Nietzsche v. Rand (Part III)

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Submitted by Stephen Boydstun on Fri, 2008-04-25 22:44

Life and Selfishness


A – from Fountainhead to Atlas


Rand wrote in The Fountainhead that the power of the creator is a power “self-sufficient, self-motivated, self-generated” (737). Human creation is necessary for survival and for raising humankind ever higher (737–39). As a primary life force, the creator lives primarily for himself, and his creations are “his goal and life” (737, also 740).


The creative process is a function of the individual reasoning mind. Creation is individual thought, vision, feeling, strength, courage, and judgment. All of these are functions of the individual self, the ego (F 659, 737–40).


The virtues of the creator in Fountainhead are: independence, creative achievement, loyalty to reason, and integrity, which includes courage (737–40). (I should mention that the conception of creative achievement Rand is putting forth as an ideal includes heights intending to delight customers [581–82].) The choice of independence or dependence “rests upon the alternative of life or death” (739–40). “The code of the creator is built on the needs of the reasoning mind which allows man to survive” (740).


Within the virtues of the extraordinary creator (such as Howard Roark) are the virtues of good people in general. Rand continues: “Degrees of ability vary, but the basic principle remains the same: the degree of a man’s independence, initiative, and personal love for his work determines his talent as a worker and his worth as a man” (F 740). For every good individual, honesty, courage, and basing one’s self-respect on “personal standards of personal achievement” are virtues (658). For every human being, to suspend one’s faculty of independent judgment is to suspend consciousness, and “to stop consciousness is to stop life” (659).


Happiness requires truly personal desires. It requires self-motivation. It requires a self-sufficiency in one’s spirit, a self-sufficient ego, which is selfishness (F 559–60).


When we turn from Fountainhead to Atlas, we find Rand’s ethical thought fully developed. Seven moral virtues are articulated, for all individuals: rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, and pride. Here the virtues are argued not only upon a characterization of the kind of individual who makes human existence possible—the individual self-sufficient, self-motivated, self-generated—but upon a characterization of all life preceding and supporting rational, volitional life: organism-life as “a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action” (AS 1013).


Value comes into the world only by the emergence of organisms out of inanimate chemicals (AS 994, 1012–13, 1016). Every organism’s life is “a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies; its chemical elements remain, but its life goes out of existence. It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept ‘Value’ possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil” (AS 1012–13).


“Every living species has a way of survival demanded by its nature” (AS 1014). That goes for plants, insects, and right on up to man. A fish cannot live out of water, a dog cannot live without its sense of smell, and neither can a man survive any-which-way-whatever. Man has an identity, a nature. Man’s life is made possible only by thinking and achievement (AS 1014–15). Correct virtues—whether peculiar of an extraordinary creator, or peculiar of an excellent practitioner of a particular profession, or common for all good persons—correct virtues are actions by which one gains or keeps correct values (AS 1012). The correct actions and correct values pertinent to every individual are those judged by the standard of Man’s Life to “the purpose of preserving, fulfilling, and enjoying the irreplaceable value which is your life” (AS 1014).


(“Life and Selfishness” in the F v. R series to be continued)



Rand, A. 1943. The Fountainhead (F). Bobbs-Merrill.

———. 1957. Atlas Shrugged (AS). Random House.


( categories: )

Guyau Note

Stephen Boydstun's picture

In Choice to Live and in Life Itself (ii), I conveyed some of the moral philosophy of Jean-Marie Guyau. I had always assumed that, despite important similarities with Rand’s outlook, it was very unlikely she would have ever encountered his ideas (in French or in English). However, I have recently learned that a summary of Guyau was widely available in Petr Kropotkin’s Ethics: Origin and Development (1924 in English). So perhaps Rand had known something of Guyau’s view, not only the views of some of the moralists (and the anti-moralist, Nietzsche) better known than Guyau today, as she crafted her own view.

Life Itself (ii)

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EBeyond Good and Evil (1886)

         and Gay Science V (1887)


Nietzsche completed the final part of Zarathustra (Part IV) in early 1885. He had lately been studying Biological Problems (1884) by the Anglo-German zoologist William Henry Rolph, here writing on evolution and associated ethics. When nutritional resources are abundant, “the life-struggle is no longer waged for existence, it is no struggle for self-preservation, . . . rather, a struggle for an increase in one’s acquisitions. . . . It is constant, it is eternal; it can never be extinguished, for there can be no adaptation to insatiability. . . . Furthermore, the life-struggle is then no defensive struggle, but rather a war of aggression. . . . But growth and reproduction and perfection are the consequences of that successful war of aggression. . . .While the Darwinists hold that no struggle for existence takes place where the survival of the creature is not threatened, I believe the life-struggle to be ubiquitous; it is first and foremost precisely such a life-struggle, a struggle for the increase of life, but not a struggle for life!” (97; quoted in Moore 2002, 53)


For Rolph’s principle of insatiability Nietzsche substitutes his own principle, will to power. “The wish to preserve oneself is a symptom of a condition of distress, of a limitation of the really fundamental instinct of life which aims at the expansion of power and, wishing for that, frequently risks and sacrifices self-preservation. . . . / . . . . The struggle for existence is only an exception, a temporary restriction of the will to life. The great and small struggle always revolves around superiority, around growth and expansion, around power—in accordance with the will to power which is the will of life.” (GS 349; also BGE 13, 259)


In the fall of 1884, Nietzsche ordered from Paris a book that was soon to be issued, a book by a new philosopher. His name was Jean-Marie Guyau, his book A Sketch of Morality without Obligation or Sanction. It was issued early in 1885, and Nietzsche was reading it by May. What did he see there?


Guyau was setting aside morality from religious faith, from Kantian duty, and from utilitarianism. He was investigating how far morality could be determined from a purely scientific view of the nature of life. Here was a kindred spirit and, more importantly, a competitor. There were differences: Guyau had some training in and love for science; he prized modern, capitalistic life; and although his was a thoroughly individualistic vision, it was not an egoistic vision.


