The "Will to Life" as the "Will to Power" - Excerpt from "Beyond Good and Evil" by Fredrich Nietzsche

In this brief excerpt from Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil we get a glimpse into a fundamental theme of his work, that of the master and slave. Nietzsche views history very much through a lens similar to the Darwinian lens. The key concept of Charles Darwin was that the history of life on earth was one of struggle in which the strong survive and the weak die out. It is the survival of the fittest, of course. If this is the case, then, the strong are the ones who dictate the rules of the game to the weak. Nietzsche applies this same thinking to human beings. He posits that in previous ages the physically stronger acted just like animals do in their natural habitat, to ascend to power over the weak. In doing this they determine what is moral and right for society by serving what is right for themselves. This is the "master morality." Nietzsche holds that the "slave morality," on the other hand, was one of sabotage on the powerful in order to preserve the life of the weak, by claiming that morality has to do with abstractions, universal statement, and desires to help the weak and vulnerable. 

The "Will to Life" as the "Will to Power"

This excerpt opens with Nietzsche pointing out English society's conversation about morality is one that is stale, scientific, and boring. Though, for him, this may not be a bad thing that they do not realize the power that lies in new conceptions of morality ... but he does. 1 They argue about what universal morality may govern the English people, as descendants of Puritans would do, while in reality such a vision must be impossible. Nietzsche categorically rejects that morality should be able governing all people, as all people are not equal. Morality must serve the "higher man," not the "lower man." 2 "Not one of those ponderous, conscience-stricken herding-animals ... wants to have any knowledge or inkling of the facts that the 'general welfare' is no ideal, no goal, no notion that can be at all grasped ... that what is fair to one may not at all be fair to another, that the requirement of one morality for all is really a detriment to higher men, in short, that there is a distinction of rank between man and man, and consequently between morality and morality." 3 But before such considerations of universal equality could even be made, it must be pointed out that all societies were generated to have a class system in which some were higher and some were lower. 4 This is the law of living things, the "Will to Life," that there be a power struggle between living things for the "Will to Power" over one another. There is inherent to just living. It is a biological fact. 5

"'Exploitation' does not belong to a depraved, or imperfect and primitive society: it belongs to the nature of the living being as a primary organic function; it is a consequence of the intrinsic Will to Power, which is precisely the Will to Life. - Granting that as a theory this is a novelty - as a reality it is the fundamental fact of all history: let us be so far honest towards ourselves!" 6 

Master and Slave Morality

This is the difference between the "master" and the "slave" moralities. Nietzsche comes up with two universal distinctions across cultures regarding morality that seem to manifest themselves. The universal master morality were the powerful barbarians of old. The ones who took over a society through their brute force. They were the strong, useful, forceful, leaders of old ... not the weak, poor, empathetic, kind, and bashful. Rather, the master morality is determined by each of its masters, it is to be in that role. The master creates his own values by being himself, by being in power. Whatever he is, is good. 7 The slave morality, on the other hand, is that of the "... morality which sees precisely in sympathy, or in acting for the good of others, or in self-disinterest, the characteristic of moral..."

The slave morality is one which must elevate certain concepts for the self-preservation of their naturally weak bodies and positions in comparison to the master race. They must exalt kindness, humility, patience, helpfulness, generosity, etc as virtues because they don't want to be taken advantage of. The powerful, though, need no such concepts as good and evil, there is only powerful or not powerful. The powerful embrace their urges, while the weak depend on rational concepts like freedom to emphasize what is right in order to preserve their lives. 9


1 - Fieser, James and Samuel Stump. Philosophy: A Historical Survey With Essential Readings. Fredrich Nietzsche. Beyond Good and Evil. Excerpts. Pg. 331.

2 - 332

3 - 332

4 - 332

5 - 333

6 - 333

7 - 334

8 - 334

9 - 335