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Suffering & The Value of Life

Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

Friedrich Nietzsche insisted that despite what philosophers and prophets have taught, suffering is desirable because it increases vitality and provides opportunities for growth. This is why one of his main criticisms of the pessimism and nihilism of his time is that they treat suffering as an argument against the value of life and in doing so, life is devalued by them. In an effort to find an alternative mode of valuation, he proposes that human beings should adopt an attitude of acceptance and affirmation toward suffering, making it possible to positively value life despite its pain. However, while some experiences of suffering are beneficial, even necessary, others are utterly destructive. Nietzsche’s critique of his culture is deeply incisive and rightly insists that a revaluation of existing values is in order, the goals of which are rooted in his commitment to “make life bearable” and increase wellbeing. However, because his interpretation of suffering fails to acknowledge destructive suffering, the value of his proposed mode of valuation is limited in two ways. First, destructive suffering, which causes only harm, undermines both of the goals of revaluation. Attempting to affirm destructive suffering would also constitute masochism, which Nietzsche finds objectionable. Second, Nietzsche’s insistence that suffering is beneficial informs his view that compassion is bad. However, attending to the suffering of others will not make it impossible to leave them in pain when that pain is necessary and preserves the possibility of interceding on their behalf when doing so will limit destructive suffering, which increases wellbeing. Furthermore, because it ignores the social aspect of our lives life affirmation cannot be used to revalue all of our values. The value of the affirmative attitude is limited and Nietzsche fails to account for this because, in regards to both one’s own experiences and the experiences of others, his account of suffering disregards the existence of destructive suffering. Ultimately, if the goals of Nietzsche’s project are to be met, the use of additional methods of revaluation will be necessary.

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