Date of Award

Winter 2006

Project Type


Program or Major

Justice Studies

Degree Name

Master of Arts

First Advisor

Nick Smith


Nietzsche appears to hold contradictory views about punishment. Uncompromising in his commitment to noble ideals, Nietzsche often decries punishment as small-minded resentfulness and implores readers to look away. Though at times he describes it as an exalted flexing of the will, making the case that punishment plays a necessary role in social life. This paper argues that Nietzsche's views are not incompatible and that he holds a coherent theory of punishment which permits these clashing positions.

I argue that Nietzsche's theory of punishment is predicated as follows. Power is the objective measure of value. The single justification for punishing is the empowerment of power. By breaking down the concept of punishment into two basic elements, Nietzsche shows that the essential function of punishment is the exercise of power and control over others, while the equivocal element is the particular end which a given exercise of punishment aims to empower. When the end is deemed noble, punishment empowers power and is thus justified as valuable. When the end is deemed corrupt, punishment effectually empowers weakness, or disempowers power, and is thus evaluated as unjustifiable.