Nietzsche’s Task

An interpretation of Beyond good and evil

Laurence Lampert


nietzsches taskWhen Nietzsche published Beyond Good and Evil in 1886, he told a friend that it was a book that would not be read properly until “around the year 2000.” Now Laurence Lampert sets out to fulfill this prophecy by providing a section by section interpretation of this philosophical masterpiece that emphasizes its unity and depth as a comprehensive new teaching on nature and humanity. According to Lampert, Nietzsche begins with a critique of philosophy that is ultimately affirmative, because it shows how philosophy can arrive at a defensible ontological account of the way of all beings. Nietzsche next argues that a new post-Christian religion can arise out of the affirmation of the world disclosed to philosophy. Then, turning to the implications of the new ontology for morality and politics, Nietzsche argues that these can be reconstituted on the fundamental insights of the new philosophy. Nietzsche’s comprehensive depiction of this anti-Platonic philosophy ends with a chapter on nobility, in which he contends that what can now be publicly celebrated as noble in our species are its highest achievements of mind and spirit


Abbreviations of Nietzsche’s Works
Introduction: Nietzsche’s Task
Preface: A Task for a Good European
1 On the Prejudices of Philosophers
2 The Free Mind
3 Das Religiose Wesen
4 Epigrams and Interludes
5 On the Natural History of Morality
6 We Scholars
7 Our Virtues
8 Peoples and Fatherlands
9 What Is Noble?
Out of High Mountains: Aftersong
Nietzsche’s Future
Works Cited


Introduction: Nietzsche’s Task

What was Nietzsche’s task? It was the task of philosophy: gaining a comprehensive perspective on the world and on the human disposition toward the world, a perspective that could claim to be true. The older language can still be used if it is rebaptized with Nietzschean meanings: philosophy as the love of wisdom aims to overcome irrational interpretations with rational ones, interpretations guided by the mind, by spirited intellect Nietzscheanly conceived. As a direct consequence of achieving that comprehensive perspective—for his two chief books, Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil, show that he achieved it—an additional task fell to Nietzsche, the task of political philosophy: making a place for that perspective in the lived world of human culture or doing justice to all things in the human disposition toward them. But given the sway of the irrational, making a place for the more rational in the midst of the irrational requires strategic finesse; it is a task for an artful writer who knows his audience and knows how to appeal to them…

1 On the Prejudices of Philosophers

Nietzsche’s Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future opens with an assault on philosophy. So prominent as a first impression and so effective in the suspicions it arouses or confirms about philosophy, this first chapter of Nietzsche’s book may seem to destroy permanently the possibility of philosophy as a way to truth. But even though philosophy is always prejudiced for Nietzsche—always situated or from a perspective, always interested or driven by passion—that condition need not be fatal to philosophy’s task of winning the truth. Subsequent chapters, as well as quieter suggestions within the assault itself, gradually recover philosophy’s original greatness and stake a renewed claim to its capacity to win the truth and even, on that basis, to be the legitimate creator of values and the lawgiver to the sciences. If the opening questions question the value of the will to truth and pose the problem of the value of truth itself, the supreme value of that subjective passion and its elusive object are eventually confirmed by such questioning: Nietzsche’s book does not end where it begins; it is structured; it opens, advances, and closes—and not just once, though its first opening and its final closing clearly have a priority that befit their prominence. The opening questions about truth point the way into a profound and liberating skepticism about philosophy—the way to “the free mind”—and then to a way out of that skepticism that does not surrender the intellectual conscience. Chapter 1 justifies the assertion of the preface that traditional philosophy now lies in ruins while raising new suspicions against it. Chapter 2, as its title indicates, is a second chapter on philosophy or philosophy’s second chapter; it demonstrates how a new philosophy, while sustaining the suspicions of the first chapter, can move beyond mere skepticism or free-mindedness and attain reasonable and comprehensive conclusions about the world. If philosophy is possible again, as chapter 2 argues, the rest of the book follows: religion must be reconstituted on the basis of the new philosophy (chapter 3), and a morals and politics grounded in history and crowned with nobility must be generated to serve and dignify it (chapters 59).

The first and best-known chapter of Beyond Good and Evil is deconstructive, as its title announces, but peering through the destruction is a calculated argument for a new, constructive view. The lyrical opening section, invoking the tale of the heroic knower Oedipus, announces a turn to a new kind of question for philosophy and sets a mood of heroic risk over the whole enterprise—a warning, yes, but a lure as well to the right kind of reader. Warning and lure are sounded again in the closing section, which invokes the myth of another heroic Greek knower, Odysseus, to herald the great adventure that lies ahead in subsequent chapters (23). Framed within this setting of heroic risk, chapter 1 follows a reasoned trajectory that can be readily mapped. Treating first some general characteristics of philosophy as it has presented itself till now (2–6), Nietzsche sketches a history of philosophy that treats ancient philosophy very briefly (7–9) and modern philosophy somewhat more extensively and with constant reference to philosophy’s relation to science (10–14), in particular, the deficient philosophical interpretations of modern science that impede the advancement of science—an indispensable part of Nietzsche’s project (15–17). Section 18 poses a challenge met in the remaining sections (19–23), chapter 1 thus closing with a display of strength on the issue of human will: are free minds free?

Four times in chapter 1 the fundamental teaching of will to power is named, first with respect to philosophy itself, then with respect to biology, physics, and psychology: first the comprehensive science and then the sciences of life, nature, and the human soul.

About the author:

17712Laurence Lampert (born 1941) is a Canadian philosopher and a leading scholar in the field of Nietzsche studies. He is also well known for his interpretation of the German-American political philosopher, Leo Strauss.

Lampert was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Lampert received his Master’s in 1968 and his doctorate in 1971, both from Northwestern University. He taught at Indiana University for 35 years and is currently professor emeritus of Philosophy at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis.

The Indiana University Foundation has a Laurence Lampert Scholarship in Philosophy that was founded upon Lampert’s retirement. Income from gifts to this endowed fund supports scholarships for undergraduate philosophy majors.

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