First published Fri May 30, 1997; substantive revision
Thu Aug 26, 2004
Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher of the late 19th
century who challenged the foundations of traditional morality
and Christianity. He believed in life, creativity, health, and
the realities of the world we live in, rather than those
situated in a world beyond. Central to Nietzsche's philosophy is
the idea of "life-affirmation," which involves an honest
questioning of all doctrines which drain life's energies,
however socially prevalent those views might be. Often referred
to as one of the first "existentialist" philosophers, Nietzsche
has inspired leading figures in all walks of cultural life,
including dancers, poets, novelists, painters, psychologists,
philosophers, sociologists and social revolutionaries.
In the small German town of Röcken bei L¨¹tzen, located in a
rural farmland area southwest of Leipzig, Friedrich Wilhelm
Nietzsche was born at approximately 10:00am on October 15, 1844.
The date coincided with the 49th birthday of the Prussian King,
Friedrich Wilhelm IV, after whom Nietzsche was named, and who
had been responsible for Nietzsche's father's appointment as
Röcken's town minister. Nietzsche's grandfathers were also
Lutheran ministers, and his paternal grandfather, Friedrich
August Ludwig Nietzsche, was further distinguished as a
Protestant scholar, one of whose books (1796) affirmed the
"everlasting survival of Christianity." When Nietzsche was 4
years old, his father, Karl Ludwig Nietzsche (1813-1849) died
from a brain ailment, and the death of Nietzsche's two-year-old
brother, Joseph, followed six months later. Having been living
only yards away from Röcken's church in the house reserved for
the pastor and his family, the remaining Nietzsche family left
their home soon after Karl Ludwig's death. They moved to nearby
Naumburg an der Saale, where Nietzsche (called "Fritz" by his
family) lived for the next eight years with his mother,
Franziska (1826-1897), his paternal grandmother, Erdmuthe, his
father's two sisters, Auguste and Rosalie, and his younger
sister, Therese Elisabeth Alexandra (1846-1935).
From the ages of 14 to 19, Nietzsche attended a first-rate
boarding school, Schulpforta, located not far from Naumburg,
where he prepared for university studies. Here he met his
lifelong acquaintance, Paul Deussen, who was confirmed at
Nietzsche's side in 1861, and who was to become an Orientalist,
historian of philosophy, and in 1911, the founder of the
Schopenhauer Society. During his summers in Naumburg, Nietzsche
led a small music and literature club named "Germania," and
became acquainted with Richard Wagner's music through the club's
subscription to the Zeitschrift f¨¹r Musik. The teenage
Nietzsche also read the German romantic writings of Friedrich
Hölderlin and Jean-Paul Richter, along with David Strauss's
controversial and demythologizing Life of Jesus Critically
Examined (Das Leben Jesu kritisch bearbeitet,
After graduating from Schulpforta, Nietzsche entered the
University of Bonn in 1864 as a theology and philology student,
but his interests gravitated more exclusively towards philology
-- a discipline which then centered upon the interpretation of
classical and biblical texts. As a philology student, Nietzsche
attended lectures by Otto Jahn (1813-1869) and Friedrich Wilhelm
Ritschl (1806-1876). Jahn was a biographer of Mozart who had
studied at the University of Berlin under Karl Lachmann
(1793-1851) -- a philologist known both for his studies of the
Roman philosopher Lucretius and for having developed the
genealogical method in textual recension; Ritschl was a classics
scholar whose work centered on the Roman comic poet Plautus
(254-184 BC). Inspired by Ritschl, and following him to the
University of Leipzig in 1865 -- an institution located closer
to Nietzsche's hometown of Naumburg -- Nietzsche quickly
established his own academic reputation through his published
essays on Aristotle, Theognis and Simonides. In Leipzig, he
developed a close friendship with Erwin Rohde, a fellow
philology student, with whom he would correspond extensively in
later years. Momentous for Nietzsche in 1865 was his accidental
discovery of Arthur Schopenhauer's The World as Will and
Representation (1818) in a local bookstore. He was then 21.
Schopenhauer's atheistic and turbulent vision of the world, in
conjunction with his highest praise of music as an art form,
captured Nietzsche's imagination, and the extent to which the
"cadaverous perfume" of Schopenhauer's world-view continued to
permeate Nietzsche's mature thought is still a matter of
scholarly debate. After discovering Schopenhauer, Nietzsche read
F.A. Lange's newly-published History of Materialism and
Critique of its Present Significance (1866) -- a work which
criticized materialist metaphysical theories from the standpoint
of Kant's critique of metaphysics in general, and attracted
Nietzsche's interest in its view that metaphysical speculation
is an expression of poetic illusion.
