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Nietzsche: Philosophy in an Hour

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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      Nietzsche: Philosophy in an Hour
Paul Strathern

Philosophy for busy people. Read a succinct account of the philosophy of Neitzsche in just one hour.Philosophy has always been dangerous for philosophers; Friedrich Nietzsche made it dangerous for everyone. His ideas presaged a collective madness which was to ravage Europe throughout the first half of the twentieth century, drawing a chilling parallel with the insanity that gripped Nietzsche towards the end of his life. His philosophy is one of aphorisms and penetrating psychological insights, his major concept being the Will to Power – a notion that he saw as the basic impulse for all our acts. Viewing Christianity as a subtle perversion of this concept Nietzsche is famous for his pronouncement that ‘God is dead’.Here is a concise, expert account of Nietzsche’s life and philosophical ideas – entertainingly written and easy to understand. Also included are selections from Nietzsche’s work, suggested further reading, and chronologies that place Nietzsche in the context of the broader scheme of philosophy.

Nietzsche

PHILOSOPHY IN AN HOUR

Paul Strathern

Contents

Cover (#u6922d2cc-09ee-59b9-94db-6e0798a44690)

Title Page (#ua503d27e-b041-5600-ae90-6688cb642f7d)

Introduction (#u8fff25ae-0d28-5edd-a0b3-120bd17c9296)

Nietzsche’s Life and Works (#u8e91e0a2-2643-5586-af41-5efd8c9ead85)

Afterword (#litres_trial_promo)

Further Information (#litres_trial_promo)

Nietzsche’s Key Philosophical Concepts (#litres_trial_promo)

From Nietzsche’s Writings (#litres_trial_promo)

Chronology of Significant Philosophical Dates (#litres_trial_promo)

Chronology of Nietzsche’s Life (#litres_trial_promo)

Chronology of Nietzsche’s Era (#litres_trial_promo)

Recommended Reading (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Author (#litres_trial_promo)

Copyright (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo)

Introduction (#ulink_d53721df-70ed-5c53-bd3e-90f2ad9b24b4)

Early in the Christian era, philosophy fell asleep. These slumbers eventually produced the philosophic dream known as Scholasticism, based on Aristotle and the teachings of the church.

Philosophy was rudely awakened from these medieval slumbers in the seventeenth century by the arrival of Descartes, with his declaration “Cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am). An age of enlightenment had begun: knowledge was based on reason. But Descartes woke up more than the sleeping scholars. He also woke up the British. They soon responded to Descartes’s rational claim by insisting that our knowledge is not based on reason but on experience. In their zeal, these British empiricists soon destroyed all semblance of reason – reducing philosophy to a series of ever-diminishing sensations. Philosophy was in danger of going to sleep again. Then, in the middle of the eighteenth century, Kant awoke from his dogmatic slumbers and produced an even greater philosophical system than the one which had put philosophy to sleep throughout the Middle Ages. It looked as if philosophy would once again soon be emulating Rip van Winkle. Hegel reacted to this soporific situation by constructing a huge systematic four-poster bed of his own. Schopenhauer decided to try a different tack and introduced a draft of chilly oriental philosophy into the Kantian bed. This had the effect of waking up the young Nietzsche, who leaped into the icy blast and began proclaiming a loud philosophy that was to keep everyone awake for a long time to come.

Nietzsche’s Life and Works (#ulink_a36764d8-bf45-5176-bc8c-85f2200043fa)

With Nietzsche philosophy becomes dangerous again, this time with a difference. In previous centuries philosophy had been dangerous for philosophers; with Nietzsche it becomes dangerous for everyone. Nietzsche ended up by going mad, and this begins to show in the tone of his later writings. But the dangerous ideas started appearing long before he went mad, and have nothing to do with clinical insanity. They presaged a collective madness which was to have horrific consequences in Europe during the first half of the twentieth century, and which shows ominous signs of recurrence today.

Nietzsche’s larger philosophical ideas are barely worthy of the name – whether he’s talking about supermen, eternal recurrence (the idea that we live our lives again and again throughout eternity), or the sole purpose of civilisation (to produce “great men” such as Goethe, Napoleon, and himself). His use of the Will to Power as a universal explanation is either simplistic or meaningless – even Freud’s monism is more subtle, and Schopenhauer’s less specific concept is more convincing. Like any good conspiracy theory, Nietzsche’s doctrine of the all-pervasive Will to Power contains the usual element of paranoia. But Nietzsche’s actual philosophising is as brilliant, persuasive, and incisive as any before or since. When reading him you get the exhilarating feeling that philosophy actually matters (which is one of the reasons why he is so dangerous). And when he used the Will to Power purely as an analytic tool, it enabled him to discover constituent elements in human motives which few had formerly suspected. This allowed him to unmask the values to which these motives gave rise, and trace the development of these values over a broad historical canvas, illuminating the very foundations of our civilisation and culture.

