When Friedrich Nietzsche published the collection “The Joyful Pursuit of Knowledge and Understanding” he presented arguments against books that are published and popular even in this day. Dawkins’s books about the universe as a clockwork and a marvellously intelligently designed machine is something Nietzsche says we should guard ourselves against more than a hundred years before that book was written. In the same section, he is saying we should be careful not to accept the Gaia theory. What Nietzsche saw was that the Universe just exists. There is no master plan. Humans love to ascribe properties to the Universe and imagine gods and goddesses as rulers of it all, but those things are all in our head. Anthropomorphisms. He then goes into metaphysics and explain that even matter itself does not exist, which physicists are struggling to explain even to this day. Even the fundaments of modern science, which Karl Popper is famous for elaborating, where it is said that we cannot know truth – we only know what is false, this too is a matter of Nietzsche’s text 70 years before Popper. It really is an amazing thinker that is able to produce content like this so far ahead of his peers.
“The Gay Science”, as the text has also been translated as (before “gay” got the meaning of “homosexual” rather than “joyful”) also is the first mention from Nietzsche of his term “God is Dead”. First, he talks about how Buddha died and how people kept worshipping his shadow after he was gone. Then, he presents a madman who approaches atheists but they don’t understand him and then he goes to churches but they don’t understand him either. It seems clear that the madman is Nietzsche himself. “God is Dead” doesn’t mean that god is actually dead, because Nietzsche believes there never was a god. What he is talking about is the death of religious morals and ethics. Yet, the atheists don’t understand how terrible it is to have killed the foundations of society, so they make fun of him. He says churches are the tombstones of god, reminding everyone that what we used to base our laws on has been proven to be a prehistoric fantasy. With the death of religious morals, we need a new system for how to decide what is right and what is wrong. Humans need to think about morals and ethics, not because a god said we have to, but because we need to figure out how to make society work without a god in it. God is dead, I am god!
Nihilism is the absence of morals. This is not what Nietzsche would prefer, even though many ignorant students have associated him with this line of thought. In the joyful science he says that there is a danger for society to end up in a situation where nihilism appears to be the only way forward, but he is not suggesting that it is. In fact, Nietzsche thinks that after realising that god is dead, our future is more bright than ever, because philosophers are free to devise a functional morality with fewer flaws. He does not propose what the solution is, at least not in this book, but he is thinking of the future as bright and exciting, not dark with a lack of meaning as would be associated with nihilism.
Pondering about what a good set of morals would comprise is a fun exercise. It is also a great challenge. Every time you put down a “you should” there arises a situation where “you shouldn’t” for the same reasons. But it is a challenge we should take upon ourselves, if not of necessity for the fun of it all.