How do people develop nihilistic attitudes

The role of truth and morality in Friedrich Nietzsche's nihilism

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. Is there an objective truth?
2.1. Nietzsche: The impossibility of discarding subjectivity
2.2.Satre: The precedence of existence before the essence
2.3 Comparison of the views of both philosophers

3. The role of morality
3.1. Morality as a nonsensical norm
3.2. The moral consequences of abandonment
3.3. Comparison of the views of both philosophers

4. Discussion and personal assessment
4.1. The lack of objectivity to form an absolute truth
4.2. Morality as a cross-population guideline

5. Final consideration



The present work answers the question of what role truth and morality play in Friedrich Nietzsche's nihilism. Jean-Paul Sarte's position as a comparison to Nietzsche is also discussed. The answer is based on the books “The happy science” by Friedrich Nietzsche and “Existentialism is a humanism” by Jean-Paul Satre. It turns out that the truth picture of both philosophers is the same, but that they have a different picture of morality.

l. introduction

«Take off the phantasm and the whole human ingredient from it, you sober ones! Yes, if you could! If you could forget your origins, past, pre-school - all of your humanity and animals! For us there is no - and also not for you, you sober ones "(Nietzsche, 1887, The happy science, No. 57). With this statement, Friedrich Nietzsche criticizes the realists who claim that they can see reality and objectively judge what the truth is. In his work “Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft”, Nietzsche expresses clear criticism of this attitude. The present work will discuss Nietzsche's nihilism. Nihilism describes the dissolution of all values, such as morality, objectivity and truth (Pratt). That is, according to the nihilistic way of thinking, there is no truth because the objectivity necessary to recognize it is not there. In addition, a nihilist does not believe in universal moral values ​​(Pratt). That is why this work examines the role of truth and morality in Friedrich Nietzsche's nihilism. To answer these questions, his work "The Happy Science" will mainly be analyzed and interpreted. In addition, the attitude of Jean-Paul Satre to truth and morality is presented. This is followed by a discussion and personal assessment of the theses of both philosophers.

To begin with, Chapter 1 presents and compares the positions of the philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Satre on the subject of truth. Chapter 2 discusses the theses on morality and the theses on the critique of morality. This is followed in Chapter 3 by the assessment of the claims made by Nietzsche and Satre and my personal assessment of the subjects mentioned.

2. Is there an objective truth?

Truth plays an important role in nihilism. Nihilism describes the decline of existing values, which also include truth (see chapter). In the following, the positions of the philosophers Nietzsche and Satre are analyzed and compared.

2.1. Nietzsche: The impossibility of discarding subjectivity

Nietzsche's view of the truth is expressed above all in the section "To the Realists" of his book "The Happy Science". Nietzsche (Nietzsche, 1887, number 57) considers the realists to be illogical. They claim to be protected from passion and fantasy, which allows them to see things neutrally. Because of this objectivity, the world is exactly as it appears to them, since they can discard all subjectivity. Because of their neutrality and sobriety, they are the only ones who are able to see the truth. Nietzsche claims, however, that they are unable to give up their passion entirely. Their passion shows itself in the fact that they are passionate about their realism. So they couldn't even consider realism neutrally. In addition, every invention, every product is based on the passion of previous generations towards it. No living being can completely shed its subjectivity. So total objectivity is not possible because you can never forget your past. For example, origins and childhood can never be discarded, which is why human subjectivity will still prevail.

For Nietzsche there is no such thing as one, objectively seen truth. The objective assessment of a situation, or a product, is not possible, since every person will always keep a subjective background that cannot be discarded. Rather, instead of facts and truths, there are only different perspectives with which one looks at things. Because of these different perspectives, each subject has its own interpretation of the truth.

