A book on ethics and philosophy of values

(Note: this is a non-professional translation of the original text in French. Help improve this translation: please report any mistake!)


In brief, I hold that the creative subjectivism, in turn, is nothing but a disguised form of nihilism, as it can be seen by reading Nietzsche closely.
It appears then that some sentences reveal the latent nihilism of Nietzsche. I have just said that if man needs to give value to the world, it is because world has none, a key idea in which the link between subjectivism and nihilism can be found.
One finds it, explicitly expressed, in the work of Nietzsche: Whatever has value in the world does not have value in itself, by its nature - nature is always value-less: but it was given a value at some time as a present - and it was we who gave this present! 1.
Throughout the Nietzschean text, we remark the repeated assertion that world has no value: Whoever were to unveil for us the essence of the world would give us all the most disagreeable disillusionment 2.

Thus the famous Nietzschean suspicion is not necessarily turned against nihilism, but can be used to defend it: man is a reverent animal. But he is also mistrustful; and that the world is not worth what we thought it was, that is about as certain as anything of which our mistrust has finally got hold. The more mistrust, the more philosophy 3.

In a remarkable paragraph – that I will quote at length - Nietzsche even indicates ways to ‘bear’ the absence of value of the world.
First he asks the question: What one should learn from artists. - How can we make things beautiful, attractive, and desirable for us when they are not? And I rather think that in themselves they never are.

The answer is, we must follow the example of physicians and artists: Here we could learn something from physicians, when for example they dilute what is bitter or add wine and sugar to a mixture - but even more from artists who are really continually trying to bring off such inventions and feats.

Artists mix colors, modify view angles, and put distance between objects and them; in this way, they make them bearable: Moving away from things until there is a good deal that one no longer sees and there is much that our eye has to add if we are still to see them at all; or seeing things around a corner and as cut out and framed; or to place them so that they partially conceal each other and grant us only glimpses of architectural perspectives; or looking at them through tinted glass or in the light of the sunset; or giving them a surface and skin that is not fully transparent - all this we should learn from artists while being wiser than they are in other matters. For with them this subtle power usually comes to an end where art ends and life begins; but we want to be the poets of our life - first of all in the smallest, most everyday matters 4.

We see that Nietzsche betrays his nihilism here. He considers the world as valueless, though he criticized Christianity for this very reason: that fictitious world has its sources in hatred of the natural (—the real!—), and is no more than evidence of a profound uneasiness in the presence of reality.... This explains everything. Who alone has any reason for living his way out of reality? The man who suffers under it 5.

If Nietzsche blames reality, as being valueless, does he affirm the value of the unreality, e.g. dream or ideal? It is no more the case: If we are "disappointed," it is at least not regarding life: rather we are now facing up to all kinds of "desiderata." With scornful wrath we contemplate what are called "ideals" 6.

If value is neither in the reality nor in the unreality, where can it be found? Nowhere. So what is the difference with nihilism, which I have defined as the idea that “nothing has value”?
Perhaps it is precisely this that leads him to make the following admission: That I have hitherto been a thorough-going nihilist, I have admitted to myself only recently: the energy and radicalism with which I advanced as a nihilist deceived me about this basic fact. When one moves toward a goal it seems impossible that "goal-lessness as such" is the principle of our faith 7. So Nietzsche proclaims himself to be a nihilist, whereas his doctrine initially appears as opposed to nihilism; eventually, he describes himself as the first perfect nihilist of Europe who, however, has even now lived through the whole of nihilism, to the end, leaving it behind, outside himself 8.

This admission seems to consist in a statement of failure: the creative subjectivism is unable to counter nihilism. Taking up the fundamental postulate of the latter, emptying world of any value, the subjectivism concedes too much to nihilism to refute it later on. In fact, the only axiological position capable of refuting the nihilism is the one which contradict it, and affirms that world has in itself a great value: objectivism.

We need to consider a last characteristic of the creative subjectivism, by examining the idea it conveys: world has no value, it is man who gives it. Now, we should study this incredible human pride, in other words, this absolute anthropocentrism.

1. Ibid., §301
2. Human, too human
3. The Gay science, § 346
4. Ibid., § 299
5. Antichrist, 15
6. The European nihilism, 16
7. Ibid., 25
8. Ibid., Preface, 3