Of what is great one must either be silent or speak with greatness. With greatness — that means cynically and with innocence.

Is there any practical wisdom to this quote?

What does it mean to speak "cynically and with innocence"?

Can you give any examples? (bonus points if you can link a youtube video of a presentation/lecture that illustrates this)

  • I think what he was saying is that any thought or concept that seems to be profound needs to be deconstructed. And that you should not discuss these profundities in their un-deconstructed form, because in this way we pass dogma from generation to generation.
    – Richard
    May 12, 2017 at 11:04

2 Answers 2


When he talks about something that can be entitled or recognized as beeing 'great things', he is probably talking about the facts, events or ideas of most important influence, like morals, or, of things with most 'gravitas' in society, so: about things that really affect the life of the people.

The most of people look and interpretate that 'great things' as being an weight in their lives, literally in the negative way; so, when Nietzsche says that we need to speak about those things "cynically and with innocence", he is saying: All of that negative weight, that unecessary and really serious vision about the facts, needs to be complete destroyed by a interpretation, or, by an discourse that literally clean the 'Nihilist' content in the speaking about the 'great things'.

If you want to achieve the Active Nihilism, you need to learn how to transvaluate values ​​(questioning what's the real point with that fixed values -> are they really powerfull, or are they decadent, in a way that disagreggates you phisiology and your psyche creating ressentiment? - That is the process to create your own values) with more facility, and looking at the reality with more stronger eyes and, at the same time, innocent: not letting that the 'great things' of your individual life or of your social and coletive life be an torment to your psyche.

Observation: Sorry for the bad english, i'm from Brazil and not a advanced english speaker. Observation²: I have a version of the Will to power that explain in details the use of that two words, 'Cynically and Innocence' in that context, but is in brazilian portuguese. When i get more time i can do it for you.


I used this quote in my lecture notes for talk on Humor Theory at UCLA recently (notes here: tomveatch.com/humor/ucla/talk.2111.php). To jump into a field populated with geniuses like Aristotle and Freud takes some gumption, you might say. But to develop your own opinion, you have to somewhat disregard the weight of history in all the others that have given their opinions before you. A little cynicism, a dismissive attitude, just gives yourself enough space to think, temporarily. After you know what you think, somewhat independently, you can then come back to all the literature and work it into your hopefully-by-now clear ideas, but if you didn't let yourself think in the first place because those greats had previously said things, then where do you get? There's no progress. So a little cynicism is a good thing -- temporarily.
Then innocence, yes of course you need eyes wide open to really see what's going on with something. So I think Nietszche was right on the money in this quote.

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    Dec 2, 2021 at 21:56

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