Was Fredrick Nietzsche a Nihilist?

The above question has been asked by many people several times. Some people believe Fredrick Nietzsche is not a nihilist. To them, the philosopher was only expressing his concerns on the effect of nihilism on the society and not advocating for its adoption. On the other end of the spectrum, some scholars maintained that his philosophy is inextricably tied to nihilism. Well, whichever side of the divide you belong to, we will explain everything about nihilism and whether indeed Nietzsche lacks the highest form of values. Read on to learn more.

Moral nihilism is famously linked to the philosopher Nietzsche in most cultures. Nihilism is described as lacking in the highest form of values. Attached to moral nihilism is moral relativism. Moral relativism means a belief that every value, because of the belief that there is no absolute value, is simply the personal expression of individual preferences. However, this is the type of moral point of view that Nietzsche criticized. But, before we proceed further in this discussion about seeking to establish whether Nietzsche is a nihilist or not, it will be best to know a little about the man Nietzsche.

Who is Fredrick Nietzsche?

Nietzsche was born on October 15, 1844, in a small town called Rocken bei Lutzen in Prussia, a part of the present-day Germany. He was christened with the name Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche by his father Carl Ludwig Nietzsche, a Lutheran clergy. The scholar lost his father at the early age of 4. His mother Franziska was left with the responsibility of raising him and his younger sister. The philosopher had his education at Naumburg, Schulpforta School, University of Bonn, and the University of Leipzig where he studied philosophy.

The writings of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer had a significant impact on him. Nietzsche is considered as an essential authority when it comes to 20th-century philosophy, art, and theology. His contributions on the meaning of existence, morality, and individuality had a great impact on the thoughts of famous philosophers like Jacques Derrida, Sigmund Freud, Martin Heidegger, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre and Carl Jung.

Some of his writings were put to use by the Nazi party around 1930 to 1940 to justify their activities. The misuse of some of his works by the Nazi’s created a bad reputation for him in the eye of later readers of his writings. Nietzsche was later to suffer a collapse in 1889 while he was staying in Turin, Italy. He spent the dying days of his life in a mental state, though there no evidence that points to what caused his ill mental health. His mother and sister were to later take care of in Naumburg. The great philosopher died on August 25, 1900.

Origin of Nihilism

The word Nihilism is derived from the Latin word nihil, which implies nothing. That is something that does not exist. The term was used in the early part of the nineteen century by the philosopher Friedrich Jacobi. He used it in a negative way to illustrate transcendental optimism. The word was only made famous in 1862 after Ivan Turgenev uses it in his work Fathers and Sons. He used nihilism to characterize crude scientism which he used to describe a character in the work who teaches a creed of complete negation.

The first philosophical thoughts about nihilism that can be said to be described as a nihilist perception are one of skeptics. This is because they disputed the likelihood of certainty; they can criticize established facts as wrong opinions. A methodological criticism of philosophy by Max Stirner and his further rejection of absolutes and his denial of abstract views of any nature frequently puts him among the first philosophical nihilists. In Stirner’s thoughts to be free as an individual is the only law and that the state which most times impair freedom should be ruined. He further argued that besides the obstacles to freedom imposed by the state, which are other forms of constraints put in by others because the mere fact of their being alive is an impediment that jeopardizes the freedom of other individuals. He then finalized that to exist is a never ending war pitched against one another.

So is Nietzsche a Nihilist?

The cause of nihilism is negation, and understanding nihilism requires and understanding of negation or what Nietzsche describes as a pessimistic will to power. He identified two sources of values which he called active and reactive. Nihilism is reactive in all its forms, a key reason why the philosophy of Nietzsche cannot be said to be nihilism because it is written in a way that kicked against the reactive will to power.

 The scholar’s criticism of ethics is that it is a secondary cause. He describes morality as an impartial, honest view of the world, but that beneath it is another kind of will to power; the will for self-defense even if it is achieved at the detriment of others. His thoughts on morality are that it is hypocrisy, and that not because it is wrong or false, which is simple, but because humans abide by values, though the supreme value, in this case, is doing nothing, but because it present itself in such a way that appear as if it were out of this world.

The philosopher did not criticize values generally; rather, his emphasis is on reactive values which are responsible for the growth of nihilism in the western part of the world. Having seen nothing positive in the world and negated it, it ended up finally negating itself.

 A lot misrepresentation abounds about the fact that Nietzsche is a nihilist. Most of this can be seen in outstanding academic writings. But as popular as this assertion is, it is not a true representation of his works. He did a lot of writing on nihilism because he was worried about the effect it would have on the society and not because he was advocating it. To then provide an answer to the question of Nietzsche being a nihilist or not will depend on the background from which you used in forming your opinion.

In Conclusion

We have successfully discussed the concept of nihilism in the context it was viewed by Nietzsche and gave definition nihilism. We were able to trace its early origin to Friedrich Jacobi. It was established that most people see Nietzsche as a nihilist because of the content of his work, but concluded that his writings were centered on his concern on the effect nihilism may have on the society and not that he was advocating it. We finalized by stating that to successfully point out whether Nietzsche was a nihilist would depend mostly on the concept on which you formed your opinion.

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