An “Incredible Person” study of Friedrich Nietzsche (1/2)

  “Like an unskilled doctor, fallen ill, you lose heart and cannot discover by which remedies to cure your own disease.” (Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound)

How can you have a great life? One strategy is to study and emulate the lives of great people like Martin Luther King Junior. Every padawan benefits from having a mentor, like Luke Skywalker was Yoda’s student.

Where can you find such highly successful people? Some places to look are sports, politics, and of course the history of ideas. One such person was the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Renowned Nietzsche Scholar Yunus Tuncel points out:

“Nietzsche dealt with the problems of life as a child and a teenager. He lost his father at a young age and then they had to move to the nearest town. In his early teen years, he started having health problems. And yet, he struggled and did not give up. He always confronted his sufferings rather than surrender and pursued his studies and learning. There is much to learn from all of that.”

Übermensch - Wikipedia
Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche had many great and interesting ideas. One was about morality. For instance, if we look at the terms “good” and “evil,” they seem to have a religious sense, such as our word “good-bye,” which originally meant “God-be-with-you.” Things were good because God liked them, and evil if God hated them. Nietzsche pointed out that things can be good and yet morally wrong, for instance “good” means “effective” if we speak of a good bird of prey – though a human doing what a good bird of prey does would be a problem for society. Moreover, one event can generate multiple contradictory ethical interpretations, such as the western reaction to 9’11 vs the Palestinian celebration of it at the time.

Nietzsche reasoned that we were asking the wrong question when it comes to judging events, since evaluation at some level is arbitrary and based on taste (eg, a rubric of criteria judging fine wine may be objective, but meaningless if you hate the taste of wine as I do). And, determining things as good and evil can identify “good” things which could be diagnosed as “unhealthy,” such as what Nietzsche called “slave morality.” For example, accumulating wealth was evil to the original Christians (Matt 19:21, and esp Mark 10:25). Nietzsche said we should go beyond asking what is good and evil to the diagnosis of whether a particular society or action are healthy or sick. Nietzsche referred to himself as a cultural physician.

There are many examples of how Nietzsche’s thoughts have informed modern ideas, such as cognitive behavioral psychology and therapy, commonly known as CBT. For instance, consider these strategies for challenging bad, which is to say unhealthy, thinking patterns:

image.png
Above image shared by Positive Psychology of well known CBT strategies

Part of Nietzsche’s genius was seeing that events and actions are not inherently good or bad, but can be interpreted in different ways. The question is whether your experience of something as good or bad is a healthy or sickly one. This is not a relativism where everything is equally desirable or undesirable. For example, a child bride and her family may see her marriage as “good,” but we can still say it’s objectively “unhealthy” because twelve year old brains are not old enough to rationally judge whether or not to be in such a relationship.