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Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm (1844-1900)

"Christianity was from the beginning, essentially and fundamentally, life's nausea and disgust with life, merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as, faith in "another" or "better" life."

"If the Christian dogmas of a revengeful God, universal sinfulness, election by divine grace and the danger of eternal damnation were true, it would be a sign of weak-mindedness and lack of character not to become a priest, apostle or hermit and, in fear and trembling, to work solely on one's own salvation; it would be senseless to lose sight of one's eternal advantage for the sake of temporal comfort. If we may assume that these things are at any rate believed true, then the everyday Christian cuts a miserable figure; he is a man who really cannot count to three, and who precisely on account of his spiritual imbecility does not deserve to be punished so harshly as Christianity promises to punish him."

-- Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher, whose critiques of contemporary culture, religion, and philosophy centered around a basic question regarding the foundation of values and morality. Beyond the unique themes dealt with in his works, Nietzsche's powerful style and subtle approach are distinguishing features of his writings. Although largely overlooked during his short working life, which ended with a mental collapse at the age of 44, Nietzsche received recognition during the second half of the 20th century as a highly significant figure in modern philosophy. His influence was particularly noted throughout the 20th century by many existentialist, phenomenological and postmodern philosophers.


Friedrich Nietzsche was born on October 15, 1844, in the small town of Röcken, near Leipzig, within what was then the Prussian province of Saxony. His name comes from King Frederick William IV of Prussia, on whose 49th birthday Nietzsche was born. Nietzsche's parents were Carl Ludwig (1813-1849), a Lutheran pastor and former teacher, and Franziska (1826-1897). His sister, Elisabeth, was born in 1846, followed by his brother Ludwig Joseph in 1848. After the death of their father in 1849 and the young brother in 1850, the family moved to Naumburg, where they lived with his maternal grandmother and his father's two unmarried sisters under the (formal) guardianship of a local magistrate, Bernhard Dächsel.

After the death of his grandmother in 1856, the family was able to afford their own house. During this time, the young Nietzsche attended a boys' school and later a private school, where he became friends with Gustav Krug and Wilhelm Pinder, both of whom came from respected families. In 1854, he began to attend the Domgymnasium in Naumburg, but after demonstrating particular talents in music and language, he was admitted to the internationally recognized Schulpforta, where 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 Schulpforta, Nietzsche received an important introduction to literature, particularly in regard to the Ancient Greeks and Romans, and also first experienced a distance from his family life in a small-town Christian environment.

After graduation, in 1864, Nietzsche commenced his studies in theology and classical philology at the University of Bonn. For a short time, with Deussen, he was a member of the Burschenschaft Frankonia. After one semester and to the anger of his mother, he stopped his studies in theology, and concentrated on philology, with Professor Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl, whom he followed to the University of Leipzig the next year. There, he became close friends with fellow student Erwin Rohde. Nietzsche's first philological publications appeared soon after.

In 1865, Nietzsche became acquainted with the work of Arthur Schopenhauer, and Friedrich Albert Lange's Geschichte des Materialismus in 1866. Both of these encounters were stimulating, encouraging him to no longer limit himself to philology and continue his schooling. In 1867, Nietzsche committed to 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 returned his attention to his studies, completing them and first meeting with Richard Wagner later that year.

Professor at Basel (1869–1879)
Based on Ritschl's support, Nietzsche received an extraordinary offer to become professor of classical philology at the University of Basel before having completed his doctorate degree or certificate for teaching. Among his philological work there, he discovered that the ancient poetic meter related only to the length of syllables, different from the modern, accentuating meter.

After moving to Basel, Nietzsche renounced his Prussian citizenship, and was for the rest of his life, officially stateless. Nevertheless, he served on the Prussian side during the Franco-Prussian War as a medical orderly. His time in the military was short, but he experienced much, and witnessed the traumatic effects of battle. He also contracted diphtheria and dysentery.

On returning to Basel in 1870, Nietzsche observed the establishment of the German Empire 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, 'On Homer's Personality'. Also, Nietzsche met Franz Overbeck, a professor of theology, who remained his friend throughout his life. The other most influential colleague was historian Jacob Burckhardt, whose lectures Nietzsche frequently attended.

Already in 1868, Nietzsche had met Richard Wagner in Leipzig, and sometime later, his wife, Cosima. Nietzsche admired both greatly, and during his time at Basel was a frequent guest in Wagner's house in Tribschen. The Wagners brought Nietzsche into their closest circle, and enjoyed the attention he gave to the beginning of the Festival House in Bayreuth. 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, the work, in which he forewent a precise philological method to employ a style of philosophical speculation, was not well received among his classical philological colleagues, including Ritschl. In a polemic, 'Future Philology', Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff dampened the book's reception and increased its notoriety. In response, Rohde, by now a professor in Kiel, and Wagner came to Nietzsche's defense. Nietzsche remarked freely about the isolation he felt within the philological community and attempted unsuccessfully to attain a position in philosophy at Basel.

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 were later collected and published under the title, Untimely Meditations.) The four shared the orientation of a cultural critique, challenging the developing German culture along lines suggested by Schopenhauer and Wagner. Starting in 1873, he also accumulated notes that were 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 Bülow, and also began a friendship with Paul Rée, who after 1876 influenced him in dismissing the pessimism in his early writings. However, his disappointment with the Bayreuth Festival of 1876, where he was repelled by the banality of the shows and the baseness of the public, caused him to finally distance himself from Wagner.

