Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche: 15 October 1844 – 25 August 1900) was a German philosopher, prose poet, cultural critic, philologist, and composer whose work has exerted a profound influence on contemporary philosophy. He began his career as a classical philologist before turning to philosophy. He became the youngest person ever to hold the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel in 1869 at the age of 24. Nietzsche resigned in 1879 due to health problems that plagued him most of his life; he completed much of his core writing in the following decade. In 1889, at age 44, he suffered a collapse and afterward a complete loss of his mental faculties, with paralysis and probably vascular dementia. He lived his remaining years in the care of his mother until her death in 1897 and then with his sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche. Nietzsche died in 1900, after experiencing pneumonia and multiple strokes. Nietzsche’s writing spans philosophical polemics, poetry, cultural criticism, and fiction while displaying a fondness for aphorism and irony. Prominent elements of his philosophy include his radical critique of truth in favour of perspectivism; a genealogical critique of religion and Christian morality and a related theory of master–slave morality; the aesthetic affirmation of life in response to both the “death of God” and the profound crisis of nihilism; the notion of Apollonian and Dionysian forces; and a characterisation of the human subject as the expression of competing wills, collectively understood as the will to power. He also developed influential concepts such as the Übermensch and his doctrine of eternal return. In his later work, he became increasingly preoccupied with the creative powers of the individual to overcome cultural and moral mores in pursuit of new values and aesthetic health. His body of work touched a wide range of topics, including art, philology, history, music, religion, tragedy, culture, and science, and drew inspiration from Greek tragedy as well as figures such as Zoroaster, Arthur Schopenhauer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Richard Wagner and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. After his death, Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth became the curator and editor of his manuscripts. She edited his unpublished writings to fit her German ultranationalist ideology, often contradicting or obfuscating Nietzsche’s stated opinions, which were explicitly opposed to antisemitism and nationalism. Through her published editions, Nietzsche’s work became associated with fascism and Nazism. 20th-century scholars such as Walter Kaufmann, R. J. Hollingdale, and Georges Bataille defended Nietzsche against this interpretation, and corrected editions of his writings were soon made available. Nietzsche’s thought enjoyed renewed popularity in the 1960s and his ideas have since had a profound impact on 20th- and early 21st-century thinkers across philosophy—especially in schools of continental philosophy such as existentialism, postmodernism and post-structuralism—as well as art, literature, poetry, politics, and popular culture.
Born on 15 October 1844, Nietzsche grew up in the town of Röcken (now part of Lützen), near Leipzig, in the Prussian Province of Saxony. He was named after King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, who turned 49 on the day of Nietzsche’s birth (Nietzsche later dropped his middle name Wilhelm). Nietzsche’s parents, Carl Ludwig Nietzsche (1813–1849), a Lutheran pastor and former teacher; and Franziska Nietzsche) – (1826–1897), married in 1843, the year before their son’s birth. They had two other children: a daughter, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, born in 1846; and a second son, Ludwig Joseph, born in 1848. Nietzsche’s father died from a brain ailment in 1849; Ludwig Joseph died six months later at age two. The family then moved to Naumburg, where they lived with Nietzsche’s maternal grandmother and his father’s two unmarried sisters. After the death of Nietzsche’s grandmother in 1856, the family moved into their own house, now Nietzsche-Haus, a museum and Nietzsche study center. Nietzsche attended a boys’ school and then a private school, where he became friends with Gustav Krug and Wilhelm Pinder, all three of whom came from highly respected families. Academic records from one of the schools attended by Nietzsche noted that he excelled in Christian theology.
In 1854, he began to attend Domgymnasium in Naumburg. Because his father had worked for the state (as a pastor) the now-fatherless Nietzsche was offered a scholarship to study at the internationally recognised Schulpforta (the claim that Nietzsche was admitted on the strength of his academic competence has been debunked: his grades were not near the top of the class). He studied there from 1858 to 1864, becoming friends with Paul Deussen and Carl von Gersdorff. He also found time to work on poems and musical compositions. Nietzsche led “Germania”, a music and literature club, during his summers in Naumburg. At Schulpforta, Nietzsche received an important grounding in languages—Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and French—so as to be able to read important primary sources; he also experienced for the first time being away from his family life in a small-town conservative environment. His end-of-semester exams in March 1864 showed a 1 in Religion and German; in Greek and Latin; a 2b in French, History, and Physics; and a “lackluster” 3 in Hebrew and Mathematics. Nietzsche was an amateur composer. He composed several works for voice, piano, and violin beginning in 1858 at the Schulpforta in Naumburg when he started to work on musical compositions. Richard Wagner was dismissive of Nietzsche’s music, allegedly mocking a birthday gift of a piano composition sent by Nietzsche in 1871 to his wife Cosima. German conductor and pianist Hans von Bülow also described another of Nietzsche’s pieces as “the most undelightful and the most antimusical draft on musical paper that I have faced in a long time”.
While at Schulpforta, Nietzsche pursued subjects that were considered unbecoming. He became acquainted with the work of the then almost-unknown poet Friedrich Hölderlin, calling him “my favorite poet” and writing an essay in which he said that the poet raised consciousness to “the most sublime ideality”. The teacher who corrected the essay gave it a good mark but commented that Nietzsche should concern himself in the future with healthier, more lucid, and more “German” writers. Additionally, he became acquainted with Ernst Ortlepp, an eccentric, blasphemous, and often drunken poet who was found dead in a ditch weeks after meeting the young Nietzsche but who may have introduced Nietzsche to the music and writing of Richard Wagner. Perhaps under Ortlepp’s influence, he and a student named Richter returned to school drunk and encountered a teacher, resulting in Nietzsche’s demotion from first in his class and the end of his status as a prefect. After graduation in September 1864,Nietzsche began studying theology and classical philology at the University of Bonn in the hope of becoming a minister. For a short time, he and Deussen became members of the Burschenschaft Frankonia. After one semester (and to the anger of his mother), he stopped his theological studies and lost his faith. As early as his 1862 essay “Fate and History”, Nietzsche had argued that historical research had discredited the central teachings of Christianity, but David Strauss’s Life of Jesus also seems to have had a profound effect on the young man. In addition, Ludwig Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity influenced young Nietzsche with its argument that people created God, and not the other way around. In June 1865, at the age of 20, Nietzsche wrote to his sister Elisabeth, who was deeply religious, a letter regarding his loss of faith. This letter contains the following statement: Hence the ways of men part: if you wish to strive for peace of soul and pleasure, then believe; if you wish to be a devotee of truth, then inquire.
