Reading Philosophy

Nietzsche by j m kennedyAt this page you will find some introductions to Nietzsche from different books about Nietzsche and his work. Sometimes people ask me what to read first from Nietzsche, or any other philosopher, and I always tell them to start with a book about Nietzsche. Starting with a book from Nietzsche himself is like putting someone into a forest where he sees a few trees, and ask him to describe the whole forest. Reading Nietzsche is hard enough, if you read some opinions from other professionals you will get a bird’s eye view of his work. If you than start reading his own work, it is easier to put it in its proper context. I myself like reading books about Nietzsche from different periods of time, you will find different looks at him and they are sprinkled with thoughts and ideas of the time they are written. Reading these old books give me also the feeling that I’m not the only one reading his work, some of the books I show here were written by other Nietzsche enthusiasts when there were hardly any cars around, America was at war with Spain and Nietzsche himself just died. So, for anybody that wants to learn Nietzsche’s work, study books about Nietzsche himself and his work and then start with his own work…in proper order…and a spoiler: Nietzsche himself is also more interested in the person behind the philosophy, where you’re from, your character and upbringing will tell you more about the meaning of his or her philosophy.

Got to the books here

1. Chemistry of ideas and sensations

You can read the aphorism  I discuss here below the main article.

Synopsis and my take on it:

Nietzsche is predicting here the existence of what we now call neurotransmitters in a study field  (neurochemistry) that was not yet invented. First he pointed out that in metaphysical philosophy and in popular languages there is the assumption of “a miraculous origin for more highly valued things”. Things like making music that originates from “divine inspiration” instead of a cold hard chemistry process in the brain. Nietzsche talks about “chemistry of the moral, religious, esthetic ideas and sentiments” and about emotions we feel. And then, as Nietzsche often does in his work, he ends with a question that puts a thought in your mind that makes you feel challenged:Humanity likes to put all questions as to origin and beginning out of its mind; must one not be almost dehumanized to feel a contrary tendency in one’s self?”

In one sentence:

Chemistry takes over

Human, all too human a book for free spirits Part I, translated by Helen Zimmern 1914

First and last things

  1. CHEMISTRY OF IDEAS AND SENSATIONS. —Philosophical problems adopt in almost all matters the same form of question as they did two thousand years ago ; how can anything spring from its opposite ? for instance, reason out of unreason, the sentient out of the dead, logic out of unlogic, disinterested contemplation out of covetous willing, life for others out of egoism, truth out of error ? Metaphysical philosophy has helped itself over those difficulties hitherto by denying the origin of one thing in another, and assuming a miraculous origin for more highly valued things, immediately out of the kernel and essence of the ” thing in itself.” Historical philosophy, on the contrary, which is no longer to be thought of as separate from physical science, the youngest of all philosophical methods, has ascertained in single cases (and presumably this will happen in everything) that there are no opposites except in the usual exaggeration of the popular or metaphysical point of view, and that an error of reason lies at the bottom of the opposition : according to this explanation, strictly understood, there is neither an unegoistical action nor an entirely disinterested point of view, they are both only sublimations in which the fundamental element appears almost evaporated, and is only to be discovered by the closest observation. All that we require, and which can only be given us by the present advance of the single sciences, is a chemistry of the moral, religious, esthetic ideas and sentiments, as also of those emotions which we experience in ourselves both in the great and in the small phases of social and intellectual intercourse, and even in solitude; but what if this chemistry should result in the fact that also in this case the most beautiful colors have been obtained from base, even despised materials ? Would many be inclined to pursue such examinations? Humanity likes to put all questions as to origin and beginning out of its mind; must one not be almost dehumanised to feel a contrary tendency in one’s self?

Menschliches allzumenschlich 1878/80

Von den ersten und letzten Dingen.

  1. Chemie der Begriffe und Empfindungen. – Die Philosophischen Probleme nehmen jetzt wieder fast in allen Stücken dieselbe Form der Frage an, wie vor zweitausend Jahren.- wie kann Etwas aus seinem Gegensatz entstehen, zum Beispiel Vernünftiges aus Vernunftlosem, Empfindendes aus Todtem, Logik aus Unlogik, interesseloses Anschauen aus begehrlichem Wollen, Leben für Andere aus Egoismus, Wahrheit aus Irrthümern? Die metaphysische Philosophie half sich bisher über diese Schwierigkeit hinweg, insofern sie die Entstehung des Einen aus dem Andern leugnete und für die höher gewertheten Dinge einen Wunder-Ursprung annahm, unmittelbar aus dem Kern und Wesen des “Dinges an sich” heraus. Die historische Philosophie dagegen, welche gar nicht mehr getrennt von der Naturwissenschaft zu denken ist, die allerjüngste aller philosophischen Methoden, ermittelte in einzelnen Fällen (und vermuthlich wird diess in allen ihr Ergebniss sein), dass es keine Gegensätze sind, ausser in der gewohnten Uebertreibung der populären oder metaphysischen Auffassung und dass ein Irrthum der Vernunft dieser Gegenüberstellung zu Grunde liegt: nach ihrer Erklärung giebt es, streng gefasst, weder ein unegoistisches Handeln, noch ein völlig interesseloses Anschauen, es sind beides nur Sublimirungen, bei denen das Grundelement fast verflüchtigt erscheint und nur noch für die feinste Beobachtung sich als vorhanden erweist. – Alles, was wir brauchen und was erst bei der gegenwärtigen Höhe der einzelnen Wissenschaften uns gegeben werden kann, ist eine Chemie der moralischen, religiösen, ästhetischen Vorstellungen und Empfindungen, ebenso aller jener Regungen, welche wir im Gross- und Kleinverkehr der Cultur und Gesellschaft, ja in der Einsamkeit an uns erleben: wie, wenn diese Chemie mit dem Ergebniss abschlösse, dass auch auf diesem Gebiete die herrlichsten Farben aus niedrigen, ja verachteten Stoffen gewonnen sind? Werden Viele Lust haben, solchen Untersuchungen zu folgen? Die Menschheit liebt es, die Fragen über Herkunft und Anfänge sich aus dem Sinn zu schlagen: muss man nicht fast entmenscht sein, um den entgegengesetzten Hang in sich zu spüren? –



I will read a Dutch translation that is based on the work of researchers Colli and Montinari. I also use a translation from R.J.Hollingdale and the Gary Handwerk translation from the Colli-Montinari edition. Both are more modern than the copyright free translation I use here. This is a translation from 1909 by Helen Zimmern, who knew Nietzsche personally, but there was no critical study of Nietzsche’s work done back then and this translation suffers from that. The same goes for the translation from Alexander Harvey. My German is not good enough to pretend that I can translate it better than the professionals do but I will use the original as a referee.

  1. Menselijk al te menselijk een boek voor vrije geesten, translated by Thomas Graftdijk, 2000. Buy it here
  2. Human, all too human a book for free spirits, translated by R.J.Hollingdale, 1986
  3. Human, all too human a book for free spirits I V3, translated by Gary handwerk 1997
  4. Human, all too human a book for free spirits Part I, translated by Helen Zimmern 1909. Read it  here
  5. Human, all too human a book for free spirits, translated by Alexander Harvey, 1908. Read it here
  6. Menschliches allzu menschlich 1878/80. Read it here


Create a website or blog at

Up ↑