Although Nietzsche is not entirely free from blame for the dangerous nonsense that has been spouted in his name, it must be said that most of this is a travesty of what he actually wrote. He had nothing but contempt for the protofascists of his era, anti–Semitism disgusted him, and the idea of a nation of racially pure Germans becoming a master race would certainly have exercised his sense of humour to the full. Had he lived (and retained his sanity) until the 1930s, when he would have been in his eighties, he would certainly not have remained silent about the grotesque events taking place in his homeland – like some German philosophers of that era who claimed to be his successors.

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was born October 15, 1844, in Saxony, which was by this time a province of the increasingly powerful kingdom of Prussia. Nietzsche was descended from a long line of tradesmen, including hatters and butchers, but his grandfather and father were both Lutheran pastors. Nietzsche’s father was a patriotic Prussian who held his king, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, in high esteem. When Ludwig Nietzsche’s first son was born on the king’s birthday, it was obvious that he had little chance of being named Otto. By an utterly meaningless coincidence, all three men were to die insane.

The first to go was Ludwig, who died in 1849. He was diagnosed as having “softening of the brain” – and the autopsy apparently revealed that a quarter of his brain had been affected by “softening.” This diagnosis is no longer fashionable with the medical profession, but Nietzsche’s reputable biographers are convinced that Ludwig Nietzsche’s insanity was not inherited by his son.

Nietzsche was now brought up in Naumburg in a house full of “holy women,” which included a mother, a younger sister, a maternal grandmother, and two slightly loopy maiden aunts. This appears to have affected Nietzsche’s attitude toward women in later life. At the age of thirteen he went to boarding school at nearby Pforta, one of the top private boarding schools in Germany. Nietzsche, very much the product of his pious, mollycoddled upbringing, became known as “the little pastor” and carried off all the prizes. But he was so brilliant that eventually he couldn’t help thinking for himself. By the age of eighteen he was beginning to doubt his faith. The clear–sighted thinker couldn’t help noticing the square pegs in the round holes of the world about him. Typically this thinking appears to have been done in complete isolation. Throughout his life Nietzsche was to be influenced in his thought by very few living people (and not many dead ones either).

At the age of nineteen Nietzsche went to the University of Bonn to study theology and classical philology, with the aim of becoming a pastor. His destiny had been mapped out long beforehand by the “holy women”; but already he was beginning to experience an unconscious urge to rebellion, which resulted in a transformation of his character. On arriving at Bonn the solitary schoolboy unexpectedly became a typical gregarious student. He joined a smart fraternity, took to drinking with his fellows, and even fought a duel (the usual artificial affair, which was stopped as soon as he had received his honourable scar – a slight nick on the nose, unfortunately later obscured by the bridge of his spectacles). But this was only a necessary phase. By now Nietzsche had decided “God is dead.” (This remark, now so closely associated with Nietzsche and his philosophy, was also made by Hegel some twenty years before Nietzsche was born.) At home during the holidays he refused to take communion and announced that he would not be entering the church. The next year he decided to switch to Leipzig University, where he would drop theology and concentrate on classical philology.

Nietzsche arrived in Leipzig in October 1865, in the same month that he celebrated his twenty-first birthday. Around this time two events took place which were to transform his life. While on a sight-seeing trip to Cologne, he visited a brothel. According to Nietzsche this visit was inadvertent. On arrival he had asked a street porter to lead him to a restaurant; instead the porter took him to a brothel. The way Nietzsche later related it to a friend: “All at once I found myself surrounded by half a dozen apparitions in tinsel and gauze, gazing at me expectantly. For a brief moment I was speechless. Then I made instinctively for the only soulful thing present in the place: the piano. I played a few chords, which freed me from my paralysis, and I escaped.”

Inevitably we only have Nietzsche’s evidence regarding this unlikely episode. Whether or not the visit was quite so accidental, and whether or not Nietzsche ended up only fondling the keys of the piano, it is impossible to tell. Nietzsche was almost certainly still a virgin at the time. He was an extremely intense young man as well as being inexperienced and gauche in the ways of the world. (Yet this didn’t stop him from making pronouncements about such matters. Despite his sexual status, he earnestly informed a friend that he would need to keep three women to satisfy him.)

On later consideration Nietzsche must have decided that he had been attracted by something more than the piano. He went back to the brothel and almost certainly paid a few visits to similar establishments when he returned to Leipzig. Not long after this he discovered that he was infected. The doctor who treated him wouldn’t have told him that he had syphilis (they didn’t in those days, because it was incurable). Even so, as a result of this incident Nietzsche appears to have abstained from sexual activity with women. Despite this he continued throughout his life to make embarrassingly self-revealing remarks about them in his philosophy. “You are going to see a woman? Do not forget your whip.” (Although it’s possible that, owing to the type of bordello he had visited in Leipzig, he thought it only fair that men should be equally armed for the fray.)

