Nietzsche states:

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

Source: Beyond Good and Evil

In fiction (and in real life at times) people embrace the inner monsters (sometimes literal, sometimes figurative) to gain the power they need to defeat their foes, get to the next level, or grit through something they'd rather not do. If this is something that seems to work, why are we specifically warned against it?

In any war, in any problematic situation where horrible things are happening, it can be impossible (or virtually so) not to use the selfsame tactics of those that oppose you. The saying goes "ALL'S fair in love and war" and even if you'll pay for doing it in the long run by being seen as a monster, by doing these horrible things (or at times even MORE horrible than those that oppose you), you'll have the satisfaction that you won, even though at day's end it was a morally a pyrrhic victory. But if you accomplish what you set out to do, sometimes it's worth it. But such things can't help but drag you through the soil of morality, dirtying you in the process.

  • Please provide a reference (book and page or section) for the quote.
    – user2953
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 12:21
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    Monsters are by definition bad things. Nietzsche is saying that while you might, for instance, have to kill to stop a person from killing, you should not continue killing afterward; don't let your willingness to kill in that instance become a general, ongoing inclination to kill.
    – Elijah
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 14:06
  • @MATHEMETICIAN actually I'm asking about a specific part of it, more detailed than what was asked previously. Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 13:20
  • it assumes more for sure.
    – user6917
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 21:06

2 Answers 2


The following post contains a number of insightful interpretations of the aphorism in question: What did Nietzsche mean by monsters and the abyss?

Nietzsche is cautioning against trying to change the herd or anything that is beneath you -- those are the monsters of which he speaks. He cautions against it because it is almost impossible to change the herd [etc.], and if you try, you run the risk that the herd will change you, and not for the better -- you will become more like it, and what could be worse for someone like Nietzsche than that. In a number of his works, Nietzsche talks about the importance of looking down from the heights, of the clean air available only there, of focusing on your task -- our task, and of not allowing yourself to be distracted or brought down to earth by what is beneath you.

Nietzsche in this case reminds me of Gandhi, who famously said, "You must be the change you want to see in the world." Gandhi considered the end and the means to be inextricably interconnected, believing, for example, that one cannot achieve nonviolent ends by violent means. One must rise above those one fights if one wants to change the world, as Nietzsche did, not get down in the muck and degrade one's self by fighting with monsters on their terms.

  • Even so, there are times where you have no choice but to fight on the enemy's own terms. And if you're in a protracted war, you may eventually take on the selfsame tactics you oppose. Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 13:25
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    @JesseCohoon Sorry. I have been intending to respond. First, I don't think Nietzsche was talking about your kind of war in this aphorism. He was talking about individuals, as evidenced by his use of he and you in the aphorism. Second, regarding your comment, one often does have a choice. Gandhi provides one example; Martin Luther King's leadership of the civil rights movement in the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s provides another. And then there are the Geneva Conventions concerning humanitarian treatment in war; that your enemy violates these conventions doesn't mean that you should. Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 4:51
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    @JesseCohoon One more point I couldn't fit into the previous comment. Nietzsche didn't fight others on their terms. For example, he took issue with many philosophers, starting with Plato, but he didn't fight them on their terms. He didn't engage in traditional philosophical argumentation. He undermined them by providing his readers with insights whose goal was to help them think for themselves, while at the same time providing provocative alternatives to these other philosophies. That's why he's Nietzsche, and a large part of why he remains so attractive to so many. Thanks for engaging. Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 5:10

Surely it's about the genealogy of morals. e.g. when you are hurt, not to take on a moral system which devalues whoever has that power over you. Or rather, he's cautioning against it.

i.e the first use of 'monster' refers to the powerful or noble, and the second the christian (etc.).

Whether or not this theory of ressetiment even can be thought without ressentiment. Or even if you can escape the double bind of only ever valuing what seems good for you.

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    my answer assumes that the genealogy is a just so story, not a historical account. i think it's fair, whateverz
    – user6917
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 4:41
  • The double negative in your first sentence is confusing if not wrong. At the outset, the slaves where the ones who were hurt. As a means of survival, they eventually inverted master morality by transforming bad into good and good into evil. Should the slaves not have taken on the morality of the masters? If we assume that the "slave revolt in morality" hurt the masters, should the masters not have fought against slave morality, i.e., against the inversion of their own master morality? Are you saying that the slaves or masters were fighting monsters and in the process became monsters? Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 5:32
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    i can provide references @RichardKayser is that the done thing here? it's not a double negative in the pejorative. i'm not even sure you've read the sentence, the claim about double negatives makes so little sense to me. i'm saying that the slaves were fighting masters and in the process became slaves: i.e. geneaology is not a historical account but just so story.
    – user6917
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 6:15
  • @RichardKayser i think NIetzsche would say that people shouldn't invert the values of an aggressor into love, but, like i said, am not sure that can be expressed without ressentiment. as to whether or not higher types should fight against the inversion of their values, i'm not sure.
    – user6917
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 6:27
  • Given your comments, I now understand your first sentence. It was the combination of not, take on, and devalues that was confusing me. If I am reading it correctly now, by take on you mean something like assume or adopt, not take on in the sense of fight. More later. Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 13:43

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