Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche: God is dead, and this guy killed him

imagesNietzsche was one of the most radical philosophers of the nineteenth century. He is famous for his provocative style of writing, which not only explains his ideas, but take the reader on a journey into his twisted and lavish mind. Credited as one of the first existentialists, Nietzsche’s criticisms on culture, religion and morality are considered some of the most substantial works of his century. It’s time to learn about one of history’s most interesting philosophers.

Early Life

Nietzsche first started out as a Philologist — in that time period Philology had to do with translating classical and biblical texts. Nietzsche entered the military at age 23. He returned home not very long after with a chest injury. Later on, He met the composer Richard Wagner and began a close relationship with him. Nietzsche had been playing piano and writing music since he was a young teenager, and even twenty years after meeting him Nietzsche still mentioned Wagner’s cultural significance in his writings. He accepted a position Basal as a Philology professor. He would soon become involved with the field of philosophy, writing book after book challenging the modern world with his moral quandaries.

Writing style and Existentialism

Nietzsche, as I said before, is famous for his writing style. He is very fun to read as you can see he puts full emotion into his writing. Nietzsche writes in short excerpts that deal with specific ideas–sometimes they are 4 pages, sometimes they are 3 sentences. These excerpts are called aphorisms. Many consider Nietzsche to be an existentialist since most of his writings came from the stand point of the human condition. This can be seen in his vast literature regarding morality. The term had not yet existed though and wouldn’t until Jean-Paul Sartre coined the term much later on. Nietzsche was also atheist, and criticized Christianity a lot.

“God is dead, and we killed Him.”

This famous quote actually comes up in several of his books but the first account of it appears in The Gay Science. The real quote is “God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed Him!” The meaning of this could be taken as follows: Nietzsche hated the idea that a single deity existed that it was different from us human beings. The fact that some dualistic thing existed that was all-knowing and all-powerful felt like rubbish to Nietzsche. The death of God has to deal with the fact that Christianity was no longer the single comforting factor in people’s lives. At one point all people had faith in God. Now, it seems, that this whole idealistic picture of God was falling apart. Christianity as an organized religion as well was falling apart. Less attention was being paid to God and more was being put on that of the church which got in the way of the true connection to God. organizations Nietzsche believed that more and more people would eventually realize this death in God, and move closer and closer to Nihilism — the belief in nothing. After this belief in the death of God, Nietzsche tried, to the best of his ability, to find meaning in life by looking past Christian morals.

Insanity and Death

Nietzsche, at age 34, left the teaching profession for good. His health was beginning to deteriorate. Eyesight issues, constant migraines, and occasional  vomiting began to affect his job. At the age of 37, Nietzsche met a young Russian girl studying theology and philosophy in Zurich and asked her hand in marriage. She declined, and probably single-handedly corrupted Nietzsche’s ideas of women. Nietzsche isn’t well known for his respect of females, sometimes talking down about women in his writings. At this stage of his life, he wasn’t staying in one place for a very long time. He traveled all over Europe, writing his most significant works such as: Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, and The Gay Science. By now, Nietzsche was getting worse and worse, and on the morning of January 3rd 1889, Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown after witnessing a horse being whipped. He reportedly threw his arms around the horses neck and collapsed. It is speculated that Nietzsche inherited a brain disease from his father, but no one knows for sure. He spent a year in a sanatorium afterward and then lived with his mother until she died seven years later. He then lived with his sister until his death in 1900. Nietzsche died at the age of 54 of pneumonia and a stroke.

Conclusion

Nietzsche’s legacy didn’t catch hold until much later on, but his significance is one to yet be matched. This out-spoken atheistic philosopher took the nineteenth century and picked it apart, leaving no one safe from his critique of the modern world. How Nietzsche was able to write for so long under his illness is in itself a mystery — an enchanting display of a man’s will to influence an entire century of thinkers. So, do as as Nietzsche did, and even under the most dire circumstances, keep on thinking, my friends.

Posted in Philosophy.

12 Comments

  1. Actually Nietzsche wasn’t an atheist. He did, from time to time, adopt atheistic positions when arguing, but most philosophers who closely study Nietzsche do not believe him to be an atheist. Even in the “Madman Parable” in which the famous “God is Dead” quote is introduced.

    “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him- you and I. All of us are his murders… God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”

    The madman also notes: “This deed is still more distant from them than the most distant stars- and yet they have done it themselves.”

    This Aphorism has two interpretations. (1) By their actions contemporary Europeans have “killed” the idea of God through organized religion by so removing the individual connection with God and inserting the roll of Church as mediator. -or- (2) Modern Science (remember Darwin was new at the time) has begun to erode the need for religion. I find the first interpretation more plausible because Nietzsche rarely writes literally and always invites people to misinterpret what he writes by reading it more literally. Nietzsche loved nothing more than to force people to confront the true conclusions of their actions and beliefs.

    • While I agree that Nietzsche was not a an atheist in the traditional sense of the word, I do have to say that he did not believe in God in the traditional means. After all it would be difficult to take the author of the book The Anti-Christ and call him a typical follower of God. He put atheism more into practice rather then a full belief, committing himself to reject every premise of certain things until he could find them to be inescapable. Nietzsche as you said was, and still is, one of the most misunderstood philosophers. I think every side, especially in politics, has taken Nietzsche’s writing and twisted it to mean what they want it to mean. I was hesitant to put out an article on Nietzsche for this very reason :-P.

