Quick Overview of Nietzsche

This text is now a result of a collaboration by Adrian Worsfold and Andrew James Clarke providing separate paragraphs with a variation in referencing.

Nietzsche (1844-1900) was literary as a child and a professor by 24 in 1869 lecturing in philosophy, art and culture. By 1869 he was a protegé of Wagner. Then in 1876, suffering from eyestrain, and difficult army experience in the Franco-Prussian War, he ended his connections with Wagner, and a few years after with Schopenhauer, the University and even left Germany. He became a severe ascetic, and despite being opposed to historical progress as developed by Hegel he wanted to progress further himself through severe critical questioning of everything within his writings. He lost his idealism, romanticism and belief in the redeeming power of total art (Cupitt, 1985, 201) as learned from the domineering and self-publicist Wagner.
He reluctantly agreed with Darwin regarding naturalism, as in Human, All Too Human, 1886, so whereas he regarded Darwinism as correct it was disastrous and it meant the end of metaphysics (Hollingdale, 1985, 77). This is one reason why his Will to Power is different from Schopenhauer's will to live (Hollingdale, 1985, 73), in that Schopenhauer was metaphysical whereas now Nietzsche was materialist (as was the influential F. A. Lange) (Hollingdale, 1985, 76). Nietzsche was very self-critical regarding his own thought, as in Dawn (1887) in a kind of dialogue with Schopenhauer, Montaigne and Pascal showing views not unlike Freud (Cupitt, 1985, 201, 202). Nietzsche felt like he was at the beginning of something still in chaos, rather like before Plato and the Greek's giving intellectual order to the known world (Hollingdale, 1985, 77). He wanted to avoid idealism, and developed the view that we being social beings generate as masses a fictional lifeworld in order to do collective survival - and this marginalises the gifted outsider such as the madman. Also he wrote that the self is a dreamer, a fantisiser for self-protection, and we are unfree with the complexity of desires.
Nietzsche considered a belief in a world beyond this one to be a denial of life and linked it with despising the body ('Of The Afterworldsmen', Of the Despisers of the Body', Thus Spoke Zarathustra). Nietzsche seemed very keen on the concept of adaptation, but because of his scepticism concerning progress he suggested that what he saw was not (as Darwinists proposing eugenics would have anyone believe) the survival of the strong, but the survival of the many. Nietzsche saw that the weak and mediocre would band together to destroy the original and unique, and those individuals would often be those of the strongest, most noble character. (The Anti-Christ, 4)
We do not have purposefulness and will, but when the random dice of life is thrown, some throws appear to resemble purposefulness and will. Confined as we are, if what we do is simply necessity then we cannot be guilty in what we do. This means no self-blame and instead accepting ourselves. So we have these desires that come about and we may as well place values upon these. These come together based around the appearances of life.
Nietzsche hates Christianity because it discourages thought, encourages guilt and psychologically oppresses. When he calls it a 'religion of pity' (The Anti-Christ, 7) this is no compliment. In some ways Nietzsche sees Jesus as a strong individual, though in other aspects he compares Jesus to the idiot ("Prince Mishkin" in Dostoyevsky's 'The Idiot', The Anti-Christ, 29). Nietzsche sometimes claims that God died from his pity for mankind ('Of the Pitiful', Thus Spoke Zarathustra). The best explanation of Nietzsche's ideas on pity is found at section 338 of The Gay Science.
Nietzsche considers that the whole of morality is dominated by Christian ideas and that it needed to be entirely rethought. Nietzsche criticises atheists for believing that once they have done away with God they are still justified in keeping their old moral guidelines, rather unfairly singling out George Eliot, whom he would not have read, for blame:

They are rid of the Christian God and now believe all the more firmly that they must cling to Christian morality. That is an English consistency; we do not wish to hold it against little moralistic females à la Eliot. In England one must rehabilitate oneself after every little emancipation from theology by showing in a veritably awe-inspiring manner what a moral fanatic one is. That is the penance they pay there.

