Beyond Good and Evil | Study Guide

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

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Beyond Good and Evil | Part 7 : Our Virtues | Summary



Part 7 seeks to enumerate the virtues of the new philosopher—"We Europeans of the day after tomorrow." Nietzsche asks somewhat ironically whether there is "anything more beautiful than looking for one's own virtues." To look for one's virtue presupposes "believing in one's own virtue." This puts the new philosopher in the same boat with their grandfathers, he says, wearing "the venerable long pigtail" of "'good conscience.'" With this beginning Nietzsche seems to be warning the reader that he already has suspicions about these virtues.

Philosophies that "measure the value of things in accordance with pleasure and pain" are naïve, and anyone with an "artistic conscience" will scorn and even pity those who hold this viewpoint—but not with the pity of the rabble. Rather, this "higher and more farsighted pity" is how human beings diminish themselves. According to Nietzsche, to want to "abolish suffering" is "insane."; the new philosopher would rather heighten suffering. "Well-being" is not a noble goal but rather an end to human dignity—wellbeing "makes man ridiculous and contemptible." According to Nietzsche all "enhancements to man" created so far have been wrought by "the discipline of suffering, of great suffering." Through suffering the soul gathers strength along with "inventiveness," "courage," and "perseverance," among other virtues. Nietzsche says that in great suffering, "creature and creator are united," and people may fashion themselves.

Honesty is a virtue from which "free spirits" cannot escape, says Nietzsche. Therefore, he recommends that true philosophers use their "malice and love" to perfect the only virtue left to them. Although others may call them immoral, they must "remain hard" and tell the truth about what they know. They will come to the assistance of their "god" (honesty) with the help of all their "devils"—curiosity, courage, and their "most spiritual will to power and overcoming of the world."

For Nietzsche, morality can be "dangerous, captious, and seductive." For example, the British Utilitarian philosophers have allowed "cant" (hypocritical talk) to sneak into their philosophy, masquerading as science, and they are secretly fighting against a "bad conscience." The Utilitarians, who began with Jeremy Bentham, created a system of ethics in which right action is what promotes the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. Nietzsche makes fun of these philosophers, saying they want to impose English happiness on everybody. The idea of "the general welfare" is not a "remotely intelligible concept" because "what is fair for one cannot by any means for that reason alone also be fair for others." One-size-fits-all morality is "detrimental for the higher men ... there is an order of rank between man and man, hence also between morality and morality."

According to Nietzsche, such insipid philosophy as Utilitarianism is the product of fear of the return of the "savage cruel beast" who has been conquered in the modern era. Nietzsche is referring to the veneer of civilization that has done away with such barbarity as the blood sport of the Roman arena. European civilization protects the weak and promotes the Christian values of love and compassion for one's neighbor. But cruelty needs to be reconsidered, he opines. Almost all of what passes for "'higher culture' is based on the spiritualization of cruelty," says Nietzsche. The "painful voluptuousness of tragedy is cruelty." For example, he cites "the Christian in the ecstasies of the cross," referencing the fact that Christians pray before the image of a crucified God whom they worship. Two other examples he uses are French nostalgia for the bloody revolutions that toppled the aristocracy and the joy that people feel when watching a Wagnerian operatic tragedy like Tristan und Isolde. Psychology thus far has not provided much insight about people's love of cruelty, Nietzsche says, other than it "came into being at the sight of the sufferings of others."

