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Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (October 15, 1844 August 25, 1900) ( ) was a 19th-century German philosopher and classical philologist. He wrote critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy and science, using a distinctive German-language style and displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and aphorism.

Nietzsche's influence remains substantial within and beyond philosophy, notably in existentialism and postmodernism. His style and radical questioning of the value and objectivity of truth have resulted in much commentary and interpretation, mostly in the continental tradition, and to a lesser extent in analytic philosophy.

His key ideas include the interpretation of tragedy as an affirmation of life, an eternal recurrence (which numerous commentators have re-interpreted), a rejection of Platonism and a repudiation of both Christianity and egalitarianism (especially in the form of democracy and socialism).

Nietzsche began his career as a classical philologist before turning to philosophy. At the age of 24 he was appointed to the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Baselmarker (the youngest individual ever to have held this position), but resigned in 1879 because of health problems, which would plague him for most of his life. In 1889 he exhibited symptoms of insanity, living out his remaining years in the care of his mother and sister until his death in 1900.

Life

Youth (1844–69)

Born on October 15, 1844, Nietzsche grew up in the small town of Röckenmarker, near Leipzigmarker, in the Prussian Province of Saxonymarker. He was named after King Frederick William IV of Prussia, who turned 49 on the day of Nietzsche's birth. (Nietzsche later dropped his given middle name, "Wilhelm".) Nietzsche's parents, Carl Ludwig Nietzsche (1813–1849), a Lutheran pastor and former teacher, and Franziska Oehler (1826–1897), married in 1843, the year before their son's birth, and had two other children: a daughter, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, born in 1846, and a second son, Ludwig Joseph, born in 1848. Nietzsche's father died from a brain ailment in 1849; his younger brother died in 1850. The family then moved to Naumburgmarker, where they lived with Nietzsche's paternal grandmother and his father's two unmarried sisters. After the death of Nietzsche's grandmother in 1856, the family moved into their own house.
Nietzsche, 1861


Nietzsche attended a boys' school and then later a private school, where he became friends with Gustav Krug and Wilhelm Pinder, both of whom came from very respected families. In 1854, he began to attend the Domgymnasium in Naumburgmarker, but after he showed particular talents in music and language, the internationally-recognised Schulpfortamarker admitted him as a pupil, and there he continued his studies from 1858 to 1864. Here he became friends with Paul Deussen and Carl von Gersdorff. He also found time to work on poems and musical compositions. At Schulpfortamarker, Nietzsche received an important introduction to literature, particularly that of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and for the first time experienced a distance from his family life in a small-town Christian environment.
Nietzsche, 1864


After graduation in 1864 Nietzsche commenced studies in theology and classical philology at the University of Bonnmarker. For a short time he and Deussen became members of the Burschenschaft Frankonia. After one semester (and to the anger of his mother) he stopped his theological studies and lost his faith. This may have happened in part because of his reading around this time of David Strauss's Life of Jesus, which had a profound effect on the young Nietzsche, though in an essay entitled Fate and History written in 1862, Nietzsche had already argued that historical research had discredited the central teachings of Christianity. Nietzsche then concentrated on studying philology under Professor Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl, whom he followed to the University of Leipzigmarker the next year. There he became close friends with fellow-student Erwin Rohde. Nietzsche's first philological publications appeared soon after.

In 1865 Nietzsche thoroughly studied the works of Arthur Schopenhauer. In 1866 he read Friedrich Albert Lange's History of Materialism. Both thinkers proved influential. Schopenhauer was especially significant in the development of Nietzsche's later thought. Lange's descriptions of Kant's anti-materialistic philosophy, the rise of European Materialism, Europe's increased concern with science, Darwin's theory, and the general rebellion against tradition and authority greatly intrigued Nietzsche. The cultural environment encouraged him to expand his horizons beyond philology and to continue his study of philosophy.

In 1867 Nietzsche signed up for one year of voluntary service with the Prussian artillery division in Naumburg. However, a bad riding accident in March 1868 left him unfit for service. Consequently Nietzsche turned his attention to his studies again, completing them and first meeting with Richard Wagner later that year.

Professor at Basel (1869–79)

In part because of Ritschl's support, Nietzsche received a remarkable offer to become professor of classical philology at the University of Baselmarker. He was only 24 years old and had neither completed his doctorate nor received his teaching certificate. Despite the fact that the offer came at a time when he was considering giving up philology for science, he accepted. To this day, Nietzsche is still among the youngest of the tenured Classics professors on record. Before moving to Basel, Nietzsche renounced his Prussian citizenship: for the rest of his life he remained officially stateless.

