comprehensible as many may suppose. Thus, one would ask: Is God really dead? Or is he dead just in the heart of the Europeans of Nietzsche’s time, or among Christians in general? Based on these questions that I wish to carry out a critical evaluation of the major stands of Nietzsche precisely on God’s death.

            It has been observed that this Nietzsche’s claim of God’s death has built some wrong views about morality in people’s mind. But with adequate answers to the above questions, God will be re-instated in his supposed position or state in people’s morality, thus clearing the wrong impressions about morality in people’s heart.

1.3    Scope of Study

            Fundamentally, this work is based on the moral philosophy of Nietzsche; basically his assertion that “God is dead.” It further x-rays the major views of Nietzsche and also some of atheistic philosophers.

This work is made up of five chapters with sub-sections. Chapter one is the general introduction to this work. There, one sees what led Nietzsche to this assertion of God’s death. The reason why I chose this topic is also brought to light. The second chapter makes an effort to review some philosophers who, like Nietzsche, presented themselves as atheist. It brought out their general view against the existence of God. In chapter three lies the body of work. It portrays the complete view of Nietzsche’s moral philosophy. There, the main problem of this essay is presented in a broad way. Chapter four goes to the extent of proving the existence of God. It brings to light some of the proofs of God’s existence, such as: The ontological, Cosmological and Teleological proofs of God’s existence. Finally, chapter five is my general evaluation and the conclusion.


2.     Earlier philosophers that influenced Nietzsche

            Philosophers from time past have engaged themselves in the argument of God’s existence. Many were of the view that the existence of God is a reality, while some held that He does not exist, but Nietzsche simply stated that He is dead. Hence, the dialogue of some philosophers about God’s existence is examined in this chapter.

2.1    Descartes

            Descartes has been held as “the father of modern philosophy because of his major contributions to modern philosophy.”[4] One of his contributions was on the existence of God. In trying to prove the existence of God, Descartes left the facts which are external to him such as physical things and resent to ideas which are within his internal thought. On this Stumpf writes:

Some of our ideas seem to be born with men, some invented by me, whereas other come from without.[5]

He explains further that God’s existence can be proved from one’s rational awareness of his own existence. From our reason, one gathers the idea that nothing cannot produce something and that perfection cannot be as a result of imperfection.[6] The clarity and distinctness of the idea of perfection I have, really proves that it cannot emanate from my imperfect nature. Stumpf writing on Descartes states;

How can I, a finite substance, produce the idea of an infinite substance? Indeed, how could I know that I am infinite unless I could compare myself with the idea of a perfect being?[7]

Hence, one could conclude that his idea of a perfect being flows from an infinite being which exists thus from God.

            We observed from the above that Descartes’ conception of God was not theological. This is because he understands God as a spiritual and corporal substance. His notion of God could be that God is never the One and Almighty God rather another being who has a superlative share in some of the attributes of the true God.

2.2    Immanuel Kant

            Objectively, it has been observed that Kant revolutionized modern philosophy. What prompted this revolution in Kant’s mind was his profound concern over the problems that the philosophers of his day could not deal with successfully. Among the numerous difficulties during his time, was that of the source of our knowledge.

            However, in this work, I aim to establish how Kant portrayed his atheistic view of God’s existence. He rejected the traditional proofs for the existence of God, namely, the ontological, cosmological and teleological proofs.

            First of all, he attacked the ontological argument. This argument is based on the greatness of God whom St. Anselm defined as the greatest possible being; “that than which nothing greater can be thought.”[8] Anselm based his ontological argument on perfection of God, whom he defined as an infinitely perfect being i.e., a being that possess all perfections. He stated that since existence is perfection, it follows that God necessarily has existence as one of his perfection. Hence, God necessarily exists. Kant cancelled this view stating that existence is not perfection. Existence is not a perfection which a being can be said to posses or to lack. Thus he argued

Existence is an inseparable part of the concept of a being. To take away the concept of existence from the concept of a being is to take away the whole being, and to add the concept of existence to the concept of a being is to add nothing.[9]

It then implies that for there to be a being, invariably, there is existence, they cannot be separated. Thus Kant conclude that

All the trouble and labour bestowed on the famous ontological or Cartesian proof of the existence of a supreme being from concepts alone is trouble and labour wasted.”[10]

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[1] F. Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol. 7m 18th and 19th German Philosophy, New York: continuum, London: 1963, p. 408.

[2] F. Gunner et al., A History of Western Thought, London: Routledge, 1972, p. 356.

[3] Ibid., p. 390.

[4] S.E. Stumpf, Philosophy, History and Problems. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1993, p. 223.

[5]   Ibid., p. 230.

[6] Ibid., p. 231.

[7] Ibid., p. 231.

[8] Ibid., p.155

[9] Ibid., p.107

[10] Ibid., p.108


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