“Do you not see that we’re not there yet?!” the madman shouts out through the streets. People are looking at him with an awkward eye. They laugh because of his weird doing. “He was right! I came back because I was too soon previously but maybe now, I am too late?!” The madman comes to a standstill. “Whatever just read this book.” He defeatedly says while throwing a book in the mud. I pick up the book from the mud and wipe it clean. ‘The Gay Science by Friedrich Nietzsche’ I read. Hmmm, wonder what that is about.
The Gay Science is the book Nietzsche wrote before writing his main book ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’. I believe this book can be seen as an interlude to Zarathustra. This book introduces many of the main ideas which are canonical in Nietzsche, like the death of God, the eternal return and amor fati. In many ways I believe this is one of the better books to understand the many ideas of Nietzsche. Nietzsche still writes aphoristic in this book, but they are a lot more comprehensive than the ones in ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ or ‘Zarathustra’.
Science is happy. God is dead and it has taken its place. Reason is worshipped as the new deity. Progress has been made. Or did it? That’s what Nietzsche asks himself in this book, which also dabbles in aesthetics as well. We have lost our objective moral standard. We have lost the sun we are spinning around. Now comes the next step, to create a sun of our own. We should create our own moral values, but there is a snake in the grass.
The perspectivism of Nietzsche can be interpreted as moral relativism, but that’s not what Nietzsche was advocating. I believe he was vehemently against moral relativism, just as he is against nihilism. It’s the whole source of his quest to find a new moral compass when the old has died. It also brings him to his concept of the Overman which is introduced in his ‘Zarathustra’.
The first solution he kind of hints at is his theory of eternal recurrence. Imagine a man coming up to you and telling you that you will relive this life the same way in exact detail. Would you praise him as a God or curse him as if he was the devil? This is a measurement of how to live life. You have to ask yourself with every action you take if you want to relive this eternally. If the answer is yes, then you should do the action. If the answer is no, then you should refrain from doing it. That way we have a moral compass which places the individual first. Instead of another life when we’re dead.
Now the madman can hear you shouting already: “what about the things we can’t do anything about?!” Nietzsche has an answer at the ready. Amor fati. Love for fate. But what does it mean to love your fate? It’s to love anything that would ever happen to you. If you are driven over by car, you should love that. If you have been beaten in an alleyway, you should love that. If you girlfriend cheated on you, you should love that. Now it would be wrong to take this love as a feeling that you want these things to happen. No one likes it when their girlfriend cheats on them, except if it was a bad girlfriend and you’re happy you have reason to break up. The idea is a call to stay away from victimhood. It’s a call for courage. Instead of seeing yourself as a victim, you pick yourself up and ‘love’ your fate. It happened, but what can you do to improve your situation? Instead of beating yourself up, you accept these things, you want these things, and you act with the new experience given to you.
In this sense, I see Nietzsche as a pragmatist rather than a relativist. I believe those who believe Nietzsche to be a moral relativist search for these parts in his works and just ignore his rather pragmatist view. The Gay Science shows the pragmatist in Nietzsche and his quest to fill the void of nihilism and relativism. He tried so much he can be seen as a madman in the streets. Hopefully he hasn’t come to soon or too late but at the right time.