Friederich Nietzsche (1844-1900)


  • Nietzsche was born in Rocken, Germany 
  • He began his career as a promising intellect, getting a prestigious job as a lecturer at a university, but his eccentricity and/or originality made him a poor fit.
  • Nigel Warburton describes the written work Nietzsche left behind:
    • In complete contrast to Immanuel Kant’s orderly presentation of ideas, Nietzsche’s come at you from all angles. Much of the writing is in the form of short, fragmentary paragraphs and pithy one-sentence comments, some of them ironic, some sincere, many of them arrogant and provocative. Sometimes it feels as if Nietzsche is shouting at you, sometimes that he is whispering something profound in your ear.” 
  • He is best known for The Birth of Tragedy (1872), Thus Spake Zarathustra (1892), Beyond Good Evil (1886)
  • At the age of 44, he suffered a complete loss of his mental faculties, something that may have been the result of syphilis. He lived the rest of his life in the care of his mother and his sister.
  • Unfortunately, much of Nietzsche’s work has been misunderstood because of his sister, Elisabeth. She gained control of his work during the last years of his life and was an ardent nationalist. As a result, she edited his work to contain nationalist and Anti-Semitic messages that were later used by the Nazis.
  • Scholars are currently trying to restore some of the works to Nietzsche’s original intent.



  • Nihlism is a rejection of morals, values, and beliefs
  • Nietzsche did not embrace nihilism, but argued that the failure of those values led to their own rejection.
  • He attacked what he called “anti-life”:
    • rejects Christian idea of Heaven as a reward for life
    • rejects values and morals that deny our humanity
    • rejects utopian ideas
  • Famously argued that “God is dead.” For Nietzsche, this was both terrifying and empowering, because it meant there were no rules, no safety net, no controls on human behavior.

Positive and Negative Freedom

Gary Cox describes the difference between positive and negative freedom:

To exercise freedom negatively is to adopt what Nietzsche calls the ascetic ideal. The ascetic ideal values self-repression and self-denial above all else and for their own sake. A person who adopts the ascetic ideal does not, for example, value celibacy for the sexual health and peace of mind it brings, but only for the self-denial it involves. Opposite to the ascetic ideal is Nietzsche’s notion of the noble ideal. The noble ideal involves the positive affirmation of freedom. A noble person positively affirms himself as a free being. He does not deny and repress his freedom but enjoys it and is constantly aware of it. He does this by acting decisively, overcoming difficulties, taking responsibility, refusing to regret and, most importantly, by choosing his own values. For Nietzsche, positive freedom is expansive, sometimes even reckless and violent. It triumphs in its own strength as a positive will to power.

Eternal Recurrence

  • To achieve authentic existence, to become a true existentialist, one must pass a difficult test that Nietzsche presents, to aspire to live in such a way that you want each and every moment of your life to recur eternally.
  • Nietzsche calls this his formula for greatness. ‘My formula for greatness for a human being is amor fati [love fate]: that one wants nothing to be other than it is, not in the future, not in the past, not in all eternity.’
  • In simpler terms, we should live our lives as if we would be willing to relive each moment for eternity.
  • A long, but terribly important quote from Nietzsche:

“The greatest weight . – What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and every sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!’ Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.’ If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and everything, ‘Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?’ would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become towards yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate confirmation and seal. “

Master and Slave Morality

  • Nietzsche rejected what he called Slave Morality:
    • Christianity’s argument that one should “endure suffering in this life”, submit to God, and entrust their morality to religion
    • Greek philosophy that denied the self. Nietzsche embraced pre-Socratic Greek philosophy.
  • The Master
    • 2,000 years of slave morality
    • master morality has been sublimated by society and culture
    • He argued that Christian values emerged from envy, a means to control those who excelled past the common person.
    • master morality=excellence, slave morality=mediocrity 
  • For instance, Nietzsche argued that his heroes (people like Shakespeare and Beethoven) transcended the “herd.”
  • Nietzsche calls for exceptional people to no longer be ashamed of their uniqueness in the face of a supposed morality-for-all, which he deems to be harmful to the flourishing of exceptional people. He cautions, 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.”
  • Humans can evolve to become the ubermensch or super man.

The Ubermensch

  • Ubermensch translates to “Super” or “Transcendent” Man.
  • The Ubermensch is a future person who is not held back by conventional moral codes, but goes beyond them to create new values.
  • The ubermensch is aware of her mortality, and someone who, rather than being petrified by the knowledge of her inevitable death, feels empowered by it.
  • We should become the authors of our own lives. From Gary Cox:

Whatever a negative person or a person in bad faith identifies as a bad experience to be forgotten or denied, the artist or author of his own life, whose aim is to positively affirm his entire life, identifies as a learning experience that helped to make him stronger and wiser. He regrets nothing because every experience has contributed to making him what he is. In Nietzsche’s view, he will not even regret his evil qualities, or what other people label his evil qualities. As the source of his own values he re-evaluates his evil qualities as his best qualities. His ability to do this is a true mark of his authenticity. ‘The great epochs of our life are the occasions when we gain the courage to rebaptise our evil qualities as our best qualities’.