Nietzsche on Stoicism’s “Fraud of Words”

The following passage from Nietzsche has many excellent uses in exposing the roots of Stoicism and all similar philosophies which seek to substitute some other goal for the goal of life set by Nature.  This is not an attitude that is limited to Stoicism, and in fact it permeates most non-Epicurean philosophies.  But it has achieved its most notable success in misleading people through the mask of Stoicism.

All too frequently when I have wanted to cite it, however, I have ended up linking to pages defending Stoicism from Nietzsche’s charges, rather than explaining how correct they are.  This post/page will be henceforth be available as a link where the quote will be defended and supported, rather than attacked.  I will add alternate translations, and supporting notes and text, over time.  For now, suffice it to say that Epicurean philosophy does not seek to remake the world into some image created in the mind of man.  Epicurean philosophy seeks to make man fully aware of the capacities with which Nature has endowed him, and to make him immune from the intellectual challenges of those who rebel against Nature’s guide to life.

Nietzsche brought an appreciate of the role of Epicurus in philosophy that few other philosophers have matched, especially in his analysis of the conflict between Epicurus and the rise of Christianity. Nietzsche also brings a profoundly correct understanding of Stoicism, as stated in the above quote. That makes him highly valuable despite some limitations. And in my view, the most important of his limitations is that he essentially accepted the orthodox view of Epicurus as focusing on “static” pleasures, subordinating joy and delight to “satisfaction” or the “replenishment “model. There I think he was wrong, but even this error is also helpful, because it shows how important it is never to compromise on this point.


Beyond Good And Evil, (Gutenberg edition, translated by Helen Zimmern)  Chapter 1, section 9

You desire to LIVE “according to Nature”? Oh, you noble Stoics, what fraud of words! Imagine to yourselves a being like Nature, boundlessly extravagant, boundlessly indifferent, without purpose or consideration, without pity or justice, at once fruitful and barren and uncertain: imagine to yourselves INDIFFERENCE as a power—how COULD you live in accordance with such indifference? To live—is not that just endeavouring to be otherwise than this Nature? Is not living valuing, preferring, being unjust, being limited, endeavouring to be different? And granted that your imperative, “living according to Nature,” means actually the same as “living according to life”—how could you do DIFFERENTLY? Why should you make a principle out of what you yourselves are, and must be? In reality, however, it is quite otherwise with you: while you pretend to read with rapture the canon of your law in Nature, you want something quite the contrary, you extraordinary stage-players and self-deluders! In your pride you wish to dictate your morals and ideals to Nature, to Nature herself, and to incorporate them therein; you insist that it shall be Nature “according to the Stoa,” and would like everything to be made after your own image, as a vast, eternal glorification and generalism of Stoicism! With all your love for truth, you have forced yourselves so long, so persistently, and with such hypnotic rigidity to see Nature FALSELY, that is to say, Stoically, that you are no longer able to see it otherwise—and to crown all, some unfathomable superciliousness gives you the Bedlamite hope that BECAUSE you are able to tyrannize over yourselves—Stoicism is self-tyranny—Nature will also allow herself to be tyrannized over: is not the Stoic a PART of Nature?… But this is an old and everlasting story: what happened in old times with the Stoics still happens today, as soon as ever a philosophy begins to believe in itself. It always creates the world in its own image; it cannot do otherwise; philosophy is this tyrannical impulse itself, the most spiritual Will to Power, the will to “creation of the world,” the will to the causa prima.


Beyond Good And Evil, (Gutenberg edition, translated by Helen Zimmern)  Chapter 5, section 188

188. In contrast to laisser-aller, every system of morals is a sort of tyranny against “nature” and also against “reason”, that is, however, no objection, unless one should again decree by some system of morals, that all kinds of tyranny and unreasonableness are unlawful What is essential and invaluable in every system of morals, is that it is a long constraint. In order to understand Stoicism, or Port Royal, or Puritanism, one should remember the constraint under which every language has attained to strength and freedom—the metrical constraint, the tyranny of rhyme and rhythm.


