"will to power" and "virtue ethics"

Here I would like to compare Neitzsche’s “will to power” ethics with Aristotle’s “virtue ethics”. N said to “read the Greeks”, and I’d like to see what he saw in them, and how they differ, and which is more acceptable.

Both philosophers seem to emphasize the role of the will and of strength. But A’s ethics seems to be more tied in with reason determining the proper balance for the will, while N’s ethics posits power itself as the end of the will.

I have two problems with N’s ethics then. 1) As power appears not to be an end in itself in the world but a capacity to another end. I think this is because modern philosophy has largely given up on the rational. If you were to include the rational in the will to power, it would become a virtue ethic.

Also, 2) if all that is willed is power, then power would be the same as the good, or the desirable, which is the end of our actions. But at the most, power is not any more defined as the good than a transcendental like being or unity is.

  1. As well, it is just plain hard to argue that everything we want is for its power, as some cases are somewhat remote. And while it is one thing to seek as many causes as appropriate, it is another thing to be reductionist.

Is this a fair assessment of the differences, and are my problems fair ones?

Thx for comments. I fully expect some more fully read readers of N to make profound comments of which I would not have thought.


Your response to 1) seems to be quotations from N and not counterarguments. But then I suppose if you see knowledge as weak there is no point in arguing. This seems to ask for the question whether N’s ethics is a religion of the blind-faith variety.

My apologies. By N saying we have a will to power, i thought that meant that we seek only varieties of power under the guise of other ends. Please explain for what he wants the power.

I don’t think he does. But power is for further ends, it seems. And if N holds power is what we will, we will never rest in a final end.

after the masterpiece is completed, the artist puts down his brush…


That’s fine. But what is an artist? I have come to think an artist is a servant of truth and of love, discovering and presenting reality’s facets to his community in a creative act. “Work is love made manifest.” (Gibran) If not this, his art would have no content nor meaning.

for nietzsche there is no truth and love is of fate… and Nietzsche has no use for the herd…

The Hammer Speaks

Thus Spoke Zarathustra, III: On Old and New Tablets, 29.

“Why so hard?” the kitchen coal once said to the diamond. “After all, are we not close kin?”

Why so soft? O my brothers, thus I ask you: are you not after all my brothers?

Why so soft, so pliant and yielding? Why is there so much denial, self-denial, in your hearts? So little destiny in your eyes?

And if you do not want to be destinies and inexorable ones, how can you one day triumph with me?

And if your hardness does not wish to flash and cut through, how can you one day create with me?

For all creators are hard. And it must seem blessedness to you to impress your hand on millennia as on wax.

Blessedness to write on the will of millennia as on bronze—harder than bronze, nobler than bronze. Only the noblest is altogether hard.

This new tablet, O my brothers, I place over you: Become hard! — —


Why, O coal on fire, why do you not cast facets of light like the diamond?

What is it of which you consider the strength? Are you strong in the things which are human?

Really, what makes the world Neitzsche wants to create any better than the world the ethicist wants to affirm?

nothing. the question is “better” for whom?


I always thought N was more about the plays than the philosophy (not that they two are mutually exclusive or anything).

Particularly the Nostoi. I think that is how N wanted the world run.

nope, much more than the plays… nietzsche is terribly concerned with the first christian… socrates…


He was always viewed in the perjorative though.

According to Peter Berkowitz, there is an “underlying agreement between Nietzsche’s view of art and Plato’s and Aristotle’s understanding of the theoretical life: all agree that the ascent from opinion to knowledge of the world is the goal of man’s worthiest activity.” [Nietzsche: The Ethics of an Immoralist, page 58.]

“Like Aristotle’s philosopher who blissfully participates in divinity through contemplation, Nietzsche’s Dionysian artist rises to the supreme heights in his artistic activity, merging with the uncreated “primordial artist of the world” (BT 5).”
[ibid., page 54.]

The crucial disagreement between Nietzsche and Aristotle is the following:

“Saying Yes to life even in its strangest and hardest problems, the will to life rejoicing over its own inexhaustibility even in the very sacrifice of its highest types—that is what I called Dionysian, that is what I guessed to be the bridge to the psychology of the tragic poet. Not in order to get rid of terror and pity, not in order to purge oneself of a dangerous affect by its vehement discharge—Aristotle understood it that way—: but in order to be oneself the eternal joy of becoming, beyond all terror and pity—that joy which also includes joy in destroying…”
[Nietzsche, Twilight, Ancients, 5.]

This idea is echoed in a posthumously published note:

"My first solution: Dionysian wisdom. Joy in the destruction of the most noble and at the sight of progressive ruin: in reality joy in what is coming and lies in the future, which triumphs over existing things, however good. Dionysian: temporary identification with the principle of life (including the voluptuousness of the martyr).
My innovations. - Further development of pessimism: intellectual pessimism; critique of morality, disintegration of the last consolation. Knowledge of the signs of decay: veils with illusion every firm action; culture [as opposed to civilisation] isolates, is unjust and therefore strong.

  1. My endeavor to oppose decay and increasing weakness of personality. I sought a new center.
  2. Impossibility of this endeavor recognized.
  3. Thereupon I advanced further down the road of disintegration - where I found new sources of strength for individuals. We have to be destroyers! – I perceived that the state of disintegration, in which individual natures can perfect themselves as never before – is an image and isolated example of existence in general. To the paralyzing sense of general disintegration and incompleteness I opposed the eternal recurrence."
    [The Will to Power, section 417, entire, with added emphasis.]

I see I have lured Sauwelios onto the topic, and I knew I would be glad to hear from him. His knowledge of Neitzsche is impressive; and more moderate, it seems, than Impenitent’s reading. Thank you for posting.

As for Impenitent, the human things have been examined for centuries by the Humanities. As for the better universe, I would judge it on the happiness of man, Aristotle’s criteria for ethics. No man denies that he acts to be happy.

The reason I bring up these two ethical theories together is that it seems to me that if you add rationality and end to “will to power”, you can save the great-sounding things N says while staying rational. Rational power would link apollonian and dionysian extremes in the classical ideal of balance. I guess the clearest critique I want to say on (Impenitent’s) Neitzsche is that his doctrine, while combatting the stuffy Victorian spirit, is not balanced with the whole of human experience.

Nietzsche would immediately say “who gives a flip about the whole of human experience?”- at least Zarathustra would…

humanity is something to be overcome.


The acts of a mature, loving person become more and more selfless, he becomes more a man for others. But selfless is not the opposite of being selfish anyway. Happiness comes with self-giving. (…and down-going.)

Only Neitzsche would say it in German.

But seriously, I think Neitzsche cared a lot about human nature. He just thought that being what it is it would evolve into something further. Into someone more like the kind of person women dig – the rebellious type.