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Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Life and Works

On October 15, 1844, Nietzsche was born in Röcken (near Leipzig), where his father was a Lutheran priest. His father died in 1849, and the family moved to Naumburg, where he was raised by his mother, grandmother, two aunts, and younger sister, Elisabeth. Nietzsche had an outstanding academic and university career, culminating in May 1869 when he was appointed to a chair in classical philology at Basel. He was the youngest person ever appointed to that position, at the age of 24. In his letter of recommendation, Nietzsche's teacher, Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl, stated that "he will simply be able to do anything he wants to do" (Kaufmann 1954: 8). Although the majority of Nietzsche's academic studies and early publications were in philology, he was already interested in philosophy, particularly the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Albert Lange. Nietzsche had planned to seek a second PhD in philosophy before the opportunity at Basel occurred, with research on conceptions of teleology in the time since Kant.
Nietzsche met Richard Wagner when a student in Leipzig, and after moving to Basel, he became a frequent visitor to the Wagner home at Villa Tribschen in Lucerne. Nietzsche's association with Wagner (and Cosima Liszt Wagner) lasted until the mid-1870s, and their friendship, as well as their eventual break, were important touchstones in his personal and professional life.
His first book, The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music (1872), was a controversial polemic combining theories about the breakdown of fifth-century Athens' tragic culture with a proposal that Wagnerian music-drama may be the wellspring of a revived tragic culture for modern Germany. Even though it contained some striking interpretive insights, the work was generally ill-received within classical studies—and savagely reviewed by Ulrich Wilamovitz-Möllendorff, who went on to become one of the generation's leading classicists—even though it contained some striking interpretive insights (e.g., about the role of the chorus in Greek tragedy). Following the publication of the first book, Nietzsche maintained his efforts to influence the larger orientation of German intellectual culture, producing essays aimed at a broad audience on David Friedrich Strauss, the "use of history for life," Schopenhauer, and Wagner. The Untimely Meditations are a collection of these essays.
Despite his participation in early preparation for Wagner's Bayreuth project and attendance at the first festival, Nietzsche was unimpressed by the cultural climate there, and his friendship with the Wagners worsened after 1876. Nietzsche's health, which had always been precarious, caused him to leave Basel in 1876–77.
He used the time to investigate a widely naturalistic critique of traditional morality and culture, which was sparked by his connection with Paul Rée, who was in Sorrento with Nietzsche working on his Origin of Moral Sentiments (see Janaway 2007: 74–89; Small 2005). Human, All-too-human (1878) was the result of Nietzsche's research, and it introduced his readers to the corrosive attacks on conventional pieties for which he became famous, as well as a style of writing in short, numbered paragraphs and pithy aphorisms to which he frequently returned in later work. When he mailed the book to the Wagners in early 1878, it effectively ended their friendship: Nietzsche subsequently remarked that his book and Wagner's libretto for Parsifal crossed in the mail "as if two blades had crossed."
Nietzsche's health deteriorated throughout his leave, and by 1879, he was forced to resign completely. As a result, he was liberated to write in his unique way. After that, he wrote a book virtually every year. These works began with Daybreak (1881), which collected critical observations on morality and its underlying psychology, and were followed by the mature works for which Nietzsche is best known: The Gay Science (1882, second expanded edition 1887), Beyond Good and Evil (1886), On the Genealogy of Morality (1887), and in the final year of his productive life, Twilight of the Idols (1888) and The Wagner Case (1888), as well as The Ecce Homo, the intellectual biography of Antichrist. Nietzsche had a strong but eventually tragic association with Rée and Lou Salomé, a talented young Russian student, at the start of this period. The three had planned to live alongside in a kind of intellectual brotherhood, but Nietzsche and Rée both developed romantic feelings for Salomé, and after Nietzsche failed to propose marriage, Salomé and Rée left for Berlin. Salomé went on to write an informative book about Nietzsche (Salomé [1894] 2001), which was the first to offer an influential periodization of his philosophical growth.
Later in life, Nietzsche relocated repeatedly in search of a climate that would benefit his health, settling into a pattern of spending winters near the Mediterranean (typically in Italy) and summers in Sils Maria, Switzerland.
His symptoms included severe headaches, nausea, and vision problems. Recent research (Huenemann 2013) has strongly suggested that he most likely died as a result of a retro-orbital meningioma, a slow-growing tumor on the brain surface behind his right eye. Nietzsche fell in the street of Turin in January 1889, and when he recovered consciousness, he composed a series of more demented letters. Franz Overbeck, a close Basel friend, was deeply concerned and traveled to Turin, where he discovered Nietzsche suffering from dementia. He was released into the care of his mother, and later his sister, after unsuccessful therapy in Basel and Jena. He eventually lapsed completely into silence. He lived until 1900 when he died as a result of a stroke exacerbated by illness.
During his illness, his sister Elisabeth took over his literary legacy, eventually publishing The Antichrist and Ecce Homo, as well as a selection of writing from his notebooks titled The Will to Power, after Nietzsche's remark in the Genealogy (GM III, 27) that he planned a major work under that title. The editorial effort was not firmly rooted in Nietzsche's remaining book intentions, and it was further hampered by Elisabeth's strong anti-Semitic views, which had been immensely distressing to Nietzsche himself. As a result, The Will to Power gives a slightly deceptive image of the general character and content of Nietzsche's notebook writings. Nietzsche's life has been the subject of several full-length biographies (Hayman 1980, Cate 2002, Safranski 2003, Young 2010), as well as speculative fictional reconstructions (Yalom 1992); readers can learn more about his life and works in the entry on Nietzsche's Life and Works, as well as the articles comprising the first three parts of Gems and Richardson (2013).