The second life-changing incident took place when he entered a secondhand bookshop and came across a copy of Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation. “I took the unfamiliar book in my hands and began leafing through the pages. I don’t know what demon it was that whispered in my ear: ‘Take this book home.’ So, breaking my principle of never buying a book too quickly, I did just that. Back home I threw myself into the corner of the sofa with my new treasure, and began to let that dynamic gloomy genius work on my mind…. I found myself looking into a mirror which reflected the world, life and my own nature with terrifying grandeur…. Here I saw sickness and health, exile and refuge, Hell and Heaven.”

As a result of these astonishingly prophetic sentiments, Nietzsche became a Schopenhauerian. At this time, when Nietzsche had nothing to believe in, he needed Schopenhauer’s pessimism and detachment. According to Schopenhauer, the world is merely representation, supported by an all-pervasive evil will. This will is blind and pays no attention to the concerns of mere humanity, inflicting upon its members a life of suffering as they strive against its manifestation all around them (the world). Our only sensible course is to lessen the power of the will within us by living a life of renunciation and asceticism.

Schopenhauer’s pessimism didn’t quite fit Nietzsche’s nature, but he at once recognised its honesty and power. From now on his positive ideas would first have to be of sufficient strength to go beyond this pessimism. The way forward lay through Schopenhauer. But most of all, Schopenhauer’s concept of the fundamental role played by the will was to prove decisive. This was eventually to become transformed into Nietzsche’s Will to Power.

In 1867 Nietzsche was called up for a year’s national service in the Prussian army. The authorities were obviously fooled by the large and ferocious military mustache that Nietzsche had now cultivated beneath his rather disappointing dueling scar, and he was dispatched to the cavalry. This was a mistake. Nietzsche had great determination but a pitifully frail physique. He suffered a serious riding accident and then rode on as if nothing had happened, in the best Prussian tradition. When Private Nietzsche made it back to barracks he had to be hospitalised for a month. He was promoted to lance corporal for effort, and then sent home.

Back at Leipzig University, Nietzsche was now recognised by his professor as the finest student he had seen in forty years. Yet Nietzsche was becoming disenchanted with philology and its “indifference towards the true and urgent problems of life.” He didn’t know what to do. In desperation he thought of switching to chemistry, or going off to Paris for a year to try “the divine cancan and the yellow poison absinthe.” Then one day he managed to secure an introduction to the composer Richard Wagner, who was on an undercover visit to the city. (Wagner had been banished for revolutionary activities twenty years earlier, and the ban remained despite the transformation of his extremist political views from left to right.)

Wagner had been born in the same year as Nietzsche’s father and from all accounts bore a striking resemblance to him. Nietzsche felt a desperate – but largely unconscious – need for a father figure. He had never met a famous artist before, nor someone whose ideas were apparently so in accord with his own. In the course of their brief meeting Nietzsche discovered Wagner’s deep love of Schopenhauer. Wagner, flattered by the attentions of the brilliant young philosopher, turned on his considerable charm to the full. The effect on Nietzsche was immediate and profound. He was overwhelmed by the great composer, whose flamboyant character was at least the equal of his flamboyant operas.

Two months later Nietzsche was offered the post of professor of philology at the University of Basel in Switzerland. He was still only twenty-four and had not yet even taken his doctorate. Despite his misgivings about philology, this was an offer he could not refuse. In April 1869 he took up his post at Basel and at once began giving extra lectures in philosophy. He wished to combine philosophy and philology, the study of aesthetics and the classics – welding together an instrument for analysing the faults of our civilisation, no less. He quickly established himself as the rising young star of the university and became acquainted with Jacob Burckhardt, the great cultural historian who was also a member of the university faculty. Burckhardt, who was the first to elaborate the historical concept of the Renaissance, was the only mind of a caliber similar to Nietzsche’s among the faculty, and perhaps the only figure Nietzsche was to remain in awe of throughout his life. It’s possible that Burckhardt might, at this crucial stage, have exercised a steadying influence on Nietzsche, but his patrician reserve was to prevent this. And besides, the role of father figure had already been taken – by a far less steadying influence.

In Basel Nietzsche was only forty miles from Tribschen, where Wagner had taken up residence with Cosima, Liszt’s daughter (who was at the time still married to a mutual friend of Liszt and Wagner, the conductor von Bülow). In no time Nietzsche became a regular weekend visitor to Wagner’s sumptuous villa on the shores of Lake Lucerne. But Wagner’s life was operatic in more than just musical, emotional, and political terms. He was a man who believed in living out his fantasies to the full. Tribschen was like an opera in itself, and there was never any doubt about who was playing the leading role. Dressed in the “Flemish style” (a blend of the Flying Dutchman and Rubens in fancy dress), Wagner strode beneath the pink satin walls and rococo cherubs in his black satin breeches, tam-o’-shanter, and effusively knotted silk cravat, declaiming among the busts of himself, vast oil paintings (of the same subject), and silver bowls commemorating performances of his operas. Incense wafted through the air, and only the music of the maestro was allowed to waft with it. Meanwhile Cosima ministered to her companion’s histrionics and made sure no one ran off with the perfumed pet lambs, beribboned wolfhounds, and ornamental chickens that roamed the garden.
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