Great Course — Nietzsche

41OKZk4PS1LIt’s been a while since my last post, I’ve been busy/lazy, blah blah blah.

I recently finished listening to a great course on Friedrich Nietzsche on Audible. I really enjoyed the lectures and found both professors to be wonderful. It was funny to realize that I had seen Robert Solomon a few years earlier when I watched Waking Life. Now that I’ve completed the lectures, and I’m listening to his great course on existentialism, his brief appearance in the film makes perfect scene. I was saddened to see that he had passed away recently.

Quick preface: I read The Birth of Tragedy, Beyond Good and Evil, and around 100 pages or so of The Gay Science about three years ago. I’m certain that the majority of each book went over me, as I approached them out of a young existential curiosity more than a study, but I have at least experienced some of Nietzsche’s invigorating style.

Additionally, these notes are rather sporadic, but I tried to focus them into different areas of commonality. In no way do I purport to have a grasp on Nietzsche and I have read, and listened, to multiple sources stating that Nietzsche purposefully does not present a systemic account of his philosophy. So, in some sense, and I wonder how accurate this may be, perhaps understanding Nietzsche’s various remarks on separate topics is an appropriate way to approach him. Perhaps attempting to systematize his work leads to confusion and distortion of his method (if there is one)? Regardless, I attempt to find some common thread between each area just make things clearer for myself. I am also posting these notes and reflections on the course in case anyone else was curious about it or looking for a quick overview of Nietzsche.

Philosophical Influences 

The list of Nietzsche’s favorite philosophers and his targeted philosophers was incredibly helpful. It allowed me to place Nietzsche on a map and appreciate his web of influence. It is only fitting I begin here.

I also neither realized, and therefore neither appreciated, Emerson’s influence on Nietzsche. I’m due for a dive into Emerson and Thoreau soon, so hopefully my appreciation of Emerson’s influence will grow in the coming months.

First, here are Nietzsche’s favorites:

  1. Socrates (“so close to me that almost always I fight a fight against him”)
  2. Jesus (“the only Christian”)
  3. Zarathustra
  4. Goethe
  5. Sophocles
  6. Emerson
  7. Spinoza
  8. Kant
  9. Schopenhauer
  10. Wagner

Solomon and Higgins went through the list in reverse. I was initially surprised that Wagner was number 10 given how close him and Nietzsche were and how much their separation is emphasized in introductions to Nietzsche. But now I feel that it is appropriately placed given that, and I could be extraordinarily wrong in this, Nietzsche’s relationship with Wagner seems more like a result of his early philosophy (perhaps a misguided result) than a constitutive aspect of his mature thinking. Then again, Wagner is praised extensively, and oddly, at the end of The Birth of Tragedy so my comment could miss the mark. I also want to learn more about Nietzsche’s relationship with Spinoza.

Oh, and the inclusion of Jesus as Nietzsche’s second favorite philosopher – that’s cool.

Second, here are Nietzsche’s Targets:

  1. Socrates
  2. Plato
  3. St Paul
  4. Luther
  5. Euripides
  6. Mill (“man does not live for pleasure, only the Englishman does”)
  7. Descartes
  8. Kant
  9. Schopenhauer
  10. Wagner

Many comments can be made about this list but I’ll keep it short. First, I’ve come to realize that I lack an appreciation and understanding of Pauline Christianity and the importance of St. Paul to the development of Christianity. Second, I really enjoy Nietzsche’s critique of Mill and utilitarianism despite my deep respect for Mill. Lastly, I think all the similarities between the two lists captures the challenging nature of approaching Nietzsche quite well. The man excels at undermining those who shape him.

The Importance of History

I’m in the process, and will be for my whole life, of connecting historical develops more broadly conceived with the particular develops in philosophy. Last year I found myself especially moved by this passage of Bernard Williams in Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline:

the reflective understanding of our ideas and motivations, which I take to be by general agreement a philosophical aim, is going to involve historical understanding. Here history helps philosophical understanding, or is part of it. Philosophy has to learn the lesson that conceptual description (or, more specifically, analysis) is not self-sufficient; and that such projects as deriving our concepts a priori from universal conditions of human life, though they indeed have a place (a greater place in some areas of philosophy than others), are likely to leave unexplained many features that provoke philosophical enquiry.

