God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?Friedrich Nietzsche
God is dead. At first glance, it seems like radical atheistic rhetoric. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote this in the backdrop of a post-enlightenment world, warning us of its consequences. The advent of reason and scientific evidence brought tremendous progress while destroying the foundation of existing religious beliefs. Even Christianity, which served as the backbone of Western Civilization, had no answer to this event. Slowly the realization dawned – there was no good reason to believe in God. Thus we dealt the final blow.
To understand what the quote means, we must peer into the cultural context of the time. Following the scientific revolution in the mid-16th century, the Enlightenment took human culture by storm. This event drastically influenced everything from science and philosophy to social dynamics. Humanity shifted its focus from the heavenly to the earth. Faith was banished and reason took its place. The rapid progress of science uncovered the mysterious natural phenomenon that had baffled us for centuries. Events believed to be the work of God were brought to light through reason. In essence, God was no longer required.
Hence, the declaration that God is dead. The rational atheist would argue for the non-existence of God. The former implies that there had been a God once. That’s because Nietzsche isn’t making the regular atheistic argument, perhaps even warning us of its dangers. Still, the question remains. What do you mean by God is dead? Here, God doesn’t signify the metaphysical creator who watches over us, gracing us with his omniscient presence as religions have represented. The atheistic position is quite clear. Without evidence, empirical or otherwise, the claim of God’s existence can be rejected. That’s not the focal point of Nietzsche’s thesis.
Rather, he was interested in the cultural influence of the idea of God. Before the Enlightenment, the foundations i.e. the ideas of meaning and morality of western civilization rested upon Christianity. It had strict moral guidelines, the Ten Commandments for instance, however erroneous they may have been. For believers, the answer to meaning was ever-present in Heaven. Abide by the Bible and ye shall reach Heaven, a utopia of eternal happiness. As we are aware, these are not factual. Once again we come up empty. Before looking for meaning and morality, we must question their significance and what makes them, in fact, foundational.
Argument from Rationality
Premise 1: Meaning is the justification of life
This is relatively intuitive, but one must elucidate still. Meaning, at least here, is the answer to the question – Why live?
Premise 2: Human beings value rationality
Perhaps the least controversial premise in any philosophical argument. Furthermore, to engage in philosophy or any discourse one must assume the above.
Premise 3: Acting with justification is valued over acting without one
A common axiom to epistemology, and directly follows from the previous premise. If two actions are virtually the same, the only difference being justification, the rational one will be favored.
Conclusion: Humans value meaning
Living with justification is valued over living without one. Since meaning is the justification of life, and reasons are valued intrinsically (P2), it follows that meaning is valued.
Premise 1: Morality answers what one ought to do
Premise 2: Under every circumstance, it is rational to do what we ought to do, whatever way the ought is determined
The rational decision is to do what’s best, in whatever way we determine the best. Utilitarians, and Hedonists, determine the ought in terms of maximizing the pleasure-to-pain ratio. Psychological Egoists determine the best in terms of individual gain. The rationale behind undertaking the best decision isn’t questioned, rather the method of determining the best is challenged.
Conclusion: Both the knowledge of whether morality is objective, and if so, the knowledge of the objective moral method is valued
The question of objective morality must be enquired upon. For if objective morality exists, it would be irrational to act otherwise.
Historically, there haven’t been any satisfactory solutions to both foundational questions. The question of meaning still remains unanswered. Unless you consider Nihilism, and its disguised self i.e. Absurdism, as valid philosophical positions. For morality, the philosophical world is divided into groups. Headlined by Utilitarians and Deontologists, and an expanding minority of Virtue Ethicists. None share any agreement with the other and struggle to defend the objectivity of the respective moral theory.
This poses a serious developmental plateau in the social sciences. Reducing any theory to a mere interpretation of the world, by their own admission, is hindering any progress to be made. Contemporary social discourse has been reduced to a game of libertarian subjectivity, for everything is a matter of choice, and any action is justified if one chose to do so. For there are no facts anymore, merely opinions.
The project aims to resolve this lack of grounding. Nietzsche, in contrast to the general view, wasn’t an immoralist nor a moral relativist. At least, he wasn’t aiming at that. His work was a positive project for the Enlightenment, a way forward after the death of god. Unfortunately, his life was cut short by his fall to insanity and later, his death. However, it is now time for us free spirits, in classical Nietzschean fashion, to build on what he started. A new moral grounding is required to organize society, one grounded in human reality, one that guides us After God’s Death. And we ought to find it.