Civilization and Its Discontents

Freud's and Nietzsche's Views on Human Morality

Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud offer bold critiques of human morality that greatly differ from the commonly accepted views of virtue and ethics. Both reject the idea of morality as an instinctive or natural element of human life. Rather, they contend that morality has been created in reaction to the realities of human existence. Although Freud and Nietzsche both claim that morality is a reactive creation, they greatly differ in their accounts of the value of morality. Nietzsche claims that reactive morality is “bad air” to humans and has prevented humanity from flourishing. Freud, however, argues that morality is a necessary aspect of civilization and has enabled humans to peacefully live together. The disagreement between Freud and Nietzsche over the value of morality in human existence is a function of the different motivations that drive their critiques of morality. While Nietzsche’s critique seeks to explore the effect of morality on the individual, Freud’s critique seeks to outline the function of morality in society as a whole.

In his book On the Genealogy of Morality, Nietzsche attempts to explore the “value of [human] values” (7) by investigating the origins of morality through a number of hypothetical narratives....

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