Friedrich Nietzsche

1844-1900. Philosopher and philologist. Born in Röcher, Prussia, son of a Lutheran minister, he showed early brilliance. Before passing his final examination he was appointed an associate professor of classical philology at the University of Basle on the recommendation of F.W. Ritschl. He resigned from this post in 1870, volunteering as a medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian war. Due to ill-health, he returned to the university the same year, finally retiring on a small pension in 1879. He went insane in January 1889. He had been “awakened” by the work of Charles Darwin* and what he took to be the nihilistic implications of evolutionary theory. Nietzsche attacked Christian dogma (e.g., in The Antichrist, 1895), but more especially he attacked the prevalent idea that Christian ethics could survive the overthrow of the Christian view of man which he believed the work of Darwin had brought about. “Supernature” is not something that men have in virtue of their creation in the divine image, it is a goal for the future. The “superman,” capable of self-mastery, must go “beyond good and evil,” beyond the values of a defunct Christianity. Several factors make Nietzsche's thought hard to grasp: his aphoristic, wide-ranging, immensely fertile work; misrepresentations of (for example) the superman idea, by fascists; and difficulties over the authenticity of several of his writings.