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BIOGRAPHY AND BACKGROUND OF NIETZSCHE

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1.1     BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES ON NIETZSCHE

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was born on October 15th, 1844 at Rochken in Prussian Saxony. His father, a Lutheran pastor, died in 1849, and the boy was brought up at Naumberg in the feminine and pious society of his mother, his sister, a grandmother and two aunts[1]. He attended the famous Pforta School, and then went to the University at Bonn and at Leipzig.[2]

 

He studied classical philosophy under F.W. Ritschl at the University of Bonn and Leipzig and discovered the philosophy of Schopenhauer.[3]

 

Studying philosophy under Ritschl, he became his star pupil and gained so great a reputation in it that on Ritschl’s recommendation, he was appointed to the chair of classical philosophy at Basel University at the age of twenty- four. Leipzig proceeded to confer a doctorate degree on him without requiring a dissertation.[4]

 

He taught at Basel for ten years (1869-79), becoming a Swiss to do so. While at Basel, he made and broke his friendship with Richard Wager, participated as an ambulance orderly in the Franco-Prussian war.[5] The events of his Leipzig years with the most profound influence on his later works were his discoveries of Schopenhauer’s, ‘The World as Will and Representation’ and F.A. Lange’s, ‘History of Materialism’ and his personal relationship with Richard Wager.[6]

 

A combination of bad health and dissatisfaction, amounting to disgust with his professional duties led Nietzsche to resign from his chair at Basel in the spring of 1879. Moreover, for the next ten years, he led a wandering life, seeking to discover from his terrible health problems and a near absence of human companionship.[7]

 

Early in 1889, Nietzsche collapsed in the street of Turin. He became insane. During this last period, he wrote nothing and was incapable of conversation. He spent the last eleven and half years of his life, first in an asylum, then in his mother’s care in Naumberg, and finally in Weimar, where his sister took care of him after his mother’s death. He died in Weimar on August 25, 1900.[8]

 

1.2     BACKGROUND TO NIETZSCHE’S MORAL         PHILOSOPHY

 

The cry ‘God is dead’ is not very new.[9] It runs through the history of modern philosophy starting from Descartes with his enthronement of thought as a condition for being. It becomes clear that Nietzsche was following an existing tradition. He took hold of what others have said and drew the conclusion latent in them.

Hegel was the first to set the stage for the assault upon God. He protested that the God of Christian experience was an inadequate, premature, and not-yet-developed God. Hegel sets himself the task of completing the good news of the gospel; would go beyond Christianity by demonstrating that the only valid God was dialectically evolving. Thought or spirit, which gradually inevitably attains and reveals itself in conceptual clarity and complete self-consciousness through the entire scope of cosmic and human history.[10]

 

The Christian God is so transcendent instituting a kind of master-slave relationship and “can only be experience or thought of when the conscience is sick.”[11] Since he is so transcendent, he only “succeeds in enslaving and alienating his worshippers” hence, Hegel sees Judaeo-christianity as

A backward religion; a religion of endless, hopeless waiting, whose devotees are either wandering in a desert looking for a land flowing with milk and honey or sighing in a vale of tears scanning the horizon for the advent of the new heaven and earth beyond time.”[12]

 

Hegel’s indifference to Christianity lies in the fact that it has succeeded in producing “martyrs for the next world but never heroes of action in this.”[13] Hegel therefore concluded that Christianity was a social and historical failure. Applying his dialectics to Christianity, he saw the Christian God as a mere antithesis of the evolution of spirit. Hellenism, with its serene gods of immanence and order, was the thesis of evolving thought. Christianity, with its tragically crucified God, was the antithesis of the two- the reformed, the mature the complete god.

 

The Christian God had to die in order to pass into its opposite. All modern atheism will thus be seen to be rooted in Hegel’s rejection of God of the master-slave relationship. God reduces man from being a hero to being a beautiful soul.[14]

Profoundly influenced by Hegel, Feuerbach (1804-1872) makes God “the myth that destroys man’s own efforts, against which man must fight to reconquer his proper nature from which he has been alienated.” Hegel having demolished God, Feuerbach drew the logical conclusion in Hegel’s work in a heroic manner. He continued the process of the reduction of God to the being of man and, indeed, of all theology to anthropology. Expressing this fact, Vincent Miceli writes;

Feuerbach was acclaimed for having swept the heavens of the phantom of God…. Restored divinity to its rightful owner-liberated humanity- and rendered the thousands of years’ discussions about God henceforth pointless.[15]

 

God is for Feuerbach ‘merely the projected essence of man’ and in proportion as God becomes more ideally human; the greater becomes the apparent between God and man. To enrich God, man must become poor; that God may be all, man must become nothing.”[16] Feuerbach’s contention is that the Christian idea of man far from librating man actually succeeded in enslaving him to an illusory absolute.[17]

 

So man can only grow and enrich himself by taking back what he has given to God.[18] To have a replacement for God, Feuerbach looks to the essence of man. He writes,

It is the essence of man that is the Supreme Being…The turning point in history will be the moment when man becomes aware that the only God of man is man himself “Homo Homini Deus.[19]

 

It must be observe that Feuerbach does not divinized individual man in his particularity but Humanity.

