Monday, December 2, 2013

Nietzsche on Ascetic Ideals

In the third essay, Nietzsche discusses the role of ascetic ideals in European society.  Ascetic ideals are those that deny worldly pleasures such as food, drink and sex.  This is a way of turning the ressentiment felt towards the masters back on oneself.  An ascetic will often identify his or her own self as the source of suffering--bad experiences are only bad because of how we choose to experience them.  This should remind us of Epictetus, who was an ascetic and a slave.  An ascetic life can then be thought of as an escape from torture.  Just as an ascetic denies worldly pleasures, she also denies worldly pains.  By accepting herself as the source of her own pain, an ascetic attempts to shield herself from the world.  By dominating her own suffering, an ascetic is able to assert a will to power. 

But Nietzsche notes that the will to power of ascetic ideals is inherently self-contradictory because the ideals of asceticism encourage a weakening of our strength and power.  The only way that ascetic ideals serve to improve human beings is to improve their capacity to be dominated, to be physically weakened through diminished nourishment and to become more refined.  The logical consequence of ascetic ideals, Nietszsche thinks, is atheism.  As Nietzsche conceives of it at this point in his career, atheism means nothing more than to abandon all other ideals than the truth.  Nietzsche thinks that the long process of the development of Judeo-Christian ideals is to lead to 'Christian truthfulness'.  Remember that capacities for calculation, measuring and analyzing cause and effect are all an important part of moral development (such as with the development of Schuld (guilt or bad conscience) and the sovereign individual's ability to make promises).  As such, ascetic ideals can only be overcome by atheistic ideals which deny all other ideals than the truth. 

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