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Analysis / Friedrich Nietzsche

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Analytic philosophers were not so enthusiastically receptive of him. They often discredited him as a philosopher, characterizing him as more of a literary figure (Bertrand Russell even calls Nietzsche's ideas mere power phantasies), because he didn't leave behind a systematic, coherent, rational philosophy in the manner of Aristotle; indeed, one of the most coherent ways to read Nietzsche is as an extended critique of Hegel's famous philosophic System (with a capital 'S'!). His own views shifted so dramatically over time that Karl Jaspers claimed that Nietzsche could be cited pro and contra on each matter, though this has been contested since. (The fact that he inherited some sort of insanity didn't help matters. Reread that part about his going nuts in his forties... yeah.)


In short, whatever picture you may have had of Nietzsche could be wrong. For example, Nietzsche has never encouraged you to be an unfettered nihilist who causes chaos simply for the power of doing it.

Well, probably not. As we said, his ideas are pretty weird and kind of self-contradictory. And despite their being constantly quoted, seriously followed, and vehemently debated, especially by academics, villains, and crackpots alike, many still don't know what some of his most famous words, "God is Dead" and "Übermensch," exactly meant. Even the world's foremost scholar on all things Nietzsche-related, Walter Kaufmann, wasn't sure that Nietzsche was an atheist; he went back-and-forth on this determination more than once during his studies of Nietzsche's works and writings. The confusion isn't helped any by all the later additions and interpretations by other people, such as Adolf Hitler, The Nazis, and Nietzsche's own Nazi sister, Elizabeth. The last is particularly guilty; for example, she didn't publish Ecce Homo until eight years after his death because it didn't comply with her own views, instead compiling The Will to Power out of materials he never intended to publish in the first place. As for people with the actual intellectual capacity to handle what Nietzsche meant, let's not even talk about the theories of Martin Heidegger and Leo Strauss (respectively someone who thought the Nazis were on to something—later realizing they weren't, but refusing to admit it—and a Jew who fled the Nazis to teach at the University of Chicago, broadly using Nietzsche as the basis for a reevaluation of classical political philosophy and modern political sciencenote ) about just what the guy was saying.


In addition, Nietzsche most likely considered himself to be a philologist, not a philosopher. His academic background and a great deal of his non-philosophical work was in philology, the study of written historical languages. His philosophical works are as much a critique on the use of language as they are traditionally philosophical branches of thought such as morality, reason, and the nature of thought. In that sense, he has a lot more in common with Ludwig Wittgenstein (another German-speaker whose thinking focused heavily on language) than many Analytics (who tend to look askew at Nietzsche but almost worship Wittgenstein) give him credit for.


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