He then goes on to say:

But if we believe that philosophy might play an important part in making people think about what they are doing, then philosophy should acknowledge its connections with other ways of understanding ourselves, and if it insists on not doing so, it may seem to the student in every sense quite peculiar. We run the risk, in fact, that the whole humanistic enterprise of trying to understand ourselves is coming to seem peculiar.

I have always enjoyed the emphasis Williams places on the humanistic and historical aspects of philosophical education and in many ways it seems close to Pierre Hadot’s work.

Anyway, a similar, more polemic idea is captured in Nietzsche’s pithy remark: “Lack of historical sense is the original error of all philosophers.” Throughout all of Nietzsche’s work, one encounters a mind saturated in Greek history and culture; a mind fully appreciative of the historical developments (both real and fabricated) within Christianity and the ways in which society has been shaped by Christianity.

While Ancient philosophers may have focused on change as a real property of reality, many of them lacked a refined historical sense. Solomon believes that even Aristotle lacked a historical sense. It wasn’t until Hegel that we encounter a philosopher fully aware of his historical location. Yet even Hegel’s Absolute was defined as more of a “wrapping up” than a conclusion. Solomon characterizes philosophy’s development as “a passionate mess.”

However, one must not over emphasize the importance of developing a historical sense. Nietzsche criticizes “the use and abuse of studying history” along with praising its importance. Nietzsche’s main point is that history is not an end in itself, and those who mistake it as an end can bury themselves away from life through the study of history. Nietzsche sets out three different forms of history: (1) monumental history (possibilities of human achievement); (2) antiquarian history (appreciating our past – doesn’t involve whitewashing); (3) critical history (what Nietzsche engages in).

Guiding Nietzsche’s analysis is his idea of health and medicine in the human life, though not in a literal way as relating to medical science. He argues, and this comes up many times in his work and these notes, that there are certain ideas that are unhealthy and sickly, studies that lead a person away from living a healthy life. Christianity is perhaps one of the greatest examples of an unhealthy belief system while nobility and the Ancient Greek forms of living (I would assume especially the Pre-Socratics, perhaps only them?) are on the healthy side. Nietzsche’s genealogy of morals functions to distinguish the healthy from the sick and show use what aspects of history are worth studying.

Hegel and Darwin

Nietzsche wasn’t influenced by Darwin but by Darwin as he was understood at that time. Before Darwin, however, let’s briefly cover Hegel.

First, Nietzsche didn’t read much Hegel, who died thirteen years before Nietzsche was born. This is because the left-wing Hegelians, those like Marx (who emphasized dialectic and class reversal), had been eliminated from the academic scene. This left the right-wing Hegelians, who found Hegel’s Christian unorthodoxy too much at the time, in charge of propagating Hegel’s ideas in the academy. Because of the right-wing Hegelians’ dominance, Nietzsche would have known Hegel from a Christian perspective and probably did not feel a need to extensively read his work.

On the other hand, Nietzsche read Darwin quite thoroughly. I think it was interesting that Solomon and Higgins spent so much of this class talking about Darwin and all the ways in which Nietzsche work was an adaption and repudiation of some of Darwin’s conclusions yet didn’t included Darwin on the list of Nietzsche’s influences. Perhaps I misunderstood Darwin’s relation to Nietzsche, but it seems to me that Darwin was at least as influential on Nietzsche than, say, Spinoza?

