Friedrich Nietzsche

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Friedrich Nietzsche (October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900) was an asshole eccentric German man who wrote some of the most egotistical philosophy ever. Nietzsche was an atheist, and thus is a commonly-demonized bogeyman. "God is dead...and we have killed him" is his most famous quote on the matter, even if he did have to put it in the mouth of a madman. It is also perhaps his most widely misunderstood quote.

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[edit] Atheist uber-boogeymensch

Nietzsche

According to Christians,[1] Nietzsche was corrupted to his twisted beliefs purely because of "Darwin's teachings," claiming that Darwinism "had a way of corrupting the beliefs of all who submitted to it." This is particularly silly, since Nietzsche had very little time for Darwin, condemning him in his later works as being one of the "English psychologists." He opposed the idea of natural selection, thinking it would favour the worse simply because they reproduce more, and instead envisioned a universal will to power. Nietzsche believed in some sense that mankind was favoring the weaker and weaker, but he felt that this was not because of natural selection, but because of what he called the "slave morality" of Christianity and, to a lesser extent, Judaism, and that Darwin was actually too optimistic. Nietzsche's rather prophetic writings about the Übermensch (roughly, the "superman") envision not some kind of genetic drift of humanity to that state, but a determined individual crossing the bridge and becoming the Übermensch in his or her own life.

However, some Nietzsche scholars dispute whether "atheism" is a good summary of Nietzsche's work. R. J. Hollingdale suggests that Nietzsche's thought can be divided into three main phases: (1) the Christianity of his childhood, more specifically Lutheran pietism; (2) the atheistic nihilism he adopted in reaction to the Christianity of his childhood, best represented in his earlier works; (3) a reaction against that nihilism, a positive system of thought, which Hollingdale sees best represented by Thus Spake Zarathustra. Hollingdale views the third phase as a return to the substance of the Christian beliefs of his childhood, while avoiding the surface form of Christianity — a sort of "Christianity without Christ" or "crypto-Christianity"; in this Hollingdale locates the origins of many of Nietzsche's more unique views, such as eternal recurrence, the Übermensch, and the Great Noontide. This final stage in Nietzsche's thought can be viewed as a synthesis between the thesis of his Christianity and the antithesis of his atheistic nihilism.[2]

[edit] Complex views

As it happens, Nietzsche was a rather complex man, and his opinions are rather hard to pin down. His fundamental concern was nihilism, specifically how all of Western civilization is (to his mind) dominated by it. In Nietzsche's view, the West is and has been for two thousand years fundamentally nihilist. This might sound odd, but if one follows his logic it makes a kind of sense. He argues that Platonism and Christianity (which he regarded as vulgarized Platonism) were nihilistic by positing the existence of a metaphysical "true world" beyond the reach of the human senses, and that the world detectable by the human senses is merely apparent.[3] By positing such a "true world," the ancient Platonists and Christians devalued the world in which we live by dismissing it as merely "apparent," essentially saying that it does not exist.

I come again, with this Sun, with this Earth, with this Eagle, with this Serpent, not to a new Life, or a better Life, or an akin Life: - I come again eternally to this identical and same Life, in the Greatest and also in the Smallest, that I will teach again the Eternal Return of all things. - that I will again speak the word of the great Midday of Earth and Man, that I will announce again to men the Übermensch.

—Thus Spake Zarathustra: A Book for All and None[4]

At this point, his primary definition of nihilism comes into play: "that the highest values devaluate themselves." You see, Nietzsche was deeply concerned with values (he was the first person to use the term "values" in a social rather than economic context), and he argued that the fundamental values of society usually end up attacking themselves until there is nothing left. In the West, he identifies truthfulness as the driving value of its history (did we mention that, like any good 19th-century German philosopher, he was a historicist?); Christian morality values truthfulness very highly (perhaps not quite so highly as Zoroastrianism, but it's up there), and this value of truthfulness developed in Western civilization lead to the creation of modern science. However, in time, science turned against its Christian forebear, finding that its discoveries about the truth of the objective universe made belief in Christianity unbelievable (or at least difficult). And thus was born the modern age, in which Christianity dies slowly at the feet of its child, modern science.

