Many of the wisest men have regarded pain and suffering as objections to life itself. Socrates, for example, railed against life, and he urged his followers to practice death. Many religious leaders promise to the faithful an eternal afterlife free from pain – rendering this earthly existence as an evil that must be endured. But Nietzsche is different. “I do not point to the evil and pain of existence with the finger of reproach, but rather entertain the hope that life may one day become more evil and more full of suffering than it has ever been.” In this video we will explain why Nietzsche valued suffering and why he desired more of it.
Nietzsche claims that man is composed of two parts – a creative part and a part that is created – in other words, mind and body. According to him, the body is meant to suffer, and the mind is meant to fashion something beautiful out of the suffering of the body. “In man creature and creator are united: in man there is material, fragment, excess, clay, dirt, nonsense, chaos; but there is also the creator, the sculptor, the hardness of the hammer, the divinity of the spectator, and the seventh day – do you understand this contrast? The body must be fashioned, bruised, forged, stretched, roasted, and refined – it is meant to suffer.”
An athlete, such as a bodybuilder, is the epitome of this idea. A bodybuilder subjects his body to the pain and suffering of training in order to create a physique that is aesthetically pleasing. The weightlifting adage, “No pain, no gain,” is an echo of Nietzsche’s ideas.
Nietzsche sharply criticizes those people who wish to abolish suffering. According to him, suffering is the only thing that bestows value upon the world. Without pain and misery, life would be absurd and worthless. “You want, if possible – and there is no more insane “if possible” – to abolish suffering. And we? It really seems that we would rather have it higher and worse than ever. Well-being as you understand it – that is no goal, that seems to us an end, a state that soon makes man ridiculous and contemptible – that makes his destruction desirable. The discipline of suffering, of great suffering – do you not know that only this discipline has created all enhancements of man so far?”
To Nietzsche, suffering provides the only test by which a person’s worth can be determined. In other words, the person who can endure the greatest suffering is the greatest of men. “To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities – I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not – that one endures.”
Finally, Nietzsche asserts that pain is sacred, and that mankind ought to revere pain as religious followers revere their gods. He explains that the ancient Greeks were the first and perhaps only people to realize this. “For the Greeks the sexual symbol was the venerable symbol par excellence, the real profundity in the whole of ancient piety. Every single element in the act of procreation, of pregnancy, and of birth aroused the highest and most solemn feelings. In the doctrine of the mysteries, pain is pronounced holy; the pangs of the woman giving birth hallow all pain; all becoming and growing – all that guarantees a future – involves pain.”
To conclude, many philosophers, theologians, and people in general regard suffering as something undesirable and as something to be abolished. Nietzsche, on the other hand, asserts that life without pain is meaningless. Pain is the source of all value in the world; it is the test of one’s true worth; and it is as sacred as the gods.
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Socrates has said “an unexamined life is not worth living”. It supports Nietzsches’ analysis on suffering.
“Because the Joy that comes to the gods, and those who imitate them is unbroken and never ceases ” Heracles
“Be certain is fated too for you to suffer this,
and after to make yourself glorious through these labors ” Heracles to Prometheus
Great post. Nietzsche was one of the great minds that actually took into account things as they are rather than try to expound upon how they should be. Despite his being labelled as a pessimist philosopher, he may be one of the truly great optimists. Pain is inevitable so why not work pain directly into a philosophy of life and make some sense out of it, give it meaning, and in a way dignity?
Yes, Nietzsche is very far from being a pessimist. He despised the philosophy of Schopenhauer.
I love Nietzche, and there is no denying or accepting of pain. However, ‘suffering’ and ‘pain’ are simply constructs/labels – which undoubtedly guide most of humanity to the ‘understanding of’/ ‘identification with’ their experiences. One can also attempt to accept the duality in pain/ no pain and then simply translate anything perceived for what it is: ‘an experience’ – which also leads to ‘growth’ 🙂
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Andrea. They remind me of the Stoic adage that “It is not the things themselves that disturb men, but their judgements about these things. For example, death is nothing dreadful, or else Socrates too would have thought so, but the judgement that death is dreadful, this is the dreadful thing.”
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Interesting concepts. However, my personal belief is that it is not wise to subject yourself to pain for a foolish cause.
Regards and good will blogging.
All of this sounds incredibly evil and twisted..
I mean first, let’s look at the concept of pain in body building. In actuality, pain is only healthy in small amounts when you’re a body builder. Excessive pain basically means you’re injured. “No pain no gain” might be true, but “more pain more gain” certainly isn’t. To say the least. It seems that pain is really just a byproduct of the process, whereas Nietzsche inflates it to a sort of cosmic significance.