Nevertheless, Nietzsche served in the Prussian forces during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 to 1871 as a medical orderly. In his short time in the military he experienced much, and witnessed the traumatic effects of battle. He also contracted diphtheria and dysentery. Walter Kaufmann speculates that he might also have contracted syphilis along with his other infections at this time, and some biographers speculate that syphilis caused his eventual madness, though there is some disagreement on this matter. On returning to Basel in 1870 Nietzsche observed the establishment of the German Empiremarker and the following era of Otto von Bismarck as an outsider and with a degree of skepticism regarding its genuineness. At the University, he delivered his inaugural lecture, "Homer and Classical Philology". Nietzsche also met Franz Overbeck, a professor of theology, who remained his friend throughout his life. Afrikan Spir,a little-known Russian philosopher and author of Denken und Wirklichkeit (1873), and his colleague the historian Jacob Burckhardt, whose lectures Nietzsche frequently attended, began to exercise significant influence on Nietzsche during this time.

Nietzsche had already met Richard Wagner in Leipzig in 1868, and (some time later) Wagner's wife Cosima. Nietzsche admired both greatly, and during his time at Basel frequently visited Wagner's house in Tribschenmarker in the Canton of Lucernemarker. The Wagners brought Nietzsche into their most intimate circle, and enjoyed the attention he gave to the beginning of the Bayreuth Festival Theatremarker. In 1870 he gave Cosima Wagner the manuscript of 'The Genesis of the Tragic Idea' as a birthday gift. In 1872 Nietzsche published his first book, The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music. However, his colleagues in the field of classical philology, including Ritschl, expressed little enthusiasm for the work, in which Nietzsche eschewed the classical philologic method in favor of a more speculative approach. In a polemic, Philology of the Future, Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff dampened the book's reception and increased its notoriety. In response, Rohde (by now a professor in Kielmarker) and Wagner came to Nietzsche's defense. Nietzsche remarked freely about the isolation he felt within the philological community and attempted to attain a position in philosophy at Basel, though unsuccessfully.


Between 1873 and 1876, Nietzsche published separately four long essays: David Strauss: the Confessor and the Writer, On the Use and Abuse of History for Life, Schopenhauer as Educator, and Richard Wagner in Bayreuth. (These four later appeared in a collected edition under the title, Untimely Meditations.) The four essays shared the orientation of a cultural critique, challenging the developing German culture along lines suggested by Schopenhauer and Wagner. In 1873, Nietzsche also began to accumulate the notes which would be posthumously published as Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks. During this time, in the circle of the Wagners, Nietzsche met Malwida von Meysenbug and Hans von BĂĽlow, and also began a friendship with Paul RĂ©e, who in 1876 influenced him in dismissing the pessimism in his early writings. However, he was deeply disappointed by the Bayreuth Festivalmarker of 1876, where the banality of the shows and the baseness of the public repelled him. He was also alienated by Wagner's championing of 'German culture', which Nietzsche thought a contradiction in terms, as well as by Wagner's celebration of his fame among the German public. All this contributed to Nietzsche's subsequent decision to distance himself from Wagner.

With the publication of Human, All Too Human in 1878 (a book of aphorisms on subjects ranging from metaphysics to morality and from religion to the sexes) Nietzsche's reaction against the pessimistic philosophy of Wagner and Schopenhauer became evident, as well as the infuence of Afrikan Spir's Denken und Wirklichkeit. Nietzsche's friendship with Deussen and Rohde cooled as well. In 1879, after a significant decline in health, Nietzsche had to resign his position at Basel. (Since his childhood, various disruptive illnesses had plagued him, including moments of shortsightedness that left him nearly blind, migraine headaches, and violent indigestion. The 1868 riding accident and diseases in 1870 may have aggravated these persistent conditions, which continued to affect him through his years at Basel, forcing him to take longer and longer holidays until regular work became impractical.)

Independent philosopher (1879–88)

Because his illness drove him to find climates more conducive to his health, Nietzsche traveled frequently, and lived until 1889 as an independent author in different cities. He spent many summers in Sils Mariamarker, near St. Moritzmarker in Switzerlandmarker, and many winters in the Italian cities of Genoamarker, Rapallomarker and Turinmarker and in the French city of Nicemarker. In 1881, when France occupied Tunisia, he planned to travel to Tunismarker in order to gain a view of Europe from the outside, but later abandoned that idea (probably for health reasons). While in Genoamarker, Nietzsche's failing eyesight prompted him to explore the use of typewriters as a means of continuing to write. He is known to have tried using the Hansen Writing Ball, a contemporary typewriter device.

