Frederick Wilhelm Nietzsche has been the most talked about thinker and philosopher in history. Even when he had died over a hundred years already, his ideas continued to be controversial up to this time. As a matter of fact, not only his ideas persisted but also has influenced the future ideas and thoughts of the Nazis, postmodernists, socialists, feminists, existentialists, queer-theorists, and devotees of physical culture. However, this is not true when he was still alive. As a matter of fact, all his lifetime he has been largely ignored and misunderstood (Elborough, 2001).
When he was still alive, his books and monographs barely covered the cost of printing because of lack of sales and revenues (Salome and Mandel, 2001). In addition to this, there has also been a controversy with regards the interpretation of his works. For one, his sister Elizabeth is said to have thwarted his original writings to give way for her own unsavory views to support National Socialism. Second, his unique style of writing and conveying his ideas are polemical, contradictory, abusive, offensive, ironical, and very witty. Another reason is that he enjoys receiving challenges and debates so he never provides for conclusions.
In general, he is a thinker abhors classifications and reassuring answers. Even when his critiques of religion, science, and morality made us understand how is it being a human, all his works were a reflection of his contempt of the modern world. As a matter of fact, it is said that he has spent most of his life yearning to have lived during Ancient Greeks or at least wanting to recreate such a world (Elborough, 2001). Early Childhood and Youth He was born on the 15th of October 1844. His birthday was incidentally the same birthday as that of the Prussian King Frederick William IV from whom his name came Friedrich came from.
His father was a Lutheran pastor and a teacher. His family together with his sister Elizabeth and brother Ludwig resided Rocken village, Saxony near Leipzig. The family is primarily composed of clergymen. As a matter of fact, his grandfather was awarded for his work entitled Gamaliel, a defense of Christianity. Everybody in the family hoped that he is going to follow their footsteps but this did not happen. Their hope ended when his father died suddenly out a disease known to their time as “softening of the brain”. After his father died, his young brother Ludwig also died at a very young age (Elborough, 2001).
The family moved to Naumburg where he lived with his mother, sister Elizabeth, grandmother, and two aunties. As a young boy, he is described as an affectionate henpecked young man. His favorite hobby was to read the Bible, to write poems and songs, and perform self-penned plays. It can also be noted that he is really close to her sister that they even share a bedroom until Nietzsche was twelve. At school, he was called by his schoolmates and friends as “little minister”. When he was fourteen, he won a scholarship to attend a prestigious boarding school.
He found school at the beginning because it was the era of reformation where everybody should take education every seriously. Students were discipline in the most Spartan sense of the word such as waking up at the wee hour of 4 am to 8m just to study. However, he still proved to be as the star pupil especially in the classics. Moreover, Nietzsche’s creativity has not been put to no use because he and few of his friends in the Pforta formed a literary and musical society where the they could discuss, poetry, and art to each other.
During this time, it could already be observed that he already doubted his faith (Elborough, 2001). However, there was a time in the young Nietzsche’s life that he began to rebel because of too much stress and pressure from school. It is said that he got infatuated with one of his sister’s friends, made friends with the bad crowd, and started out drinking till midnight. At this point in time, he has already abandoned the notion of being a clergyman even after he went to the University of Bonn to major in theology and philology.
It is believed that he only pursued theology because it was the wish of his mother and his sister. The years that followed witnessed a changed Nietzsche. During his years in the university, when he went back to their home for Easter holiday, he refused to attend the services. He also confessed that he will no longer be studying theology. When he was compelled by his sister, he wrote her “If you want peace of mind and happiness, then have faith; if you want to be a disciple of truth, then search. ” After this, he then left Bonn and pursued philology at the University of Leipzig (Elborough, 2001).
His Influences Nietzsche craved for a different kind of intellectual action and adventure even before he was in Pforta and University of Bonn. He was first immersed in theological and philosophical system in order to master it. But that does not end there, after that gestation period; he would soon rebel with it. He would later on pursue what he called “convention-defying search” for beauty, the good, and truth” even when his mother kept on insisting to give his heart to God and to abandon his worldly wisdom because it is only God who can give him all the satisfaction that he wanted in his life.
When he was in the University of Leipzig, his professor Friedrich Ritschl suggested that they organize a philological society where they could publish monographs on their researches. He first wrote a transmission of text by Greek oligarch Theognis of the 6th century. Nietzsche admired Theognis because of elitism. The Greek writer upheld the morals of the rulers as opposed to the commoners. Because of this, he perpetrated his readings and thoughts with more Greek influences such as Greek drama, philosophy, and culture. This helped him in bashing the Judeo-Christian tradition of favoring the commoners instead of the leaders.
He thought that “Christianity under the influence of Judaism fostered a slave mentality and timidity, while paganism with its master mentality fostered strength and intensity of life (Salome and Mandel, 2001). As a matter of fact, it could be said that Nietzsche for the most part admired the skepticism, pessimism, and exemplar of the Greek culture. His critique of modernity is deeply rooted on his studies on antiquity. He argued that serious scholarship on the Greeks would counter the nineteenth century life and culture because the Greeks were different and strange from the people of today and of the future.