In 1867, as he approached the age of 23, Nietzsche entered
his required military service and was assigned to an equestrian
field artillery regiment close to Naumburg, during which time he
lived at home with his mother. While attempting to leap-mount
into the saddle upon a particularly unruly horse, he suffered a
serious chest injury and was put on sick leave after his chest
wound refused to heal. He returned shortly thereafter to the
University of Leipzig, and in November of 1868, met the composer
Richard Wagner (1813-1883) at the home of Hermann Brockhouse, an
Orientalist who was married to Wagner's sister, Ottilie. Wagner
and Nietzsche shared an enthusiasm for Schopenhauer, and
Nietzsche -- who had been composing piano, choral and orchestral
music since he was a teenager -- admired Wagner for his musical
genius and magnetic personality. Wagner was exactly the age
Nietzsche's father would have been, and Wagner had also attended
the University of Leipzig many years before. The
Nietzsche-Wagner relationship was quasi-familial,
sometimes-stormy, and it affected Nietzsche deeply: twenty years
later, he would still be assessing Wagner's cultural
significance. During the months surrounding Nietzsche's initial
meeting with Wagner, Ritschl strongly recommended Nietzsche for
a position on the classical philology faculty at the University
of Basel. The Swiss university offered Nietzsche the position,
and he began teaching there in May, 1869, at the extraordinary
age of 24.
At Basel, Nietzsche's satisfaction with his life among his
philology colleagues was limited, and he established closer
intellectual ties to the historians Franz Overbeck and Jacob
Burkhardt, whose lectures he attended. Nietzsche also cultivated
his friendship with Wagner and visited him often at his Swiss
home in Tribschen, a small town near Lucerne. Never in
outstanding health, further complications arose from Nietzsche's
August-October 1870 service as a hospital attendant during the
Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). He witnessed the traumatic
effects of battle, took close care of wounded soldiers,
contracted diphtheria and dysentery, and subsequently
experienced a painful variety of health difficulties for the
rest of his life.
Nietzsche's enthusiasm for Schopenhauer, his studies in
classical philology, his inspiration from Wagner, his reading of
Lange, and his frustration with the contemporary German culture,
coalesced in his first book -- The Birth of Tragedy
(1872) -- which was published when he was 28. Wagner showered
the book with unqualified praise, but a biting critical reaction
by the young and promising philologist, Ulrich von
Wilamowitz-Möllendorff (1848-1931), dampened the book's
reception among scholars.
As he continued his residence in Switzerland between 1872 and
1879, Nietzsche often visited Wagner at his new (1872) home in
Bayreuth, Germany. In 1873, Nietzsche met Paul R¨¦e, who, while
living in close company with Nietzsche, would write On the
Origin of Moral Feelings (1877). In 1876, at age 32,
Nietzsche made an unsuccessful marriage proposal to a Dutch
piano student in Geneva named Mathilde Trampedach. During this
time, Nietzsche completed a series of four studies on
contemporary German culture -- the Unfashionable
Observations (1873-76) -- which focussed, respectively,
upon the historian of religion and culture critic, David
Strauss, issues concerning the social value of historiography,
and Arthur Schopenhauer and Richard Wagner as inspirations for
new cultural standards. Near the end of his university career,
Nietzsche completed Human, All-Too-Human (1878) -- a
book which marked a turning point in his philosophical style,
and which signalled the end of his friendship with Wagner, who
came under attack in Nietzsche's thinly-disguised
characterization of "the artist." Despite the unflattering
review of The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche remained
respected in his professorial position in Basel, but his ailing
health, which led to migraine headaches, eyesight problems and
vomiting, necessitated his resignation from the university in
From 1880 until his collapse in January 1889, Nietzsche led a
wandering, gypsy-like existence as a "stateless" person (having
given up his German citizenship, and not having acquired Swiss
citizenship), circling almost annually between his mother's
house in Naumburg and various French, Swiss, German and Italian
cities. His travels took him through the Mediterranean seaside
city of Nice (during the winters), the Swiss alpine village of
Sils-Maria (during the summers), Leipzig (where he had attended
university), Turin, Genoa, Recoaro, Messina, Rapallo, Florence,
Venice, and Rome, never residing in any place longer than
several months at a time. On a visit to Rome in 1882, Nietzsche,
now at age thirty-seven, met Lou Salom¨¦, a twenty-one-year-old
Russian woman who was studying philosophy and theology in
Zurich. He soon fell in love with her, and offered his hand in
marriage. She declined, and the future of Nietzsche's friendship
with her and Paul R¨¦e appears to have suffered as a consequence.
In the years to follow, Salom¨¦ would become an associate of
Sigmund Freud, and would write with psychological insight of her
association with Nietzsche. These nomadic years were the
occasion of Nietzsche's main works, among which are Daybreak
(1881), The Gay Science (1882), Thus Spoke
Zarathustra (1883-85), Beyond Good and Evil
(1886), and On the Genealogy of Morals (1887).
Nietzsche's final active year, 1888, saw the completion of
The Case of Wagner (May-August 1888), Twilight of the
Idols (August-September 1888), The Antichrist
(September 1888), Ecce Homo (October-November 1888) and
Nietzsche Contra Wagner (December 1888).
