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

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Knowledge as more than a mere means.Without this new passion – I mean the passion to know – science would still be promoted; after all, science has grown and matured without it until now. The good faith in science, the prejudice in its favor that dominates the modern state (and formerly dominated even the church) is actually based on the fact that this unconditional urge and passion has manifested itself so rarely and that science is considered not a passion but a mere condition or an “ethos.” Often mere amour-plaisir* of knowledge (curiosity) is felt to be quite sufficient, or amour-vanité,** being accustomed to it with the ulterior motive of honors and sustenance; for many people it is actually quite enough that they have too much leisure and do not know what to do with it except to read, collect, arrange, observe, and recount–their “scientific impulse” is their boredom. Pope Leo X once sang the praises of science (in his brief to Beroaldo*): he called it the most beautiful ornament and the greatest pride of our life and a noble occupation in times of happiness as well as unhappiness; and finally he said: “without it all human endeavors would lack any firm foothold – and even with it things are changeable and insecure enough.” But this tolerably skeptical pope keeps silent, like all other ecclesiastical eulogists of science, about his ultimate judgment. From his words one might infer, although this is strange enough for such a friend of the arts, that he places science above art; but in the end it is nothing but good manners when he does not speak at this point of what he places high above all of the sciences, too: “revealed truth” and the “eternal salvation of the soul.” Compared to that, what are ornaments, pride, entertainment, and the security of life to him? “Science is something second-class, not anything ultimate, unconditional, not an object of passion” – this judgment Leo retained in his soul: the truly Christian judgment about science.

In antiquity the dignity and recognition of science were diminished by the fact that even her most zealous disciples placed the striving for virtue first, and one felt that knowledge had received the highest praise when one celebrated it as the best means to virtue. It is something new in history that knowledge wants to be more than a mere means.

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In the horizon of the infinite. – We have left the land and have embarked. We have burned our bridges behind us – indeed, we have gone farther and destroyed the land behind us. Now, little ship, look out! Beside you is the ocean: to be sure, it does not always roar, and at times it lies spread out like silk and gold and reveries of graciousness. But hours will come when you will realize that it is infinite and that there is nothing more awesome than infinity. Oh, the poor bird that felt free and now strikes the walls of this cage! Woe, when you feel homesick for the land as if it had offered more freedom – and there is no longer any “land.”


* Love based on pleasure.
** Loved based on vanity.
*** It will be noted that Nietzsche’s “quotation” is rather free, and that the pope did not really keep silent about “the knowledge and true worship” of God. But these criticisms do not undermine Nietzsche’s point which he actually understates.

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