Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900) was a profoundly influential German philosopher, psychologist, and classical philologist. Particularly aggressive, he was a severe critic of Christian morality, Utilitarianism, contemporary philosophy, materialism, German idealism, German romanticism, and of modernity in general. He is among the most readable philosophers and penned a large number of aphorisms and varied experimental forms of composition. Although his work was distorted and thus identified with Philosophical Romanticism, Nihilism, Anti-semitism, and even Nazism, he himself vociferously denied such tendencies in his work, so much as to directly opposing them. In philosophy and literature, he is often identified as an inspiration for existentialism and postmodernism. His thought is, on many accounts, most difficult to comprehend in any systemized form and remains a vivacious topic for debate.
His Works and Ideas
Nietzsche is famous for:
- his embrace of a sort of a-rationalism which found expression in the idea he called "the Will to Power" (der Wille zur Macht);
- his rejection of morality, in which he felt partly reflected the inverse of the "will to power" and a perversion of useful altruism;
- his attacks on Christianity: the most well-known and frequently misunderstood occurs with the phrase "god is dead" from a passage in The Gay Science titled "The Madman", and similarly is The Antichrist;
- his belief that Christianity planted the seeds of its own eventual demise: Christian notions of truth and the absolute paved the way for rationalism, the Enlightenment and the scientific method, which make blind faith unthinkable for any educated person. Since Martin Luther and Kant, continuing through the enlightenment, analytical and secular thinking had, he said, significantly replaced Christian theology as a social force and hence the statement "God is dead";
- his origination of the Übermensch concept: translated as "overman", sometimes as "superman", which finally means "over-man" or "through-man" or, in German, "Hindurch-Mensch". There is no adequate English translation, and so each option also doubles as an interpretation of what Nietzsche meant by it. German über is identical with the Latin super;
- his important early concept of "free spirit" that began in Human, All-Too-Human, which may be a starting point for the Übermensch concept;
- his writings on the Eternal Recurrence, while he maintained a philosophical animosity toward its "paralyzing" and nihilistic nature, as a touchstone for the highest possible affirmation of life, of which his Zarathustra embodies.
In The Antichrist, Nietzsche attacked Christian pedagogy for what he called its "transvaluation" of healthy instinctive values. 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 War. However, in The Anti-Christ, Nietzsche has a remarkably high view of Jesus, claiming the scholars of the day fail to pay any attention to the man, Jesus, and only look to their construction, Christ. Nietzsche made the cryptic claim that "there was only one true Christian, and he died on the cross." According to the American writer H.L. Mencken, Nietzsche felt that the religion of the ancient Greeks of the heroic and classical era was superior to Christianity because it portrayed strong, heroic, and smart men as role models and did not try to demonize healthy natural desires such as eroticism, thirst for revenge, creativity and independence from social mores. According to at least one authority, the Slovenian scholar Anton Strle, Nietzsche lost his faith in the time he was reading the book Leben Jesu (Life of Jesus), written by the German theologian David Strauss.
- "After Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave - a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown. -And we- we still have to vanquish his shadow, too." from Nietzsche's The Gay Science, s.108.
- "Christianity was from the beginning, essentially and fundamentally, life's nausea and disgust with life, merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as, faith in 'another' or 'better' life." from Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy, p.23.