Nietzsche’s basic view is that the morals, values and standards which we have inherited (through our culture) were based in origin on a belief in a God or gods who had given them to us and would judge us by the success or failure in living up to them. But, says Nietzsche, we have lost our belief in all these gods, and in religion generally. What does this mean? It means that we’ve lost faith in the very foundations of our value system.
Yet, so far, we have failed to face up to the fact. We go on trying instead to relate our lives to a value system whose foundations we have ceased to believe in.
And that makes our life inauthentic. Indeed, it makes us inauthentic.
If we are to have an authentic value system we have got to carry out a complete re-evaluation of all our values.
Having swept away everything on this colossal scale, what does Nietzsche advocate in its place. What, after all this, are the positive values which he comes out with?
The answer is both very simple and complicated. The simple answer is Be yourself, at the top level of everything that you are: live your life fully, live it adventurously. Be Thou Thyself – Be that which thou art, is the major premiss from which he begins and it is also the goal towards which morality and ethics ought to be directed.
The answer is very complicated because Nietzsche’s recommendations make living together in some kind of harmony extremely difficult – especially if you add to this view that laws are there to make things easy for the weak … there is a great deal of difficulty facing anyone who is going to put this forward as a guide to living in society.
Note: The above text is an extract (slightly modified) from a discussion between B. Magee and J.P. Stern that was published in 1987