Nietzsche subsequently concentrated on studying philology under Professor Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl, whom he followed to the University of Leipzig in 1865. There he became close friends with his fellow student Erwin Rohde. Nietzsche’s first philological publications appeared soon after. In 1865, Nietzsche thoroughly studied the works of Arthur Schopenhauer. He owed the awakening of his philosophical interest to reading Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation and later admitted that Schopenhauer was one of the few thinkers whom he respected, dedicating the essay “Schopenhauer as Educator” in the Untimely Meditations to him. In 1866, he read Friedrich Albert Lange’s History of Materialism. Lange’s descriptions of Kant’s anti-materialistic philosophy, the rise of European Materialism, Europe’s increased concern with science, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, and the general rebellion against tradition and authority intrigued Nietzsche greatly. Nietzsche would ultimately argue the impossibility of an evolutionary explanation of the human aesthetic sense. In 1867, Nietzsche signed up for one year of voluntary service with the Prussian artillery division in Naumburg. He was regarded as one of the finest riders among his fellow recruits, and his officers predicted that he would soon reach the rank of captain. However, in March 1868, while jumping into the saddle of his horse, Nietzsche struck his chest against the pommel and tore two muscles in his left side, leaving him exhausted and unable to walk for months. Consequently, he turned his attention to his studies again, completing them in 1868. Nietzsche also met Richard Wagner for the first time later that year.
In 1869, with Ritschl’s support, Nietzsche received an offer to become a professor of classical philology at the University of Basel in Switzerland. He was only 24 years old and had neither completed his doctorate nor received a teaching certificate (“habilitation”). He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Leipzig University in March 1869, again with Ritschl’s support. Despite his offer coming at a time when he was considering giving up philology for science, he accepted. To this day, Nietzsche is still among the youngest of the tenured Classics professors on record. Nietzsche’s 1870 projected doctoral thesis, “Contribution toward the Study and the Critique of the Sources of Diogenes Laertius” (“Beiträge zur Quellenkunde und Kritik des Laertius Diogenes”), examined the origins of the ideas of Diogenes Laërtius. Though never submitted, it was later published as a Gratulationsschrift (‘congratulatory publication’) in Basel. Before moving to Basel, Nietzsche renounced his Prussian citizenship: for the rest of his life he remained officially stateless. Nevertheless, Nietzsche served in the Prussian forces during the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871) as a medical orderly. In his short time in the military, he experienced much and witnessed the traumatic effects of battle. He also contracted diphtheria and dysentery. Walter Kaufmann speculates that he might also have contracted syphilis at a brothel along with his other infections at this time. On returning to Basel in 1870, Nietzsche observed the establishment of the German Empire and Otto von Bismarck’s subsequent policies as an outsider and with a degree of scepticism regarding their genuineness. His inaugural lecture at the university was “Homer and Classical Philology”. Nietzsche also met Franz Overbeck, a professor of theology who remained his friend throughout his life. Afrikan Spir, a little-known Russian philosopher responsible for the 1873 Thought and Reality and Nietzsche’s colleague, the famed historian Jacob Burckhardt, whose lectures Nietzsche frequently attended, began to exercise significant influence on him.
Nietzsche had already met Richard Wagner in Leipzig in 1868 and later Wagner’s wife, Cosima. Nietzsche admired both greatly and during his time at Basel frequently visited Wagner’s house in Tribschen in Lucerne. The Wagners brought Nietzsche into their most intimate circle—including Franz Liszt, of whom Nietzsche colloquially described: “Liszt or the art of running after women!” Nietzsche enjoyed the attention he gave to the beginning of the Bayreuth Festival. In 1870, he gave Cosima Wagner the manuscript of “The Genesis of the Tragic Idea” as a birthday gift. In 1872, Nietzsche published his first book, The Birth of Tragedy. However, his colleagues within his field, including Ritschl, expressed little enthusiasm for the work in which Nietzsche eschewed the classical philologic method in favour of a more speculative approach. In his polemic Philology of the Future, Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff damped the book’s reception and increased its notoriety. In response, Rohde (then a professor in Kiel) and Wagner came to Nietzsche’s defence. Nietzsche remarked freely about the isolation he felt within the philological community and attempted unsuccessfully to transfer to a position in philosophy at Basel. In 1873, Nietzsche began to accumulate notes that would be posthumously published as Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks. Between 1873 and 1876, he published four separate long essays: “David Strauss: The Confessor and the Writer”, “On the Use and Abuse of History for Life”, “Schopenhauer as Educator”, and “Richard Wagner in Bayreuth”. These four later appeared in a collected edition under the title Untimely Meditations. The essays shared the orientation of a cultural critique, challenging the developing German culture suggested by Schopenhauer and Wagner. During this time in the circle of the Wagners, he met Malwida von Meysenbug and Hans von Bülow. He also began a friendship with Paul Rée who, in 1876, influenced him into dismissing the pessimism in his early writings. However, he was deeply disappointed by the Bayreuth Festival of 1876, where the banality of the shows and baseness of the public repelled him. He was also alienated by Wagner’s championing of “German culture”, which Nietzsche felt a contradiction in terms, as well as by Wagner’s celebration of his fame among the German public. All this contributed to his subsequent decision to distance himself from Wagner. With the publication in 1878 of Human, All Too Human (a book of aphorisms ranging from metaphysics to morality to religion), a new style of Nietzsche’s work became clear, highly influenced by Afrikan Spir’s Thought and Reality and reacting against the pessimistic philosophy of Wagner and Schopenhauer. Nietzsche’s friendship with Deussen and Rohde cooled as well. In 1879, after a significant decline in health, Nietzsche had to resign his position at Basel and was pensioned. Since his childhood, various disruptive illnesses had plagued him, including moments of shortsightedness that left him nearly blind, migraine headaches, and violent indigestion. The 1868 riding accident and diseases in 1870 may have aggravated these persistent conditions, which continued to affect him through his years at Basel, forcing him to take longer and longer holidays until regular work became impractical.
