Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (October 15, 1844 August 25, 1900) was a nineteenth-century German philosopher and classical philologist. He wrote critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy, and science, using a distinctive German language style and displaying a fondness for metaphor and aphorism. Nietzsche's influence remains substantial within and beyond philosophy, notably in existentialism and postmodernism. His style and radical questioning of the value and objectivity of truth raise considerable problems of interpretation, generating an extensive secondary literature in both continental and analytic philosophy. Nevertheless, some of his key ideas include interpreting tragedy as an affirmation of life, an eternal recurrence (which numerous commentators have re-interpreted), a rejection of Platonism, and a repudiation of both Christianity (especially 19th-century) and Egalitarianism (especially in the form of Democracy and Socialism).
Nietzsche began his career as a classical philologist before turning to philosophy. At the age of 24 he was appointed to the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel (the youngest individual ever to have held this position), but resigned in 1879 due to health problems, which would plague him for most of his life. In 1889 he exhibited symptoms of serious mental illness, living out his remaining years in the care of his mother and sister until his death in 1900.
Nietzsche attended a boys' school and later a private school, where he became friends with Gustav Krug and Wilhelm Pinder, both of whom came from respected families. In 1854 he began to attend the Domgymnasium in Naumburg, but after he showed particular talents in music and language, the internationally-recognized Schulpforta admitted him as a pupil, and there he continued his studies from 1858 to 1864. Here he became friends with Paul Deussen and Carl von Gersdorff. He also found time to work on poems and musical compositions. At Schulpforta, Nietzsche received an important introduction to literature, particularly that of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and for the first time experienced a distance from his family life in a small-town Christian environment.
After graduation in 1864 Nietzsche commenced studies in theology and classical philology at the University of Bonn. For a short time he and Deussen became members of the Burschenschaft Frankonia. After one semester (and to the anger of his mother) he stopped his theological studies and lost his faith. This may have happened in part due to his reading about this time of David Strauss' Life of Jesus, which had a profound effect on the young Nietzsche, though in an essay entitled Fate and History written in 1862, Nietzsche had already argued that historical research had discredited the central teachings of Christianity. Nietzsche then concentrated on studying philology under Professor Friedrich Wilhelm Ritschl, whom he followed to the University of Leipzig the next year. There he became close friends with fellow-student Erwin Rohde. Nietzsche's first philological publications appeared soon after.
In 1865 Nietzsche thoroughly studied the works of Arthur Schopenhauer. In 1866 he read Friedrich Albert Lange's History of Materialism. His encounter with Schopenhauer's ideas had an influence on him until the end of his sentient life. Lange's descriptions of Kant's anti-materialistic philosophy, the rise of European Materialism, Europe's increased concern with science, Darwin's theory, and the general rebellion against tradition and authority greatly intrigued Nietzsche. The cultural environment encouraged him to expand his horizons beyond philology and to continue his study of philosophy.
In 1867 Nietzsche signed up for one year of voluntary service with the Prussian artillery division in Naumburg. However, a bad riding accident in March 1868 left him unfit for service. Consequently Nietzsche turned his attention to his studies again, completing them and first meeting with Richard Wagner later that year.
Due in part to Ritschl's support, Nietzsche received a generous offer to become professor of classical philology at the University of Basel before having completed his doctorate or certificate for teaching. This opportunity came at a time when Nietzsche was in fact considering giving up philology for science. Before moving to Basel, Nietzsche renounced his Prussian citizenship: for the rest of his life he remained officially stateless.
Nevertheless, Nietzsche served in the Prussian forces during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 to 1871 as a medical orderly. In his short time in the military he experienced much, and witnessed the traumatic effects of battle. He also contracted diphtheria and dysentery. Walter Kaufmann speculates that he might also have contracted syphilis along with his other infections at this time, and some biographers speculate that syphilis caused his eventual madness, though there is some dispute on this matter. On returning to Basel in 1870 Nietzsche observed the establishment of the German Empire and the following era of Otto von Bismarck as an outsider and with a degree of skepticism regarding its genuineness. At the University, he delivered his inaugural lecture, "Homer and Classical Philology". Nietzsche also met Franz Overbeck, a professor of theology, who remained his friend throughout his life. Afrikan Spir, a little-known Russian philosopher and author of Thought and Reality (1873), and his colleague the historian Jacob Burckhardt, whose lectures Nietzsche frequently attended, began to exercise significant influence on Nietzsche during this time.
