We are unknown to ourselves, we men of knowledge – and with good reason. We have never sought ourselves – how could it happen that we should ever find ourselves?
The will to truth which will still tempt us to many a venture, that famous truthfulness of which all philosophers so far have spoken with respect – what questions has this will to truth not laid before us! What strange, wicked, questionable questions! That is a long story even now – and yet it seems as if it had scarcely begun. Is it any wonder that we should finally become suspicious, lose patience, and turn away impatiently? that we should finally learn from this Sphinx to ask questions, too? Who is it really that puts questions to us here? What in us really wants “truth”?
Indeed we came to a long halt at the question about the cause of this will – until we finally came to a complete stop before a still more basic question. We asked about the value of this will. Suppose we want truth: why not rather untruth? and uncertainty? even ignorance?
The problem of the value of truth came before us – or was it we who came before the problem? Who of us is Oedipus here? Who the Sphinx? It is a rendezvous, it seems, of questions and question marks.
And though it scarcely seems credible, it finally almost seems to us as if the problem had never even been put so far – as if we were the first to see it, fix it with our eyes, and risk it. For it does involve a risk, and perhaps there is none that is greater.
All these pale atheists, anti-Christians, immoralists, nihilists; these skeptics, ephectics, hectics of the spirit… They are far from being free spirits: for they still have faith in truth. It is still a metaphysical faith that underlies our faith in science – and we men of knowledge of today, we godless men and anti-metaphysicians, we, too, still derive our flame from the fire ignited by a faith millennia old, the Christian faith, which was also Plato’s, that God is truth, that truth is divine. – But what if this belief is becoming more and more unbelievable, if nothing turns out to be divine any longer unless it be error, blindness, lies – if God himself turns out to be our longest lie? Science itself henceforth requires justification (which is not to say that there is any such justification).
The ascetic ideal has hitherto dominated all philosophy, because truth was posited as being, as God, as the highest court of appeal – because truth was not permitted to be a problem at all. Is this “permitted” understood? – From the moment faith in the God of the ascetic ideal is denied, a new problem arises: that of the value of truth.
No! Don’t come to me with science when I ask for the natural antagonist of the ascetic ideal, when I demand: “where is the opposing will expressing the opposing ideal?”
No! this “modern science” – let us face this fact! – is the best ally the ascetic ideal has at present, and precisely because it is the most unconscious, involuntary, hidden, and subterranean ally!
Does one still seriously believe (as theologian’s imagined for a while) that Kant’s victory over the dogmatic concepts of theology (“God,” “soul,” “freedom,” “immortality”) damaged that ideal?
The ascetic ideal has at present only one kind of real enemy capable of harming it: the comedians of this ideal – for they arouse mistrust of it. Everywhere else that the spirit is strong, mighty, and at work without counterfeit today, it does without ideals of any kind – the popular expression for this abstinence is “atheism” – except for its will to truth. But this will, this remnant of an ideal, is, if you will believe me, this ideal itself in its strictest, most spiritual formulation, esoteric through and through, with all external additions abolished, and thus not so much its remnant as its kernel. Unconditional honest atheism (and its is the only air we breathe, we more spiritual men of this age!) is therefore not the antithesis of that ideal, as it appears to be; it is rather only one of the latest phases of its evolution, one of its terminal forms and inner consequences – it is the awe-inspiring catastrophe of two thousand years of training in truthfulness that finally forbids itself the lie involved in belief in God.
The same evolutionary course in India, completely independent of ours, should prove something: the same ideal leads to the same conclusion.
What, in all strictness, has really conquered the Christian God? Christian morality itself, the concept of truthfulness taken more and more strictly, the confessional subtlety of the Christian conscience translated and sublimated into the scientific conscience, into intellectual cleanliness at any price. To view nature as if it were a proof of the goodness and providence of a God; to interpret history to the glory of a divine reason, as the perpetual witness to a moral world order and moral intentions; to interpret one’s own experiences, as pious men long interpreted them, as if everything were preordained, everything a sign, everything sent for the salvation of the soul – that now belongs to the past, that has the conscience against it, that seems to every more sensitive conscience indecent, dishonest, mendacious, feminism, weakness, cowardice: it is this rigor if anything that makes us good Europeans and the heirs of Europe’s longest and bravest self-overcoming.
All great things bring about their own destruction through an act of self-overcoming: thus the law of life will have it, the law of the necessity of “self-overcoming” in the nature of life – the lawgiver himself eventually receives the call: “submit to the law you yourself proposed.” In this way Christianity as a dogma was destroyed by its own morality; in the same way Christianity as morality must now perish, too: we stand on the threshold of this event. After Christian truthfulness has drawn one inference after another, it must end by drawing its most striking inference, its inference against itself; this will happen, however, when it posts the question “what is the meaning of all will to truth?”
And here I again touch on my problem, on our problem: what meaning would our whole being possess if it were not this, that in us the will to truth becomes conscious of itself as a problem?
As the will to truth thus gains self-consciousness – there can be no doubt of that – morality will gradually perish now: this is the great spectacle in a hundred acts reserved for the next two centuries in Europe – the most terrible, most questionable, and perhaps also the most hopeful of all spectacles. –
Apart from the ascetic ideal, man, the human animal, had no meaning so far. His existence on earth contained no goal; “why man at all?” – was a question without an answer; the will for man and earth was lacking; behind every great human destiny there sounded as a refrain a yet greater “in vain!” This is precisely what the ascetic ideal means: that something was lacking, that man was surrounded by a fearful void – he did not know how to justify, to account for, to affirm himself; he suffered from the problem of his meaning. He also suffered otherwise, he was in the main a sickly animal: but his problem was not suffering itself, but that there was no answer to the crying question, “why do I suffer?”
Man, the bravest of animals and the one most accustomed to suffering, does not repudiate suffering as such; he desires it, he even seeks it out, provided he is shown a meaning for it, a purpose of suffering. The meaninglessness of suffering, not suffering itself, was the curse that lay over mankind so far – and the ascetic ideal offered man meaning! It was the only meaning offered so far; any meaning is better than none at all; the ascetic ideal was in every sense the “faute de mieux” par excellence so far. In it, suffering was interpreted; the tremendous void seemed to have been filled; the door was closed to any kind of suicidal nihilism. This interpretation – there is no doubt of it – brought fresh suffering with it, deeper, more inward, more poisonous, more life-destructive suffering: it placed all suffering under the perspective of guilt.
But all this notwithstanding – man was saved thereby, he possessed a meaning, he was henceforth no longer like a leaf in the wind, a plaything of nonsense – the “sense-less” – he could now will something; no matter at first to what end, why, with what he willed: the will itself was saved.
We can no longer conceal from ourselves what is expressed by all that willing which has taken its direction from the ascetic ideal: this hatred of the human, and even more of the animal, and more still of the material, this horror of the senses, of reason itself, this fear of happiness and beauty, this longing to get away from all appearance, change, becoming, death, wishing, from longing itself – all this means – let us dare to grasp it – a will to nothingness, an aversion to life, a rebellion against the most fundamental presuppositions of life; but it is and remains a will! . . . And, to repeat in conclusion what I said at the beginning: man would rather will nothingness than not will.