I know of Nietzsche's criticism of afterlife-thinking.

I think Nietzsche himself may be guilty of this thinking -- not in terms of a Heavenly afterlife, but with desiring influence of his writings after death. I assume he suffered more than he needed to in order to achieve this. For example, he could have spent more time enjoying the company of others, or just chilling, rather than struggling with book writing through ill health. He could have managed better or possibly delayed his mental decline.

It seem that like Socrates he sacrified his life for something else he thought valuable. He was not active with lecturing, like say Emerson, so his hope was for influence after he died through his books. I believe he said - something along the lines - that he hoped his books would be his 'children'. To me, this does seem other-worldly; sacrificing this life and the things of the earth (friends, love, family, real children, pleasure, etc.) for an ideal where he wouldn't exist.

Many would say the legacy was worth it. But it seems to undermine his criticism of other-worldliness through his own example, as well as other major aspects of his philosophy.

But coming back to the question: unless you are making a difference in your own lifetime (when you have skin in the game), making an impact actively, should you be considered other-worldy, and perhaps selfish, vain and otherwise misguided? What if Nietzsche never achieved a fame greater than his lifetime, would his personal sacrifices be a waste? How many writers, philosophers and artists have died in obscurity after similar legacy-seeking? Of course, we don't know (survivorship bias), but let's assume at least one other.

Nietzsche is a popular philosopher. I would say there are cults of personality. Fandom is fine, but I hear/read people uncritically proclaiming the Superman way of life following Nietzsche's Zarathustra and other writings. Anyone who takes this seriously could well be wasting their lives chasing legacy, living with unnecessary anxiety and frustration, neglecting friends, family, partner, rather than enjoying and contributing to all life has to offer. It's unlikely that such people will have the same after-death influence as Nietzsche did, so we couldn't even look back and argue whether their sacrifice was worth it.

1 Answer 1


Denial of Death Theory - Ernest Becker


Becker’s The Denial of Death was published in 1973. He received the Pulitzer prize for general non-fiction posthumously in 1974, two months after his death. The basic premise of The Denial of Death is that human civilization is ultimately an elaborate, symbolic defense mechanism against the knowledge of mortality. Since human beings have a dualistic nature consisting of a physical self and a symbolic self, we can transcend the dilemma of mortality through heroism, a concept involving the symbolic half.

Becker describes human pursuit of “immortality projects” (or causa sui), in which an we create or become part of something that we feel will outlast our time on earth. In doing so, we feel that we become heroic and part of something eternal that will never die, compared to the physical body that will eventually die. This gives human beings the belief that our lives have meaning, purpose, and significance in the grand scheme of things.

From this premise, mental illness is most insightfully extrapolated as a difficulty in one’s hero system(s). When someone experiences depression, their causa sui (or heroism project) is failing, and they are being constantly reminded of their mortality and insignificance as a result. Schizophrenia is a step further than depression in which one’s causa sui falls apart, making it impossible to engender sufficient defense mechanisms against their mortality. Thus, schizophrenics must create their own realities in which they are better heroes. Becker argued that the conflict between contradictory immortality projects (particularly in religion) is a wellspring for the violence and misery in the world caused by wars, genocide, racism, nationalism, and so forth, since immortality projects that contradicts one another threaten one’s core beliefs and sense of security.

Your question might revolve around the comparison and interpretation of two types of "heroic project". Also conflict within Nietzsche can map in part to this concept of his ideal heroic project and to his inability to make it a real heroic project in his world to his satisfaction (not ours).

Comment: When birds or other species behave like heroes, taking risk to protect other members of their group, we attribute this apparent altruism to genetic factors such as group selection, where individuals try to prove biological fitness to potential or actual mates in the context of social groups, and not to the symbols in their minds. But what do we really know about the symbols or lack of symbols in their minds?

  • Thanks for the comment, and apologies for my delayed response: I felt I had to get away from Nietzsche for a while. I don't think he's good for me, or anyone else in regard to personal ethics: there's too much power fantasy. If I didn't know from whence such thoughts came, I might have less trouble with them, but they do seem to be a symptom of someone trying console terrible physical illness and social alienation. I'll have to take some time to digest the comment, but definitely can resonate with some of what Becker is saying. Will google/YT him, thanks!
    – user65720
    Jun 10, 2023 at 0:57

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