What was Nietzsche doing?

I enjoyed guest-teaching a course on Leo Strauss last evening that enrolls an extraordinary group of students. Deeply steeped in political philosophy–and especially Nietzsche–they are able to cite Nietzschean texts by heart, with references.

I had assigned a selection from Will to Power for this session because, in my early work (and even in a roman-a-clef), I presented Strauss as thoroughly Nietszchean. As we discussed the earlier philosopher, I asked–without premeditation–what we think he was up to. Was Nietzsche …

  1. A therapist
  2. A political actor
  3. An artist
  4. A philosopher with views
  5. A scholar

Any forced-choice question about a major thinker is reductive, but I recommend this one to provoke conversation.

Students provided some alternatives that were not on my impromptu list, such as “a recruiter of philosophers.” For what it’s worth, I would choose c. (an artist), while recognizing that a. and e. are also true, to a degree. I am not so sure that Nietzsche was political, in even the loosest sense of that word; in other words, I am skeptical that he wrote to change society. And I don’t think he had philosophical views, in the standard way, because his core doctrines were meant to be self-refuting. I think that Nietzsche wrote to create beautiful, original, and formally fascinating works, in which the author is also a character.

See also: Philosophy as a Way of Life (on Pierre Hadot); Cuttings version 2.0: a book about happiness

This entry was posted in philosophy, Uncategorized on by .

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.