Nietzsche occasionally returned to Naumburg to visit his family, and, especially during this time, he and his sister had repeated periods of conflict and reconciliation. He lived on his pension from Basel, but also received aid from friends. A past student of his, Peter Gast (born Heinrich Köselitz), became a sort of private secretary to Nietzsche. To the end of his life, Gast and Overbeck remained consistently faithful friends. Malwida von Meysenbug remained like a motherly patron even outside the Wagner circle. Soon Nietzsche made contact with the music-critic Carl Fuchs. Nietzsche stood at the beginning of his most productive period. Beginning with Human, All Too Human in 1878, Nietzsche would publish one book (or major section of a book) each year until 1888, his last year of writing, during which he completed five.


In 1882 Nietzsche published the first part of The Gay Science. That year he also met Lou Andreas Salomé, through Malwida von Meysenbug and Paul Rée. Nietzsche and Salomé spent the summer together in Tautenburgmarker in Thuringiamarker, often with Nietzsche's sister Elisabeth as a chaperone. Nietzsche, however, regarded Salomé less as an equal partner than as a gifted student. Salomé reports that he asked her to marry him and that she refused, though the reliability of her reports of events has come into question. Nietzsche's relationship with Rée and Salomé broke up in the winter of 1882/1883, partially because of intrigues conducted by Nietzsche's sister Elisabeth. Amidst renewed bouts of illness, living in near isolation after a falling-out with his mother and sister regarding Salomé, and plagued by suicidal thoughts, Nietzsche fled to Rapallo. Here he wrote the first part of Thus Spoke Zarathustra in only ten days.

After severing his philosophical ties with Schopenhauer and his social ties with Wagner, Nietzsche had few remaining friends. Now, with the new style of Zarathustra, his work became even more alienating and the market received it only to the degree required by politeness. Nietzsche recognized this and maintained his solitude, though he often complained about it. His books remained largely unsold. In 1885 he printed only 40 copies of the fourth part of Zarathustra, and distributed only a fraction of these among close friends, including Helene von Druskowitz.

In 1883 he tried and failed to obtain a lecturing post at the University of Leipzigmarker. It was made clear to him that, in view of the attitude towards Christianity and the concept of God expressed in Zarathustra, he had become in effect unemployable at any German University. The subsequent "feelings of revenge and resentment" embittered him. "And hence my rage since I have grasped in the broadest possible sense what wretched means (the depreciation of my good name, my character and my aims) suffice to take from me the trust of, and therewith the possibility of obtaining, pupils."

In 1886 Nietzsche broke with his editor, Ernst Schmeitzner, disgusted by his anti-Semitic opinions. Nietzsche saw his own writings as "completely buried and unexhumeable in this anti-Semitic dump" of Schmeitzner—associating the editor with a movement that should be "utterly rejected with cold contempt by every sensible mind". He then printed Beyond Good and Evil at his own expense, and issued in 1886-87 second editions of his earlier works (The Birth of Tragedy, Human, All Too Human, Dawn, and The Gay Science), accompanied by new prefaces in which he reconsidered his earlier works. Thereafter, he saw his work as completed for a time and hoped that soon a readership would develop. In fact, interest in Nietzsche's thought did increase at this time, if rather slowly and in a way hardly perceived by him. During these years Nietzsche met Meta von Salis, Carl Spitteler, and also Gottfried Keller. In 1886 his sister Elisabeth married the anti-Semite Bernhard Förster and traveled to Paraguaymarker to found Nueva Germaniamarker, a "Germanic" colony—a plan to which Nietzsche responded with mocking laughter. Through correspondence, Nietzsche's relationship with Elisabeth continued on the path of conflict and reconciliation, but they would meet again only after his collapse. He continued to have frequent and painful attacks of illness, which made prolonged work impossible. In 1887 Nietzsche wrote the polemic On the Genealogy of Morals.

During the same year Nietzsche encountered the work of Fyodor Dostoevsky, with whom he felt an immediate kinship. He also exchanged letters with Hippolyte Taine, and then also with Georg Brandes. Brandes, who had started to teach the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard in the 1870s, wrote to Nietzsche asking him to read Kierkegaard, to which Nietzsche replied that he would come to Copenhagen and read Kierkegaard with him. However, before fulfilling this undertaking, he slipped too far into sickness and madness. In the beginning of 1888, in Copenhagen, Brandes delivered one of the first lectures on Nietzsche's philosophy.

