This article is about moral progressivism —the idea that human morals consistently improve over time and what Friedrich Nietzsche thinks about it.
“I am the first German who has mastered aphorism and aphorisms are a form of eternity. It is my ambition to say in sentences what everyone else says in a book, what everyone else doesn’t say in a book.”
During his lifetime Friedrich Nietzsche did not enjoy fame, that came much later when he had lost most of his ability to think. Another reason for why his ideas were put on the backburner was his sister, who manipulated what the philosopher meant in hopes to use his ideas as support for her own personal and political beliefs.
When it comes to personal development, there is no greater philosopher than Friedrich Nietzsche. As you go through the article, you will come to understand why personal development and the belief that a person can become greater than what society has taught, were so important to this great philosopher. He believed in the power of self and our potential as a specie. Through his works he invites us to become our best versions and to think for ourselves. He tremendously disliked the idea of giving anyone “concepts to follow” which could later be used as dogmas; instead he would encourage people to seek, learn and discovered for themselves. He believed each one of us has the power to determine what our best version looks like and the ability to turn ourselves into that version.
“It is not necessary or desirable for someone to take sides for me, on the contrary, a dose of curiosity accompanied by an ironic persistence, seems to me a more intelligent position in relation to myself”
Without further ado, let me introduce you to some of his philosophies which are timeless and which in my opinion will help you live better:
1) Life itself is the will to power (Beyond Good and Evil, Section 13).- Here he was sharing with us his belief on how animals and plants have the capacity to develop to its maximum potential. Within their respective kingdoms, we do not see mediocracy; no matter what, it is their natural state to strive to do the best they can. The same will power lies within us, however many times we simply choose the easy path. More often than not we buy the lie that we are powerless and in constant need of salvation; as such we grow to be content with mediocrity and expect it not only from ourselves but from the world at large.
In his book “The Gay Science” Section 270 Nietzsche invites us to become who we are; which meant to become your most extraordinary version.
2) Man is a rope tied between the animal and the superman, a rope over the abyss (Thus Spoke Zarathustra).- During the time he wrote this, Darwin’s hypothesis were already at the point of feverish fanaticism. Nietzsche used Darwin’s theory to expand on his own philosophy; the power of self development within mankind. He did not see a limit to man’s capabilities, instead he believed man has been indoctrinated to belief in limitations so as not challenge the status quo within society; more importantly within himself.
He believed in the power of cultivating and exploring our abilities to the max not only psychologically but in every aspect, creating a race of more advanced individuals who would create the pathway for a new generation of even more advance people. To Nietzsche the Übermensch” (Beyond man/ Super Man) were people who had left the mediocrity of the herd; as a matter of fact he had great love and admiration for people he considered had strived to embodied the “Übermensch”, people such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Richard Wagner, Michel de Montaigne and Ralph Waldo Emerson. If you want to understand better why Nietzsche felt those people had done everything they could to embodied the Übermensch”, then I invite you to get more acquainted not only with their works but with their lives.
3) Isn’t life a hundredth times too short to get bored? (Beyond Good and Evil, Our virtues, section 227) When a man becomes determined to turn his life around and become his better version, he leaves no room for boredom. He becomes engulfed in healing his own wounds and on learning from his mistakes so as to create a better version not only mentally but also physiologically and spiritually. The road to self development does not leave room for an idle mind, on the contrary one is too busy learning how to become the master of his own emotions and thoughts vs letting them dictate life. When a person makes the choice to develop and that choice is made with conviction, there is nothing more passionate and more entertaining than to see how life starts to unfold differently and in better ways. The goal is not to set a limit but to live with the curiosity of how much more can one grow; this requires discipline. Be careful not to confuse the person who lives with constant curiosity with the person who perpetually lives dissatisfied with life for they are two very different people.
4) No one can build for you, the bridge by which you must cross the stream of life, no one but only you. (Untimely Meditations, Section 1).- Here he is being extremely clear how the only person responsible for your own growth is you. No one can make you wiser or healthier. No one can turn you into a person who is mentally stable; here his definition varies from modern medical terms and it’s worth expanding on. To Nietzsche a mentally stable person was the person who had full consciousness and could acknowledge both his darkness and his light. Someone who understood the work and the risks yet chose to face the battle head on, knowing that in doing so, he would be attacked by the herd and would have to undergo the “The dark knight of the soul”; each time getting stronger and more complete.
He was also trying to make it clear no one can tell you what your purpose in life is or where your passions and abilities lie, you have to be willing to discover them and if you do know them, you have to be willing to invest in them; you have to be willing to fail at trying but use those failures as propellers to keep going vs using them as excuses for giving up.
5) Everyone who has ever built anywhere a new heaven first found the power thereto in his own hell (Genealogy of Morality, section 10).- To grow means to put effort; it is a constant struggle to become better and evolve. One of the characteristics of mental growth and resilience is the capacity to face adversity head on. Let’s keep in mind diamonds are built under pressure; if we don’t transmute our struggles, our pain, our mistakes into fuel to build a better life, then we are simply not going to be able to experience full capacity. Heaven is built through the struggle, on the ground many call hell.
