The more you know

Friedrich Nietzsche

The life

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm (Röcken 1844 – Weimar 1900), German classical philosopher, poet and philologist, one of the most important thinkers of the 19th century. The son of a Lutheran pastor, who was orphaned at an early age, Nietzsche was raised by his mother and sister. After being admitted to the famous theological school of Pforta, contrary to the expectations of his mother, who would have wanted him pastor, Nietzsche studied classical philology at the universities of Bonn and Leipzig, becoming professor of the discipline at the University of Basel at the age of 24; at that time his philosophical inclinations became more and more clear.

He was a friend of the musician Richard Wagner, but later their relationship progressively degenerated and broke up in 1878; for some years, however, Nietzsche had been ill and suffering from nervous crises; his poor health had forced him to leave his teaching in 1876. In 1889 he was seized by a serious form of madness from which he never recovered; he lived wandering around Europe, often a guest of friends and protagonist of complicated human and sentimental events. First admitted to the clinic and then treated by his sister Elisabeth, he died in 1900.

The works

A scholar of Greek culture, especially of the Presocratics, Plato and Aristotle, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche also drew inspiration from the works of Arthur Schopenhauer (from whom at first he shared the philosophy and then detached himself from it, in fact Nietzsche speaks of nihilism active) and the music of Richard Wagner. His works include: The birth of tragedy from the spirit of music (1872), Inattuali considerations (1872-74), Thus spoke Zarathustra (1883-85), Beyond good and evil (1886), Genealogy of Morale (1887), The Antichrist (1988), La Gaia Scienza (1882), Ecce Homo (1889). Since the 1960s, the Italian-German philological edition of Nietzsche’s complete works by Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari is in the process of being completed.

The Nietzsche system

Starting from the assumption that Nietzsche wanted his works to be read only by attentive readers who had the time necessary to assimilate the theories expressed, Nietzsche proposes an experimental philosophy based on a system that is coherent up to a certain point (the consequences of death of God).

Dionysian and Apollonian

To express his aesthetic conception, Nietzsche resorts to Greek mythical figures. According to Nietzsche, tragedy is the highest artistic and cultural expression of the Hellenic civilization since it is where the two great forces that animate the Greek spirit meet: the Apollonian and the Dionysian. Apollonian symbolizes the plastic inclination, the tendency to perfect form, while Dionysian symbolizes instinctual energy, excess, fury. For Nietzsche, however, it is the Dionysian who prevails since the Apollonian is the illusion while the Dionysian makes man see the whole abyss of his condition: life is a cruel game of birth and death, it is the experience of chaos .

The death of God and its consequences

According to Nietzsche “God is dead” in the heart of man and Nietzsche bases his entire philosophical system on this great announcement, drawing logical consequences from it. There are various possibilities that present themselves to man after the death of God: living the death of God as the death of all values and living in anguish; reasoning God’s death as the beginning of a new age, as a liberation; find a third way in which man understands that he must go forward, but in which there is also a decadence of values since Nietzsche presents himself as the philosopher of atheism. Taking all this into consideration, we understand how Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche returns to the Greek “physis” which has neither beginning nor end.

Nihilism

Among the most recurring themes in the writings of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, rich in interrelated argumentative paths, we can trace the ethical drift and the destitution of fundamental values ​​for individual life (represented above all by Christianity), a fact that he defines as nihilism, a term used in a positive meaning by the German philosopher to indicate the negation of consolidated morality and its replacement with a new system of values; the annihilation of the moral and religious foundations of Western civilization is summarized in the famous statement: “God is dead”. Nietzsche’s life and works Nietzsche is a great scrutinizer of the human soul because he analyzes the decay of values. For Nietzsche there are two forms of nihilism: strong and weak. Weak nihilism criticizes men who still have a fictitious and false link with religion (“the last man”). Strong nihilism states that after the death of God there are two forms of exit: the eternal return and the superman (and in this offering a way out of nihilism he detaches himself from Schopenhauer).

The eternal return

According to Nietzsche, the conception of a linear history is fallacious because history is cyclical, there is an eternal return of the same, a cyclicality of the universe, a return to Greek nature that is expressed in the Dionysian cosmic cycle, thus denying the finitude of time and the purpose of becoming. The moment, therefore, in Nietzsche’s conception has its full meaning, deserving to be lived for itself as if it were eternal.

The superman

Nietzsche opposes traditional values, typical of a “slave morality” characterized by the weakness of the individual and by the resentment that hides interest (exemplary the Christian morality of sacrifice), which would give life to the figure of the disenchanted and aware of nothingness, heroically responsible for his own finitude, the superman (Übermensch) born to go “beyond” the man of the present. The superman affirms life by accepting its suffering, pain and the contradictions that accompany it with joyful (Dionysian) love for existence; he is a creator of values and for this reason he is devoid of fixed and immutable values, beyond good and evil, the creator of an “autonomous morality”.

The will to power

According to Nietzsche, all human behavior is motivated by the “will to power”. In the positive sense of him, the will to power does not only represent the exercise of power over other individuals, but also over oneself for creative purposes. The will to power is the will of the individual to assert himself as a will in the face of the nothingness of values, the absurdity of the world, the reality of suffering. Free after the death of God, man can be the master and responsible for his own destiny. The subject of the will to power is he who has the strength to affirm his own perspective of the world. Also in this case Nietzsche is inspired by the Greek civilization which affirmed that there is no life without an instinct of power instinct that the Greek man has learned to dominate and make creative.

Interpretations of Nietzsche’s Thought

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche’s thought has sometimes been interpreted as a paradigm of an oligarchic society and has been identified with totalitarian philosophies. Many scholars deny these connections, attributing them to a misunderstanding of Nietzsche’s work; the posthumous work The Will to Power (1906), moreover, which seemed to corroborate this interpretation, turned out to be the result of an arbitrary juxtaposition of aphorisms made by his sister Elisabeth and his friend Paul Gast.

The three metamorphoses

Of great importance within Nietzsche’s philosophy is Zarathustra’s discourse on the three metamorphoses. In fact, through the three figures of the camel, lion, child Nietzsche manages to explain the human progress towards his own self-liberation from the idols of superstition and guilt (religion and morality) towards the Dionysian innocence of the superman. The camel represents the man who fears and reveres, who bows before the greatness of God voluntarily assuming upon himself the great torments of the world. The man then becomes a lion when he fights against the morality that has been imposed on him by recognizing his former state of alienation. But the lion has a “freedom from …” and not a “freedom to …” and so to give new laws the lion must become a child, which represents innocence. The mottos are “you must” for the camel, “I want” for the lion and “I am” for the child.

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