What Nietzsche really said

Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins


What Nietzsche really saidFriedrich Nietzsche’s aggressive independence, flamboyance, sarcasm, and
celebration of strength have struck responsive chords in contemporary culture.
More people than ever are reading and discussing his writings. But Nietzsche’s
ideas are often overshadowed by the myths and rumors that surround his sex life,
his politics, and his sanity. In this lively and comprehensive analysis, Nietzsche
scholars Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins get to the heart of
Nietzsche’s philosophy, from his ideas on “the will to power” to his attack on
religion and morality and his infamous Übermensch (superman).

What Nietzsche Really Said offers both guidelines and insights for reading and
understanding this controversial thinker. Written with sophistication and wit, this
book provides an excellent summary of the life and work of one of history’s most
provocative philosophers.


Nietzsche’s Works
Introduction: “How to Philosophize with a Hammer”

  1. Rumors: Wine, Women, and Wagner
  2. Faced with a Book by Nietzsche
  3. Nietzsche Said, “God Is Dead”
  4. Nietzsche’s War on Morality
  5. Nietzsche Ad Hominem (Nietzsche’s “Top Ten”)
  6. Nietzsche’s Virtues
  7. Nietzsche’s Affirmative Philosophy

Conclusion: Nietzsche’s Opening of the Modern Mind
Nietzsche’s Bestiary: A Glossary of His Favorite Images
About the Authors


“How to Philosophize with a Hammer”

Regarding the sounding out of idols, this time they are not just idols of the age, but eternal idols, which are here touched with a hammer as with a tuning fork; there are altogether no older, no more convinced, no more puffed-up idols—and none more hollow. That does not prevent them from being those in which people have the most faith … —from Twilight of the Idols


HERE AT THE END of the twentieth century, Friedrich Nietzsche has become one of the most talked about philosophers in history. Unfortunately, he has not also become one of the best understood. Myths and rumors continue to swirl around his legacy, some of them concerning his sex life, his politics, his mental health, many of them supposedly cutting to the heart of his philosophy—the “will to power,” his attack on religion and morality, and the infamous Übermensch (super-man). What Nietzsche really said gets lost in a maze of falsehoods, misinterpretations, and exaggerations. But he is such an exciting and insightful thinker, not to mention a mesmerizing writer, that it is well worth our while—and a treat—to really understand him.

Getting down to what Nietzsche really said, however, is no simple matter. He was not one of those philosophers who set out with a carefully plotted plan and pursued it faithfully to its completion. He was not a systematic philosopher: he railed against the attempt to make philosophy into a system, calling it “a lack of integrity.” We cannot squeeze all of Nietzsche’s varied observations and insights into a single coherent mold without losing not just the charm but the essence of what he was trying to do. Nietzsche wrote in aphorisms, short paragraphs, and cryptic allegories, carefully arranged but nevertheless disjointed and purposively disorienting. He wanted to shock us, surprise us, make us see matters from different angles, different perspectives, in different ways. Much of his writing consists of quick guerrilla-style attacks on a broad variety of established positions—moral, metaphysical, social, and religious—and some of the leading figures of both his past and present. Nietzsche aims in different directions, now attacking this position, now attacking its opposite. Such strategies may look like contradiction, but they are not. These multiple campaigns represent the many different “skirmishes of an untimely man,” as he describes his onslaughts in Twilight of the Idols.

Michel Foucault, one of the more illustrious Nietzscheans of this century, insisted that there was no single Nietzschean philosophy, and that our question should be, “What serious use can we make of Nietzsche?” The word serious is an attempt to close off frivolous misinterpretation and prevent the careless pillaging of Nietzsche’s texts. Nevertheless, Foucault’s point is that there is no single consistent account to be given of what Nietzsche really said without consideration of the various uses we make of him. But even when we agree that use shapes interpretation, that does not mean that we should not try to be faithful to Nietzsche’s words, his stated intentions, his ambiguities, even his inadequacies.