Regardless, Nietzsche fought against the idea of survival of the fittest. The social Darwinism of the day embedded a moral theory in the survival of the fittest, praising the ideal survivor as the moral ideal. Nietzsche rejects the survivor (which is most likely a cockroach or some pathetic creature that simply avoids conflict) and favors the creative. Nietzsche also believed that human evolutionary development culminates in what he labels “the last man,” an individual that Higgins described as “a modern couch potato.” The idea is captured in the image of an individual who is focused simply on receiving pleasure while expending as little energy as possible and surviving as long as possible in his state of hedonic satisfaction. Nietzsche favors the ubermensch over the last man, despite the latter being significantly more survivable. Creativity and life-affirming energy require risk in living, risk that an organism focused solely on surviving would avoid.

Despite their disagreements, Nietzsche agrees with Darwin on a fundamental fact of human nature: we’re animals in the deepest meaning of that term. This point will be elaborated on in Nietzsche’s moral theory and moral psychology.


I find it interesting that Solomon believes Nietzsche had a pragmatic theory of truth similar to William James and John Dewey. Pragmatism, insofar as it can be systematized into an epistemological position, is the view that truth is defined in terms of what is functional and useful for humanity. It is enough to say that Nietzsche notion of truth seems, at least to me, quite complex and difficult to follow. But what is clear is Nietzsche’s use of “perspectivism,” which holds that there are various (qualitatively irreducible and untranslatable?) perspectives of reality. There is no hierarchy of different perspectives or ones that track reality closer than others. So, in this sense, philosophical truth could be defined as getting a sense of how different perspectives tie together.

All of this is highly complex and I’m certain that Nietzsche’s epistemology is much more nuanced but I think this captures the general texture of his view.


Nietzsche’s epistemology seems to form the basis of his critique of metaphysics (I think), or there has to be at least some relation between the two, unless I’m falling into a trap. I’ll push on.


Here’s where I found the real meat of the lectures, and I think that has to do with the power of Nietzsche’s remarks on morality and moral psychology.

First, we need to separate two different “moralities.” The first is morality, which is simply some rank ordering of values. Different societies will have different moralities, and in this sense a different morality is simply a variation in what individuals are told they ought to desire and the effectiveness by which individuals seek their desires. I think this could be classified as, generally, cultural norms of behavior and etiquette

The second is Morality, a singular objective system with nonnegotiable judgments that are not influence by personal or societal forces. Nietzsche attacks this system of morality. He attacks the latter because he believes we all have a basic sense of value due to our animal nature, we simply cannot help but prioritize different goods according to different needs.


For Nietzsche, values are not facts in the world, but he wouldn’t’ accept that values are subjective. Nietzsche rejects the dichotomy between values being located in either the world or in us. Now, I personally don’t see how one could sensibly reject this dichotomy. I have read many philosophers who mock any theory that relies on moral “particles” actually existing in the world. These moral particles (morons as Ronald Dworkin puts it) would have some causal or explanatory relation to our behavior in such a way that they would determine what are morally right and wrong states of affairs. This sounds like a form of metaethical naturalism to me, at least insofar as the “particles” would be discoverable as aspects of the natural world. If the particles are nonphysical, then they would be supernatural and discoverable through the light of reason or some moral sense that we have within us. Either way, a moral theory that holds that moral facts are in the world, or at least are objective and discoverable (or at least metaphysically real despite being epistemically inaccessible!), subscribes to moral realism. The alternative is that moral value is reducible to human evaluations of the world.

I just cannot get my head around a way outside of this dichotomy. I recognize that the metaethical status of moral claims may have no effect on our actual behavior, and perhaps that’s true, but surely that doesn’t open up a third possibility in between (or outside? underneath?) realism and antirealism. I could be conflating antirealism with the claim that values are “in us” and realism with the claim that values are “in the world,” but I don’t see what is cut out of this “conflation.” If I change “in the world” to “in reality not reducible to, and not determined by, human invention,” then what would be left out? Even if one holds that moral claims are not true or false and therefore have no propositional content, I would consider this within the camp of antirealism simply because there are no moral facts under this view, only expressions of our evaluative attitudes.

Anyway, back to Nietzsche.

