Introduction to Nietzsche and His 5 Greatest Ideas
BY PHILOSOPHY BREAK
The ultimate collection of Friedrich Nietzsche’s cleverest and most provocative statements, organized chronologically according to the books from which they’re taken.
Friedrich Nietzsche was a 19th-century German philosopher best known for his brilliant, provocative aphorisms and his infamous declaration that God is dead.
Writing across a broad range of topics, Nietzsche was primarily concerned with facing up to the problem of nihilism. He dedicated much of his work to dissecting and answering the following question: in a post-God world, how can we move beyond the outdated moralities derived from religion to establish new, healthy foundations for value, beauty, and meaning?
However, far from laying out his ideas in clear, structured, organized form, in the majority of his works Nietzsche prefers to challenge his readers with pithy aphorisms and provocative, seemingly disconnected passages.
The consequence of this is that Nietzsche’s aphorisms often appear on the internet independently, removed from their original context. This probably wouldn’t have upset Nietzsche too much, considering he states the following:
It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what everyone else says in a whole book — what everyone else does not say in a whole book.
However, the consumption of Nietzsche’s work one quotation at a time can mean that understanding his broader philosophical project is difficult. And, while Nietzsche’s aphorisms are great, his philosophical ideas — taken as a whole — are even better.
If you’re looking to go beyond his quotations to learn about his actual philosophy, we’ve created a quick 6-part introductory course on Nietzsche’s greatest ideas, covering everything from his influential distinction between the Apollonian and Dionysian, his perspectival theory of knowledge, and his infamous proclomation that God is dead, to his critique of traditional morality, his introduction of the eternal recurrence and the Übermensch, and his theory of the will to power.
The course gets rave reviews, and if you’re interested in Nietzsche it might be just what you’re looking for. Learn more about it by hitting the banner below now.
We’ve also created a condensed reading list of the 7 best books by and about Nietzsche, where we offer some more biographical details about the great philosopher’s life.
Otherwise, below you’ll find 97 of Nietzsche’s cleverest and most provocative quotations, organized chronologically according to the books in which they appear. Enjoy!
1. “The insatiable will always finds a way to detain its creatures in life and compel them to live on, by means of an illusion spread over things.”
2. “Knowledge kills action, for action requires a state of being in which we are covered with the veil of illusion.”
3. It is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified.
4. “[The art of ] tragedy transforms those repulsive thoughts about the terrible or absurd nature of existence into representations with which man can live.”
5. “One has to take a somewhat bold and dangerous line with this existence: especially as, whatever happens, we are bound to lose it.”
6. “We labor at our daily work more ardently and thoughtlessly than is necessary to sustain our life because it is even more necessary not to have leisure to stop and think. Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself.”
7. Life has not been devised by morality: it wants deception, it lives on deception.
8. “Consider the cattle, grazing as they pass you by: they do not know what is meant by yesterday or today, they leap about, eat, rest, digest, leap about again, and so from morn till night and from day to day, fettered to the moment and its pleasure or displeasure, and thus neither melancholy nor bored. This is a hard sight for man to see; for, though he thinks himself better than the animals because he is human, he cannot help envying them their happiness – what they have, a life neither bored nor painful, is precisely what he wants, yet he cannot have it because he refuses to be like an animal…”
9. “Amazingly, the most obvious question fails to occur to our scholars: what is their work, their hurry, their painful frenzy supposed to be for?”
10. “Every tradition grows ever more venerable — the more remote its origin, the more confused that origin is. The reverence due to it increases from generation to generation. The tradition finally becomes holy and inspires awe.”
11. “To escape boredom, man works either beyond what his usual needs require, or else he invents play, that is, work that is designed to quiet no need other than that for working in general.”
12. “Christianity came into existence to lighten the heart, but now it needs to burden the heart to start with so it can lighten it afterwards. Consequently, it will perish.”
13. In reality, hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs the torments of man.
14. “A few hours’ mountain climbing make of a rogue and a saint two fairly equal creatures.”
15. “Admiration for a quality or an art can be so strong that it deters us from striving to possess it.”
16. The first opinion that occurs to us when we are suddenly asked about a matter is usually not our own, but only the customary one, appropriate to our caste, position, or parentage; our own opinions seldom swim near the surface.
17. “A man far oftener appears to have a decided character from persistently following his temperament than from persistently following his principles.”
18. “Wherever there is madness there is also a grain of genius and wisdom… All superior men who were irresistibly drawn to throw off the yoke of any kind of morality and to frame new laws had, if they were not actually mad, no alternative but to make themselves or pretend to be mad.”
