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Friedrich Nietzsche Pronounces "God is Dead": The Gay Science (1882)

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How far the moral sphere extends. – As soon as we see a new image, we immediately construct it with the aid of all our previous experiences, depending on the degree of our honesty and justice. All experiences are moral experiences, even in the realm of sense perception.*

The four errors.** – Man has been educated by his errors. First, he always saw himself only incompletely; second, he endowed himself with fictitious attributes; third, he placed himself in a false order of rank in relation to animals and nature; fourth, he invented ever new tables of goods and always accepted them for a time as eternal and unconditional: as a result of this, now one and now another human impulse and state held first place and was ennobled because it was esteemed so highly. If we removed the effects of these four errors, we should also remove humanity, humaneness, and “human dignity.”

[ . . . ]

Herd remorse. – During the longest and most remote periods of the human past, the sting of conscience was not at all what it is now. Today one feels responsible only for one’s will and actions, and one finds one’s pride in oneself. All our teachers of law start from this sense of self and pleasure in the individual, as if this had always been the fount of law. But during the longest period of the human past nothing was more terrible than to feel that one stood by oneself. To be alone, to experience things by oneself, neither to obey nor to rule, to be an individual – that was not a pleasure but a punishment; one was sentenced “to individuality.”*** Freedom of thought was considered discomfort itself. While we experience law and submission as compulsion and loss, it was egoism that was formerly experienced as something painful and as real misery. To be a self and to esteem oneself according to one’s own weight and measure – that offended taste in those days. An inclination to do this would have been considered madness; for being alone was associated with every misery and fear. In those days, “free will” was very closely associated with a bad conscience; and the more unfree one’s actions were and the more the herd instinct rather than any personal sense found expression in an action, the more moral one felt. Whatever harmed the herd, whether the individual had wanted it or not wanted it, prompted the sting of conscience in the individual – and in his neighbor, too, and even in the whole herd. – There is no point on which we have learned to think and feel more differently.

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* This is the transition from the first part of Book III, which is cosmological-epistemological, to the second part, which deals with morality. Section 108 is best seen as a prologue to Book III. But it should be noted how the final sentences of sections 109, 110, and 113 point to Nietzsche’s central concern with what is to become of man–a concern that is moral in the broad sense of that word although Nietzsche’s views may seem “immoral” to some apologists for traditional morality.
** Twilight of the Idols contains a chapter with the title, “The Four Great Errors” (VPN, 492–501). Nietzsche does not repeat himself there, but there is a striking continuity in his thought.
*** verurteilt zum Individuum: In German, Jean-Paul Sartre’s celebrated dictum that man is “condemned to be free” (L’être et le Néant, 1943, p. 515; Being and Nothingness, transl. Hazel E. Barnes, 1956, p. 439) is rendered and often quoted as zur Freiheit verurteilt.

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