Solomon believes that Hume gave a “definitive answer” to this dilemma by treating moral values like colors (similar to Locke’s view on colors as secondary qualities). In this sense, there are properties in objects that cause color in our perception, but objects do not have the properties of color in themselves. In other words, things don’t have values but there are properties in things that cause evaluations in us.

So, imagine you are decorating your house and trying to pick a color for the walls. Your painter, a jackass, asks you “well first, do you think the color you want, say red, is actually in this paint or only a product of your perception? Is red really “out there” in the world?” You can respond in two ways. First, you’d tell him that the paint only has the primary qualities as described in our physical theories. The paint has a certain density, volume, shape, chemical composition, viscosity, absorbs certain wavelength and reflects others, etc. The secondary quality of redness is not found anywhere within in paint, but it is a product of the paint’s effect on our perceptive capacities. Note that I’m taking Locke’s view here and adapting it to modern science, if that’s even possible. I’m not comfortable saying this is Hume’s because I don’t know the difference…

The second response, and more importantly for our purposes, is simply “who cares? Regardless of whether red is in the paint or is a product of my perceptions, I’m not painting this wall red. No one has red walls, they’re incredibly ugly.” I think this is the point Solomon was emphasizing, that this distinction makes no difference when you’re decorating your apartment.

Hume reasons that these responses would be just as sufficient if someone asked you “I know that you ought to call the police since you just ran over someone, but is this obligation true as a moral fact or only the result of our community’s norms of behavior and our collective moral (evaluative) sentiments?”  In this case, the distinction simply wouldn’t matter and would have no impact on how we actually live.

This is a main emphasis in Nietzsche’s work: we’re interested in what’s valuable for life. We experience the world and our lives in value-loaded terms and we simply cannot get behind our judgments to some deeper bedrock. Our specific animal nature gives us our evaluative tendencies and the work of a philosopher, or anyone who theorizes about living, is to do two things: first, inquire into what our values actually are; and second, figure out how to navigate our values given that we have different ways of viewing the world.

Back to Morality

In line with Nietzsche’s emphasis on living well, on living according to a morality (small m) that appreciates our animalistic nature, he views divine command theory—or any moral system rooted in prohibitions—to be unnatural and therefore unhealthy. Nietzsche doesn’t fall into a crude naturalist trap of praising what is “organic” and “natural,” but he does emphasize what is good for a human being and living according to what is healthy. Solomon argues that Nietzsche and Aristotle are very similar in this manner: both have a guiding conception of a health human life, a good life rooted in our nature as the particular things that we are: for Aristotle, our rational souls; for Nietzsche, it seems to be grounded more in our passions and corporeal desires and needs.

A conception of morality that is rooted in what it means to live a good human life is at odds with more formalistic moral systems, especially Kant. For Kant, there is the first maxim of the categorical imperative: “act so that the maxim of your action you would will as universal law for all humanity.” When you universalize a maxim, you are taking morality out of the realm of mere experience and have thought of morality as the product of pure practical reason, culminating in a “prohibitive” moral system. Morality is thus a rational phenomenon and not experiential.

However, Kant’s system runs into a series of problems. First, treating everyone the same does not accord with variety of skill and ability found in human beings. Solomon shares an example of giving everyone the same grade, a pedagogical method that would discourage greatness in education and fails to reward those who challenge themselves to improve beyond what is expected. Nietzsche argues that treating everyone the same destroys exceptions. We must recognize that there are only a few at the pinnacle of human ability, and a morality that fits the excellences of human achievement must come from within. In this regard, Nietzsche defends morality, not Morality, and therefore defends life.

Second, Kant’s notion of reason cuts out the passions (“inclinations”). Kant believes that sentimentality is beautiful, but not moral. But according to Nietzsche, the passions are precisely what give us morality. Hume claimed that ethics must be based on the sentiments, Nietzsche claims that only certain sentiments are worthy of ethics: those healthy to life. Nietzsche’s defense of life is a defense of the diversity of sentiments healthy to living, and his defense of the individual is a defense of vitality. Kant’s dismissal of the emotions sidelines the importance of living passionately.