Therefore we will not attempt in this book to squeeze Nietzsche into a suit that does not fit him. We would like to dispel the myths and rumors, present some helpful hints and guidelines for reading his works—a delightful but also difficult and dangerous adventure. We want to suggest, at least, the complex, subtle, and sometimes genuinely ambivalent nature of Nietzsche’s various campaigns against the monumental forces of Christianity and morality and his various attacks on such individuals as Socrates, Schopenhauer, and Wagner. We will bring in some of Nietzsche’s heroes and nemeses to show how this self-consciously eccentric and “untimely” thinker placed himself in the long history of Western thought. But, most important, we want to emphasize Nietzsche’s affirmative philosophy, his positive suggestions, along with his famously misunderstood doctrines and his enthusiasms. To think of Nietzsche as nothing but negative, “the great destroyer,” is to misunderstand him profoundly. Nietzsche himself would insist that the essential thing is to say yes to philosophy, and to life.

Nietzsche wrote many books. Which of those many books one chooses to emphasize will skew one’s interpretation considerably. For example, the relatively philological and aesthetic content of his early Birth of Tragedy, the conscientious polemic of On the Genealogy of Morals, and the intentionally blasphemous The Antichrist of Nietzsche’s later years all present very different Nietzsches. “What Nietzsche really said” depends in part on what one reads and how one interprets what one reads. (Nietzsche insists: “There are only interpretations.”)

Nietzsche also wrote many notes, most of which he never published, nor intended to publish. If one focuses on these unpublished notes (as Martin Heidegger, for example, chose to do), one can come up with a very different Nietzsche than the one that emerges from the works Nietzsche himself intended to present to the world. Nietzsche scholarship has gone through many fads of interpretation, with the focus ranging from his scattered comments on women to his supposedly monolithic preoccupation with “the will to power.” Nietzsche’s unpublished early essay “On Truth and Lie in a Nonmoral Sense” has come to assume definitive importance in postmodernist literary criticism, and Nietzsche’s unpublished plans for a systematic work have stimulated many imaginative but farfetched “reconstructions.”

Nietzsche’s life, like that of the earlier “existentialist” Søren Kierkegaard, was illustrious only in his soul, his mind’s interior, and in what he produced. His life, the actual day-to-day details of how he lived and suffered, strikes virtually every reader as unenviable, even miserable. Nietzsche was born on October 15, 1844 in a small German town, Röcken. His father, a Lutheran minister, died when Nietzsche was only four years old. He was raised by his mother, grandmother, and two very religious maiden aunts. As a student, Nietzsche displayed obvious brilliance, even genius (a term much abused in the nineteenth century). He was made a professor of philology (classics) in the university at Basel at the age of twenty-four, served briefly as a medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, and resigned his university post after little more than a decade of teaching because of poor health. He spent the rest of his life largely alone, perched in some of the most spectacular landscapes in Europe.

Nietzsche never married. He suffered from excruciating headaches and chronic insomnia. Nevertheless, he started writing and publishing his remarkable books in the early seventies and despite his infirmities reached a veritable writing frenzy in his late thirties, finishing several books in his last productive year. In 1889, while in Italy, he collapsed on the street in a deranged mental state and suffered the first of a debilitating series of seizures and strokes. This ended his writing career, at the age of forty-four. He lived another decade, at first under the tender care of his mother, but later subject to the manipulative management of his proto-Nazi sister, Elisabeth. He died in August of 1900, in the first summer of the new century…

