Nietzsche’s Joyful Friendship: Epicurean Elements in the Middle Works

Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality is a more enthusiastic yes-saying text than Human. Nietzsche writes that Daybreak supports a contradiction that he is unafraid of: “faith in morality is withdrawn” but this very withdrawal is motivated by a moral perspective. What is occurring, is “the self-sublimation of morality” (D P§4). In Daybreak, as well as the other middle period texts, Nietzsche is attempting to make the ethical life more joyful. Although self-becoming involves much discipline and habituation, Nietzsche aims to transform morality into an Epicurean ethics of self-cultivation in which the individual enjoys the process of becoming what one is.[8]

Nietzsche is a “subterranean man” (D P§1) in this text who destabilizes moral precepts, but he does so with an affirmative style that celebrates a future in which values will be re-written (EH “Daybreak” §1). In fact, with this text he is already introducing the notion that there are many moralities, that there need not be one overarching unegoistic morality.[9] Nietzsche encourages his readers to experiment with different kinds of life practices, practices which are self-affirmative (D §453), to test out new variations of moralities (D §164), and to focus on self-concern in the construction of one’s own ethics.

One of the central goals of Daybreak is to help individuals recognize the “morality of custom” that indoctrinates them into collective systems of values in which their individual needs are subjected to the interests of society. This is certainly a continuation of the earlier project initiated in Human to help “fettered spirits” become free. Regarding the project of Daybreak Nietzsche writes, “The loss of a center of gravity, resistance to natural instincts, in a word ‘selflessness’—this is what has been called ‘morality‘ so far . . . In Daybreak I first took up the fight against the morality of ‘unselfing.’” (EH “Daybreak” §2).

Nietzsche states that just as Daybreak is a yes-saying book, so is The Gay Science, but to the “highest degree” (EH “The Gay Science”). He uses the words “triumph,” “gratitude,” “hope,” and “intoxication” to describe the “rejoicing of strength” of this book (GS P§1). In this text, Nietzsche’s voice as a passionate and affirmative knowledge-seeker is most vibrant. He approaches philosophical problems from the perspective of a physician of culture[10] who wants to help both individual and cultural development. In the preface he states that he is “waiting for a philosophical physician in the exceptional sense of the word—one who has to pursue the problem of the total health of a people, time, race, or of humanity” (GS P§2).

Nietzsche situates himself as a psychologist in the preface of Gay Science when he states that a psychologist is fascinated by the relationship between health and philosophy. He writes that when a psychologist becomes ill he will adopt a scientific curiosity toward that illness from which he suffers (GS P§2). Nietzsche places a value on the learning potential that comes out of suffering and illness and even claims that one who has suffered will pursue knowledge with less reservation. Out of suffering arises a person with more questions and a will to question more severely: “The trust in life is gone: life itself has become a problem. Yet one should not jump to the conclusion that this necessarily makes one gloomy.” In fact, Nietzsche thinks that a philosopher who has suffered much and practiced self-mastery to endure is likely to become more attracted to that which is most problematic and unknown, to become open to trying out and even enjoying multiple perspectives (GS P§3).

Having recently come out of an illness prior to the writing of this book, in The Gay Science Nietzsche is attempting to think about how truth is shaped, not only by health/illness, but also by what is ‘useful’ (GS §110). Nietzsche claims that what is needed for the pursuit of knowledge is a “philosophical physician” that will inquire as to what is “at stake” in the philosophy in question, not the naïve objectivity of ‘truth,’ but instead an awareness of how “health, future, growth, power, life” (GS P§2) shape our belief systems. The very title of this book points to the connection between truth and artistry. Nietzsche’s goal is to make the pursuit of knowledge or science as a life practice more joyful and to teach his free spirits about the construction of truth so that they can understand it and learn to employ these practices for the creation of their own values and truths.

A Community of Free Spirits

In 1879 Nietzsche wrote letters to his friends Peter Gast and Paul Rée in which he expressed interest in starting his own Epicurean garden (KSB 5 399, 460). In his reflections on the middle period, Nietzsche suggests that the free spirit describes those friends that he would like himself to have, people who have or who are attempting to disconnect with the conventions that are most familiar to them. These people will need new friends who can understand what is at stake and provide each other space for repose. In reflecting on his mood while writing Human, Nietzsche points to his desire to find friends with whom to share the simple pleasures removed from the noise of society.

What I again and again needed most for my cure and self-restoration, however, was the belief that I was not thus isolated, not alone in seeing as I did—an enchanted surmising of relatedness and identity in eye and desires, a reposing in a trust of friendship, a blindness in concert with another without suspicion or question-marks, a pleasure in foregrounds, surfaces, things close and closest, in everything possessing color, skin and apparitionality (HH I §P1).

One cannot help but think of Epicurus’s sentiment: “The purest security is that which comes from a quiet life and withdrawal from the many.”[11] In The Gay Science Nietzsche expresses his frustration with how leisure has come to be perceived of as idleness, stating that we are approaching a time in which people will not be able to enjoy contemplative moments with one’s ideas or one’s friends without succumbing to a feeling a “bad conscience” (GS §329). For Nietzsche, if one wants to enjoy a contemplative life one must find ways to remove oneself from the world and join together with other like-minded people who are not fettered but free.

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