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Nietzsche has the reputation of being the most provocative and controversial of all philosophers. What he demanded of humanity was something tremendous: that we should develop beyond ourselves and become "overmen". Formerly, we could draw a meaning for our lives from religion. But this is no longer possible because, as Nietzsche says: "God is dead!" This brief dictum has echoed around the world. Man, Nietzsche argues, has freed himself, with the rise of the natural sciences, from all belief in a "beyond" and now has, for the first time, the chance to take his existence into his own hands. Most human beings, however, prove unable to fill the gap in their lives that the "death of God" has left. They continue to seek salvation in such new gods, or idols, as nationalism, socialism, racism, or capitalism. But instead of slipping into the blind worship of these new gods, or "godlets", we need - so argues Nietzsche - rather to trust in our own selves, allow our own "will to power" to unfold, and become "overmen". Just as flowers stretch up toward the sun and animals seek constantly after nourishment, we human beings too must struggle every day to secure our lives and render them richer and more intense. In daily life, conducting this struggle must always mean, in part, conducting it at other people's expense: whoever, for example, applies for a job as a manager and gets it will necessarily cause bitter disappointment among those who applied and failed. "One furthers one's ego always at the expense of others", writes Nietzsche. But "will to power" finds a whole series of very different forms of expression. The artist, the father of a family, the politician, the businessman, the employee, indeed every one of us individually, must find his or her own highly personal and particular path to self-development. "Become who you are!" "Nietzsche in 60 Minutes" explains his exhilarating philosophy step by step making use of some 160 of the most important passages from his works.
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My thanks go to Rudolf Aichner for his tireless critical editing; Silke Ruthenberg for the fine graphics; Lydia Pointvogl, Eva Amberger, Christiane Hüttner, and Dr. Martin Engler for their excellent work as manuscript readers and sub-editors; Prof. Guntram Knapp, who first inspired me with enthusiasm for philosophy; and Angela Schumitz, who handled in the most professional manner, as chief editorial reader, the production of both the German and the English editions of this series of books.
My special thanks go to my translator
Dr Alexander Reynolds.
Himself a philosopher, he not only translated the original German text into English with great care and precision but also, in passages where this was required in order to ensure clear understanding, supplemented this text with certain formulations adapted specifically to the needs of English-language readers.
Nietzsche’s Great Discovery
Nietzsche’s Central Idea
The Dionysian Principle and the Apollonian Principle
The Emergence of Slave Morality: How Judaism and Christianity Betrayed Life
The Origin of Bad Conscience
Truth as “Beams and Boards” and Illusion of Language
Will to Power as the Essential Feature of All Life
The Overman – Facets of a New Art of Living
The Eternal Recurrence
Of What Use Is Nietzsche’s Discovery for Us Today?
Is Nietzsche Right? – Is Humanity Not Complete Without “Evil”?
The Dionysian Life – Trusting One’s Feelings
Become Who You Are!
The Three Steps on the Path to the Overman
Say “Yes” to Life – Embrace Life’s Joys and Also Its Sorrows!
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) has the reputation of being the darkest, most radical and most controversial of all philosophers. The darkest because he was deeply sceptical of all that had hitherto given solace, moral security and hope to human beings; the most radical because he dared to tear up by the roots all that had seemed, for centuries, most valid and most permanent; and the most controversial because his provocative philosophy has, even today, as many rancorous critics as it has passionate adherents.
Nietzsche’s work is more than just a milestone in the history of philosophy. It is like a flash of summer lightning, a sea-change in humankind’s own perception of itself. Its core idea has imbedded itself deep in modern consciousness. In just one short sentence he enunciated what has remained the abiding problem of all Western civilization right up to the present day:
The phrase is known all around the world, even to those who know nothing of Nietzsche. Because with it Nietzsche gives concise expression to a feeling that seized humankind in the age that saw the rise of the natural sciences and has not let go of us since. It is a feeling that culminates in the atheism prevalent in modern mass society and forces us to pose entirely anew the question of what sense and meaning our lives can have. But this “death of God” that Nietzsche proclaims in his magnum opus of 1885, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, is not a single event but rather a process which throws its own shadows ahead of it:
For almost two thousand years Christianity seemed able to explain the whole nature of the world; for the same long period human beings could feel secure in the sense of being God’s creatures. Nietzsche was one of the first to sense that this old worldpicture was about to suffer an irrevocable collapse.
Nietzsche’s contemporary Darwin had just recently developed his theory of evolution, according to which Man was no creature of God but just a higher mammal. Marx, around this time, was exhorting humanity to finally take its destiny into its own hands. Physics, medicine and the other natural sciences, meanwhile, were going from strength to strength. All that was not scientifically provable was called into question: divine creation; immaculate conception; finally, even God Himself. But it was not just scientists and researchers, Nietzsche argues, but all of us together who gradually took away from God His world-explaining power:
Nietzsche calls himself an “immoralist” and an “anti-Christian”. On one possible English rendering of the title of one of his major late works, he even goes so far to calls himself “the Antichrist”. But his core idea consists in more than just a critique of Christianity and morality. Rather, he is interested above all in one question: how is humankind to go on if that belief in a “beyond” which had sustained us is doomed to lose all force in the two centuries to come? What happens when nihilism gains the ascendancy and the spiritual shelter provided by religion is irrecoverably lost?
What Nietzsche poses here is the great question of identity in the age of “the advent of nihilism”. With the “death of God” such principles as the Ten Commandments, piety and humility also lose their power to order and structure our world. Are there any values left, then, that are worth living and dying for?