We others hold otherwise. When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one's feet. This morality is by no means self-evident: this point has to be exhibited again and again, despite the English flatheads. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one's hands. Christianity presupposes that man does not know, cannot know, what is good for him, what evil: he believes in God, who alone knows it. Christian morality is a command; its origin is transcendent; it is beyond all criticism, all right to criticism; it has truth only if God is the truth - it stands and falls with faith in God.

('Skirmishes Of An Untimely Man', 5, Twilight Of The Idols)
However, Nietzsche recognised a nihilistic apathy would arise if a new way of considering life was not found to replace the Christian morality (See 'The Parable Of The Madman'). Nietzsche essentially sees the benefits of moral thought to be in the way it bestows values, and it is thus by creating values that Nietzsche believes we can avoid nihilism without making the same mistakes as Christianity. Instead of accepting the Christian morality embedded in culture, Nietzsche insists on an entire reassessment of moral thought, a revaluation of all values.
The means for revaluing is found for Nietzsche in the doctrine of Eternal Recurrence and the figure of the Superman. The Superman is meant to be an aim for mankind. People are meant to become "bridges to the superman" by becoming "creators". The alternative which Nietzsche fears is the "Last Man" who sacrifices the future for his own present. The Superman is an aim for a future which is greater than the present. Nietzsche was against the idea of progress in history either through human endeavour or through evolution. Instead Nietzsche's idea of cyclical time imagines that there would be pockets of greatness over the course of history. The future need not necessarily be greater than the past, but this should always be the aim. The Eternal Recurrence insists that we envision every moment as having the utmost importance and we make something great come out of our mistakes and sufferings. (See 'The Greatest Weight', 341, The Gay Science).
Nietzsche began to go mad around 1888 and finally experienced a mental breakdown dying 10 years later. Many believe that his death was caused by syphilis but there are some who believe that Nietzsche inherited the mental illness that killed his father. A rather odd thing about Nietzsche's mental breakdown is that it closely resembles a scene from chapter 5 of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dosoyevsky, one of Nietzsche's major sources of inspiration. The main character has a fevered dream of a horse being beaten.

(http://www.russianlessons.net/ebooks/ebook.php?language=english&book=1&part=1&chapter=5 )

...on the morning of January 3, 1889, while in Turin, he experienced a mental breakdown which left him an invalid for the rest of his life. Upon witnessing a horse being whipped by a coachman at the Piazza Carlo Alberto, Nietzsche threw his arms around the horse's neck and collapsed, never to return to full sanity.

(http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nietzsche/ )
Nietzsche plays with all his metaphors and has a poetic, rhetorical style that has a positive view of living over and above the negatives of nihilism and indeed Christianity as understood. From the beginning to the end he continued to strive for truth over comfort (Hollingdale, 1985, 28). This took him down the road of being a radical sceptic, and a nihilist of appearances (the implication of his thoroughgoing death of God) beyond the realism within naturalism (Cupitt, 1985, 209) so establishing a new line for philosophy and even theology in the future, despite his own rejection of theology.



(Adrian Worsfold)

Hollingdale, R. J. (1985), Nietzsche: The Man and His Philosophy, London: Ark Paperbacks.

Cupitt, D. (1985), The Sea of Faith: Christianity in Change, London: BBC Books, 190-213.

Wicks, R. (2004), Zalta, E. N. (ed.), 'Friedrich Nieztzsche', The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy; August 2004; Publisher, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nietzsche/ [Accessed 22 April 00:43].

These are all by Nietzsche, F., later editions given, in order of first appearances:

(1886), The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music, 3rd edition.

(1874), Untimely Meditations.

(1886), Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits, 2nd edition.

(1887), Dawn: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality (sometimes called Daybreak), 2nd edition.

(1887), The Gay Science (sometimes called The Joyful Wisdom), 2nd edition.

(1887), Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No one, single volume.

(1886), Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future.

(1887), Towards a Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic.

(1888), The Wagner Case: A Musician's Problem.

(1889), Twilight of the Idols: Or How to Philosophise with a Hammer.

(1895), Nietzsche Contra Wagna: A Psychologist's Brief.

(1895), The Anti-Christ.

(1892), Gast, P. (ed.), Dithyrambs of Dionysus.

(1911), Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is, unlimited edition.


Adrian Worsfold
Andrew James Clarke

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful


Last updated on April 23, 2006