Thursday, September 18

Frederick Nietzsche-the enigmatic philosopher

This short essay attempts to explore some insights into the thoughts of this enigmatic  philosopher.  
Introduction and some broad observations

Frederick Nietzsche was possibly one of the most influential and enigmatic of philosophers, but whose authenticity in my view can hardly be challenged.
A good reference to anyone wanting to more thoroughly understand him is "What Nietzsche Really Said" by scholars   , whose review is :
Friedrich Nietzsche's aggressive independence, flamboyance, sarcasm, and celebration of strength have struck responsive chords in contemporary culture. More people than ever are reading and discussing his writings. But Nietzsche's ideas are often overshadowed by the myths and rumors that surround his sex life, his politics, and his sanity. In this lively and comprehensive analysis, Nietzsche scholars Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins get to the heart of Nietzsche's philosophy, from his ideas on "the will to power" to his attack on religion and morality and his infamous Übermensch (superman).
What Nietzsche Really Said offers both guidelines and insights for reading and understanding this controversial thinker. Written with sophistication and wit, this book provides an excellent summary of the life and work of one of history's most provocative philosophers.
Much of his work is polemic - to firmly  establish his perspective with gusto after opposing mercilessly contemporary viewpoints.

But I do not think Nietzsche was an intellectual bully, but rather he was fond of making highly emotive statements, to ignite our interest and  shock the senses to be persuaded to think differently.

Nietzsche’s view, at that time, was that state power and money underlined a state of stupidity, so that he saw himself as a man in the mould of Goethe, having the courage to suffer for the sake of the truth as he perceived it. Nietzsche did not suggest a political point of view but rather believed his philosophy underpinned noble leadership, so that became sufficient in itself to  ensure a happier and superior moral system of governance.

He also suffered both from severe bad health which was to be an infliction for all of his life, coupled with experience firsthand of the terrible brutality of war. In my view both of which could not fail to have some considerable influence over his philosophy.
Upbringing and early influences  
To understand Nietzsche’s perspective I think it is useful to delve into his upbringing and early development as is usually the case for all of us.

Nietzsche's family ties were to Lutheran ministers, as his paternal grandfather was a distinguished Protestant scholar. His father was the town’s Lutheran minister, but died of a brain disorder when Nietzsche was only 5, so that his childhood nurturing was undertaken by his mother and 2 maiden aunts.

Nietzsche as a teenager began composing piano, choral and orchestral music and was instrumental in leading a music and literature group when attending a boarding school in preparation for a university education. He was later to form a strong bond with Richard Wagner, whose talent he greatly admired, and who gave support to Nietzsche’s early literary works. After graduating from school he undertook theological studies at the university, intent on becoming a minster before gravitating in favour of philology, which is concerned with the interpretation of classical and biblical texts. Nietzsche was a brilliant student and published essays on poets and philosophers such as Aristotle.
The rather obvious conclusions are that his comprehension of the Bible was fulsome, but no doubt lacking in positivism as his subsequent works incorporated the ideals of the mythical ancient heroic GODS. But Nietzsche was not against organized Religion, maintaining it could be of comfort for the masses. His concern was for its application as bad faith, predicated on false notions that bad health arose from sin.  He also thought religion tied its followers to a slave mentality, to enslave the followers to mediocrity and meekness, which ultimately could lead to nihilism. In other words the abstract values of a perceived GOD, born of jealously or envy, confirmed in meekness and in mediocrity were in essence simply the shadows of a poet’s imagery which could lead (if taken literally) to unintended bad consequences.  

