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Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher of the late 19th century who challe
nged the foundations of Christianity and traditional morality. He believed in li
fe, creativity, health, and the realities of the world we live in, rather than t
hose situated in a world beyond. Central to his philosophy is the idea of â life-af
firmation,â which involves an honest questioning of all doctrines that drain life'
s energies, however socially prevalent those views might be. Often referred to a
s one of the first existentialist philosophers, Nietzsche's revitalizing philoso
phy has inspired leading figures in all walks of cultural life, including dancer
s, poets, novelists, painters, psychologists, philosophers, sociologists and soc
ial revolutionaries.
Friedrich Nietzsche born as the son of a Lutheran pastor and a devout hausfrau.
His father died - mad - in 1849. Rejecting his father's faith, Nietzsche became
a lifelong rebel against Christianity. "In truth, there was only one Christian,
and he died on the cross", he wrote in DER ANTICHRIST (1888). Nietzsche was brou
ght up by pious female relatives. He studied classical philology at the universi
ties of Bonn (1864-65) and Leipzig (1864-68), and became at the age of 25 a prof
essor at the University of Basel, Switzerland. Among his acquaintances was Jakob
Burckhardt, the writer of The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860).
During the Franco-Prussian was he served briefly as a medical orderly with the P
russian army. Nietzsche's military career was short: he contracted dysentery and
He diagnosed in it human beings as subject to unconscious, involuntary, overwhel
mingly self-destructive Dionysian instincts.

On the morning of January 3, 1889, while in Turin, Nietzsche experienced a menta

l breakdown which left him an invalid for the rest of his life. Upon witnessing
a horse being whipped by a coachman at the Piazza Carlo Alberto â although this ep
isode with the horse could be anecdotal â he threw his arms around the horse's nec
k and collapsed in the plaza, never to return to full sanity. Some argue that Ni
etzsche was afflicted with a syphilitic infection (this was the original diagnos
is of the doctors in Basel and Jena) contracted either while he was a student or
while he was serving as a hospital attendant during the Franco-Prussian War; so
me claim that his use of chloral hydrate, a drug which he had been using as a se
dative, undermined his already-weakened nervous system; some speculate that Niet
zsche's collapse was due to a brain disease he inherited from his father; some m
aintain that a mental illness gradually drove him insane. The exact cause of Nie
tzsche's incapacitation remains unclear. That he had an extraordinarily sensitiv
e nervous constitution and took an assortment of medications is well-documented
as a more general fact. To complicate matters of interpretation, Nietzsche state
s in a letter from April 1888 that he never had any symptoms of a mental disorde
Reliance on abstract concepts in a quest for absolute truth, he supposed, is mer
ely a symptom of the degenerate personalities of philosophers like Socrates. Fro
m this Nietzsche concluded that traditional philosophy and religion are both err
oneous and harmful for human life; they enervate and degrade our native capacity
for achievement.
Nietzsche believed that all life evidences a will to power. Hopes for a higher s
tate of being after death are explained as compensations for failures in this li
fe. The famous view about the "death of God" resulted from his observations of t
he movement from traditional beliefs to a trust of science and commerce. Nietzsc
he dissected Christianity and Socialism as faiths of the "little men," where exc
uses for weakness paraded as moral principles. John Stuart Mill's liberal democr
atic humanism was for him a target for scorn and he called Mill "that blockhead.
" His announcement of the death of God can be interpreted religiously or atheist
ically: "God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him... What was holie
st and most powerful of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under
our knives: who will wipe this blood off us?..." (in Die Fröhliche Wissenschaf
t, 1882)