Third, Nietzsche didn’t reject rational principles but a certain notion of rationality that attempts to serve as the foundation of morality. He argues that Kant’s use of principled morality, his emphasis on the universalizability of morality, only functions as a post hoc rationalization of one’s own desires.

For example, if you have a principle without exceptions, then you need some sense of what the principle is in a particular situation. What prevents a qualifying phrase as being an exception? It is because they’re universal: “you, me, and everyone else shouldn’t kill except during wartime.” But if you add enough qualifying phrases, you get a class so narrowly defined, yet universally applied, that it includes only one person: you. While Kant claimed that we don’t always know our motivations (anticipating the unconscious), there are many times where applying a universal principle to a particular case is only a rationalization of one’s unconscious motivations. A universal principle therefore convinces us to avoid looking as closely as we need to into the actual motives behind our behavior.

Lastly, Kant’s formalistic and prohibitive morality can lead to a deprived life, one that could be considered “sickly.” Nietzsche offers us a symptomatology of ethics. Our primary question is therefore, what is the healthy way to think and does it drag life down? If life is the ultimate value, then health and illness for Nietzsche are the diagnostic tools. Externally imposed values are unhealthy and asceticism is life-denying. Rational universal principles are sickly: reason is opposed to nature and Kantian rationality imports considerations that are not instinctual, not internal, not essential to our individual wellbeing.

According to Nietzsche, and it seems like Kierkegaard as well, being a good person and abiding by the precept of Christian morality and not doing anything wrong, in just those terms, doesn’t amount to living a life at all. Kierkegaard emphasizes life as vibrancy. In a similar vein, Kant wouldn’t be able to deal with heroes, individuals who go above and beyond (supererogatory actions). How would Kant deal with the life of Jesus?

Solomon believes that Aristotle and Nietzsche are the two philosophers wedded to both ethics and biology. A test of a virtuous person is if you enjoy virtue, you enjoy being honest for example.

Master and Slave Morality

A quick overview of Nietzsche’s master/slave morality thesis. Slave morality developed around 330 with Constantine and is only focused on minimizing perturbance. In contrast, masters live according to what they want and what they do makes society more excellence. One can have a master and slave morality within one’s own soul. I said it’d be quick.

Everyone does what he or she wants, and one needs to refine one’s desires to live well. Masters want to be the best, and there isn’t all that much to talk about when it comes to the specifics of master morality. Masters simply live according to their desires, and their primary desire is to be the best at whatever it is they do. This is why Zarathustra proclaimed, “don’t follow me, find your own way.” In this manner, a master morality is summarized in the claim, “I am my own ideal.”

Masters believe that they, insofar as they are masters, are good without question and others are bad. In contrast, slaves believe that masters are evil, and they (slaves) are therefore led to conclude that slaves, insofar as they are the negation and opposite of masters, are good. Accordingly, the slaves always view themselves as secondary, reliant primarily on the moral status of masters as evil. Nietzsche calls this the “transvaluation of values.” For masters, the good is assumed; for slaves, the good is the end of an inference, i.e. not doing what the masters do. Nietzsche emphasizes this point and attempts to derive something important from it, implying that a morality grounded in the negation of action is, in some sense, less authentic than a morality grounded in the affirmation of action. There might be something to this idea, but it isn’t developed very much in the lectures. We can think of master morality as virtue ethics and slave morality as Kantian ethics (not sure if I agree). Nietzsche also argues that herd morality, insofar as it is the product or outcome of slave morality, is an unhealthy development. However, Nietzsche may have missed important communitarian points concerning social ethics and community, an omission pervading his work.

There was also a brief mention of Hegel’s master and slave parable, illustrating the relation between the two and how the master can become alienated. Hegel’s master/slave illustration, as far as I understand it, is mainly about the recognition that the master seeks from the slave and is used as an argument against epistemological skepticism (unsure if this connects with Nietzsche’s use of the terms).