Yet the old morality of Christianity endures (or so Nietzsche claims), albeit unsupported by the old God who had created them. Thus enters the age of incomplete nihilism, where the Christian values, particularly the value of truth, remain current despite the death of the Christian God. Yet the other god, the god of modern science remains, applying herself to human beings and creating the churches of liberal democracy, capitalism, and socialism. All aim towards a sort of Heaven on Earth (albeit, in the capitalist and liberal democratic forms, a deeply imperfect Heaven), and thus devalue the now. And the god of modern science (to Nietzsche) is Herself subject to criticism. For one thing, the modern scientist still believes in a "true world" distinct from an "apparent world," but the "true world" is now a material one of subatomic particles and invisible forces rather than a spiritual one of forms, gods, and souls. In other words, science remains metaphysical. For another, the distinction between facts and value judgments eats at itself (no matter how much Max Weber complains), because the very seeking after truth that characterizes modern science implies a value judgment about truth: that the truth is good.

Yet, by science's own admission, value judgments cannot be known, and thus are all equally false (from Nietzsche's perspective). So why pursue the truth? And thus comes radical/complete nihilism.

[edit] Eternal recurrence

Nietzsche taught the doctrine of eternal recurrence -- that all the events of one's life, and more broadly the entire history of the universe, repeat beginninglessly and endlessly, not new and differently each time, but exactly the same every time, in even the most minute detail. However, his main focus was not on trying to demonstrate this view of time to be true, but rather on asking what would be the consequences of believing in it. If someone truly loved their own life -- as the Übermensch would -- they would be supremely happy for it to recur endlessly, exactly the same every time. Whereas, if someone did not truly love their own life, if they hated or detested it, then such a proposition would be absolutely terrifying.

[edit] Legacy

Nietzsche is pietzche but Sartre is smartre

Much of Ayn Rand's philosophy and morals are blatantly ripped off from Nietzsche. She acknowledged his early influence on her work, but then spent a lot of time trying to show why she was different. She not only failed in this endeavor, but proved herself to be a complete idiot in the process. Her embrace of capitalism -- which Nietzsche criticized as being dehumanizing and stifling to the Ubermensch -- also calls her original understanding of Nietzsche into question.

Nietzsche had some ideas, which he may or may not have intended to publish in a book entitled The Will to Power, but he went insane before he could tell anyone. While he died before Nazism came around, (and he actually thought that anti-Semitism should be "utterly rejected with cold contempt by every sensible mind"), his sister was a Nazi, and she pretty much quote mined and rewrote some of his scattered notes into the book The Will to Power in order to jive with her ideology. It's entirely clear that he wouldn't have wanted it that way, with some of his letters to his sister vehemently denouncing and being disgusted by her anti-Semitism and her husband's association with anti- semitism.[5] On another occasion he said that ..."anti-Semites should be shot" and his falling out with Richard Wagner was partially over Wagner's growing anti-Semitism.[6] Despite this, dumbass neo-Nazis somehow try to claim him as one of their own.

While Nietzsche was certainly not an anti-semite, his various works had a profound impact on the ideology of the Third Reich. He pontificated against democracy and parliaments, praised war, and thought about the concept of a super-man. He, like Hitler after him, considered the State to be of greater import than any individual. On war, Nietzsche mirrored many other 19th Century German thinkers. In Thus Spake Zarathustra, he writes "Ye shall love peace as a means to a new war, and the short peace more than the long. You I advise not to work, but to fight. You I advise not to peace but to victory… Ye say it is the good cause which halloweth even war? I say unto you: it is the good war which halloweth every cause. War and courage have done more great things than charity."

Despite having no experience with them, Nietzsche considered women to be distinctly inferior to men, decreeing that their place was in the kitchen and the maternity ward. "Men shall be trained for war and woman for the procreation of the warrior. All else is folly." In Thus Spake Zarathustra he expanded on this concept with "Thou goest to woman? Do not forget thy whip!" This bit of silliness supposedly led Bertrand Russell to quip "Nine women out of ten would have got the whip away from him, and he knew it, so he kept away from women."[7]

Later, other existentialists were inspired by Nietzsche's writings, although they did reject some aspects of his philosophy. Søren Kierkegaard was also a contemporary influence on existentialism, but Nietzsche did not read his work until the last few months of his life. If he had read it earlier he might have been a little more chillaxed (not that Kierkegaard was, especially).

[edit] See also

[edit] External Links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. One example
  2. R.J. Hollingdale's introduction to his translation of Thus Spake Zarathustra (the new introduction of 1969; specifically section 5, pp. 27-29 in 2003 edition)
  3. For a fuller discussion, see Wikipedia's article on the Divided Line
  4. Thus Spake Zarathustra, translated by Thomas Common and with notes by Anthony Ludovici
  5. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Friedrich_Nietzsche
  6. http://www.seesharppress.com/nietzscheintro.html
  7. Shirer, William L., "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich - A History of Nazi Germany." Pages 99 - 100.
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