Centre for Continuing Education

Philosophy Course: An Introduction to Nietzsche

Philosophy. Study the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence.

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That which is done out of love always takes place beyond Good and Evil.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil.

Nietzsche is famous for his theories of Nihilism; the eternal return; will to power; master/slave morality; God is dead; and free spirits. We will read selections from Nietzsche’s early, middle, and late works, and discuss the development of his ideas and his complex, poetic/philosophical style. Join us as we undertake a comprehensive introduction to these ideas and many more.

Central to Nietzsche’s philosophy of life, he wants to teach people to live as ‘free spirits’. Free spirits can live with “the whole marvellous uncertainty and rich ambiguity of existence”. The free spirit has an energetic disposition of abounding force, which has integrated reason within a larger economy of the senses. It is a human who has an enlarged sense of the self’s relation to the life-world and so is more open to its' possibilities. This human is also less fearful of the world and others. Nietzsche understands fear and resentment as the basis of most prejudices, and it is this attitude which constitutes for him the ‘herd mentality’.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • describe Nietzsche’s philosophy
  • describe the Romantic period of philosophical history
  • apply Nietzsche’s ideas to the contemporary world
  • assess Nietzsche’s philosophy in respect to the ethical and political challenges of a personal life.


This course covers the following topics:

Introduction and biography

Nietzsche’s life is not incidental to his philosophy. His purpose is to produce a philosophy to “live through”, which begs the question: was Nietzsche himself a “free spirit”? We will look at his life and relationships, including his obsession with Wagner’s music and his romantic relationship with the Russian poet Lou Salome. We will consider his placement in philosophical history. Nietzsche’s position is complex because he does not fit neatly into any of the usual categories of philosophical history. His conceptual position often takes aspects of one theory at the same time aspects of a seemingly paradoxical theory. These seeming contradictions may not be contradictions in Nietzsche’s philosophy but simply reflect the nature of human life in all its diversity, and the fact that humans can be many things at the same time.

The will to power

The will to power is a life force or energy which is both creative and destructive: “We should understand that the forces which give rise to the human also exceed the human, that 'will to power' makes the human, but at the same time is unmaking it”. There are many aspects of the will to power, the ability to make art is an important example for Nietzsche, but it also involves processes such as our ability to make promises. A promise, for Nietzsche, is the ability to hold the discharge of one’s force until later.


Nihilism is the idea that the universe does not have any intrinsic meaning, and that human society does not have any pre given teleology. This however should not lead to a pessimistic attitude to life; Nietzsche believes that nihilism frees humans from all pre given meanings and so frees them to construct their own ‘mythologies’. The interrelated question is the question of truth. We will ask: Does Nietzsche believe in ‘truth’? He both claims that ‘all truth is a lie’ and that 'the will to power is the only truth'. What kind of truth is he talking about: Is his position perspectivism, scepticism, or relativism?

Romanticism: grand inspiration

Nietzsche is an anti-romantic in many of his ideas, but he also shares much with the Romantic 19thc, and his first published work: The Birth of Tragedy (1872) is his most romantic work. We will begin with an analysis of its concepts. Central to this book is the idea of beauty: "Turning to the human quest of beautifying existence, the Apollonian desire for beauty is given limit by, and gains purpose from, the Dionysian: Apollo and Dionysus become intertwined within an art form which, because it confronts and transforms humanity’s predicament, allows individuals to focus upon, reconcile themselves to, and even find their life desirable in, a Becoming without Being". Nietzsche’s theory is romantically individualist, but what role do the ‘impersonal forces of nature’ play in the creation/destruction of this individual?

Nietzsche and language

Long before the so called ‘linguistic turn’ in philosophy, Nietzsche was engaged in a deep analysis of the role which language, and particularly metaphor and imagery play in constructing human understanding. He is most interested in the way metaphors become embedded in everyday speech in such a way that they form the unconscious scaffolding of thought (Nietzsche would be interested in the way I used the word ‘scaffold’ in my sentence).

The eternal return

The eternal return is both a statement of the new German physics, which perhaps surprisingly Nietzsche knew well, and a psychological/philosophical idea that poses the question: Why do I live? The Eternal Return also involves the challenge of living: “Whoever battles monsters should take care not to become a monster too, for if you stare long enough into the abyss the abyss stares back into you”. The Gay Science (1882) is the most important work in which Nietzsche explores this challenging idea.

Literature as philosophy: Nietzsche’s poetic style

Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-1884) belongs to Nietzsche’s very productive middle period, and many consider this work to be his best. In it Nietzsche writes the ‘story’ of the prophet’s journey, it has characters, story development, and dramatic dialogue, but it also constructs concepts, proposes philosophical arguments and defends those propositions.

Morality: Beyond Good and Evil (1886)

Nietzsche understanding morality from a physio-psychological perspective. He develops a ‘natural history of morality’. We will base this week on Beyond Good and Evil (1886), which is Nietzsche’s most sustained work on the psychological aspects of religions and philosophies which attempt to construct an ideology of right human behaviour. Of course Nietzsche does have his own ideas about how best to live, so does this make him a moralist?

The herd mentality and master/slave morality

The ‘herd mentality’ and ‘master/slave morality’ are two of Nietzsche’s most challenging ideas, probably because most of us do belong to the herd, and so Nietzsche’s criticisms can feel quite personal. Nietzsche gives the structure of fear and resentment as the basis of most prejudices and defines the way in which power, as normative control, works in society. The text for this week: On the Genealogy of Morals (1887).

Free spirits

What does Nietzsche mean by ‘spirit’? Is this a metaphysical concept? If so, how does Nietzsche’s claim that ‘there is this world and nothing else’ contradict the concept of ‘spirit’? We will look at the seemingly paradoxical aspects of this concept and the extent to which he is a complex materialist. At one point Nietzsche gives the metaphor of the stomach to describe the spirit. If spirit is considered as a process of digestion, of assimilation and rejection, upon which the metabolism and unity of the living organism depends, then it does cover the physiological processes of the body, and the differentiation between an organism and its environment, but at the same time Nietzsche means more than this: it is also the psychology of human interactions with the world, others and themselves. To be a ‘free spirit’ for Nietzsche is not to transcend the world, but to learn how to use it properly.

Intended audience

Anyone with a general interest in philosophy and the topic of Nietzsche.

Delivery style



Handouts are provided in class.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

What others say.

  • The presenter, as usual, gave a lively an informative course. Thoroughly enjoyed it – and I am glad to have discovered Nietzsche!

  • The classes are always a lively and interactive discussion, and the tutor is able to relate the conversation to current-day issues.

  • These courses always make you think outside the square about life and how you act. Great mental stimulation for intellectuals as well as anyone who wants to have a deeper understanding of life through philosophy.

  • I’ve said this before and I’m sure other students have said it also – this tutor is a marvel. A passionate, enthusiastic, dedicated teacher. I love these classes.

What others say.

  • The classes are always a lively and interactive discussion, and the tutor is able to relate the conversation to current-day issues.
  • A great course with a great tutor whose knowledge is astounding.
  • The presenter, as usual, gave a lively an informative course. Thoroughly enjoyed it - and I am glad to have discovered Nietzsche!
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