But there is still an important question concerning the relation between justice as fair distribution, a conception developed in modern liberal theory, and the existence of truly creative and superior people. Nietzsche seems to conceive of justice as a personal virtue instead of a general rule and universal law, similar to Aristotle. Perhaps the similarities between Aristotle and Nietzsche run even deeper, and we can see similarities between Aristotle’s great souled man and the ubermensch.

Lastly, Nietzsche stresses the importance of forgiveness. But Nietzsche’s conception of forgiveness seems like a form of magnanimity, at least Aristotle’s notion, because it is a forgiveness that stems from being too big to worry about something.

Living Well

Nietzsche believes that our dominant motivation for moral action is the fear of solitude—we are terribly afraid of being shunned. We must shed our fear of others and our habit of defining the self in relation to others if we are to live well.

According to Nietzsche, tragedy is a kind of perspective, and “only as an aesthetic phenomenon is life eternally justified.” Schopenhauer believed that ultimate satisfaction is what we really want and is what we believe true contentment consists in. Nietzsche argues that the state of frustration is something we can appreciate in itself. In contrast to Schopenhauer, we can never reach a stasis of perfect contentment and will never attain perfect satisfaction. This can be considered Nietzsche’s “strong pessimism.” Additionally, while Schopenhauer found the meaning of life in a kind of rationality, Nietzsche locates meaning in the passions.

In Zarathustra, Nietzsche presents three stages of philosophical development. First, a camel: man as storing the knowledge of the previous ages. Second, a lion: the individual tears and destroys the developments of past thought. Lastly, a young child, a boundless energy for newness and experimentation. Thus, in the end “man’s maturity is returning to the kind of serious as had play by children.”

Taking this back to Nietzsche, and desperately attempting to find a common thread between these meandering thoughts (on my end of course), Nietzsche basically presents an aesthetic to engage in life and Schopenhauer gives us an aesthetic that withdraws from life.

Finally, and basically unrelated to the above, Nietzsche believes that consciousness is dangerous: “thinking can be a disease.” He also gives us this wonderful pithy remark, “Romanticism muddies the waters to make them look deep.”

Will to Power

Heidegger emphasizes the will to power as Nietzsche’s most important metaphysical thesis. This lecture kind of wandered around, but the main emphasis was on Nietzsche’s idea that movement, not stasis, is primary.

The will to power is the will to show oneself what one is, what it is to be alive and creative. One can never complete the project of the will to power. Nietzsche fights against life as survival, he believes that life is the exercise of excellence (sounds familiar to the master morality). Furthermore, the life of creativity is not a life of satisfaction. Nietzsche immediately began working on another book the same day he finished one. The lecture ends with a great line from Goethe: “from desire I rush to satisfaction, from satisfaction I leap to desire.”

Personhood and Asceticism

There is a relation between Nietzsche and existentialism through Nietzsche’s emphasis on our freedom, especially our freedom to create. This section/lecture is mainly focused on Nietzsche conception of human freedom.

Here’s a brief rundown of similar points by other philosophers and writers. Goethe stated that we have “freedom within limits.” Kierkegaard argued that we have the ability to choose, and there is no ultimate reason why an individual should choose one mode of life over another. Sartre developed a metaphysical thesis on the power of the individual to choose. We are therefore responsible for who we are and the state of society, and for humanity and what a human being means.

Nietzsche rejects Sartre’s notion of choice. Nietzsche was a biological determinist who had a naturalistic conception of the self. Accordingly, there are always aspects of us that are determinate of our behavior (similar to Goethe’s quote). One’s life is not a blank canvas, we must seek self-realization and not self-creation. A nice little summary of Nietzsche’s perspective on this matter can be found in the line “become who you are.” Cultivating who one is a lifelong effort – “live your life as a work of art.”

Of course, Nietzsche’s determinism runs into issues of free will and the problem of agency. I think Nietzsche accepts this outcome and doesn’t believe in any robust sense of free will: “a thought comes when it will, not when I will.” This is in line with his love of fate, his “Amor Fati.”

