Friedrich Nietzsche gives examples of different stuff people thought "the good" might be, and refers to the idea of slave and noble morality, but he doesn't seem to answer what "good" actually is.

He seems to think broadly that it's what makes you happy, or keeps your spirit healthy, hence all the references to sickness and etc. But does that mean, according to his thinking, anything that nurtures your spirit to happiness/health, even the asceticism he dislikes, can be "the good"? Or does he just believe asceticism is overprescribed, given that he says that one should practice self-control as opposed to asceticism, to become more powerful?

Does Nietzsche provide a clear theory on what "the good" actually is?

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    I think Nietzsche's argument is that "good" is slave morality. We should not think in such terms. Rather we should use the term "noble" meaning strong, healthy, and powerful.
    – Andy
    Dec 13, 2021 at 23:37
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    See N's Moral Philosophy: "Nietzsche claims [The Gay Science] that “every action is unknowable,” though he adds: "…our opinions, valuations, and tables of what is good certainly belong among the most powerful levers in the involved mechanism of our actions, but…in any particular case the law of their mechanism is indemonstrable". 1/2 Dec 14, 2021 at 13:25
  • This observation leads Nietzsche immediately to the suggestion that we should create “our own new tables of what is good,” presumably with an eye to effecting the causal determination of our actions in new ways. [...] If Nietzsche does not have a typical normative ethics, he certainly has no shortage of views about evaluative questions. " 2/2 Dec 14, 2021 at 13:26
  • Relevant: The Sokal Affair.
    – user21820
    Apr 21, 2022 at 15:35

3 Answers 3


Often Nietszche is seen as someone prescribing a healthy life. He is also against the Good as it is described in Christianity as he's not a Christian. And in fact even uses Islam as a lever against Christianity, even though Islam describes Christianity as 'ahl al-kitab' (the people of the book). Islam regards Christianity as a religion with which it has a great deal in common with even if they disagree on the status of Christ and the specifics of the theology of God/Allah and would not look at favourably on Nietzsche's attempt to tarnish Christianity be describing it as 'womanly' compared to Islam's 'manliness'.

He doesn't, however, spend a lot of time describing how people who are unhealthy should be dealt with, which should be of interest to most people as most experience some illness in life and are weak when old. Perhaps he feels they are beneath his notice. In fact, an aphorism in his Will to Power does describe this. For he writes:

The great majority of men have no right to life, and serve only to disconcert the elect among our race; I do not yet grant the unfit that right. There are even unfit peoples.

This is aphorism 872 in Scarpitti's translation. This is often said by Nietzschean groupies that this quote ought not to be attributable to Nietzsche because The Will to Power was put together by his sister posthumously and she was a known anti-Semite and Nazi. But this seems, to me, an attempt to clean up Nietzsche's reputation. Notice the clear parallel with the quote below from The Anti-Christ, which no-one disputes is by Nietzsche's own hand.

As for Nietzsche not being an anti-Semite merely because he had some Jewish friends he stick up for, this is laughable. Imagine some modern European who says, "hey, I'm not a racist, even some of my friends are black and I even stick up for some black people against anti-black propaganda. Nevertheless, I think we should look for a cure for blackness and invest in genetically modifying black people until they are as pure white as us. Then the problem of racism will be no problem."

Most sensible people listening to this would think this is one stupid European. This is the parallel in race that Nietzsche intended in religion. I regard Nietzsche as the greatest anti-Semitic philosopher the West has produced. But really, that should be the worst as there is nothing great in this.

That we do not is because of the rear-guard action of his many acolytes who work really hard to preserve their master's reputation.

In the preceding quote, he's describing the 'unfit', the unhealthy as 'the great majority'. So most likely, this will include me and you. Not only this, he says there are 'unfit peoples'. Who did he have in mind? Were they the Roma, the Blacks, or the Jews? If not them, then who? Moreover, this shows that his notion of 'unfit' does not mean simply those who have a long-term illness or disability but also covers whole categories of peoples - that is, races. After all, race thinking was prevalent then. And how can you talk about the 'vast majority of men' without talking of the men and women from Africa and Asia?

And he says that they have 'no right to life'.

