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Born Oct. 15, 1844, in Röcken, near Lützen, Saxony; died Aug. 25, 1900, in Weimar. German philosopher; representative of irrationalism and voluntarism; poet.
Nietzsche studied at the universities of Bonn and Leipzig. From 1869 to 1879 he was a professor of classical philology at the University of Basel. His creative activity was interrupted in 1889 by mental illness.
Nietzsche abandoned classical philology for philosophy. He was influenced by A. Schopenhauer, as well as by Wagner’s aesthetics and art. In his first work, The Birth of Tragedy Out of the Spirit of Music (1872), which was devoted primarily to an analysis of classical tragedies, Nietzsche developed the idea of a typology of culture, which had been suggested by J. C. F. von Schiller, F. W. J. von Schelling, and German romanticism. He compared two principles of being and culture: the “Dionysian,” or “vital,” orgiastic and violent, tragic principle; and the “Apollinian,” or contemplative, logically articulated, strictly intellectual principle. Nietzsche saw the ideal in a balance between these polar principles. The Birth and Tragedy contained the seeds of Nietzsche’s teaching on being as spontaneous becoming. This teaching was later developed into the doctrine of the “will to power” as the yearning of every living being for self-affirmation. It was also expressed in Nietzsche’s Utopian philosophy of history, which sought the ideal in pre-Socratic Greece.
Nietzsche’s conservative, romantic ideas and his voluntarism (Untimely Meditations, 1873) predetermined the philosopher’s development toward irrationalism. His use of the essay form for his early works was indicative of this trend in his development. Structurally, the works Human, All-too-human (1878), The Dawn (1881), The Gay Science (1882), and Beyond Good and Evil (1886) are chains of fragments or aphorisms. Nietzsche’s philosophy also found expression in poetry, legends, and myths (for example, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 1883–84). He endeavored to overcome the rationalism of the philosophical method, presenting his concepts not as a system but as polysemantic symbols. This is true of his concepts of “life” and the “will to power” (being in its dynamic quality), passion, the instinct for self-preservation, and the energy moving society.
Nietzsche’s philosophy combines heterogeneous, often conflicting motifs into a whole that is often difficult to unravel. His anarchistic criticism of modern bourgeois reality and culture is expressed in a universal despair in life, a despair recognized by Nietzsche as a manifestation of “nihilism.” In his myth of the “overman,” or “superman,” he presents the cult of a strong personality who overcomes the bourgeois world individualistically, operates beyond all moral norms, and is extremely cruel. But this cult of the overman is combined with the romantic idea of the “man of the future” who has left behind the contemporary world with its sins and falseness.
In trying to affirm the existence of a “natural,” completely unfettered course of life in opposition to existing social relations, Nietzsche undertook an ultraradical critique of all values, including Christianity (The Antichrist, 1888). He attacked democratic ideology for reinforcing the “herd instinct,” and he preached aesthetic “immoralism.” Nietzsche’s world view approached the fin-de-siècle mood of “decadence” (neoromanticism, literary impressionism). This tendency is especially noticeable in his lyric poetry.
Although contradictory and defying the unity of a system, Nietzsche’s philosophy influenced various trends in 20th-century bourgeois thought, including the “philosophy of life,” pragmatism, and existentialism, each of which has its own interpretation of his thought. He exerted considerable influence on turn-of-the-century writers, both in Germany (S. George, H. Mann, T. Mann, H. Hesse, and G. Benn) and in other countries—K. Hamsun (Norway), A. Strindberg (Sweden), A. Gide (France), U. Sinclair and J. London (USA), and Iqbal (India). He also influenced the Russian symbolists V. Ivanov, A. Belyi, and V. Briusov. His work, which was essentially a revelation of self and an affirmation of the tendencies of bourgeois culture in the epoch of imperialism, was a prototype of reactionary tendencies in 20th-century philosophy, politics, and morals. The ideology of German fascism used Nietzschean philosophy. Beginning with F. Mehring and G. V. Plekhanov, Marxist philosophers have sharply and consistently criticized the ideas of Nietzsche and Nietzschean philosophy.
WORKSWerke, vols. 1–19. Leipzig, 1903–13. Vol. 20 (index). Leipzig, 1926.
Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe in 30 Bd., vols. 1—. Buffalo, N.Y., 1967.
Gesammelte Briefe, 2nd ed., vols. 1–5. Leipzig, 1902–09.
In Russian translation:
Poln. sobr. soch., vols. 1–9. Moscow, 1909–12.
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Faiginger, G. Nitsshe kak filosof. Moscow, 1902.
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Müller-Lauter, W. Nietzsche. Berlin-New York, 1971.
A. V. MIKHAILOV