A traditional desire for morality, or at least a bedrock intuition behind our sense of justice, is that morality should, ideally, make us happy. The disconnect between happiness and morality is actually the focus of one of Kant’s antinomies of practical reason. Nietzsche reverses the traditional relation. In Daybreak, he argues that you’re more likely to be virtuous if you’re happy. This is likely because Nietzsche holds that every philosophy is a personal confession and has a moral root. He attacks the distinction between morality and self-interest, people simply do what they want to do. So, a person who is happier is acting more in line with their personal interests, and their morality will therefore be more developed (unsure if this last restatement are the exact steps he takes).

I really liked Solomon’s reflections on asceticism, or the reduction of oneself to insignificance. Camus wrote extensively on philosophy suicide, when ones is “giving up on this life, rejecting the moments of this life.” Camus wrote about philosophical suicide in the context of the rejection of death and the acceptance of immortality, so perhaps his point equally applies to ascetics. Both the ascetic and the religious devotee can display a similar rejection of this current life. Solomon notes that there is also a certain secular asceticism at work in the modern world, “a kind of frenzy” that pervades our lives. He notes that our modern habit of being “plugged in,” or even just listening to music in public, is a kind of secular otherworldliness. I completely agree, and there’s a funny irony in the fact that I listened to this great course while I was taking public busses, driving to work, and walking around campus. In modern life, it’s easy to see manifestations of the desire to leave this world (e.g. VR tech) and I’m sure our cravings for other worlds will increase in line with our technological capacity to leave our immediate environment, but that’s a post in itself.

A brief mention on empathy. Compassion plays a large role in Schopenhauer’s philosophy, because when we understand that we are all victims of the cosmic force of the will, then we have the compassion for one another. Nietzsche thinks this is pathetic, and the fact that we are compassionate because we are all victims is not noble.

Lastly, Nietzsche viewed forgetfulness as a virtue. Here’s a great quote to finish up, “‘I have done that’ says my memory, ‘I did not do that’ says my pride, and eventually my memory yields.”

Love and Recurrence

The last few lectures covered a lot of different topics, so this last section will be even more sporadic than usual.

First, Plato has a close connection with eros, or “passionate love” or “romantic love.” Aristotle has a close connection with philia, which can be translated as “brotherly love” or the affection between friends.

We should consider love as spiritual, the “spiritualization of sensuality.” Within Christianity, there is the conception of love between pure souls – similar to Aristophanes’ conception of love as the unification of the divided self. Nietzsche rejects this idea of love, he argues for the importance of individualism and the problem of the submersion of oneself when one attempts to merge together with another. I think this is a good point, but a difficult point to fully appreciate. Solomon accepts Nietzsche’s criticism of Airstophones’ and, by rough extension, a romantic or even romantically Christian conception of love. Solomon argues that marriage should be seen as an extended conversation between two individuals; not the merger of two worlds but an orbit between separate bodies. I have to think more about this but I appreciate the challenge the romantic idea of unification and fully accept the rejection of the idea that there is a perfect “one” or “soulmate” with whom one can merge oneself with. However, I think this critique is complicated when children come into play, as the unification and therefore stability of the parental unit is likely very beneficial to a child’s development and psychological growth.

There is also Socrates and his idea of the progression of love, love of the form of beauty (found in the Symposium). For Plato, loving another person is a way of loving the idea of love, or loving God. Nietzsche’s conception of love is Aristotle’s philia with Plato’s eros built in. In line with Aristotle’s conception of love, there are three steps: mutual use, mutual enjoyment, and mutual inspiration between the lover and beloved.

There was also a brief lecture on eternal recurrence and a very pleasant story from Solomon about his own life and how Nietzsche changed the trajectory of his life (moving from medical school to a philosophy PhD isn’t your standard transfer).


Ok, those are all my notes from the lectures. They are brief, erratic, and are not especially helpful to actually digging into the richness of Nietzsche’s work, but I think they do a nice job of surveying the varied and difficult landscape of his thought. Here’s to more habitual posting!

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