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Unformatted text preview: Life's Goal Is to Achieve Greatness Nietzsche can be read on many levels. On one level, he is diagnosing a major metaphysical problem that he thinks Western religion and culture have yet to rec- ognize. On another level, he is a social philosopher identifying those forces that create great civilizations. On still a third level, he is an antagonistic critic of or- ganized religion, which he sees as contributing to a decline in the aristocratic val- ues he so much admires. Which of these is the correct Nietzsche? The answer: all of them. And in the brief selection from his works that follows, we will see all three themes articulated. Consider the first level of reading-Nietzsche as diagnostician of a crisis at the heart of Western religion. Nietzsche sees himself as the prophet of the end of an era. Whereas for centuries belief in God provided the foundation for)Western morality and cult~re, Nietzsche arg~es that this is no longer ~he case(fhe strik- ing phrase "God IS dead" cOIJKmumcatesWith greater rhetoncal forc~ than the statement that there is no G~~~C2Jl1ll2ounce tha~ God_is dead i~~b~t ..~~.~me _~d was alive, a,!J~~~~_~nd .~h~~g th92!'c val- , u~~~~ for ...Qi~.Y. __~~~_E~!'~~!!!12g1<:?.!:_l~c!iy!dua~_~~es. Nietzsche Claims that even though people no longer generally believe in Goa in the sense of a deep religious commitment, they nonetheless continue to follow a value sys- tem for which God is the metaphysical prop. When a society finally recognizes that the metaphysical basis for its value sys- tem is gone, what is it to do? Nietzsche's answer is that we must becoIIl.~J?od; that is, we ourselves will be the source of meaning and vatre. Life will haveno other meaning than that which we give to it. Not everyone is capable of carry- ing such a burden. In fact, only a noble few will have the courage to face up It) the new realities and be willing to provide a new standard for behavior. The two parables in the selection that follows emphasize the crisis of the ag(' that Nietzsche sees himself as announcing. The first shows that WitllOl11 the S l' curity offered by belief in God, we are lik(' a ship th:11has I('n tlH' ,;:11('1 y or tlw land and are emharked on :1 wild :Ind lerriryinl'. ,',('a: "T ill\(':i will (0111<' w lw ll IhO(1 wilt feel that it is infinite, and that there is nothing more frightful than infinite." The second parable of the madman in the marketplace makes the same point. The madman, with a lighted lamp, rushes into the marketplace at midday to announce the death of God. The announcement is met with bemused responses from the crowd. So the madman concludes, "I come too early . . . this prodigious event is still on its way." Though the madman's hearers do not really believe in God, they have not yet realized the full magnitude of the implication of their unbelief....
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- Spring '08