The quote below is from Human, All Too Human by F. Nietzsche. It is rare because it describes where he was physically and what he sensed:

Seriousness in Play. - In Genoa one evening, in the twilight, I heard from a tower a long chiming of bells; it was never like to end, and sounded as if insatiable above the noise of the streets, out into the evening sky and sea-air, so thrilling, and at the same time so childish and so sad. I then remembered the words of Plato, and suddenly felt the force of them in my heart: 'Human matters, one and all, are not worthy of great seriousness; nevertheless ...'

I find this quote fascinating, as it captures the moment from a day of his life, his emotion. Nietzsche wrote Human, All Too Human as if he were writing posts on Twitter...

but the closest understanding I have comes from Hagakure

"Take important matters lightly." Master Ittei, seeing him, said: "Take less important matters seriously.

  • i think you had found close sense in Hagakure, or even more, no? Apr 22 at 22:03
  • 1
    @άνθρωπος - I believe that I did, but I wanted to share this beautiful quote and know what others think about it.
    – Fedor Omni
    Apr 23 at 6:34

3 Answers 3


" 'Man's maturity: to have regained the seriousness that he had as a child at play.' "

-Beyond Good & Evil

This for me is Nietzsche at his most astute. He is recognising the duality, that play is a powerful metaphor for taking life less seriously, yet the joy of children playing is exactly in how seriously they take their games. When children play they are unfolding their capacities, learning about themselves, developing skills. And building a world of the game to inhabit in community, which they tune how they interact in towards more joy, toward a better game. That is a more serious purpose than seriousness itself, than any goal abstracted from the whole way of being can be.

This answer talks about the connection between art and play, which can help us to understand Nietzsche on both topics: Video games as new art

I see the core of what Nietzsche is getting at as:

"The meaning and purpose of dancing, is the dance."

-Alan Watts

Or a few quotes in Nietzsche's own words:

“I do not know what the spirit of a philosopher could more wish to be than a good dancer."

"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music"

"And we should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh."

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    Thank you, that is really valuable insight for me. That childish spirit displayed when playing, being fully true to the game, is an inspiration in the flesh.
    – Fedor Omni
    Apr 23 at 6:49

Seriousness in play is a statement that is at the least seemingly profound due to its paradoxical nature. Like all paradoxes, we tend to give them our attention even to an absurdly desperate point. Whether this is in an attempt to understand them fully, seek out different variations of perception perhaps, or even hammer it down so it becomes a mantra.

The best way to understand seriousness in play that I have found is via the pairing and contrasting of the terms complex and simple. Pair complex with seriousness, while simple is with play. This implies that all things serious are complex, whereas all things of play are simple. We can even observe this in regard to two different expressions in the current moment. When politicians debate and argue over things that may be nothing but nonsense, there is almost always an induced tone of seriousness that urges the seeming complexity of the matter at hand. On the flip side, we see with play that play itself is simple, and when it gets too complex, the essence and nature of play can become fragile and broken down. Perhaps best understood via two children playing a game of house or even tag. House has more rules than tag, yet, the complexity of the game, the simplicity itself is determined via the rules put forth. If one is to play a lax game of house, then it is simple. Going further, if one is to play a true game of tag, it is even simpler.

Thus, we can best understand seriousness in play via applications such as virtue, if we take things like humor and even wittiness as true virtues. If one is serious about being virtuous, they can ensure that the proper virtues are retained so that play is witheld and put forth. If one is not serious about virtue, so long as we still accept that humor and wittiness are virtues themselves, it would be true that the rejection of the aforementioned two would provide a prioritization of seriousness over play. In this variation, we could argue that one does not understand how to apply the "golden nugget" that is seriousness in play.

Regardless, it seems that to avoid a paradox, we must be willing to understand seriousness in play like a folder. The folder may be labeled "all that is serious", yet, within contain notes on how to be full of reverence towards those that deserve it, along with a few jokes and clever punchlines that allow for play itself to exist within the folder of "all that is serious", even if solely for the attempt at creating a smile or engaging in friendliness.

  • It seems like you haven't played board games, or complex card games like Bridge. Politics is often defined by simple statements, 'Tear down that wall' 'There is no alternative' 'Yes we can' 'Education education education'. Your argument just doesn't make sense.
    – CriglCragl
    Apr 23 at 8:11
  • While I see where you are coming from, the argument makes perfect sense for the following: 1) Things themselves, including games, are complex until we understand how to play them. Thus, we could make an argument that complex things, even games, are seemingly complex until we can play them, thus making it simple. Board games are not outside of this. In fact, board games themselves are not terribly complex ever, some just have increased numbers of variables. 2) The politics example was displayed to show that we can perpetuate the illusion of complexity in matters that are simple. That is all. Apr 23 at 15:27
  • "some just have increased numbers of variables" You are using 'complex' in an idiosyncratic way then. Look at Wittgenstein on how we can't even clearly constrain what counts as a game, so in a very real sense almost anything can be considered a game - including say human interactions, doing philosophy, & whatever other phenomena is among the most complex that humans do. How is voting, a bit of politics, more complex than playing Go, which has been so much more difficult for computers to master than chess? Define how you are using the word complexity.
    – CriglCragl
    Apr 23 at 15:38
  • Right, forgive me for using the literal definition of the term complex which is as follows: " consisting of many different and connected parts" It seems as if different and connected parts can be understood as variables right? There is nothing idiosyncratic in using an accepted linguistic definition, which has been consistent for centuries. Furthermore, I don't see how rejecting linguistic truth in the name of philosophy is profound, as it seems that Wittgenstein would be doing such a thing is we can't even consider what an actual game is. I've moved past such childish existential "crisis". Apr 23 at 15:42

I used to think about Nietzsche becasue I wanted to be free of ressentiment; now I think about Nietzsche becasue I want to be free of mitleid. I think it would be love, to not suffer with another person, but I don't know any poems to add; here's a portrait by Hakuin (I think?)

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