Most commentators agree that Nietzsche read Max Stirner, however they differ in respect to whether he was influenced by him. At least one, philosopher Eduard von Hartmann, has accused him of plagiarizing Stirner.

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 departure from the philosophy of Wagner and Schopenhauer became evident. Also, Nietzsche's friendship with Deussen and Rohde cooled. Nietzsche in this time attempted to find a wife to no avail.

In 1879, after a significant decline in health, he was forced to resign his position. Since his childhood, Nietzsche had been plagued by various disruptive illnesses -- moments of shortsightedness practically to the degree of blindness, migraine headaches, and violent stomach attacks. These persistent conditions were perhaps aggravated by his riding accident in 1868 and diseases in 1870, and continued to affect him through his years at Basel, forcing him to take longer and longer holidays until regular work was no longer practicable.

Free philosopher
Driven by his illness to find more compatible climates, Nietzsche travelled frequently and lived until 1889 as a free author in different cities. He spent many summers in Sils Maria, near St. Moritz in Switzerland, and many winters in the Italian cities of Genoa, Rapallo, and Turin, and the French city of Nice. He 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 sort of a private secretary. To the end of his life, Gast and Overbeck were 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 was 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 1879, Nietzsche published Mixed Opinions and Maxims, which followed the aphoristic form of Human, All-Too-Human. The following year, he published The Wanderer and His Shadow. Both were published as the second part of Human, All-Too-Human with the second edition of the latter.

In 1881, Nietzsche published Daybreak: Reflections on Moral Prejudices, and in 1882, the first part of The Gay Science. That year he also met Lou Salomé through Malwida von Meysenbug and Paul Rée. Nietzsche and Salomé spent the summer together in Tautenburg, often with Nietzsche's sister Elisabeth as chaperone. However, Nietzsche's regard for Salomé was less as an equal partner than as a gifted student.

He fell in love with her and pursued her despite their mutual friend Rée. When he asked to marry her, Salomé refused. Nietzsche's relationship with Rée and Salomé broke up in the winter of 1882-83, partially due to intrigues led by his sister Elisabeth. (Lou Salomé eventually came to correspond with Sigmund Freud, introducing him to Nietzsche's thought.) In the face of renewed fits of illness, in near isolation after a falling out with his mother and sister regarding Salomé, and plagued by suicidal thoughts, he fled to Rapallo, where in only ten days he wrote the first part of Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

After severing philosophical ties to Schopenhauer and social ties to Wagner, Nietzsche had few remaining friends. Now with the new style of Zarathustra, his work became even more alienating and was received only to the degree prescribed by politeness. Nietzsche recognized this and maintained his solitude, even though he often complained about it. He gave up his short-lived plan to become a poet in public, and was troubled by concerns about his publications. His books were as good as unsold. In 1885, he printed only 40 copies of the fourth part of Zarathustra, and only a fraction of these were distributed among close friends.

In 1886, he printed Beyond Good and Evil at his own expense. With this book and the appearance in 1886-87 of second editions of his earlier works (The Birth of Tragedy, Human, All-Too-Human, Daybreak, and The Gay Science), he saw his work completed for the time and hoped that soon a readership would develop. In fact, the interest in Nietzsche did arise at this time, if also rather slowly and hardly perceived by him.

During these years, Nietzsche's met Meta von Salis, Carl Spitteler, and also Gottfried Keller. In 1886, his sister Elisabeth married the anti-Semite Bernhard Förster and travelled to Paraguay to found a "Germanic" colony, a plan to which Nietzsche responded with laughter. Through correspondence, Nietzsche's relationship with Elisabeth continued on the path of conflict and reconciliation, but she would not see him again in person until after his collapse.

Nietzsche continued to have frequent and painful attacks of illness, which made prolonged work impossible. In 1887, Nietzsche quickly wrote the polemic On the Genealogy of Morals. He also exchanged letters with Hippolyte Taine, and then also with Georg Brandes, who at the beginning of 1888 delivered in Copenhagen the first lectures on Nietzsche's philosophy.

In the same year, Nietzsche wrote five books, based on his voluminous notes for the long-planned work, The Will to Power. His health seemed to be improving, and in the summer he was in high spirits. In the fall of 1888, his writings and letters began to reveal an overestimation of his status and 'fate'. He overestimated the increasing response to his writings, above all, for the recent polemic, The Case of Wagner.

On his 44th birthday, after completing The Twilight of the Idols and The Antichrist, he decided to write the autobiography Ecce Homo, which presents itself to his readers in order that they, 'Hear me! For I am such and such a person. Above all, do not mistake me for someone else.' (Preface, sec. 1, tr. Walter Kaufmann)

In December, Nietzsche began 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 the poems Dionysian Dithyrambs.

On 3 January 1889, Nietzsche had a mental collapse. That day he had been approached by two Turinese policemen after making some sort of public disturbance in the streets of Turin. What actually happened is not known. The often-repeated (and apocryphal) tale is that Nietzsche saw a horse being whipped at the other end of the Piazza Carlo Alberto, ran to the horse, threw his arms up around the horse’s neck to protect it, and collapsed to the ground. In the following few days, he sent short writings to a number of friends, including Cosima Wagner and Jacob Burckhardt, which showed signs of a breakdown.

To his former colleague Burckhardt he wrote: 'I have had Caiphas 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.' (The Portable Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann)

Mental breakdown and death (1889–1900)
On January 6, 1889, Burckhardt showed the letter he received from Nietzsche to Overbeck. The following day Overbeck received a similarly revealing letter, and decided Nietzsche must be brought back to Basel. Overbeck traveled to Turin and brought Nietzsche to a psychiatric clinic in Basel.

