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Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was one of the most influential and controversial philosophers of the modern era. His writings challenged the foundations of Western culture, religion, morality, and philosophy, and introduced new concepts such as the Übermensch, the will to power, the eternal recurrence, and the death of God. Nietzsche’s life was marked by both brilliance and tragedy. He was a classical scholar, a professor, a composer, and a prolific author. He also suffered from poor health, mental breakdowns, and isolation. His philosophy reflects his personal struggles as well as his insights into the human condition. This article will explore the main aspects of Nietzsche’s biography and works, and examine their impact on contemporary thought and culture. (Young, 2010; Britannica, 2021; IEP, 2021)

The life and influences of Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche was a German philosopher who began his career as a classical philologist, but later turned to philosophy as his main interest. He was one of the most influential thinkers of modern times, challenging the foundations of Western religion, morality, and culture.

His life history is marked by several events that shaped his thinking and his style of writing. He was born in Röcken, Germany, where his father was a Lutheran pastor, but his father died when he was four years old, leaving him with a sense of loss and loneliness (Britannica, n.d.).

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He studied at the University of Bonn and the University of Leipzig, where he became acquainted with the works of Arthur Schopenhauer and Richard Wagner, who influenced his early views on pessimism and aesthetics (IEP, n.d.). Nietzsche became the youngest professor of classical philology at the University of Basel in 1869, but he resigned in 1879 due to health problems that plagued him most of his life (Wikipedia, n.d.).

He travelled extensively in Europe, seeking a favourable climate for his physical and mental wellbeing, and wrote some of his most important works during this period, such as Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, and On the Genealogy of Morals. He developed his own distinctive philosophy, which emphasized the concepts of the will to power, the eternal recurrence, the Übermensch, and the death of God.

Nietzsche also criticized Christianity, democracy, nationalism, and rationalism as expressions of decadence and nihilism that hindered human creativity and excellence (Notable Biographies, n.d.). He suffered a mental breakdown in 1889, allegedly after witnessing a horse being whipped in Turin, Italy. He spent the last decade of his life in a state of dementia, under the care of his sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, who edited and published his posthumous works. His philosophy had a profound impact on the development of modern thought, especially in the fields of existentialism, postmodernism, psychology, and art (Cambridge University Press, n.d.).

Influence on existentialism

One of Nietzsche’s main contributions to existentialism was his rejection of any objective or universal meaning in life. He argued that “there are no facts, only interpretations” (Nietzsche, 1968, p. 267) and that “words are but symbols for the relations of things to one another and to us; nowhere do they touch upon absolute truth” (Nietzsche, n.d.). He also claimed that “God is dead” (Nietzsche, 1882, p. 125) and that “the highest values devalue themselves” (Nietzsche, 1883, p. 13), implying that there is no transcendent source of morality or value. Instead, he advocated for a creative and individualistic approach to life, in which each person must create their own values and meaning.

Another key aspect of Nietzsche’s existentialism was his emphasis on the affirmation of life in all its aspects, including suffering and tragedy. He wrote that “he who has a why to live can bear almost any how” (Nietzsche, 1889, p. 12) and that “to live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering” (Nietzsche, n.d.). He also praised the figure of the Übermensch, or the superman, who can overcome the nihilism and decadence of modern society and create new values out of his own will to power. He described the Übermensch as “the meaning of the earth” (Nietzsche, 1883, p. 3) and as “the one who teaches the meaning of all existence” (Nietzsche, 1883, p. 125).

Finally, Nietzsche’s existentialism was marked by his notion of the eternal recurrence, which he presented as a thought experiment and a test of one’s attitude towards life. He asked: “What if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine'” (Nietzsche, 1887, p. 194). He suggested that only those who can affirm their life in its totality, without regret or resentment, can achieve the highest form of happiness.

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Friedrich Nietzsche influenced existentialism by challenging the foundations of Western culture and proposing a new way of living based on individual creativity, affirmation of life, and overcoming nihilism. His philosophy has inspired many thinkers and artists who have explored the themes of meaninglessness, freedom, responsibility, and authenticity in their works.