Although Nietzsche had in 1886 announced (at the end of On The Genealogy of Morality) a new work with the title The Will to Power: Attempt at a Revaluation of All Values, he eventually seems to have abandoned this particular approach and instead used some of the draft passages to compose Twilight of the Idols and The Antichrist (both written in 1888).

His health seemed to improve, and he spent the summer in high spirits. In the fall of 1888 his writings and letters began to reveal a higher estimation of his own status and "fate." He overestimated the increasing response to his writings, especially to the recent polemic, The Case of Wagner. On his 44th birthday, after completing Twilight of the Idols and The Antichrist, he decided to write the autobiography Ecce Homo. In the preface to this work—which suggests Nietzsche was well aware of the interpretive difficulties his work would generate—he declares, "Hear me! For I am such and such a person. Above all, do not mistake me for someone else." In December, Nietzsche began a correspondence with August Strindberg, and thought that, short of an international breakthrough, he would attempt to buy back his older writings from the publisher and have them translated into other European languages. Moreover, he planned the publication of the compilation Nietzsche Contra Wagner and of the poems that composed his collection Dionysian Dithyrambs.

Mental breakdown and death (1889–1900)

Photo by Hans Olde from the photographic series, The Ill Nietzsche, summer 1899


On January 3, 1889, Nietzsche finally suffered a mental collapse. Two policemen approached him after he caused a public disturbance in the streets of Turinmarker. What actually happened remains unknown, but the often-repeated tale states that Nietzsche witnessed the whipping of a horse at the other end of the Piazza Carlo Alberto, ran to the horse, threw his arms up around its neck to protect the horse, and then collapsed to the ground.

In the following few days, Nietzsche sent short writings—known as the Wahnbriefe ("Madness Letters")—to a number of friends (including Cosima Wagner and Jacob Burckhardt). To his former colleague Burckhardt, Nietzsche wrote: "I have had Caiaphas put in fetters. Also, last year I was crucified by the German doctors in a very drawn-out manner. Wilhelm, Bismarck, and all anti-Semites abolished." Additionally, he commanded the German emperor to go to Rome in order to be shot and summoned the European powers to take military action against Germany.

On January 6, 1889 Burckhardt showed the letter he had received from Nietzsche to Overbeck. The following day Overbeck received a similarly revealing letter, and decided that Nietzsche's friends had to bring him back to Basel. Overbeck traveled to Turin and brought Nietzsche to a psychiatric clinic in Basel. By that time Nietzsche appeared fully in the grip of a serious mental illness, and his mother Franziska decided to transfer him to a clinic in Jenamarker under the direction of Otto Binswanger. From November 1889 to February 1890 the art historian Julius Langbehn attempted to cure Nietzsche, claiming that the methods of the medical doctors were ineffective in treating Nietzsche's condition. Langbehn assumed progressively greater control of Nietzsche until his secrecy discredited him. In March 1890 Franziska removed Nietzsche from the clinic, and in May 1890 brought him to her home in Naumburg. During this process Overbeck and Gast contemplated what to do with Nietzsche's unpublished works. In January 1889 they proceeded with the planned release of Twilight of the Idols, by that time already printed and bound. In February they ordered a fifty copy private edition of Nietzsche contra Wagner, but the publisher C. G. Naumann secretly printed one hundred. Overbeck and Gast decided to withhold publishing The Antichrist and Ecce Homo because of their more radical content. Nietzsche's reception and recognition enjoyed their first surge.


In 1893 Nietzsche's sister Elisabeth returned from Nueva Germaniamarker (in Paraguay) following the suicide of her husband. She read and studied Nietzsche's works, and piece by piece took control of them and of their publication. Overbeck eventually suffered dismissal, and Gast finally cooperated. After the death of Franziska in 1897 Nietzsche lived in Weimarmarker, where Elisabeth cared for him and allowed people, including Rudolf Steiner (who in 1895 had written one of the first books praising Nietzsche ) to visit her uncommunicative brother. Elisabeth at one point went so far as to employ Steiner–at a time when he was still an ardent fighter against any mysticism–as a tutor to help her to understand her brother's philosophy. Steiner abandoned the attempt after only a few months, declaring that it was impossible to teach her anything about philosophy.