Living off his pension from Basel and aid from friends, Nietzsche travelled frequently to find climates more conducive to his health and lived until 1889 as an independent author in different cities. He spent many summers in Sils Maria near St. Moritz in Switzerland. He spent his winters in the Italian cities of Genoa, Rapallo, and Turin and the French city of Nice. In 1881, when France occupied Tunisia, he planned to travel to Tunis to view Europe from the outside but later abandoned that idea, probably for health reasons. Nietzsche occasionally returned to Naumburg to visit his family, and, especially during this time, he and his sister Elisabeth had repeated periods of conflict and reconciliation. While in Genoa, Nietzsche’s failing eyesight prompted him to explore the use of typewriters as a means of continuing to write. He is known to have tried using the Hansen Writing Ball, a contemporary typewriter device. In the end, a past student of his, Peter Gast, became a private secretary to Nietzsche. In 1876, Gast transcribed the crabbed, nearly illegible handwriting of Nietzsche’s first time with Richard Wagner in Bayreuth. He subsequently transcribed and proofread the galleys for almost all of Nietzsche’s work. On at least one occasion, on 23 February 1880, the usually poor Gast received 200 marks from their mutual friend, Paul Rée. Gast was one of the very few friends Nietzsche allowed to criticise him. In responding most enthusiastically to Also Sprach Zarathustra (“Thus Spoke Zarathustra”), Gast did feel it necessary to point out that what were described as “superfluous” people were in fact quite necessary. He went on to list the number of people Epicurus, for example, had to rely on to supply his simple diet of goat cheese. To the end of his life, Gast and Overbeck remained consistently faithful friends. Malwida von Meysenbug remained like a motherly patron even outside the Wagner circle. Soon Nietzsche made contact with the music-critic Carl Fuchs. Nietzsche stood at the beginning of his most productive period. Beginning with Human, All Too Human in 1878, Nietzsche published one book or major section of a book each year until 1888, his last year of writing; that year, he completed five. In 1882, Nietzsche published the first part of The Gay Science. That year he also met Lou Andreas-Salomé, through Malwida von Meysenbug and Paul Rée.
Salomé’s mother took her to Rome when Salomé was 21. At a literary salon in the city, Salomé became acquainted with Paul Rée. Rée proposed marriage to her, but she, instead, proposed that they should live and study together as “brother and sister”, along with another man for company, where they would establish an academic commune. Rée accepted the idea and suggested that they be joined by his friend Nietzsche. The two met Nietzsche in Rome in April 1882, and Nietzsche is believed to have instantly fallen in love with Salomé, as Rée had done. Nietzsche asked Rée to propose marriage to Salomé, which she rejected. She had been interested in Nietzsche as a friend, but not as a husband. Nietzsche nonetheless was content to join with Rée and Salomé touring through Switzerland and Italy together, planning their commune. The three travelled with Salomé’s mother through Italy and considered where they would set up their “Winterplan” commune. They intended to set up their commune in an abandoned monastery, but no suitable location was found. On 13 May, in Lucerne, when Nietzsche was alone with Salomé, he earnestly proposed marriage to her again, which she rejected. He nonetheless was happy to continue with the plans for an academic commune. After discovering the relationship, Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth became determined to get Nietzsche away from the “immoral woman”. Nietzsche and Salomé spent the summer together in Tautenburg in Thuringia, often with Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth as a chaperone. Salomé reports that he asked her to marry him on three separate occasions and that she refused, though the reliability of her reports of events is questionable. Arriving in Leipzig (Germany) in October, Salomé and Rée separated from Nietzsche after a falling-out between Nietzsche and Salomé, in which Salomé believed that Nietzsche was desperately in love with her. While the three spent a number of weeks together in Leipzig in October 1882, the following month Rée and Salomé left Nietzsche, leaving for Stibbe (today Zdbowo in Poland) without any plans to meet again. Nietzsche soon fell into a period of mental anguish, although he continued to write to Rée, stating “We shall see one another from time to time, won’t we?” In later recriminations, Nietzsche would blame on separate occasions the failure in his attempts to woo Salomé on Salomé, Rée, and on the intrigues of his sister (who had written letters to the families of Salomé and Rée to disrupt the plans for the commune). Nietzsche wrote of the affair in 1883, that he now felt “genuine hatred for my sister”.