Major publications

Some of his major publications include:

  • The Birth of Tragedy (1872), in which he contrasts the Apollonian and Dionysian impulses in Greek culture and argues that tragedy was the highest form of art.
  • Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-1885), a poetic and prophetic work that introduces the concept of the Übermensch (overman or superman) and the doctrine of the eternal recurrence.
  • Beyond Good and Evil (1886), a critique of traditional morality and an affirmation of the will to power as the driving force of human life.
  • On the Genealogy of Morals (1887), a historical and psychological analysis of the origins and development of Christian morality and its effects on modern society.
  • The Antichrist (1895), a polemical attack on Christianity as a decadent and nihilistic religion that denies life and values.

Nietzsche’s writings are full of provocative and paradoxical statements, such as “God is dead” (Zarathustra, p. 125), “What does not kill me makes me stronger” (Twilight of the Idols, p. 8), and “There are no facts, only interpretations” (The Will to Power, p. 267). He also coined many influential concepts, such as the master-slave morality, the herd instinct, the transvaluation of values, and the death of God. He aimed to inspire his readers to overcome their conventional beliefs and prejudices and to create their own values and meaning in life.

Some examples of quotes from Nietzsche’s publications are:

  • “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” (Zarathustra, p. 3)
  • “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” (Beyond Good and Evil, p. 68)
  • “We are unknown to ourselves, we men of knowledge – and with good reason. We have never sought ourselves – how could it happen that we should ever find ourselves?” (On the Genealogy of Morals, p. 15)
  • “The Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad.” (The Antichrist, p. 7)

Major themes and concepts

Some of Nietzsche’s key concepts and themes are:

Perspectivism: the idea that there is no absolute or objective truth, but only different interpretations and perspectives that depend on one’s context, values and interests. Nietzsche wrote: “There are no facts, only interpretations” (The Will to Power, §481).

Genealogy: the method of tracing the historical origins and development of moral and religious values, and exposing their contingent and arbitrary nature. Nietzsche argued that these values were not based on rational or universal principles, but on the interests and power struggles of different groups of people. He famously contrasted the “master morality” of the ancient nobles, who valued strength, courage and pride, with the “slave morality” of the oppressed masses, who valued humility, compassion and resentment (On the Genealogy of Morals).

Nihilism: the condition of meaninglessness and despair that arises when one realises that the traditional sources of value and meaning, such as God, metaphysics and morality, are no longer credible or relevant. Nietzsche diagnosed nihilism as the “greatest danger” of modern times, and sought to overcome it by affirming life in all its complexity and diversity. He wrote: “What does nihilism mean? That the highest values devalue themselves” (The Will to Power, §2).

The death of God: the metaphorical expression of the loss of faith in Christianity and its moral implications. Nietzsche declared that “God is dead” in several of his works, most famously in The Gay Science (§125) and Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Prologue). He meant that God no longer provides a basis for morality, meaning or purpose in human life, and that we have to create our own values in a godless world.

Apollonian and Dionysian: the two contrasting forces or impulses that shape human culture and art. The Apollonian represents order, reason, harmony and beauty, while the Dionysian represents chaos, passion, ecstasy and suffering. Nietzsche argued that both are necessary for a balanced and creative life, and that Greek tragedy was the highest expression of their synthesis (The Birth of Tragedy).

The will to power: the fundamental drive or instinct that motivates all living beings to assert themselves, overcome obstacles and expand their influence. Nietzsche saw the will to power as the essence of life and the source of all values. He wrote: “Where I found the living, there I found will to power” (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part II).

The Übermensch: the ideal type of human being who transcends the limitations of conventional morality and religion, and creates his own values according to his own vision. The Übermensch is not a superior race or a dictator, but a free spirit who affirms life in all its aspects. Nietzsche described him as “the meaning of the earth” and “the one who must come” (Thus Spoke Zarathustra).

