[German | 1844–1900]
The problem of how to live a life with meaning has puzzled philosophers since the days of ancient Greece, China, and India. Yet, for Nietzsche, the problem took on a new importance in the aftermath of the Enlightenment and what he saw this as resulting in; the death of god.
It is often said that Nietzsche is a nihilist but, it’s not so simple. In fact, much of his work is concerned with the problem of overcoming nihilism despite all the things (life problems) that drive people towards acting in a nihilistic way.
He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster… if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
Nietzsche’s was focused on this: in an increasingly secular and scientific society we humans could no longer turn to god/religion to find meaning. In the past (or for religious people today( the meaning of everything was assured by God. So, Nietzsche pondered, without the ability to turn to god, where could we find meaning?
Nietzsche argued that there were two fundamental types of morality: “master morality” and “slave morality”. Master morality values pride and power, while slave morality values things like kindness, empathy, and sympathy.
Nietzsche believed that the Christian morality, with its emphasis on kindness, meekness, subservience to a greater good, and a focus on the afterlife rather than the present condition, did not reflect how the world actually works.
Instead of relativism, Nietzsche advocates for something that has been called “perspectivism.” Simply put, perspectivism means that every claim, belief, idea, or philosophy is tied to some perspective and that it’s impossible for humans to detach themselves from these lenses in order to learn about objective Truth.
According to Nietzsche perspectivism isn’t the same as relativism because unlike relativism (which says all views are equally valid because they’re relevant to each person) perspectivism doesn’t claim that all perspectives have equal value — some are in fact better than others.
He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.
— my why is you J and that is how I can bear the now (which basically is hell).
Writing on an enormous breadth of subjects, from history, religion and science to art, culture and the tragedies of Greek and Roman Antiquity, Nietzsche wrote with savage wit and a love of irony. He used these forces to pen deconstructive examinations of truth, Christian morality, and the impact of social constructs on our formulation of moral values. Also essential to Nietzshe’s writing is articulation of the crisis of nihilism, the basic idea that all things lack meaning, including life itself. This idea in particular would remain an important component of the existentialist and surrealist movements that followed.
Nietzsche’s key contributions
- Favored perspectivism, which held that truth is not objective but is the consequence of various factors effecting individual perspective;
- Articulated ethical dilemma as a tension between the master vs. slave morality; the former in which we make decisions based on the assessment of consequences, and the latter in which we make decisions based on our conception of good vs. evil;
- Believed in the individual’s creative capacity to resist social norms and cultural convention in order to live according to a greater set of virtues.
Nietzsche’s Key Works
- The Birth of Tragedy (1872)
- The Gay Science (1882)
- On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo (1887, 1908)