2.2.Satre: The precedence of existence before the essence

Satre expresses his opinion on the truth in his essay "Existentialism is a humanism". Satre (Satre, 1943-1948, p. 149) claims that existence precedes being, that is, that man first exists and then develops his being. As a result, there is no such thing as human nature, so every human being is different in certain aspects. Satre also calls this "subjectivity" (Satre, 1943-1948, p. 148). He makes this clear by defining the term "subjectivism" as follows: "Subjectivism means, on the one hand, the choice of the individual subject by oneself and, on the other hand, the impossibility for man to transcend human subjectivity" (Satre, 1943-1948, P. 150). So he asserts that every person forms his being himself, that is, makes see a certain subject. He also emphasizes that it is impossible to escape subjectivity, so people are always subjective.

For Satre's picture of truth this means that humans cannot determine absolute truth, since absolute objectivity is necessary for the final evaluation of a topic. However, humans cannot achieve this because they are permanently in human subjectivity. This subjectivity makes it impossible to view a subject completely impartially. Since the being is only formed after existence, every person has differences in his being, which means that one is prejudiced against every topic.

2.3 Comparison of the views of both philosophers

The core message of the two philosophers on the subject of truth is very similar. Both claim that there is no objective truth. Furthermore, the justification of their theses is very similar, with Nietzsche additionally invoking passion as the reason for subjectivity.

Nietzsche (Nietzsche, 1887, cf. Chapter 2.1.) Argues that nobody can forget their background and past when assessing the truth, which means that one is always prejudiced. Satre (Satre, 1943-1948, cf. chapter 2.2.) Corresponds to this explanation with the thesis that the being is only formed after existence. With this he claims that every person forms his being differently, there is no human nature in which every person agrees in his being. Satre here implies precisely Nietzsche's statement that everyone has a different background and past, because the essence was formed on this past. For both philosophers, this results in a subjectivity that cannot be discarded, whereby no one can determine an objective truth.

Furthermore, Nietzsche claims (Nietzsche, 1887, see Chapter 2.1.) That everyone has a passion that cannot be put aside. In addition, the objects that people use are always the product of previous passions. Even through this passion for certain things and activities, no objectivity can arise and subjectivity remains. This thought is not mentioned in Satre.

3. The role of morality

Morality also plays a central role in nihilism, since it is also one of the decaying values ​​(see first introduction). Nietzsche and Satre have different approaches, which are explained below.

3.1. Morality as our strict norm

Nietzsche's assessment of morality is particularly evident in the texts "Das Arterhaltende" and "What does life mean?" of his book "The Happy Science" clearly. Nietzsche (Nietzsche, 1887, no.4) claims in «Das Arterhaltende» that «the strongest and most evil spirits» (Nietzsche, 1887, no.4) have advanced humanity the furthest up to now. This means that "the evil spirits" have repeatedly helped mankind to progress and have further developed their way of thinking. Only people who deal with the old and already existing would be called “good”, while those who bring new things, awaken new passions, are always referred to by people as “the bad guys”. In Nietzsche's view, however, "the bad instincts are just as useful, preservative and indispensable as the good ones" (Nietzsche, 1887, No. 4). “The good guys” would lull people's passions, while “the bad guys” kept exploring the untried, crossing boundaries and breaking moral norms. In “Das Arterhaltende” Nietzsche describes “the good” as the farmers of the spirit who tried again and again to bear fruit with old ways of thinking. However, every field has to be dug up once in order to generate new fertility of the soil, i.e. in Nietzsche's example fertility of the mind. That is why the «ploughshare of evil» has to be used again and again to give the soil new fertility. With this, Nietzsche makes it clear that “evil”, i.e. the new, the transgression of limits and values, is necessary again and again in order to be able to further develop the human spirit. Nietzsche shows in «Das Arterhaltende» that the supposedly «evil», as it is called by society, contributes to the preservation of the species in the same way as good deeds and thereby helps the world to constantly new ways of thinking, whereby its spirit is further developed and is ready for new deeds, inventions.

