Study Guide

Friedrich Nietzsche Introduction

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Friedrich Nietzsche Introduction

Not every philosopher can say that they've been quoted in films, books, songs, and angsty teenage diary entries, but then not every philosopher is as brilliant—or as quotable—as big bad Friedrich Nietzsche.

(It's FREE-drick NEE-chuh, by the way. Keep those NEE-CHEEs to yourself.)

From his early analyses of the dos and don'ts of Greek tragedy to his scathing critiques of Christianity and modern European culture, Nietzsche has a little something for everybody—or nobody, as he was quick to note. If there's one thing about Nietzsche that we can all agree on, it's that the dude sure had a boatload of radical ideas.

We don't mean that in the usual, watered-down, "they were radical for their time" way—like when your grandparents talk about how "scandalous" Elvis's hip-shaking was. Nope: Nietzsche's one of those rare oldies who is still able to shock people from beyond the grave—and he didn't even have to become a zombie to do it.

So, what is it about this guy that makes everyone run for the hills?

For one, he argues that we desperately need to engage in a "revaluation of values," by which he means we need to seriously consider the possibility that our most deeply held values—especially our moral values—are not themselves valuable. Let's face it: when you wage war on a culture's most fundamental beliefs about right and wrong, you're going to ruffle a few feathers.

But Nietzsche's not done yet, because revaluing our values means that we're going to have to start asking ourselves some really crazy questions. Is there some value in things we've long been told to dismiss as being "bad" or—worse yet—"sinful"? For that matter, are there certain things that we all tend to think of as good that are actually psychologically unhealthy?

Coming up with an honest answer to these means having to put our most firmly held convictions on trial, and that is exactly what Nietzsche did over his entire philosophical career. His notoriously acidic wit only cemented his place at the top of Western civilization's roster of intellectual bad boys.

Whether or not you agree with him, you can't deny that with his merciless questioning of social convention, along with the veritable grab-bag of controversial theories he proposed (like the will to power, or the Übermensch, or the death of God—yeah, it's all here), he's had a bigger impact on the world at large than any other 19th-century philosopher. How many people can you say that about?

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