Maybe he thinks that sounds glorious or heroic. Really, it is a self-helpy sort of coping mechanism for anyone in pain. People who are very ill with cancer might want to read such books as “The Gift of Pain” to comfort themselves and to provide some apparent reason for their suffering. That doesn’t make any of it true, though. Rather, it is a rationalization. The obvious truth to anyone not trying their ass of to justify such things is that pain is bad, *should* be avoided, and *can’t* be desired, by definition.
Do you ever become angry at the thought that you are deceived by dreams? I am willing to guess that the majority of mankind do not care that dreams deceive them every night as to the truth.
Do you think that the majority of mankind values the truth?
Have to agree with you there Nate. Pain without real benefit to the sufferer is merely torture. And I’m surprised Nietsche focused so much on the physical aspect of pain. But he had a point. Believers who debate the “Problem of pain” are missing the point too. I think they see emotional pain as torture or the more palitable ‘their cross to bear’.
Pain is not the problem of this temporary existance, it’s the freak’n OBJECT!. What is it trying to teach you?
I think Nietzsche acknowledged his dark side. A lesson we could all learn from. As the Buddhist saying goes ignorance is suffering. And the only way to be less ignorant is to learn more. That then leads to progress or expansion of the psyche and that is what we all desire. To be more complete human beings.
I love Nietzsche.
Thanks for sharing! Buddhism filtered through Schopenhauer was a significant influence in Nietzsche’s philosophy.
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I like how you capture the existential quality to his thinking–our ability to fashion something out of suffering. This also reminds me of Zizek’s video on “Why be happy when you can be interesting?” It’s a great echoing of this Nietzschean idea; that you must be prepared to suffer and sacrifice for a cause greater than yourself.
Nice blog topics!
I’ll have to check out Zizek’s video. Thanks for bringing it to my attention 🙂
Best post I’ve read in a long time
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A friend of mine felt pain was the stimulus to creativity and often said “He not suffering is not creating, thus happy people don’t write, paint, or compose.” He composed classical music for orchestra.
Or as some have said, To sing the Blues you have to have some pain. I do tend to be more philosophical and write more about it when in pain, but I am more otherwise creative and productive when feeling triumphant.
Still, I can’t be sure which has more value.
Beauty for Ashes:
I gotta add, though, that referencing Nietzsche for philosophy is a mind-damaging experience.
His thoughts ought to be anathema for everyone that believes in not only God, but individual rights, individual freedoms, natural rights, and even natural law.
Pride and hubris go before a fall, and his views on those things make him very unreliable as a source for anything. His comments on Christianity show the common fallacies among those who use that free will to avoid considering belief in God.
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Deleuze (Deleuze, 2006, pp. 19-23) refers to Nietzsche’s example of the Greek god Dionysian that suffers the tradegy of individuation but refuses to negate. Instead he affirms the joy of original being. He affirms the pain and suffering of individuation by not internalising it. In other words, Dionysian does not blame another or a god for his suffering he embraces it as part of existence. With this gesture he discovers multiple truths and the innocence of plurality and as such he profoundly reveals the innocence of becoming. But Dionysian not only affirms being, Ariadne (the anima) affirms him and in her affirmation she provides us a higher solution for justification. With this the philosopher witnesses how innocence is affirming and being affirmed. For Dionysian teaches one that life needs no justification and pain cannot be resolved internally. He proclaims ‘existence is holy enough by itself to justify a further immanent suffering’. Innocence is therefore the truth of the multiplicity; the game of existence and of the force of will.
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Buddha Said “Life is Suffering” and yes indeed it is. However, it has taken me 40+ years to have an experiential take on what Buddha meant by life is suffering and this is my experience:
Life can be hard, but each of us creates our own reality. We live sometimes as if the outside rules us but in fact the inside rules us and all answers are within ourselves. All we need do is find a way of accessing these answers.
So to no longer experience life as suffering simply change your point of view and all will be well
Very nice thought. Thank you for sharing.
“Because the Joy that comes to the gods, and those who imitate them is unbroken and never cease ” Heracles
The Age of Heroism is not dead yet
Dear Orwell: I have never thought of Nietzsche in this perspective. Yes in Nietzsche, there’s a paradigm shift from senseless hedonism to that one of enlightened hedonism. Pain is the greatest art of the body, a nihilism to self expression not self destruction of Albert Camus. Rereading and rethinking on Nietzsche has been wonderful literary and philosophical experience. Anand Bose from Kerala.
