It seems to me that 'good will' (which usually means 'kindly disposition' in English) is not the correct translation of guten Willen in these passages in Fröhliche Wissenschaft by Nietzsche. Am I right?

  1. Oh diese Menschen von ehedem haben verstanden zu träumen und hatten nicht erst nöthig, einzuschlafen! —und auch wir Menschen von heute verstehen es noch viel zu gut, mit allem unseren guten Willen zum Wachsein und zum Tage!

Oh, those men of former times knew how to dream, and did not even need to go to sleep! — and we men of the present day also still understand it too well, even with our preference [partiality, strong desire] for wakefulness and daylight!

  1. Fähigkeit zur Rache.— Dass Einer sich nicht vertheidigen kann und folglich auch nicht will, gereicht ihm in unsern Augen noch nicht zur Schande: aber wir schätzen Den gering, der zur Rache weder das Vermögen noch den guten Willen hat, —gleichgültig ob Mann oder Weib.

Capacity for revenge — If someone cannot and thus will not defend himself, that does not make him disgraceful in our eyes; but we despise anyone — whether man or woman — who has neither the power nor the will to exact revenge.

Of course, the three previous translations of this book (by Thomas Common in 1910, Walter Kaufmann in 1974, and Josefine Nauckhoff in 2001) have 'good will', which makes absolutely no sense. 'Good will' is a kindly disposition in English.

  • I agree... I think the first one goes toward "ambition" the second either "will" as you suggested or "needed will" or "determination". As for this forum, it would be good if you could phrase some kind of question around it.
    – Emanuel
    Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 17:45
  • Edits are meant to improve posts. They are contributions of people who voluntarily spend their free time doing so. They deserve all our respect. In case you felt an edit changed your post too much you can always roll-back, no issue. Quotes should be put in quotation marks or in quote format (>) for editors to clearly see them.
    – Takkat
    Commented Jan 17, 2015 at 11:13
  • If I had wanted to put guter Wille I would have. I was quoting the text! You have no business changing it!
    – Ornello
    Commented Jan 18, 2015 at 3:12

1 Answer 1


Although some sources translate "guter Wille" as "goodwill", that's IMHO not close enough. Goodwill, as stated in the question, carries a sense of benevolence and kindness.

"Wille" in German has no necessary connotation of friendliness, but of mental strength and determination, usually directed towards a (even abstract) goal.

You could also take into account that "gute/r + noun" in older texts had a rather wide range than today.

Therefore the German phrase "guter Wille" would be better translated as "good intentions" (literally: "gute Absicht"), or – if you drop the "good" – terms like "determination", "eagerness", "desire",... come to mind.

  • Yes, and English still has that sense of 'good' too, in such expressions as 'a good thrashing' which is also expressed as 'a sound thrashing'.
    – Ornello
    Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 18:22
  • Thanks, I should perhaps add to this paragraph. (later...)
    – Stephie
    Commented Jan 16, 2015 at 18:23
  • "Mit allem guten Willen" actually means "against all good intentions"
    – tofro
    Commented Jul 4, 2021 at 13:40

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