Influence on existentialist psychology

Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy has influenced existentialist psychology in various ways, as he challenged the traditional assumptions about morality, religion, truth and the self. Nietzsche introduced concepts such as nihilism, perspectivism and the revaluation of all values that are central to existentialist thought. He also advocated for self-cultivation, self-creation and self-mastery as the means to overcome the divided and fragmented self and to achieve authentic existence. Some examples of how his ideas have applied to existentialist psychology are:

Nihilism: Nietzsche diagnosed the modern condition as one of nihilism, meaning the loss of meaning and value in life. He saw nihilism due to the death of God, the collapse of metaphysical and moral foundations, and the rise of scientific rationalism and historical relativism. He warned that nihilism could lead to despair, resentment and the will to nothingness. However, he also saw nihilism as an opportunity to create new values and meanings based on human creativity and affirmation of life. Existentialist psychologists such as Viktor Frankl and Rollo May have explored the psychological implications of nihilism and the ways to cope with it through finding a personal sense of purpose and responsibility in life.

Perspectivism: Nietzsche rejected the idea of objective truth and universal morality, and instead proposed that all knowledge and values are perspectival, meaning they depend on one’s point of view, interpretation and evaluation. He argued that there are no facts, only interpretations, and that truth is a function of power and will. He also suggested that one should adopt multiple perspectives and experiment with different values to expand one’s horizons and enrich one’s experience. Existentialist psychologists such as Paul Tillich and Carl Rogers have adopted a perspectival approach to understanding human existence and have emphasized the role of personal choice, freedom and creativity in shaping one’s own reality.

Revaluation of all values: Nietzsche called for a radical revaluation of all values, meaning a critical examination and transformation of the prevailing moral and cultural norms that he considered to be life-denying, oppressive and decadent. He criticized the Christian morality of good and evil, which he saw as a slave morality that fosters weakness, guilt and resentment. He contrasted it with the noble morality of good and bad, which he saw as a master morality that celebrates strength, pride and joy. He also proposed the idea of the Übermensch (overman or superman), who is the ideal type of human being who creates his own values, lives according to his own will, and strives for excellence and self-overcoming. Existentialist psychologists such as Alfred Adler and Abraham Maslow have been influenced by Nietzsche’s idea of revaluation of all values and have developed theories of human potential, growth and Self-actualization.

As Nietzsche himself wrote: “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star” (Nietzsche, 1885/1969, p. 46). This quote captures the essence of his philosophy and its influence on existentialist psychology: it expresses the need for embracing uncertainty, complexity and diversity to create something new, meaningful and beautiful out of one’s own existence.


Britannica. (2021). Friedrich Nietzsche | Biography, Books, & Facts. Retrieved from

Cambridge University Press. (n.d.). Friedrich Nietzsche A Philosophical Biography. Retrieved
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IEP. (2021). Nietzsche, Friedrich | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from

Nietzsche, F. (1968). The will to power (W. Kaufmann & R.J. Hollingdale, Trans.). New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1901)

Nietzsche, F. (n.d.). Friedrich Nietzsche quotes on existentialism. Retrieved from

Nietzsche, F. (1967). The Birth of Tragedy. In W. Kaufmann (Ed. & Trans.), The Birth of Tragedy & The Case of Wagner (pp. 1-144). New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1872)

Nietzsche, F. (1989). Beyond Good and Evil. In W. Kaufmann (Ed.), Basic Writings of Nietzsche (pp. 179-435). New York: Modern Library. (Original work published 1886)

Nietzsche, F. (1882). The gay science (W. Kaufmann, Trans.). New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1882)

Nietzsche, F. (1883). Thus spoke Zarathustra (R.J. Hollingdale, Trans.). London: Penguin Books. (Original work published 1883-1891)

Nietzsche, F. (1889). Twilight of the idols (R.J. Hollingdale, Trans.). London: Penguin Books. (Original work published 1889)

Nietzsche, F. (1887). The genealogy of morals (W. Kaufmann & R.J. Hollingdale, Trans.). New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1887)

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Young, J. (2010). Friedrich Nietzsche: A philosophical biography. Cambridge University Press.

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