Just started reading Nietzsche's "The Gay Science" the following made me wonder, what did he mean by "philosophers being less able to separate soul and spirit"? What is (for him?) the difference between soul and spirit?:

"We philosophers are not at liberty to separate soul and body, as the people separate them; and we are still less at liberty to separate soul and spirit."

3 Answers 3


The quote of your question is from section 3 of the preface to the second edition of Nietzsche, Friedrich: The Joyful Wisdom ("La Gaya Scienza") (1886).

Nietzsche recalls his own illness and his recovery. The whole passage reads:

We philosophers are not at liberty to separate soul and body, as the people separate them; and we are still less at liberty to separate soul and spirit. We are not thinking frogs, we are not objectifying and registering apparatuses with cold entrails, — our thoughts must be continually born to us out of our pain, and we must, motherlike, share with them all that we have in us of blood, heart, ardour, joy, passion, pang, conscience, fate and fatality. Life — that means for us to transform constantly into light and flame all that we are, and also all that we meet with; we cannot possibly do otherwise.

Using a sometimes metaphorical language Nietzsche characterizes the three components of a person as

  • soul (German: Seele): It denotes the psychic aspect, e.g. emotions and affects. Nietzsche refers to "joy, passion, pang, conscience".

  • body (German: Leib): It denotes the physis.

  • spirit (German: Geist): The German word "Geist" covers both the meaning of spirit and of mind. Here it denotes thinking as the typical activity of a philosopher.

Transforming "constantly into light and flame all that we are" makes the claim that the philosopher cannot separate these components in his philosophy. Nietzsche exaggerates his lifelong highs and lows because of his personal illness as the fate and merit of his existence as philosopher:

he [a philosopher with such history] really cannot do otherwise than transform his condition on every occasion into the most ingenious posture and position, — this art of transfiguration is just philosophy.

Eventually Nietzsche goes as far as equating philosophy with this kind of transfiguration.

  • i'm not sure he's claiming to exaggerate here, as much as be animated by. also not sure that you haven't got soul / spirit the wrong way round, from your answer anyway :)
    – user6917
    Apr 7, 2016 at 8:15
  • 1
    @Mathemetician The words "goes as far as" in the last sentence of my answer express my opinion that Nietzsche exaggerates. - I would consider the translation of "Geist" as "mind" better than the translation "spirit" from the quote; but one can discuss this point. In any case the atheistic philosopher Nietzsche wants to keep away any religious connotation from the characteristics of a philosopher.
    – Jo Wehler
    Apr 7, 2016 at 8:32
  • hi Jo, maybe. i don't know, i'm not acquainted to leave substantial answers on these things, just point out the most obvious stuff. thanks
    – user6917
    Apr 7, 2016 at 8:34

Well, I can claim a few (meagre) things.

  • The spirit can be free.
  • Nietzsche thought he was a "free spirit".
  • Spirit had (he thought) to metamorphose in order to create new values.
  • The soul is a deeply theological term.

If we take the fourth point seriously, then your phrase

philosophers being less able to separate soul and spirit

means that "we philosophers" struggle to separate the free aspect of ourselves which has the potential for transvaluation, from the theological concept of a (possibly) immortal individuality.

Perhaps, that we make ourselves free in our relationship to (abandonment of) christian values, of e.g. good health (as in the passage in question)

What it means "we philosophers" are not at liberty to claim for those who are not "free spirits", would be for me a much trickier thing to ask.


He is objecting to overly-specific distinctions, so it might be an ill-conceived notion to carefully discern the exact distinction which he is declaring too specific.

The main thrust of this is that a person is a composite of many things and that pulling them apart is an unproductive habit of many philosophies. We think we can imagine a disembodied mind, or a spiritual nature with no emotional component. But we really can't -- we are deluding ourselves.

We should address a human being as a unified whole unless there is a truly productive outcome of splitting the parts. Your digestion affects your mood which colors your thoughts and leads your whole apparatus of perception in a given direction, and all of that is part of a single human experience. A physician might profit from discerning the parts and their effects on one another, but a philosophy won't.

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