Beyond Good and Evil | Study Guide

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

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Beyond Good and Evil | Quotes


Every great philosophy ... [is an] unconscious memoir ... [and] the moral ... intentions in every philosophy [are] the germ ... from which the whole plant [has] grown.

Narrator, Part 1

Nietzsche argues that every philosopher has an unconscious, moral agenda. Philosophy itself is an unconscious memoir because it reflects the authors' view of the meaning of life, based on their experience. Their philosophy is, in some sense, an extension of religion, in that it always has a moral intent—philosophy is a spiritual pursuit. Thus, Nietzsche does not believe that "a drive for knowledge" is at the root of philosophy, but rather a desire to represent the purpose of existence as the philosopher sees it.


Life itself is will to power; self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent results.

Narrator, Part 1

Nietzsche argues that self-preservation is merely an "indirect" and "most frequent" result of the will to power. Will to power, the desire to discharge strength, is the "cardinal instinct of the organic being," Nietzsche says. Therefore, self-preservation—which is needed to exercise will to power—is merely a by-product of will to power.


Independence is for the very few; it is a privilege of the strong.

Narrator, Part 2

A truly independent mind must be willing to enter the labyrinth of conscience and face the minotaur of unconscious thoughts. Nietzsche borrows the image from Greek mythology, in which the hero Theseus entered the labyrinth and slew the monster, the minotaur. The labyrinth symbolizes the depths of the mind, including unconscious thoughts and desires. It takes a strong person to turn their back on conventional thought and explore the truths about life and the self, which can be found in one's own mind. Most people don't want to be independent because they can't "handle" the truth.


There is too much charm ... in ... feelings of 'for others,' 'not for myself,' ... not ... to become doubly suspicious.

Narrator, Part 2

Nietzsche questions the idea of altruism—of disinterested, so-called unselfish actions. In his view people seduce themselves into believing they have disinterested motives. He believes that "the whole morality of self-denial must be questioned mercilessly and taken to court." He believes self-denial has its own rewards.


Around every profound spirit a mask is growing continually, owing to the constantly false ... interpretation of every word ... every sign of life he gives."

Narrator, Part 2

A profound spirit is a free spirit or true philosopher in Nietzsche's view, someone who does not simply take "received ideas" for granted and who searches out knowledge. Such people must conceal themselves at times behind masks so they will not be misunderstood or abused by people who lack the ability to understand what the profound spirit means.


Christianity or Buddhism ... [teach] even the lowliest how to place themselves ... in an illusory higher order of things.

Narrator, Part 3

Nietzsche refers here to what for him are the nihilistic (life-denying) philosophies of Christianity and Buddhism. In his view these religions create a metaphysical higher order that simply does not exist and promise their followers a place in this fake realm. For Christians this is heaven, after death. For Buddhists it is nirvana, reached upon enlightenment (a state of mind beyond sorrow). Christians and Buddhists use such beliefs to tolerate what is intolerable in real life.


Whatever is done from love always occurs beyond good and evil.

Narrator, Part 4

This quotation appears as a stand-alone in the chapter filled with aphorisms (pithy sayings). It would appear that Nietzsche is making an exception here and admitting that such a thing as love defies categories, even his categories. Or perhaps what he means is that people will do anything for love and such actions do not reference a morality of good and evil.


Our eye ... reproduce[s] ... an image that it has produced many times before, instead of what is ... new in an impression.

Narrator, Part 5

Nietzsche prefigures modern neuroscience in this quote, although he does not realize that the image is actually produced in the brain. But what he gets right is his observation that people often don't see what they are looking at—rather they see an old image already in their brain and don't take in the new impression. For example, sometimes it takes a few days before people realize a person they are close to shaved their beard or cut their hair because people often don't look at each other but rather at the image in their mind of the other person.


No father contests his own right to subject [his child] to his concepts and valuations.

Narrator, Part 5

Nietzsche makes this comment in a section that discusses the different way people possess other people and objects. Here he opines that parents believe a child is their possession, and they can thus subject the child to their own worldviews and values and essentially brainwash the child. Teachers, social classes, priests, or rulers all do the same thing. People view others as objects and see each person as another opportunity to take possession.


Genuine philosophers, however, are commanders and legislators: they say, 'thus it shall be!'

Narrator, Part 6

Real philosophers, as opposed to mere scholars and people who regurgitate other people's ideas, conceive new ideas and then impose them on others. Thus, through philosophy they exercise their will to power and overcome old philosophical ideas, with the purpose of shaping the future. The future will conform to their new ideas; they thus determine the nature of reality.


The philosopher, being of necessity a man of tomorrow ... has always found himself ... in contradiction to his today.

Narrator, Part 6

Because the philosopher is farseeing, they see what others cannot. Philosophers think deeply and arrive at knowledge that is inaccessible to the common order of people. They are necessarily out of touch with the marching orders of their own time and misunderstood. Their ideas are from the future, which is why they are in contradiction with today, in a manner of speaking.


Well-being [is] ... a state that soon makes man ridiculous and contemptible—that makes his destruction desirable.

Narrator, Part 7

Too many philosophies focus on the alleviation of pain and maximization of pleasure. They want to "abolish suffering." But well-being is overrated in Nietzsche's view. Suffering is a discipline, especially great suffering, and it cultivates strength, inventiveness, courage, and perseverance.


[The aristocratic community] will strive to ... become predominant ... because it is living and because life simply is will to power.

Narrator, Part 9

Nietzsche makes this statement while explaining the origins of conventional morality. Those who are the rulers (the aristocrats) strive to maximize their power and influence, and even the community itself naturally does the same because it is in some sense alive: life is in essence the will to power—an overriding desire to dominate and spread.


There are master morality and slave morality ... [sometimes] even in the same human being, within a single soul.

Narrator, Part 9

Nietzsche applies his concept of master and slave morality to individual psychology. Within an individual there are forces that wish to dominate and forces that submit to domination. The noble person wishes to rule not only others but also themselves. This is a higher manifestation of the will to power.


According to slave morality, [the] 'evil' ... inspire fear; according to master morality ... [the] 'good' ... inspire ... fear.

Narrator, Part 9

The idea of good and evil came into existence through slave morality. Evil became what inspired fear in the slave—i.e., fear of the aristocratic one who held in hand the life of the slave. Such people were evil. On the other hand, people deemed good were the harmless. For the masters, however, good was what inspired fear, and bad equaled what was beneath them—such as the contemptible slave.

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