In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Friedrich Nietzsche

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Biographies
  • Genealogy, Naturalism, and Questions of Philosophical Methodology
  • Moral Philosophy
  • Political Philosophy
  • Art and Literature
  • Truth, Knowledge, and Perspectivism
  • Mind, Agency, and Free Will

Philosophy Friedrich Nietzsche
Brian Leiter
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 October 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0081


Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) is one of the major figures of 19th-century European philosophy, whose influence on 20th-century thought was rivaled only by Marx. Trained as a classical scholar of antiquity, he was forced by ill health into an early retirement from his academic career while still in his thirties. Until his mental and physical collapse in early 1889, he spent his time writing his most celebrated works (including Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, and On the Genealogy of Morality) while living in various inns in Italy, France, and Switzerland. Little recognized during his productive lifetime, by the time of his death in 1900 he was quickly becoming the most influential figure in European intellectual life. His scathing attack on morality, his penetrating psychological insights into human behavior, and his startling views about truth and knowledge, all presented in some of the most brilliant and memorable prose ever written by a philosopher, made Nietzsche one of the most important intellectual forces with which to be reckoned at the dawn of the 20th century. Freud, Hesse, Gide, Mann, and Heidegger were among his admirers, and political movements of every stripe—anarchist, socialist, and fascist—all claimed the mantle of his influence. The political triumph of Nazism, and the efforts of his proto-Nazi sister to align him with its cause, tainted his reputation: illiberal and anti-egalitarian, to be sure, Nietzsche was also an enemy of nationalism and capitalism, which he saw as fatal obstacles to the realization of human genius and cultural excellence. In the post-World War II era, Nietzsche gradually reemerged as a thinker of profound importance, read variously as a forerunner of existentialism, post-structuralism, and philosophical naturalism, among other philosophical movements.

General Overviews

These studies differ in methodology and philosophical ambition, but they all cover some of the most famous themes in Nietzsche’s philosophy, such as the will to power, eternal recurrence, and perspectivism (though they differ on how central these themes really are to his philosophy). Clark 1990 is unusual in focusing almost entirely on the books Nietzsche published, whereas the other studies draw heavily (sometimes very heavily, as in Deleuze 1983, Heidegger 1979–1982, Richardson 1995) on the notebooks that were unpublished at the time of Nietzsche’s collapse (the Nachlass). See Editions of Nietzsche’s Work and Controversies about the Canon for more on the controversy surrounding the Nachlass material. Of these books, Clark 1990 has had the most impact on subsequent work, revolutionizing Anglophone scholarship especially, both by engaging with Nietzsche’s texts at a level of philosophical sophistication not seen previously, and by advancing, on the basis of careful readings of texts, an important hypothesis about the development of Nietzshe’s views on truth and knowledge.

  • Clark, Maudemarie. Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

    Argues that Nietzsche moved from skepticism about the possibility of truth based on neo-Kantian doubts about the accessibility of the world as it is (the “noumenal” world) to a repudiation of this idea and renewed confidence in the senses and empirical science. Also contains important chapters on will to power (arguing that it is mainly a kind of psychological hypothesis and not a metaphysical thesis) and eternal recurrence.

  • Deleuze, Gilles. Nietzsche and Philosophy. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.

    English translation of Nietzsche et la Philosophie (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1962). Drawing heavily on Nachlass material, Deleuze treats the ideas of “activity” and “reactivity” as central to a systematic reading of the corpus. Not for beginners, but worth the attention of scholars and graduate students.

  • Heidegger, Martin. Nietzsche. 4 vols. Translated and edited by David Farrell Krell. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1979–1982.

    Heidegger’s lecture courses on Nietzsche between 1936 and 1941, transcriptions of which first appeared in two volumes in German in 1961. Essential reading for students of Heidegger, more controversial as a guide to Nietzsche, though it has been influential, especially in European scholarship. Heidegger relies heavily on Nachlass material and treats Nietzsche as the culmination of the tradition of Western metaphysics that begins with Plato. “Will to power” and the problem of “nihilism” are central in Heidegger’s reading.

  • Magnus, Bernd. Nietzsche’s Existential Imperative. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978.

    An important defense of the idea that Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal recurrence ought to be understood as a kind of ethical imperative about how one should aspire to live one’s life (roughly, live in such a way that one could will the eternal repetition of one’s life).

  • Nehamas, Alexander. Nietzsche: Life as Literature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.

    An elegant synthesis and restatement of what came to be known as the “French” post-structuralist Nietzsche associated with Paul DeMan, Jacques Derrida, and Sarah Kofman. Ascribes to Nietzsche a view Nehamas dubs “aestheticism,” according to which Nietzsche views the world as like a literary text and its occupants as like literary characters. The chapter on eternal recurrence remains influential, though the central interpretive thesis about aestheticism has not won much favor over time.

  • Reginster, Bernard. The Affirmation of Life: Nietzsche on Overcoming Nihilism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.

    An impressive recent attempt to give an overview of Nietzsche’s philosophical corpus, organized, like Heidegger’s, around the themes of will to power and nihilism, though with much greater sensitivity to the texts than Heidegger and far more lucid. Very illuminating on the role of responses to Schopenhauer in Nietzsche’s work. Not always sensitive, however, to the philosophical plausibility of the views ascribed to Nietzsche. Its treatment of will to power is usefully contrasted with the account in Richardson 1995. Accessible to advanced undergraduates.

  • Richardson, John. Nietzsche’s System. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

    Gives, as its title suggests, a systematic account of Nietzsche’s entire corpus, organized around the Heideggerian theme of will to power, and the Deleuzian theme of activity/reactivity—but does so with much greater clarity and care than either of his European interpreters. The account of will to power as the teleological tendency of any drive to co-opt other drives for its ends is the most compelling account in the literature, which all others must address. Accessible to advanced undergraduates.

  • Schacht, Richard. Nietzsche. London: Routledge, 1983.

    Comprehensive and carefully documented overview of every aspect of Nietzsche’s philosophy, giving equal weight in its interpretation to both published and unpublished work. Schacht’s methodical canvassing of textual evidence makes his book a useful check on any interpretive hypothesis about Nietzsche. Sometimes long-winded, and not philosophically sophisticated, but a valuable resource for beginners and advanced students.

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