Nietzsche had already met Richard Wagner in Leipzig in 1868, and (some time later) Wagner's wife Cosima. Nietzsche admired both greatly, and during his time at Basel frequently visited Wagner's house in Tribschen in the Canton of Lucerne. The Wagners brought Nietzsche into their most intimate circle, and enjoyed the attention he gave to the beginning of the Bayreuth Festival Theatre. In 1870 he gave Cosima Wagner the manuscript of 'The Genesis of the Tragic Idea' as a birthday gift. In 1872 Nietzsche published his first book, The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music. However, his colleagues in the field of classical philology, including Ritschl, expressed little enthusiasm for the work, in which Nietzsche forewent a precise philological method to employ a style of philosophical speculation. In a polemic, Philology of the Future, Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff dampened the book's reception and increased its notoriety. In response, Rohde (by now a professor in Kiel) and Wagner came to Nietzsche's defense. Nietzsche remarked freely about the isolation he felt within the philological community and attempted to attain a position in philosophy at Basel, though unsuccessfully.
Between 1873 and 1876, Nietzsche published separately four long essays: David Strauss: the Confessor and the Writer, On the Use and Abuse of History for Life, Schopenhauer as Educator, and Richard Wagner in Bayreuth. (These four later appeared in a collected edition under the title, Untimely Meditations.) The four essays shared the orientation of a cultural critique, challenging the developing German culture along lines suggested by Schopenhauer and Wagner. Starting in 1873 Nietzsche also accumulated the notes later posthumously published as Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks. During this time, in the circle of the Wagners, Nietzsche met Malwida von Meysenbug and Hans von Bülow, and also began a friendship with Paul Rée, who in 1876 influenced him in dismissing the pessimism in his early writings. However, his disappointment with the Bayreuth Festival of 1876, where the banality of the shows and the baseness of the public repelled him, caused him in the end to distance himself from Wagner.
With the publication of Human, All Too Human in 1878, a book of aphorisms on subjects ranging from metaphysics to morality and from religion to the sexes, Nietzsche's reaction against the pessimistic philosophy of Wagner and Schopenhauer became evident. Nietzsche's friendship with Deussen and Rohde cooled as well. In 1879, after a significant decline in health, Nietzsche had to resign his position at Basel. (Since his childhood, various disruptive illnesses had plagued him — moments of shortsightedness practically to the degree of blindness, migraine headaches and violent stomach attacks. The 1868 riding accident and diseases in 1870 may have aggravated these persistent conditions, which continued to affect him through his years at Basel, forcing him to take longer and longer holidays until regular work became impractical.)
Nietzsche occasionally returned to Naumburg to visit his family, and, especially during this time, he and his sister had repeated periods of conflict and reconciliation. He lived on his pension from Basel, but also received aid from friends. A past student of his, Peter Gast (born Heinrich Köselitz), became a sort of private secretary to Nietzsche. To the end of his life, Gast and Overbeck remained consistently faithful friends. Malwida von Meysenbug remained like a motherly patron even outside the Wagner circle. Soon Nietzsche made contact with the music-critic Carl Fuchs. Nietzsche stood at the beginning of his most productive period. Beginning with Human, All Too Human in 1878, Nietzsche would publish one book (or major section of a book) each year until 1888, his last year of writing, during which he completed five.
In 1882 Nietzsche published the first part of The Gay Science. That year he also met Lou Andreas Salomé through Malwida von Meysenbug and Paul Rée. Nietzsche and Salomé spent the summer together in Tautenburg in Thuringia, often with Nietzsche's sister Elisabeth as chaperone. However, Nietzsche regarded Salomé less as an equal partner than as a gifted student. Salomé reports that he asked her to marry him and that she refused, though the reliability of her reports of events has come into question. Nietzsche's relationship with Rée and Salomé broke up in the winter of 1882/1883, partially due to intrigues conducted by Nietzsche's sister Elisabeth. In the face of renewed fits of illness, in near isolation after a falling-out with his mother and sister regarding Salomé, and plagued by suicidal thoughts, Nietzsche fled to Rapallo, where he wrote the first part of Thus Spoke Zarathustra in only ten days.