Nietzsche’s mature philosophy

Nietzsche's publications are divided into three distinct periods. The Romantic perspective informed by Schopenhauer and Wagner dominates the early pieces, The Birth of Tragedy and the four Unzeitgemäße Betrachtungen. The middle phase, from Human, All-Too-Human to The Gay Science, reflects the French aphorist heritage. It extols reason and science, plays with literary genres, and expresses Nietzsche's liberation from his earlier Romanticism as well as Schopenhauer and Wagner. After The Gay Science, Nietzsche's mature philosophy emerged.
Nietzsche's writings were obsessed with the genesis and function of values in human life. If, as he felt, life has neither intrinsic value nor lacks it and is constantly being appraised, then such evaluations can be understood as symptoms of the evaluator's state.
As a result, he was particularly interested in a thorough examination and appraisal of the essential cultural elements of Western philosophy, religion, and morality, which he defined as embodiments of the ascetic ideal.
When suffering is infused with ultimate importance, the ascetic ideal is born. Suffering, for example, was made palatable by the Judeo-Christian tradition, according to Nietzsche, by seeing it as God's design and an opportunity for atonement. As a result, Christianity's triumph was due to the seductive notion of personal immortality, that is, the belief that each individual's life and death had cosmic significance. Similarly, classical philosophy exemplified the austere ideal by elevating the soul above the body, The mind triumphs over the senses, responsibility triumphs over desire, reality triumphs over appearance, and the timeless triumphs over the transitory.
While Christianity promised salvation to the repentant sinner, philosophy offered hope for salvation, though secular, to its sages. The unsaid but powerful motivating assumption shared by classical religion and philosophy was that existence necessitates explanation, justification, or expiation. They both rejected experience in favor of another, "true" universe. Both can be interpreted as signs of a failing or troubled life.
Nietzsche's critique of traditional morality was based on the distinction between "master" and "slave" morality. Nietzsche maintained that the distinction between good and bad was originally descriptive, that is, a nonmoral reference to those who were privileged, the masters, by investigating the etymology of the German words gut ("good"), schlecht ("bad"), and böse ("bad"), as opposed to those who were lowly, slaves ("evil").
When slaves avenged themselves by transforming mastery traits into vices, the good/evil dichotomy developed. It was said that if the "good" became powerful, the earth would be given to the lowly. Pride became a sin. Competition, pride, and individuality were replaced with charity, humility, and submission. The argument that slave morality was the only genuine morality was critical to its triumph. That insistence on absoluteness is as important in philosophical ethics as it is in religious ethics. Despite providing a historical genealogy of master and slave morality, Nietzsche believed that it was an ahistorical typology of qualities found in everyone.
Nietzsche coined the term "nihilism" to denote the devaluation of the greatest values given by the ascetic ideal. He saw his era as one of passive nihilism, that is, an era that was not yet aware that theological and philosophical absolutes had crumbled with the rise of 19th-century positivism. With the collapse of traditional morality's philosophical and theological grounds and sanctions, only a pervasive sense of purposelessness and meaninglessness would remain. And the victory of meaninglessness is the victory of nihilism: "God is dead." However, Nietzsche believed that most people would seek to supplant absolutes to imbue life with meaning since they could not accept the eclipse of the ascetic ideal and the inherent meaninglessness of existence. He saw growing nationalism as one such foreboding surrogate deity, in which the nation-state would be endowed with transcendent meaning and purpose. And, just as doctrine's absoluteness had found expression in philosophy and religion, doctrine's absoluteness would be connected to the nation-state with missionary zeal. Under the flags of universal brotherhood, democracy, and socialism, rivals would be slaughtered and the globe would be conquered. Nietzsche's foresight here was particularly striking, and the following usage of him was extremely repugnant. During World War I, for example, two books were standard issues for German soldiers' rucksacks: Thus Spoke Zarathustra and the Gospel According to John. It's tough to say whether the author was more vulnerable as a result of that gesture.