19. Christianity has done its utmost to close the circle and declared even doubt to be sin. One is supposed to be cast into belief without reason, by a miracle, and from then on to swim in it as in the brightest and least ambiguous of elements: even a glance towards land, even the thought that one perhaps exists for something else as well as swimming, even the slightest impulse of our amphibious nature — is sin! And notice that all this means that the foundation of belief and all reflection on its origin is likewise excluded as sinful. What is wanted are blindness and intoxication and an eternal song over the waves in which reason has drowned.
20. “I deny morality as I deny alchemy.”
21. “Moderation sees itself as beautiful; it is unaware that in the eye of the immoderate it appears black and sober and consequently ugly-looking.”
22. The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct them to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.
23. “For those who need consolation no means of consolation is so effective as the assertion that in their case no consolation is possible: it implies so great a degree of distinction that they at once hold up their heads again.”
24. “I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati [love of fate]: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: someday I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.”
25. The secret of the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment of existence is: to live dangerosly!
26. “Looking for work in order to be paid: in civilized countries today almost all men are at one in doing that. For all of them work is a means and not an end in itself. Hence they are not very refined in their choice of work, if only it pays well. But there are, if only rarely, men who would rather perish than work without any pleasure in their work. They are choosy, hard to satisfy, and do not care for ample rewards, if the work itself is not to be the reward of rewards. Artists and contemplative men of all kinds belong to this rare breed, but so do even those men of leisure who spend their lives hunting, traveling, or in love affairs and adventures. All of these desire work and misery only if it is associated with pleasure, and the hardest, most difficult work if necessary. Otherwise their idleness is resolute, even if it spells impoverishment, dishonor, and danger to life and limb. They do not fear boredom as much as work without pleasure.”
27. To stand in the midst of ... this whole marvelous uncertainty and rich ambiguity in existence without questioning, without trembling with the craving and the rapture of such questioning ... that is what I feel to be contemptible, and this is the feeling for which I look first in everybody. Some folly keeps persuading me that every human has this feeling just because he is human.
28. “Keeping up appearances, living in borrowed finery, wearing masks, the drapery of convention, play-acting for the benefit of others and oneself ... the constant fluttering of human beings around the one flame of vanity is so much the rule and the law that there is virtually nothing which defies understanding so much as the fact that an honest and pure drive towards truth should ever have emerged in them. They are deeply immersed in illusions and dream-images; their eyes merely glide across the surface of things and see ‘forms’; nowhere does their perception lead to truth.”
29. “Pity is the most agreeable feeling among those who have little pride and no prospects of great conquests.”
30. Possessions are generally diminished by possession.
31. “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”
32. God is dead: but considering the state of the species Man is in, there will perhaps be caves, for ages yet, in which his shadow will be shown.
33. “From such abysses, from such severe sickness… one must return newborn, having shed one’s skin, more ticklish and malicious, with a more delicate taste for joy, with a tenderer tongue for all good things, with merrier senses, with a second dangerous innocence in joy, more childlike and yet a hundred times subtler than one has ever been before.”
34. “To ‘give style’ to one’s character — a great and rare art! It is practiced by those who survey all the strengths and weaknesses that their nature has to offer and then fit them into an artistic plan until each appears as art and reason and even weaknesses delight the eye. Here a great mass of second nature has been added; there a piece of first nature removed — both times through long practice and daily work at it. Here the ugly that could not be removed is concealed; there it is reinterpreted into sublimity. Much that is vague and resisted shaping has been saved and employed for distant views—it is supposed to beckon towards the remote and immense. In the end, when the work is complete, it becomes clear how it was the force of a single taste that ruled and shaped everything great and small…”
35. “Man is something to be surpassed.”
36. Distrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.
37. “God is a thought which makes crooked all that is straight.”
38. “How many things are now called the worst evil, which are only twelve feet wide and three months long! But some day greater dragons will come into the world.”
39. In solitude there grows what anyone brings into it, the inner beast too. Therefore solitude is inadvisable to many.
40. “What is the ape to man? A laughing-stock or a painful embarrassment. And just the same shall be man to the Übermensch: a laughing-stock or a painful embarrassment.”
41. “They vomit their gall and call it a newspaper.”
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42. “The creation of freedom for oneself and a sacred ‘No’ even to duty — for that, my brothers, the lion is needed.”