Nietzsche's mental illness was originally diagnosed as tertiary syphilis, in accordance with a prevailing medical paradigm of the time. While most commentators regard his breakdown as unrelated to his philosophy, some, including Georges Bataille and René Girard, argue that his breakdown may have been caused by a psychological maladjustment brought on by his philosophy. Manic-depressive illness with periodic psychosis, followed by vascular dementia was put forwardprior Schain's and Sax's studies ; Orth and Trimble confirm that frontotemporal dementia is indicated rather than syphilis, but refrain from speculating as to the cause. Other researchers agree that syphilis is contra-indicated, but argue against Sax's revival of Hildebrandt’s hypothesis of a benign brain tumor, positing instead a syndrome called CADASIL.

In 1898 and 1899 Nietzsche suffered at least two strokes which partially paralysed him and left him unable to speak or walk. After contracting pneumonia in mid-August 1900 he had another stroke during the night of August 24 / August 25, and died about noon on August 25. Elisabeth had him buried beside his father at the church in Röcken bei Lützen. His friend, Gast, gave his funeral oration, proclaiming: "Holy be your name to all future generations!" Nietzsche had written in Ecce Homo (at the time of the funeral still unpublished) of his fear that one day his name would be regarded as "holy".

Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche compiled The Will to Power from Nietzsche's unpublished notebooks, and published it posthumously. Because his sister arranged the book based on her own conflation of several of Nietzsche's early outlines, and took great liberties with the material, the consensus holds that it does not reflect Nietzsche's intent. Indeed, Mazzino Montinari, the editor of Nietzsche's Nachlass, called it a forgery in The 'Will to Power' does not exist. For example, Elisabeth removed aphorism 35 of The Antichrist, where Nietzsche rewrote a passage of the Bible (see The Will to Power and Nietzsche's criticisms of anti-Semitism and nationalism).

Citizenship, nationality, ethnicity

Nietzsche is commonly classified as a “German” philosopher by professionals and non-specialists alike. The modern unified nation-state called Germany did not yet exist at the time of his birth, but the German Confederationmarker of states did, and Nietzsche was a citizen of one of these, Prussia—for a time. When he accepted his post at Basel, Nietzsche applied for the annulment of his Prussian citizenship. The official response confirming the revocation of his citizenship came in a document dated April 17, 1869, and for the rest of his life he remained officially stateless.Nietzsche's feelings about his national identity were clearly complex. In Ecce Homo, he writes: Even by virtue of my descent, I am granted an eye beyond all merely local, merely nationally conditioned perspectives; it is not difficult for me to be a "good European." On the other hand, I am perhaps more German than present-day Germans, mere citizens of the German Reich, could possibly be—I, the last anti-political German. And yet my ancestors were Polish noblemen: I have many racial instincts in my body from that source—who knows? [...] When I consider how often I am addressed as a Pole when I travel, even by Poles themselves, and how rarely I am taken for a German, it might seem that I have been merely externally sprinkled with what is German. A later revision of the same passage was discovered in 1969 among the papers of Peter Gast. In it Nietzsche is even more adamant about his Polish Identity. “I am a pure-blooded Polish nobleman, without a single drop of bad blood, certainly not German blood.” On yet another occasion Nietzsche stated: “Germany is a great nation only because its people have so much Polish blood in their veins... I am proud of my Polish descent.”

Philosophy

Friedrich Nietzsche, 1882


Nietzsche’s works did not reach a wide readership during his active writing career. However, in 1888 Georg Brandes (an influential Danish critic) aroused considerable excitement about Nietzsche through a series of lectures he gave at the University of Copenhagenmarker. Then in 1894 Lou Andreas-SalomĂ© published her book, Friedrich Nietzsche in seinen Werken [Friedrich Nietzsche in His Works]. Andreas-SalomĂ© had known Nietzsche well in the early 1880s, and she returned to the subject of Nietzsche, years later, in her work LebensrĂĽckblick â€“ GrundriĂź einiger Lebenserinnerungen [Looking Back: Memoirs] (written in 1932), which covered her intellectual relationships with Nietzsche, Rilke, and Freud. Nietzsche himself had acquired the publication-rights for his earlier works in 1886 and began a process of editing and re-formulation that placed the body of his work in a more coherent perspective.

In the years after his death in 1900, Nietzsche's works at last became better known. For example, the poet W.B. Yeats helped to raise awareness of Nietzsche in Ireland. H.L. Mencken produced translations of Nietzsche's works that helped to increase knowledge of his philosophy in the United States. Nietzsche's growing prominence suffered a severe setback when he became closely associated with Adolf Hitler and the German Reich. A decade after World War II, there was a revival of Nietzsche's philosophical writings thanks to exhaustive translations and analyses by Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale. Others, well known philosophers in their own right, wrote commentaries on Nietzsche’s philosophy, including Martin Heidegger, who produced a four-volume study. Many 20th century thinkers (particularly in the tradition of continental philosophy) cite him as a profound influence, including notables Sartre, Foucault, Derrida, and Deleuze, whose philosophy of immanence has significant resonances with Nietzsche's will to power.

