Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

Friedrich Nietzsche was the son of a Lutheran preacher, but during college he began to questions his Christian upbringing. He decided that the Christian faith took away people's desire to excel. Society's problems were caused by the Christian belief that being poor and submissive was good, and being rich and strong was wicked. Traditional values (represented primarily by Christianity) had lost their power in the lives of individuals. He expressed this in his proclamation "God is dead." He was convinced that traditional values represented a "slave morality," a morality created by weak and resentful individuals who encouraged gentleness and kindness because the behavior served their interests. Nietzsche claimed that new values could be created to replace the traditional ones, and his discussion of the possibility led to his concept of the overman or superman. He believed that perfection was the artistic warrior hero of ancient Greece. People were not created equal. There were men and supermen. These supermen, higher beings, were the key to the future. Only by combining strength, intellect, and creativity would human beings reach their full potential and make the world better. Nietzsche said that Plato started the decay of society by coming up with the idea of another reality behind this one. Fear of eternal hell made people repress their natural passions, abilities and differences. Nietzsche believed in the idea of "eternal recurrence", meaning that life is the only reality, but that it will be repeated forever. He encouraged people to live life as a work of art. His "supermen" were lovers of life who would welcome the chance to repeat it in every detail. Although Nietzsche explicitly denied that any overmen had yet arisen, he mentions several individuals who could serve as models. Among these models he lists Jesus, Greek philosopher Socrates, Florentine thinker Leonardo da Vinci, Italian artist Michelangelo, English playwright William Shakespeare, German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Roman ruler Julius Caesar, and French emperor Napoleon I. People who took his ideas and used them to their own ends has used Nietzsche's name over the years. Some people even saw Hitler as a "Nietzschian".

Classroom Discussion Questions

  • If Nietzsche were alive today, how would he answer the question,                                       "Which is more powerful, love or hate?"
  • In a historical context, what would Nietzsche think was the greatest
    challenge facing humankind during his lifetime?
  • Who are some examples of modern supermen or models, like Shakespeare?
  • Why do you think that Nietzsche chose these men (da Vinci, Shakespeare, etc) as examples of models of supermen?


To learn more about Friedrich Nietzsche, follow these links:


DeweySocratesPlatoConfuciusRandLockeCamusCavendish Sartre Rousseau KingDescartes Spinozade BeauvoirNietzscheKant HypatiaThoreau


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