Nietzsche, Friedrich (Wilhelm)


Nietzsche, Friedrich (Wilhelm)

biographical name

(born Oct. 15, 1844, Röcken, Saxony, Prussia—died Aug. 25, 1900, Weimar, Thuringian States) German-Swiss philosopher and writer, one of the most influential of modern thinkers. The son of a Lutheran pastor, he studied at Bonn and Leipzig and at age 24 became professor of Classical philology at the University of Basel. He became close to the older Richard Wagner, in whose operas he saw the potential for the revival of Western civilization, but broke with Wagner angrily in 1876. His Birth of Tragedy (1872) contained major insights into ancient Greek drama; like Untimely Meditations (1873), it is dominated by a Romantic perspective also influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer. Mental and physical problems forced him to leave his position in 1878, and he spent 10 years attempting to recover his health in various resorts while continuing to write prolifically. His works from Human, All Too Human (1878) to The Gay Science (1882) extol reason and science, experiment with literary genres, and express his emancipation from his earlier Romanticism. His mature writings, particularly Beyond Good and Evil (1886), A Genealogy of Morals (1887), and Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883–92), were preoccupied with the origin and function of values in human life. If, as he believed, life neither possesses nor lacks intrinsic value and yet is always being evaluated, then such evaluations can usefully be read as symptoms of the evaluator's condition. He fulminated against Christianity and announced the death of God. His major breakdown in 1889 marked the virtual end of his productive life. He was revered by Adolf Hitler for his dislike of democracy and his heroic ideal of the Übermensch (Superman), though the Nazis perverted Nietzsche's thought and ignored much in it that was hostile to their aims. His analyses of the root motives and values that underlie traditional Western religion, morality, and philosophy affected generations of theologians, philosophers, psychologists, poets, novelists, and playwrights.

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