Concerning morality based on faith, Guyau writes that “the believer wants to believe without knowing.” Faith is a “renunciation of all personal initiative . . . . This kind of intellectual suicide is inexcusable, and that which is still more strange is the pretension to justify it, as is constantly done, by invoking moral reasons. Morality should command the mind to search without resting—that is to say, precisely to guard itself against faith. . . . In the domain of thought there is nothing more moral than truth; and when truth cannot be secured through positive knowledge, nothing is more moral than doubt. . . . We must therefore drive out of ourselves the blind respect for certain principles, for certain beliefs. We must be able to question, scrutinize, penetrate everything.” (S 62–63; cf. BGE 46, 186; GS 344, 347)


Concerning Kant’s precept “‘Act in such a way that your maxim may become a universal law,’ no sentiment of obligation whatever will attach itself, so long as there is no question of social life and the deep inclinations awakened by it. . . . / . . . . Will it be said that the universal law itself contains at bottom will—pure will? The reduction of duty to the will of law, which itself would still be a purely formal will, far from building up morality, seems to us to produce a dissolvent effect on the will itself. The will to do a certain deed cannot be based on any law which is not founded on the practical and logical value of the deed itself.” (S 50)*


There must be a specific valued object for pursuit to be morally praiseworthy. Without a specific object valued for its actual or potential uses, “we should no longer have courage to will and to merit; we do not use our will for the mere sake of willing” (S 32).


Guyau proceeds to lay out his positive moral theory with a preamble: “Scientific morality, in order not to include from its very beginning an inverifiable postulate, must be first individualistic. It should preoccupy itself with the destiny of society only in so far as it more or less includes that of the individual” (S 71–72).


To aim at a target is not to hit it, but the distribution of hits about it can show the center. “Where is the centre of the universal effort of beings towards which the strokes of the great hazard of things have been directed?” (S 73). Hedonists would say the aim is to minimize pain and maximize pleasure. That is certainly a typical direction of our desire, but it can be applied only “to the conscious and more or less voluntary acts . . . . Even those acts achieved in full consciousness have generally their beginning and first origin in dumb instincts and reflex movements. . . . The natural spring of action, before appearing in consciousness, must have already acted from underneath in the obscure region of the instincts. The constant end of action must primarily have been a constant cause of more or less unconscious movements. In reality, the ends are but habitual motive causes become conscious of themselves. . . . Every conscious desire, therefore, has first been an instinct [in the broad sense]. The sphere of finality coincides, at least in its centre, with the sphere of causality . . . . The problem: What is the end, the constant target, of action? becomes therefore, from another point of view, this problem: What is the constant cause of action? In the circle of life, the point aimed at blends with the very point from which the action springs.” (S 74)


“An exclusively scientific morality must, to be complete, admit that the pursuit of pleasure is only itself the consequence of the instinctive effort to maintain and enlarge life. The aim which, in fact, determines every conscious action is also the cause which produces every unconscious action. It is, then, life itself—life most intense and, at the same time, its most varied forms. From the first bound of the embryo in the womb of its mother, to the last convulsion of old age, every movement of the creature has, as cause, life in its evolution. The universal cause of our acts is, from another point of view, its constant effect and end.” (S 75)


So far as the discipline of ethics can be a science, its task will be to articulate “the means of preserving and enlarging material and intellectual life,” and its laws “will be identical with the deepest laws of life itself” (S 75–76; further, 80–81). There is in us a cause which “operates as an aim, even before any attraction of pleasure; this cause is life, tending by its nature to grow and to diffuse itself, thus finding pleasure as consequence, but not necessarily taking it as an end in itself” (210–11). Life in its “aspiration towards incessant development . . . makes its own obligation to act by its very power of action” (211). Life makes also “its sanction by its very action; for, in acting, it takes joy in its own capacity” (213).


For Nietzsche we know that there is a deepest law of life, and that is will to power. Growth he sees as expansion of power (BGE 230, 259; GS 349).


For Guyau the deepest laws of life are that it is nutritive and self-preservative and that it is fecundity (S 70, 75, 79, 209–10). Beyond nutrition and appropriation necessary for self-maintenance, there may accumulate superabundance capable of the expansion of life that is reproduction. This is a good for humans, as it is for all other life forms. Generation is an elevated intensity of life. Without sexual reproduction, the good that is man, with family and society, would not exist (82–83). “Individual life is expansive for others because it is fruitful, and it is fruitful by the very reason that it is life” (209–10).


Guyau does not think that scientific morality can disparage the tendency of modern higher classes to have fewer children (S 114), and he realizes that having children is in tension with creating intellectual works (83), but he thinks there is a “need of each individual to beget another individual; so much so that this other becomes a necessary condition of our being. Life, like fire, only maintains itself by communicating itself” (210). We find the same force of expansion with intelligence: “It exists in order to radiate” (210). Likewise with sensibility: We need to share our joys and sorrows. “It is our whole nature which is sociable. . . . [Life] cannot be entirely selfish, even if it wished to be. . . . Life is not only nutrition; it is production and fecundity” (210). “The purely selfish happiness of certain epicureans is an idle fancy, an abstraction, an impossibility. . . . Pure selfishness, . . . instead of being a real affirmation of self, is a mutilation of self” (212).


Readers of The Fountainhead will recall that the character Howard Roark is a draft of pure selfishness, intended as self-consistent and really possible. He is not the sort of pure selfishness that Guyau is describing. The epicurean type, Roark is not. He produces—big social productions if he can get the contract—and loves the doing of it (F 627).


In this period (1885–86), Nietzsche made a few doodles in his notebooks concerning procreation and how it might be portrayed in terms of will to power, but these were not ideas sufficiently developed and secure for him commit to publication. Some of these jottings are included in the posthumous collection of his notes called The Will to Power. Nietzsche remarks in Beyond Good and Evil §36 that procreation and nutrition are “a single problem.” He seems to be following Ernst Haeckel or following Guyau following Haeckel: “‘Reproduction’, says Haeckel, ‘is an excess of nutrition and growth in consequence of which a part of the individual is created [as becoming another individual] independent in everything’” (S 82). Nietzsche’s single solution (explanation) for this “single” problem (phenomenon) is his ubiquitous efficacious force, the will to power.


