Nietzsche on the good of cultural change

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This paper attributes to Nietzsche a theory of cultural development according to which pyramid societies—steeply hierarchical societies following a unified morality—systematically alternate with motley societies, which emerge when pyramid societies encounter other cultures or allow their strict mores to relax. Motley societies contain multiple value systems due to individual innovation or intercultural contact, and are less stringent in dictating individuals' roles. Consequently, many people are torn between incompatible values and lack direction, so they are drawn to a morality of mediocrity, which offers the modest goals of comfort and conformity. However, the need to mediate between conflicting values also tends to yield exceptional individuals who create new values, and can reshape the society into a new pyramid society governed by those values. I argue that Nietzsche favors neither type of society at the expense of the other, but believes the alternation itself is valuable: a pyramid society develops a value system to its full potential; then, when it encounters alternative values, the extraordinary individuals in the resulting motley society synthesize the competing systems into a fuller vision of human flourishing.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages23
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Apr 2023


  • Nietzsche
  • History of Philosophy
  • Philosophy of Culture


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