It is because this question is such a burningly topical one that Nietzsche is often called the first “post-modern” thinker. Why “post-modern”? The modern age was still sustained by the optimism and the expectation of progress of the Enlightenment. Such thinkers as Rousseau, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Kant, Locke and Hume had already aspired to free humankind of superstition and religious humility. But Nietzsche is more radical. He goes one large step farther and asks: what is to happen once we have freed ourselves of these things? Once all mythical and religious world-images have been destroyed, what is it that still gives life meaning? His answer is a rigorously consistent one:
We have, then, the “tremendous task” of setting for ourselves those goals which shall, in future, be pursued across the whole earth. This is the great freedom that has become ours after “the death of God”. But – so Nietzsche argues – instead of becoming aware of this freedom and making use of it, we human beings have immediately set about making for ourselves new gods, new idols, which promise us the shelter and directing force we have lost. The “small-minded” – so Nietzsche’s prognosis – will turn, in lieu of the divine, to hundreds of thousands of more material promises of salvation. He saw the future as one in which people would run blindly after nationalism, socialism, racism or the supposed “blessings” of modern capitalism and democracy. Nietzsche’s critique of this new “idolatry” is astonishingly farsighted. As a convinced European he was particularly irked by the idolization of “Germanness” common among his contemparies and indeed by all forms of nationalism:
Besides the “bovine” nationalists there are also many “sheep”, who replace the old religion with a leader whom they can blindly follow:
Nietzsche describes the masses who trot along, in this way, after a leader who has arisen from their midst as like arithmetical “zeros”:
Anti-Semitism too Nietzsche saw as an attempt by the “small-minded” to give meaning to their lives, an illusory elevation of their own existences:
There can, then, be no doubt. Nietzsche was many things, but he was not a Nazi. The only thing that Hitler can genuinely be said to have “taken over” from Nietzsche was his walking stick, which Nietzsche’s sister, Elisabeth Foerster-Nietzsche, gave to the dictator as a gift many years after the philosopher’s death. As for Nietzsche’s writings, Hitler never read a word of them.
But just as Nietzsche condemned nationalism and anti-Semitism, he also saw a great danger in socialism. For socialism too is a new “promise of salvation” offered to those who feel themselves uprooted and unguided after “the death of God”. At the end of this path, however, lies not any promised redemption through a “worker’s paradise” but rather the suppression of all individuality:
Nietzsche develops an equally clear and frank criticism of the addiction to consumer goods that has arisen in the modern age and of the capitalist mode of production associated with it. All values – finally even humankind itself – are subordinated to the law of supply and demand:
The “curse of money”, the consumption of commodities and the search for short-lived pleasures combine to create a new “idol”, which is worshipped by the entire Western world:
But it is, argues Nietzsche, servile and cowardly to worship new gods and idols, as soon as “God is dead”, and to seek comfort in those earthly promises of salvation that are nationalism, anti-Semitism, socialism or capitalism. Instead, he urges us to take the radical step of directing rather to ourselves the question of “where we go from here”:
Nietzsche’s answer to this question is an unequivocal “yes”. After the “death of God” we must somehow muster the courage to form and shape our lives solely on our own responsibilities. This means living without allowing our choices to be determined or dictated by those ideologies that have come to take the place of the old gods and idols. In other words, we must draw, in our lives, on our own inner resources alone. What Nietzsche calls “the advent of nihilism” is a challenge that can only be overcome if we step into the place left empty by God. This means raising ourselves up into a new and higher form of being which will no longer be that of Man but rather of what Nietzsche calls “the overman”:
The overman is a being who takes full and complete responsibility for himself. But in order to be able to take on this great task of creating one’s own sense and meaning, Man as he exists first needs to develop his own capacities and potentialities to the point where such a new personality-type becomes possible. This philosophical conception of an “overman” was so bold and flew so strongly in the face of all that had come before it that it seemed, to many, like madness. It seemed so not just to those who, in Nietzsche’s day, still spoke for the Christian churches but even to the most “enlightened” and religiously sceptical of the philosopher’s contemporaries. Never before had anyone dared to pose in so emphatic a form the demand that humankind embrace the idea of its developing beyond itself:
Nietzsche urges us to set out upon a dangerous path. On the one hand, we must neither deny nor lose contact with our valuable instincts and our animal origins; but on the other hand, we must look to the future and see to it that we develop further into a new and higher type of human being:
Nietzsche himself described himself as someone who “philosophized with a hammer”, destroying the old in order to make room for the new. But what is this “new” that lies beyond all ideology and idol-worship? How exactly are we to transcend the condition of humanity as we have known it up until now? Nietzsche’s answer to this question is impressively clear and succinct:
Nietzsche does not conceive of this “becoming who one is” in terms merely of one’s “finding oneself”. Rather, above and beyond this, it is a matter of taking a second, much more important step of unconditionally acknowledging, and committing oneself to developing, one’s own potential. For Nietzsche, this means above all that the individual must, no matter how great the resistance encountered, remain resolved to live out the (as he called them) “Dionysically” creative aspects of his own being, his intuitions, and his own noblest and highest goals. It means also that the individual must learn, outside of and above that “herd-animal morality” that has long been synonymous with morality per se, to trust once again in his own nature and destiny, which consists in what Nietzsche calls “will to power”. Nietzsche sees will to power as a kind of primal force which has pervaded the coming-to-be and passing-away of the world since the very beginning and which is even operative in plants and animals:
For millennia, the natural unfolding of will to power was hindered and suppressed by Christianity. Now, however – so argues Nietzsche – it is high time that Man accept once again his own true nature. And part of this true nature are the aggressive, conquering, supposedly “evil” aspects of the human character. If we do not acknowledge and affirm also these aspects of ourselves, we are only, as it were, “half-humans”. Nietzsche urges on us, then, the “affirmation of life, life whole and not denied or in part” 21:
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