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Influential Figures in my Life: Friedrich Nietzsche

April 9, 2013

Nietzsche ThinkingA philosopher still misunderstood by many due to his ideas being appropriated by the Nazis around the time of World War 2. The fact of the matter is, although some of his ideas may lend themselves to right wing interpretations. He himself, and many others who have took up his ideas through existentialism, have not had such a political bias.

Nietzsche was an impassioned and very emotional person. This comes out at you when you read any of his works, but some particularly, such as Ecce Homo, the antichrist and Thus Spake Zarathustra. He did struggle with various physical ailments during his life, and led a life more akin to a poet than a philosopher. Taking long walks in the mountains, admiring nature.

I first came across Nietzsche in an anthology work with excerpts from all his books. It was inspirational to read a philosopher with such an emotional attachment and force to the things he was saying. The complete opposite of so many philosophers who in striving for detachment and objective truth, often end up being boring. For Nietzsche, the great truth was not neutral facts in the world but the genuine expression of ones self in the world.

And this was what his philosophy was all about. God was dead, old values no longer served any purpose. We could no longer draw on transcendent beings for values, so we would have to create our values by which to live, from within our own being. The few people who successfully achieved this would be the super men, or super man of the new, post-religious, world.

It was an admirable and noble goal, and one that has took hold for many influential people through the 20th century and into the 21st century. Existentialists: Sartre, Heidegger; Writers: Hesse, Mann. And it is one I do take something from for myself. A reassessment of values is certainly needed, we need to learn to live more authentically, not living how morality of others says we ought to live, but living freely how we choose and want to live. We must learn to ensure our values and morality does not needlessly stifle our personal freedoms and self-expression. For nothing is more detrimental to humanity and culture in the future than such stifling.

At the same time, some moderation is needed. We are not yet ready to pluck out our values from the void. We do still draw upon our history, our community, our friends and family for our values. This context can not be completely discarded without doing more harm than good to our freedom of self-expression. For we will have no self left to express, beyond pure instrumentalism.  Such would only make us the ultimate pawn in a fatalist society, the exact opposite of the freedom we were initially searching for.

It took me some time to form these reservations in my understanding of Nietzsche, for his writing is certainly spell binding at times, and draws you in to the whole vision. He is a great figure to study, fun to read, and always gives rise to thought provoking debates and ideas in my mind. I am not an atheist myself, certainly not in the Nietzschean materialist sense of believing this world is all there is. I do think there is a spiritual level of existence. But I do agree with Nietzsche that the aim of life is to further our self-expression. It is just a question of differing views about the best way to achieve this. So his influence on me has been considerable and it is still something I am in the process of assessing and reassessing.

You feel there must be something not quite right about the ideas of someone if they appear to drive this person ultimately crazy and insane. But maybe this is a truth here. It is just a truth and level of freedom we humans are not quite ready for yet. For now it seems we still need some context for out freedom, we cannot empty out this context, but we can evaluate it and reinterpret it and choose to be something slightly different from what morality and the values of our parents try to tell us to be.

  1. Nietzsche, Shakespeare, and Plato are my Holy Trinity.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your interpretation of Nietzsche. Keep up the quality posts 🙂

  2. Since you are interested in Nietzschean philosophy, allow me to invite you to my blog. I’ve written at least two articles you might find worth your while.

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