Freud’s and Nietzsche’s Views on Human Morality

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About this sample


Words: 1459 |

Pages: 3|

8 min read

Published: Jul 18, 2018

Words: 1459|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: Jul 18, 2018


Table of contents

  1. Nietzsche's Critique: Morality as a Reaction to Powerlessness
  2. Freud's Critique: Morality as a Civilizational Response to Aggression
  3. Conclusion

Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud present profound critiques of human morality that challenge prevailing notions of virtue and ethics. Their perspectives depart from the conventional belief that morality is an innate aspect of human nature. Instead, they argue that morality arises in response to the complexities of human existence. While both Nietzsche and Freud assert that morality is a reactive creation, their assessments of its value diverge significantly. Nietzsche contends that reactive morality is detrimental to humanity, stifling its potential for growth and flourishing. Conversely, Freud posits that morality is an essential element of civilization, facilitating harmonious coexistence among individuals. The disparity between their viewpoints stems from the distinct motivations driving their critiques: Nietzsche's exploration focuses on the impact of morality on the individual, whereas Freud's analysis centers on the role of morality in society as a whole.

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Nietzsche's Critique: Morality as a Reaction to Powerlessness

Friedrich Nietzsche, in his seminal work "On the Genealogy of Morality," embarks on a quest to decipher the "value of [human] values." He employs vivid metaphors to elucidate his perspective, with one particularly significant metaphor being that of the powerless lamb confronted by a formidable bird of prey. This metaphor serves as a crucial entry point to understanding Nietzsche's account of morality.

In Nietzsche's metaphor, the powerless lamb, incapable of resisting the predatory bird, labels the bird as evil for its actions and, in contrast, deems itself virtuous for its perceived moral superiority. This reaction stems from the lamb's ressentiment, a deep-seated resentment arising from its powerlessness. Nietzsche contends that this reaction is driven by the lamb's will to power, an inherent drive in every individual seeking to create favorable conditions for the expression of their power. Consequently, the lamb invents a new criterion of strength – moral strength, virtue, and goodness – to compensate for its inherent weakness. According to Nietzsche, morality emerges as a response to powerlessness.

Expanding on his metaphor, Nietzsche extends the concept to human behavior. He posits that powerless humans, much like the lamb, react to their lack of power by redefining weakness as morally virtuous. Actions stemming from weakness, such as timidity, submission, or cowardice, are repurposed as moral virtues. Conversely, behaviors associated with powerful individuals, like dominance or wealth accumulation, are cast as evil. This transformation translates the power dynamics between the powerful and the powerless into a moral framework, shaping human morality.

One of the central elements of Nietzsche's critique revolves around the negative implications of reactive "slave" morality on the individual. He identifies several problematic aspects, including self-deception. Morality categorizes powerless individuals as morally superior to the powerful, despite Nietzsche's assertion that these powerless beings aspire to attain power themselves. Morality necessitates self-deception, compelling individuals to believe that weakness and morality are preferable to strength and perceived evil. Furthermore, Nietzsche argues that morality fosters unhealthy fixation in powerless individuals, leading to the emergence of "poisonous and hostile feelings" towards the powerful. This fixation on powerlessness becomes the foundation of an individual's existence, hindering their ability to act and flourish.

Freud's Critique: Morality as a Civilizational Response to Aggression

Sigmund Freud, in "Civilization and Its Discontents," presents a distinctive perspective on human morality. Unlike Nietzsche, Freud contends that morality is not a conscious creation but has been shaped by civilization in response to human aggression. Central to Freud's theory is the concept of the superego, an internal voice that enforces moral constraints and guides behavior. The superego internalizes parental authority, preventing the expression of destructive, aggressive instincts and directing them inward.

Freud argues that the superego functions as civilization's most significant invention in dealing with human aggression. It facilitates the redirection of aggressivity from external targets to the individual's own ego. This internalization of aggressive impulses is essential for societal harmony, preventing individuals from constantly giving in to their aggressive instincts, which could lead to chaos and the breakdown of society.

While Freud acknowledges the psychic toll exacted by the superego on individuals, he remains supportive of its role in civilization. He maintains that civilization owes much of its progress to the internalization of aggressive impulses. In Freud's words,

"We owe to the process of civilization]the best of what we have become, as well as a good part of what we suffer from."

This viewpoint underscores Freud's belief that morality is a necessary, albeit somewhat damaging, aspect of human existence, essential for peaceful coexistence in society.

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In conclusion, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud provide distinct and compelling critiques of human morality, offering fresh perspectives on a complex facet of human existence. Despite their shared view of morality as a reactive construct emerging in response to human realities, their motivations for critiquing it differ significantly. Nietzsche's focus is primarily on the individual, highlighting how reactive morality can impede personal growth and self-expression. In contrast, Freud's analysis revolves around the broader societal context, emphasizing the indispensable role of morality in maintaining social order and harmony. These divergent motivations lead to disparate conclusions regarding the value of human morality in our world. Understanding these nuanced perspectives enhances our comprehension of the intricate interplay between morality, power, and civilization in human existence.


  1. Nietzsche, F. (1887). On the Genealogy of Morality. Translated by W. Kaufmann & R. J. Hollingdale. Vintage Books.
  2. Freud, S. (1930). Civilization and Its Discontents. Translated by J. Strachey. W. W. Norton & Company.
  3. Schacht, R. (1983). Nietzsche. Routledge.
  4. Freud, S. (1905). Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Translated by J. Strachey. Basic Books.
  5. Leiter, B. (2002). Nietzsche on Morality. Routledge.
  6. Freud, S. (1923). The Ego and the Id. Translated by J. Strachey. W. W. Norton & Company.
  7. Richardson, J. (2004). Nietzsche’s New Darwinism. Oxford University Press.
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Freud’s and Nietzsche’s Views on Human Morality. (2018, April 23). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 25, 2024, from
“Freud’s and Nietzsche’s Views on Human Morality.” GradesFixer, 23 Apr. 2018,
Freud’s and Nietzsche’s Views on Human Morality. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 25 Feb. 2024].
Freud’s and Nietzsche’s Views on Human Morality [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Apr 23 [cited 2024 Feb 25]. Available from:
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