‘Moraline-Free’ Virtue: The Case of Free Death

Rebecca Bamford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


My first aim in this paper is to make some progress on the issue of whether Nietzsche’s account of virtues as life affirming is coherent. While several scholars have previously defended the view that Nietzsche thinks of virtues as life affirming, it is not fully clear how phenomena that seem to be opposed to life, or which seem to affirm life only vaguely and indirectly at best, may be squared with the existing relevant scholarship. Death is one such seemingly non-life-affirming example. My second aim is to show how Nietzsche’s thinking on virtues and life affirmation can play a useful role in contemporary bioethics. Nietzsche’s relevance to contemporary bioethics has been infrequently the subject of scholarly attention.Footnote1 This is despite that Nietzsche makes health – physical and psychological health, but also social, cultural, and philosophical health – a particular focus of his philosophy; his critique of customary morality is based in his concern for health, and the same concern guides his work to develop a therapeutic philosophy.Footnote2 As I will discuss, Nietzsche is in fact a useful philosopher with whom to think carefully and critically about ethical issues in health and medicine.

These two aims intersect as follows. Nietzsche’s thinking on virtues, life, and health provides us with an important resource, discussed extensively in Z 1:21: the concept of “free death.”Footnote3 In developing his concept of free death, Nietzsche explicitly connects one’s attitude towards death with virtue, and argues that one’s death should consummate one’s life. This is an excellent example of the broader problem with understanding whether or not Nietzsche’s account of virtues as life affirming is coherent: it is unclear how or why death could be life affirming. Drawing on primary texts as well as recent work by Nietzsche scholars, I show how Nietzsche’s concept of free death allows us to dispel the problematic intuition that death itself cannot promote well-being, and thus why Nietzsche’s thinking on free death is helpful to contemporary bioethical debate on physician-assisted dying.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)437–451
JournalThe Journal of Value Inquiry
Early online date19 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2015
Externally publishedYes


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