Affirmative Philosophy

NIETZSCHE is OFTEN portrayed as the most critical and destructive of philosophers. He attacks Christianity. He savages Socrates. He wages war on morality. One of Nietzsche’s contemporaries rejected his philosophy as “waging war on every decent human feeling.” In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche has his Persian prophet urge his followers to push what is falling. But pushing and destroying are a way of clearing the ground on which an affirmative philosophy can be built. Thus Nietzsche declares (in Beyond Good and Evil) that there must be new philosophers, philosophers who will “legislate values.” Throughout Zarathustra, there is the buoyant ecstasy of worship, but for this world, this life, not another one. Nietzsche rejects Judeo-Christian morality not because he rejects all values but because he rejects the nihilism of Judeo-Christian morality. Christianity, like Socrates before, judges life itself to be “no good.” Nietzsche aims, accordingly, to get us to appreciate a very different conception of morality, one that is born within us and not imposed upon us, one that celebrates life and doesn’t promise another one, one that acknowledges the unavoidability of suffering in life but without drawing the pessimist conclusion: life is no good. And while Nietzsche attacks Christianity in many of its manifestations he does not attack either Jesus or spirituality. Indeed, we tend to see Nietzsche as among the most spiritual philosophers, so long as we do not conflate spirituality with the herd sentimentality of organized religion.

The purpose of philosophy—and of life—is to create, not to destroy. And so in this chapter we have put together some of Nietzsche’s most exuberant, “life-affirming” theses. They include his celebrated love of fate, his doctrine of the “eternal recurrence,” and the very idea of philosophy as “the gay science.” Doctrines and approaches that are elsewhere used to attack are here viewed as celebrations, of moral psychology as a way of appreciating what is deep and marvelous about our moral existence, our passions, desires, ideals, and values, of perspectivism as a realm of open possibilities, of the revaluation of values not as a trick of slave morality but as the most important project facing humanity, and facing the “philosophers of the future,” whom Nietzsche anticipates with unbridled glee and enthusiasm. Then there is spirituality, considered not in terms of the superficialities and hypocrisies of slave morality but as a cosmic acceptance of life and a sense of “godlike power.” Thus the Übermensch as an ideal and the Will to Power itself, considered not as a diagnostic tool but as a celebration of the passionate life.

About the authors:

imagesRobert C. Solomon (September 14, 1942 – January 2, 2007) was an American professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, where he taught for more than 30 years. Professor Solomon won many teaching honors, including the Standard Oil Outstanding Teaching Award in 1973; the University of Texas President’s Associates Teaching Award (twice); a Fulbright Lecture Award; University Research and National Endowment for the Humanities Grants; and the Chad Oliver Plan II Teaching Award in 1998.

Professor Solomon authored and edited more than 45 books, including The Passions, About Love, Ethics and Excellence, A Short History of Philosophy with Professor Kathleen Higgins, A Better Way to Think about Business, The Joy of Philosophy, Spirituality for the Skeptic, Not Passion’s Slave, and In Defense of Sentimentality. He also wrote about business ethics in Above the Bottom Line, It’s Good Business, Ethics and Excellence, New World of Business and A Better Way to Think about Business. He had designed and provided programs for corporations and organizations around the world and his books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.


prof_kathleen_higgins_4.1395271385Kathleen Marie Higgins (born 1954) is an American Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin where she has been teaching for over twenty years.[1] She earned her B.A. in music from the University of Missouri–Kansas City and completed her graduate work in philosophy at Yale University, receiving her M.A., M.Phil, and Ph.D.

Professor Higgins has taught at the University of California, Riverside, and she is a regular visiting professor at the University of Auckland. She has held appointments as Resident Scholar at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Study and Conference Center (1993) and as a Visiting Fellow of the Australian National University Philosophy Department and the Canberra School of Music (1997), and also of the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences of KU Leuven (2013). She received an Alumni Achievement Award from the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri–Kansas City (1999).

Professor Higgins specializes in aesthetics, philosophy of music, nineteenth and twentieth-century continental philosophy, and philosophy of emotion. Her books deal with the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, the ethical aspects of music, musical universality, and the emotion of grief. She has published over fifty articles on these topics as well as on beauty, kitsch, virtue, feminism, marketing environmentalism, Indian aesthetics, Chinese philosophy, musical emotion, synesthesia, television, death, and the philosophies of nineteenth-century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer and contemporary philosophers Arthur C. Danto and her late husband Robert C. Solomon.

Her books have been translated into 10 languages: Chinese, Dutch, German, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Slovenian, and Spanish.



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