After severing his philosophical ties with Schopenhauer and his social ties with Wagner, Nietzsche had few remaining friends. Now, with the new style of Zarathustra, his work became even more alienating and the market received it only to the degree required by politeness. Nietzsche recognized this and maintained his solitude, even though he often complained about it. His books remained largely unsold. In 1885 he printed only 40 copies of the fourth part of Zarathustra, and distributed only a fraction of these among close friends, including Helene von Druskowitz.
In 1883 he tried and failed to obtain a lecturing post at the University of Leipzig. It was made clear to him that, in view of the attitude towards Christianity and the concept of God expressed in Zarathustra, he had become in effect unemployable at any German University. The subsequent "feelings of revenge and resentment", so contrary to his nature, embittered him. "And hence my rage since I have grasped in the broadest possible sense what wretched means (the depreciation of my good name, my character and my aims) suffice to take from me the trust of, and therewith the possibility of obtaining, pupils.
In 1886 Nietzsche broke with his editor, Ernst Schmeitzner, disgusted over his anti-Semitic opinions. Nietzsche saw his writings as "completely buried and unexhumeable in this anti-Semitic dump" of Schmeitzner — associating the editor with a movement that should be "utterly rejected with cold contempt by every sensible mind". He then printed Beyond Good and Evil at his own expense, and issued in 1886-87 second editions of his earlier works (The Birth of Tragedy, Human, All Too Human, Daybreak, and The Gay Science), accompanied by new prefaces in which he re-read his earlier works. Hereafter, he saw his work as completed for the time and hoped that soon a readership would develop. In fact, interest in Nietzsche's thought did increase at this time, even if rather slowly and hardly perceived by him. During these years Nietzsche met Meta von Salis, Carl Spitteler, and also Gottfried Keller. In 1886 his sister Elisabeth married the anti-Semite Bernhard Förster and traveled to Paraguay to found Nueva Germania, a "Germanic" colony — a plan to which Nietzsche responded with laughter. Through correspondence, Nietzsche's relationship with Elisabeth continued on the path of conflict and reconciliation, but they would meet again only after his collapse. He continued to have frequent and painful attacks of illness, which made prolonged work impossible. In 1887 Nietzsche wrote the polemic On the Genealogy of Morality.
During this year Nietzsche encountered the work of Fyodor Dostoevsky, with whom he felt an immediate kinship. He also exchanged letters with Hippolyte Taine, and then also with Georg Brandes. Brandes, who had started to teach the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard in the 1870s, wrote to Nietzsche asking him to read Kierkegaard, to which Nietzsche replied that he would come to Copenhagen and read Kierkegaard with him. However, before fulfilling this undertaking, he slipped too far into sickness and madness. In the beginning of 1888, in Copenhagen, Brandes delivered one of the first lectures on Nietzsche's philosophy.
Although Nietzsche had in 1886 announced (at the end of On The Genealogy of Morality) a new work with the title The Will to Power: Attempt at a Revaluation of All Values, he eventually seems to have abandoned this particular approach and instead used some of the draft passages to compose Twilight of the Idols and The Antichrist (both written in 1888).
His health seemed to improve, and he spent the summer in high spirits. In the fall of 1888 his writings and letters began to reveal a higher estimation of his own status and "fate." He overestimated the increasing response to his writings, especially to the recent polemic, The Case of Wagner. On his 44th birthday, after completing Twilight of the Idols and The Antichrist, he decided to write the autobiography Ecce Homo. In the preface to this work — which suggests Nietzsche was well aware of the interpretive difficulties his work would generate — he declares, "Hear me! For I am such and such a person. Above all, do not mistake me for someone else. In December, Nietzsche began a correspondence with August Strindberg, and thought that, short of an international breakthrough, he would attempt to buy back his older writings from the publisher and have them translated into other European languages. Moreover, he planned the publication of the compilation Nietzsche Contra Wagner and of the poems that composed his collection Dionysian Dithyrambs.