By that time, Nietzsche was fully in the grip of insanity, and his mother Franziska decided to bring him to a clinic in Jena under the direction of Otto Binswanger. From November 1889 to February 1890, Julius Langbehn attempted to cure Nietzsche, claiming that the doctors' methods were ineffective to cure Nietzsche's condition. Langbehn assumed greater and greater control of Nietzsche until his secrecy discredited him. In March 1890, Franziska removed Nietzsche from the clinic, and in May 1890 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 The Twilight of the Idols, by that time already printed and bound. In February, they ordered a 50-copy private edition of Nietzsche Contra Wagner, but the publisher C. G. Naumann secretly printed 100. Overbeck and Gast decided to withhold publishing Antichrist and Ecce Homo due to their more radical content. Nietzsche's reception and recognition enjoyed their first surge.

In 1893, Nietzsche's sister Elisabeth returned from Paraguay after the suicide of her husband. She read and studied Nietzsche's works, and piece by piece took control of them and their publication. Overbeck was eventually dismissed, and Gast finally cooperated. After the death of Franziska in 1897, Nietzsche lived in Weimar, where he was cared for by Elisabeth, who allowed people to visit the uncommunicative Nietzsche.

On August 25, 1900, Nietzsche died after contracting pneumonia. At the wish of Elisabeth, he was buried beside his father at the church in Röcken.

The cause of Nietzsche's breakdown has been the subject of speculation and remains uncertain. An early and frequent diagnosis was a syphilitic infection; however, some of Nietzsche's symptoms were inconsistent with typical cases of syphilis. Another diagnosis was a form of brain cancer. Others suggest that Nietzsche experienced a mystical awakening, similar to ones studied by Meher Baba. While most commentators regard Nietzsche's breakdown as irrelevant to his philosophy, some, including Georges Bataille, argue that the breakdown must be considered.

Key concepts
Much controversy surrounds whether Nietzsche advocated a single or comprehensive philosophical viewpoint. Many charge Nietzsche with propounding contradictory thoughts and ideas. Here are Nietzsche's main ideas.

Nihilism and the death of God
For Nietzsche, nihilism is the outcome of repeated frustrations in the search for meaning. He diagnosed nihilism as a latent presence within the very foundations of European culture, and thus, as a necessary and approaching destiny. The religious worldview had already suffered a number of challenges from contrary perspectives grounded in philosophical skepticism, and in modern science's evolutionary and heliocentric theory.

Nietzsche sees this intellectual condition as a new challenge to European culture, which has extended itself beyond a sort of point-of-no-return. Nietzsche conceptualizes this with the famous statement, 'God is dead', which appears prominently in The Gay Science and Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The statement suggests the impending crisis that European thought faces in the wake of the irreparable disturbances to its traditional foundations.

Nietzsche treats this phrase as more than a provocative declaration, but almost reverently, as it represents the potential of a nihilism that arrests growth and progress in the midst of an overwhelming absurdity and meaninglessness:

"The greatest recent event -- that 'God is dead', that the belief in the Christian god has become unbelievable -- is already beginning to cast its first shadows over Europe. For the few at least, whose eyes -- the suspicion in whose eyes is strong and subtle enough for this spectacle, some sun seems to have set and some ancient and profound trust has been turned into doubt; to them our old world must appear daily more like evening, more mistrustful, stranger, 'older'. But in the main one may say: The event itself is far too great, too distant, too remote from the multitude's capacity for comprehension even for the tidings of it to be thought of as having arrived as yet. Much less may one suppose that many people know as yet what this event really means -- and how much must collapse now that this faith has been undermined because it was built upon this faith, propped up by it, grown into it; for example, the whole of our European morality. This long plenitude and sequence of breakdown, destruction, ruin, and cataclysm that is now impending -- who could guess enough of it today to be compelled to play the teacher and advance proclaimer of this monstrous logic of terror, the prophet of a gloom and an eclipse of the sun whose like has probably never yet occurred on earth?"
— Nietzsche, Gay Science, Book V, sec. 343, trans. Walter Kaufmann'

The first instance of the phrase occurs at the beginning of Book III of The Gay Science (section 108), and again prominently in section 125.

Amor fati and the eternal recurrence
The idea of eternal recurrence is central to the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche first encountered the idea in the works of Heinrich Heine, who speculated that there would one day be a person born with the same thought processes as himself, and that the same was true of every other person on the planet. Nietzsche expanded on this thought to form his theory, which he put forth in The Gay Science and developed in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

On a few occasions in his notebooks, Nietzsche discusses the possibility of the Eternal Recurrence as cosmological truth (see Arthur Danto, Nietzsche as Philosopher for a detailed analysis of these efforts), but in the works he prepared for publication, it is treated as the ultimate method of life affirmation. According to Nietzsche, it would require a sincere Amor Fati (Love of Fate), not simply to endure, but to wish for the eternal recurrence of all events exactly as they occurred---all of the pain and joy and the embarrassment and glory.

Nietzsche calls the idea "horrifying and paralyzing", and he also states that the burden of this idea is the "heaviest weight" imaginable (das schwerste Gewicht). The wish for the eternal return of all events would mark the ultimate affirmation of life:

"What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more' ... Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.'"
— Nietzsche, The Gay Science

As described by Nietzsche, the eternal return is more than merely an intellectual concept or challenge, it is akin to a koan, or a psychological device that occupies one's entire consciousness stimulating a transformation of consciousness known as metanoia.

