Nietzsche's Critique of Pure Altruism—Developing an Argument from Human, All Too Human

Guy Elgat*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Nietzsche often appears, especially in his writings from the middle period, to endorse psychological egoism, namely the claim that all actions are motivated by, and are for the sake of, the agent’s own self-interest. I argue that Nietzsche’s position in Human, All Too Human (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986) should not be so understood. Rather, he is claiming, more weakly and more plausibly, that no action is entirely unegoistic, entirely free of egoistic motivations. Thus some actions might be motivated both by egoistic and unegoistic motives, on his view. Nietzsche’s argument may, in other words, be understood to be directed specifically against Schopenhauer’s portrayal of moral motivation, as pure, entirely unalloyed altruism, to show that this sort of action is impossible, not to rule out the possibility of any altruistic motive whatsoever. In light of Schopenahuer’s moral psychology, to which Nietzsche to some extent adhered at that time, I develop a concept of motivation and reconstruct Nietzsche’s argument.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)308-326
Number of pages19
JournalInquiry (United Kingdom)
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 3 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy


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