 

Receiving his keys to his communist kingdom from his German masters Hegel and Feuerbach, Karl Marx (1818-1883) reduced the problem of God to a human problem. The only meaning there is the adventure of man lies in his achievement of complete independence. But, man according to Marx, “can only be his own master when he owes his existence to no one but himself”.[20]

 

So the salvation of man itself demands, as it were a “priori,” the death of God and by this denial, man’s existence is asserted.[21] With the total obliteration of God, the highest being then enthroned in the universe becomes man. With this, man becomes the only reality: the only meaning of the universe of evolution of history. Man, liberated from the divine shackle, is now free to create himself fully in solidarity with his fellow men and he does this by his work. Work, the only firm of man’s being rips man suddenly, violently, irrevocably from God, from the transcendent and from the existing bourgeois world, with all its form of self-alienation.

 

Work transforms the isolated individual of the bourgeois society into the social man of communist humanism. Work renders man capable of developing all his powers to their fullest capacities, it perfects his whole nature; it inserts him organically as equal among equals, into classless community of concord.[22]

 

History begins, therefore, with the denial of God and advances through the revolutionary destruction of bourgeois society to the enthronement of man as his own god in the communist community. While Hegel thought of nations as the vehicles of dialectic movement, Marx substituted classes.[23]

 

In a parallel thrust, Schopenhauer proclaimed ‘Pure Will’ to be the essence of being and thing-in-itself and to be the transcendental assignment of man: being metamorphoses into a will-to-life, a will-to-will, and a will-to-power. The objectivization of being as primordial will thus resolves itself into the forms and modes of this will. The will thus becomes the ‘primordial being’ Urwesen and the primordial source of that which is ‘Urguelle des seienden,’ the prime mover of all activity. This will have neither goal nor end outside of itself and its action.[24]

 

Nietzsche begins from Schopenhauer, but his avowed aim is the formation of a new man who in turn will mould the future. Schopenhauer, in Nietzsche’ eyes is the first avowed and trenchant atheist Germany has produced. He was a man who regarded the absence of God from existence as something understandable, palpable and indisputable. Nietzsche intends to fill the void left by the disappearance of God and this is the point of the doctrine of ‘The Superman.’ He, however, parts Company entirely with the quietistic pessimism of Schopenhauer.[25] Nietzsche believes that Schopenhauer held honest atheism that freed European thought after so many centuries, from the lie of the belief in Christian God. In Nietzsche’s view, the traditional schema of the universe, the maps by which western man has oriented his life, are beginning to dissolve and lose their force.

 

He sees in the nineteenth century European, an advert of nihilism “the radical rejection of values, meaning and desirability”. This nihilism is as a result of suspicion, by the west, of all interpretation of the world.[26] Nietzsche’s revolt against Christianity is that its morality is slave morality, which is a defensive reaction to the values of the more powerful.[27] The slave morality begins when resentment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values.[28]

 

Nietzsche starts his campaign against the Christian morality with his extirpation of the Christian God and in his peace. Nietzsche substituted the superman and his will-to-power.

 

 


[1] F.Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Part 11 vol. 7, (New York: Doubleday, 1965), p 164.

[2] F. Nietzsche, Twilight of the idols, trans. by Hollingdale (England: Penguin, 1968) p.1

[3] K. F Reinhardt, ‘Nietzsche’ in The New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 10, (New York: McGraw-Hill Books 1967) p.463

[4] E. Craig (ed.), ‘Nietzsche’ in  Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, vol. 6, (New York: Routledge 1998) p. 864

[5] F. Nietzsche, Twilight Op. Cit., p.1

[6] E Craig,(ed.),  Op. Cit p.463

[7] F Copleston, Op. Cit., p.167

[8] W.  Kauifmann,  ‘Nietzsche’ in The New Enclyclopaedia Briltannica, (Chicago: Elen Hemingway Benton publications 1982)

[9] R. Adolfs,  The Grave of God, trans. by N. D. Smith (London: Burns & Oates, 1967), p.13

[10] V. P. Micelli, The Gods of Atheism, (New York: Roman Catholic Books, 1971), p. 22

[11] E Borne,  Atheism, Trans. by S. J. Tester (New York: Hawthorne, 1961), p. 38

[12] Vin P. Micelli, Loc. Cit., p. 22

[13] Ibid., p. 23

[14] Ibid., p. 23

[15] Ibid., p. 24

[16]  L. Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, cited by E. Borne, in Atheism (New York: Hawthorne, 1961), p. 35

[17] V. P. Micelli, Loc. Cit.

[18]  E. Borne, Op. Cit, pp. 35 – 36

[19]  L. Feuerbach, Op. Cit., p. 33

[20] Karl Marx, Economics, Politique et philosophie, cited by E. Borne in Atheism (New York: Hawthorne, 1961), p. 31

[21] Ibid., p. 32

[22] V. P. Micelli, Op. Cit., p. 103

[23] B. Russel, A History of Western philosophy, (London: Hazell Watson & Viney Ltd., 1979), p. 733

[24] F. Cornelio, God in Exile: Modern Atheism (Westminster Maryland: Newman Press, 1968), p. 872

[25] Ibid., p. 873 – 874

[26] F. Molina, Existentialism As Philosophy, (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice – Hall Inc., 1969), p. 25

[27] B. K. Higgins, The Cambridge Companies to Nietzsche, (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1996), p. 208

[28] F. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, trans. by F. Golfing, (New York: Doubleday Pub. Inc., 1990), section 10.


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