Nietzsche: Virtue and Value
In his work Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche introduces the character Zarathustra. Zarathustra, in turn, introduces man to the idea of the overman. According to Nietzsche and Zarathustra, "Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman—a rope over an abyss" (p. 14). Zarathustra descends from the mountain enlightened, espousing the necessity of the overman.
Zarathustra describes the overman as someone human beings must strive to create. He describes three stages in the development of the overman through the allegory of the camel, the lion and the child. The camel, as the earliest and least developed stage is burdened by his god, presumably with established virtues and values. According to Zarathustra's progression, a metamorphoses occurs: the camel becomes the lion, "who would conquer his freedom and be master in his own desert" (p. 26). The lion seeks to destroy his master, his god, and to live on his own terms as his own master. The metamorphoses, however, is not complete; the lion must become the child:
To create new values—that even the lion cannot do; but the creation of freedom for oneself for new creation—that is within the power of the lion. (p. 27)
The lion is needed to forge the freedom in which new values can be created, but the new values can only come from the child. The child is a new beginning, after the banishment of the god, in which "the spirit now wills his own will, and he who had been lost to the world now conquers his own world" (p. 27).
Thus Zarathustra, and Nietzsche, establish that the necessary role of the overman is that of lawbreaker and creator of new laws. He illustrates this characteristic through his description, and condemnation, of established virtues such as chastity. He continues by implicating the institution of marriage, as it stands in his contemporary society, and, moving to a more general level, the idea of state. According to Zarathustra, all these things stifle the emergence of the overman.
In his quest to establish the overman and to bring meaning to life on earth, as opposed to an existence dependent on an afterlife, it seems that Zarathustra and Nietzsche overlook an important point concerning virtue and value: in essence, why should one bother to have any virtue at all? Zarathustra seems to imply that each man, or more precisely, each overman must decide and create his own value and virtue. Yet, in his speech concerning the virtuous, Zarathustra denies any reward for virtue:
And now you are angry with me because I teach that there is no reward and paymaster? And verily, I do not even teach that virtue is its own reward. (p. 93)
Zarathustra argues that there is no reward for acting virtuously. It seems that his argument stems from his idea that God is dead, and thus there is no reward in the afterlife for virtuous behavior. His second statement, however, indicates that the lack of reward is more extensive in its reach than just the lack of an afterlife.
Unlike Kant, who would agree that there should be no external reward for virtue, Zarathustra and Nietzsche seem to argue that there is no reward in virtue—not even in virtue for its own sake. Not even Kant would go so far as to disagree that the necessity of virtue is duty, which is virtue for its own sake, because it removes all incentive to be virtuous. Admittedly, virtue for its own sake is not really an incentive in the sense that one receives a reward, but it is a reason for acting virtuously. Nietzsche does not seem to give any reason, incentive or otherwise, to be virtuous. Here, it seems that the overman loses his essential characteristic in creating something unnecessary, seemingly for no reason.