“Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), like Kierkegaard and Marx, was opposed to the pretensions of any kind of rationalist approach such as Hegel’s. But he was also a radical critic of Plato, of Christianity, and of the kind of person produced by liberal democracy (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau), or communism (Marx). He called this kind of person “the Last Man” who, in his concern for bodily health, relaxation, entertainment, and feeling good about himself, thinks he is greater and smarter than anyone before in history; and yet who has lost all the deepest aspirations and desires that really make people human. Liberal democracy’s and communism’s preoccupation with comfortable self-preservation—the joyless quest for joy—ends up making us universal, homogeneous, and trivial. Nietzsche teaches that throughout history human beings have needed to create horizons of serious values by which to live and give meaning to their everyday existences. But they have to hide from themselves that these horizons or values have been created by their own will-to-power. Thus, for instance, Plato’s distinctions between appearance and reality, between truth and falsity, between good and evil, are all illusions of the will-to-power, as are the teachings of Christianity or the ethics of Kant or the utilitarians. Indeed, history as a scholarly discipline makes it impossible for us to conceal any longer that any individual’s or culture’s ultimate values are really only arbitrary positings and ultimately merely relative to the perspectives of those individuals or cultures. History supplies us with a whole variety of values that people have espoused; the panorama only bemuses and confuses us about how we are to live our lives. “God is dead” for us, which means that since there is no objectively persuasive highest good or value, everything is permitted. Nietzsche argues that intellectual honesty is the last and perhaps only virtue; that there is no soul with spontaneous inclinations that reveal an ordered hierarchy of goods, but only the self, which is a chaos of desires and fears; that there are really no virtues, but only the capacity to commit authentically to whatever set of values we may happen to choose; that values cannot be rationally assessed, but only posited and imposed arbitrarily by the will-to-power. We are to follow the values we feel are most life-enhancing, and act on them at each moment, since what we do now will be repeated eternally” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).
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