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Friedrich Nietzsche Pronounces "God is Dead": The Gay Science (1882)

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No altruism! – In many people I find an overwhelmingly forceful and pleasurable desire to be a function: they have a very refined sense for all those places where precisely they could “function” and push in those directions. Examples include those women who transform themselves into some function of a man that happens to be underdeveloped in him, and thus become his purse or his politics or his sociability. Such beings preserve themselves best when they find a fitting place in another organism; if they fail to do this, they become grumpy, irritated, and devour themselves.

[ . . . ]

Life no argument. – We have arranged for ourselves a world in which we can live – by positing bodies, lines, planes, causes and effects, motion and rest, form and content; without these articles of faith nobody now could endure life. But that does not prove them. Life is no argument. The conditions of life might include error.*

Moral skepticism in Christianity. – Christianity, too, has made a great contribution to the enlightenment, and taught moral skepticism very trenchantly and effectively, accusing and embittering men, yet with untiring patience and subtlety; it destroyed the faith in his “virtues” in every single individual; it led to the disappearance from the face of the earth of all those paragons of virtue of whom there was no dearth in antiquity – those popular personalities who, imbued with faith in their own perfection, went about with the dignity of a great matador. When we today, trained in this Christian school of skepticism, read the moral treatises of the ancients – for example, Seneca and Epictetus – we have a diverting sense of superiority and feel full of secret insights and over-sights: we feel as embarrassed as if a child were talking before an old man, or an over-enthusiastic young beauty before La Rochefoucauld:** we know better what virtue is. In the end, however, we have applied this same skepticism also to all religious states and processes, such as sin, repentance, grace, sanctification, and we have allowed the worm to dig so deep that now we have the same sense of subtle superiority and insight when we read any Christian book: we also know religious feelings better! And it is high time to know them well and to describe them well, for the pious people of the old faith are dying out, too. Let us save their image and their type at least for knowledge.

* Cf. the first sections of Beyond Good and Evil, especially “untruth as a condition of life” in section 4. What kind of error is meant is explained in section 110 (first paragraph) and in sections 111, 112, and 115.
** François de La Rochefoucauld (1613–80) whose Maxims are among the treasures of French literature. Their literary form and perfection as well as their unsentimental psychological penetration clearly made an impression on Nietzsche. Most of them (there are about seven hundred in all) are no more than two or three lines long; few, more than half a page. Without being at all mechanical or even deductive in manner, the author continually calls attention to the motive of human self-interest.

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