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Nietzsche and Authentic Living

Nietzsche by Walter Kaufmann

Nietzsche by Walter Kaufmann

Friedrich Nietzsche’s drive in Twilight of the Idols is to promote authentic living by any means necessary.

Most People, as Nietzsche sees them, don’t have the faintest idea of who they are, much less who they should be. Toward the end of his maxims he asks questions of conscience, which include, “Are you genuine? or only an actor? A representative, or that itself which is represented? ⎯Finally, you are no more than an imitation of an actor" (37). He feels it is imperative for people to seriously question themselves and whether or not they are simply being led around by the institutions designed to help them.

When these questions are no longer asked, the whole society begins to suffer. The commonality and banality of life lived within an unquestioned system devalues people. This belief is a continuation of the Socratic idea that an unexamined life is not worth living. To affirm life and freedom one must recognize and dissolve the artificial chains that bind one to be ruled by external forces. Nietzsche concludes there is no Prime Mover, or originating force that creates a man, and that this fact "alone is the great liberation" (65). To break free of imposed restraints is to be a person who comes from one's self and is on the path to taking control of one's life.

With the death of limitation comes the birth of an authentic life. When freed from socially-constructed binary systems, people are allowed to express feelings and desires of a more authentic nature. In such a state one lives with greater intensity and on a level beyond the scope of the unliberated mind.

The most spiritual human beings, assuming they are the most courageous, also by experience by far the most painful tragedies: but it is precisely for this reason they honor life, because it brings against them its most formidable weapons. (88)

To feel something, anything, in such a way affirms life, even in moments of great suffering.

The Nietzsche Archives in Weimar, Germany by David Wen Riccardi-Zhu.

The Nietzsche Archives in Weimar, Germany by David Wen Riccardi-Zhu.

Since most people do not or will not live with such intensity, Nietzsche refuses to distinguish between good or ill. He even prefers genuine hypocrisy to the lukewarm virtues and vices of the masses (88-9). A life of half-measures is the worst of all possible worlds.

I greatly fear that modern man is simply too indolent for certain vices: so that they are dying out . . . . The few hypocrites I have known impersonate hypocrisy: they were, like virtually every tenth man nowadays, actors. (88-9)

For Nietzsche anything authentic is preferable to the stagnant, milquetoast life that modern humans have constructed for themselves. The preoccupation with "security" has led to lives that aren't lived much less examined with any rigor.

Taking this view of morality into account, it will come as no surprise that Nietzsche looks warily on what people typically call virtue and vice. He first notes the subjectivity of these terms. For example, where the assistance of an invalid is called virtue by one, it is scorned as cowardice by others (102). From the start there can be little agreement because there is no single set of beliefs held in common and views change over time as well. It is entirely possible that the virtues of today were vices in the past (110). Essentially, what any culture deems a virtue or a vice is susceptible to change over time.

Nietzsche is ultimately unconcerned with good and evil since he feels those are transitory terms meant to describe how a culture views actions at a certain point in time. Instead, he argues it is better for someone to try to take control of his or her life rather than submit to what other institutions say is right or wrong.


Nietzsche, Friedrich. Twilight of the Idols. Trans. R.J. Hollingdale. New York: Penguin, 1968.

© 2010 Seth Tomko


Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on October 26, 2010:

Germaine, that sounds like a reasonable summary and analysis of Nietzsche's thesis.

Germaine Reilly on October 25, 2010:

Very interesting article. I've dipped in and out of Nietzche over the years and find some of his ideas really resonate. What I think authentic living amounts to is the quest to become self-actualised, and somehow the more deeply entrenched you are within the institutions that exist in society, the harder this goal is to achieve. I agree that moral benchmarks are fluid and shift/evolve inline with society's needs and demands.

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Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on October 25, 2010:

I think more people would agree with you, James, than Nietzsche.

James A Watkins from Chicago on October 23, 2010:

I enjoyed your Hub very much, though I disagree with Nietzsche about a "prime over" and about vice and virtue.

Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on October 21, 2010:

You're welcome, David Price, and thank you for stopping by to comment.

DavePrice from Sugar Grove, Ill on October 21, 2010:

I was going to make a comment, but your last response "I don't think Nietzsche believed his philosophy would be practical or even intended for the majority of people" summed it up far better than I could. Thanks for a great read.

Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on October 12, 2010:

VictorS., I wouldn't exactly disagree with you, but I don't think Nietzsche believed his philosophy would be practical or even intended for the majority of people. His major concern is for people of dynamic spirit to not think about having to be an actor in society because such individuals should be leading and reshaping society. In this manner he also acts as a precursor to Ayn Rand's Objectivism. I appreciate your readership and comments.

VictorS. from Mobile, AL on October 12, 2010:

This is a very good hub. I find Nietzsche 's views interesting and important, but it does seem he's sidestepping things and that his philosophies are colored with spite, as opposed to being objective. It seems we have to sacrifice our authentic lives a little simply in order to get along with others. All morality aside, getting along with others is necessary for our own individual survival. Being an actor when we go out into the world everyday seems necessary to me. I'm not arguing philosophy against the philosophical genius that Nietzsche was, I'm simply saying his philosophy seems a little impractical and, at times, counterproductive to me.

Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on October 10, 2010:

Thank you, techinfo. I appreciate your readership.

techinfo from Rohtak, Haryana, India on October 09, 2010:

Nice hub. Thanks for sharing.

Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on September 08, 2010:

I know where you're coming from, dahoglund. Thoreau's promotion of individuality certainly doesn't seem as aggressive or spiteful as Nietzsche's, and he doesn't sidestep the question of socially ethical behavior, either.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on September 08, 2010:

I can't say I would agree with him. I am a bit more in attune to Henry David Thoreau who said men should try to live fully and that most of us lived lives of "quiet frustration."

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