On the morning of January 3, 1889, while in Turin, Nietzsche
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. Some argue that Nietzsche was afflicted with a
syphilitic infection (this was the original diagnosis of the
doctors in Basel and Jena) contracted either while he was a
student or while he was serving as a hospital attendant during
the Franco-Prussian War; some claim that Nietzsche's use of
chloral hydrate, a drug which he had been using as a sedative,
deteriorated his already-weakened nervous system; some speculate
that Nietzsche's collapse was due to a brain disease he
inherited from his father; some maintain that a mental illness
gradually drove him insane. The exact cause of Nietzsche's
incapacitation still remains unclear. That Nietzsche had an
extraordinarily sensitive nervous constitution and took an
assortment of medications is well-documented as a more general
During his creative years, Nietzsche struggled to bring his
writings into print and never doubted that his books would have
a lasting cultural effect. He did not live long enough to
experience his world-historical influence, but he had a brief
glimpse of his growing intellectual importance in discovering
that he was the subject of 1888 lectures given by Georg Brandes
(Georg Morris Cohen) at the University of Copenhagen, with whom
he corresponded. Nietzsche's collapse, however, followed soon
thereafter. After a brief hospitalization in Basel, he spent
1889 in a sanatorium in Jena at the Binswanger Clinic, and in
March 1890 his mother took him back home to Naumburg, where he
lived under her care for the next seven years. After his
mother's death in 1897, his sister Elisabeth -- having
previously returned home from Paraguay, where she had been
working with her husband Bernhard Förster to establish an Aryan,
anti-Semitic German colony called "New Germany" ("Nueva
Germania") -- assumed responsibility for Nietzsche's welfare. In
an effort to promote her brother's philosophy, she rented a
large house on a hill in Weimar, called the "Villa Silberblick,"
and moved both Nietzsche and his collected manuscripts to the
residence. This became the new home of the Nietzsche Archives
(which was previously located at the family home in Naumburg),
where Elisabeth received visitors who wanted to observe the
now-incapacitated philosopher. On August 25, 1900, Nietzsche
died in the villa as he approached his 56th year, apparently of
pneumonia in combination with a stroke. His body was then
transported to the family gravesite directly beside the church
in Röcken bei L¨¹tzen, where his mother and sister now also rest.
Nietzsche's first book was published in 1872: The Birth of
Tragedy, Out of the Spirit of Music (Die Geburt der
Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik). It was reissued in 1886
with the title The Birth of Tragedy, Or: Hellenism and
Pessimism (Die Geburt der Tragödie, Oder: Griechentum
und Pessimismus), and contained a prefatory essay -- "An
Attempt at Self-Criticism" -- which expressed Nietzsche's own
critical reflections on his earlier work. The Birth of
Tragedy set forth an alternative conception to the late
18th/early 19th century understanding of Greek culture -- a
conception largely inspired by Johann Winckelmann's History
of Ancient Art (1764) -- which hailed ancient Greece as the
epitome of noble simplicity, calm grandeur, clear blue skies,
and rational serenity. Nietzsche, having by this time absorbed
the German romanticist, and specifically Schopenhauerian, view
that non-rational forces reside at the foundation of all
creativity and of reality itself, identified a strongly
instinctual, wild, amoral, "Dionysian" energy within
pre-Socratic Greek culture as an essentially creative and
healthy force. Surveying the history of Western culture since
the time of the Greeks, Nietzsche lamented over how this
"Dionysian," creative energy had been submerged and weakened as
it became overshadowed by the "Apollonian" forces of logical
order and stiff sobriety. He concluded that European culture
since the time of Socrates had remained one-sidedly Apollonian
and relatively unhealthy. As a means towards cultural rebirth,
Nietzsche advocated the resurrection and fuller release of
Dionysian artistic energies -- those which he associated with
primordial creativity, joy in existence and ultimate truth. The
seeds of this rebirth Nietzsche perceived in the contemporary
German music of his time, and the concluding part of The
Birth of Tragedy, in effect, adulates the German artistic
spirit as the potential savior of European culture.
Some scholars regard Nietzsche's 1873 unpublished essay, "On
Truth and Lies in an Nonmoral Sense" ("Über Wahrheit und
L¨¹ge im außermoralischen Sinn") as a keystone in his
thought. In this essay, Nietzsche rejects the idea of universal
constants, and claims that what we call "truth" is only "a
mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms." His
view at this time is that arbitrariness completely prevails
within human experience: concepts originate via the very
artistic transference of nerve stimuli into images; "truth" is
nothing more than the invention of fixed conventions for merely
practical purposes, especially those of repose, security and
consistency. Viewing human existence from a great distance,
Nietzsche further notes that there was an eternity before human
beings came into existence, and believes that after humanity
eventually dies out, nothing significant will have changed in
the great scheme of things.
Between 1873 and 1876, Nietzsche wrote the Unfashionable
Observations (Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen). These
are four (of a projected, but never completed, thirteen) studies
concerned with the quality of European, and especially German,
culture during Nietzsche's time. They are unfashionable and
nonconformist (or "untimely," or "unmodern") insofar as
Nietzsche regarded his standpoint as culture-critic to be in
tension with the self-congratulatory spirit of the times. The
four studies were: David Strauss, the Confessor and the
Writer (David Strauss, der Bekenner und der
Schriftsteller, 1873); On the Uses and Disadvantages of
History for Life (Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie
f¨¹r das Leben, 1874); Schopenhauer as Educator (Schopenhauer
als Erzieher, 1874); Richard Wagner in Bayreuth
(1876). The first of these attacked David Strauss, whose popular
six-edition book, The Old and the New Faith: A Confession
(1871) encapsulated for Nietzsche the general cultural
atmosphere in Germany. Responding to Strauss's advocacy of a
"new faith" grounded upon a scientifically-determined universal
mechanism -- one, however, lubricated by the optimistic,
"soothing oil" of historical progress -- Nietzsche unmercifully
attacked Strauss's view as a vulgar and dismal sign of cultural
degeneracy. The second "untimely meditation" surveyed
alternative ways to write history, and discussed how these ways
could contribute to a society's health. Here Nietzsche claimed
that the principle of "life" is a more pressing and higher
concern than that of "knowledge," and that the quest for
knowledge should serve the interests of life. The third and
fourth studies -- on Schopenhauer and Wagner, respectively --
addressed how these two thinkers, as paradigms of philosophic
and artistic genius, held the potential to inspire a stronger,
healthier and livelier German culture.
