I think if I were to list my 5 all time favourite philosophers, they would be (in no particular order): Nietzsche, Daniel Dennett, Peter Singer, Richard Rorty, and Hume (or Kant…shit that’s a tough one). For this post I think I’ll talk about my love for Nietzsche, since many people I have spoken to about this think that I’m a monster, or an idiot.
Nietzsche published 15 major works (two of which were post-humous: The Antichrist and The Will to Power, the latter of which was put together from various unpublished writings of his by his sister, who had an anti-semetic agenda):
- The Birth of Tragedy (1872)
- On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense (1873)
- The Untimely Meditations (1876)
- Human, All Too Human (1878; additions in 1879, 1880)
- The Dawn (1881)
- The Gay Science (1882)
- Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883–1885)
- Beyond Good and Evil (1886)
- On the Genealogy of Morality (1887)
- The Case of Wagner (1888)
- Twilight of the Idols (1888)
- The Antichrist (1888)
- Ecce Homo (1888)
- Nietzsche contra Wagner (1888)
- The Will to Power
Of these, I believe I have read selections from all of them, and read Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, On The Genealogy of Morals, Twilight of the Idols, The Antichrist, Ecce Homo and Nietzsche Contra Wagner in their entirety.
I think my favourite would be The Genealogy of Morals. It’s kind of the most straight forward and easiest to read. To be honest, I didn’t get much from reading his books on a whole, but more from reading interpretations of him, or selected aphorisms.
If I were to list my favourite things about Nietzsche, which are the reasons for which he is one of my all time favourite thinkers, they would be the following, in no particular order:
1. Nietzsche’s proto-psychology. By this I mean to say that Nietzsche was a fore-runner for modern psychology. Um, to quote from Human, All Too Human: “where you see idol things, I see what is – human, alas, all-too-human!”. This is probably most clear in his conception of early christian beginnings as a psychological response to being a lower class that resented the higher class (slave and master morality; ressentiment).
2. Nietzsche’s atheism. Quote from section 343 of the fifth book of The Gay Science: “The greatest recent event—that God is dead, that the belief in the Christian God has become unbelievable…”. I still recall the first time I read Nietzsche, and how his atheism seemed to me to be so refreshingly honest, compared to the other philosophers I had read.
3. Nietzsche’s post-Christian morality. By this I mean Nietzsche’s description of how a lot of our thinking was based on Christian beliefs, and that if we now no longer believe in them, we must also eliminate the beliefs that are based on them. Ummm, I like to think of Peter Signer’s practical philosophy as following in this vain. For example, I feel as though the mistreatment of animals may have been justified within a Christian framework since there is the belief that humans are fundamentally seperate from the animal kingdom. Singer’s treatment of abortion, euthanasia, infanticide, etc. are other good examples as well. I especially like Nietzsche’s concept of going ‘beyond good and evil’, in the sense that there is no such thing as evil, only things that we dislike, i.e. bad. (note: I’m not saying that I like Nietzsche’s suggestions for morality, Just his concept of post-God morality)
4. Nietzsche’s determinism. Nietzsche was a determinist, and so am I. This is extremely frustrating for many people to understand. I will not attempt an explanation here, but if you are interested, I would suggest reading anything by Daniel Dennett on the topic, since my beliefs are identical to his treatment of the subject.
5. Nietzsche’s proto-existentialism. By this ludicrously difficult term to define, I mean simply Nietzsche’s philosophy on life, and on living it. One of Nietzsche’s biggest qualms with Christianity is that he saw it as saying no to this life, to supporting suffering in this life, since one would be rewarded in the next. Since Nietzsche is an atheist, he found this idea to be insulting. Instead, he was an adamant ‘yes sayer’ to life, which is where his famous “What does not kill me, makes me stronger.” (Twilight of the Idols) comes in. His determinism and ‘yaysaying’ philosophy come together with his concept of ‘amor fati’, or, love your fate. I think this a concept that can very easily be misinterpreted. But I interpret it as saying “make the best out of your life”…which is nice.
6. Finally, and this one is only a recent thing I’ve discovered, is Nietzsche’s perspectivism…which I enjoy since I view it as a proto-pragmatism.
Now, to say that I like a lot about Nietzsche is not to say that there are not things that I find ridiculous about his thinking. For one, I think he has terrible ideas of how a society should work…sort of social-darwin-y…if I’m interpreting him correctly (see his ubermensch). Another would be the fact that his books are ridiculously difficult to read, and almost all of the time I’m lost or bored. Finally (I’m sure there’s more, but I can’t think of them right now), I think his concept of the The Will to Power can be safely ignored or thrown out.