College of Arts and Sciences

Department of English

ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance

Gustaaf Van Cromphout

"Areteic Ethics: Emerson and Nietzsche on Pity, Friendship, and Love"

Van Cromphout argues that Nietzsche's redefiniton of other-regarding ethics owes much to Emerson's thought on the subject. Emerson anticipates both Nietzsche's critique of the agapistic, caritative ethics advocated by Christianity and his adherence to a Greek-inspired areteic ethic. Both thinkers regard the commitment to human excellence inherent in areteic ethics as a powerful antidote to Christian other-regarding ethics, which they consider demeaning and harmful.

Emerson and Nietzsche condemn pity as traditionally understood because it masks egoism, encourages weakness, and increases suffering. The vogue of pity evidences that the weak and parasitic have succeeded in imposing their values upon the world, to the detriment of the strong, noble, and heroic. Pity is an expression of contempt, not just for others but also for oneself, tempting one to evade one's most arduous task--to advance human excellence in oneself and, by this example, in others. Emerson and Nietzsche further insist that friendship and love stand in urgent need of reconceptualization along areteic lines. These relationships should not serve as refuges for weakness or as escapes from individual incompleteness but should be agonistic, informed by a dialectic of opposites, by distance and reverence for difference; they should bring together the strongest possible selves and enable each to rise above itself. Both Emerson and Nietzsche rank friendship higher than love: the highest interpersonal relationship is a noble and mutually ever more ennobling friendship.

Department of English, PO Box 645020, Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-5020, 509-335-2581. Contact ESQ