Overall, Nietzsche would like to grant the “bad guys”, who are to be equated with the “strong”, special rights. They continue to develop humanity through their actions, as they break through borders and abolish existing values ​​and guidelines. What is generally perceived by people as "the good" is not developed further by mankind, which is why the strong should always assert themselves. The fact that the strong are mostly referred to as “the bad guys” shows Nietzsche that morality is formed by the weak in society. The moral norm was formed by the weak, who do not realize that the supposed evil always brings mankind forward. Since morality is only formed by certain social groups and therefore only refers to them, it is not generally applicable, which means that it has no validity for the strong. That is why the strong can and should break through morality again and again and thus develop humanity and “preserve the species”. This interpretation is confirmed in the section “What does life mean?”.

In "What does life mean?" Nietzsche claims (Nietzsche, 1887, no.26) that death has to be repelled again and again in order to live. One has to be "cruel and inexorable towards everything that becomes weak and old (...)" (Nietzsche, 1887, no.26). Nietzsche's extreme position is also made clear in sentences such as "without piety towards the dying" (Nietzsche, 1887, no.26). His statements are to be interpreted in such a way that Nietzsche advises the strong to ruthlessly enforce their privileges against the weak.

This confirms the assumption that the strong, or "the bad", have to prevail over the weak in order to further develop humanity. No attention should be paid to morality or other existing guidelines. According to the motto “The end justifies the means”, Nietzsche is every means right in order to achieve the overriding end.

3.2. The moral consequences of abandonment

Satre claims to be an atheistic existentialist, that is, he is convinced that God does not exist (Satre, 1943-1948, p. 148). According to Satre (Satre, 1943-1948, p. 154), because of the non-existence of God, no “values ​​could be found in an intelligible heaven” (Satre, 1943-1948, p. 154). This means that due to the non-existence of God there are no values ​​established by God and therefore no morality. It is no longer possible for people to determine values ​​from the infinite consciousness of God. Nobody can say in general what is right and wrong, what is good. He deduces from this that in the absence of God everything is permitted. In addition, Satre (Satre, 1943-1948, p. 155) further claims that because of abandonment, i.e. the non-existence of God, man no longer has any support. «Man is condemned to be free. Condemned because he did not create himself, and yet free because, once thrown into the world, he is responsible for all that he does ”(Satre, 19431948, p. 155). With this, Satre implies on the one hand that the human being, due to the fact that existence precedes the being, has no human nature, whereby he is free. On the other hand, Satre makes it clear that no one can justify his actions on the values ​​of God, which is why everyone is responsible for them.

Overall, Satre claims that everything is allowed through being abandoned, but every person is responsible for his own deeds and actions. There is no justification by the values ​​of God, everyone has to bear the consequences of his actions himself.

3.3. Comparison of the views of both philosophers

The thoughts of the two philosophers on the subject of morality partly go in the same direction, but here also larger differences in the attitude to the relevance of God for morality become clear.

Satre (Satre, 1943-1948, see Chapter 3.2.) Claims that abandonment means that there is no morality and that everything is permitted. However, when it comes to morality, he refers more to a “justification” of human action than to guidelines on how to do “good”. He claims that the non-existence of God means that there is no set morality, which means that one cannot justify one's actions by God. Therefore, humans must be responsible for all of their actions. Satre uses a kind of contrast in his justification here. Although he states that there is no morality and everything is allowed, he also makes it clear that this means that everyone is responsible for their own actions and must bear the consequences. Nietzsche (Nietzsche, 1887, see Chapter 3.1.), On the other hand, does not deny the existence of morality, but rather the meaning of morality. According to him, morality prevents the stronger from pursuing their interests, since moral values ​​arise only from the interests of the weak. For this reason, a universal moral for Nietzsche makes no sense, since it cannot be applied to all population groups. Nietzsche therefore also asserts in “Was ist Leben” that the strong should act “without piety towards the dying”, that is, against the weak.