Rand thought of human procreation as a possible rational goal for and value of the individual (1968, 55), a right course to be undertaken with the understanding that having children is a major decision affecting the entire course of one’s life (49) and that raising children is rightly seen as an opportunity for achievement, joy, and love (AS 785, 791). Existence and favorable development is valuable to the resulting recipient. At the same time, the recipient and his or her good development can be valuable to persons who bestowed: parents and guardians, physicians and teachers.**


Guyau included biological fecundity in his basic characterization of all life. For human life, this encompassed not only procreation, but intellectual fecundity and practical productivity (S 76, 183–84, 214). In Rand’s era, a typical definition of organism would be as she used in her treatise on concepts: “an entity possessing the capacities of internally generated action, of growth through metabolism, and of reproduction” (1966–67, 24). Rand took capability for locomotion and consciousness to be the particular distinctive forms for animals of the general capability organisms have for internally generated action (24–25). For human animals, that consciousness would be perceptual and conceptual consciousness. But in taking human consciousness and action to be internally generated, Rand means to say as well that they are self-sustaining and self-generated. Every aspect of being alive—whether action, growth, or reproduction—“involves a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action” (81).


I have remarked in D that Nietzsche’s attempt to characterize all living activities as occasions of a will to power, a commanding-and-obeying, is false and highly contrived (BGE 13, 19, 22, 23, 36, 44, 226, 230, 259; GS 349). In his career, he moved from feeling-of-power as the driver of human psychology and behavior to will-to-power as driver of not only those realms, but of the biology beneath them (B, D). In her career, Rand moved from a characterization of the highest type of individual as “self-sufficient, self-motivated, self-generated” (F 737) to a fundamental characterization of all life as “a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action” (AS 1013), where this concept of life is to be the basis for all values. Is the concept of biological life that Rand sets up for her moral theory off balance in its representation of biological life? Does it lean to a semblance of egoism (Rand’s form of it) by omitting mention of reproduction as a biological fundamental?


In 1966–67 Rand implied that growth and reproduction involve self-sustaining and self-generated action. That much is correct. It would be incorrect, however, to go further and say that reproduction is a type of self-sustaining, self-generated action in which the self referred to in those terms is a single biological individual throughout the cycle of reproduction. I suggest that human individuals are importantly different from all other types of animal individuals by having the power to bring reproduction under the wing of production. The distinct form of consciousness that is human, conceptual consciousness, which makes survival possible through production, has gained so much power over nature that human reproduction has been carried ever more into a genre of production. For  the biological human individual, it is now rightly balanced to define its life as self-sustaining and self-generated action, with reproductive capability entering the concept human life at a level not more basic than productive capability.***


Nathaniel Branden writes in #16 of Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness:

“For every living species, growth is a necessity of survival. Life is motion, a process of self-sustaining action that an organism must carry on in order to remain in existence. . . .

“An animal’s capacity for development ends at physical maturity and thereafter its growth consists of the action necessary to maintain itself at a fixed level; after reaching maturity, it does not, to any significant extent, continue to grow in efficacy . . . . But man’s capacity for development does not end at physical maturity . . . . His ability to think, to learn, to discover new and better ways of dealing with reality, to expand the range of his efficacy, to grow intellectually, is an open door to a road that has no end.

“When man discovered how to make fire to keep himself warm, his need for thought and effort was not ended; . . . when he moved his life expectancy . . . his need of thought and effort was not ended . . . .

“Every achievement of man is a value in itself, but it is also a stepping-stone to greater achievements and values. Life is growth . . . . Every step upward opens to man a wider range of action and achievement—and creates the need for that achievement. . . . Survival demands constant growth and creativeness.

“Constant growth, is further, a psychological need of man.” (1963, 121–22)


Thus can growth and development be subsumed under self-sustaining actions. Guyau would want to subsume them as well under the tendency of life to expand. From that general strand in life, he would hang human reproduction, growth, development, learning, creativity, productivity, entrepreneurial venture, love of risk, and expansiveness for others (S 119–35). But I must fold tents, leaving open some questions: Suppose as basic definition of human individual at its biological level “a process of self-sustaining, self-generated, and self-expanding action,” how would the concept of value presupposing this concept of life differ from Rand’s concept of value? Would such concepts of life and value be truer to the phenomena? Would they still commission a morality rightly classed as egoism?



*In support of hypothetical, rather than categorical, moral imperatives, see Schopenhauer 1841, §§4, 6 and Rand 1974.

**See also Binswanger 1990, 153–58; Merrill 1997; Touchstone 2006, 13–17, 34–36, 89–104.

***See also Deacon 1997, 384–410.




Binswanger, H. 1990. The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts. ARI.

Branden, N. 1963. The Divine Right of Stagnation. In Rand 1964.

Deacon, T. 1997. The Symbolic Species. Norton.

Guyau, J. 1885, 1890. A Sketch of Morality without Obligation or Sanction (S). Kapteyn, trans. 1898. Watts & Co.

Merrill, R. 1997. Objectivist Ethics: A Biological Critique. Objectivity 2(5):67–93.

Moore, G. 2002. Nietzsche, Biology and Metaphor. Cambridge.

Nietzsche, F. 1885. Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Z) IV. Del Caro, trans. 2006. Cambridge.

———. 1886. Beyond Good and Evil (BGE). Horstmann and Norman, trans. 2002. Cambridge.

———. 1887. The Gay Science (GS) V. Kaufmann, trans. 1974. Vintage.

———. 1901. The Will to Power. Kaufmann, trans. 1967. Vintage.

Rand, A. 1943. The Fountainhead (F). Bobbs-Merrill.

———. 1957. Atlas Shrugged (AS). Random House.

———. 1964. The Virtue of Selfishness. Signet.

———. 1966–67. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Meridian.

———. 1968. Of Living Death. In The Voice of Reason. Peikoff, ed. Meridian.

