The Life and Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche


Read the philosophy of Nietzsche to get a profound insight into human nature and confront conventional beliefs.

Friedrich Nietzsche was more than just a German philosopher and cultural critic; he was a rebel with a cause. He believed in pushing the boundaries of traditional thinking, exploring the depths of human consciousness, and embracing life without the need for a higher power. Nietzsche’s groundbreaking work on truth, morality, language, and aesthetics challenged the very foundations of Western philosophy.

One of Nietzsche’s most famous concepts is “the death of God,” in which he predicted the decline of traditional religion and metaphysics. Some argue that he embraced nihilism and rejected philosophical reasoning, while others believe that he was engaged in a positive program to reaffirm life and encourage a radical, naturalistic rethinking of the nature of human existence.

For Nietzsche, the exemplary human being was one who crafted his own identity through self-realization without relying on anything transcending that life. This way of living required a constant struggle with one’s psychological and intellectual inheritances. Even a radical vision of eternity, such as the “eternal recurrence” of all events, should be embraced to affirm this way of living.

Some commentators have suggested that Nietzsche advanced a cosmological theory of “will to power,” while others interpret him as not overly concerned with working out a general cosmology. Nonetheless, questions regarding the coherence of Nietzsche’s views continue to fascinate contemporary intellectual historians and philosophers.

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Life Background of Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche and his philosophy
By Edvard Munch via Wikimedia Commons

Friedrich Nietzsche was born on October 15, 1844, in Röcken. His brilliant career in classical philology culminated in May 1869, when he was called to a chair at the University of Basel. Nietzsche was already interested in philosophy, particularly the work of Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Albert Lange. Nietzsche’s friendship with Richard Wagner lasted into the mid-1870s and influenced both his personal and professional lives. His first book, The Birth of Tragedy: Out of the Spirit of Music, was not well received within classical studies, but it contained striking interpretive insights. Following the book’s publication, Nietzsche continued to influence the broader direction of German intellectual culture. Nietzsche’s health forced him to take leave from Basel in 1876–77. He used the time to explore a broadly naturalistic critique of traditional morality and culture. Nietzsche published a book almost every year thereafter, including The Gay Science, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Beyond Good, and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morality, Twilight of the Idols, and The Wagner Case.

There was a time when Nietzsche would move frequently in an effort to find a climate that would improve his health, settling into a pattern of spending winters near the Mediterranean (usually in Italy) and summers in Sils Maria, Switzerland. In January 1889, Nietzsche collapsed in the street in Turin, and his health continued to decline until his death on August 25, 1900. Recent work has convincingly argued that he probably suffered from a retro-orbital meningioma, a slow-growing tumor on the brain surface behind his right eye.

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Nietzsche’s Most Popular Work: Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Nietzsche: 19th century painting depicting the events of Zoroaster's life
19th-century painting depicting the events of Zoroaster’s life. By Ariapars via Wikimedia Commons

Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Friedrich Nietzsche is a philosophical fiction work published between 1883 and 1885 that features Zarathustra (Zoroaster), the spiritual founder of Zoroastrianism, as its protagonist. The book deals with ideas such as the Übermensch, the death of God, the will to power, and eternal recurrence, among others.

In the prologue, we meet Zarathustra, who has lived as a hermit on a mountain with his companions, an eagle, and a serpent. After ten years, he decides to return to the world and share his wisdom, only to find a saint living in a forest who has not yet heard that “God is dead.” Zarathustra then addresses a crowd and shares his belief that mankind’s goal should be to create something superior to itself, the Übermensch. However, the crowd does not take him seriously, and a tragic event leads Zarathustra to abandon his followers.

The second part of the book sees Zarathustra retire to his mountain cave and later return to recover his lost disciples. He continues to discuss the death of God, the rise of the Übermensch, and introduces the concept of the will to power. However, he holds back on a secret teaching that he cannot bring himself to reveal.