On January 3, 1889, Nietzsche first exhibited apparent signs of mental illness. Two policemen approached him after he caused a public disturbance in the streets of Turin. What actually happened remains unknown, but the often-repeated tale states that Nietzsche witnessed the whipping of a horse at the other end of the Piazza Carlo Alberto, ran to the horse, threw his arms up around the horse’s neck to protect it, and collapsed to the ground.
In the following few days, Nietzsche sent short writings — known as the Wahnbriefe ("Madness Letters") — to a number of friends (including Cosima Wagner and Jacob Burckhardt). To his former colleague Burckhardt, Nietzsche wrote: "I have had Caiaphas put in fetters. Also, last year I was crucified by the German doctors in a very drawn-out manner. Wilhelm, Bismarck, and all anti-Semites abolished. Additionally, he commanded the German emperor to go to Rome in order to be shot and summoned the European powers to take military action against Germany.
On January 6, 1889 Burckhardt showed the letter he had received from Nietzsche to Overbeck. The following day Overbeck received a similarly revealing letter, and decided that Nietzsche's friends had to bring him back to Basel. Overbeck traveled to Turin and brought Nietzsche to a psychiatric clinic in Basel. By that time Nietzsche appeared fully in the grip of insanity, and his mother Franziska decided to transfer him to a clinic in Jena under the direction of Otto Binswanger. From November 1889 to February 1890 the art historian Julius Langbehn attempted to cure Nietzsche, claiming that the methods of the medical doctors were ineffective in treating Nietzsche's condition. Langbehn assumed progressively greater control of Nietzsche until his secrecy discredited him. In March 1890 Franziska removed Nietzsche from the clinic, and in May 1890 brought him to her home in Naumburg. During this process Overbeck and Gast contemplated what to do with Nietzsche's unpublished works. In January 1889 they proceeded with the planned release of Twilight of the Idols, by that time already printed and bound. In February they ordered a 50-copy private edition of Nietzsche contra Wagner, but the publisher C. G. Naumann secretly printed 100. Overbeck and Gast decided to withhold publishing The Antichrist and Ecce Homo due to their more radical content. Nietzsche's reception and recognition enjoyed their first surge.
In 1893 Nietzsche's sister Elisabeth returned from Nueva Germania (Paraguay) following the suicide of her husband. She read and studied Nietzsche's works, and piece by piece took control of them and of their publication. Overbeck eventually suffered dismissal, and Gast finally co-operated. After the death of Franziska in 1897 Nietzsche lived in Weimar, where Elisabeth cared for him and allowed people, including Rudolf Steiner, to visit her uncommunicative brother. Elisabeth at one point went so far as to employ Steiner as a tutor to help her to understand her brother's philosophy. Steiner abandoned the attempt after only a few months, declaring that it was impossible to teach her anything about philosophy.
Commentators have frequently diagnosed a syphilitic infection as the cause of the illness. While most commentators regard Nietzsche's breakdown as unrelated to his philosophy, some, including Georges Bataille and René Girard, argue that his breakdown may have been caused by a psychological maladjustment brought on by his philosophy. At least one study has suggested that brain cancer (rather than syphilis) led to his breakdown and killed him; others have classified Nietzsche's "madness" as frontotemporal dementia.
In 1898 and 1899 Nietzsche suffered from at least two strokes which partially paralyzed him and left him unable to speak or walk. After contracting pneumonia in mid-August 1900 he had another stroke during the night of August 24 / August 25, and died about noon on August 25. Elisabeth had him buried beside his father at the church in Röcken. His friend, Gast, gave his funeral oration, proclaiming: "Holy be your name to all future generations! Nietzsche had written in Ecce Homo (then unpublished) of his fear that one day his name would be regarded as "holy".
Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche compiled The Will to Power from Nietzsche's unpublished notebooks, and published it posthumously. Because his sister arranged the book based on her own conflation of several of Nietzsche's early outlines, and took great liberties with the material, the consensus holds that it does not reflect Nietzsche's intent. Indeed, Mazzino Montinari, the editor of Nietzsche's Nachlass, called it a forgery in The 'Will to Power' does not exist. For example, Elisabeth removed aphorism 35 of The Antichrist, where Nietzsche rewrote a passage of the Bible (see The Will to Power and Nietzsche's criticisms of anti-Semitism and nationalism).
