Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (b. October 15, 1844, Röcken, Germany-d. August 25, 1900, Weimar, Germany) was a German philosopher, classical philologist, poet, and composer. He was very critical of Christianity, Socrates, Kant, metaphysics, German nationalism and indeed most of the rest of philosophy. He wrote several dozen books and essays between 1870 and 1890, the active period of his career, on a variety of topics, including religion, morality and ethics, culture, philosophy, music, and science. His writings are notable for their poetic use of metaphor, irony, sarcasm, and aphorisms.
- "I am nevertheless [...] the mouthpiece of truth [...] But my truth is terrible: for hitherto lies have been called truth."
- "To invent fables about a world 'other' than this one has no meaning at all, unless an instinct of slander, detraction, and suspicion against life has gained the upper hand in us"
Beliefs and influence
Nietzsche's influence remains substantial within and beyond philosophy, notably in existentialism and postmodernism. His style and radical questioning of the value and objectivity of truth have resulted in much commentary and interpretation, mostly in the continental tradition. Key concepts in Nietzsche's thought include the death of God, perspectivism (sometimes "perspectivalism"), the Übermensch (sometimes translated as "Overman" or "Superman"), the eternal recurrence, and the will to power. Central to his philosophy is the process of "life-affirmation" and the creation and promotion of values that are life-affirming. This process involves a rigorous and unmerciful questioning of all doctrines that may run counter to life and its goals, especially focusing on views that are socially prevalent and, therefore, powerful.
Nietzsche spent much of his youth studying the Bible and classical texts, especially those of ancient Greece, and began his career as a classical philologist. At age 24, he was appointed to the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel (the youngest individual to have held this position), but resigned in 1879 due to health problems that plagued him most of his life. During the decade 1879-1889, in spite of his failing health, Nietzsche was at his most prolific as a writer, writing and publishing many of his most famous works, including finishing 5 complete books in the year 1888 alone. In 1889, he became mentally ill with what was then characterized as atypical general paresis attributed to tertiary syphilis, a diagnosis that has since come into question. He lived his remaining years in the care of his mother until her death in 1897, then under the care of his sister until his death in 1900.
Nietzsche went mad
Apologists often attack Nietzsche by saying his philosophy leads to madness.
- "The first modern to go atheist and announce that God had had it was Nietzsche, who predictably went bonkers."
This is an ad hominem. It is important to distinguish between a person's philosophy and a person's biography. Nietzsche had poor health throughout his life and his father suffered an early death. Moreover, many philosophers had been atheists prior to Neitzsche in the modern era. He also never claimed to be the perfect or ideal man in his philosophy, saying he had both ascendant qualities and decadence in himself:
- "I have a subtler sense of smell for the signs of ascent and decline than any other human being before me; I am the teacher par excellence for this – I know both, I am both."
- "Nietzche's concept of the Ubermench is tantamount to Nazism and the worst brutalities in history."
There is perhaps no greater critic of German imperialism than Nietzsche ('"German spirit" for eighteen years, a contradiction in terms.' i.e. since the founding of the Second Reich). Nietzsche's sister was a Nazi supporter and promoted his work as supportive of Nazi values, without his permission. However, Nietzsche would have undoubtedly objected to this and repeatedly predicted he would be misunderstood ("Posthumous men — I, for example — are understood worse than timely ones, but heard better. More precisely: we are never understood — hence our authority.", "The first adherents prove nothing against a doctrine").
Nietzsche's views on Evolution and Social Darwinism are more complicated. He did argue for the emergence of a "higher man" or Übermensch, but the superiority Nietzsche had in mind, as well as the mechanisms for its emergence and propagation, seem to be completely different to Charles Darwin's theory and social Darwinism.
- "While [survival of the fittest] seems to sum up admirably the essence of Darwin's thesis, this shorthand formula in effect begged the question. Survival of the fittest, fine; but 'fittest' for what? Fittest to survive? If this was the be-all and end-all of human existence, it was not much to boast about."
Nietzsche may have been influenced by Darwin as well, particularly in the role of contingency which replaced the illusion of divine design in nature.
- God is dead
- Emotional pleas against the existence of God - Nietzsche argued belief in God was unendurable.
- Aesthetic argument against the existence of God
- World renunciation
- Humor is the best argument against religion
- Religion was invented to control people