Nehamas wrote in Nietzsche: Life as Literature that there are three ways of seeing the eternal recurrence. "(A) My life will recur in exactly identical fashion." This is a totally fatalistic approach to the idea. "(B) My life may recur in exactly identical fashion." This second view is a conditional assertion of cosmology, but fails to capture what Nieztsche refers to in GS, 341. Finally, "(C) If my life were to recur, then it could recur only in identical fashion." Nehemas shows that this interpretation is totally independent of physics and does not presuppose the truth of cosmology. Nehamas' interpretation is that if individuals constitute themselves through their actions the only way to maintain themselves as they are is to live in a reoccurrence of past actions.

There is some controversy over who or what Nietzsche considered an overman (or "superman"; in German, Übermensch). Not only is there some basis to think that Nietzsche was skeptical about individual identity and the notion of subject, but whether there was a concrete example of the overman is unclear. Walter Kaufmann argued that Goethe was a model.

Nietzsche coined the terms herd instinct or slave morality, which represents the kind of morality or ideology produced by a culture or a society. The herd instinct is the inevitable consequence of society, and it is extremely difficult for an individual to take on a value or moral system different from society's. The overman is the individual who can overcome the herd instinct, who can take on values and morals not of the society. This is contrasted with one who wields power over others (although the overman, having overcome himself, will consequently dominate those who have not); the overman is about being "judge and avenger and victim of one's own law" rather than that of others or one's society. As such, the overman creates his own values.

Since Nietzsche never set out who was an overman, it is possibly an ideal or a theoretical construct designed to point out that it is difficult, if not impossible, to break free from society's ideological and moral grasp. As an intellectual exercise, contemporary thinkers have asked who or what could have been an overman. Could rulers such as Stalin or Hitler be an overman? Given that rulers represent the moralities and ideologies of their time, rather than creating new ones, the answer is "No." The concept of the overman appears to be limited to an intellectual or artist, rather than the political leaders that Nietzsche despised.

Interpretations of the Overman
Nietzsche's critique of the subject makes it impossible to reduce the "overman" (or any other individual person) to an individual subject, thus assimilating him as a kind of hero: "there is no doer behind the doing", wrote Nietzsche. We postulate a subject as a cause of the event, because we need this "grammatical fiction"; but in fact, there is no more subject than there is any substance, because both presuppose an eternally identical world, whereas world is always in a state of flux and change. That there is no substance, there is no subject and there is no causality are some of Nietzsche's most radical theses.

In his Nietzsche, Heidegger criticized this misunderstanding of Nietzsche's philosophy, based in a scientistic conception and on a biologistic interpretation of Nietzsche's thought. Mazzino Montinari's edition of the posthumous fragments and philological criticisms of the fake Will to Power, as Gilles Deleuze's particular reading of Nietzsche, would be essential moments of the revealing of this caricature.

Master morality and slave morality
Nietzsche argued that there were two types of morality, a master morality that springs actively from the 'noble man' and a slave morality that develops reactively within the weak man. These two moralities are not simple inversions of one another, they are two different value systems; master morality fits actions into a scale of 'good' or 'bad' whereas slave morality fits actions into a scale of 'good' or 'evil'.

Nietzsche defined master morality as the morality of the strong-willed. For these men the 'good' is the noble, strong and powerful, while the 'bad' is the weak, cowardly, timid and petty. Master morality begins in the 'noble man' with a spontaneous idea of the 'good', then the idea of 'bad' develops in opposition to it. (On the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay, Section 11) He said: "The noble type of man experiences itself as determining values; it does not need approval; it judges, "what is harmful to me is harmful in itself"; it knows itself to be that which first accords honor to things; it is value-creating." (Beyond Good and Evil)

Slave morality begins in those people who are weak, uncertain of themselves, oppressed and abused. The essence of slave morality is utility: the good is what is most useful for the community as a whole. Since the powerful are few in number compared to the masses of the weak, the weak gain power vis-a-vis the strong by treating those qualities that are valued by the powerful as "evil," and those qualities that enable sufferers to endure their lot as "good." Thus patience, humility, pity, submissiveness to authority, and the like, are considered good.

Slave morality begins in a ressentiment that turns creative and gives birth to values. (Ressentiment was a term coined by Nietzsche to describe the feeling of the weak, unhealthy and ugly towards those who have fared better in life.) The slave regards the virtues of beauty, power, strength and wealth as 'evil' in an act of revenge against those who have them in abundance. (On the Genealogy of Morals, First Essay, Section 10) Slave morality is therefore a reactionary morality because 'good' does not spring creatively from the individual but develops as a negation of the values of the powerful. The noble person conceives of goodness first and later determines what is 'bad' while the slave conceives of 'evil' first and fashions his own conception of 'good' in opposition to this.

One of the main themes in Nietzsche's work is that ancient Roman society was grounded in master morality, and that this morality disappeared as the slave morality of Christianity spread through ancient Rome. Nietzsche was concerned with the state of European culture during his lifetime and therefore focused much of his analysis on the history of master and slave morality within Europe. Occasional references, however, also suggest that he meant these terms to be applied to other societies.

However, as with so many ideas in Nietzsche's work, there is no material manifestation of this idea, no hard and fast difference between that which is created by the master morality and that created by the slave. While Nietzsche stated repeatedly that the master morality was necessary for the advancement of humanity (through superhuman - übermenschliche - deeds), he gave examples of where these advances were made through the use of the tenets of the slave morality.