Even by virtue of my descent, I am granted an eye beyond all merely local, merely nationally conditioned perspectives; it is not difficult for me to be a "good European." On the other hand, I am perhaps more German than present-day Germans, mere citizens of the German Reich, could possibly be—I, the last anti-political German. And yet my ancestors were Polish noblemen: I have many racial instincts in my body from that source—who knows? [...] When I consider how often I am addressed as a Pole when I travel, even by Poles themselves, and how rarely I am taken for a German, it might seem that I have been merely externally sprinkled with what is German.A later revision of the same passage was discovered in 1969 among the papers of Peter Gast. In it Nietzsche is even more adamant about his Polish Identity. “I am a pure-blooded Polish nobleman, without a single drop of bad blood, certainly not German blood.” Nietzsche's earliest philosophical influences were Greek and American, not German. While he would later read and be influenced by Schopenhauer and Kant, some commentators have suggested that his overall knowledge of classical German philosophy was limited. Thomas Brobjer writes,
The young Nietzsche had a relatively limited knowledge of philosophy as is shown when we examine his reading. His reading was very much more extensive in the fields of classical philology and literature, including literary criticism, than in philosophy. Furthermore, the word ‘philosophy’, or ‘philosopher’, does not occur in Nietzsche’s letters at all until he has turned twenty, and in no important sense until after his discovery of Schopenhauer [...] The only classical German philosopher to be found in Nietzsche’s private library is Schopenhauer.
Nietzsche’s works did not reach a wide readership during his active writing career. However, in 1888 Georg Brandes (an influential Danish critic) aroused considerable excitement about Nietzsche through a series of lectures he gave at the university of Copenhagen. Then in 1894 Lou Andreas-Salomé published her book, Friedrich Nietzsche in seinen Werken [Friedrich Nietzsche in His Works]. Andreas-Salomé had known Nietzsche well in the early 1880s, and she returned to the subject of Nietzsche, years later, in her work Lebensrückblick – Grundriß einiger Lebenserinnerungen [Looking Back: Memoirs] (written in 1932), which covered her intellectual relationships with Nietzsche, Rilke, and Freud. Nietzsche himself had acquired the publication-rights for his earlier works in 1886 and began a process of editing and re-formulation that placed the body of his work in a more coherent perspective.
In the years after his death in 1900, Nietzsche's works became widely read, partly thanks to translations into other languages, including English. In the United States, extensive translations of Nietzsche's works appeared, translated by Walter Kaufmann, who also wrote influential interpretations of Nietzsche’s philosophy (such as Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (1950), which he revised and enlarged in numerous later editions). Many other major 20th century philosophers wrote commentaries on Nietzsche’s philosophy, including Martin Heidegger, who produced a four-volume study. An even greater number of major 20th century philosophers (particularly in the tradition of continental philosophy) cited him as a profound influence on their own philosophy — including Jean-Paul Sartre, Foucault and Derrida.
Nietzsche’s works remain controversial, and there is widespread disagreement about their interpretation and significance. Part of the difficulty in interpreting Nietzsche arises from the uniquely provocative style of his philosophical writing. Nietzsche called himself a philosopher of the hammer, and he frequently delivered trenchant critiques of Christianity and of great philosophers like Plato and Kant in the most offensive and blasphemous terms possible given the context of 19th century Europe. His arguments often employed ad-hominem attacks and emotional appeals, and, particularly in his aphoristic works, he often jumps from one grand assertion to another (leaping from mountain-top to mountain-top, as he describes it), with little sustained logical support or elucidation of the connection between his ideas. All these aspects of Nietzsche's style run counter to traditional values in philosophical writing, and they alienated Nietzsche from the academic establishment both in his time and, to a lesser extent, today (when some analytic philosophers tend to dismiss Nietzsche as inconsistent and speculative, producing something other than "real" philosophy).
A few of the themes that Nietzsche scholars have devoted the most attention to include Nietzsche's views on morality, his view that "God is dead" (and along with it any sort of God's-eye view on the world thus leading to perspectivism), his notions of the will to power and Übermensch, and his suggestion of eternal return.
