Friedrich Nietzsche was born October 15, 1844 in Röcken, Prussia. His family was a famous stronghold of Lutheran piety, his paternal grandfather even achieving the ecclesiastical position of superintendent for publishing books defending Protestant faith. In 1850, an year after the death of his father, Carl Ludwig Nietzsche, the family moved to Naumburg, where Nietzsche attended a private preparatory school. Nietzsche later went on to study theology and classical philosophy at the University of Bonn. His years at Bonn were largely unsuccessful, however, and he later transferred to the University of Leipzig. At Leipzig, under the teachings of professor Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl, Nietzsche prospered. It was there he was introduced to Schopenhauer's philosophy, which would have a large influence on his life. Nietzsche's talent earned the trust of Ritschl, and when the University of Basel was in need of a classical philology professor, Ritschl strongly recommended Nietzsche, assuring that his talents were unprecedented and limitless. The University of Basel appointed Nietzsche extraordinary professor of classical philology, and the following year promoted him to ordinary professor. His seeming Golden age, however, did not last very long, with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, where Nietzsche served as a volunteer medic. Within a month, he contracted dysentery and diphtheria, which permanently ruined his health. He returned to the University of Basel, but retired shortly after, realizing the limits of his ill health. By 1879, this Prussian genius was half-blind, severely ill, and in virtually unrelenting pain. He moved around from Switzerland to French Riviera, and then to Italy, with only limited human contact. Finally, Nietzsche lost his mind completely, collapsing in the streets of Turin, Italy. He spent the last 11 years of his life in total mental darkness, until his death in 1900 (Magnus).
"God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?"
"God is dead." Probably one of Nietzsche's most famous and characteristic quotes, this bold claim gives a clear insight into Nietzsche's philosophical world. Nietzsche, like many existentialists and nihilists of his time, believed in the general meaninglessness of life. He shared Kierkegaard's, another renown existentialist, conviction that philosophy should deeply reflect the personal concerns of individual human beings. With this conception of life, Nietzsche rejected most traditional European values--including Christianity--as a mere way to escape from unfortunate circumstances (life, basically) by destroying natural human desires. In short, Nietzsche believed that the concept of God, or any other deity or moral value, gave nothing more than fake meaning and comfort to an otherwise lonely life. Though seemingly apocalyptic, Nietzsche's philosophy in fact was not as depressing as other existentialists, hence his nickname, "the constructive nihilist." He believed that, instead of clinging on to the traditional, out-dated idea of God, human individuals should cut loose from any rules, absolute values, or certainties, and live a life solely devoted to personal gain. Coming to terms with this Godless world, in Nietzsche's mind, was the only way humans could find their own individual meaning in their own individual lives. Nietzsche supposed that only a super-human person, Übermensch, who could purposefully disregard everything that is traditionally taken to be important could live an authentic and successful life (Kemerling).
During Nietzsche's time period, absolute truth was being questioned. Everything seemed to be relative, and questionable. Nietzsche applied this idea to morality, and questioned the reality of good and evil. Nietzsche believed that good and evil were subjective, and were merely one of the many other moralities that existed in the world. The current good/evil contrast--or "slave morality" as Nietzsche put it--was able to establish itself as the only true morality. Nietzsche argued that this triumph turned values inside-out, for it labelled forceful actions that should be admired as evil. He believed that this morality has constricted human behavior, as people submit their freedom to these fake standards and live a life with artificial limits and moral obligations. Nietzsche theorized that these constraints placed by the "slave morality" made pride a sin, and replaced competition and pride with charity and humility. Genuine autonomy, which in Nietzsche's mind was the most natural and admirable state of existence, thus could only be achieved if one severed ties with the external restraints and sanctions and live a life with no other conduct necessary than natural punishment. Nietzsche rejected altogether the traditional concept of good and evil, deeming it as subjective and unnecessary. He believed that this idea moral responsibility and individual conscience prevented humans from achieving their natural desires. Going along with his perception of God, Nietzsche thought that the whole good/evil contrast was also just there for the false sense of security, as people were and still are inherently afraid to live by the strength of their own wills (Kemerling)
"To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering."
How did Nietzsche present his ideas to the world, and how were his ideas viewed?
Nietzsche was very active in publication, and left many works on his philosophies. Following his first book in 1872, Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik (The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music), he published many books, especially during his decade of isolation after resigning his professorial chair in 1879. Just to name a few, he wrote books such as Jenseits von Gut und Böse (Beyond Good and Evil), Zur Genealogie der Moral (On the Genealogy of Morals), and Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra). Despite this, however, Nietzsche failed to receive much attention, and his works failed to win a popular audience. Nevertheless, Nietzsche eventually rose up to become one of the most influential philosophers of the early twentieth-century. His ideas caused a sensation in the world of chaos and insecurity. Sigmund Freud, the leading psychologist of the twentieth-century, was also extremely acceptive of Nietzsche's ideas, praising him to be a man with "more penetrating knowledge of himself than any man who ever lived, or was ever likely to live." Nietzsche was largely considered one of the German language's most brilliant prose writers, and earned high acclaim for his originality and influence (Magnus).
Time issue of April 8, 1966
Why are Nietzsche's ideas important?
There is little exaggeration in saying that the history of philosophy, theology, and psychology since the early 20th century is unintelligible without Friedrich Nietzsche. His ideas gave birth to the ideas of existentialism and deconstruction, and laid the groundwork for future developments in modern philosophy. He was a major influence to great thinkers such as Martin Buber and Paul Tillich, and he also inspired novelists such as Hermann Hesse and John Gardner. Psychologists like Alfred Adler and Sigmund Freud also admitted Nietzsche's influence on their thinkings (Magnus). Nietzsche's theories were oftentimes disturbing and uncomfortable. It questioned (and mostly denied) virtually everything, from traditional values to God himself. In many ways, Nietzsche's ideas best expresses the confusion and the darkness of the modern period, where people struggled to find meaning in a disillusioned, dystopian life. As the world becomes more and more secular, and as the world transforms at a faster rate then our minds can comprehend, Nietzsche's ideas become all the more appealing. In a world where nothing matters more than the individual, what more do we need than Nietzsche's courage to declare the death of God and promote life solely dedicated to personal gain?
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Wolfe, Posted By Ross. "Nietzsche's Untimeliness." The Charnel-House. 18 Oct. 2014. Web. 27 Mar. 2017. <https://thecharnelhouse.org/2013/11/03/nietzsches-untimeliness/>.
"Friedrich NietzscheGod Is Dead Quote." God Is Dead Friedrich Nietzsche Death of God Quotes. Web. 27 Mar. 2017. <http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/philosophy/friedrich_nietzsche_quotes.htm>.