———. 1974. Causality versus Duty. In Philosophy: Who Needs It. Signet.

Rolph, W. 1884. Biologische Probleme, . . . Rationellen Ethik. Englemann.

Schopenhauer, A. 1841. On the Basis of Morality. Payne, trans. 1965. Berghahn.

Touchstone, K. 2006. Then Athena Said. University.

Yes, I understand, I think.

Olivia's picture

Aristotle defined man as the rational animal, and so did Rand.

I do not think Nietzsche was correct to philosophise that will to power was moral. His conclusions encapsulate the animal side of our nature but ignore the rational side – which is the differentia of what makes us “man.” Whilst discharging our power is a primal need, it is how we do so that makes us moral or immoral.

Stephen, I enjoyed reading the essay by Lester Hunt on the Fountainhead… brilliant stuff. I’m still digesting it really. I didn’t realize that hegemonic power was so utterly central to Nietzschean philosophy. I thought you could have one without the other but can see now that they go hand in hand. Even his noble "masters" end up being slaves; the case of Gail Wynand being the best example.


Leonid's picture

"As a primary life force, the creator lives primarily for himself, and his creations are “his goal and life” (737, also 740).

How does this differ from Nietzsche's primary drive of Will to Power? "

This is the difference. In "Beyond good an evil" Nietzsche said " Physiologists should think again before postulating the drive to self-preservation as the cardinal drive in an organic being. A living thing desires above all to VENT its strenght-life as such is will to power-self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent consequences of it." (pg 26 1979 Penguin Classic.)
That is-power for power sake. Power as final end and standard of value. The life, achievement, flowerishment are only side effects! And what is the source of this will to power? Will is concept which presuposses the ability to make choices and therefore pertains only to sapient beings. Does a plant turn his leaves to the Sun as result of venting strenght willingly ? Since it unable to make any choices and cannot act willingly the source of its will to power should be in some other dimention. Which simply means that Nietzshe was romantic mystic which is fully opposed to the Rand's idea of rational egoism.

Life Itself (i)

Stephen Boydstun's picture

DZarathustra (1883–85)


In Daybreak Nietzsche had emphasized a feeling of power in human beings, a feeling that “has evolved to such a degree of subtlety that in this respect man is now a match for the most delicate gold-balance. It has become his strongest propensity; the means for creating this feeling almost constitutes the history of culture” (23). The feeling of power and its lack is the cipher of religions (65), of praising or blaming after wars won or lost (140), of the pleasantness of being a banker (205), of ecstatic self-sacrifice (215). The feeling of power is a factor beyond utility and vanity in national decisions for war (189, 360). The feeling of power is an inducement to look to distant goals beyond direct consequences to others or to oneself (146). The feeling of power is the first effect of happiness (356, 146).

We have seen that in Daybreak Nietzsche gave this argument against altruism: It would be inconsistent to count benevolence towards others as a virtue if benevolence towards oneself were not also a virtue (cf. AS 1031). But one who “flees from himself, hates himself, and does harm to himself” is not benevolently inclined towards himself. Therefore, one who is benevolent towards others so as to “live in others and for others” cannot be virtuous by that (D 516; contra Comte, D 132; see also GS 119). In Gay Science benevolence is ciphered by the feeling of power. Benefactors whose temperament is irritable and who are covetous of the feeling of power find pleasure in lording their power over the beneficiary. Proud natures, by contrast, are often hard and unobliging towards those who suffer and are broken; proud natures delight in unbroken persons who could become their equals, worthy contestants for power; towards these, the proud are more obliging (GS 13; see also 118; D 133; Z II “On the Pitying”; Z IV “The Ugliest Human Being”; and Cartwright 1988, 1993).

Will to power is announced in Zarathustra, one year after Gay Science. The role of feeling of power is taken over by will to power. “A tablet of the good hangs over every people. Observe, it is the tablet of their overcomings; observe, it is the voice of the will to power” (Z I “On a Thousand and One Goals”). Why the shift from feeling to will? One cluster of reasons might be as follows: Nietzsche may have been trying to increase the coherence and the depth of his basis for egoism and for rejection of altruism. To have a heavyweight theory of ethics in contention with Schopenhauer* (Will 1859 [1819]; Basis 1839), Darwin** (Origin 1859; Descent 1871), and Spencer*** (Data 1879), Nietzsche needed to get down to biology, the biology beneath psychology and back of human evolution.  

Nietzsche had written that our experience of pleasure or pain and our feeling of will are results of an interpreting intellect, with most of this interpretation occurring subconsciously (GS 127; see also HH II, AOM 5). Beneath consciousness are drives competing against one another for dominance (GS 333). Beneath virtues are drives (GS 21). Would feeling for power be a plausible characterization of blind unconscious drives? Nietzsche had contended, contradicting Schopenhauer, that only intellectual animals can experience pleasure or pain (GS 127). What then of the blind animal vitalities composing our bodies and their resulting blind drives? Shall they be animated by a feeling of power? (Cf. Williams 2001, 15–16; Soll 1998, 101–2.)

Nietzsche had read, in 1876 and 1883, a renovation of Schopenhauer’s system that made it less metaphysical. That was Philipp Mainländer’s Philosophy of Redemption (1876)♦, in which the author claimed that throughout nature “instead of one metaphysical will, there are many individual (and immanent) wills that continually struggle with one another” (Brobjer 2008, 69). That is an opening for an individualistic theoretical employment of will in nature, in nature more widely than in intellectual animals such as man.

In 1881 and 1883, Nietzsche studied Wilhelm Roux’s The Struggle of the Parts in the Organism (1881), in which it is proposed that “organs, tissues, cells, and even molecules of organic matter are found in an unceasing struggle for existence with one another for food, space, and in the utilization of external stimulation” (Moore 2002, 37). Life is here characterized by continual excessive growth of parts and by self-regulation which checks, orders, and selects excesses for the functional requirements of the whole. Nietzsche transmutes self-regulation into mastery over subservient parts in the organism (ibid. 43–44, 81; Gayon 1999, 169–70). (See Brobjer 2008, 85–87, for other possible sources or triggers for Nietzsche’s fastening upon the will-to-power idea in 1880–83.)