43. Behold! I shall show you the Last Man....The earth has become small, and upon it hops the Last Man, who makes everything small... A little poison now and then: that produces pleasant dreams. And a lot of poison at last, for a pleasant death. They still work, for work is entertainment. But they take care the entertainment does not exhaust them... No herdsmen and one herd. Everyone wants the same thing, everyone is the same: whoever thinks otherwise goes voluntarily into the madhouse... ‘We have discovered happiness,’ say the Last Men, and blink.
44. “I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves.”
45. “Man is a rope, fastened between animal and Übermensch — a rope over an abyss.”
46. You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, the only way, it does not exist.
47. “The Übermensch shall be the meaning of the earth! I entreat you my brethren, remain true to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of supra-terrestrial hopes! … Behold, I teach you the Übermensch: he is this lightning, he is this madness! … Behold, I am a prophet of the lightning and a heavy drop from the cloud: but this lightning is called Übermensch.”
48. “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”
49. “A man’s maturity: that is to have rediscovered the seriousness he possessed as a child at play.”
50. One loves ultimately one’s desires, not the thing desired.
51. “The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets successfully through many a bad night.”
52. “Independence is for the very few; it is a privilege of the strong. And whoever attempts it even with the best right but without inner constraint proves that he is probably not only strong, but also daring to the point of recklessness. He enters into a labyrinth, he multiplies a thousandfold dangers which life brings with it in any case, not the least of which is that no one can see how and where he loses his way, becomes lonely, and is torn piecemeal by some minotaur of conscience. Supposing one like that comes to grief, this happens so far from the comprehension of men that they neither feel it nor sympathize. And he cannot go back any longer.”
53. It might be a basic characteristic of existence that those who would know it completely would perish, in which case the strength of spirit should be measured according to how much of the "truth" one could still barely endure — or to put it more clearly, to what degree one would require it to be thinned down, shrouded, sweetened, blunted, falsified.
54. “Words are acoustical signs for concepts; concepts, however, are more or less definite image signs for often recurring and associated sensations, for groups of sensations. To understand one another, it is not enough that one use the same words; one also has to use the same words for the same species of inner experiences; in the end one has to have one's experiences in common.”
55. “A human being who strives for something great considers everyone he meets on his way either as a means or as a delay and obstacle — or as a temporary resting place.”
56. Men of profound sadness betray themselves when they are happy: they have a way of embracing happiness as if they wanted to crush and suffocate it, from jealousy: alas, they know only too well that it will flee.
57. “More and more it seems to me that the philosopher, being of necessity a man of tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, has always found himself, and had to find himself, in contradiction to his today: his enemy was ever the ideal of today. So far all these extraordinary furtherers of men whom one calls philosophers, though they themselves have rarely felt like friends of wisdom but rather like disagreeable fools and dangerous question marks, have found their task, their hard, unwanted, inescapable task, but eventually also the greatness of their task, in being the bad conscience of their time.”
58. “There is no such thing as moral phenomena, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena.”
59. Madness is something rare in individuals — but in groups, parties, peoples, and ages, it is the rule.
60. “‘I did that,’ says my memory. ‘I could not have done that,’ says my pride, and remains inexorable. Eventually the memory yields.”
61. “I shall repeat a hundred times; we really ought to free ourselves from the seduction of words!”
62. “Whoever despises himself still respects himself as one who despises.”
63. “Sensuality often hastens the growth of love so much that the roots remain weak and are easily torn up.”
64. “Christianity gave Eros poison to drink; he did not die of it, certainly, but degenerated to Vice.”
65. “Blessed are the forgetful, for they get the better even of their blunders.”
66. That which is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil.
67. “Every great philosophy so far has been the personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir.”
68. “One must shed the bad taste of wanting to agree with many. ‘Good’ is no longer good when one's neighbor mouths it. And how should there be a ‘common good’! The term contradicts itself: whatever can be common always has little value. In the end it must be as it is and always has been: great things remain for the great, abysses for the profound, nuances and shudders for the refined, and, in brief, all that is rare for the rare.”
69. “[L]et us guard ourselves better from now on... against the dangerous old conceptual fabrication that posited a ‘pure, will-less, painless, timeless subject of knowledge’; let us guard ourselves against the tentacles of such contradictory concepts as ‘pure reason,’ ‘absolute spirituality,’ ‘knowledge in itself.’”
70. “Particularly as knowers, let us not be ungrateful toward such resolute reversals of the familiar perspectives and valuations with which the spirit has raged against itself all too long… to see differently in this way for once, to want to see differently, is no small discipline and preparation of the intellect for its future ‘objectivity’—the latter understood not as ‘disinterested contemplation’ (which is a non-concept and absurdity), but rather as the capacity to have one’s Pro and Contra in one’s power, and to shift them in and out, so that one knows how to make precisely the difference in perspectives and affective interpretations useful for knowledge.”
