The Nietzsche Fallacy

In a previous post I made a call for a new informal fallacy: The Nietzsche fallacy. But as another blogger pointed out, I did do a rather poor job of explaining it; it needs some expansion (the post was in the series of twenty posts I wrote on the book God or Godless?. The book was compelling and a good read, so I read the whole thing and wrote my corresponding posts in one day, finishing in the early hours of the morning. I have noticed a few typos and grammatical errors when re-reading the posts to deal with comments. I have also noticed some points I rushed over. Both of these things annoy me, but between passion and dyslexia I don’t know that I had a choice–but I am free to learn from the mistake: don’t blog tired).

The ‘Nietzsche Fallacy’ is based on the work of the philosopher and author called Frederich Nietzsche. He was a prolific writer, but the work relevant to this discussion is his parable “the Madman“. The narrative is of a man who believes that people have killed God, but then very much throws the baby out with the bath water; without God the Madman concludes that all interpretations of morality, knowledge and purpose (and their absence) must be permissible–and therefore wrong–and that all of beauty and wonder also go down the plug hole with God.

This is the basic form that a few arguments take: ‘what is the value of love, if there is no God?’, ‘there is no moral right and wrong if there is no God’, and ‘there is no beauty if there is no God’. Often these arguments are accompanied by the Richard Dawkins quote about nature being pitilessly indifferent, but they are basically the argument from Nietzsche’s Madman.
The first reason this is a fallacy is if you take a broader reading of Nietzsche (as in, anything other than this one parable) Nietzsche presents Christianity as the ultimate negative nihilism–“Why disturb this [Christianity] pure foolishness? Why darken it with our worries about man, people, goal, future?” The Madman is a satire. He’s called ‘the Madman’. Knowing what Nietzsche thinks about religion reveals Nietzsche’s Madman to be a satire (allbeit, poorly received). If you read the parable I linked at the start of this post you will notice Nietzsche’s Madman asks a few questions all of which are laden with negative imagery linked to the absence of a God:

“Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition?”

But the answer is patently no. If the answer was yes we’d be having a different conversation.

So, any argument that assumes that without God there is no value (e.g. love, beauty, morality)–or at the least objective value–is wrong. Or at the very least it is an unfounded assumption. The Neitzsche Fallacy.

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2 thoughts on “The Nietzsche Fallacy”

  1. I’ve never quite understood why so many people see nihilism as such a pessimistic, cynical perspective. To me, nihilism is beautiful. It all just depends on how you look at it – whether you see the universe’s apparent indifference as something to mourn, or whether you see this empty vacuum of nothingness as an opportunity to create and unearth beauty and love.

    (I know this is a bit tangental, but yeah… my bad. I just love Nietzsche’s work so much; can’t resist jumping in).

    1. Nietzsche’s nihilism is the inspiration for a lot of the dialog in Fight Club. And that nihilism, the one that puts you in the driver’s seat of your own life, is poetic–you are not your job; you are not the car you drive; you are not your fucking khakis. You are the all singing, all dancing crap of the world… this is your life and it’s ending one second at a time”–and empowering.

      Nietzsche’s point about nihilism is that to let God be in the driver’s seat of your life is a disenfranchising nihilism, an unempowering nihilism… a life wasted.

      And, tangental though it was, you’re right.

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