What Does Nietzsche’s Madman Mean When He Proclaims God is Dead and We Humans Have Killed Him?
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“Has he got lost? Did he lose his way like a child? Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? Emigrated?” No the madman says; “we have killed him – you and I. All of us are his murderers” This exchange encapsulates the aphorism that underpins much of Nietzsche’s thought; that “God is dead”. But what does this mean - What is Nietzsche telling us by claiming that we have murdered God? This essay is going to attempt to try and understand what Nietzsche argues has changed and what hasn’t with the death of God and to examine his critique of 19th century morality in the context of the 21st century politics and see if he offers a constructive alternative to the way we engage in political discourse.
When Nietzsche claims that God is dead he is not making an empirical claim about God’s existence, nor even merely about the state of belief in his existence. His claim is that the conceptual relationship between God and the ‘Truth’ fundamentally changed with the Enlightenment. Previously ‘Truth’ was understood via its relationship with God; Nietzsche argues that:
“All experiences shone differently because a God glowed from them; all decisions and prospects concerning the different as well, for one had oracles and secret signs and believed in prophecy. ‘Truth’ was formerly experienced differently because the lunatic could be considered its mouthpiece”
There are two possible understandings of an experience underwritten by God; either that God was constant and static but our capacity to understand him was limited; or that God was dynamic and exhibited agency and so we could never have a static set of criteria to evaluate truth against. It seems most likely that Nietzsche considered God to be the former arguing that “[m...
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...air and gloomily enthusiastic? Has not God’s morality and divine right simply been replaced by Universal human rights?
God may well be dead but Nietzsche’s assessment of the pitfalls of our new arbiter of value provides a staunch critique against which we must measure our morality. The question though remains as to whether we can ever accept a plurality of values within a given polity, whilst it may solve the philosophical problem of linking categories such as ‘Truth’ and ‘Purity’ can any aggregation of humans ever produce an agreement that is anything but slavish or self interested or vain or resigned or gloomily enthusiastic or an act of despair or each individually? God may well be dead but Nietzsche is right when he says that his shadow remains over us and, for the moment, there seems no way we can cast our own light on that shadow and overcome his legacy.