In both these projects, Nietzsche's genealogical account of the development of master-slave morality occupies a central place. Nietzsche presents master-morality as the original system of morality—perhaps best associated with Homeric Greece. Here, value arises as a contrast between good and bad: wealth, strength, health, and power (the sort of traits found in an Homeric hero) count as good; while bad is associated with the poor, weak, sick, and pathetic (the sort of traits conventionally associated with slaves in ancient times).
Slave-morality, in contrast, can only come about as a reaction to master-morality. Nietzsche associates slave-morality with the Jewish and Christian traditions. Here, value emerges from the contrast between good and evil: good associated with charity, piety, restraint, meekness, and subservience; evil seen in the cruel, selfish, wealthy, indulgent, and aggressive. Nietzsche sees slave-morality as an ingenious ploy among the slaves and the weak (such as the Jews and Christians dominated by Rome) to overturn the values of their masters and to gain power for themselves: justifying their situation, and at the same time fixing the broader society into a slave-like life.
Nietzsche sees the slave-morality as a social illness that has overtaken Europe — a derivative and resentful value which can only work by condemning others as evil. In Nietzsche's eyes, Christianity exists in a hypocritical state wherein people preach love and kindness but find their joy in condemning and punishing others for pursuing that which morality does not allow them to act upon publicly. Nietzsche calls for the strong in the world to break their self-imposed chains and assert their own power, health, and vitality upon the world.
The statement "God is dead," occurring in several of Nietzsche's works (notably in The Gay Science), has become one of his best-known remarks. On the basis of this remark, most commentators regard Nietzsche as an atheist. In Nietzsche's view, recent developments in modern science and the increasing secularization of European society had effectively 'killed' the Christian God, who had served as the basis for meaning and value in the West for more than a thousand years.
Nietzsche claimed the 'death' of God would eventually lead to the loss of any universal perspective on things, and along with it any coherent sense of objective truth. Instead we would retain only our own multiple, diverse, and fluid perspectives. This view has acquired the name "perspectivism".
Alternatively, the death of God may lead beyond bare perspectivism to outright nihilism, the belief that nothing has any importance and that life lacks purpose. As Heidegger put the problem, "If God as the suprasensory ground and goal of all reality is dead, if the suprasensory world of the Ideas has suffered the loss of its obligatory and above it its vitalizing and upbuilding power, then nothing more remains to which man can cling and by which he can orient himself. Developing this idea, Nietzsche wrote Thus Spoke Zarathustra, therein introducing the concept of a value-creating Übermensch. According to Lampert, "the death of God must be followed by a long twilight of piety and nihilism (II. 19; III. 8). […] Zarathustra's gift of the superman is given to a mankind not aware of the problem to which the superman is the solution.
An important element of Nietzsche's philosophical outlook is the "will to power," which provides a basis for understanding motivation in human behavior. But this concept may have wider application, as Nietzsche, in a number of places, also suggests that the will to power is a more important element than pressure for adaptation or survival. In its later forms Nietzsche's concept of the will to power applies to all living things, suggesting that adaptation and the struggle to survive is a secondary drive in the evolution of animals, less important than the desire to expand one’s power. Nietzsche eventually took this concept further still, and transformed the idea of matter as centers of force into matter as centers of will to power. Nietzsche wanted to dispense with the theory of matter, which he viewed as a relic of the metaphysics of substance. One study of Nietzsche defines his fully-developed concept of the will to power as "the element from which derive both the quantitative difference of related forces and the quality that devolves into each force in this relation" revealing the will to power as "the principle of the synthesis of forces.
Nietzsche's notion of the will to power can also be viewed as a response to Schopenhauer's "will to live." Writing a generation before Nietzsche, Schopenhauer had regarded the entire universe and everything in it as driven by a primordial will to live, thus resulting in all creatures' desire to avoid death and to procreate. Nietzsche, however, challenges Schopenhauer's account and suggests that people and animals really want power; living in itself appears only as a subsidiary aim — something necessary to promote one's power. In defense of his view, Nietzsche appeals to many instances in which people and animals willingly risk their lives in order to promote their power, most notably in instances like competitive fighting and warfare. Once again, Nietzsche seems to take part of his inspiration from the ancient Homeric Greek texts he knew well: Greek heroes and aristocrats or "masters" did not desire mere living (they often died quite young and risked their lives in battle) but wanted power, glory, and greatness. In this regard he often mentions the common Greek theme of agon or contest.
