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Is Nietzsche a Life-Affirmer?

  • Simon May (a1)

The question of how to affirm one's life in view of suffering and loss is central to Nietzsche's philosophy. He shows, I claim, that one can affirm – take joy or find beauty in – one's life as a whole, conceived as necessary in all its elements, while also despising parts of it. Yet he mostly pictures such life-affirmation as achievable only via an atheistic theodicy that relies on a key ambition of the very system of morality that he famously attacks: namely to explain or justify suffering in terms of a higher end to which it is essential. I argue that affirmation of one's life is more powerful without the crutch of any theodicy, and point to Job as a paragon of one who can affirm his life without seeking an answer to the question of the meaning or value of suffering – indeed who can dispense altogether with that question.

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1 This article is a reworking of, and contains extracts from, Simon May, ‘Why Nietzsche is still in the morality game’, in S. May (ed.), Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morality: A Critical Guide (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 78–100, © Cambridge University Press 2011, reproduced with permission. I am grateful to Bernard Reginster and to Ken Gemes for their penetrating comments on an earlier draft.

2 Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2002), 107.

3 Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus (London: Penguin, 1975), 11.

4 Following standard convention, I refer to the English translations of Nietzsche's works using the following abbreviations (references are to section numbers): Beyond Good and Evil (BGE), trans. W. Kaufmann (New York, NY: Vintage, 1966 [1886]); The Birth of Tragedy (BT), trans. W. Kaufmann (New York, NY: Vintage, 1966 [1872]); Ecce Homo (EH), trans. W. Kaufmann (New York, NY: Vintage, 1967 [1888]); On the Genealogy of Morality (GM), trans. C. Diethe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997 [1887]); The Gay Science (GS), trans. W. Kaufmann (New York, NY: Vintage, 1974 [1882; Part 5: 1887]); Twilight of the Idols (TI) (1889), trans. W. Kaufmann, in The Portable Nietzsche, ed. W. Kaufmann (New York, NY: Viking, 1954); The Will to Power (WP), trans. W. Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York, NY: Vintage, 1968); Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Z) (1883–1885), trans. W. Kaufmann, in The Portable Nietzsche, ed. W. Kaufmann (New York, NY: Viking, 1954).

5 GM, Preface, 5; GM, III, 11.

6 Just as evil became ‘the problem of evil’.

7 Op. cit. 1.

8 Augustine, Of True Religion (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1959).

9 John Hick, Evil and the God of Love (London: Macmillan, 1966), 211–215, 253–255.

10 Cf. II Corinthians 12:7–10. Cited in Hick, op. cit., 357.

11 Job 2:9, where Job's wife asks: ‘Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.’

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Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements
  • ISSN: 1358-2461
  • EISSN: 1755-3555
  • URL: /core/journals/royal-institute-of-philosophy-supplements
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