I may be late to the party but I am ever so glad I found it. I’ve been working on a manuscript that is a reinterpretation of the book of Job. The thought process presented here is very much in tune with my thoughts. The universe creates from the ashes of yesterday — pain and suffering, “troubles,” are a necessary piece of birth and growth. Who really wants to live in Pleasantville – always.
Welcome! I look forward to reading your interpretation of Job. Job is one of the next few books on my reading list. It will be a re-read, but reading your interpretation of it will refresh my memory and hopefully lead to some new insights about the text.
There are bits on my blog. There is a a page on my site devoted to the work, and bits in some of my articles. It is one of my favorite books and, in my humble opinion, has nothing to do with “punishment.”
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Completely agree; great post
While I enjoyed reading Nietzsche and your summary of his thoughts on pain, it seems clear to me that he vastly overstates the case.
The evidence seems clear beyond any reasonable doubt that pleasure and pain are systems that have evolved (by natural selection over some 4 billion years) for reasons of survival in a complex world, and have been coopted by cultural evolution to a variety of uses; and can be re-purposed by individuals to potentially infinite uses.
And there is certainly a strong case to be made for training one’s will to be able to master any external influence, pleasure or pain, and there is a sense in which any “distraction” can be used for such training, and pain is certainly one of the greatest “distractions”. I have endured many pains, and I don’t see any of them as being necessary in any sense, and they were what they were and had the effects and utilities that they did. And their utility seems to reside “merely” in the degree of distraction they provide, and the opportunity in that to develop one’s ability to focus in any context.
So while I acknowledge that there does seem to exist a certain metaphorical sense in which we can forge our will in the fire of pain, other fires also seem to hold similar utility for such purposes.
I am honored that you commented on two of my posts. You are a prolific author. The sheer number of your blog posts is intimidating, and all of your posts are very well-written and insightful. I promise to respond to your comment on the Aristotle post next week. I’m just about to head out of work, and I like to enjoy weekends away from all electronics 🙂
In regards to your comment here, what are the “other fires?” Also, are those fires as effective as pain is at sharpening the will?
Thanks for the compliments, and I hope I can live up to them 😉
It seems to me that any activity, any set of sensory experiences, can act as distractions, things against which the ability to focus attention and will may be tested and honed. And certainly our biochemistry provides a basic set that are very powerful, in things like pleasure, pain, anger, jealousy, hunger, thirst, asphyxia, diseases, likes and dislikes at any level, etc, to which we can add things like music, puzzles, conversation, storms, earthquakes, etc.
Effects vary considerably as to context and degree.
One can get very creative with such things, with a little practice.
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This topic of pain is always fascinating, especially in Western philosophy’s discomfort with dealing with it. For one interested in Nietzsche and this topic in general, it is interesting to study the culture of the shugyosha, practitioners of budo and bujutsu in Japan. (Donn Draeger has a few books on the topic that are very much written in a transvalued voice.)
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This was an excellent commentary. Thanks.
this work will help me in my research
why the suffering, pain, misery, difficult people and situation? They are here to WAKE us up!
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Hey my friend, my dad, my parents want to buy a pizza right now. And I told them, that I don’t want pizza, because even though what I will eat for dinner (srambled eggs and protein powder) is more boring than pizza, and pizza would give me more pleasure. I choose the pain of a boring not too tasty diet over a way of eating full of tasty pleasurable foods. Because I choose a life of pain and suffering over a life of pleasures. Because a life of pain and suffering is what leads to superiority, to greatness, toward a revolutionary
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Thank you, very valuable.
Pain is sin.
From philosopher to the commoner, many tried and pain themselves to escape it. No wordly wisdom or religion can get over it.
Fortunately pain was destroyed in the Person of Jesus Christ.
“Bravery is the only fortress for our mortal weakness,
So you have had to bury someone you have loved, now go find someone to love ” Seneca
“The man who raises himself to confront raging misfortunes,
who overcomes evils by which others are crushed,
wears his misfortunes like a Halo” Seneca
“True Joy is Serene, the seat of it is within, and there is no Cheerfulness like the Resolution of a Brave Mind, that has fortune at its feet , and he stands firmly,
and everywhere he looks he see blue skies” Seneca
I suffer like no man ever suffered and it is all still absurd and meaningless…
Great Post–Extremely Thought Provoking— I like his views of Suffering–But we can go a bit overboard with it—No Humane person enjoys or takes pleasure in watching other people or ones loved ones Suffer —The true Hero is the man or woman who can help lessen, or lift some of the suffering in the World.
“When the Child is hurt he hurts others, when the Warrior is hurt he heals others ” The Warriors Creed
“If we can shed a little lite on our own darkness, we can lift some of the darkness around us ” Carl Jung