Introduction to Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche is one of our favorite philosophers. We highly recommend reading his works. We noted before that one shouldn't read him if one is already a bit depressed, as his writings have a tendency to exacerbate that state. It's odd though. I only really find myself wanting to read Nietzsche when I am in less than high spirits, so it's not really clear which comes first, the reading or the melancholy.

Even the bravest of us rarely has the courage for what he really knows.

Nietzsche was a late 19th century German philosopher. My favorite story of Nietzsche, once told to me in a remote village in southwestern Georgia (and later confirmed) was of the moment Nietzsche went insane. After distinguishing himself as a scholar and quickly becoming a professor, in his late thirties he spent ten years wandering around Europe with no real home. During his wanderings he found himself in Turin and witnessed a horse being whipped. He ran to the horse and threw his arms around the horse's neck and collapsed. He never returned to sanity. There are many speculations about what happened; he had syphilis, he had a brain tumor, he reached a higher state of consciousness. My personal favorite is postulated by Colin Wilson in The Mind Parasites, Nietzsche was investigating his inner mind to such a degree the mind parasites feared he would learn of their existence so they drove him insane.

To be ashamed of one's immorality-that is a step on the staircase at whose end one is also ashamed of one's morality.

Nietzsche's writings are basically a challenge to traditional morality and Christianity. He affirmed life and argued against waiting for life affirming realities until after death. He advocated questioning of all doctrines that drain life energies.

What destroys more quickly than to work, to think, to feel without inner necessity, without a deep personal choice, without joy? As an automaton of "duty"?

It is virtually a recipe for decadence, even for idiocy.
He can be considered one of the first existentialist philosophers. Perhaps these existentialist or pre-existentialist leanings that permeate Nietzsche's writings explain how such a life affirming philosopher produces such depressed readers.

Nietzsche's later writings are comprehensive and coherent expressions of his philosophy. This is where we recommend you start reading:

Beyond Good & Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (Jenseits von Gut und Böse. Vorspiel einer Philosophie der Zukunft, 1886) is a later book that is easy to begin with. Nietzsche challenges many of the world's great philosophers, with his perspective of life as beyond good and evil. He "challenges the deeply-entrenched moral idea that exploitation, domination, injury to the weak, destruction and appropriation are universally objectionable behaviors."* He denies universal morality, especially the ideal that morals such as exploitation, domination and destruction are "universally objectionable". He instead promotes "imagination, self-assertion, danger, originality and the 'creation of values' as qualities" to be promoted. The guide for correct action in life should be whether one's life philosophy is life affirming (strong, healthy and powerful) rather than life denying (weak, sick and declining).

Thus Spoke Zarathustra, A Book for All and None (Also Sprach Zarathustra, Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen, 1883-85), is one of Nietzsche's most famous works, and Nietzsche himself regarded it as among his most significant. I recommend reading it second after Beyond Good and Evil. Thus Spoke Zarathustra is about over-coming the personal self. It's a poetic work, filled with metaphors, and allusions (sometimes inverted allusions) to the bible. Zarathustra is "A solitary, reflective, exceedingly strong-willed, sage-like, laughing and dancing voice of self-mastery who, accompanied by a proud, sharp-eyed eagle and a wise snake, envisioned a mode of psychologically healthier being beyond the common human condition. Nietzsche refers to this higher mode of being as "superhuman" (übermenschlich), and associates the doctrine of eternal recurrence -- a doctrine for only the healthiest who can love life in its entirety -- with this spiritual standpoint, in relation to which all-too-often downhearted, all-too-commonly-human attitudes stand as a mere bridge to be crossed and overcome."*

Nietzsche's final writings include two short works that reiterate some of the themes found in Beyond Good & Evil and Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Twilight of the Idols, or How One Philosophizes with a Hammer, which is a word play of a Wagner Opera: The Twilight of the Gods, criticizes philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, Kant, Darwin, Dante, Rousseau and Hugo (among others). Nietzsche also elaborates some of his criticisms of Christianity. The Antichrist, Curse on Christianity expounds Nietzsche's critique of Christianity. He points out how the rise of Christianity corrupted and undermined the Romans and that Christianity is a religion for the weak, that continues to corrupt more nobler and life-affirming societies.