In 1878, Nietzsche completed Human, All-Too-Human,
supplementing this with a second part in 1879, Mixed
Opinions and Maxims (Vermischte Meinungen und Spr¨¹che),
and a third part in 1880, The Wanderer and his Shadow (Der
Wanderer und sein Schatten). The three parts were published
together in 1886 as Human All-Too-Human, A Book for Free
Spirits (Menschliches, Allzumenschliches, Ein Buch f¨¹r
freie Geister). Reluctant to construct a philosophical
"system," and sensitive to the importance of style in
philosophic writing, Nietzsche composed these works as a series
of several hundred aphorisms whose typical length ranges from a
line or two to a page or two. Here, he often reflects upon
cultural and psychological phenomena in reference to
individuals's organic and physiological constitutions. The idea
of power (for which he would later become known) sporadically
appears as an explanatory principle, but Nietzsche tends at this
time to invoke hedonistic considerations of pleasure and pain in
his explanations of cultural and psychological phenomena.
In Daybreak: Reflections on Moral Prejudices (Morgenröte.
Gedanken ¨¹ber die moralischen Vorurteile, 1881), Nietzsche
continued writing in his aphoristic style, but began
accentuating the importance of the "feeling of power," as
opposed to pleasure, in his understanding of human, and
especially of so-called "moral" behavior. In this respect,
Daybreak contains the seeds of Nietzsche's doctrine of the
"will to power" -- a doctrine which would appear explicitly for
the first time two years later in Thus Spoke Zarathustra
(1883-85). Daybreak is also one of Nietzsche's
clearest, intellectually calmest, and most intimate, volumes,
providing many social-psychological insights, in conjunction
with some of his first sustained critical reflections on the
cultural relativity at the basis of Christian moral evaluations.
In a more well-known aphoristic work, The Gay Science
(Die fröhliche Wissenschaft, 1882) -- whose title was
inspired by the troubadour songs of southern-French Provence
(1100-1300) -- Nietzsche set forth some of the existential ideas
for which he became famous, namely, the proclamation that "God
is dead" and the doctrine of "eternal recurrence"-- the idea
that one is, or might be, fated to relive forever every moment
of one's life, with no omission whatsoever of any pleasurable or
painful detail. Nietzsche's atheism -- his account of "God's
murder" (section 125) -- was voiced in reaction to the
conception of a single, ultimate, judgmental authority who is
privy to everyone's hidden, and personally embarrassing,
secrets; his atheism also aimed to redirect people's attention
to their inherent freedom, the presently-existing world, and
away from all escapist, pain-relieving, heavenly otherworlds. To
a similar end, Nietzsche's doctrine of eternal recurrence
(sections 285 and 341) was formulated to draw attention away
from all worlds other than the one in which we presently live,
since eternal recurrence precludes the possibility of any final
escape from the present world. The doctrine also functions as a
measure for judging someone's overall psychological strength and
mental health, since Nietzsche believed that the doctrine of
eternal recurrence was the hardest world-view to accept and
affirm. In 1887, The Gay Science was reissued with an
important preface, an additional fifth Book, and an appendix of
songs, reminiscent of the troubadours.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, A Book for All and None (Also
Sprach Zarathustra, Ein Buch f¨¹r Alle und Keinen, 1883-85),
is one of Nietzsche's most famous works, and Nietzsche himself
regarded it as among his most significant. It is, in effect, a
manifesto of personal self-overcoming. Thirty years after its
initial publication, 150,000 copies of the work were printed by
the German government and issued as inspirational reading, along
with the Bible, to the young soldiers during WWI. Though
Thus Spoke Zarathustra is antagonistic to the
Judeo-Christian world-view, its poetic and prophetic style
relies upon many, often inverted, Old and New Testament
allusions. Nietzsche also filled the work with nature metaphors,
almost in the spirit of pre-Socratic naturalist philosophy,
which invoked animals, earth, air, fire, water, celestial
bodies, plants, all in the service of describing the spiritual
development of Zarathustra, a solitary, reflective, exceedingly
strong-willed, sage-like, laughing and dancing voice of
self-mastery who, accompanied by a proud, sharp-eyed eagle and a
wise snake, envisioned a mode of psychologically healthier being
beyond the common human condition. Nietzsche refers to this
higher mode of being as "superhuman" (¨¹bermenschlich),
and associates the doctrine of eternal recurrence -- a doctrine
for only the healthiest who can love life in its entirety --
with this spiritual standpoint, in relation to which
all-too-often downhearted, all-too-commonly-human attitudes
stand as a mere bridge to be crossed and overcome.