A pivotal moment for Nietzsche was his discovery of Arthur Schopenhauer's work which was to capture his imagination but whose influence remains subject to some debate. However in Nietzsche’s publication entitled Untimely Meditations he seems to indicate a definite affinity to Schopenhauer as his educator: For your true nature lies, not concealed deep within you, but immeasurably high above you, or at least above that which you usually take yourself to be. Your true educators and formative teachers reveal to you what the true basic material of your being is, something in itself ineducable (incapable of being educated) and in any case difficult of access, bound and paralyzed: your educators can be only your liberators. (UM3:129 Nietzsche, F. (1983) Schopenhauer as Educator, in Untimely Meditations, Transl. R.J Collingdale, Cambridge University Press, [1874].)
Nietzsche entered compulsory military service, where he suffered a serious injury, and was discharged to return to the university where he became interested in Sanskrit and the Zoroastrian religion, whose prophet was Zarathustra. No doubt the seed here was sown for his later work entitled “Thus Spake Zarathustra”.
The University of Basel offered him the chair of classical philology at the tender age of 24, but during the onset of the Franco-Prussian war, he again enlisted as a medical orderly, only to once again be forced into discharge after suffering from diphtheria and dysentery. He witnessed firsthand the horror of war and the trauma of battle, caring for wounded soldiers.

He returned to the university but was forced to cease work as consequence of deteriorating health and henceforth was reliant on his writing to sustain himself.
Schopenhauer revitalized by Nietzsche 
In in his early formative years, as outlined previously, Schopenhauer was his educator, who in turn was influenced by the Upanishads, Kant and Plato. Schopenhauer saw worldly existence in terms of continuum of the tension of the rational conscious mind versus an underlying unconscious will, as exists universally in nature.  Schopenhauer was of the opinion the primordial will to live domiciled in all forms of life, then created the instinctive desire of all living creatures' to avoid death and to procreate.

Nietzsche valued Schopenhauer’s ideas but concluded ones existence and acceptance of one will, realised to ones higher self through self enlightenment was a more practical morality, capable of achieving supreme fulfilment and hence happiness.
Culture to Nietzsche was the means of aspiring to the higher self, which is a spiritual dimension quite separate to the instinctive forces, but arises from self-enlightenment in the service of the will, to give rise to the new metaphors of life. This is not, however, as most people view "spirituality”, as Nietzsche relates spirituality more as a self-realization, as in a ‘’love of fait ‘’ to live for the moment, to grasping life with gusto as in life affirmation, regardless of one’s physical condition.
Will to power  

Nietzsche’s “will to power’’ Is not clearly defined by most philosophers  who opt instead to numerous references, which to my mind only serve or ask further questions. What I would posit is that his “will to power” is an awareness of this central truth underlying all that we do, to brings with it the responsibility of its use, rather than attempting to suppress that which governs all of humanity and will only serve to make oneself  miserable. The Ubermensch then does not subscribe to any particular norm but rejects mediocrity to realize one’s own unique individuality.
Eternal recurrence
This is one of his key concepts and has its heritage primarily from eastern religions / philosophy (although there are some references in Jewish traditions) which posits time is not lineal but involves infinite circles of recurrence which Nietzsche linked to his idea of love of fate. 
Despite suffering terribly throughout his life, his prodigious work provides a testament to his own will, to leave to us a legacy of immense material to ponder, about which continues to be subject to countless interpretations. I have attempted to shed some light on such thoughts, not least being Nietzsche’s hope that as free spirits one can be unbounded by the shackles of dogmatism and  be willing and able to embrace hardships in a constant state of becoming, joined as he thought we were as part of that circle of eternal recurrence.
For further  reading



susan said...

This is an excellent and very thoughtful description of a philosopher who has been generally misunderstood. What Nietzsche called the death of God was, in less colorful language, the fading out of living religious belief as a significant force in public life. This left a lot of people looking for something to replace the moral sense they'd once derived from religious faith. While religions per se have always had their downsides, the concepts derived from a simplified understanding of Nietzsche’s statement had a number of unfortunate results - many of which remain with us today.

Best wishes :)

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Thanks Susan –precisely! , as in his oft quoted “God is dead” we see the death of the Old GOD, but a failure, due to materialism, to provide any meaningful “New One” for those surviving religious instincts which lie deep within us to give expression to vitality for life, both individually and collectively (accepting we need not all be slaves within one ideology) and to be of comfort.
Avowed atheists can take no comfort whatsoever in what Nietzsche was saying. He was simply against one dominant point of view as in absolutism. His opposition to the Christian structure was rooted in what he believed was the false idea that a future Heaven would justify present suffering, to lead to a corruption of morals, as is evident today in the warring parties.
Best wishes

susan said...

Very well said, Lindsay.