Nietzsche’s works remain controversial, and there is widespread disagreement about their interpretation and significance. Part of the difficulty in interpreting Nietzsche arises from the uniquely provocative style of his philosophical writing. Nietzsche frequently delivered trenchant critiques of Christianity and of philosophers such as Plato and Kant in the most offensive and blasphemous terms possible given the context of 19th century Europe. These aspects of Nietzsche's style run counter to traditional values in philosophical writing, and they alienated Nietzsche from the academic establishment both in his time and, to a lesser extent, today (when some analytic philosophers tend to dismiss Nietzsche as inconsistent and speculative, producing something other than "real" philosophy).

A few of the themes that Nietzsche scholars have devoted the most attention to include Nietzsche's views on morality, his view that "God is dead" (and along with it any sort of God's-eye view on the world thus leading to perspectivism), his notions of the will to power and Ăśbermensch, and his suggestion of eternal return.

Morality

In Daybreak Nietzsche begins his "Campaign against Morality". He calls himself an "immoralist" and harshly criticizes the prominent moral schemes of his day: Christianity, Kantianism, and utilitarianism. However, Nietzsche did not want to destroy morality, but rather to initiate a re-evaluation of the values of the Judeo-Christian world. He indicates his desire to bring about a new, more naturalistic source of value in the vital impulses of life itself.

In both these works, Nietzsche's genealogical account of the development of master-slave morality occupies a central place. Nietzsche presents master-morality as the original system of morality—perhaps best associated with Homeric Greece. Here, value arises as a contrast between good and bad, or between 'life-affirming' and 'life-denying': wealth, strength, health, and power (the sort of traits found in a Homeric hero) count as good; while bad is associated with the poor, weak, sick, and pathetic (the sort of traits conventionally associated with slaves in ancient times).

Slave-morality, in contrast, comes about as a reaction to master-morality. Nietzsche associates slave-morality with the Jewish and Christian traditions. Here, value emerges from the contrast between good and evil: good being associated with other-worldliness, charity, piety, restraint, meekness, and submission; evil seen as worldly, cruel, selfish, wealthy, and aggressive. Nietzsche sees slave-morality born out of the resentment of slaves. It works to overcome the slave's own sense of inferiority before the (better-off) masters. It does so by making out slave weakness to be a matter of choice, by, e.g., relabeling it as "meekness."

Nietzsche sees the slave-morality as a source of the nihilism that has overtaken Europe. In Nietzsche's eyes, modern Europe, and its Christianity, exists in a hypocritical state due to a tension between master and slave morality, both values contradictorily determining, to varying degrees, the values of most Europeans (who are "motley"). Nietzsche calls for exceptional people to no longer be ashamed of their uniqueness in the face of a supposed morality-for-all, which Nietzsche deems to be harmful to the flourishing of exceptional people. However, Nietzsche cautions that morality, per se, is not bad; it is good for the masses, and should be left to them. Exceptional people, on the other hand, should follow their own "inner law." A favorite motto of Nietzsche, taken from Pindar, reads: "Become what you are" (cf. to Kierkegaard's assertion, in Vol. 2 of Either/or, that in aesthetics you become what you become, whereas in ethics you are what you are).

Death of God, nihilism, perspectivism

The statement "God is dead," occurring in several of Nietzsche's works (notably in The Gay Science), has become one of his best-known remarks. On the basis of it, most commentators regard Nietzsche as an atheist; others (such as Kaufmann) suggest that this statement reflects a more subtle understanding of divinity. In Nietzsche's view, recent developments in modern science and the increasing secularization of European society had effectively 'killed' the Christian God, who had served as the basis for meaning and value in the West for more than a thousand years.

Nietzsche claimed the death of God would eventually lead to the loss of any universal perspective on things, and along with it any coherent sense of objective truth. Instead we would retain only our own multiple, diverse, and fluid perspectives. This view has acquired the name "perspectivism".