6) My formula for human greatness: love fati, love your destiny. Not wanting anything to be different, neither in the past nor in the future, nor for all eternity. Not only endure what is necessary, but love it. (Ecce Homo “Why I am so Wise”).- This quote has often been misrepresented by those unfamiliar with his works or those who seek an excuse for their lack of action. Through this quote his is NOT telling us to settle but to accept things as they are. This means to take a detached and realistic look at how life is unfolding around us and decide that instead of wishing for things to be different, we need to make them different. What he was trying to tell us is we cannot change what happens externally but we can affect our surroundings by focusing on changing internally. To Nietzsche every single event in life whether good or bad were sacred; for from them we could learn and evolve.
7) Rush is universal because everyone runs away from themselves (Untimely Meditations, Section 5).- On our day and age people are constantly rushing, not only because they feel life “demands” it but also because they think by doing so they are being more efficient and productive. To Nietzsche that “rush” only masquerades a deeper problem; it enables us to live in denial, running away from confronting self. In doing so we live thinking we are being successful but in reality living in a rush means we fail at actually living life.
8) The goal of all human efforts is to distract oneself from thoughts, to stop being aware of life (Untimely Meditations, Section 4).- The majority of people live life trying to calm down the rush of thoughts taking place within our minds. We search distractions and buy things in hopes to forget about the things that cause us worry, pain, anger, etc. With the invention of Cell phones and the misuse of technology, such attitude has only gotten worst. Most people are losing the ability to simply sit and be, rushing to avoid being with themselves yet time with self is very important in order to become introspective.
9) The misfortune of active men is that their activity is almost always a bit irrational. For example, one should not ask the banker who accumulates money what is the purpose of his restless activity: it is irrational. Active people roll like a stone, according to the stupidity of their mechanics (Human, All Too Human, Section 283).- Here we should notice the interesting distinction Nietzsche is making; he clearly differences what it means to be “active” and always on the go vs being “productive”. In our modern day “rat race” , it seems most people assume being constantly on the go is something to be proud of; even if at the end of their day there is nothing productive that came out of it. Nietzsche then invites us to become conscious of this fact and seek to become more connected with ourselves. It’s about moving with consciousness (purpose) vs inertia (reflexively).
10) Today as always, men are divided into two groups: slaves and free. Whoever does not have two-thirds of his day to himself is a slave, whatever he may be: a statesman, a businessman, an official or a scholar (Human, All Too Human Section 283).- There is no bigger slave than the one who chooses his own chains. In our current day most people give up the search for self, time with their families, reconnecting with nature, all in exchange of material things. It is more than okay to want stability and comfort, the problem arises when enough is not enough; becoming then slaves to a false idea of “success”. Here Nelson Mandela’s words are also a great example “There is no worst jail than the prison of our own minds. What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” Nietzsche would agree with this sentiment, however he takes it a step further making sure no confusion is left by emphasizing on becoming our own super person and living in balance. He focused on self first, as a life of significance has to start with the healing, fixing and evolving of one’s own life; otherwise one can fall pray to false ego–a slave to the “show”.
11) Convictions are enemies of the truth, more dangerous than lies (Twilight of Idols, Section 3).- This quote has been open to much debate by opposite groups. During the Nazi regimen Nietzsche was falsely accused of anti Semitism, which could not have been further from the truth. He was not allied with any group that was fanatic; this meant he had no desire to stand by either side as he found both too dogmatic and led by their convictions. The word conviction can be positively stated when being used to encourage someone to push harder, forward, to believe in self; however the word conviction means “a strong belief or opinion political convictions. 2 : the state of mind of a person who is sure that what he or she believes or says is true” (these definitions were specially accurate during Nietzsche times).
It was his despise of dogma which got him enemies on both sides, leading to the misinterpretation of his words. Due to their particular agenda Nietzsche’s philosophies were put on the back shelf for a while. Nietzsche was not fomenting division, he was simply trying to help everyone realize that both sides were accurate on some things and wrong in others. Neither could see the path that led to peace because instead of seeking to resolve their differences; instead of respecting each other, instead of seeing each other; they were too busy fighting defending old dogmas.
He invites us then to constantly keep ourselves in check by making sure we analyze our “beliefs” and where they come from; are we standing up for life or are we standing up for dogma.
12) How to ruin a young man: teach him to hold in high esteem only those who think like him (The Dawn of Day, book IV, Section 297) Once more we can see how Friedrich Nietzsche had a dislike for dogmas. Dogma takes away the opportunity to see the other side of things, the ability to better understand how life works and more importantly it creates a delusion of “higher than”. Listening to opposite views can help us mature as human beings; in doing so we get closer to becoming the Übermensch” or super man. It is okay to disagree but our conclusions should be based on reason not on dogma.
Nietzsche was a defender of “self”, he hated “herd mentality” for when one gets caught on the herd mentality, the individual becomes incapable of defining life. Too often a person who belongs to a herd lives afraid to disappoint, in other words afraid to be kicked out. This is very interesting, as people who belong to a herd are not willing to admit to themselves the fear they ultimately live with is real. That alone should make them question their belief system, however more often than not denial is chosen and fear is masqueraded by the use of the word conviction.