Beyond Good And Evil, (Gutenberg edition, translated by Helen Zimmern)  Chapter 5, section 198

198. All the systems of morals which address themselves with a view to their “happiness,” as it is called—what else are they but suggestions for behaviour adapted to the degree of DANGER from themselves in which the individuals live; recipes for their passions, their good and bad propensities, insofar as such have the Will to Power and would like to play the master; small and great expediencies and elaborations, permeated with the musty odour of old family medicines and old-wife wisdom; all of them grotesque and absurd in their form—because they address themselves to “all,” because they generalize where generalization is not authorized; all of them speaking unconditionally, and taking themselves unconditionally; all of them flavoured not merely with one grain of salt, but rather endurable only, and sometimes even seductive, when they are over-spiced and begin to smell dangerously, especially of “the other world.” That is all of little value when estimated intellectually, and is far from being “science,” much less “wisdom”; but, repeated once more, and three times repeated, it is expediency, expediency, expediency, mixed with stupidity, stupidity, stupidity—whether it be the indifference and statuesque coldness towards the heated folly of the emotions, which the Stoics advised and fostered; or the no-more-laughing and no-more-weeping of Spinoza, the destruction of the emotions by their analysis and vivisection, which he recommended so naively; or the lowering of the emotions to an innocent mean at which they may be satisfied, the Aristotelianism of morals; or even morality as the enjoyment of the emotions in a voluntary attenuation and spiritualization by the symbolism of art, perhaps as music, or as love of God, and of mankind for God’s sake—for in religion the passions are once more enfranchised, provided that…; or, finally, even the complaisant and wanton surrender to the emotions, as has been taught by Hafis and Goethe, the bold letting-go of the reins, the spiritual and corporeal licentia morum in the exceptional cases of wise old codgers and drunkards, with whom it “no longer has much danger.”—This also for the chapter: “Morals as Timidity.”


Additional Cites From The Collection At The Epicurus Wiki

One of the greatest men, inventor of an heroic-idyllic way to philosophize: Epicurus [Human, All Too Human § 295].

The «after-death» doesn’t matter to us at all! […] Again prevails Epicurus! [Sunrise § 72/34]. Yea! I’m proud to enjoy what […] I hear and read in Epicurus, the Mediterranean joy of antiquity. […] The wisdom had taken some steps forward with Epicurus, but then it went many thousand steps backward [The Joyous Science § 45].

Epicurus would have won; each respectable mind was Epicurean in the Roman Empire: and it’s done! Then Paul arrives on the scene… [The Antichrist § 58].

The reawakened sciences have been reunited point by point with Epicurus’ philosophy, while they have escaped point by point Christianity. [Human, All Too Human § 68].

Why we seem Epicurean. We modern-day men proceed warily with farthest beliefs […] a cognitive approach we would define Epicurean, which doesn’t wish to escape from many-sided appearance of things; […] a dislike for big words and moral poses [The Cheerful Science § 375].

The Epicurean man uses his higher learning to make himself independent from dominant opinions; he overlooks on these, while the Cynic confines himself to their denial. The former walks so to speak by the side of windless paths, in well-sheltered places, in the half-light, while over him, in the wind, the tops of the trees rustle and show him how much the world out there is worked up [Human, All Too Human § 275].

That’s the ataraxia state Epicurus extolled as the end-goal and gods’ condition; to be, at that moment, free from bad urge of wish […] [Moral’s Genealogy. § 6].

“A little garden, some figs, a piece of cheese, plus three or four good friends – that was the sum of Epicurus’ luxuriousness [Human, All Too Human, II, part 2, § 192].

Stoic and Epicurean. […] The one who envisage that the external necessity enables oneself to ‘spin out a long thread’ acts well to arrange for an Epicurean way of life; all men fond of intellectual work have done so! Sure enough it would be for them the worst loss the one of ruining their subtle feeling and getting the skin of the Stoics in return, with all the quills of a sea urchin [The Cheerful Science § 306].

Four are the pairs which, for me the follower, did not turn out alien: Epicurus and Montaigne, Goethe and Spinoza, Plato and Rousseau, Pascal and Schopenhauer. With them I must debate, when I have wandered alone for a long time, by them I want to be approved and amended […] [Human, All too Human, II 408, The Journey in Hades].

Is there any more dangerous seduction that might tempt one to renounce one’s faith in the gods of Epicurus who have no care and are unknown, and to believe instead in some petty deity who is full of care and personally knows every little hair on our head and finds nothing nauseous in the most miserable small service? [The Gay Science § 2771].


The following are not explicit references to Epicurus, but highly consistent with the Epicurean perspective:

Thus Spake Zarathustra, Walter Kaufman translation

“I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go. Once the sin against God was the greatest sin; but God died, and these sinners died with him. To sin against the earth is now the most dreadful thing, and to esteem the entrails of the unknowable higher than the meaning of the earth…”

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