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Nietzsche’s Compassion

Vasfi O. Özen
From the journal Nietzsche-Studien

Abstract

Nietzsche is known for his penetrating critique of Mitleid (now commonly rendered as “compassion”). He seems to be critical of all compassion but at times also seems to praise a different form of compassion, which he refers to as “our compassion” and contrasts it with “your compassion” (BGE 225). Some commentators have interpreted this to mean that Nietzsche’s criticism is not as unconditional as it may seem – that he does not condemn compassion entirely. I disagree and contend that even though Nietzsche appears to speak favorably of some forms of compassion, he regards the nature of all compassion to be fundamentally bad. Furthermore, I suggest that Nietzsche’s discussion on different forms of compassion have significant implications for achieving greatness and meaning in life. More specifically, I argue that, for Nietzsche, “our compassion,” however regrettable qua compassion it is, may give occasion for a rare and peculiar insight into “co-suffering” with others, which in turn results in overcoming compassion entirely. I also argue that although Nietzsche objects to compassion, he approves of a form of what feminist theorists might now call “anticipatory empathy.” Even though a large body of literature has evolved over Nietzsche’s critical evaluation of compassion, his understanding of a non-compassionate response to suffering is, in my view, rather overlooked and should receive more attention.

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Published Online: 2021-08-20
Published in Print: 2021-08-18

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