Did Friedrich Nietzsche Reject Stoicism?

I don’t believe that it’s easy to say that Nietzsche wasn’t a Stoic. Nietzsche did actually believe in the principle amor fati, something which Epictetus and other Stoics clearly did believe in. The confusion about Nietzsche outright rejecting Stoicism is this popularly referenced quote by him concerning the Stoics,

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? 

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Ch. 1, 9

Nietzsche is essentially stating that the Stoics have put themselves in a contradiction. Since the Stoics believe that living in agreement with Nature means living a life of virtue, Nietzsche is saying that their whole metaphysical foundation of virtue ethics contradicts the nature of the universe, which has no goal of benevolence or justice. Nietzsche is asserting that the Stoics are actually wanting to live differently than nature because actual nature is pitiless and without remorse. Another contradiction that Nietzsche perceives about the Stoics is that if nature is in essence a certain way, then it’s impossible to live differently than nature, and one must have to live in accord with nature no matter what one does, virtue or vice.

A few things I would like to point out are that 1) Nietzsche doesn’t just critique Stoicism, he critiques all philosophers and their metaphysics before him. So he’s not singling out Stoicism since Nietzsche goes after practically every philosopher before him throughout his essays. 2) Nietzsche isn’t deliberately destroying Stoicism, and he’s not trying to eliminate all Apollonian philosophies. Apollonian thinking means that one is a follower of Apollo, the God of the sun, who represents rationality and order. Nietzsche thinks philosophy has followed this path for far too long and he introduces the Dionysian way of thinking. Dionysius is the god of wine and drunkenness, but also represents irrationality, instinct, and creativity. Some mistake Nietzsche as completely rejecting rationality and order, but he actually believes that one should not prefer one over the other with regard to Dionysius and Apollo.

So when Nietzsche attacks Stoicism, he’s not attacking the ethics of Stoicism, he’s attacking the metaphysics of Stoicism. In fact, he attacks the Epicurean metaphysics, the Kantian metaphysics, the Platonic metaphysics, pretty much any philosophy where Nietzsche believes a philosopher has made the world in their image. And it is all based on Nietzsche’s will to power theory, which I won’t get into right now, but he thinks that all philosophers impose their will on the world, instead of actually knowing the world, which he is fairly skeptical of.

So is Nietzsche actually an anti-Stoic? No because Nietzsche did believe in virtue, he did believe in a rigidly determined world, and he believed in amor fati to give his virtues and responsibilities more weight. One might ask, “but isn’t that asserting metaphysical truths or some truth?” Nietzsche would probably respond that it’s his perspective and it’s his story and he would believe that his story needs to be told just like every philosopher before him, but the difference that sets him apart is that he’s asserting as a story, not a truth about reality.

Nietzsche could be classified as a virtue ethicist, like the Stoics. Nietzsche’s first group of virtues sound in line with Stoic and Aristotelian thinking: courage, generosity, temperance, truthfulness, honor, justice, and friendship. But what sets him apart is his second set of virtues: style, depth, taking risks, playfulness, solitude, health, strength, and egoism.

I think that Nietzsche didn’t actually outright reject Stoicism. He rejected most of the metaphysical project of Western philosophy up until his life. He thought philosophers before him made the world in their image. But he did think a Stoic perspective was the right approach. He believed that it was best to love how the universe unfolded and to deliberately will a universe that repeats exactly as it is while willing a universe where one lives the same life as they did before ad infinitum. Not only did Nietzsche embrace some of the Stoic virtues but he also embraced their welcoming of adversity. I’ll close this article with a famous Stoic-sounding line from Nietzsche:

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.

By Jess W

JW has a B.A. in Philosophy from Drury University. JW has practiced philosophy for years after graduating Drury U, though he hasn't pursued philosophy as a career of choice. JW eventually learned what Stoicism was really all about and decided to adopt virtually all of its precepts. It's served JW well and has helped him through his journey through a life of ups and downs.

1 comment

  1. I find myself largely in agreement with you. Nietzsche is routinely sad to have rejected various other philosophies and outlooks, which, at a glance and without indepth reading of his work may seem true. Personally, I would argue that he QUESTIONS and analyses them. Certain aspects he finds lacking, others he embraces. He wasn’t about one size fits all philosophies.
    You have your way, I have my way, as for the right way…..?

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