Alternatively, the death of God may lead beyond bare perspectivism to outright nihilism, the belief that nothing has any importance and that life lacks purpose. As Heidegger put the problem, "If God as the suprasensory ground and goal of all reality is dead, if the suprasensory world of the Ideas has suffered the loss of its obligatory and above it its vitalizing and upbuilding power, then nothing more remains to which man can cling and by which he can orient himself." Developing this idea, Nietzsche wrote Thus Spoke Zarathustra, therein introducing the concept of a value-creating Ăśbermensch. According to Lampert, "the death of God must be followed by a long twilight of piety and nihilism (II. 19; III. 8). [...] Zarathustra's gift of the superman is given to a mankind not aware of the problem to which the superman is the solution."

Will to power

An important element of Nietzsche's philosophical outlook is the "will to power" (der Wille zur Macht), which provides a basis for understanding motivation in human behavior. But this concept may have wider application, as Nietzsche, in a number of places, also suggests that the will to power is a more important element than pressure for adaptation or survival. In its later forms Nietzsche's concept of the will to power applies to all living things, suggesting that adaptation and the struggle to survive is a secondary drive in the evolution of animals, less important than the desire to expand one’s power. Nietzsche eventually took this concept further still, and transformed the idea of matter as centers of force into matter as centers of will to power. Nietzsche wanted to dispense with the theory of matter, which he viewed as a relic of the metaphysics of substance. One study of Nietzsche defines his fully-developed concept of the will to power as "the element from which derive both the quantitative difference of related forces and the quality that devolves into each force in this relation" revealing the will to power as "the principle of the synthesis of forces."

Nietzsche's notion of the will to power can also be viewed as a response to Schopenhauer's "will to live." Writing a generation before Nietzsche, Schopenhauer had regarded the entire universe and everything in it as driven by a primordial will to live, thus resulting in all creatures' desire to avoid death and to procreate. Nietzsche, however, challenges Schopenhauer's account and suggests that people and animals really want power; living in itself appears only as a subsidiary aim—something necessary to promote one's power. In defense of his view, Nietzsche appeals to many instances in which people and animals willingly risk their lives in order to promote their power, most notably in instances like competitive fighting and warfare. Once again, Nietzsche seems to take part of his inspiration from the ancient Homeric Greek texts he knew well: Greek heroes and aristocrats or "masters" did not desire mere living (they often died quite young and risked their lives in battle) but wanted power, glory, and greatness. In this regard he often mentions the common Greek theme of agon or contest.

In addition to Schopenhauer's psychological views, Nietzsche contrasts his notion of the will to power with many of the other most popular psychological views of his day, such as utilitarianism, which claims that all people fundamentally want to be happy (Nietzsche responds that only the Englishman wants that), and Platonism, which claims that people ultimately want to achieve unity with the good or in Christian neo-Platonism, with God. In each case, Nietzsche argues that the "will to power" provides a more useful and general explanation of human behavior.

Ăśbermensch

Another concept important to an understanding of Nietzsche's thought is the Übermensch. While interpretations of Nietzsche's overman vary wildly, here are a few of his quotes from Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Prologue, §§3–4):

I teach you the overman.
Man is something that shall be overcome.
What have you done to overcome him?
...
All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood, and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man?
What is ape to man?
A laughing stock or painful embarrassment.
And man shall be that to overman: a laughingstock or painful embarrassment.
You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm.
Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape....
The overman is the meaning of the earth.
Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth....
Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman—a rope over an abyss ... what is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end."


Eternal return

Nietzsche's view on eternal return is similar to that of Hume: "the idea that an eternal recurrence of blind, meaningless variation—chaotic, pointless shuffling of matter and law—would inevitably spew up worlds whose evolution through time would yield the apparently meaningful stories of our lives. This idea of eternal recurrence became a cornerstone of his nihilism, and thus part of the foundation of what became existentialism."Nietzsche was so impressed by this idea, that he at first thought he had discovered a new scientific proof of the greatest importance. He gradually backed off from this view, and in later works referred to it as a thought-experiment.

The idea occurs in a parable in Sec. 341 of The Gay Science, and also in the chapter "Of the Vision and the Riddle" in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, among other places. For further discussion, see Philosophy of Nietzsche.

Reading



As a philologist, Nietzsche had a thorough knowledge of Greek philosophy. He read Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, Arthur Schopenhauer and Afrikan Spir, who became his main opponents in his philosophy, and later Spinoza, whom he saw as his "precursor" in some respects but as a personification of the "ascetic ideal" in others. However, Nietzsche referred to Kant as a "moral fanatic", Mill as a "blockhead", and of Spinoza he said: "How much of personal timidity and vulnerability does this masquerade of a sickly recluse betray?" The irony of the latter statement was pointed out by Russell, who noted that "Exactly the same may be said of him, with the less reluctance since he has not hesitated to say it of Spinoza." Nietzsche expressed admiration for 17th century French moralists such as La Rochefoucauld, Jean de La Bruyère and Vauvenargues, as well as for Stendhal.