But what is also enjoyable is one's own suffering—religious or ascetic self-denial or self-mutilation—for example. Moreover, Nietzsche says that the seeker of knowledge "forces his spirit to recognize things against the inclination of the spirit, and often enough against the wishes of his heart," in an act of cruelty. This occurs when the seeker says No when he would rather say Yes, or when that person insists on "profundity" when "the basic will of the spirit ... unceasingly strives for the apparent and superficial." Nietzsche further explains that the basic will of the spirit wishes to be master of its own domain, appropriate and assimilate what is foreign, simplify what is complicated, ignore what is contradictory, and so forth, "falsifying" the world to suit itself. There is also the drive to close one's eyes and say Yes to ignorance, as well as a drive to deceive and conceal using a variety of masks. In summary, people naturally want to make life easier for themselves by reducing complexity and refusing to look at what contradicts their prejudices. To do so they sometimes have to cover up reality through a variety of deceptive strategies. But for the seeker of knowledge, these natural drives to make life easy or pleasant are "countered" by an insistence on "profundity, multiplicity, and thoroughness ... a kind of cruelty of the intellectual conscience." Nietzsche somewhat sarcastically says this might be called "extravagant honesty." The free spirits can give other fancy names to this tendency—such as love of wisdom or love of truth—but Nietzsche calls these mere masks, under which the natural man must be recognized. Thus, he is pointing out that the true philosopher is less concerned with parading the virtue of honesty (as a mask) and more interested in seeing the ugly things that might be lurking underneath the mask.

Nietzsche now admits that although "learning changes us" there is something "'deep down'" that is "unteachable" and cannot change. At times a person finds certain solutions to problems that inspire them and afterward calls them "convictions." Later they might realize they were only "steps to self-knowledge," signposts pointing to the "problem" that is each individual person. Now that Nietzsche has so truthfully shared his heart with the reader, he asks permission to share "a few truths about 'woman as such'—assuming that it is now known at the outset how very much these are after all only—my truths."

The next eight sections consist of what might be called a sexist rant against the feminist movement, the archetype of the eternal feminine ("woman as such"), and women in general. Nietzsche makes misogynistic statements and repeats stereotypical beliefs about women. He opines that women should be treated as property, kept under control by men. He accuses women of being immodest, stupid, and even bad cooks in the kitchen. Was Nietzsche an unregenerate misogynist, or did he perhaps use his own ambivalent feelings about women to demonstrate to the reader that the honesty of the free spirit requires the dredging up of his own falsified perspective and the embrace of an uncomfortable but richer complexity?


Part 7 begins somewhat ironically, with Nietzsche informing the reader that he will now turn to the virtues of the new philosophers, sarcastically noting that looking at one's virtue presupposes believing in them. This is ironic and humorous because he has so far spent a lot of time ridiculing the so-called virtues of Europe's "grandfathers," and here he is wearing the same "pigtail" of good conscience, meaning that he is patting himself on the back for being "good"—the very thing he abhors.

His main argument begins by first reminding the reader that most philosophy sees value in avoiding pain and maximizing pleasure, but this is a mistake, because wellbeing dooms people to living as herd animals, while suffering builds character. This idea at first seems counterintuitive. Everyone wants to be happy, and people know from experience that they are always chasing pleasure. Yet it is also true that this pursuit leaves them dissatisfied, which seems to indicate that the pleasures they find do not make them happy. In the Buddhist's view, life goes hand and hand with suffering, but a Buddhist practitioner sees no benefit in suffering. Rather, Buddhist practitioners strive to end their suffering through the practices of detachment from desire (consciously curtailing the pursuit of pleasure) and various forms of meditation to reach "nirvana," a transcendent state beyond suffering. On the other hand, Nietzsche views suffering as a character-builder and as the means for the free spirit to create a self. While Nietzsche maintained a skeptical attitude about whether an individual has a self, he refers to people's souls and seems to indicate, despite his objections to similar ideas voiced by other philosophers, that the ego has the possibility of transcending—if not ordinary awareness, then at least ordinary limitations. To do so would necessitate a self. Or perhaps in his view, only those who suffer have the fortitude and courage to actually fashion a self.