Apart from his attacks of religion, philosophy, and morality, Nietzsche established original theses that have demanded attention, particularly perspectivism, the drive to power, endless recurrence, and the superman. Perspectivism is the belief that knowledge is always perspectival, that there are no perfect perceptions, and that knowledge from no point of view is as illogical as seeing from no vantage point. Perspectivism, therefore, rejects the concept of an all-encompassing perspective that could contain all others and thus make reality available as it is in itself. The thought of such an all-encompassing perspective is as illogical as viewing an object from every potential vantage point at the same time.
Perspectivism, as defined by Nietzsche, has been incorrectly associated with relativism and skepticism. Nonetheless, it begs the question of how to interpret Nietzsche's theses, such as the notion that the dominating values of the common heritage have been underwritten by an ascetic ideal. Is this theory correct in its whole or only from one point of view? It may also be questioned if perspectivism can be maintained consistently without self-contradiction, given that perspectivism must be true in an absolute, that is, non-perspectival sense. Concerns like these have spawned much insightful Nietzsche discussion as well as valuable work in knowledge theory.
Nietzsche frequently associated life with the "will to power," that is, with an urge for development and endurance. Nietzsche's assertion "that all the greatest values of humanity lack this will—that values which are indicative of decline, nihilistic values, are towering it under the holiest names," provides yet another way of viewing the ascetic ideal. As a result, conventional philosophy, religion, and morality have been many masks worn by a weak will to power. In that the austere ideal embraces living as pain and suffering, the sustaining principles of Western civilization have been veiled products of decay. Some commentators have attempted to expand Nietzsche's concept of will to power beyond human life into the organic and inorganic realms, attributing to him a metaphysics of will to power. Such interpretations, however, are not supported by his published writings.
The core notion of Thus Spoke Zarathustra is the doctrine of endless recurrence, which questions, "How well inclined would a person have to become to himself and to life to seek nothing more earnestly than the infinite repetition, without alteration, of every moment?"
Most individuals, presumably, would or should find such an idea shattering because they should always be able to choose the everlasting repetition of their life in an edited version over the perpetual recurrence of each of its tragedies. According to Nietzsche, the individual who can embrace recurrence without self-deception or evasion is a superhuman being (Übermensch), a superman whose distance from the average man is greater than the distance between man and ape. Commentators are still divided on whether there are distinct personality features that distinguish someone who believes in endless recurrence.

The influence of Nietzsche

Nietzsche famously said that some men are born posthumously, and this surely applies to him. Without him, the history of philosophy, theology, and psychology since the early twentieth century is incomprehensible. For example, the German philosopher's Max Scheler, Karl Jaspers, and Martin Heidegger, as well as the French philosophers Albert Camus, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault, worked in his debt. Existentialism and deconstruction, philosophical and literary movements, owe a lot to him. Theologians Paul Tillich and Lev Shestov, as well as "God is Dead" theologian Thomas J.J. Altizer; Martin Buber, Judaism's greatest 20th-century thinker, listed Nietzsche as one of the three most important impacts in his life and translated the first part of Zarathustra into Polish. Alfred Adler and Carl Jung, both psychologists, were profoundly impressed, as was Sigmund Freud, who stated of Nietzsche that he had a more profound insight of himself than any man who had ever lived or was ever going to live. Novelists such as Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, André Malraux, André Gide, and John Gardner, as well as poets and playwrights such as George Bernard Shaw, Rainer Maria Rilke, Stefan George, and William Butler Yeats, were inspired by him and wrote about him. Nietzsche's enormous influence stems not only from his originality but also from his status as one of the most outstanding prose authors in the German language.