71. There is only a perspectival seeing, only a perspectival ‘knowing’; and the more affects we allow to speak about a matter, the more eyes, different eyes, we know how to bring to bear on one and the same matter, that much more complete will our ‘concept’ of this matter, our ‘objectivity’ be.
72. “Every instinct which does not vent itself externally turns inwards — this is what I call the internalization of man: it is at this point that what is later called the ‘soul’ first develops in man.”
73. “The man who is forced into an oppressively narrow and regular morality, who for want of external enemies and resistance impatiently tears, persecutes, gnaws, disturbs, mistreats himself, this animal which is to be ‘tamed’, which rubs himself raw on the bars of his cage… this yearning and desperate prisoner became the inventor of ‘bad conscience’.”
74. “To demand of strength that it should not express itself as strength, that it should not be a desire to overcome, a desire to throw down, a desire to become master, a thirst for enemies and resistances and triumphs, is just as absurd as to demand of weakness that it should express itself as strength.”
75. Man, the boldest animal and the one most accustomed to pain, does not repudiate suffering as such; he desires it, he even seeks it out, provided that he has been shown a meaning for it, a reason for suffering. The meaninglessness of suffering, and not suffering as such, has been the curse which has hung over mankind up to now.
76. “Man would rather will nothingness than not will at all.”
77. “Every animal… instinctively strives for an optimum of favorable conditions in which fully to release his power and achieve his maximum feeling of power; every animal abhors equally instinctively, with an acute sense of smell ‘higher than all reason,’ any kind of disturbance and hindrance which blocks or could block his path to the optimum.”
78. “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.”
79. The church combats the passions by cutting them off in every sense: its technique, its ‘cure’ is castration.
80. “It is in our wild nature that we best recover from our un-nature, our spirituality.”
81. “When stepped on, the worm curls up. That is a clever thing to do. Thus it reduces its chances of being stepped on again. In the language of morality: humility.”
82. “Idleness is the beginning of all psychology. What? Could it be that psychology is — a vice?”
83. Is man merely a mistake of God’s? Or God merely a mistake of man?
84. “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”
85. “To learn to see — to accustom the eye to calmness, to patience, and to allow things to come up to it; to defer judgment, and to acquire the habit of approaching and grasping an individual case from all sides. This is the first preparatory schooling of intellectuality. One must not respond immediately to a stimulus; one must acquire a command of the obstructing and isolating instincts.”
86. Freedom is the will to be responsible for ourselves.”
87. “Against boredom even the gods struggle in vain.”
88. What is good?—Everything that enhances people’s feelings of power, will to power, power itself. What is bad?—Everything stemming from weakness. What is happiness?—The feeling that power is growing, that some resistance has been overcome. Not contentedness, but more power; not peace, but war; not virtue, but prowess…
89. “Great intellects are skeptical.”
90. “Sin, this supreme form of human self-desecration, was invented to block science, to block culture, to block every elevation and ennoblement of humanity; the priests rule through the invention of sin.”
91. “And do you know what ‘the world’ is to me? … This world: a monster of energy, without beginning, without end … set in a definite space as a definite force, and not a space that might be ‘empty’ here or there, but rather as force throughout, as a play of forces and waves of forces, at the same time one and many, increasing here and at the same time decreasing here; … — This world is the will to power — and nothing besides! And you yourselves are also this will to power — and nothing besides!”
92. We have art in order not to die of the truth.
93. “Of what is great one must either be silent or speak with greatness.”
94. “Necessity is not an established fact, but an interpretation.”
95. “Those who can breathe the air of my writings know that it is an air of the heights, a strong air. One must be made for it. Otherwise there is no small danger that one might catch cold in it. The ice is near, the solitude tremendous — but how calmly all things lie in the light. How freely one breathes! How much one feels beneath oneself.”
96. “Resentment, born of weakness, harms no one more than the weak person himself.”
97. I know my fate. One day my name will be associated with the memory of something tremendous — a crisis without equal on earth, the most profound collision of conscience, a decision that was conjured up against everything that had been believed, demanded, hallowed so far. I am no man, I am dynamite.
To help you learn more about the entire philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche — as well as why this controversial, oft-misunderstood thinker holds such a special place in the history of philosophy — we’ve put together a bite-size introduction to his life, work, and 5 greatest ideas, with materials delivered direct to your inbox over 6 days. Learn more and enroll today.
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