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Kory Bassett

Hume vs Nietzsche

Hume and Nietzsche have a remarkable number of things in common. Most notably,

both can be characterized as philosophers of human nature. They share a turn of mind

that is naturalistic, skeptical, and anti-metaphysical. As is well-known, both are critics of

religion. Just as Hume wanted to break with abstract metaphysics and inaugurate a new

science of human nature, Nietzsche saw himself as the first philosopher to give proper

attention to historical and psychological factors. They both share beliefs that the human

morality is flawed yet they both tackle this complicated issue very differently.

Friedrick Nietzsche: He was quite different from other philosophers. He believed

that all varieties of suffering and failure should be welcome by anyone seeking

happiness. And that we should regard them as tough challenges to overcome. He

thought it was an advantage to have serious hardships in life. This left him almost alone

in his beliefs. He was quoted writing To those human beings who are of any concern to

me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill treatment, indignities, profound self-

contempt, the torture of self-mistrust and the wretchedness of the vanquished. He had

an attachment to the tops of mountains. I think this is because its at the top of the

mountain that you have the widest views but it is also quite difficult to get to that peek.

Nietzsche was a man of routine. Even though he believed he was a keen to

hardships he tried very hard to keep the same motions throughout his daily life. He lost

his father at a very young age which sparked his interest in writing when he started to

write about the church where his father used to preach. Nietzsche began to wonder,
why had God, this all powerful being that he had spent devoting his entire life to

worshipping punished a good man with such torment. This was the start of hardship for

young Nietzsche that led him down his path of never-ending doubt. While studying

Theology, Nietzsche came across a new method to study the bible known as biblical

criticism. This was likely the true turning point for Nietzsches belief. After this he

couldnt help but question his entire life because of this entire life he had spent so far

dedicating his time to lies.

While his time as a professor he had taken interest in the Greek works but soon

discovered that too had become plagued by self-glorification and quickly retired from his

seat as a professor. Nietzsche had moved on to spend a portion of his life in Sils Maria.

A town high in mountains of the south-eastern corner of Switzerland. He lived here

because the scenery around him spoke to him influencing his work. His period of

loneliness perhaps motivated him to immerse himself into his philosophy. Although this

life of isolation eventually led him to insanity. Which ended in his imprisonment within an

asylum for his last days after an event that had taken place of a coachman striking his

horse with a whip and a distraught Nietzsche running to its aid to embrace the horse in

his arms. I imagine him weeping in a frenzy of emotions before collapsing to the ground.

The last sane act of a man who had spent his entire life criticizing the weakness of

human compassion was one of profound pity.

A quick summary of Nietzsche would reveal a man, who was suffering and was

unable to love. He was a very caring man in fact, an example of this is the headstone he

bought for his fathers grave after earning enough money to do so. Nietzsche was a firm

believer in keeping the body pure. Any spiritual or physical substance that wasnt
required to survive was only a crutch to make life easier, as he put it. He was a man so

influential that his philosophies were adopted by perhaps the most diabolic group of

modern times, The Third Reich. A bundle of ideas expressed in such disturbing and

prophetic clarity to make any man cower. Nietzsches perhaps most quoted idea was

the one that we as a civilization have killed God. Thus, in turn destroying our only will to

live, the external world. Without a promise of something greater than ourselves, what

was the point to continue living.

As Nietzsche said "And as for our future, one will hardly find us again on the

paths of those Egyptian youths who endanger temples by night, embrace statues, and

want by all means to unveil, uncover, and put into a bright light whatever is kept

concealed for good reasons. No, this bad taste, this will to truth, to "truth at any price,

this youthful madness in the love of truth, have lost their charm for us: for that we are

too serious, too merry, too burned, too profound. We no longer believe that truth

remains truth when the veils are withdrawn". I think what he means by this is that it is

great to unveil and discover but rather Nietzsche wants us to reinterpret, or reinvigorate

our standing toward the world, escape the slavish need for truth. Our truth already

exists so instead we should question the truth and tear that truth apart to check its


He asks us not to be a follower of slave morality but instead step away from the

crowd and make our own choices. Though in the end, he was the husk of a broken

man. A lifetime of heartache left him in a pile of rubble deconstructed from the building

blocks of his soul. It almost seems like a fiction novel to hear the stories of someone so

stricken by a life like this. It wasnt all for not though, Nietzsche left us with his writings
captured within his notebooks. But even that was exploited by his self-fulfilling sister to

help influence The Reich and in turn birth the Triumph of Will. Nietzsche believed that

as humans we had a thirst to fill a void in our life. A void of unhappiness and wants that

was never good enough no matter how much we had. The ideas encased the structure

that we always want more and can never be satisfied.