Nietzsche was a Social Darwinist as is made clear in John Richardson's Nietzsche's New Darwinism, even though he only rarely references Darwin. According to Richardson, this is because he wanted to appropriate his thinking for himself, and this should come as no surprise to one who called himself the New Zarathrustha even though his thought has absolutely - not a little, but absolutely nothing - in common with Zarathrustha.

Darwin himself wasn't happy about how people were refashioning his discovery in natural philosophy into an ethical philosophy. He complained that they were making a new religion out of it. There were a great many people who paid lip service to this new philosophy, not just Nietzsche but Nietzsche took it took a conclusion that many people would be repelled by. For instance, he said in The Anti-Christ:

The weak and the failures shall perish: first principle of our love of man. And they shall even be given every possible assistance.

One should look at these two sentences by also looking at what happened in the early part of the 20th C when these thoughts came to fruition. The US Holocaust museum writes:

The Nazi persecution of people with disabilities in Germany was one component of radical public health policies aimed at excluding hereditarily 'unfit' Germans from the national community. These strategies began with forced sterilisation and escalated towards mass murder ... the ideological justification concieved by medical perpetrators for the destruction of the 'unfit' was applied also to other categories of 'biological enemies', most notably towards the Jews and Roma.

Also notice that Nietzsche advocates this genocide of the 'weak and failures' as his notion of 'the love of man'. This is part of his project to transform the ethics of Christian Europe. For this Nietzschean 'love' is the anti-thesis of what love meant in Europe and this is precisely why he called himself, 'The Anti-Christ'.

  • Can you give an exact source for the "The great majority ..." quote? I see it all over the net attributed to "The Will to Power", but as you know, Nietzsche never wrote such a book, rather several different and dubious posthumous compilations of his notebooks bear that title. I did a full text search through this (gutenberg.org/files/60360/60360-h/60360-h.htm) version with German words that should be in it ("Mehrheit" "Recht" "Völker" "Rasse"). The only thing I found was no. 561 whose last sentence might be loosely translated as your quote until the semicolon, but nothing further. Jan 12, 2022 at 17:30
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    @Torsten Schoeneberg: It's aphorism 872 in Scarpitti's translation. As for it not being attributable to Nietzsche, notice the parallel with the second quote I give from The Anti-Christ. As for Nietzsche beimg described as not bring an anti-semite bevsuse he had dome Jewish frirnds he stuck up for - this is laughable. Imagine some modern day European who said, "hey I'm not a racist, even some of my friends are black, I even stick up for somd black people too. Nevertheless, I think they shoild be gebetically modified until they bdcome as white as us. Then the problem of racism is no ... Jan 18, 2022 at 18:05
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    @Torsten Schoeneberg: ... longer a problem." This is just stupid. Nevertheless, this is the parallel in racism of what Nietzsche intended in religion. I regard him as the greatest anti-semite philosopher that Europe produced. But really that should be the worst as there is nothing great in this. Jan 18, 2022 at 18:09
  • Thank you! For reference, in the more scholarly KSA edition, this fragment is found in 11: 25[343] (Spring 1884). --- For the record, I still disagree with most of what you say, but I apologize for doubting a quote which turns out to be authentic; and I do take your view seriously. Feb 22, 2022 at 16:21
  • "I regard him as the greatest anti-semite philosopher that Europe produced. But really that should be the worst as there is nothing great in this." − I'll upvote you if you put this comment you made and the previous one into your post. Anyway, wasn't Heidegger as bad?
    – user21820
    Mar 30, 2022 at 17:33

I've found that, although its a more arduous and slow journey through the following method, that determining what Nietzsche isn't prescribing/describing is an effective method to discover what he does prescribe/describe.

Part of your question answered an earlier part of your question: "asceticism" only goes so far into Nietzsche's philosophy of health. That, as you pondered towards the end of your question, Nietzsche is more concerned about mastery over your body and psyche. Verily, Nietzsche would be more antithetical towards, than pro-asceticism. All results with the root word for "ascetic" in German.  Clearly, from what I skimmed of the whole of this drop-down list -- Nietzsche is clearly skeptical if not more for-than-against "asceticism".

