Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) was a German philosopher who has played a major role in contemporary intellectual development. Descended through both of his parents from Christian ministers, Nietzsche was brought up in a pious German Lutheran home and was known as “the little Jesus” by his schoolmates. He studied theology at the University of Bonn and philology at Leipzig, becoming an atheist in the process. At the age of twentyfour he was appointed professor of classical philology at the University of Basel in Switzerland, where he taught for ten years until forced by ill health to retire. Eventually he became mentally ill. He died on August 25, 1900.
Nietzsche believes that the fundamental creative force that motivates all creation is the will to power. We all seek to affirm ourselves, to flourish and dominate. Since we are essentially unequal in ability, it follows that the fittest will survive and be victorious in the contest with the weaker and the baser. There is great aesthetic beauty in the noble spirit coming to fruition, but this process is hampered by Judeo-Christian morality, which Nietzsche labels “slave morality.” Slave morality, which is the invention of jealous priests, envious and resentful of the power of the noble, prescribes that we give up the will to power and excellence and become meek and mild, that we believe the lie of all humans having equal worth. In our reading, Nietzsche also refers to this as the ethics of resentment.
Nietzsche's ideas of inegalitarian ethics are based on his notion of the death of God. God plays no vital role in our culture—except as a protector of the slave morality, including the idea of equal worth of all persons. If we recognize that there is no rational basis for believing in God, we will see that the whole edifice of slave morality must crumble and with it the notion of equal worth. In its place will arise the morality of the noble person based on the virtues of the high courage, discipline, and intelligence, in the pursuit of selfaffirmation and excellence.
We begin with some aphorisms, then his famous description of the madman who announces the death of God (from Joyful Wisdom), and then to longer passages from Beyond Good and Evil, Twilight of the Idols, and The Anti-Christ.
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Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Complete Works of Nietzsche, ed. Oscar Levy (Foulis, 1910).
Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Portable Nietzsche, ed. Walter Kaufmann (Viking Press, 1954).