From their will to power, the wisest men make valuations, then seat them “solemn and cloaked” on a skiff which is launched upon the river that is the people. Now, wisest ones, “the river carries your skiff along . . . .

“The river is not your danger and the end of your good and evil, you wisest ones; but this will itself, the will to power—the unexhausted begetting will of life.

“But in order that you might understand my words on good and evil, I also want to tell you my words on life and the nature of all that lives.

“I pursued the living, I walked the greatest and smallest paths in order to know its nature.

“With a hundredfold mirror I captured even its glance, when its mouth was closed, so that its eyes could speak to me. And its eyes spoke to me.

. . .

“Wherever I found the living, there I found the will to power; and even in the will of the serving I found the will to be master.

. . .

“And this secret life itself spoke to me: ‘Behold’, it said, ‘I am that which must always overcome itself.

“‘To be sure, you will call it will to beget or drive to a purpose, to something higher, more distant, more manifold: but all this is one, the one secret.

. . .

“‘[Schopenhauer] who shot at truth with the words “will to existence” did not hit it . . 

. . .

“‘Only where life is, is there also will; but not will to life, instead—thus I teach you—will to power!

“‘Much is esteemed more highly by life than life itself; yet out of esteeming itself speaks—the will to power!’—

“Thus life once taught me, and from this I shall yet solve the riddle of your heart, you wisest ones.

“Truly, I say to you: good and evil that would be everlasting—there is no such thing! They must overcome themselves out of themselves again and again.” (Z II “On Self-Overcoming”)♦♦

For Rand valuing is acting to gain or keep something. Correct valuing is acting to gain or keep things contributing to, or at least not detrimental to continuance of the organism’s life, which life is a definite kind within the general “process of self-sustaining and self-generated action” (AS 1013). For Nietzsche valuing is an expression of organic will to power. Organisms operate by the principle of will to power. Correct valuing for human beings is continual experimental overcoming of present expressions of will to power (held up and cloaked as correct, temporarily accepted as morally right), superceding them with new expressions of will to power. Virtue is an ascent of this sort of self-overcoming. For Rand life itself is the aim. The character of life in general and human life in particular fixes the broad moral values correct for all human beings. For Nietzsche life is the pursuit that is will to power. By the time of Zarathustra, human life is a definite version of that pursuit. Nonetheless, as always, Nietzsche will not have it that the character of human life is sufficiently fixed to specify values and virtues valid for all men across all the days of the species (GS 335, 120; D 560).

A few years earlier, Nietzsche had criticized Schopenhauer for taking will to designate a simple, single human state and for imputing will, in a blind form, to nature more generally (HH II, OAM 5). Nietzsche is now ready to make such a wider imputation of will, at least to all of organic nature, provided we see this will not as will to life, but as will to power. Also unlike Schopenhauer, we are to take each organism to have its own isolated will; it is not the case that apparently individual wills are only phenomenal images of a single noumenal will in nature.

Section 61 of the fourth book of Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Presentation (I) is titled “The Egoism Inherent in Every Being.” Each person naturally “wants everything for himself, wants to possess everything, at least to hold sway over it, and would annihilate whatever opposes him. . . . The whole of nature beyond him, thus also all other individuals, exist only in presentation to him, he is always conscious of them only as presentation to him, thus merely indirectly and as something dependent on his own essence and existence; for with the loss of his consciousness the world is necessarily lost for him as well . . . . Every cognizant individual is thus in truth, and finds himself to be, the entire will for life, or the very in-itself of the world . . . . Every individual . . . has regard for his own existence and well-being before any other, indeed, in the natural standpoint, is ready to sacrifice all else to it, is ready to annihilate the world, just to maintain its own self . . . . This disposition is the egoism that is essential to everything in nature.” (391–92)

The one world-will which is in oneself wholly and completely is also in countless other individuals in the same manner. Conflict abounds. Egoism so conceived has brought about the great tyrants and evildoers, and it brings about always the war of all against all “as soon as any mass of people is released from all law and order” (393).

In Schopenhauer’s view, the will for life is affirmed in the primary, simple way when one’s own body maintains itself. The sex drive, too, is an affirmation of one’s will for life, although, the consequent propagation is not.

The will of one person “encroaches upon the boundary of another’s affirmation of will in that the individual either destroys or injures the very body of the other or compels the forces belonging to the other’s body to serve its will instead of the will making its appearance in the other’s body” (394). These conflicts are known by the word wrong and they are felt as wrongdoing (394–95). Examples: cannibalism, murder, “intentional mutilation, or mere injury to another’s body, indeed any blow, . . . subjugation of other individuals, in forcing them into slavery, and in attack upon the property of others, which, so far as the latter is regarded as the fruit of their labor, is in essentials the same in kind as the former wrong [slavery] and relates to it in the way mere injury relates to murder” (395–96).

Nietzsche’s Zarathustra muses, among some old broken tablets, formerly held holy: “‘Thou shalt not rob! Thou shalt not kill!’ . . .

“But I ask you: where in the world have there ever been better robbers and killers than such holy words?

“Is there not in all life itself—robbing and killing? And for such words to have been called holy, was truth itself not—killed?

“Or was it a sermon of death that pronounced holy what contradicted and contravened all life? —Yes my brothers, break, break for me the old tablets!” (Z III “On Old and New Tablets”)


No. False and highly contrived it is, this concept of life itself, this concept proclaimed by Nietzsche, all to bolster a perverted concept of human being.



“Life and Selfishness” will be concluded in the next installment.

*Cartwright 1998, 134–40; Higgins 1998, 158–68.