For instance, he compared the Greek chorus to theatre audiences of modern Europe during that time and observed as significant difference. The Greeks did not have the “noble simplicity” so that modern people can never just imitate the Greeks in that sense. The Greek culture according to him is full of barbarity and violence which makes it so different to the modern world. He acknowledged that because of this the Greeks were psychologically healthier and emotionally stronger than the modern people (Wilkerson, 2006).
When he left the University of Bonn to follow the footsteps of his philology professor Albrecht Ritschl, he discovered a new philosophy in the book The World as Will and Representation by Arthur Schopenhauer. He admired his gloom and grim outlook of the world. His philosophy embraced metaphysical conventions like that of Immanuel Kant. This is the notion that the everyday world is only an ideal representation and a creation of the human mind which is different from the world in itself. Unlike the idealists, Schopenhauer did not abandon Kant’s pessimism.
He stressed that because humans have a will to live, we strive to create a world that will serve our aspirations even when the world that we create is the opposite of what the world is in reality. In other words, it is only through aesthetic contemplation that we are able to escape the dreadful reality of the world. For instance, for Schopenhauer, the noblest form of art is tragedy because it gives us awareness into the susceptibility of our nature, which is considered to be our true nature (Elborough, 2001). His Works He continued his studies and researches and became a comrade of Professor Ritschl.
With his recommendation, he was appointed as a professor in classical philology in the University of Basel. He was gone for a little bit because of health problems. When he went back, he was busy with lectures on Greek lessons. He was also very busy writing books despite the persistence of migraine headaches and vomiting (Kauffman, 1975). His first book published was The Birth of Tragedy that emphasizes his admiration of the Ancient Greek civilization and culture. It was dedicated to Richard Wagner which Nietzsche adored so much.
Even when it was branded as a work of philology, it was Nietzsche’s intention to leave philology in favor of an attempt to solve German culture through the influence of the Greek culture. It is an attempt to actually answer the question: “how were we to affirm life? ” In this book, he reiterated the idea of Schopenhauer that it is only through the great aesthetic works that we can be aware of ourselves as part of a metaphysical unity (Elborough, 2001). His next book was called Untimely Meditations or Thoughts Out of Season. In the first essay of this book, he attacked David Strauss on his writing of abandoning his faith in favor of Darwinism.
Even when their ideas on Christianity were not that different, he was enraged because Strauss failed to grasp the true meaning of Atheism. The second essay on the book is on his admiration and gratification to his mentor Schopenhauer. He said that he admire him because he is a man with intellectual courage that could reject the conventional academic community during his time (Elborough, 2001). The next book that marks the interest of Nietzsche in science was Human All Too Human. This book is dedicated to the French naturalist Voltaire and was influenced by the psychologist Paul Ree.
In this book, Nietzsche reasserted Kant’s view that the world is only a social construct in the mind of people. The true nature of the world will remained to be unknowable. Moreover, the concept of morality being inherent in reality or being determinable by reality is a mistake. The idea of good and evil are not God-given eternal truths but only human invention. Morality cannot be universal to all human beings. It varies from one culture to another, one individual to another and one era to another. For instance, Ancient Greeks consider being strong as good while Christian cultures consider meekness as such (Elborough, 2001).
After these works, he has written many more such as The Dawn of the Day and The Joyful Wisdom. The former is the first that is said to have revealed his real personality and the latter is said to be written during the happiest periods in his life. In these books are Nietzsche’s final philosophical outlooks in life full with love, life, and energy. Because it yielded too little reception, he was disappointed and retired to loneliness and solitude. During this time, he wrote Thus Spake Zarathustra which was to be considered as the greatest of his works (Ludovici 2008). God is Dead as His Famous Line
The Gay Science is one of the most remarkable books that paved the way for Nietzsche’s most important ideas to be published. It is said to have bracketed the two most famous books he has written Thus Spake Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil. It is written in an aphoristic style that covered various subjects. It an also be said that among the books that he has written, The Gay Science is the most personal one which means that for the most part it is about his life (Nietzsche et al, 2001). The book has two main arguments that are up to now very influential to thinkers and philosophers.
First would be the idea of eternal recurrence which is already mentioned in his work Thus Spake Zarathustra. He posed the most threatening question that one could ever ask oneself. “What would you think if a demon told you that everything in life would recur over and over again eternally? How would you answer the question (Nietzsche et al, 2001). ” Nietzsche said that this idea would govern all our actions. It is somehow a test to ones ability to overcome the world’s meaninglessness. He asserted that there is no belief that could justify the circumstances of the world.
Everything is but a prospect of being crushed to consciousness of the representation or the misrepresentation of the world, whatever it is. He said that the test if one is in his/her full consciousness is the ability to say “yes” to the notion that everything happens all over again including pain, cruelty, humiliation. , triviality, emptiness, and ugliness (Nietzsche et al, 2001). Second is his parable about the Madman and the famous line of “God is dead”. It is a story set in a crowded market place where a madman with a lamp arrives. He was asking everyone where God has gone.