The second essay of On the Genealogy of Morals is an indication of this insight, as well as his longstanding fascination with Jesus. Mastery for Nietzsche was the creation of values, and a recurring theme (especially in Thus Spoke Zarathustra) is how even what might seem bad can be, must be, taken up into a masterful life. As Zarathustra says (in Part II, Manly Prudence) : "he who lives amongst men must know how to wash himself with dirty water." Nietzsche gives a concise investigation of how any idea might be used masterfully in the ninth aphorism of Beyond Good and Evil, concerning Stoicism.

According to Nietzsche, the Cartesian proofs for the existence of God are all examples of logic only a master from the nobility would invent. Thomas Aquinas' notions of what constitutes the "good life" is a particular example of what "good" might mean to a master. Nietzsche claimed that such notions of the good life would have their root in the discipline and punishment Aquinas received as a child from the hands of his father.

Christianity as an institution and Jesus
In Nietzsche's book the Anti-Christ, Nietzsche fights against how Christianity has become an ideology set forth by institutions like churches, and how churches have failed to represent the life of Jesus. It is important, for Nietzsche, to distinguish between the religion of Christianity and the person of Jesus. Nietzsche attacked Christian religion as it was represented by churches and institutions for what he called its "transvaluation" of healthy instinctive values.

Transvaluation is the process by which the meaning of a concept or ideology can be reversed to its opposite. He went beyond agnostic and atheistic thinkers of the Enlightenment, who felt that Christianity was simply untrue. He claimed that it may have been deliberately propagated as a subversive religion (a "psychological warfare weapon" or what some would call a "memetic virus") within the Roman Empire by the Apostle Paul as a form of covert revenge for the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple during the Jewish War.

Nietzsche contrasts the Christians with Jesus, whom he greatly admired. Nietzsche argues that Jesus transcended the moral influences of his time by creating his own set of values. As such Jesus represents a step towards the overman. Ultimately, however, Nietzsche claims that, unlike the overman, who embraces life, Jesus denied reality in favor of his "kingdom of God," and that Jesus' refusal to defend himself, and subsequent death, were logical consequences of this total disengagement.

Nietzsche then analyzes the history of Christianity, finding it to be a progressively grosser distortion of the teachings of Jesus. He criticizes the early Christians for turning Jesus into a martyr and Jesus' life into a story of the redemption of mankind in order to gain power over the masses, finding them to be cowardly, vulgar, and resentful. He argues that Christianity had become more and more corrupted, as successive generations further misunderstood the life of Jesus. By the 19th century, Nietzsche concludes, Christianity had become so worldly as to be a parody of itself--a total inversion of a worldview which was, in the beginning, nihilistic.

The Will to Power
The “will to power” is a controversial concept in Nietzsche's philosophy, which has led to many interpretations, some of which, such as the Nazi interpretation of it as a "will of power", were deliberate attempts of political instrumentation.

Much of the controversy surrounding the concept emerges from and surrounds The Will to Power, a book attributed to Nietzsche and published in 1901 (after Nietzsche’s death) by his sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche. There is disagreement about how much the book reflects Nietzsche’s philosophy and to what degree he wrote it. Likewise, to what degree the will to power as a concept is central or irrelevant to Nietzsche's philosophy is contested.

One popular interpretation of "will to power" is that it is a process of expansion and venting of creative energy that he believed was the basic driving force of nature. This interpretation would suggest that he believed it to be the fundamental causal power in the world, the driving force of all natural phenomena and the dynamic to which all other causal powers could be reduced.

Indeed, the will to power must not be understood in a psychological or subjective way, but rather in a "cosmic way". That is, according to this theory, Nietzsche in part hoped the will to power could be a "theory of everything," providing the ultimate foundations for explanations of everything from whole societies, to individual organisms, down to mere lumps of matter.

Nietzsche perhaps developed the will to power concept furthest with regard to living organisms, and it is there that the concept is perhaps easiest to understand. There, the will to power is taken as an animal's most fundamental instinct or drive, even more fundamental than the act of self-preservation; the latter is but an epiphenomenon of the former. According to Nietzsche, the will to power is the basic means through which living things "interpret" or interact with the world and, in this sense, the world is "will to power, and nothing else besides."

"[Anything which] is a living and not a dying body... will have to be an incarnate will to power, it will strive to grow, spread, seize, become predominant — not from any morality or immorality but because it is living and because life simply is will to power... 'Exploitation'... belongs to the essence of what lives, as a basic organic function; it is a consequence of the will to power, which is after all the will to life."
— Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil s.259, Walter Kaufmann translation'

Since the will to power is fundamental, any other drives are to be reduced to it; the "will to survive" (i.e. the survival instinct) that biologists (at least in Nietzsche's day) thought to be fundamental, for example, was in this light a manifestation of the will to power.

"Physiologists should think before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength — life itself is will to power; self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent results."
— Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Not just animalistic instincts but also higher level behaviors (even in humans) were to be reduced to the will to power. In fact, Nietzsche considered consciousness itself to be a form of instinct. This includes both such apparently harmful acts as physical violence, lying and domination, on one hand, and such apparently non-harmful acts as gift-giving, love and praise on the other.

In Beyond Good and Evil, he claims that philosophers' "will to truth" (i.e., their apparent desire to dispassionately seek objective truth) is actually nothing more than a manifestation of their will to power; this will can be life-affirming or a manifestation of nihilism, but it is will to power all the same.