In Beyond Good and Evil, Prelude to a Philosophy of the
Future (Jenseits von Gut und Böse. Vorspiel einer
Philosophie der Zukunft, 1886), Nietzsche identified
imagination, self-assertion, danger, originality and the
"creation of values" as qualities of genuine philosophers, as
opposed to incidental characters who engage in dusty
scholarship. Nietzsche also took aim at some of the world's
great philosophers's key presuppositions, who grounded their
outlooks wholeheartedly upon concepts such as
"self-consciousness," "free will," and "either/or" bipolar
thinking. Alternatively, Nietzsche philosophizes from "the
perspective of life" which he regards as "beyond good and evil,"
and challenges the deeply-entrenched moral idea that
exploitation, domination, injury to the weak, destruction and
appropriation are universally objectionable behaviors. Above
all, Nietzsche believes that living things aim to discharge
their strength and express their "will to power" -- a
pouring-out of expansive energy which, quite naturally, can
entail danger, pain, lies, deception and masks. As he views
things from the perspective of life, he further denies that
there is a universal morality applicable indiscriminately to all
human beings, and instead designates a series of moralities in
an order of rank ranging from the noble to the plebeian: some
moralities are more appropriate for dominating and leading
social roles; some are more suitable for subordinate roles. So
what counts as a preferable and legitimate action depends upon
the kind of person one is. The deciding factor is whether one is
strong, healthy, powerful and overflowing with ascending life,
or whether one is weak, sick and on the decline.
On the Genealogy of Morals, A Polemic (Zur
Genealogie der Moral, Eine Streitschrift, 1887), is
composed of three sustained essays which advance the critique of
Christianity expressed in Beyond Good and Evil. The
first essay continues the discussion of master morality versus
servant morality, and maintains that the traditional ideals set
forth as holy and morally good within Christian morality are
products of self-deception, since they were forged in the bad
air of revenge, resentment, hatred, impotence, and cowardice. In
this essay, as well as the next, Nietzsche's controversial
references to the "blond beast" akin to master morality often
appear. In the second essay, Nietzsche continues with an account
of how feelings of guilt, or the "bad conscience," arise merely
as a consequence of an unhealthy Christian morality which turns
an "evil eye" towards our natural inclinations. He also
discusses how punishment, conceived as the infliction of pain
upon someone in proportion to their offense, is likely to have
been grounded in the contractual economic relationship between
creditor and debtor. In the third essay, Nietzsche focusses upon
the ascetic ideals typical of the social representatives of art,
religion and philosophy, and he offers a particularly scathing
critique of the priesthood: the priests are allegedly a group of
weak people who shepherd even weaker people as a way to
experience power for themselves. The third essay also contains
one of Nietzsche's clearest expressions of "perspectivism"
(section 12) -- the idea that there is no absolute, "God's eye"
standpoint from which one can survey everything that is.
The Case of Wagner, A Musician's Problem (Der Fall
Wagner, Ein Musikanten-Problem, May-August 1888), compares
well with Nietzsche's 1873 meditation on David Strauss in its
devastating and unbridled attack on a popular cultural figure.
In The Case of Wagner, Nietzsche "declares war" upon
Richard Wagner, whose music is characterized as both the epitome
of modern cultural achievement and as thoroughly sick and
decadent. The work is a brilliant display of Nietzsche's talents
as a music critic, and includes memorable mockings of Wagner's
theatrical style, reflections on redemption via art, a
"physiology of art," and the virtues associated, respectively,
with ascending and descending life energies.
The title, Twilight of the Idols, or How One
Philosophizes with a Hammer (Götzen-Dämmerung, oder Wie
man mit dem Hammer philosophiert, August-September 1888),
word-plays upon Wagner's opera, The Twilight of the Gods
(Die Götterdämmerung). Nietzsche reiterates and
elaborates some of the criticisms of Socrates, Plato, Kant and
Christianity found in earlier works, criticizes the
then-contemporary German culture as being unsophisticated and
too-full of beer, and shoots some disapproving arrows at key
French, British, and Italian cultural figures such as Rousseau,
Hugo, Sand, Michelet, Zola, Renan, Carlyle, Mill, Eliot, Darwin,
and Dante. In contrast to all these alleged representatives of
cultural decadence, Nietzsche applauds Caesar, Napoleon, Goethe,
Dostoevski, Thucydides and the Sophists as healthier and
In The Antichrist, Curse on Christianity (Der
Antichrist. Fluch auf das Christentum, September 1888),
Nietzsche expresses his disgust over the way noble values in
Roman Society were "corrupted" by the rise of Christianity, and
he discusses specific aspects and personages in Christian
culture -- the Gospels, Paul, the martyrs, priests, the crusades
-- with a view towards showing that Christianity is a religion
for weak and unhealthy people, whose general historical effect
has been to undermine the healthy qualities of the more noble
Nietzsche describes himself as "a follower of the philosopher
Dionysus" in Ecce Homo, How One Becomes What One Is (Ecce
Homo, Wie man wird, was man ist, October-November 1888) --
a book in which he examines retrospectively his entire corpus,
work by work, offering critical remarks, details of how the
works were inspired, and explanatory observations regarding
their philosophical contents. He begins this fateful
intellectual autobiography -- he was to lose his mind little
more than a month later -- with three eyebrow-raising sections
entitled, "Why I Am So Wise," "Why I Am So Clever," and "Why I
Write Such Good Books." Nietzsche claims to be wise as a
consequence of his acute aesthetic sensitivity to nuances of
health and sickness in people's attitudes and characters; he
claims to be clever because he knows how to choose the right
nutrition, climate, residence and recreation for himself; he
claims to write such good books because they allegedly
adventurously open up, at least for a very select group of
readers, a new series of noble and delicate experiences. After
examining each of his published works, Nietzsche concludes
Ecce Homo with the section, "Why I Am a Destiny." He claims
that he is a destiny because he regards his anti-moral truths as
having the annihilating power of intellectual dynamite; he
expects them to topple the morality born of sickness which he
perceives to have been reigning within Western culture for the
last two thousand years. In this way, Nietzsche expresses his
hope that Dionysus, the god of life's exuberance, would replace
Jesus, the god of the heavenly otherworld, as the premier
cultural standard for future millennia.