In the third part, Zarathustra encounters other characters and has more discussions about his philosophy. The book’s style, which features analogies and figurative language, has led to different interpretations of what Zarathustra means when he speaks. Nietzsche explained that Zarathustra was his protagonist because he was the first to see in the struggle between good and evil the essential wheel in the working of things, and he created morality to eventually expose it.

Nietzsche’s Aphorisms and Explanation

Nietzsche and his philosophy
Mathias Faust via pixabay

What does not kill me makes me stronger. (Twilight of the Idols, 1888)

For Nietzsche, adversity and hardship can be opportunities for personal growth and development. Nietzsche believed that life is full of challenges, and it is through facing these challenges that we can become stronger individuals. Nietzsche’s philosophy is rooted in the idea that humans have an inherent drive to overcome obstacles and that our struggles can give us the strength and resilience to overcome future challenges. He believed that it was not enough to simply endure or survive difficult experiences, rather, one must actively engage with them, confront them, and learn from them. Through this process, we can develop a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

He who fights with monsters might take care lest he also becomes a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you. (Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146)

Here, Nietzsche is warning us about the danger of becoming what we fight against. The philosopher states that when we engage in battles with others, we risk being consumed by the very darkness we are trying to eradicate. This can happen in two ways.

Firstly, we may become like the monsters we are fighting. In other words, when we spend so much time focused on negativity and destruction, we risk losing sight of our values and becoming consumed by hatred and anger. We may start to justify doing terrible things in the name of fighting for a greater good.

Secondly, Nietzsche warns us that the very act of looking into the abyss, or the darkness that we are fighting, can have a profound effect on us. We risk becoming so deeply entangled in the darkness that it changes us, and we lose a part of ourselves in the process. This is similar to the idea that when we gaze long enough at something, we become a part of it.

There are no facts, only interpretations. (The Portable Nietzsche)

To expand further, Nietzsche believed that all knowledge, including scientific knowledge, is filtered through individual perspectives and biases. What we consider to be “facts” are actually interpretations of reality based on our unique set of experiences, beliefs, and cultural backgrounds. Nietzsche argued that our interpretations are not inherently right or wrong but rather reflect our subjective perspectives.

In this sense, Nietzsche rejected the notion of a universal truth or objective reality that exists independently of human perception. Instead, he believed that all truths are relative and contingent upon the individual or group interpreting them. This perspective challenges traditional notions of objectivity and emphasizes the importance of considering multiple perspectives in understanding the world around us.

If a temple is to be erected, a temple must be destroyed. (On the Genealogy of Morality Essay 2, Section 24)

Nietzsche is suggesting that, in order to create something new and better, it is necessary to destroy the old and outdated. He is using the metaphor of a temple to represent the existing system of values and beliefs and suggesting that in order to build a new temple, the old one must first be torn down.

This idea reflects Nietzsche’s belief that traditional morality and values had become outdated and were hindering the development of individuals and society. He believed that these values had been imposed on people by the powerful and were not truly reflective of the needs and desires of individuals. Thus, he argued for the creation of a new system of values that would be based on an individual’s will to power and the pursuit of personal excellence.

There exists in the world a single path along which no one can go except you: whither does it lead? Do not ask, go along it.(Untimely Meditations, Schopenhauer as educator,” § 3.1)

This aphorism speaks to the idea that each person has their own unique path in life that only they can travel. It encourages the individual to embrace this path and not be afraid of where it may lead. Nietzsche is saying that one should not be overly concerned with the destination of the path but rather focus on the journey itself. To truly live one’s life, one must take risks, embrace the unknown, and follow their own path, even if it leads one to uncharted territories. This idea is about the individual’s autonomy and the importance of self-discovery.

The secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is: to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! (The Gay Science)

Nietzsche believed that the key to living a fulfilling life was to take risks, live outside of one’s comfort zone, and embrace the unknown. He saw a life lived too safely as a life wasted. He is encouraging us to live dangerously and take risks. By living dangerously, we open ourselves up to new experiences and possibilities, and we live life to the fullest.


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