**Gayon 1999, 158–73; Moore 2002, 21–34, 57–58; Small 2005, 181–94.

*** Moore 2002, 62–72; Small 2005, 163–80

♦ - In this title, I have translated Erlösung as Redemption because that is how the term is rendered by translators of Schopenhauer. However, it would also be reasonable to translate Erlösung as Deliverance. Schopenhauer and Mainländer were atheists and thought that death is the end of the individual. They thought of death as deliverance from the suffering pervasive in life. Compare with the title and description of Rand’s fictional “Concerto of Deliverance” in which “only a faint echo within the sounds spoke of that from which the music had escaped, but spoke in laughing astonishment at the discovery that there was no ugliness or pain, and there never had had to be” (AS 1167). Couple that portion of the description with the sublime opening paragraphs of Part III of Atlas (and connect with the last two paragraphs here). The deliverance of various characters in Atlas, expressed in the music, is deliverance from bondage, not only from pain and suffering; it is deliverance within life; and for Rand the removal or overcoming of suffering in human life are to be given more significance than the suffering.

♦♦ - There are helpful comments on this passage from Robert Pippin in the Introduction, pp. xxv–ix, of Z.


Brobjer, T. 2008. Nietzsche’s Philosophical Context. U of Ill Press.

Cartwright, D. 1988. Schopenhauer’s Compassion and Nietzsche’s Pity. Schopenhauer-Jahrbuch 69:557–65.

———. 1993. The Last Temptation of Zarathustra. J. of the Hist. of Phil. 31:49–69.

———. 1998. Nietzsche’s Use and Abuse of Schopenhauer’s Moral Philosophy of Life. In Janaway 1998.

Gayon, J. 1999. Nietzsche and Darwin. In Biology and the Foundation of Ethics. Maienschein and Ruse, editors. Cambridge.

Higgins, K. 1998. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche: Temperament and Temporality. In Janaway 1998.

Janaway, C. 1998. Willing and Nothingness: Schopenhauer as Nietzsche’s Educator. Oxford.

Moore, G. 2002. Nietzsche, Biology and Metaphor. Cambridge.

Nietzsche, F. 1879–80. Human, All Too Human (HH) II. Hollingdale, trans. 1986. Cambridge.

———. 1881. Daybreak (D). Hollingdale, trans. 1997. Cambridge.

———. 1882. The Gay Science (GS) I–IV. Nauckhoff, trans. 2001. Cambridge.

———. 1883, 1884, 1885. Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Z) I-II, III, IV. Del Caro, trans. 2006. Cambridge.

Rand, A. 1957. Atlas Shrugged (AS). Random House.

Schopenhauer, A. 1859 [1819]. The World as Will and Presentation (WWP I). Aquila, trans. 2008. Pearson Longman.

Small, R. 2005. Nietzsche and Rée: A Star Friendship. Oxford.

Soll, I. 1998. Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and the Redemption of Life through Art. In Janaway 1998.

Williams, L. 2001. Nietzsche’s Mirror: The World as Will to Power. Rowman & Littlefield.


Stephen Boydstun's picture


Rand’s 1943 allusion to “a primary life force” might have some parallel to Nietzsche’s “will to power” in that she may have thought of human creativity as the mode in which some life force throughout biological nature is realized in man. If that were the way she were looking at it at that time, I think it surely would have been dissimilar to the “will to power” that Nietzsche came to think of as a force in all biological nature. In Fountainhead Rand spurns Nietzsche’s conception of a drive for power as a fundamental determinant of relations between human beings, which, in his late work, he imputed to all organisms. If Rand were thinking of human creativity as the human mode of some life force operating in all living things, that general force surely would have been simply a vital force towards existence and development (as in the German morphologists, before Darwin), not the “will to life” of Schopenhauer and even less the “will to power” of Nietzsche.

As you know, in Fountainhead Rand blasts social relations of master-slave and human drives to power over others as unnecessary for human existence, as detrimental to human existence, and as evil (Toohey) or at least morally flawed (Wynand). In place of those relations, she championed the virtue of independence and a social framework protecting independence. She praises possessiveness, but condemns predation.

Strikingly different between Nietzsche and Rand are the central objects of human creativity and their relations to the creator. Nietzsche’s foci are on creation in the arts, in philosophy, and in one’s own character. His lack of appreciation of creativity in technological realms always amazes me. Rand’s focus is on creation in those technological realms, from the bow and arrow to the apartment complex. Roark is chronically thinking of ways of making things that would be physically useful to people, and that is fulfilling and meaningful for him.

Rand does present “a sense of life as exaltation” in The Fountainhead, in Roark’s projects of creation and in romantic love (p.539). That is kin to Nietzsche’s quest for elevation (without will to power over others), but it is perhaps even closer kin to Victor Hugo (who was not an egoist).

You remarked that “the power to create and pursue a goal . . . has to result from the ultimate drive to experience one's efficacy.” That may be almost right. Rand drafts Roark as very unselfconscious; he is riveted to the world (Enright, pp. 88-89). Wynand remarks: “I was thinking of people who say happiness is impossible on earth. Look how hard they all try to find some joy in life. . . . By what conceivable right can anyone demand that a human being exist for anything but his own joy? Every one of them wants it. Every part of him wants it. But they never find it. I wonder why. They whine and say they don’t understand the meaning of life. There’s a particular kind of people that I despise. Those who seek some sort of a higher purpose or ‘universal goal’, who don’t know what to live for, who moan that they must ‘find themselves’.” Roark reaches and tears a branch from a tree and bends it into an arc. He says: “Now I can make what I want of it: a bow, a spear, a cane, a railing. That’s the meaning of life.” Wynand: “Your strength?” Roark: “Your work. . . . The material the earth offers you and what you make of it.” (596)

Although we may have a drive to experience efficacy, I find that to reach that experience I must become absorbed in the wondrous work before me. That is the root deliciousness in spotlight, at center stage, with the possible resulting experience of efficacy being shadow to the possible existential achievement. Sometimes when I have become drained or really knocked down, I have to think it through. I know the answer. I must achieve. I must act. Then new work, old friend, shows itself and captivates.

Lester Hunt has a paper titled “Thus Spoke Howard Roark: Nietzschean Ideas in The Fountainhead” which he has made available online here. On Nietzschean currents in the original We the Living, see Robert Mayhew’s “’36 and ’59” in Essays on Ayn Rand’s We the Living. See also pages 31–43 of Shoshana Milgram’s “From Airtight to We the Living in that same collection.