Furthermore, Satre (Satre, 1943-1948, cf. Chapter 3.2) states that without God it is not determined what good is. Nietzsche, on the other hand, claims that people determine what is good, but they are wrong. In his opinion, people only ever see as "the good" what is an old, well-known point of view. However, new thoughts that call the existing values ​​and guidelines into question are generally understood as "the evil".

4. Discussion and personal assessment

So far, the views of Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Satre on the topics of truth and morality have been explained. There is broad agreement on their opinion of the truth, while there are clear differences on morality. In the following I will discuss the views of the two philosophers and present my own assessment of the issues.

4.1 The lack of objectivity for the formation of an absolute truth

There is much agreement on the subject of truth. Both assume that, due to human subjectivity, there can be no absolute truth. I largely agree with the views of both philosophers. I also believe that it is difficult to form an objective opinion on a topic for yourself and thus to be able to assess an objective truth. Everyone is influenced by the experiences of their childhood, by their family background, or by geographical positions. It is impossible to determine an absolute truth on a subject that affects the whole world.Different moral concepts apply in different parts of the world, and there are different economic and geographical conditions. Hence, it is impossible for a person to include all of these different views in his assessment of the truth. Even if this were possible, a person could not yet determine the absolute truth, since he only has a person's vision. In order to determine the absolute truth, a person would also have to include the view of an animal in his view. What is the perfect place to sleep for an animal may just be a simple meadow for humans. I maintain that with this infinite number of views of a situation, it is impossible to find the absolute truth, since one can never completely discard one's subjectivity. As an example I would like to use an almost everyday situation between two friends. It often happens that two friends argue about a topic. Since they cannot come to a conclusion themselves, they ask an outsider who is right. Even in the hypothetical case that the outsider has never been confronted with this topic, he would not be able to evaluate the situation objectively. As soon as he begins to think about the answer to the question, he will automatically incorporate his subjective preferences into the decision, since it is impossible for him to ignore, almost "forget", his past for this decision. He was born as a person into a certain situation, the influence of which on him will last forever.

In summary, I am of the opinion that it is not possible to determine a conclusive, objective truth. I therefore largely agree with Nietzsche's and Satre's theses. Scientific studies are excluded from this. Scientific studies can often lead to objective results, for example on questions in the field of medicine. However, these studies are often refined over the years, so they were not the absolute truth before. In sciences like philosophy, however, truths can hardly be determined. They find themselves in one of the situations of inescapable subjectivity explained above.

4.2 Morality as a cross-population guideline

As stated earlier, the philosophers Satre and Nietzsche have different views on morality. In the following I will therefore discuss the views separately and express my own opinion.

Nietzsche's argumentation is understandable to me, but I have to contradict him on a few points. I agree with the assertion that morality is formed mainly from the interests of the weak. However, this does not mean that morality, as Nietzsche says, is invalid. Even when one is in the position of the strong, one should be careful not to harm the weak as one progresses. For example, education policy should not only take into account the interests of the elite, but above all should promote the education of broad sections of the population. With this I would like to say that it would be a morally highly problematic situation if the education of the "less intelligent" people were to be dismantled so that in return the education of the "intelligent" people can be promoted even more. This statement must, however, be viewed in a differentiated manner Therefore I have to partially agree with Nietzsche. As already explained, Nietzsche's thesis that morality arises from the interests of the weak does not mean for me that morality should not be valid. However, I would also like to make it clear that a situation in which the strong are held up in their progress by the weak would be devastating. There must not be a situation in which the strong have a will to develop, but cannot enforce it due to the situation of the weak. So I claim that the The strong should not be held back by the weak in their further development, but they should, i Do not harm the weak either. In the following I would like to cite an example from the field of education policy. In education policy, it is important that the strong, in this context the “intelligent”, are encouraged. At the same time, however, the “less intelligent” must also be taken into account, because they too must be encouraged, since the moral “All people are equal” applies. However, it is important to differentiate between encouraging the weak by stopping the strong and actually promoting the weak. This means that the entire education system of a state must not be geared towards the weak, but that there should be educational institutions for the weak as well as for the strong. This system was implemented in Germany, for example. There is a distinction between the school types “Hauptschule”, “Realschule” and “Gymnasium”. The secondary school is intended for the education of the “less intelligent” and the grammar school for the education of the “strong”. In this way it can be ensured that the strong are not held up by a slowed pace of the weak, whereby the potential of the strong can be exploited, but the weak are still not harmed. As I have already mentioned, the moral "All people are equal" applies in this case, which means that in this case everyone should be given the opportunity to be educated. However, this morality should not be understood as «all people should be made equal». It is not the purpose of this morality for all people to receive the same education so that when they have completed their education they will all be at the same level of education. This would be like a punishment for intelligence, that is, a punishment for “strength”. Rather, this moral norm says that all people should have the same opportunity for education, regardless of their origin, past, or other characteristics that do not relate to the ability to educate.

