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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
August 25, 1900, Nietzsche died after contracting pneumonia. At
the wish of Elisabeth, he was buried beside his father at the
church in Röcken.
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
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
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.
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.
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:
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
first instance of the phrase occurs at the beginning of Book III
of The Gay Science (section 108), and again prominently in section
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.
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
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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'.
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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
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
— Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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:
"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
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.
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
— Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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:
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
— Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 144, trans. Helen
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.
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.
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.
man and woman generally, one may say that woman would not have
the genius for adornment, if she had not the instinct for the
— Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 145, trans. Helen
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'.
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.
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'.
of interpretations "Woman" stays a central metaphor
in Nietzsches life work:
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'
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
his 1916 Egotism in German Philosophy, American philosopher George
Santayana dismissed Nietzsche as a "prophet of Romanticism".
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.
1938, the German existentialist Karl Jaspers commented about the
influence of Nietzsche:
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
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
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.
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
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."
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.
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.