W O R K - I N - P R O G R E S S
Ryan : History of Sociological Thought

 Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

One sees clearly only with the heart.  Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.
Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince


  • Family line of Lutheran clergy
  • Raised by mother, sister, aunts
  • Studied classics, philology
  • Taught Basel 1869-1879
  • Works
  • The Birth of Tragedy (187), Human, All Too Human (1878), The Gay Science (1882), Beyond Good and Evil (1886), Toward a Genealogy of Morals (1887), The Twilight of the Idols (1889), Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1892)

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Compare other epic figures: Jesus, Odysseus, Don Quixote.  Person with a vision that makes him different and who encounters resistance and ridicule and who undergoes crises and changes but in the end represents hope for meaningful human existence.

Zarathustra retreats to mountain top and then returns.  Meets old man, traditional religion of the monastery.  Z is surprised that old man does not realize that era in which Christian god represents society's highest ideals is over (as N "argued" in The Gay Science).

"I teach you the Superman."  Calling for "modern man" to overcome the mere "human-ness" of which we have become too satisfied.  We are called to become contemptuous of the bourgeois comfort, reason, and virtue that we are so proud of.  Compare Comte and Spencer who celebrated the achievements of modernity, so much cleaner, safer, more orderly, and all around more pleasant than the past. And anti-utilitarian with their "greatest happiness for greatest number" -- supreme mediocrity.  The madness of the superman will help us to overcome our complacency.

"Be faithful to the earth!"  Z as "materialist monist" -- rejects all metaphysics, all ideas of there being a reality beyond  the world of the senses.  Relying on another level cheapens true appreciation for this one.  

Zarathustra sees humans as living embodied lives rather than as separate mind and bodies.  We are, rather than have, bodies.  Rejects the glorification of capacity to separate out thinking from lived experience.

Zarathustra is highly suspicious and critical of those virtues of citizenship and neighborliness that promote social harmony at the expense of

The "I love those..." statements echo the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).  I read it as a list of the types and classes N despises as pursuers of mediocrity and comfort.

But they look at him like he is crazy.  Why?  They have something they are proud of -- their culture which distinguishes them from beings below them  -- and so they don't like me to talk of contempt.  And so I'll switch gears and talk of pride.  

Zarathustra describes "ultimate (last( man" -- rationality and rationalization taken to it's completeness?  But there is still a chance for passion and chaos.  Who is it?  The imaginationless technocrat?  The ultimate yuppie with everything figured out?  With solutions to all life's problems purchased and reserved in advance?  

Zarathustra ends the speech with the masses crying to be given this ultimate man.  They completely miss his point: "I am not the mouth for these ears."

Tightrope walker is humankind in process of transformation to next advanced stage. Clown comes out and knocks him to the ground.  Zarathustra offers denial of afterlife as a source of comfort.  But doesn't that make life meaningless?  Or is there a higher meaning if one just accepts life as life without making it depend on something afterward?  Does meaning have to last to be "meaningful"?


aphorism : a concise, terse statement of truth or sentiment
Apollonian vs. Dionysian : reason vs. passion, rational vs. emotional.  Nineteenth century bourgeois culture as apparent triumph of reason ("progress!") but at the expense of the killing of passion.
will to power : the life force; See also [http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/fritz/awill_to_power.html]
Übermensch : next stage of human development
God is Dead : era in which Christian belief system was the ultimate source of meaning has passed
Modernism must be overcome, but replaced with what?  What will be the basis of new social order?
nihilism : a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless; a doctrine that denies any objective ground of truth and especially of moral truths; belief that conditions of society are so bad as to make destruction desirable even in the absence of any constructive ideas


Enlightenment Rationality as questionable.
Modernity looked back to classical age and saw only rationality.  Other side of life (humanism? passion? emotion? feeling?  chaos?) omitted from picture.  But rationality/science may not lead to the "next level" the way we assume it does.
Relationship between power and knowledge
Criticism of modernism
Weber : iron cage
Freud : repression and sublimation
Foucault : self

Quotes of Note

Supplementary Readings


Bramann,Jorn K.
NIETZSCHE'S ZARATHUSTRA : A Summary  [http://www.frostburg.edu/dept/phil/forum/Zarathustra.htm]

Brians, Paul
Study Guide for Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra [http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~brians/hum_303/zarathustra.html]

Farganis, James
Readings in Social Theory