If ever there was a thinker who swam against the social and ethical tide of his day, it was Nietzsche. Nineteenth-century Europe was for him a moral wasteland filled with false altruism, duplicity, double standards, and, worst of all, moral complacency. Nietzsche shocked his readers to the core by openly speaking their innermost thoughts: morality serves the social good, which for him meant fostering the best possible society - one that strives for excellence and abhors the herd mentality. By rejecting the "standards" of contemporary morality, Nietzsche thought, one stood a chance of going beyond good and evil to a community in which superior moral agents who understand human nature would rise above vacuous egalitarianism and the dominant schools of ethical theory to construct a moral aristocracy that would spearhead a new social renaissance. Nietzsche is at once unsettling, compelling, and provocative.
FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE was born on October 15, 1844, to the family of a Protestant minister in the town of R cken, which is located in the Saxony-Anhalt region of what is now eastern Germany. After studing philosophy in Bonn and Leipzig, Nietzsche became a professor at the University of Basel, Switzerland, in 1869. Later he opted to become a Swiss citizen. While working in Switzerland, he published his first book, a literary work titled The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music. This volume was produced during Nietzsche's friendship with the composer Richard Wagner, though only a few years would pass before the two would part ways as a result of personal and intellectual differences.
In failing health and unable to devote himself full time to both teaching and independent writing, Nietzsche chose to resign his university position. During the next decade he wrote such works as Thus Spake Zarathustra (most of which appeared in 1883), Beyond Good and Evil (1886), Genealogy of Morals (1887), Twilight of the Gods (1888), Antichrist (1888), and Ecce Homo (1888).
His collapse while in Turin, Italy, in early 1899, would prove the beginning of a long and arduous struggle with ill health and insanity. Nietzsche died in the care of his family in Weimar on August 25, 1900, just a few weeks prior to his fifty-sixth birthday.
Nietzsche advocated the view that all humankind should reject otherworldliness and instead rely on its own creative potential to discover values that best serve the social good. His infamous "superman" or "overman" is one who has recognized how to channel individual passions in the direction of creative outlets. In rejecting the morality of the masses, Nietzsche celebrates the pursuit of classical virtues.