Nietzsche’s Key Ideas Simplified

The Death of God:

“God is dead”

“There are nofacts only interpretations”

“What is truth? A mobile army of metaphors and anthropomorphisms”

Nietzsche was not the first to proclaim the death of god. It was a statement made by Hegel in his earlier less reputable writings as well as by Martin Luth. When Nietzsche says that God is dead he is not making some theological proposition , no – Nietzsche is saying that people dont really believe in god anymore. People who today subscribe to christianty do so without any passion and commitment to the religion and will not go out of their own convenience when the religion demands it of them.

Nietzsche likewise rejects truth. In the history of western though truth, from Plato to Hegel has always been something monistic (“Das Ganze is das Wahre” – Hegel; Platos “the form of the good”) (P{hysics: the unifying theory of the four fundamental fields of physics) Truth is the unity behind the deviersity of appearance that make up the world. As such metaphysics does manifest itself in anotheworldly form which is why Nietzsche rejects truth. Example: Marx interpretation of Hegel’s Herrschaft und Kenchtschaft posits that the laws of the world are realized in some future state of affairs (“socialism”). Example: Socrates dreamed of a world where he could go on practicing philosophy forever.

I am not to familiar with Nietzsches *arguments* against the above epistemologies but the idea that there is no truth to grasp is something that reflecting on ones imediate experience can. In its place Nietzsche posits what Solomon (from whose lectures I am heavily borrowing here) calls epistemological nihilism or the idea that truth is dependant on what is useful and practical.

The Eternal Retrun of the Same

[too long to quote: see Gay Science]

This is what Nietzsche called his greatest idea. It is a though experiment that asks you to aggressively confront your life and your attitude to life. The basic idea is as follows: how would you react if you had to live the life you have led and will lead over and over again exactly the same – eternally. This has the potential to be the greatest weight if you do not truely love life / your life whilst on the other hand it could be the greatest thing you have ever heard and certainly Nietzsche Uebermensch would unhistatnyl say “yes” to the question.

The eternal return of the same is also a kind of philosophivcal hammer with which to test whether ideas are in fact life affirming. Thus you wouldnt want to spend all eternaity leading you life whilst basing your life on a desire to live in the middle ages or to go to heavan.


Multiple definition throughout his notes. Good example:

“The highest values devalueing themselves”

Nietzsche describes nihilism as a “spectre haunting europe” He identifies nihilistic tendencies precisely wherer the authors today and in his time would have located the bulwark against nihilistm, namely in philosophy and religion. Religion and Judeo Christintity specifically are nihilistic in that the are world negating. This can be understood with reference to the eternal recurence. If an individual were to live forever and if that individual were christian he would spend his life wanting heavan which is tantamount to wanting nothing . Life is a thing heaving is otherworldy therefore heaving is nothing and the “will to nothing spoken sacredly” Modern Politics would be a very good example of nihilism in action. Thus Obama campaign for a mystical “change” is very very nihilistic as it is bound to be understood.

The Uebermensch

“I teach you the overman. Man is something that must be overcome. What have you done to overcome him today`

“Man is a rope spun between ape and superman”

The idea ofthe uebermensch is only mentioned once in Nietzsche corpus – at the beginning of Zarathustra. The word Uebermsch is actually not something Nietzsche came up with. Goethe uses the term in a poem and there is some evidence to suggest that the term existed in ancient Rome (I believe). The uebermensch would be defined by many scholars as an individual who unabatently accepts the thought of the eternal return. But he is also more than this. He is the ideal human being or “the will of the earth” that justifies our existence. Niethsce calls him and the culture which will give birth to this individual the “grosse Mittag” the great, halcyon mid-day. Suggesting that once humanity has reached its height it will descend into darkness. Whether the uebermensch is an indiiduals or a race i cannot say for sure. Nietzsche often flirts with the idea of creating a certain political order based on his ideas (eg. The good europeans) but just as often disgards these ruminations.

There are also darwinistic tendencies in Nietzsche. He expresses admiration for darwin at the beginning of The Genealogy of Morality (more on which below) and the image of man being something spun between an ape and a superman is clearly an allusion to darwin. Nietzsche pragmatic epitsemology is also often clarified in darwinian terms (ie true is what is rpactical, practical is what aids survivali) but Nietzsche is at odds with darwin in that the survival of the fittest does not mean that the best survive. Thus there was a theory circulating a couple of years ago arguing that the last two creates to battle it out at the end of evolution will be the syphilis virus and the cockroach.

A good example of the kind of life the uebermsnch might embody is represented by the German Poet Goethe for whom Nietzsche had great admiration. Goethe, says Nietzshce, explored the limits of his life and life as it was accessible to him. Goethe was someone who fully developed his talents and had a strong passion for what he did. Goethe also had a very intricate persona life.

The Will to Power

“Der Wille zur Macht”

Note: It is “wille zur macht” not “wille zum reich” Power does not mene political power or money for which Nietzsche expresses contempt in a number of cases. Power here refers to an individuals ability to exist their will in pursuing self master (a central idea to Nietzsche) as a means to developing their talents. An individual with a strong will to power exemplifies passion, enthusias and excitement about their ideas etc. Philosophers, writes Nietzsche, have the most spiritual will to power.

Master Morality Slave Morality

“one must give style to ones character”

The history of western civilization since the birth of christianity has been a conflict between master and slave morality.

Master morality: Masters consisted of a highly wealthy elite who never worked. As a result they founded an ethic not only of virtue (doing what is right such as not lying) but of excellence (excelling in crafts such as archery) These are what made masters “good” and they called themselves such. Bad was anything that was feeble, weak and not free as them. Ie. The slaves on whose work they relied for their aristocratic standing.

Slave morality: Slave were being oppressed by the masters. Thus they called the masters “evil” and themselves, people who were not like the masters “good” Slave morality is thus reactive.

Modern politics is a decadent form of “master” morality cloaked in slave morality. With the advent of christianity and the resultant troiumh of slave morality (ie, the bible says it is easier for a camel to go through the pin of a needle than for a richt person to get into heavan) up to the present master morality and slave morality mix. This is something that Nietsche says is too interesting to go unnoticed on a small planet in. When for instance Obama becomes elected he is an incredibly powerful person. As such he is a master. But the cultura ethic that dominatess the society he rules is one of slave morality. As such he cannot assert himself as being superior to anyone (ie he proudly proclaims that he comes from some goatherder in africa) The inteeraction etween master and slave morality is something I do not quite fully understand but essentially master morality bewcoems sublimated into something finer more spiritual than it was in the ancient world. This is the process the overman is to follow through with.

Personasl Reflection on Nietzsche

A tutor in a philosophy course I once took made a good remark on nietzsche. She said that the people Nietzsche appeals to participate in his ideas are not what most of us are. You cannt really follow Nietzsche to where he went. What I personally admire in Nietsche is not only his passion and his commitment to his ideas given his health and his very tragic life but I also greatly admire the acuity with which he was able to practice philosophy / think about life, ideas and the history of individuals.


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