13) To live alone one must be an animal or a God, said Aristotle. The third case is missing, you have to be both; a philosopher (Twilight of The Idols, section 3).- We all need solitude, it is imperative to not only have it but to embrace it. At the end of the day we all have our own philosophy on life and how to live it. In order to check our beliefs and not fall pray to dogma, in order to organize our lives and focus on our abilities and growth, we need solitude. Solitude can be challenging for anyone not willing to confront self, yet to the person who seeks the journey within, times of solitude can be a beautiful gift. We can use moments of solitude to analyze our selves, our dreams, our goals, the type of person we want to become; to do this we need to practice solitude methodically; when we do this, we are philosophizing.
14) The distinction that comes with being unhappy is so great that when someone says “but how happy you look” we tend to protest (Human, All too Human).- Here Nietzsche is referring to anyone who uses life’s hurdles as crutches not to move forward in life. Just like many fall pray to the “all happy, rainbows and unicorns movement” , a person can also fall pray to not wanting to reinvent oneself and ran away from building a new life. Just like the first group who feels distinguished by faking a smile, the second seeks its recognition on a perpetual state of lethargy and “poor me” attitude. Once more it is apparent how extremes are never the answer to anything; neither of the groups mentioned above are confronting life, instead they are running away from it and as Nietzsche would say… they are seeking a medal in the process.
It is not about pretending and seeking false acceptance, neither is it about feeling pity for one self while seeking validation; it’s about doing our best to look at life objectively, facing it head on, with all its light and its darkness. We should have compassion and act from that place in our hearts, what we cannot do is enable people to live as if they were dead while alive; that isn’t love or compassion, that is fear and false ego.
15) For those in need of consolation, no means of consolation is as effective as the statement: “in your case consolation is not possible”: this implies such a great degree of “distinction” that they immediately raise their heads again (The Dawn of Day section 380).- Here Nietzsche once more focuses on those who like to feel validated but do nothing to heal and move forward in life. They don’t seek to become better as human beings, they gave up but seek to be recognized for it. The same can be applied to those who like to focus “only on the positive” while running away from life. One can say to such people “it’s great just how positive you are” and they will beam with pride, even though their positivism is really self denial. In the same way one can tell those who are stuck in their own self pity party “poor you, life really dealt you a bad hand, no wonder you don’t want to do anything” and they would also feel better because they are being “recognized”; not necessarily for the right reasons but neither of those groups care, the point is without any further effort they are being “distinguished” from the rest. Such attitudes was what Nietzsche stood against, and if you know about his life you certainly understand why.
Like so many of the great “thinkers” or “great minds” which have graced history, Nietzsche battled with a horrendous health; this however was not enough to determine who he was going to become. He chose to reach for something higher within himself; not falling victim to his illness nor pray to his success–BAlANCE.
16) He who has a why in life can tolerate almost anything(Twilight of the Idols).- As already mentioned, Nietzsche’s health was horrendous, he fought brain splitting headaches and spend a lot of his life in bed ill; even though there were times he felt strength was leaving him, he kept on pushing towards something higher. He gave his life purpose and worked towards it.
17) What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger (Twilight of the Idols, Section 8).- This particular thought aligns well with stoicism. Marcus Aurelius’ said “A wise man is like fire”; the more you throw at a fire, the bigger and stronger it gets. Instead of embracing a system which focusses on instant gratification, instead of embracing rainbows and unicorns as the ideal way to live, Nietzsche invites us to embrace the struggle, for it is in our overcoming it, where our strength will build and our wisdom will enhance.
18) Live dangerously, build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius (The Gay Science, book IV, section 283).- The secret of realizing the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment of existence lies in challenging yourself, challenging the status quo. He encourages us to risk it all, to give it our all in pursuit of our best version. In plain words, if you want to be a poet, a business owner, a health practitioner, etc.–you have to be willing to give it your all. Your dreams won’t materialize out of nowhere; action + believe = results.
19) One should take a bold and dangerous line with existence: whatever happens, we are destined to lose it (Untimely Meditations, Section 1).- One way or another, at some point we are all going to leave this plane of existence, so why not try to do the best that we can by becoming the best version of ourselves?
20) No winner believes in chance (The Gay Science, book III, section 258).- Those who know what it is to work towards healing, growing as a person and building the life they always dreamt of, are the ones who understand this better than anyone. They are the ones who did not leave things to chance but took action. This doesn’t mean life doesn’t have its own course, but fortune does smile on those willing to reach higher. Besides when you work for what you have achieved vs stealing from others; there is realistic pride that comes with it. Having endured the struggled allows for a grounded state of mind vs falling pray to false ego. A good life then; a fulfilling life; is a life where one accepts the course of life but aims and works towards the betterment of self.
Life has many ups and downs and goes through cycles, none of it is meant to purposely hurt you (life does not hurt people, people hurt people) life is giving us the opportunity to grow, to reach higher, to not only “believe” in our divinity but to embrace it and use it to create a better person, a better society, a better world.
“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star”