Skip over navigation

Genealogy of Morals

Friedrich Nietzsche

Third Essay, Sections 11-14

Third Essay, Sections 1-10

Third Essay, Sections 11-14, page 2

page 1 of 3
Summary

In the ascetic priest we find the most serious representative of the ascetic ideal. He sees life as "a wrong road on which one must finally walk back to the point where it begins, or as a mistake that is put right by deeds." Life, with all its sensory pleasures and distractions, must be denied and turned against itself. The result is the ascetic life. In this light, the ascetic life is not a goal, but a path away from life toward something different and better.

Ascetic ideals spring up spontaneously everywhere on earth, in every time and culture. There must be something desirable in ascetic ideals that it should be so universal. The ascetic life seems to be a contradiction: it is the will to stop willing, life turned against itself. It is an expression of the will to power trying to master not some part of life, but trying to master life itself.

Such a contradictory will, when turned to philosophy, is likely to turn itself against the real, claiming that it is unreal. Thus, physical objects are seen as illusions, and the human subject and the ego are renounced. Reason is limited to dealing with the illusions of physical reality, and cannot penetrate the truth itself.

Rather than argue against this point of view, Nietzsche expresses some gratefulness toward it. By shifting our perspective, it allows us to see a matter from a new point of view. This point of view may not be objective--influenced as it is by ascetic ideals--but, Nietzsche suggests, there is no such thing as an "objective" point of view; at least, there is no such thing as the "pure, will-less, painless, timeless knowing subject" that we posit as the ground for things like pure reason and absolute truth. We can only approach objectivity, Nietzsche argues, by gaining as many perspectives as we can on a matter: "There is only a perspective seeing, only a perspective 'knowing'; and the more affects we allow to speak about one thing, the more eyes, different eyes, we can use to observe one thing, the more complete will our 'concept' of this thing, our 'objectivity,' be." Nietzsche objects to ascetic ideals only insofar as it tries to eliminate thought altogether. This would not be a different perspective, but a demolition of all perspectives.

Nietzsche next tackles the contradiction found in saying that the ascetic ideal represents "life against life." He suggests that quite the contrary is true, that "the ascetic ideal springs from the protective instinct of a degenerating life." Humans are great experimenters, constantly exploring, searching, and struggling to gain power over themselves, over nature, even over the gods. Through this entire struggle and self-torture, we have also made ourselves "sick," and it is no wonder that we find the ascetic ideal springing up everywhere. Though it may seem to deny life, the ascetic ideal is supremely life affirming, as it says "yes" to life in the face of hardship and sickness.

Nietzsche says this "sickness" arises from nausea at and a pity for humanity. This nausea inspires nihilism, the will to nothingness, which characterizes ascetic ideals. The nihilism of the weakest and the sickest is a great danger to any who are still healthy, as it parades as virtue, claiming that health, power, and happiness are evils that will be punished. The strong should not be ashamed of their strength, and they must be quarantined from the sick if they are to maintain their strength. They should not pity, or try to cure, the "sick" majority.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us