He feared that the reality of quenching that primal thirst would be a blackhole of

cultural differences. An overload of personal choices that we as a people would be

unable to direct away from that dark abyss below. Steering away from that herd of

mindless collective that he despised so much, the thing that drove him mad to begin

with. He hated the man who had bought into this hive-mind that he called the religion of

comfortableness. In the words of Nietzsche "if you stare into the abyss, the abyss

stares back at you".

Hume was of a time only 100 years after Galileo had pointed his telescope

towards the sky. It was still very early in the scientific revolution. So, the common ideas

of the time were more of a mechanical philosophy. This is a great time for a skeptic to

be born, this type of thinking raises so many question at a time where we are just

starting to understand the physical world. Hume was keen on seeing humans as part of

the natural world. At the same time, he delves into many philosophies, tying into human

behavior with his writings of moral philosophy. He went to the university of Edinburgh at

the age of 10, at the time 14 was the average age of a child to attend the university

although his brother was attending with him at age 12 so this wasnt too unordinary. He

talks about his experience there in his biography he had written towards the end of his

life. He mentions how all he really got out of his studies was language, luckily for him his
parents had wanted him to become a lawyer. This was good for him because it means

they had given him plenty of time to read, something Hume was very engaged in. All

this time being left to read had given Hume time to develop the type of solitary thinking

that he is known for.

He had eventually moved on for new experiences which is responsible for his

travel to La Fleche. While here he started, and finished his first major work, A Treatise of

Human Nature. A work on the behaviors of human nature, a demonstration of how

reason almost ends up destroying itself.

As Hume had said Human minds are not strangers in nature, but inextricably

parts of it Humes quest for a Newtonian lead him to classify all mental events as either

impressions or ideas. The self, or ego, as he says, is just a kind of theatre, where

several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass, re-pass, glide away,

and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations. There is properly no

simplicity in it at one time, nor identity in different; whatever natural propensity we may

have to imagine that simplicity and identity. (Treatise 4.6)

This was destructive but it structured the ideology that he became known for. We

can see this same thing happening with Nietzsche, two men who couldnt subdue their

own thoughts which resulted in the shaping of their philosophy. You can see more

similarities when talking about the concept of freedom between both parties.

Here is what Hume says: By liberty, then, we can only mean a power of acting

or not acting, according to the determinations of the will; this is, if we chose to remain at

rest, we may; if we choose to move, we also may, now this hypothetical liberty is
universally allowed to belong to everyone who is not a prisoner and in chains. Here,

then, is no subject of dispute. (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding 8.1)

He talks about two people, both want to move but only one is able. This creates a

scenario where the strong get to be free while the weak are forced to be prisoners.

Nietzsches example of this is very much the same as Humes How is freedom

measured in individuals and people? According to the resistance which must be

overcome, according to the exertion required to remain on top. The highest type of free

men should be sought where the highest resistance is constantly overcome the free

man is a warrior (Twilight, aph 38)

Nietzsche and Hume share the same idea here on the view of freedom as

capability rather than opportunity. Without the capacity to accomplish their goals then

the weak will always fall. Nietzsche points this to a typology of persons and that it

requires a kind of free man. It is clear enough that such clearly contingent abilities will

not be apportioned evenly throughout a population, and since freedom is so inherently

desirable, it must be constantly fought for by and thereby earned by the strongest

members of said population. Though the strong has the capability to prevail, we

shouldnt be so quick to judge.

I think Nietzsche says it best The falseness of a judgement is for us not

necessarily an objection to a judgement; in this respect, our new language may sound

strangest. The question is to what extent it is life-promoting, life-preserving, species-

promoting, perhaps even species-cultivating. And we are fundamentally inclined to

claim that the falsest judgements (which include the synthetic judgements a priori) are

the most indispensable for us; that without accepting the fictions of logic, without
measuring reality against the purely invented world of the unconditional and self-

identical, without a constant falsification of the world by means of numbers, man could

not live--that renouncing false judgements would mean renouncing life and a denial of

life. To recognize untruth as a condition of life... (BGE 1.4) though after all of this I still

am at a loss as to who to side with. I dont believe Hume had it right. Nor do I believe

that Nietzsches vision of a better society is one of great suffering. I do believe, however,

that there are powerful similarities between the two thinkers and perhaps should

provoke interesting questions in both respective camps.