Amidst renewed bouts of illness, living in near-isolation after a falling out with his mother and sister regarding Salomé, Nietzsche fled to Rapallo, where he wrote the first part of Also Sprach Zarathustra in only ten days. By 1882, Nietzsche was taking huge doses of opium, but he was still having trouble sleeping. In 1883, while staying in Nice, he was writing out his own prescriptions for the sedative chloral hydrate, signing them “Dr. Nietzsche”. He turned away from the influence of Schopenhauer, and after he severed his social ties with Wagner, Nietzsche had few remaining friends. Now, with the new style of Zarathustra, his work became even more alienating, and the market received it only to the degree required by politeness. Nietzsche recognised this and maintained his solitude, though he often complained. His books remained largely unsold. In 1885, he printed only 40 copies of the fourth part of Zarathustra and distributed a fraction of them among close friends, including Helene von Druskowitz. In 1883, he tried and failed to obtain a lecturing post at the University of Leipzig. According to a letter he wrote to Peter Gast, this was due to his “attitude towards Christianity and the concept of God”. In 1886, Nietzsche broke with his publisher Ernst Schmeitzner, disgusted by his antisemitic opinions. Nietzsche saw his own writings as “completely buried and in this anti-Semitic dump” of Schmeitzner—associating the publisher with a movement that should be “utterly rejected with cold contempt by every sensible mind”. He then printed Beyond Good and Evil at his own expense. He also acquired the publication rights for his earlier works and over the next year issued second editions of The Birth of Tragedy, Human, All Too Human, Daybreak, and of The Gay Science with new prefaces placing the body of his work in a more coherent perspective. Thereafter, he saw his work as completed for a time and hoped that soon a readership would develop. In fact, interest in Nietzsche’s thought did increase at this time, if rather slowly and imperceptibly to him. During these years Nietzsche met Meta von Salis, Carl Spitteler, and Gottfried Keller.
In 1886, his sister Elisabeth married the antisemite Bernhard Förster and travelled to Paraguay to found Nueva Germania, a “Germanic” colony. Through correspondence, Nietzsche’s relationship with Elisabeth continued through cycles of conflict and reconciliation, but they met again only after his collapse. He continued to have frequent and painful attacks of illness, which made prolonged work impossible. In 1887, Nietzsche wrote the polemic On the Genealogy of Morality. During the same year, he encountered the work of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, to whom he felt an immediate kinship. He also exchanged letters with Hippolyte Taine and Georg Brandes. Brandes, who had started to teach the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard in the 1870s, wrote to Nietzsche asking him to read Kierkegaard, to which Nietzsche replied that he would come to Copenhagen and read Kierkegaard with him. However, before fulfilling this promise, Nietzsche slipped too far into illness. At the beginning of 1888, Brandes delivered in Copenhagen one of the first lectures on Nietzsche’s philosophy. Although Nietzsche had previously announced at the end of On the Genealogy of Morality a new work with the title The Will to Power: Attempt at a Revaluation of All Values, he seems to have abandoned this idea and, instead, used some of the draft passages to compose Twilight of the Idols and The Antichrist in 1888. His health improved and he spent the summer in high spirits. In the autumn of 1888, his writings and letters began to reveal a higher estimation of his own status and “fate”. He overestimated the increasing response to his writings, however, especially to the recent polemic, The Case of Wagner. On his 44th birthday, after completing Twilight of the Idols and The Antichrist, he decided to write the autobiography Ecce Homo. In its preface—which suggests Nietzsche was well aware of the interpretive difficulties his work would generate—he declares, “Hear me! For I am such and such a person. Above all, do not mistake me for someone else”. In December, Nietzsche began a correspondence with August Strindberg and thought that, short of an international breakthrough, he would attempt to buy back his older writings from the publisher and have them translated into other European languages. Moreover, he planned the publication of the compilation Nietzsche contra Wagner and of the poems that made up his collection Dionysian-Dithyrambs.
On 3 January 1889, Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown. Two policemen approached him after he caused a public disturbance in the streets of Turin. What happened remains unknown, but an often-repeated tale from shortly after his death states that Nietzsche witnessed the flogging of a horse at the other end of the Piazza Carlo Alberto, ran to the horse, threw his arms around its neck to protect it, then collapsed to the ground. In the following few days, Nietzsche sent short writings—known as the Wahnzettel or Wahnbriefe (literally “Delusion notes” or “letters”)—to a number of friends including Cosima Wagner and Jacob Burckhardt. Most of them were signed “Dionysus”, though some were also signed “der Gekreuzigte” meaning “the crucified one”. To his former colleague Burckhardt, Nietzsche wrote: I have had Caiaphas put in fetters. Also, last year I was crucified by the German doctors in a very drawn-out manner. Wilhelm, Bismarck, and all anti-Semites abolished. Additionally, he commanded the German emperor to go to Rome to be shot and summoned the European powers to take military action against Germany, writing also that the pope should be put in jail and that he, Nietzsche, created the world and was in the process of having all anti-Semites shot dead.
On 6 January 1889, Burckhardt showed the letter he had received from Nietzsche to Overbeck. The following day, Overbeck received a similar letter and decided that Nietzsche’s friends had to bring him back to Basel. Overbeck travelled to Turin and brought Nietzsche to a psychiatric clinic in Basel. By that time Nietzsche appeared fully in the grip of a serious mental illness, and his mother Franziska decided to transfer him to a clinic in Jena under the direction of Otto Binswanger. In January 1889, they proceeded with the planned release of Twilight of the Idols, by that time already printed and bound. From November 1889 to February 1890, the art historian Julius Langbehn attempted to cure Nietzsche, claiming that the methods of the medical doctors were ineffective in treating Nietzsche’s condition. Langbehn assumed progressively greater control of Nietzsche until his secretiveness discredited him. In March 1890, Franziska removed Nietzsche from the clinic and, in May 1890, brought him to her home in Naumburg. During this process Overbeck and Gast contemplated what to do with Nietzsche’s unpublished works. In February, they ordered a fifty-copy private edition of Nietzsche contra Wagner, but the publisher C. G. Naumann secretly printed one hundred. Overbeck and Gast decided to withhold publishing The Antichrist and Ecce Homo because of their more radical content. Nietzsche’s reception and recognition enjoyed their first surge.
