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Friedrich Nietzsche

Updated on December 1, 2016

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, born in Rocken, Prussia (now in East Germany) in October 15, 1844, was a German philosopher. Nietzsche stressed the importance of individualism and intuitive thought against the dominant philosophical trend of his day, which emphasized reason, science, Christian ethics, and liberal democracy. Nietzsche held that all great human achievements stem from the individual's instinctive will to power and desire to dominate others. He believed that, ideally, this instinct is accompanied by pride, courage, and other heroic Virtues. However, Nietzsche held that the will to power was frustrated in Western society by Christian moral values that stressed humility, pity, and meekness. He violently attacked Christianity for teaching what he called a slave morality. He also attacked liberal democracy as a herd movement that glorified the mediocrity of the masses.

Nietzsche believed that the West could be saved from decadence only by a transvaluation, or reversal of values, that would enable the creative talents of the Ubermensch ("overman" or "superior individual") to be liberated for heroic achievements. Here, Nietzsche seems to have been referring to the individual of genius, since the philosopher believed that most men would never give up the security found in religious and social groups to accept the life of suffering, and striving for individual greatness, that the overman freely chooses. Because of Nietzsche's emphasis on individual will he is considered a forerunner of much of 20th-century Existentialist thought. However, his concept of the overman was distorted by 20th-century Nazism into the idea of a superior Aryan race.

Nietzsche was a professor of classical philology at the University of Basel in Switzerland from 1869 to 1879. He first won fame for The Birth of Tragedy Out of the Spirit of Music (1872). After giving up teaching, Nietzsche continued to write until his mental collapse in 1889. Among his major works are Beyond Good and Evil (1886), the famous Thus Spake Zamthustra (1883-1892), and The Antichrist (1895).

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche died in Weimar, Germany (now in East Germany) in August 25, 1900.

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