In that sense Nietzsche is the first existentialist philosopher, beginning with the idea that existence precedes essence—or more simply, human beings are responsible for creating the meaning of their lives. In fact, what Nietzsche now makes clear in his extended discourse on morality is that the key virtue of free spirits—a.k.a. "higher men" (and women), übermensch (overmen or supermen, as described in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the text that precedes Beyond Good and Evil), and real philosophers—is honesty. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes, no other virtue gets Nietzsche's "unqualified praise" throughout the body of his work. Honesty is the virtue of the few, the brave, and the strong, and as Nietzsche points out in The Gay Science, "the great majority of people lacks an intellectual conscience." Nietzsche also raises again the specter of "bad conscience" in Beyond Good and Evil, or the guilt that arises as a by-product of Christian morality, which goes against a person's natural inclinations. Thus, he calls the Utilitarians hypocritical for trying to provide a scientific underpinning to justify their British morality.

As Nietzsche has already established, the will to power drives life and is behind people's natural desires and inclinations. Even true philosophers wish to experience mastery in the world in one or more fields of endeavor. They too seek to neutralize what is foreign to their way of thinking and would naturally want to ignore what contradicts their world view, even while "falsifying" the world by paying attention only to that which confirms what they already believe. This is the way the majority of people live—without an intellectual conscience. Thus, there is a cruelty in heeding one's intellectual conscience, which demands "profundity, multiplicity, and thoroughness." The free spirit who makes a conscious decision to live by the demands of their intellectual conscience is deliberately embracing that cruelty—that self-laceration in the service of gaining knowledge. Elsewhere in his canon, Nietzsche will identify this quest for self-knowledge with ressentiment turned inward, against oneself, in the service of fashioning a higher self. Nietzsche identifies ressentiment as the suppressed slave's hatred or spite against their oppressors.

He goes on to explain that the intellectual conscience demands people examine their prejudices and insists that they look at other points of view. The intellectual conscience admits that, for all the learning a thinking person acquires in a lifetime, "deep down" there is a part of their nature remaining unwilling to change. Even the free spirit must have their convictions because without any convictions it is impossible to live. Thus, a true philosopher embraces their convictions, even while admitting that they offer only a partial view of reality and are merely signposts along the way, until they reach the next level of understanding.

It is no coincidence that after this brilliant discourse on intellectual conscience and the price the true philosopher pays for it, Nietzsche unleashes a tirade against the female of the species. There is no doubt that Nietzsche had mixed feelings about women and wrote disparaging comments about them in many of his works. Perhaps he felt oppressed—or at least outnumbered—as the only male growing up in a household of five females (his mother, grandmother, two aunts, and a sister). At one point Nietzsche joked about his theory of eternal recurrence, saying the only argument against it was his mother and his sister—meaning he couldn't tolerate the idea of their existence being repeated, again and again. His sister meddled in his affairs, and they became more estranged after Elisabeth Nietzsche embraced anti-Semitism. The unrequited love of Nietzsche's life was Lou Salomé, a brilliant young Russian who rejected him in 1882 and went on to pursue an intellectual career and friendships with powerful men, including Sigmund Freud, even becoming a psychoanalyst herself. Nietzsche had hoped Salomé would marry him and build on his philosophical ideas as his disciple. Nietzsche also had friendships with women throughout his life and, by their own accounts, always treated them with respect and kindness. At the same time, women in his life were not unaware of his anti-feminist views.

Nietzsche's feelings about women are complicated. He has his axe to grind, but it seems clear that the sections on women at the end of Part 7 are by way of demonstrating to the reader the part of his nature that has remained fixed. He does this in the interests of full disclosure and honesty to demonstrate his own bona fide membership in club of genuine philosophers, in a manner of speaking. In an article titled "Nietzsche's Misogyny," Nietzschean scholar and feminist Maudemarie Clark argues that the misogyny in Beyond Good and Evil is "on the level of sentiment, not belief," and that Nietzsche uses it to "illustrate points he is trying to make about philosophy and the will to truth." She further suggests that Nietzsche is challenging feminists to exhibit the virtue (honesty) he shows in exposing his misogyny. Nietzsche prefaces his statements about women with the caveat that he is expressing "my truths," meaning his convictions—which by the tenets of his own philosophy are limited and one-sided.

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