35 pages 1 hour read

Friedrich Nietzsche

Beyond Good And Evil

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1886

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future is a classic philosophical text composed by one of modernity’s greatest thinkers, Friedrich Nietzsche, and first published in 1886, just a few years after the arguably more infamous Thus Spake Zarathustra. Published first in Nietzsche’s native German, the book was translated into English 20 years later in 1906, making the work even more widely known to an international audience. A more polemical text than his previous work focused on the character of Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil centers on the need for the true philosophers of the day to move past the ideals of the current age in a daring quest for true morality and action originating in the will to power, leaving the morality of the past behind and reaching out “beyond good and evil.” This study guide was written using the Amazon Classics edition entitled Beyond Good and Evil, published in 2017.

Summary

At the heart of Nietzsche’s argument is the idea that to learn the truth, a human being must question everything. Everything they have ever learned or observed must be reexamined. Nothing is free from this self-interrogation, and that includes self-perception, societal teachings, and religion. Nietzsche proposes that any human being has the capability to do this, but most do not do so because they lack the ambition to dig through everything they have ever learned to question its validity. Nietzsche does not value those who have not the desire to delve into the deepest areas of their mind to find the truth.

So where does Nietzsche get his truth from? He writes that his theories are a result of the intensity of his education, particularly the study of Ancient Greek and modern philosophers. However, he thinks little of newer philosophers. While he believes they may raise unique and interesting points, he believes them to be untried and untested.

Though Nietzsche points out that morality and immorality are polar opposites, he paradoxically insists that nothing can be split into black and white—there exist only shades of gray. This argument forms the foundation for his discussion of religion. He proposes that faith requires one to sacrifice one’s truth. This is where he says there are only shades of gray between the faithful and the atheist.

Getting further into Nietzsche’s ideals of intelligence, he believes that anyone who is unwilling to question the traditions of their faith, what they have learned from parents and society, and what they think they know to be true to discover their real truth—even to the point of abandoning them as the case may be—lacks intelligence. He has no time for these individuals and even discusses how he abandons friendships if he discovers the other party to possess this unreflective quality. He also thinks anyone who is not of German heritage is subject to this classification since he believes that the German language provides a unique understanding of philosophical truth.

Nietzsche was not only a philosopher but also a poet, cultural critic, and philologist. When he was 24 years old, he became the youngest-ever Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel in 1869, and he took great pride in his position, in teaching, and in continuing his own studies. Ten years later, he was forced to resign due to illness, and he died 11 years after that in 1900. He was prone to illness since his youth and suffered severe migraines, near blindness, and violent indigestion issues. In 1889, he experienced a debilitating psychological crisis after reportedly trying to save a horse from being flogged.

Nietzsche’s primary influences were the Ancient Greek philosophers, including but not limited to Plato and Heraclitus. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky were among the number of recent and contemporary writers he read and admired.

His works did not reach a broad audience during much of his lifetime and active career. However, after his death, Nietzsche was more widely read. His work was met with mixed reception. At the turn of the 20th century, his ideas were thought of as aligned with anarchy in the United States and in France. For their subversive nature, many of his works were out of favor with German conservatives. Not everyone disliked his work though. Famous writers such as Yeats and W. H. Auden praised Nietzsche’s ideas and tried to spread them. During World War I, Nietzsche’s works were standard issue in the German army. His ideas helped form the foundations for expressionism, existentialism, and postmodernism.

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