So what is "good" in Nietzsche? Specifically, with regard to your remarks about asceticism and noble/slave morality? For Nietzsche, "good" is what is good for you, but also, insofar as any sort of eudaimonistic, utopian, or otherwise "moral" desire for "goodness" is concerned... this "good for you" is incumbent on what makes you sufficient and matches your capacities and capabilities. Although this is just a preliminary step towards his "revaluation of all values", and is only of concern for a given individual, this is what Nietzsche would claim is "good", insofar as we could prescribe Nietzsche a stance that aims at a "baseline" and "community-sustaining" "good". Looking at pages in Zarathustra's Preface, or at the "Morality of Custom" in the Dawn, section 9... -- these are good starting points to where he describes what historically has played out as, but also claims to be "good".

If, though, you are even further curious as to what Nietzsche would prescribe as, say, "good for the whole of humanity, in the long-run, for ecological/etiological/etc. 'good'", his later works such as the Antichrist or Ecce Homo could provide some starting points.

  • Not sure what the graphic is showing, is the spelling meant to be from German? Although I often get frustrated with much of what humans do and fail to do, there is not much point writing that all up, because whom does one expect to read it? Effort is better spent picking something that we can influence for the better than proclaiming the arrival of the better.
    – Scott Rowe
    May 3, 2022 at 10:20
  • I was showing the entries for, indeed, the German word for "ascetic" and its cognates. It seemed the OPs question was centered around Nietzsche's stance about asceticism, so I included the online Nietzsche Archive's entries on it. May 9, 2022 at 3:03

The concept of 'health' is an instructive example here. If we ask what 'health' means, we're likely to get one of two answers:

  • Health is the absence of illness: one has no dysfunctions, debilities, or disease, and can live a 'normal' life. This is more-or-less the default mode; an "if it ain't broke it don't need fixing'" approach to the self.
  • Health is the attainment of a physical ideal: the development of strength, fortitude, physical grace, beauty, etc. Any quick online search will produce hundreds of nutritional guides, exercise plans, holistic practices, beauty aids, etc., designed to make one healthier.

But in reality, 'health' isn't either of these. Many professional athletes injure themselves in the short run and create physiological problems in the long run: ruined joints, muscle and ligament damage, cognitive and neurological dysfunctions from the intense stresses they put on their bodies. Likewise, many people who are seemingly unhealthy live long and contented lives. Health seems to be an ongoing and constantly shifting balance between various states and forces, avoiding excesses in any direction. It's not strictly definable as a static 'thing', but more like an ongoing process of maintaining a fluid homeostasis over the long run.

Nietzsche's concept of 'The Good' is analogous. Nietzsche dislikes the dogmatic prescriptions of 'Goodness' that come from religious and secular authority. He sees such as corrupt and hypocritical, the sort of moral 'snake oil' salesmen who are more interested in securing their own social status and wealth than actually doing anything helpful. But Nietzsche also disdains nihilism: the idea that there is no moral orientation at all, and that anything one does is just as good as anything else. He wants people to reach for a balance that rejects the mindless declarations of 'received wisdom' that seem to be little more than bald-faced efforts at social control, but also rejects mere wallowing in ego and emotional immediacy. He wants people to express their own moral essence, unconstrained and unfiltered, but he doesn't want to define what that is. If he does, he becomes just another source of that dogmatic 'received wisdom' that he so despises.

The best passage to express this idea is from "Thus Spoke Zarathustra":

Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the overman — a rope over an abyss. A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what is lovable in man is that he is an OVER-GOING and a DOWN-GOING.

TSZ, Prologue, section iv

The (nihilistic) beast is behind us, and we shouldn't retreat there. The übermensch is ahead of us, an ideal we cannot reach through anyone's dogmatic proclamations. Our essential nature is to cross the chasm between these, to make the bridge over that void despite the insecurity and difficulty of the task.

  • I agree that Nietzsche had something in mind which needs to be said, he just didn't do it in a way that many people would gain anything from. Not sure why we spend so much attention on a confused, outspoken bigot. Have we no better speakers for these ideas? Zen Buddhism perhaps? Gosh.
    – Scott Rowe
    May 3, 2022 at 10:11
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    @ScottRowe: I always come back to that quote from Socrates (paraphrased): "The best approach is to talk about ideas; the typical approach is to talk about events; the worst approach is to talk about people." Nietzsche's ideas are foundational for much of modern philosophy. Nietzsche as a person was... Meh. But the second does not outweigh the first. A lot of brilliant insights come from people who don't fit well within society, because one often needs to be outside society to see it clearly. May 3, 2022 at 14:08

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