As indicated above, the will to power is meant to explain more than just the behavior of an individual person or animal. It is not psychological, nor intentional or subjective. As opposed to consciousness, it is not one but multiple.

It should be noted that a biological interpretation of Will to Power such as this is but one of many possible. Nietzsche scholarship is replete with interpretations, largely due to Nietzsche's elusive style. Others might suggest that the Will to Power is not really as central a concept in Nietzsche's thought. Nietzsche himself may have even agreed, when he suggests, in Ecce Homo, that his notion of eternal recurrence is his most central thought, and the central theme of his most famous work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

However, Heidegger, and also Deleuze, would argue that both concepts, the will to power and the thought of the eternal recurrence, were to be thought together.

Place in contemporary ethical theory
Nietzsche's work addresses ethics from several perspectives; in today's terms, we might say his remarks pertain to meta-ethics, normative ethics, and descriptive ethics.

As far as meta-ethics is concerned, Nietzsche can perhaps most usefully be classified as a moral skeptic; that is, he claims that all ethical statements are false, because any kind of correspondence between ethical statements and "moral facts" is illusory. (This is part of a more general claim that there is no universally true fact, roughly because none of them more than "appear" to correspond to reality). Instead, ethical statements (like all statements) are mere "interpretations."

Sometimes, Nietzsche may seem to have very definite opinions on what is moral or immoral. Note, however, that Nietzsche's moral opinions may be explained without attributing to him the claim that they are "true." For Nietzsche, after all, we needn't disregard a statement merely because it is false. On the contrary, he often claims that falsehood is essential for "life." Interestingly enough, he mentions a 'dishonest lie,' discussing Wagner in The Case of Wagner, as opposed to an 'honest' one, saying further, to consult Plato with regards to the latter, which should give some idea of the layers of paradox in his work.

In the juncture between normative ethics and descriptive ethics, Nietzsche distinguishes between "master morality" and "slave morality." Although he recognises that not everyone holds either scheme in a clearly delineated fashion without some syncretism, he presents them in contrast to one another. Some of the contrasts in master vs. slave morality:

1. "good" and "bad" interpretations vs. "good" and "evil" interpretations
2. "aristocratic" vs. "part of the 'herd'"
3. determines values independently of predetermined foundations (nature) vs. determines values on predetermined, unquestioned foundations (Christianity).

These ideas were elaborated in his book On the Genealogy of Morals in which he also introduced the key concept of ressentiment as the basis for the slave morality.

"The revolt of the slave in morals begins in the very principle of ressentiment becoming creative and giving birth to values — a ressentiment experienced by creatures who, deprived as they are of the proper outlet of action are forced to find their compensation in an imaginary revenge. While every aristocratic morality springs from a triumphant affirmation of its own demands, the slave morality says 'no' from the very outset to what is 'outside itself,' 'different from itself,' and 'not itself'; and this 'no' is its creative deed."
— Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

Nietzsche's assessment of both the antiquity and resultant impediments presented by the ethical and moralistic teachings of the world's monotheistic religions eventually led him to his own epiphany about the nature of God and morality, resulting in his work Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Nietzsche is also well-known for the statement "God is dead". While in popular belief it is Nietzsche himself who blatantly made this declaration, it was actually placed into the mouth of a character, a "madman," in The Gay Science. It was also later proclaimed by Nietzsche's Zarathustra. This largely misunderstood statement does not proclaim a physical death, but a natural end to the belief in God being the foundation of the western mind. It is also widely misunderstood as a kind of gloating declaration, when it is actually described as a tragic lament by the character Zarathustra.

"God is Dead" is more of an observation than a declaration. Nietzsche did not advance arguments for atheism, but merely observed that, for all practical purposes, his contemporaries lived "as if" God were dead. Nietzsche believed this "death" would eventually undermine the foundations of morality and lead to moral relativism and moral nihilism. To avoid this, he believed in re-evaluating the foundations of morality and placing them not on a pre-determined, but a natural foundation through comparative analysis.

Political views
While a political tone is easy to discern in Nietzsche's writings, his work does not in any sense propose or outline a 'political project'. The man who stated that 'The will to a system is a lack of integrity' was consistent in never devising or advocating a specific system of governance - just as, being an advocate of individual struggle and self-realization, he never concerned himself with mass movements or with the organization of groups and political parties. In this sense, Nietzsche could almost be called an anti-political thinker.

However, Nietzsche's ideas have served as inspiration for many political thinkers and theorists, from Adolf Hitler to Ayn Rand. In particular, the fact that Nietzsche was held in high regard by the Nazis has served to associate many of his philosophical concepts with Nazi practices in the popular imagination. One can only speculate as to the opinion that Nietzsche might have had of Nazism had he lived to see it.

During his lifetime, Nietzsche rejected some of the views that would later be central to Nazi doctrine (such as anti-Semitism, racism, and, to some extent, nationalism), while at the same time he promoted other views that would later be embraced by the Nazis (such as strong individual leadership and the concept of the Overman, which the Nazis adopted as part of their idea of the Master race).

Nietzsche often referred to the common people who participated in mass movements and shared a common mass psychology as "the rabble", and "the herd." He valued individualism above all else, and was particularly opposed to pity and altruism (one of the things that he seems to have detested the most about Christianity was its emphasis on pity and how this allegedly leads to the elevation of the weak-minded).