In 1893, Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth returned from Nueva Germania in Paraguay following the suicide of her husband. She studied Nietzsche’s works and, piece by piece, took control of their publication. Overbeck was dismissed and Gast finally co-operated. After the death of Franziska in 1897, Nietzsche lived in Weimar, where Elisabeth cared for him and allowed visitors, including Rudolf Steiner (who in 1895 had written Friedrich Nietzsche: a Fighter Against His Time, one of the first books praising Nietzsche), to meet her uncommunicative brother. Elisabeth employed Steiner as a tutor to help her to understand her brother’s philosophy. Steiner abandoned the attempt after only a few months, declaring that it was impossible to teach her anything about philosophy. Nietzsche’s insanity was originally diagnosed as tertiary syphilis, in accordance with a prevailing medical paradigm of the time. Although most commentators[who?] regard his breakdown as unrelated to his philosophy, Georges Bataille dropped dark hints (“‘Man incarnate’ must also go mad”) and René Girard’s postmortem psychoanalysis posits a worshipful rivalry with Richard Wagner. Nietzsche had previously written, “All superior men who were irresistibly drawn to throw off the yoke of any kind of morality and to frame new laws had, if they were not actually mad, no alternative but to make themselves or pretend to be mad.” (Daybreak, 14) The diagnosis of syphilis has since been challenged and a diagnosis of “manic-depressive illness with periodic psychosis followed by vascular dementia” was put forward by Cybulska prior to Schain’s study. Leonard Sax suggested the slow growth of a right-sided retro-orbital meningioma as an explanation of Nietzsche’s dementia; Orth and Trimble postulated frontotemporal dementia] while other researchers have proposed a hereditary stroke disorder called CADASIL. Poisoning by mercury, a treatment for syphilis at the time of Nietzsche’s death, has also been suggested.
In 1898 and 1899, Nietzsche suffered at least two strokes. They partially paralysed him, leaving him unable to speak or walk. He likely suffered from clinical hemiparesis/hemiplegia on the left side of his body by 1899. After contracting pneumonia in mid-August 1900, he had another stroke during the night of 24–25 August and died at about noon on 25 August. Elisabeth had him buried beside his father at the church in Röcken near Lützen. His friend and secretary Gast gave his funeral oration, proclaiming: “Holy be your name to all future generations!” Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche compiled The Will to Power from Nietzsche’s unpublished notebooks and published it posthumously in 1901. Because his sister arranged the book based on her own conflation of several of Nietzsche’s early outlines and took liberties with the material, the scholarly consensus has been that it does not reflect Nietzsche’s intent. (For example, Elisabeth removed aphorism 35 of The Antichrist, where Nietzsche rewrote a passage of the Bible.) Indeed, Mazzino Montinari, the editor of Nietzsche’s Nachlass, called it a forgery. Yet, the endeavour to rescue Nietzsche’s reputation by discrediting The Will to Power often leads to scepticism about the value of his late notes, even of his whole Nachlass. However, his Nachlass and The Will to Power are distinct.
Nietzsche was never married. He proposed to Lou Salomé three times and each time was rejected. One theory blames Salomé’s view on sexuality as one of the reasons for her alienation from Nietzsche. As articulated in her 1898 novella Fenitschka, Salomé viewed the idea of sexual intercourse as prohibitive and marriage as a violation, with some suggesting that they indicated sexual repression and neurosis. Reflecting on unrequited love, Nietzsche considered that “indispensable … to the lover is his unrequited love, which he would at no price relinquish for a state of indifference”. Deussen cited the episode of Cologne’s brothel in February 1865 as instrumental to understanding the philosopher’s way of thinking, mostly about women. Nietzsche was surreptitiously accompanied to a “call house” from which he clumsily escaped upon seeing “a half dozen apparitions dressed in sequins and veils.” According to Deussen, Nietzsche “never decided to remain unmarried all his life. For him, women had to sacrifice themselves to the care and benefit of men.” Nietzsche scholar Joachim Köhler has attempted to explain Nietzsche’s life history and philosophy by claiming that he was homosexual. Köhler argues that Nietzsche’s supposed syphilis, which is “… usually considered to be the product of his encounter with a prostitute in a brothel in Cologne or Leipzig, is equally likely. Some maintain that Nietzsche contracted it in a male brothel in Genoa.” The acquisition of the infection from a homosexual brothel was the theory believed by Sigmund Freud, who cited Otto Binswanger as his source. Köhler also suggests Nietzsche may have had a romantic relationship, as well as a friendship, with Paul Rée. There is the claim that Nietzsche’s homosexuality was widely known in the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, with Nietzsche’s friend Paul Deussen claiming that “he was a man who had never touched a woman”.
Köhler’s views have not found wide acceptance among Nietzsche scholars and commentators. Allan Megill argues that, while Köhler’s claim that Nietzsche was conflicted about his homosexual desire cannot simply be dismissed, “the evidence is very weak,” and Köhler may be projecting twentieth-century understandings of sexuality on nineteenth-century notions of friendship. It is also rumoured that Nietzsche frequented heterosexual brothels. Nigel Rodgers and Mel Thompson have argued that continuous sickness and headaches hindered Nietzsche from engaging much with women. Yet they offer other examples in which Nietzsche expressed his affections to women, including Wagner’s wife Cosima Wagner. Other scholars have argued that Köhler’s sexuality-based interpretation is not helpful in understanding Nietzsche’s philosophy. However, there are also those who stress that, if Nietzsche preferred men—with this preference constituting his psycho-sexual make-up—but could not admit his desires to himself, it meant he acted in conflict with his philosophy.
Philosophy: Because of Nietzsche’s evocative style and provocative ideas, his philosophy generates passionate reactions. His works remain controversial, due to varying interpretations and misinterpretations. In Western philosophy, Nietzsche’s writings have been described as a case of free revolutionary thought, that is, revolutionary in its structure and problems, although not tied to any revolutionary project. His writings have also been described as a revolutionary project in which his philosophy serves as the foundation of a European cultural rebirth.
