Sociology Index

Friedrich Nietzsche

Among distinguished sociologists, a German philosopher, one of the great modern iconoclasts, Friedrich Nietzsche has been read as the precursor of such varied phenomena as Nazism and postmodernism. Nietzsche became the youngest ever to hold the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel in 1869 at the age of 24. Essentially, Nietzsche appears to have been outraged by the lack of reflexivity among philosophers and scientists who failed to apply to their own thoughts the rigorous questioning they applied to those of others, a reaction which led him to dispute the supposed rationalism, scientism, and humanism of modern Western societies. Against this, he upheld the ideals of individualism, self-reliance, competition, and elitism. Nietzsche was opposed to antisemitism and nationalism, although his sister attempted to associate his work with fascism and Nazism.

The three terms that summarize both the reasons for the continuing controversy over his thought, and the results of his own self-questioning, are 'nihilism', 'will to power', and 'superman'. Among those said to have been influenced by his works are Max Weber and Paul Michel Foucault. Most of his books are available in good modern translations. Arthur Schopenhauer strongly influenced Nietzsche's earliest philosophical thought.

Nietzsche's thought and his ideas have had a profound impact on 20th and early-21st century thinkers, especially in schools of continental philosophy such as existentialism, postmodernism and poststructuralism, and also art, literature, psychology, politics and popular culture. Amongst the best-known are The Gay Science (1882), Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-92), Beyond Good and Evil (1886), On the Genealogy of Morals (1887), and Ecce Homo (1908).