While he had a dislike of the state in general, Nietzsche also spoke negatively of anarchists and made it clear that only certain individuals should attempt to break away from the herd mentality. This theme is common throughout Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

One central political theme running through much of Nietzsche's work is Social Darwinism - the idea that the strong have a natural right to dominate the weak, and that feelings such as compassion and mercy are burdens to be overcome. This has influenced a great variety of political movements in the century that has elapsed since Nietzsche's death, and, because all those movements claim Nietzsche as part of their intellectual legacy, it is often difficult to distinguish Nietzsche's own views from the views of those who claim to follow him.

As noted above, Nazism is perhaps the most prominent political movement inspired by Nietzsche. The Nazis interpreted Nietzsche's ideas of master and slave, of the struggle between the strong and the weak, as referring to nations and races; thus they saw master races and slave races, and regarded war as the act through which strong nations come to dominate weak ones. But this interpretation is by no means universally held.

Nietzsche's thought has been a major influence on Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy and other schools of thought that support laissez-faire capitalism. Their interpretation of Nietzsche places emphasis on the struggle between weak and strong individuals rather than nations. They regard the free market as the mechanism which allows superior individuals to fully express their superiority, and they argue that the state should not intervene on behalf of the inferior.

Gender views
Nietzsche's comments on women have provoked a great deal of discussion. Given modern sensitivities regarding the sexes and the rise of feminism, Walter Kaufmann has gone so far as to call these remarks an embarrassment. The fact that Nietzsche also mocked men and manliness has not saved him from the charge of sexism. However, the women he came into contact with typically reported that he was amiable and treated their ideas with much more respect and consideration than they generally expected from educated men in that period of time, amidst various sociological circumstances of the time (e.g., patriarchy).

Much of Nietzsche's commentary on women (and men) should be read in light of his revaluation of values and his continuing encouragements for humanity to reach for something higher - why, for example, push for women's involvement in politics when women can direct their energies toward something more? Moreover, some of his statements on women seem to prefigure the criticisms of postfeminism against prior feminisms, particularly those that claim prior feminisms do violence to women by positing and privileging Woman in their place. In this connection Nietzsche was acquainted with the work On Women by Schopenhauer and was probably influenced by it to some degree. As such, some statements scattered throughout his works seem to attack women in a similar vein.

Nietzsche's view of women is informed foremost by their role (rather, potential) as mothers, and does not extend much further than that. "Let your hope say: 'May I bear the Overman!'" he councils them in 'Old and Young Women' (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Book I, sec. 18). Considering that Nietzsche places the creation of things greater than oneself as the central task of a noble life, this is a very sympathetic view of woman whereby she can act in as praiseworthy a fashion as man by the nature of her sex - it is an exultation of womanhood, of womanhood as maternity. This, and the distinction between the sexes as seen by Nietzsche can be seen clearest in the following aphorism:

"When a woman has scholarly inclinations there is generally something wrong with her sexual nature. Barrenness itself conduces to a certain virility of taste; man, indeed, if I may say so, is 'the barren animal.'"
— Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 144, trans. Helen Zimmern'

This is contrary to the then (and still) prevailing view of Woman as the receptacle of male fertility (exemplified by Sigmund Freud's views on women). Nietzsche states here, a continuation of his anti-nihilism and his belief that fruitfulness is meaning, that it is exactly because man has no natural avenue for a meaningful existence that he sets himself into fruitful pursuits. Woman, however, is herself a source of fertility.

Nietzsche places real value in woman, a unique value: woman isn't weaker as much as she is different, And, indeed, Nietzsche believed there were radical differences the essence of the genders. "Thus," said Nietzsche through the mouth of his Zarathustra, "would I have man and woman: the one fit for warfare, the other fit for giving birth; and both fit for dancing with head and legs" (Zarathustra III. [56, "Old and New Tables," sect. 23.])—that is to say: both are capable of doing their share of humanity's work, with their respective physiological conditions granted and therewith elucidating, each individually, their potentialities.

The obvious problem presented with such a view is the narrowness of what is considered a noble path for women: only maternity is a womanly virtue. And while Nietzsche allows woman a hand in her life, it is the supporting hand.

"Comparing man and woman generally, one may say that woman would not have the genius for adornment, if she had not the instinct for the secondary role."
— Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 145, trans. Helen Zimmern'

However, Nietzsche is unclear in whether this image of woman is a product of nature or of nurture: while his language suggests the former, being above all a philosopher of ethics he only explicitly discusses the attitudes, tendencies and values that are the latter. It is notoriously difficult and misleading to generalise from Nietzsche's writing: he was not a systemic philosopher. The implication exists that woman can take a different path than the one he has laid out, even if it contradicts her 'nature'.

Nietzsche certainly never reprimanded any woman for taking a non-maternal role - in final reading he is not even a proscriptive philosopher, since his emphasis on the transvaluation of all values would not allow it. What Nietzsche would have done when faced with women like Virginia Woolf or Emily Dickinson who seemingly offered up their maternal instincts to follow careers as artists, as those 'higher men' Nietzsche admired, is a matter for debate, though his philosophy does not allow for them.

There have been several scholarly attempts to address the woman question in Nietzsche's writing. Peter J. Burgard's Nietzsche and the Feminine and Frances Nesbitt Oppel's Nietzsche on Gender: Beyond Man and Woman both read Nietzsche's statements on women as being yet another series of word-games amongst word-games, meant to challenge the reader and incite inspection of the concepts involved. French post-structuralist theorist Jacques Derrida made a similar argument in his 'Spurs'.