Apollonian and Dionysian: The Apollonian and Dionysian is a two-fold philosophical concept based on two figures in ancient Greek mythology, Apollo and Dionysus. This relationship takes the form of a dialectic. Even though the concept is related to The Birth of Tragedy, the poet Hölderlin had already spoken of it, and Winckelmann had talked of Bacchus. Nietzsche found in classical Athenian tragedy an art form that transcended the pessimism found in the so-called wisdom of Silenus. The Greek spectators, by looking into the abyss of human suffering depicted by characters on stage, passionately and joyously affirmed life, finding it worth living. The main theme in The Birth of Tragedy is that the fusion of Dionysian and Apollonian Kunsttriebe (“artistic impulses”) forms dramatic arts or tragedies. He argued that this fusion has not been achieved since the ancient Greek tragedians. Apollo represents harmony, progress, clarity, logic and the principle of individuation, whereas Dionysus represents disorder, intoxication, emotion, ecstasy and unity (hence the omission of the principle of individuation). Nietzsche used these two forces because, for him, the world of mind and order on one side, and passion and chaos on the other, formed principles that were fundamental to the Greek culture: The Apollonian a dreaming state, full of illusions; and Dionysian a state of intoxication, representing the liberations of instinct and dissolution of boundaries. In this mould, a man appears as the satyr. He is the horror of the annihilation of the principle of individuality and at the same time someone who delights in its destruction. Both of these principles are meant to represent cognitive states that appear through art as the power of nature in man.
Apollonian and Dionysian juxtapositions appear in the interplay of tragedy: the tragic hero of the drama, the main protagonist, struggles to make (Apollonian) order of his unjust and chaotic (Dionysian) fate, though he dies unfulfilled. Elaborating on the conception of Hamlet as an intellectual who cannot make up his mind, and is a living antithesis to the man of action, Nietzsche argues that a Dionysian figure possesses the knowledge that his actions cannot change the eternal balance of things, and it disgusts him enough not to act at all. Hamlet falls under this category—he glimpsed the supernatural reality through the Ghost; he has gained true knowledge and knows that no action of his has the power to change this. For the audience of such drama, this tragedy allows them to sense what Nietzsche called the Primordial Unity, which revives Dionysian nature. He describes primordial unity as the increase of strength, the experience of fullness and plenitude bestowed by frenzy. Frenzy acts as intoxication and is crucial for the physiological condition that enables the creation of any art. Stimulated by this state, a person’s artistic will is enhanced: In this state one enriches everything out of one’s own fullness: whatever one sees, whatever wills is seen swelled, taut, strong, overloaded with strength. A man in this state transforms things until they mirror his power—until they are reflections of his perfection. This having to transform into perfection is—art.
Nietzsche is adamant that the works of Aeschylus and Sophocles represent the apex of artistic creation, the true realisation of tragedy; it is with Euripides, that tragedy begins its Untergang (literally ‘going under’ or ‘downward-way;’ meaning decline, deterioration, downfall, death, etc.). Nietzsche objects to Euripides’ use of Socratic rationalism and morality in his tragedies, claiming that the infusion of ethics and reason robs tragedy of its foundation, namely the fragile balance of the Dionysian and Apollonian. Socrates emphasised reason to such a degree that he diffused the value of myth and suffering to human knowledge. Plato continued along this path in his dialogues, and the modern world eventually inherited reason at the expense of artistic impulses found in the Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy. He notes that without the Apollonian, the Dionysian lacks the form and structure to make a coherent piece of art, and without the Dionysian, the Apollonian lacks the necessary vitality and passion. Only the fertile interplay of these two forces brought together as an art represented the best of Greek tragedy. An example of the impact of this idea can be seen in the book Patterns of Culture, where anthropologist Ruth Benedict acknowledges Nietzschean opposites of “Apollonian” and “Dionysian” as the stimulus for her thoughts about Native American cultures. Carl Jung has written extensively on the dichotomy in Psychological Types. Michel Foucault commented that his own book Madness and Civilization should be read “under the sun of the great Nietzschean inquiry”. Here Foucault referenced Nietzsche’s description of the birth and death of tragedy and his explanation that the subsequent tragedy of the Western world was the refusal of the tragic and, with that, refusal of the sacred. Painter Mark Rothko was influenced by Nietzsche’s view of tragedy presented in The Birth of Tragedy.
Perspectivism: Nietzsche claimed the death of God would eventually lead to the realization that there can never be a universal perspective on things and that the traditional idea of objective truth is incoherent. Nietzsche rejected the idea of objective reality, arguing that knowledge is contingent and conditional, relative to various fluid perspectives or interests. This leads to constant reassessment of rules (i.e., those of philosophy, the scientific method, etc.) according to the circumstances of individual perspectives. This view has acquired the name perspectivism. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche proclaimed that a table of values hangs above every great person. He pointed out that what is common among different peoples is the act of esteeming, of creating values, even if the values are different from one person to the next. Nietzsche asserted that what made people great was not the content of their beliefs, but the act of valuing. Thus the values a community strives to articulate are not as important as the collective will to see those values come to pass. The willingness is more essential than the merit of the goal itself, according to Nietzsche. “A thousand goals have there been so far”, says Zarathustra, “for there are a thousand peoples. Only the yoke for the thousand necks is still lacking: the one goal is lacking. Humanity still has no goal.” Hence, the title of the aphorism, “On The Thousand And One Goal”. The idea that one value-system is no more worthy than the next, although it may not be directly ascribed to Nietzsche, has become a common premise in modern social science. Max Weber and Martin Heidegger absorbed it and made it their own. It shaped their philosophical and cultural endeavours, as well as their political understanding. Weber, for example, relied on Nietzsche’s perspectivism by maintaining that objectivity is still possible—but only after a particular perspective, value, or end has been established. Among his critique of traditional philosophy of Kant, Descartes, and Plato in Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche attacked the thing in itself and cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”) as unfalsifiable beliefs based on naive acceptance of previous notions and fallacies. Philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre put Nietzsche in a high place in the history of philosophy. While criticising nihilism and Nietzsche together as a sign of general decay, he still commended him for recognising psychological motives behind Kant and Hume’s moral philosophy: For it was Nietzsche’s historic achievement to understand more clearly than any other philosopher … not only that what purported to be appeals of objectivity were in fact expressions of subjective will, but also the nature of the problems that this posed for philosophy.