In addition to Schopenhauer's psychological views, Nietzsche contrasts his notion of the will to power with many of the other most popular psychological views of his day: utilitarianism, which claims all people want fundamentally to be happy (Nietzsche responds that only the Englishman wants that), and Platonism, which claims that people ultimately want to achieve unity with the good or, in Christian neo-Platonism, with God. In each case, Nietzsche argues that the "will to power" provides a more useful and general explanation of human behavior.
Another concept important to an understanding of Nietzsche's thought is the Übermensch (variously translated – often without regard to the gender-neutrality of the German word Mensch, which means "person" – as superman, superhuman, or overman). Nietzsche contrasts the Übermensch with the Last Man, who appears as an exaggerated version of the degraded "goal" that unified the liberal democratic, bourgeois, socialist, and communist social and political programs. The plural Übermenschen never appears in Nietzsche's writings, which sharply contrasts with Nazi interpretations of his corpus. Michael Tanner suggests Übermensch means the man who lives above and beyond pleasure and suffering, treating both circumstances equally "because joy and suffering are ... inseparable.
Another of Nietzsche's ideas has become frequently cited, his notion of "eternal recurrence" or eternal return. Scholars disagree about the proper interpretation of this idea. In one view, Nietzsche proposes a thought-experiment to determine who actually leads their life in a strong and vital way: we need to imagine that this life which we lead does not simply end at our deaths, but will repeat over and over again for all eternity, each moment recurring in exactly the same way, without end. Those who recoil from this idea with horror have not yet learned to love and value life in the way that Nietzsche would admire; those who would embrace the idea cheerfully, ipso facto, lead the right sort of life.
Some scholars believe that Nietzsche meant the suggestion as something more than a thought-experiment, and that he might have taken it quite seriously as a factual premise. This would, of course, only redouble the importance of living life in such a way that one could wish its eternal repetition.
As a philologist, Nietzsche had a thorough knowledge of Greek philosophy. He read Kant, Mill and Schopenhauer, who became his main opponents in his philosophy, and later Spinoza, whom he saw as his "precursor" in some respects but as a personification of the "ascetic ideal" in others. Nietzsche expressed admiration for 17th century French moralists such as La Rochefoucauld, La Bruyère and Vauvenargues, as well as for Stendhal.
The organicism of Paul Bourget influenced Nietzsche, as did that of Rudolf Virchow and Alfred Espinas. Nietzsche early learned of Darwinism through Friedrich Lange. Notably, he also read some of the posthumous works of Charles Baudelaire, Tolstoy's My Religion, Ernest Renan's Life of Jesus and Dostoevsky's The Possessed. Nietzsche called Dostoevsky "the only psychologist from whom I have anything to learn. Comments in several passages suggest that he responded strongly and favorably to the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson. While Nietzsche never mentions Max Stirner, similarities in their ideas have prompted a minority of interpreters to suggest he both read and was influenced by him.
By the First World War, however, he had acquired a reputation as an inspiration for right-wing German militarism. German soldiers even received copies of Thus Spoke Zarathustra as gifts during World War I. The Dreyfus Affair provides another example of his reception: the French anti-semitic Right labelled the Jewish and Leftist intellectuals who defended Alfred Dreyfus as "Nietzscheans".
Political dictators of the twentieth century, including Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini read Nietzsche. The Nazis made use of Nietzsche's philosophy, but did so selectively; this association with National Socialism caused Nietzsche's reputation to suffer following the Second World War.
Nevertheless, Nietzschean ideas exercised a major influence on several prominent European philosophers, including Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger, Albert Camus, and Jean-Paul Sartre. In the Anglo-American tradition, the scholarship of Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale rehabilitated Nietzsche as a philosopher, and analytic philosophers such as Alexander Nehamas and Brian Leiter continue to study him today. A vocal minority of recent Nietzschean interpreters (Bruce Detwiler, Fredrick Appel, Domenico Losurdo, Abir Taha) have contested what they consider the popular but erroneous egalitarian misrepresentation of Nietzsche's "aristocratic radicalism".