The organicism of Paul Bourget influenced Nietzsche,as did that of Rudolf Virchow and Alfred Espinas. Nietzsche early learned of Darwinism through Friedrich Lange. Notably, he also read some of the posthumous works of Charles Baudelaire, Tolstoy's My Religion, Ernest Renan's Life of Jesus and Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Possessed. Nietzsche called Dostoevsky "the only psychologist from whom I have anything to learn." Comments in several passages suggest that he responded strongly and favorably to the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson. While Nietzsche never mentions Max Stirner, the similarities in their ideas have prompted a minority of interpreters to suggest he both read and was influenced by him.

Reception

Readers have responded to Nietzsche's work in complex and sometimes controversial ways. Many Germans eventually discovered his appeals for greater individualism and personality development in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, but responded to those appeals divergently. He had some following among left-wing Germans in the 1890s; in 1894–95 German conservatives wanted to ban his work as subversive. During the late 19th century Nietzsche's ideas were commonly associated with anarchist movements and appear to have had influence within them, particularly in France and the United States.

By World War I, however, he had acquired a reputation as an inspiration for right-wing German militarism. German soldiers even received copies of Thus Spoke Zarathustra as gifts during World War I. The Dreyfus Affair provides another example of his reception: the French anti-semitic Right labelled the Jewish and Leftist intellectuals who defended Alfred Dreyfusmarker as "Nietzscheans". Nietzsche even had a distinct appeal for many Zionist thinkers at the turn of the century. It has been argued that his work influenced Theodore Herzl, and Martin Buber went so far as to extoll Nietzsche as a "creator" and "emissary of life".

Many political leaders of the twentieth century were at least superficially familiar with Nietzsche's ideas. However, it is not always possible to determine whether or not they actually read his work. Hitler, for example, probably never read Nietzsche, and if he did, his reading was not extensive. although he was a frequent visitor to the Nietzsche museum in Weimar and did use expressions of Nietzsche's, such as "lords of the earth" in Mein Kampf. The Nazis made very selective use of Nietzsche's philosophy; this association with National Socialism caused Nietzsche's reputation to suffer following World War II. Mussolini certainly read Nietzsche, as did Charles de Gaulle. It has been suggested that Theodore Roosevelt read Nietzsche and was profoundly influenced by him, and in more recent years, Richard Nixon read Nietzsche avidly.

Nietzschean ideas exercised a major influence on several prominent European philosophers, including Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger, Albert Camus, and Jean-Paul Sartre. In the Anglo-American tradition he has had a profound influence on Bernard Williams due to the scholarship of Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale, which rehabilitated Nietzsche as a philosopher, and American philosophers such as Allan Bloom, Alexander Nehamas, William E. Connolly and Brian Leiter continue to study him today. A vocal minority of recent Nietzschean interpreters (Bruce Detwiler, Fredrick Appel, Domenico Losurdo, Abir Taha) have contested what they consider the popular but erroneous egalitarian misrepresentation of Nietzsche's "aristocratic radicalism". Bertrand Russell in his History of Western Philosophy was scathing in his chapter on Nietzsche, calling his work the "mere power-phantasies of an invalid" and referring to Nietzsche as a "megalomaniac".

Works



Notes

References

  • Magnus and Higgins, "Nietzsche's works and their themes", in The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche, Magnus and Higgins (ed.), University of Cambridge Press, 1996, pp. 21–58. ISBN 0521367670
  • O'Flaherty, James C., Sellner, Timothy F., Helm, Robert M., "Studies in Nietzsche and the Classical Tradition" (University of North Carolina Press)1979 ISBN 0-08078-8085-X
  • O'Flaherty, James C., Sellner, Timothy F., Helm, Robert M., ""Studies in Nietzsche and the Judaeo-Christian Tradition" (University of North Carolina Press)1985 ISBN 0-8078-8104-X
  • Porter, James I. "Nietzsche and the Philology of the Future" (Stanford University Press, 2000). ISBN 0804736987
  • Porter, James I. "The Invention of Dionysus: An Essay on The Birth of Tragedy" (Stanford University Press, 2000). ISBN 0804737002
  • Seung, T.K. Nietzsche's Epic of the Soul: Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2005. ISBN 0739111302


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