After not receiving any answer, he declared:: I seek God! I seek God! … Whither is God?… I will tell you. We have killed him- you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? …. Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon/ … God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him… There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us – for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto (qtd in Schacht, 1985, 119). Furthermore he said: How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was
holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood of us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? (qtd in Solomon et al, 2000, 95). Majority of the people in the market place did not believe in the existence of God so they just look at him in astonishment and in apathy. As a matter of fact, they mocked him for they think of themselves as too modern to actually think about God.
Because of this the madman threw is lamp into the ground and left. While on his way to leave he said that, “I have come too early… my time is not yet… This deed is still more distant from them than the most distant stars- and yet they have done it themselves (Elborough, 2001, 37). ” This passage suggests Nietzsche’s main concern on the nature of the world’s meaninglessness. He emphasized his sentiments and doubts towards the claims of science as a replacement of God in keeping all the horrors and uncertainties of life at bay. Not only that, he also recognized the danger of God being replaced with science.
Specifically, the crowd that does not believe in God in the parable represents the scientists. Despite their disbelief, they still think and act as if God exists. In addition, Nietzsche also feels that the Utilitarians who think that science alongside morality will give men all the pleasure possible are likewise guilty of replacing God with science. For Nietzsche, science just like religion without a God is devoid of absolute value. Universal laws therefore do not have a concrete ground. All they have done is just to borrow the idea of absolute power from Christian tenets (Elborough, 2001).
Contrary to common belief, Nietzsche is far more concern with spirituality than any of his contemporaries. In the story, he presents the madman as a seriously religious man. He is only concern with the spiritual condition of the modern world. Nietzsche thought that those people who pride themselves in renouncing religious superstitions arrange their lives to achieve secular goals. They do not notice that even with the conviction of unfaithfulness or disbelief to the existence of God, they are still grounded on habits formerly fostered by their religion.
They do not notice that in the course of abandoning faith and belief in God they have replaced with him science (Solomon and Higgins, 2000). However, he maintained that this new faith is no different than the first one – religion or the belief in God. His statement that “God is dead” is a critique of modern scientific materialism. Intellectuals thought that they have already replaced fables and fantasies with facts but the truth scientific accounts are still a myth to replace another myth.
He acknowledged the fact that faith in God might diminish confidence we have in ourselves and the human powers that we think we have, but this can be compensated by through a reassurance that we are God’s creations. This is contrary to the myth of science which posits the idea that existence is by way of accident and incidental. Moreover, the blissful anticipation of life after death on Christian doctrine is non-existent in the realm of the sciences. There is no such thing as beyond any life on earth which frustrates people’s pursuit for happiness and meaning.
He asserted that we cannot seek meaning with the aid of science because it only promotes nihilism, the sense that everything in this world is of no value and meaning (Solomon and Higgins, 2000). He therefore advocated the rebirth of spirituality and renewal of the appreciation on earthly life and nature. He thinks that the alternative to this would be to go back to the teachings of nature. He believed that both Christianity and science have their own pitfalls. They are the way out of each horrors and uncertainties about our existence in the world.
He also manifested his sentiments on the tendency of Christian worldview and scientific materialism to harm people’s capacity to love and to love beyond the self. However, he believed that this can be recovered through cultivating spirituality beyond Christianity. To go beyond Christianity would also mean that we do not reject its inner truth. Finally, the meaning of life cannot be found in heaven or any place beyond physical existence, but only in the every day world that we know of (Solomon and Higgins, 2000). Nietzsche’s Crisis Most of his writings were done when he was in his crisis years which are also labeled as his mad years.
During this time, he was staggeringly productive working on about five books including The Gay Science and Thus Spake Zarathustra. It is said that while he was in Turin he collapsed into madness when he saw a driver beating a horse. What he did was to walk to the horse and attempted to protect it but failed because he collapsed before he could do so. There is also a letter received by his friend regarding the situation which alarmed him. In the letter, Nietzsche was talking of himself as God. He wrote another letter to Overbeck signed by the name of Dionysus.
Overbeck then was distressed then and sends him to a mental asylum in Jena. He was initially released to the custody of his mother but was transferred to his sister after his mother died. It can be said that even when he was literally crazy for the last years in his life, his works and ideas, even extreme, were “hardly insane” (Solomon and Higgins, 2000). References Elborough, T. (2001). Freidrich Nietzsche. Harpenden: Pockets Essentials. Kauffman, W. (1975). Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. Ludovici, A. M. (2008).
Nietzsche, His Life and Works. USA: Bibliobazaar. Nietzsche, F. W. , Williams, B. A. O. , Nauckhoff, J, and Del Caro, A. (2001). The Gay Science: With Prelude in German Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs. Oxford: Cambridge UP. Salome, L. A. and Mandel, S. (2001). Nietzsche. Illinois: University of Illinois Press. Schacht, R. (1985). Nietzsche: Great Philosophers. London: Routledge. Solomon, R. and Higgins, K. (2000). What Nietzsche Really Said. Berlin: Schocken Books. Wilkerson, D. (2006). Nietzsche and the Greeks. New York: Continuum International Publishing.
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