Nietzsche Contra Wagner, Out of the Files of a
Psychologist (Nietzsche contra Wagner, Aktenst¨¹cke
eines Psychologen, December 1888) is a short, but classic,
selection of passages Nietzsche extracted from his 1878-1887
published works. Many concern Wagner, but the excerpts serve
mostly as a foil for Nietzsche to express his own views against
Wagner's. In this self-portrait, completed only a month before
his collapse, Nietzsche characterizes his own anti-Christian
sentiments, and contemplates how even the greatest people
usually undergo significant corruption. In Wagner's case,
Nietzsche claims that the corrupting force was Christianity. At
the same time, Nietzsche describes how he truly admired some of
Wagner's music for its deep expressions of loneliness and
suffering -- expressions which Nietzsche admitted were
psychologically impossible for he himself to articulate.
Nietzsche's unpublished writings often reveal his more tentative
and speculative ideas. This material is surrounded by
controversy, however, since some of it conflicts dramatically
with views Nietzsche expresses in his published works.
Disagreement regarding Nietzsche's notebooks, also known as his
Nachlass, centers around the degree of interpretive
priority which ought to be given to the unpublished versus the
published manuscripts. One popular approach in the tradition of
classical scholarly interpretation is to maintain that
Nietzsche's published works express his more considered and
polished views, and that these should take precedence over the
unpublished manuscripts when conflicts arise; a second attitude,
given voice by Martin Heidegger, and broadly consistent with a
psychoanalytic approach as well, is to regard what Nietzsche
published as representative of what he decided was publicly
presentable, and what he kept privately to himself in
unpublished form as containing his more authentic views; a
third, more comprehensive, interpretive style tries to grasp all
of Nietzsche's texts together in an effort to form the most
coherent interpretation of Nietzsche's thought, judging the
priority of published versus unpublished works on a thematic, or
case-by-case basis; a fourth position influenced by the French
deconstructionist perspective maintains that any rigid
prioritizing between published and private works is impossible,
since all of the texts embody a comparable multidimensionality
In his unpublished manuscripts, Nietzsche sometimes
elaborates the topics found in the published works, such as his
early 1870's notebooks, where there is important material
concerning his theory of knowledge. In the 1880's notebooks --
those his sister collected together after his death under the
title, The Will to Power: Attempt at a Revaluation of all
Values -- Nietzsche adopts a more metaphysical orientation
towards the doctrines of Eternal Recurrence and the Will to
Power, speculating upon their intellectual strength as
interpretations of reality itself. Side-by-side with these
speculations, and complicating efforts towards developing an
interpretation which is both comprehensive and coherent,
Nietzsche's 1880's notebooks also repeatedly state that "there
are no facts, only interpretations."
Nietzsche's thought extended a deep influence during the 20th
century, especially in Continental Europe. In English-speaking
countries, his positive reception has been less resonant. During
the last decade of Nietzsche's life and the first decade of the
20th century, his thought was particularly attractive to
avant-garde artists who saw themselves on the periphery of
established social fashion and practice. Here, Nietzsche's
advocacy of new, healthy beginnings, and of creative artistry in
general stood forth. His tendency to seek explanations for
commonly-accepted values and outlooks in the less-elevated
realms of sheer animal instinct was also crucial to Sigmund
Freud's development of psychoanalysis. Later, during the 1930's,
aspects of Nietzsche's thought were espoused by the Nazis and
Italian Fascists, partly due to the encouragement of Elisabeth
Förster-Nietzsche through her solicitations with Adolf Hitler
and Benito Mussolini. It was possible for the Nazi interpreters
to assemble, quite selectively, various passages from
Nietzsche's writings whose juxtaposition appeared to justify
war, aggression and domination for the sake of nationalistic and
racial self-glorification. Until the 1960's in France, Nietzsche
appealed mainly to writers and artists, since the academic
philosophical climate was dominated by G.W.F. Hegel's, Edmund
Husserl's and Martin Heidegger's thought, along with the
structuralist movement of the 1950's. Nietzsche became
especially influential in French philosophical circles during
the 1960's-1980's, when his "God is dead" declaration, his
perspectivism, and his emphasis upon power as the real motivator
and explanation for people's actions revealed new ways to
challenge established authority and launch effective social
Specific 20th century figures who were influenced, either
quite substantially, or in a significant part, by Nietzsche
include painters, dancers, musicians, playwrights, poets,
novelists, psychologists, sociologists, literary theorists,
historians, and philosophers: Alfred Adler, Georges Bataille,
Martin Buber, Albert Camus, E.M. Cioran, Jacques Derrida, Gilles
Deleuze, Isadora Duncan, Michel Foucault, Sigmund Freud, Stefan
George, Andr¨¦ Gide, Hermann Hesse, Carl Jung, Martin Heidegger,
Gustav Mahler, Andr¨¦ Malraux, Thomas Mann, Rainer Maria Rilke,
Jean-Paul Sartre, Max Scheler, Giovanni Segantini, George
Bernard Shaw, Lev Shestov, Georg Simmel, Oswald Spengler,
Richard Strauss, Paul Tillich, Ferdinand Tönnies, Mary Wigman,
William Butler Yeats and Stefan Zweig.
