Statues of a man with angel and devil on each of his shoulders

What did Nietzsche and Camus teach about leading a good life? Why did they let go of the idea of pursuing goodness?

Nietzsche and Camus both taught that pursuing moral goodness is not the best way to optimize your life. Looking at their philosophies, you can see how other ways of thinking can help you to make good decisions, too.

Learn why Nietzsche and Camus let go of the idea of moral goodness and what they suggested instead.

Philosophies of Goodness

19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and 20th-century French author Albert Camus offer two different perspectives on why you shouldn’t pursue goodness and how you should live instead. Here are key points from Nietzsche and Camus:

Goodness Doesn’t Exist

Nietzsche (Thus Spoke Zarathustra) argues there’s no universal standard of a “good” life. To him, morality is all relative—what’s good to one person might be evil to another, and it’s impossible to get around this. Nietzsche argues that, rather than worrying about morality, the best people contribute the most to the evolution of mankind. 

In his argument, Nietzsche refers to evolution in the Darwinian sense—certain people survive and reproduce more due to naturally selected traits, and this pattern changes the nature of the species. According to him, social conformity and mediocrity cause mankind’s evolution to stagnate, putting the whole species at risk—if everyone is doing the same things and not pushing any new boundaries, mankind won’t be able to change and adapt to future challenges.

Therefore, he argues, the best possible person is unique, individualistic, and naturally skilled. These people reject social norms and morals, dedicating themselves to their passions and developing personally beneficial traits like strength and joy. This single-minded devotion allows them to develop remarkable intellect, strength, and talent for their passions, which they’ll then pass on to the next generation of humanity.

Goodness Is Unknowable

Instead of claiming that a good life does or doesn’t exist, some philosophers believe it’s pointless to debate the question at all. In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus argues it’s impossible to understand the purpose or meaning of human life. This is because the answer to this question lies beyond the scope of human experience. For example, if God exists and provides humanity with purpose, then we still wouldn’t know that our lives have purpose because we can’t concretely know whether or not God exists. Since we can’t know the purpose of human life, we have no frame of reference to say what kind of life is “good” or “bad.”

Camus calls this uncertainty “the absurd,” and believes the best way to live life is by being aware of and accepting the absurd. This means recognizing that everything in your life might be pointless, but choosing to live on regardless—and finding pleasure in doing so by seeking new experiences and living in the moment. Since the only thing you can be sure of is the life you have, you should make the most out of it instead of worrying about the possibility of an afterlife or a greater unknowable purpose.

Nietzsche and Camus: No Such Thing as a “Good” Life

Becca King

Becca’s love for reading began with mysteries and historical fiction, and it grew into a love for nonfiction history and more. Becca studied journalism as a graduate student at Ohio University while getting their feet wet writing at local newspapers, and now enjoys blogging about all things nonfiction, from science to history to practical advice for daily living.

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