Slave revolt in morals: In Beyond Good and Evil and On the Genealogy of Morality, Nietzsche’s genealogical account of the development of modern moral systems occupies a central place. For Nietzsche, a fundamental shift took place during the human history from thinking in terms of “good and bad” toward “good and evil”. The initial form of morality was set by a warrior aristocracy and other ruling castes of ancient civilisations. Aristocratic values of good and bad coincided with and reflected their relationship to lower castes such as slaves. Nietzsche presented this “master morality” as the original system of morality—perhaps best associated with Homeric Greece. To be “good” was to be happy and to have the things related to happiness: wealth, strength, health, power, etc. To be “bad” was to be like the slaves over whom the aristocracy ruled: poor, weak, sick, pathetic—objects of pity or disgust rather than hatred. “Slave morality” developed as a reaction to master morality. Value emerges from the contrast between good and evil: good being associated with other-worldliness, charity, piety, restraint, meekness, and submission; while evil is worldly, cruel, selfish, wealthy, and aggressive. Nietzsche saw slave morality as pessimistic and fearful, its values emerging to improve the self-perception of slaves. He associated slave morality with the Jewish and Christian traditions, as it is born out of the ressentiment of slaves. Nietzsche argued that the idea of equality allowed slaves to overcome their own conditions without despising themselves. By denying the inherent inequality of people—in success, strength, beauty, and intelligence—slaves acquired a method of escape, namely by generating new values on the basis of rejecting master morality, which frustrated them. It was used to overcome the slave’s sense of inferiority before their (better-off) masters. It does so by making out slave weakness, for example, to be a matter of choice, by relabelling it as “meekness”. The “good man” of master morality is precisely the “evil man” of slave morality, while the “bad man” is recast as the “good man”. Nietzsche saw slave morality as a source of the nihilism that has overtaken Europe. Modern Europe and Christianity exist in a hypocritical state due to a tension between master and slave morality, both contradictory values determining, to varying degrees, the values of most Europeans (who are “motley”). Nietzsche called for exceptional people not to be ashamed in the face of a supposed morality-for-all, which he deems to be harmful to the flourishing of exceptional people. He cautioned, however, that morality, per se, is not bad; it is good for the masses and should be left to them. Exceptional people, on the other hand, should follow their own “inner law”. A favorite motto of Nietzsche, taken from Pindar, reads: “Become what you are”.
A long-standing assumption about Nietzsche is that he preferred master over slave morality. However, eminent Nietzsche scholar Walter Kaufmann rejected this interpretation, writing that Nietzsche’s analyses of these two types of morality were used only in a descriptive and historic sense; they were not meant for any kind of acceptance or glorification. On the other hand, Nietzsche called master morality “a higher order of values, the noble ones, those that say Yes to life, those that guarantee the future”. Just as “there is an order of rank between man and man”, there is also an order of rank “between morality and morality”. Nietzsche waged a philosophic war against the slave morality of Christianity in his “revaluation of all values” to bring about the victory of a new master morality that he called the “philosophy of the future” (Beyond Good and Evil is subtitled Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future). In Daybreak, Nietzsche began his “Campaign against Morality”. He called himself an “immoralist” and harshly criticised the prominent moral philosophies of his day: Christianity, Kantianism, and utilitarianism. Nietzsche’s concept “God is dead” applies to the doctrines of Christendom, though not to all other faiths: he claimed that Buddhism is a successful religion that he complimented for fostering critical thought. Still, Nietzsche saw his philosophy as a counter-movement to nihilism through appreciation of art: Art as the single superior counterforce against all will to negation of life, art as the anti-Christian, anti-Buddhist, anti-Nihilist par excellence.
Nietzsche claimed that the Christian faith as practised was not a proper representation of Jesus’ teachings, as it forced people merely to believe in the way of Jesus but not to act as Jesus did; in particular, his example of refusing to judge people, something that Christians constantly did. He condemned institutionalised Christianity for emphasising a morality of pity, which assumes an inherent illness in society: Christianity is called the religion of pity. Pity stands opposed to the tonic emotions which heighten our vitality: it has a depressing effect. We are deprived of strength when we feel pity. That loss of strength in which suffering as such inflicts on life is still further increased and multiplied by pity. Pity makes suffering contagious. In Ecce Homo Nietzsche called the establishment of moral systems based on a dichotomy of good and evil a “calamitous error”, and wished to initiate a re-evaluation of the values of the Christian world. He indicated his desire to bring about a new, more naturalistic source of value in the vital impulses of life itself. While Nietzsche attacked the principles of Judaism, he was not antisemitic: in his work On the Genealogy of Morality, he explicitly condemned antisemitism and pointed out that his attack on Judaism was not an attack on contemporary Jewish people but specifically an attack upon the ancient Jewish priesthood who he claimed antisemitic Christians paradoxically based their views upon. An Israeli historian who performed a statistical analysis of everything Nietzsche wrote about Jews claims that cross-references and context make clear that 85% of the negative comments are attacks on Christian doctrine or, sarcastically, on Richard Wagner. Nietzsche felt that modern antisemitism was “despicable” and contrary to European ideals. Its cause, in his opinion, was the growth in European nationalism and the endemic “jealousy and hatred” of Jewish success. He wrote that Jews should be thanked for helping uphold a respect for the philosophies of ancient Greece, and for giving rise to “the noblest human being (Christ), the purest philosopher (Baruch Spinoza), the mightiest book, and the most effective moral code in the world”.