That Nietzsche was able to write so prolifically and
profoundly for years, while remaining in a condition of
ill-health and often intense physical pain, is a testament to
his spectacular mental capacities and willpower. Lesser people
under the same physical pressures might not have had the
inclination to pick up a pen, let alone think and record
thoughts which -- created in the midst of striving for healthy
self-overcoming -- would have the power to influence an entire
A. Nietzsche's Writings
- Kritische Gesamtausgabe Briefwechsel. ed. G.
Colli and M. Montinari, 24 vols. in 4 parts. Berlin: Walter
de Gruyter, 1975.
- The Antichrist. trans. Walter Kaufmann, in
The Portable Nietzsche, ed. Walter Kaufmann. New York:
Viking Press, 1968.
- Beyond Good and Evil. trans. Walter Kaufmann.
New York: Random House, 1966.
- The Birth of Tragedy. trans. Walter Kaufmann,
in The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner. New
York: Random House, 1967.
- The Case of Wagner. trans. Walter Kaufmann, inThe
Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner. New York:
Random House, 1967.
- Daybreak: Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality.
trans. R. J. Hollingdale. Cambridge: Cambridge University
- Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is. trans.
Walter Kaufmann, in On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce
Homo. New York: Random House, 1967.
- The Gay Science, with a Prelude of Rhymes and an
Appendix of Songs. tr. Walter Kaufmann. New York:
Random House, 1974.
- Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits.
trans. R. J. Hollingdale. Cambridge: Cambridge University
- Nietzsche Contra Wagner. trans. Walter
Kaufmann, in The Portable Nietzsche. New York:
Viking Press, 1968.
- On the Genealogy of Morals. trans. Walter
Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale, in On the Genealogy of
Morals and Ecce Homo. New York: Random House, 1967.
- Philosophy and Truth: Selections from Nietzsche's
Notebooks of the Early 1870's. trans. and ed. Daniel
Breazeale. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1979.
- Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks.
trans. Marianne Cowan. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1962.
- Thus Spoke Zarathustra. trans. Walter Kaufmann,
in The Portable Nietzsche. New York: Viking Press,
- Twilight of the Idols. trans. Walter Kaufmann,
in The Portable Nietzsche. New York: Viking Press,
- Untimely Meditations. trans. R. J. Hollingdale.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
- The Will to Power. trans. Walter Kaufmann. New
York: Random House, 1967.
B. Books About Nietzsche
- Allison, David, 2000, Reading the New Nietzsche.
Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing.
- Aschheim, Steven E, 1992, The Nietzsche Legacy in
Germany, 1890-1990. Berkeley and Los Angeles:
University of California Press.
- Babich, Babette E, 1994, Nietzsche's Philosophy of
Science. Albany: State University of New York Press.
- Bataille, Georges, 1992, On Nietzsche. trans.
Bruce Boone. London: Athlone Press.
- Clark, Maudemarie, 1990, Nietzsche on Truth and
Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Danto, Arthur C, 1965, Nietzsche as Philosopher: An
Original Study. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Deleuze, Gilles, 1983, Nietzsche and Philosophy.
trans. Hugh Tomlinson. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Derrida, Jacques, 1979, Spurs: Nietzsche's Styles.
trans. Barbara Harlow. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Gilman, Sander L, 1987, ed., Conversations with
Nietzsche: A Life in the Words of his Contemporaries.
trans. David J. Parent, New York: Oxford University Press,
- Hayman, Ronald, 1980, Nietzsche, a Critical Life.
New York: Oxford University Press.
- Heidegger, Martin, 1979, Nietzsche, Vol. I: The Will
to Power as Art. trans. David F. Krell. New York:
Harper & Row.
- -----, 1984, Nietzsche, Vol. II: The Eternal
Recurrence of the Same. trans. David F. Krell. San
Francisco: Harper & Row.
- -----, 1986, Nietzsche, Vol. III: Will to Power as
Knowledge and as Metaphysics. trans. Joan Stambaugh and
Frank Capuzzi. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
- -----, 1982, Nietzsche, Vol. IV: Nihilism.
trans. David F Krell. New York: Harper & Row.