Regardless of interpretations "Woman" stays a central metaphor in Nietzsches life work:

"Supposing truth is a woman - what then? Are there not grounds for the suspicion that all philosophers, insofar as they were dogmatists, have been very inexpert about women? that the gruesome seriousness, the clumsy obtrusiveness with which they have usually approached truth so far have been awkward and very improper methods for winning a woman's heart? What is certain is that she has not allowed herself to be won: - and today every kind of dogmatism is left standing dispirited and discouraged."

— Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Preface'

Nietzsche's Influence and Reception
Nietzsche's writings have been interpreted very differently by different people, and there are even cases of Nietzsche being used on both sides of an argument to support contradictory views. For instance, Nietzsche was popular among left-wing Germans in the 1890s, but a few decades later, during the First World War, many regarded him as one of the sources of right-wing German militarism.

The conservative right-wing wanted to ban Nietzsche's work under charges of subversion in 1894/1895, while Nazi Germany used Nietzsche to promote their idea of a revival of traditional German culture and national identity. Many Germans read Thus Spoke Zarathustra and were influenced by Nietzsche's appeal of unlimited individualism and the development of a personality.

During the interbellum, various fragments of Nietzsche's work were appropriated by Nazis, notably Alfred Bäumler in his reading of The Will to Power. During the period of Nazi rule, Nietzsche's work was widely studied in German (and, after 1938, Austrian) schools and universities. The Nazis viewed Nietzsche as one of their "founding fathers." They incorporated much of his ideology and thoughts about power into their own political philosophy. Although there exist some significant differences between Nietzsche and Nazism (see political views above), his ideas of power, weakness, women, and religion became axioms of Nazi society.

The wide popularity of Nietzsche among Nazis was due partly to Nietzsche's sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, a Nazi sympathizer who edited much of Nietzsche's works. However, Nietzsche disapproved of his sister's anti-Semitic views. Furthermore, Mazzino Montinari, one of editors of Nietzsche's posthumous works in the 1960s, argued that Förster-Nietzsche had deliberately cut extracts, changed their order, and added false titles to the posthumous fragments, thus constituting the fake Will to power.

Ironically, since World War II, Nietzsche's influence has generally been clustered on the political left, particularly in France by way of post-structuralist thought (Gilles Deleuze and Pierre Klossowski are often credited for writing the earliest monographs to draw new attention to his work, and a 1972 conference at Cérisy-la-Salle is similarly regarded as the most important event in France for a generation's reception of Nietzsche).

In his 1916 Egotism in German Philosophy, American philosopher George Santayana dismissed Nietzsche as a "prophet of Romanticism".

Among the first to recognize Nietzsche's importance was the German novelist Thomas Mann, who showed Nietzsche's influence in his novels, especially his 1947 Doktor Faustus. In 1936, Martin Heidegger lectured on the "Will to Power as a Work of Art", and would later publish four large volumes of lectures on Nietzsche.

In 1938, the German existentialist Karl Jaspers commented about the influence of Nietzsche:

"The contemporary philosophical situation is determined by the fact that two philosophers, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, who did not count in their times and, for a long time, remained without influence in the history of philosophy, have continually grown in significance. Philosophers after Hegel have increasingly returned to face them, and they stand today unquestioned as the authentically great thinkers of their age. ... The effect of both is immeasurably great, even greater in general thinking than in technical philosophy ..."

— Jaspers, Reason and Existenz

Early twentieth century thinkers influenced by Nietzsche include: philosophers Georg Brandes, Henri Bergson, Martin Buber, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Muhammad Iqbal; sociologist Max Weber; theologian Paul Tillich; novelists Hermann Hesse, André Malraux, André Gide, and D. H. Lawrence; psychologists Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Rollo May; popular philosopher Ayn Rand; poets Rainer Maria Rilke, James Douglas Morrison, and William Butler Yeats; and playwrights George Bernard Shaw and Eugene O'Neill. American writer H.L. Mencken was an avid reader and translator of Nietzsche's works and has been called "the American Nietzsche."

According to Ernest Jones, biographer and personal acquaintance of Sigmund Freud, Freud had frequently referred to Nietzsche as having "more penetrating knowledge of himself than any man who ever lived or was likely to live" (Jones, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud). Nevertheless, Jones also reports that Freud emphatically denied that Nietzsche's writings influenced his psychological discoveries, since Freud had been disinterested in philosophic works as a medical student. He formed his opinion about Nietzsche later in life.

Nietzche's appropriation by the Nazis, combined with the advent of analytic philosophy, insured that he was almost completely ignored in Great Britain and the United States until at least 1950. Analytic philosophers often charactized Nietzsche as more of a literary figure than a philosopher.

In 1950, the German-American philosopher Walter Kaufmann published Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, which, along with Kaufmann's accurate translations of Nietzsche's major works, began the gradual restoration among English-speaking philosophy departments of Nietzsche as an important nineteenth century philosopher. Kaufmann was a strong advocate of Nietzsche, but even he had some criticism: "It is evident at once that Nietzsche is far superior to Kant and Hegel as a stylist; but it also seems that as a philosopher he represents a very sharp decline."

Recognition of Nietzsche's philosophy grew substantially in the later 20th century, especially among French post-structuralist philosophers. Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Michel Foucault are all heavily indebted to Nietzsche.

Other thinkers influenced by Nietzsche include "Death of God" theologian Thomas Altizer, and novelists Nikos Kazantzakis, Mikhail Artsybashev, and Lu Xun, and literary critic Harold Bloom.

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