I have only the 1959 edition of We the Living. I do not recall there any promotion of the power of men (or man) over men nor any of Nietzsche’s later idea that will to power is the principle of all life (Z and beyond). I would be surprised if any such thing were in the first edition either. In this novel, there is the conception of individual life undefeated, but that is the down-to-earth conception of individual life, which in this historical setting is being ground out by collectivism and the totalitarian state. That life and its possibility is what Rand is holding up as most precious in this novel. That is very much contrary to Nietzsche, as we will see in the next installment of “Life and Selfishness.”

To be sure, there are things in We the Living that would delight Nietzsche. Here is something he could like: “Peoples know nothing of the spirit of man, for peoples are only nature, and man is a word that has no plural. Petrograd is not of the people. . . . No pilgrims ever traveled to its granite gates. The gates had never been opened in warm compassion to the meek, the hurt and the maimed, like the doors of kindly Moscow. . . . / And perhaps it is only a coincidence that in the language of the Russians, Moscow is ‘she’, while Petrograd has ever been ‘he’” (229 pb).

In that same stretch of Rand’s homage to this city she loved is so much of the sort of thing that is unloved, unnoticed by Nietzsche. “It is a city of stone, and those living in it think not of stones brought upon a green earth and piled block on block to raise a city, but of one huge rock carved into streets, bridges, houses, . . . . / . . . the very spirit of Petrograd, the city raised by man against the will of nature. . . . / Nature makes mistakes and takes chances; it mixes its colors and knows little of straight lines. But Petrograd is the work of man who knows what he wants” (229). There may be touchups in this 1959 text quoted, but I’m sure that in the 1936 edition, Rand adored the manmade and man’s power to build.


Olivia's picture

As a primary life force, the creator lives primarily for himself, and his creations are “his goal and life” (737, also 740).

How does this differ from Nietzsche's primary drive of Will to Power? The power to create and pursue a goal still has to result from the ultimate drive to experience one's efficacy surely.

Warring Virtues

Stephen Boydstun's picture

C – from Gay Science to Zarathustra I 

In The Gay Science (first four books – 1882), Nietzsche continued to craft an ideal of character called nobility, disdaining and mocking much of what is called moral character. What makes a character noble? Not the making of whatever sacrifice or the following of whatever passion. “Certainly not that one does something for others without selfishness: perhaps no one is more consistently selfish than the noble one” (GS 55).

Nietzsche continues to render some occasions of putative self-sacrifice, such as that of martyrs: as for the self, for the self not to part from its feeling of power (GS 13). Still, at least in some other cases, he sees some degree of genuine self-sacrifice. Industriousness, obedience, and justice are praised by society as moral virtues insofar as these virtues benefit others and prevent an agent from applying “his entire strength and reason to his own preservation, development, elevation, promotion, and expansion of power” (GS 21). When one has the virtues of industriousness or obedience or justice to the degree they are praised as good, then those virtues “are mostly harmful to their possessors, being drives which dominate them all too violently and covetously and in no way let reason keep them in balance with the other drives” (GS 21; see also 116 and 127). (Cf. Rand on “the man whose sole aim is to make money” in Fountainhead 658.)

Does Nietzsche hold to the ancient “medical formulation of morality” captured by the dictum “virtue is the health of the soul”? No. To get closer to Nietzsche’s mark, one would need to at least change the dictum to read “‘your virtue is the health of your soul’. For there is no health as such, and all attempts to define such a thing have failed miserably. Deciding what is health even for your body depends on your goal, your horizon, your powers, your impulses, your mistakes and above all on the ideals and phantasms of your soul. Thus there are innumerable healths of the body . . .” (GS 120). Furthermore, considering the usefulness of illness to quicken the development of one’s virtue, especially one’s “thirst for knowledge and self-knowledge,” Nietzsche would question “whether the will to health alone is not a prejudice, a cowardice . . .” (GS 120).

Notice the last word in the phrase “will to health alone.” Preserving one’s own health, of body and soul, remains a virtue in Nietzsche’s book, a virtue in competition with others.

Nietzsche’s idea that “what is health even for your body depends on your goal, . . . and above all on the ideals and phantasms of your soul” was a horrible error concerning the constitution of human beings. This is a matter of life or death. Rand writes that her morality, “the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists—and in a single choice: to live” (AS 1018). She did not paint a picture of human existence in which choosing to live confers the identity of that which is the health of one’s body.

As with health of the body, so with pleasure and pain. In the course of rejecting Schopenhauer’s idea that there is a blind, natural, striving will operating in all organisms (this unitary will being manifest by the purposiveness of their ontogeny, inner organization, and interdependence with other species [WWP I 2.187, 4.323–24. 4.364–65]—Darwin’s Origin was yet to come), Nietzsche maintains the following: Firstly, in order for any will to occur, there has to be present a representation of pleasure or displeasure. “Secondly, that a violent stimulus is experienced as pleasure or pain is a matter of the interpreting intellect, which, to be sure, generally works without our being conscious of it (uns unbewust); and one and the same stimulus can be interpreted as pleasure or pain. Thirdly, only in intellectual beings do pleasure, pain, and will exist; the vast majority of organisms has nothing like it” (GS 127). With the second independent clause of that last sentence, Rand concurs. When Nietzsche speaks of either pain or pleasure being settled by the interpreting intellect concerning a violent stimulus, I’m pretty sure he is thinking of the sort of thing that went on once upon a time in Ellis Wyatt’s guest bedroom. To generalize from that interpretive pattern to the pattern in and under one’s experience of a broken leg is without warrant.

As Nietzsche has it, all our conscious understanding that seems sovereign over our competing drives is in truth only “the ultimate reconciliation scenes and final accounts” of unconscious warring, of unconscious dominations and submissions, among various drives (GS 333). We have seen that virtues are drives (GS 21).

“Once you had passions and named them evil. But now you have only your virtues; they grew out of your passions.

. . .