Death of God and nihilism: The statement “God is dead,” occurring in several of Nietzsche’s works (notably in The Gay Science), has become one of his best-known remarks. On the basis of it, many commentators regard Nietzsche as an atheist; others (such as Kaufmann) suggest that this statement might reflect a more subtle understanding of divinity. Scientific developments and the increasing secularisation of Europe had effectively ‘killed’ the Abrahamic God, who had served as the basis for meaning and value in the West for more than a thousand years. The death of God may lead beyond bare perspectivism to outright nihilism, the belief that nothing has any inherent importance and that life lacks purpose. While Nietzsche rejected the traditional Christian morality and theology, he also rejected the nihilism which many thought was the only alternative to it. Nietzsche believed that Christian moral doctrine was originally constructed to counteract nihilism. It provides people with traditional beliefs about the moral values of good and evil, belief in God (whose existence one might appeal to in justifying the evil in the world), and a framework with which one might claim to have objective knowledge. In constructing a world where objective knowledge is supposed to be possible, Christianity is an antidote to a primal form of nihilism—the despair of meaninglessness. As Heidegger put the problem, “If God as the supra sensory ground and goal of all reality is dead if the supra sensory world of the ideas has suffered the loss of its obligatory and above it its vitalizing and upbuilding power, then nothing more remains to which man can cling and by which he can orient himself”. One such reaction to the loss of meaning is what Nietzsche called passive nihilism, which he recognised in the pessimistic philosophy of Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer’s doctrine—which Nietzsche also referred to as Western Buddhism—advocates separating oneself from will and desires to reduce suffering. Nietzsche characterised this ascetic attitude as a “will to nothingness”. Life turns away from itself as there is nothing of value to be found in the world. This moving away of all value in the world is characteristic of the nihilist, although, in this, the nihilist appears to be inconsistent; this “will to nothingness” is still a (disavowed) form of willing. A nihilist is a man who judges that the real world ought not to be and that the world as it ought to do not exist. According to this view, our existence (action, suffering, willing, feeling) has no meaning: this ‘in vain’ is the nihilists’ pathos—an inconsistency on the part of the nihilists.
Nietzsche approached the problem of nihilism as a deeply personal one, stating that this problem of the modern world had “become conscious” in him. Furthermore, he emphasised the danger of nihilism and the possibilities it offers, as seen in his statement that “I praise, I do not reproach, [nihilism’s] arrival. I believe it is one of the greatest crises, a moment of the deepest self-reflection of humanity. Whether man recovers from it, whether he becomes a master of this crisis, is a question of his strength!” According to Nietzsche, it is only when nihilism is overcome that a culture can have a true foundation on which to thrive. He wished to hasten its coming only so that he could also hasten its ultimate departure. Heidegger interpreted the death of God with what he explained as the death of metaphysics. He concluded that metaphysics has reached its potential and that the ultimate fate and downfall of metaphysics was proclaimed with the statement “God is dead”. Scholars such as Nishitani and Parkes have aligned Nietzsche’s religious thought with Buddhist thinkers, particularly those of the Mahayana tradition. Occasionally, Nietzsche has also been considered in relation to Catholic mystics such as Meister Eckhart. Milne has argued against such interpretations on the grounds that such thinkers from Western and Eastern religious traditions strongly emphasise the divestment of will and the loss of ego, while Nietzsche offers a robust defence of egoism. Milne argues that Nietzsche’s religious thought is better understood in relation to his self-professed ancestors: “Heraclitus, Empedocles, Spinoza, Goethe”. Milne plays particularly close attention to Nietzsche’s relationship to Goethe, who has typically been neglected in research by academic philosophers. Milne shows that Goethe’s views on the one and the many allow a reciprocal determinism between part and whole, meaning that a claimed identity between part and whole does not give the part value solely in terms of belonging to the whole. In essence, this allows for a unitive sense of the individual’s relationship to the universe, while also fostering a sense of “self-esteem” which Nietzsche found lacking in mystics such as Eckhart. With regard to Nietzsche’s development of thought, it has been noted in research that although he dealt with “nihilistic” themes (“pessimism, with nirvana and with nothingness and non-being” from 1869 onwards, a conceptual use of nihilism first took place in handwritten notes in mid-1880. This period saw the publication of a then popular work that reconstructed so-called “Russian nihilism” on the basis of Russian newspaper reports (N. Karlowitsch: The Development of Nihilism. Berlin 1880), which is significant for Nietzsche’s terminology.
Eternal return: “Eternal return” (also known as “eternal recurrence”) is a hypothetical concept that posits that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur, for an infinite number of times across infinite time or space. It is a purely physical concept, involving no supernatural reincarnation, but the return of beings in the same bodies. Nietzsche first proposed the idea of eternal return in a parable in Section 341 of The Gay Science, and also in the chapter “Of the Vision and the Riddle” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, among other places. Nietzsche considered it as potentially “horrifying and paralyzing”, and said that its burden is the “heaviest weight” imaginable (” das schwerste Gewicht”). The wish for the eternal return of all events would mark the ultimate affirmation of life, a reaction to Schopenhauer’s praise of denying the will-to-live. To comprehend eternal recurrence, and to not only come to peace with it but to embrace it, requires amor fati, “love of fate”. As Heidegger pointed out in his lectures on Nietzsche, Nietzsche’s first mention of eternal recurrence presents this concept as a hypothetical question rather than stating it as fact. According to Heidegger, it is the burden imposed by the question of eternal recurrence – the mere possibility of it, and the reality of speculating on that possibility – which is so significant in modern thought: “The way Nietzsche here patterns the first communication of the thought of the ‘greatest burden’ [of eternal recurrence] makes it clear that this ‘thought of thoughts’ is at the same time ‘the most burdensome thought”.