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Nietzsche: An Introduction

$268 Limited inc GST / $¤,241
Nietzsche: An Introduction

<p>We will undertake a comprehensive introduction Nietzsche’s most famous for his theories: Nihilism; The Eternal Return; Will to Power; Master/ Slave Morality; God is dead; and Free Spirits. We will


We will undertake a comprehensive introduction Nietzsche’s most famous for his theories: Nihilism; The Eternal Return; Will to Power; Master/ Slave Morality; God is dead; and Free Spirits. We will read selections from Nietzsche’s early, middle and late works; we will see the development of his ideas and grapple with his complex, poetic /philosophical style.


  • Introduction and Biography: Nietzsche’s life is not incidental to his philosophy. His purpose is to produce a philosophy to “live through”, which begs the question: was Nietzsche himself a “Free Spirit”? We will look at his life and relationships, for example his obsession with Wagner’s music and his romantic relationship with the Russian poet Lou Salome. We will then consider his placement in philosophical history. Nietzsche’s position is complex because he does not fit neatly into any of the usual categories of philosophical history. His conceptual position often takes aspects of one theory at the same time aspects of a seemingly paradoxical theory. These seeming contradictions may not be contradictions in Nietzsche’s philosophy but simply reflect the nature of human life in all its diversity, and the fact that humans can be many things at the same time.
  • The Will to Power: The Will to Power is a life force or energy which is both creative and destructive: “We should understand that the forces which give rise to the human also exceed the human, that 'will to power' makes the human, but at the same time is unmaking it”. There are many aspects of the Will to Power, the ability to make art is an important example for Nietzsche, but it also involves processes such as our ability to make promises. A promise, for Nietzsche, is the ability to hold the discharge of one’s force until later.
  • Nihilism: Nihilism is the idea that the universe does not have any intrinsic meaning, and that human society does not have any pre given teleology. This however should not lead to a pessimistic attitude to life; Nietzsche believes that nihilism frees humans from all pre given meanings and so frees them to construct their own ‘mythologies’. The interrelated question is the question of truth. We will ask: Does Nietzsche believe in ‘truth’? He both claims that ‘all truth is a lie’ and that ‘the will to power is the only truth’. What kind of truth is he talking about: Is his position perspectivism, scepticism, or relativism?
  • Romanticism: Grand Inspiration. Nietzsche is an anti-Romantic in many of his ideas, but he also shares much with the Romantic 19thc, and his first published work: The Birth of Tragedy (1872) is his most Romantic work. We will begin with an analysis of its concepts. Central to this book is the idea of beauty: “Turning to the human quest of beautifying existence, the Apollonian desire for beauty is given limit by, and gains purpose from, the Dionysian: Apollo and Dionysus become intertwined within an art form which, because it confronts and transforms humanity's predicament, allows individuals to focus upon, reconcile themselves to, and even find their life desirable in, a Becoming without Being”. Nietzsche’s theory is romantically individualist, but what role do the ‘impersonal forces of nature’ play in the creation/destruction of this individual?
  • Nietzsche and Language: Long before the so called ‘linguistic turn’ in philosophy, Nietzsche was engaged in a deep analysis of the role which language, and particularly metaphor and imagery play in constructing human understanding. He is most interested in the way metaphors become embedded in everyday speech in such a way that they form the unconscious scaffolding of thought. (Nietzsche would be interested in the way I used the word ‘scaffold’ in my sentence).
  • The Eternal Return: The Eternal Return is both a statement of the new German physics, which perhaps surprisingly Nietzsche knew well, and a psychological/philosophical idea, which poses the question: Why do I live? The Eternal Return also involves the challenge of living: “Whoever battles monsters should take care not to become a monster too, for if you stare long enough into the abyss the abyss stares back into you”. The Gay Science (1882) is the most important work in which Nietzsche explores this challenging idea.
  • Literature as Philosophy: Nietzsche’s Poetic Style. Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-1884) belongs to Nietzsche’s very productive middle period, and many consider this work to be his best. In it Nietzsche writes the ‘story’ of the prophet’s journey, it has characters, story development, and dramatic dialogue, but it also constructs concepts, proposes philosophical arguments and defends those propositions.
  • Morality – Beyond Good & Evil: Nietzsche understanding morality from a physio-psychological perspective. He develops a ‘natural history of morality’. We will base this week on Beyond Good and Evil (1886), which is Nietzsche’s most sustained work on the psychological aspects of religions and philosophies which attempt to construct an ideology of right human behavior. Of course Nietzsche does have his own ideas about how best to live, does this make him a moralist?
  • The Herd Mentality and Master/Slave Morality: The ‘herd mentality’ and ‘master/slave morality’ are two of Nietzsche’s most challenging ideas, probably because most of us do belong to the herd, and so Nietzsche’s criticisms can feel quite personal. Nietzsche gives the structure of fear and resentment as the basis of most prejudices, and defines the way in which power, as normative control, works in society. The text for this week is: On the Genealogy of Morals (1887).
  • Free Spirits: What does Nietzsche mean by ‘spirit’, is this a metaphysical concept? If so how does Nietzsche’s claim that ‘there is this world and nothing else’ contradict this concept of ‘spirit’? We will look at the seemingly paradoxical aspects of this concept, and the extent to which he is a complex materialist. At one point Nietzsche gives the metaphor of the stomach to describe the spirit. If spirit is considered as a process of digestion, of assimilation and rejection, upon which the metabolism and unity of the living organism depends, then it does cover the physiological processes of the body, and the differentiation between an organism and its environment, but at the same time Nietzsche means more than this: it is also the psychology of human interactions with the world, others and themselves. To be a ‘free spirit’ for Nietzsche is not to transcend the world, but to learn how to use it properly.

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Have an understanding of the history of Romantic Philosophy in the 19th c.
  2. Understand the concepts in the philosophy on Nietzsche.
  3. Critically assess the ideas morality and politics throughs Nietzsche’s point of view.
  4. Gain a deeper understanding of your society through the ideas of the philosophers in the course.