The hammer symbolizes the central project of Twilight of the Idols: to challenge and destroy the idols of the past that people worship, but which, according to Nietzsche, are destructive to society and human life. The hammer appears in the subtitle of Twilight of the Idols (the book’s full title is Twilight of the Idols or How to Philosophize with a Hammer), and Nietzsche references the hammer a number of times throughout the work. The first time Nietzsche references the hammer is in the foreword, when he declares war on society’s antiquated idols, vowing to “pose questions here with a hammer,” interrogating ideas and moral values that society considers fundamentally true until “there are no more ancient idols in existence.” Nietzsche believes that the idols (or ideals) that philosophers and moralists have preached and placed on a pedestal have made society nihilistic, decadent, and weak. He believes that the only way we can return society to a state of strength, intellectual integrity, and vitality is to stop aspiring to moral ideals and instead live life in accordance with nature and human instinct. Thus, it’s significant that Nietzsche evokes a tool (or weapon) like a hammer to illustrate his project of debunking idols, for it evokes physicality, strength and violence—he’s effectively arguing that humanity must strike back against theoretical, unattainable ideals with brute, physical force.
The Hammer Quotes in Twilight of the Idols
Another form of recovery, in certain cases even more suited to me, is to sound out idols. …There are more idols in the world than there are realities: that is my ‘evil eye’ for this world, that is also my ‘evil ear’. … For once to pose questions here with a hammer and perhaps to receive for answer that famous hollow sound which speaks of inflated bowels—what a delight for one who has ears behind his ears—for an old psychologist and pied piper like me, in presence of whom precisely that which would like to stay silent has to become audible…
And if your hardness will not flash and cut and cut to pieces: how can you one day—create with me?