- Higgins, Kathleen Marie, 1987, Nietzsche's
"Zarathustra." Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
- Hollingdale, R.J., 1973, Nietzsche. London and
New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
- Hunt, Lester H, 1991, Nietzsche and the Origin of
Virtue. London: Routledge.
- Irigaray, Luce, 1991, Marine Lover of Friedrich
Nietzsche. trans. Gillian C. Gill. New York: Columbia
- Jaspers, Karl, 1979, Nietzsche: An Introduction to
the Understanding of His Philosophical Activity. trans.
Charles F. Wallraff and Frederick J. Schmitz. South Bend,
Indiana: Regentry/Gateway, Inc..
- Jung, Carl G, 1988, Nietzsche's "Zarathustra."
ed. James L. Jarrett. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
- Kaufmann, Walter, 1950, Nietzsche: Philosopher,
Psychologist, Antichrist. Princeton: Princeton
- Klossowski, Pierre, 1993, Nietzsche and the Vicious
Circle. London: Athlone.
- Kofman, Sarah, 1993, Nietzsche and Metaphor.
ed. and trans., Duncan Large. London: Athlone Press;
Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Krell, David Farrell, 1986, Postponements: Women,
Sensuality, and Death in Nietzsche. Bloomington:
Indiana University Press.
- Lambert, Laurence, 1987, Nietzsche's Teaching: An
Interpretation of "Thus Spoke Zarathustra." New Haven:
Yale University Press.
- Löwith, Karl, 1997, Nietzsche's Philosophy of the
Eternal Recurrence of the Same." , translated by
J. Harvey Lomax, foreword by Bernd Magnus. Berkeley:
University of California Press.
- Macintyre, Ben, 1992, Forgotten Fatherland: The
Search for Elisabeth Nietzsche. London: Macmillan.
- Magnus, Bernd, Stanley Stewart, and Jean-Pierre Mileur,
1993, Nietzsche's Case: Philosophy as/and Literature.
New York and London: Routledge.
- Magnus, Bernd, 1978, Nietzsche's Existential
Imperative. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
- Mandel, Siegfried, 1998, Nietzsche & the Jews.
New York: Prometheus Books.
- Nehamas, Alexander, 1985, Nietzsche: Life as
Literature. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
- Oliver, Kelly, 1995, Womanizing Nietzsche:
Philosophy's Relation to the "Feminine." New York and
- Parkes, Graham, 1994, Composing the Soul: Reaches of
Nietzsche's Psychology. Chicago and London: University
of Chicago Press.
- Pletch, Carl, 1991, Young Nietzsche: Becoming a
Genius. New York: Free Press.
- Rosen, Stanley, 1995, The Mask of Enlightenment:
Nietzsche's Zarathustra. Cambridge: Cambridge
- Salom¨¦, Lou, 1988, Nietzsche. ed. and trans.
Siegfried Mandel. Redding Ridge, Connecticut: Black Swan
- Schacht, Richard, 1983, Nietzsche. London:
Routledge and Kegan Paul.
- Shapiro, Gary, 1989, Nietzschean Narratives.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
- Simmel, Georg, 1991, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.
trans. Helmut Loiskandle, Deena Weinstein, and Michael
Weinstein. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
- Schrift, Alan D, 1990, Nietzsche and the Question of
Interpretation: Between Hermeneutics and Deconstruction.
New York: Routledge.
- Stambaugh, Joan, 1987, The Problem of Time in
Nietzsche. trans. John F. Humphrey. Philadelphia:
Bucknell University Press.
- Steinbuch, Thomas, 1994, A Commentary on Nietzsche's
Ecce Homo. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
- White, Alan, 1990, Within Nietzsche's Labyrinth.
New York and London: Routledge.
- Wilcox, John T, 1974, Truth and Value in Nietzsche.
Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
- Young, Julian, 1992, Nietzsche's Philosophy of Art,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
C. Collected Essays on Nietzsche
Nietzsche, Friedrich: moral and political philosophy |
- Allison, David B (ed.), 1985, The New Nietzsche:
Contemporary Styles of Interpretation. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
- Bloom, Harold (ed.), 1987, Modern Critical Views:
Friedrich Nietzsche. New York, New Haven, Philadelphia:
Chelsea House Publishers.
- Koelb, Clayton (ed.), 1990, Nietzsche as
Postmodernist: Essays Pro and Contra. Albany: State
University of New York Press.
- Magnus, Bernd, and Higgins, Kathleen M (eds.), 1996,
The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
- Parkes, Graham (ed.), 1991, Nietzsche and Asian
Thought. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
- Sedgwick, Peter R. (ed.), 1995, Nietzsche: A
Critical Reader. Oxford, UK and Cambridge, MA:
- Solomon, Robert C, and Higgins, Kathleen M. (eds.),
1988, Reading Nietzsche. New York and Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
- Solomon, Robert (ed.), 1973, Nietzsche: A Collection
of Critical Essays. Garden City, New York: Anchor
- Yovel, Yirmiyahu (ed.), 1986, Nietzsche as
Affirmative Thinker. Dordrecht: Martinus Nihoff