From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (October 15, 1844 – August 25, 1900) was a German philosopher. His writing included critiques of religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy, and science, using a distinctive style and displaying a fondness for aphorism. Nietzsche's influence remains substantial within and beyond philosophy, notably in existentialism and postmodernism.
Nietzsche began his career as a philologist before turning to philosophy. At the age of 24 he became Professor of Classical Philology at the University of Basel, but resigned in 1879 due to health problems, which would plague him for most of his life. In 1889 he exhibited symptoms of a serious mental illness, living out his remaining years in the care of his mother and sister until his death in 1900.
Of major philosophers, Nietzsche has generated possibly the least consensus. One can readily identify his key concepts, but the meaning of each, let alone the relative significance of each, remains hotly contested. Nietzsche famously claimed that "God is dead", and this death either results in radical perspectivism or compels one to confront the fact that truth had always been perspectival. Nietzsche also distinguished between master and slave moralities, the former arising from a celebration of life, the latter the result of ressentiment at those capable of the former. This distinction becomes in summary the difference between "good and bad" on the one hand, and "good and evil" on the other; importantly, the "good" man of the master morality equates to the "evil" man of the slave morality.
The rise of morality and of moral disputes thus becomes a matter of psychology; Nietzsche's perspectivism likewise reduces epistemology to psychology. One of the most recurrent themes in Nietzsche's work, therefore, emerges as the "Will to Power". At a minimum, Nietzsche claims for the will to power that it describes human behavior more compellingly than Platonic eros, Schopenhauer's "will to live," or Paul Rée's utilitarian account of morality, among others; to go beyond this would involve interpretation.
Much of Nietzsche's philosophy has a critical flavour to it, and much criticism of his work has arisen from the fact that "he does not have a system". However, Nietzsche himself expressed a general disdain for philosophy as the construction of systems — indeed, he says (for example) in the preface of Beyond Good and Evil that many systems built by dogmatist philosophers have relied more on popular prejudices (such as the idea of a soul) than anything else. Concepts still associated with a more constructive project include the Übermensch (variously translated as superman, superhuman, or in the way most philosophers refer to it today, overman) and the eternal return (or eternal recurrence). Nietzsche posits the overman as a goal that humanity can achieve for itself, or that an individual can set for himself.
Nietzsche contrasts the Übermensch with the "last man", who appears as an exaggerated version of the degraded "goal" that liberal democratic or bourgeois society sets for itself. Both the Übermensch and the eternal return feature heavily in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. (Scholars also disagree about the interpretation of the eternal return.)
- The Greek State (1871)
- The Birth of Tragedy (1872)
- On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense (1873)
- Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks (1873)
- Untimely Meditations (1876)
- Human, All Too Human (1878; additions in 1879, 1880)
- The Dawn (1881)
- The Gay Science (1882)
- Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883–1885)
- Beyond Good and Evil (1886)
- On the Genealogy of Morality (1887)
- The Case of Wagner (1888)
- Twilight of the Idols (1888)
- The Antichrist (1888)
- Ecce Homo (1888)
- Nietzsche contra Wagner (1888)
- The Will to Power (unpublished manuscripts edited together by his sister)
- Unpublished Writings (1869–1889)