Overall, I want the strong to be able to use their potential and not be stopped by the weak, but with the restriction that the strong must not harm the weak. Nietzsche's statement one should proceed “without piety towards the dying” (Nietzsche, 1887, no.26), so I do not agree, as this implies that the weak may be harmed.

Furthermore, I cannot agree with Satre's thesis of abandonment. Satter's premise is that God does not exist. He assumes that the non-existence of God means that there are no given values ​​and therefore no morals either. In my opinion, morality is not given by God, but develops through years of process and is made by people. I agree with Satre that man is free in his decisions, but I am of the opinion that this would also be the case with a possible existence of God. Satre claims that because of the non-existence of God, there is no way of justifying actions by his values. In my opinion, morality is to be understood as guidelines voluntarily developed by people, which are intended to provide orientation for action. It is questionable whether the sense of justice is innate in humans and whether parts of moral values ​​develop from this innate sense. Even in small children, behavior can often be observed that suggests an innate sense of fairness (Schierenbeck, 2015). Incidentally, this statement would call the entire existentialism into question, since it assumes that the being is only formed after existence.

In the end, for me it is the people themselves who determine what is called “good” and what is called “wrong”. Therefore moral values ​​are formed independently by people, from their experiences and past, and thus exist independently of the possible existence of God.

5. Final consideration

What has been said so far has shown the role of truth and morality in nihilism. As it turns out, Nietzsche and Satre have a very similar view of the truth. Both claim that this cannot be objectively recognized, since it is impossible to discard human subjectivity. Nietzsche questions the meaning of morality and claims that morality has no validity for all people, since it is only formed from the interests of certain population groups. Satre, on the other hand, states that due to the abandonment, i.e. due to the non-existence of God, there are no given values ​​and therefore no morals. Humans are responsible for themselves and must therefore bear the consequences for their actions. I can agree with the theses of the philosophers on truth, but in my opinion the statements on morality have to be viewed in a differentiated manner. In my opinion, moral values ​​are formed by people and make a lot of sense. Moral norms are the basis for realizing peaceful social coexistence. They are also very important with a view to our multicultural society today, as common moral values ​​ensure a regular coexistence.

Possible findings from behavioral biology on innate instincts, such as the innate instinct for fairness (sense of justice), may be of interest in the future. These findings would call into question one of the basic assumptions of existentialism, since existentialism is based on the fact that the essence is formed after existence.


Nietzsche, F. W. (1887). The happy Science. Leipzig.

Pratt, A. (no date). Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved on December 5, 2015 from

Satre, J.-P. (1943-1948). Existentialism is a human simus. Reinbek near Hamburg: Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag.

Schierenbeck, J. (November 19, 2015). Mirror online. Retrieved on December 5, 2015 from Eigen-Vorteil-aus-a-1063494.html