  2. Nietzsche was an atheist. Cite one philosopher who would disagree. I could quote you passages from Ecce Homo and The Antichrist where Nietzsche says plainly that he is an atheist. Would you like me to?

    “God is dead” was taken from Hegel. It signifies the death of God in people’s lives. It’s not proof he was an atheist, but almost everything else he wrote was.

    But tell me how you could posibly believe he was not an atheist.

  3. Also, he was not an exitentialist at all. He was one of the fathers of existentialism. However he did not believe in free will to any extent that would warrant moral responsibility. This divides him with all the existentialist who cam after him. You could say he influenced a lot of them and that’s certainly true, especially in the case of Heidegger, but to say he himself was an existentialist would be flat out wrong.

    Also, the girl who wouldn’t marry him probably wasn’t the only women in his life who corrupted his attitude towards women. His Nazi sister for one other. Also, since his father and borhter had died when he was young he grew up in a household of all pious women.

    Also the “excerpt” writing style is called aphorism. You have most of your facts right, but overall this essay is very uninformed and often times misinformed.

    • This website is designed to introduce people to topics in philosophy, not over investigate them. If you read what I actually wrote, I said he is “considered to be one of the first existentialists” and many that “many consider him to be existentialist because… etc..” There are a thousand ways to argue existentialism. Some even claim that existentialism is exclusively associated with Satre. If you want to also argue the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy against him being an existentialist go ahead. Yet, No where in my post did I say Nietzsche IS an existentialist.

      I also misunderstand what you mean by Nazi sister, as the Nazi’s didn’t exist in the the late 1800’s. To say that, my dear commenter, would be flat out wrong. While I agree that there are possibly more than one events involving woman in his life that altered his ideals on women, I am not going to deny that the women he asked to marry him wasn’t one of the most influential. Also, the sentence is “She declined, and probably single-handedly corrupted Nietzsche’s ideas of women. ” Not the use of the word PROBABLY.

      The beauty of philosophy is that we can interpret and argue things differently. Like I said to the poster before you, Nietzsche and all of his works are very controversial. I fail to see how my post is uninformed and misinformed. Once again, this is a blog made for those interested in being introduced to ideas within philosophy. In lieu of writing a 3,000 word article on every fact about Nietzsche, I believed that writing 800 words covering the most important aspects of his life would suffice the average reader and not appear daunting to someone looking for a brief description of his life and work.

    • Yes, Nietzsche’s sister became a nazi later on in the 1900’s, but not while he was alive. Nietzsche was on very good terms with his sister until she left to marry her anti-semitic husband. This did in fact aggravate Nietzsche. After his collapse, she did return to care for him until death. Also, she did do a lot of work publishing Nietzsche’s books and contributing to his fame in Germany.

  4. “Yes, Nietzsche’s sister became a nazi later on in the 1900?s, but not while he was alive. Nietzsche was on very good terms with his sister until she left to marry her anti-semitic husband. This did in fact aggravate Nietzsche. After his collapse, she did return to care for him until death. Also, she did do a lot of work publishing Nietzsche’s books and contributing to his fame in Germany.”

    Could you possible have a more superficial view of the history of his life and death. His sister came back to use his writing to support the national socialist cause, and there is very little evidence that she cared for him very well.

    Aside from that, Nietzsche was never on good terms with her. He hated women and this was in part, very likely, due to his interactions with her.

  5. Nietzsche’s ‘God is dead’ is a refutation of Hegel’s living God from which, Hegel argued, humanity is alienated. Nietzsche’s counter-argument is that mankind is not simply alienated from God, but rather, that mankind has killed God. In Nietzsche’s argument, with the death of God, moral certainty and life meaning are lost; nihilism rises as humans attempt to replace the God-given values by adopting secular ideologies which will further rip humanity apart.

    Nietzsche was no atheist. He was, however, while being an admirer of Jews, intensely anti-Christian for its ‘slave morality.’ Nietzsche was descended from a family of Lutheran ministers and attended seminary in his first year at university, intending to become a Lutheran minister in the family tradition. Nietzsche was an expert on Christianity who became very anti-Christian. To be an expert Christian critic of Christianity and observing that humanity is increasingly turning to savage secular ideologies like nationalism and socialism doesn’t make him an atheist.

    Nietzsche loved his sister, and relied upon her as a secretary with better penmanship to make his books legible for publishers. He despised her virulently anti-Semitic husband and all anti-Semitism (breaking with Wagner because of Wagner’s anti-Semitism). That she “cared” for Nietzsche after his insanity is problematic. She exploited her brilliant invalid brother, displaying him like a zoo animal for people to gawk and stare at during his growing catatonia. After his death, she wrote ‘Will to Power’ from Nietzsche’s remaining unpublished aphorisms and, as a devout Lutheran shocked by her brother’s anti-Christianity, completely excised Nietzsche’s life-long ambition in ‘Will to Power’ to replace Christianity’s slave morality with a new, life-affirming morality. As a self-promotion, she introduced ‘Will to Power’ to the Nazi Party and entertained Adolph Hitler when he visited her house, which she had made into a ‘shrine’ for her dead brother.
    Not a ‘caring’ sister; she exploited her brother’s brilliance for personal favor, and was massively intellectually dishonest in the process. Had Nietzsche lived, and considering his view of socialism and nationalism as further examples of nihilism, he very likely would have been as thunderous in his condemnation of Hitler and everything the Nazis stood for as he was of the slave morality in Christianity.

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