“It is distinguishing to have many virtues, but it is a hard lot. And many went into the desert and killed themselves because they were weary of being the battle and battlefield of virtues. . . .

. . .

“Look, how each of your virtues is greediest for the highest. It wants your entire spirit to be its herald . . . .” (Z I “On the Passions of Pleasure and Pain”)

“Upward flies our sense; thus it is a parable of our body, a parable of elevation. Such elevation parables are the names of the virtues. Thus the body goes through history, becoming and fighting. And the spirit—what is it to the body? The herald of its fights and victories, companion and echo.” (Z I “On the Bestowing Virtue”)


Lester Hunt (1991) has perceptively, gracefully, and critically treated Nietzsche’s idea of enmity of the virtues (pp. 81–89). I will treat Nietzsche’s shift from “feeling of power” to “will to power” in the next installment of “Life and Selfishness.”


Hunt, L. 1991. Nietzsche and the Origin of Virtue. Routledge.

Nietzsche, F. 1882 (I–IV). The Gay Science (GS). Nauckhoff, trans. 2001. Cambridge.

———. 1883 (I). Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Z). Del Caro, trans. 2006. Cambridge.

Rand, A. 1943. The Fountainhead (F). Bobbs-Merrill.

———. 1957. Atlas Shrugged (AS). Random House.

Schopenhauer, A. 1859 [1819]. The World as Will and Presentation (WWP I). Aquila, trans. 2008. Pearson Longman.

Feeling of Power

Stephen Boydstun's picture

B – from Human to Daybreak

In 1878 Nietzsche wrote: “That in which men and women of the nobility excel others and which gives them an undoubted right to be rated higher consists in two arts ever more enhanced by inheritance: the art of commanding and the art of proud obedience” (HH I 440). These arts together, Nietzsche finds noble. This too is noble: “Man involuntarily conducts himself nobly when he has become accustomed to desiring nothing of men and always bestowing gifts upon them” (HH I 497; cf. Z “On the Bestowing Virtue”).

Honor in oneself can be transferred to the value of a thing. “Acts of love and self-sacrifice for the good of one’s neighbour are generally held in honor in whatever circumstances they may be performed. In this way one augments the value of things which are loved in this fashion or for which someone sacrifices himself: even though in themselves they may perhaps not be worth very much” (HH I 77).

What of things of much worth outside of self? In the wish to have one’s insights bettered by others or the wish to fall on a battlefield for victory of the fatherland or the wish to sacrifice for one’s child, it would seem one embraces the unegoistic. Nietzsche: “Is it not clear that in all these instances man loves something of himself, an idea, a desire, an offspring, more than something else of himself, that he thus divides his nature and sacrifices one part of it to the other?” (HH I 57). 

Commonly accepted virtues such as “renunciation, dutifulness, orderliness, thrift, measure and moderation” can be incited from plainly egoistic motives such as “utility, personal comfort, fear, considerations of health, of fame or reputation.” Plainly egoistic motives can be ennobled by achieving an incited virtue, ennobled “through the pure air it lets us breathe and the psychical pleasure it communicates” (HH II, AOM 91; see also HH II, WS 70, 285; and D 560). “A noble soul is not that which is capable of the highest flights but that which rises little and falls little but dwells permanently in a free, translucent atmosphere and elevation” (HH II, AOM 397; see also D 559).

In 1881 Nietzsche writes of a virtue-flight too high, and self-deluding. This is in Daybreak in the section “Morality of Sacrificial Beasts.”

“‘Enthusiastic devotion’, ‘sacrifice of oneself’—these are the catchwords of your morality . . . . From the heights of this morality you look down on that other sober morality which demands self-control, severity, obedience, and even call it egoistic. . . . By devoting yourselves with enthusiasm and making a sacrifice of yourselves you enjoy the ecstatic thought of henceforth being at one with the powerful being, whether a god or a man, to whom you dedicate yourselves: you revel in the feeling of his power, to which your very sacrifice is an additional witness. . . . In reality you transform yourselves in thought into gods and enjoy yourselves as such. From the point of view of this enjoyment—how poor and weak seems to you that ‘egoistic’ morality of obedience, duty, rationality: it is disagreeable to you because in this case real sacrifice and devotion are demanded without the sacrificer supposing himself transformed into a god.” (D 215)

Men may have their needs and desires fulfilled; they may have health, food, housing, and entertainment. Yet they remain unhappy if they lack power in the soul. They may lose everything, yet be almost happy, if they retain that power. Nietzsche quotes Luther: “‘Let them take from us our body, goods, honour, children, wife: let it all go—the kingdom [Reich] must yet remain to us!’” (D 262; also 206).

Where happiness is, there is “the feeling of power: this wants to express itself, either to us ourselves, or to other men, or to ideas or imaginary beings. The most common modes of expression are: to bestow, to mock, to destroy—all three out of a common basic drive” (D 356; see also 146).

The drive for the feeling of power, like all drives, has no moral valence. In itself it is neither good nor evil. It acquires moral rating “only when it enters into relations with drives already baptized as good or evil or is noted as a quality of beings the people has already evaluated and determined in a moral sense” (D 38). 

When it comes to morally permitting oneself a new desire, for a newly discovered pleasure, Nietzsche’s criteria are liberal. If what is opposed to the desire are merely practical obstacles or merely “people for whom we feel little respect—then the goal of the new desire dresses itself [and admirably so] in the sensation ‘noble, good, praiseworthy, worthy of sacrifice’, the entire moral disposition we have inherited thenceforth takes it into itself, adds it to the goals it already possesses which it feels to be moral” (D 110).

There is something Nietzsche presupposes to be good, and noble too. A man who “flees from himself, hates himself, does harm to himself—he is certainly not a good man” (D 516). One should be benevolently inclined towards oneself. Therefore, reject allegedly virtuous benevolence towards others in which one would “live in others and for others” (D 516).


(“Life and Selfishness” in the F v. R series to be continued)



Nietzsche, F. 1878, 1879–80. Human, All Too Human (HH) I, II. Hollingdale, trans.

———. 1881. Daybreak (D). Hollingdale, trans.

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