Trying to Understand Quote by Nietzsche
"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." - Nietzsche (Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (1886), Chapter IV. Apophthegms and Interludes, §146).
I've been reading a little Nietzsche and I find his philosophy fascinating so far, but I'm having trouble understanding this quote. My own take is that, evil can corrupt you if you are in an environment amongst it, and aren't careful and vigilant against its tempting nature? Can someone enlighten me on what Nietsche really means by this quote?
This is about moral relativism. You can be a monster (bad) for those who are monsters (bad) for you.
Too brief ans scarcely commented... I think that we have to read it metaphorically: *monsters* can be philosophical errors, metaphysical notions, false beliefs, ideologies (religions).
It is a common observation that we become like those we fight against, since we have to do so in order to conduct the fight. And if you try it, you'll find that staring into the Abyss creates a reflection that stares back. The latter is a subtle idea but verifiable.
This question is also discussed @ https://philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/19805/what-did-nietzsche-mean-by-monsters-and-the-abyss
Perhaps you've also considered Carl Jung (shadow)? Interesting perspective on human nature, and J.Peterson lectured on the subject. In ancient Greece, the concept of monsters were used to explain the forces of nature, which needed to be placated with sacrifices and offerings to ensure order over chaos in nature, for example.
It's also important to remember that Nietzche's father was an ultra religious Christian and he would have no doubt been well familiar with Jesus' words from https://biblehub.com/matthew/26-52.htm "Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword."
Or simply, "You are what you eat" in the more modern phrasing.
And thus, the abyss, the nothingness is analogous. When one looks long into nothingness, one becomes nothing, empty. And the monsters here are (from his work Beyond Good and Evil) the result of a false morality. Nietzche would have pointed out modern priests and pastors of which there are so many examples that "fell from grace" in their fighting of monsters (e.g. the pastor who preaches against homosexuality only to find that he's been paying for male prostitutes for years).
It's poetic if anything so not reducible like previous modern philosophers, but when viewed as the precursor to existentialism, that existence preceeds essence, it's the core of the uber-mensche philosophy.
That is, to form your own essence and meaning, you must first empty yourself of the idea that you were born with an essence, meaning or purpose given to you from elsewhere. When emptied you are free to create your own meaning and purpose.