Friedrich Nietzsche was a 19th century philosopher and writer known for his plain-spoken prose, his criticism of Christianity, and his philosophical theories, such as the will to power.
Nietzsche was born October 15, 1844, in Saxony, a Prussian province. In early childhood, Nietzsche was very close to his father, who was a Lutheran minister. Nietzsche’s father developed a severe illness in 1848 and passed away the following year. After Nietzsche’s youngest brother died in 1850, Nietzsche’s mother moved the family to Naumberg. Nietzsche graduated from high school in 1864 and enrolled at the University of Bonn, where he planned to study theology and philology. Ultimately, Nietzsche abandoned the theology track and focused on philology.
Nietzsche was a star pupil of philology, and his professor recommended him for a university appointment at the University of Basel in 1869. Nietzsche was awarded a doctorate degree and became a professor of classical philology. Nietzsche began to incorporate philosophy into his lectures at the university after he encountered the works of Arthur Schopenhauer. He became engrossed in philosophy, focusing particularly on the Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato. Nietzsche wrote his first book, The Birth of Tragedy, in 1872.
Health problems lead to Nietzsche’s resignation from the University of Basil in 1879. Nietzsche wrote ten books over the course of the next ten years, until he suffered a mental breakdown in 1889. The rest of his life was spent in the care of his mother and sister, until he died August 25, 1900.
Contributions to Psychology
Like most philosophers of his time, Nietzsche studied a wide variety of topics, including language, ethics, religion, philosophy of mind and knowledge, metaphysics, and politics. Many philosophical historians credit Nietzsche with being an early psychologist. He developed several concepts relevant to psychology, including the concept of the will to power, which he described as a primary motivating force that compelled a person to overcome weakness, conquer fear, and embrace difficulties in life. Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, considered one of his greatest books, outlines his theories of the will to power, the Übermensch, and eternal recurrence.
Nietzsche created the concept of the Übermensch, or overhuman, to stand in direct contrast to the saint or eternal soul in Christianity. For Nietzsche, the overhuman is a free-thinker, capable of developing his own values with the good of humanity in mind, rather than conforming to conventional, predetermined morals associated with religion. Nietzsche was known for his hostility toward religion, particularly Christianity, and his criticism of Christian beliefs is prevalent in much of his writing, including Beyond Good and Evil.
Nietzsche’s theory of eternal recurrence, based on the conservation of energy, illustrates the infinite repetition of events throughout time. From the present moment, time extends infinitely forward and backward and all potential events have already occurred and will recur eternally, according to Nietzsche. In contrast to spiritual teachings regarding the inadequacy of our existence in this world and the promise of redemption and salvation of souls in an idyllic afterlife, Nietzsche believed eternal recurrence provided affirmation of this life as the ultimate existence.
Selected Works of Friedrich Nietzsche:
- The Birth of Tragedy (1872)
- Human, All Too Human (1878)
- The Gay Science (1882)
- Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883–1885)
- Beyond Good and Evil (1886)
- The Will to Power (1883–1888)
- Nietzsche, F. W., & Kaufmann, W. A. (1995). Thus spoke Zarathustra: A book for all and none. New York: Modern Library.
- Schrift, Alan. (2006). Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.gale.cengage.com/InContext/bio.htm
- Stone, Les. (2003). Friedrich (Wilhelm) Nietzsche. Contemporary Authors Online. Retrieved from http://www.gale.cengage.com/InContext/bio.htm