Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm (1844-1900), German philosopher, poet, and classical philologist, who was one of the most provocative and influential thinkers of the 19th century.

Nietzsche was born in Röcken, Prussia. His father, a Lutheran minister, died when Nietzsche was five, and his mother in a home that included his grandmother, two aunts, and a sister raised Nietzsche. He studied classical philology at the universities of Bonn and Leipzig and was appointed professor of classical philology at the University of Basel at the age of 24. Ill health (he was plagued throughout his life by poor eyesight and migraine headaches) forced his retirement in 1879. Ten years later he suffered a mental breakdown from which he never recovered. He died in Weimar in 1900.

In addition to the influence of Greek culture, particularly the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, Nietzsche was influenced by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer by the theory of evolution, and by his friendship with German composer Richard Wagner.

Nietzsche's first major work, Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste de Musik (The Birth of Tragedy), appeared in 1872. His most prolific period as an author was the 1880s. During the decade he wrote Also sprach Zarathustra (Parts I-III, 1883-1884; Part IV, 1885; translated as Thus Spake Zarathustra); Jenseits von Gut und Böse (1886; Beyond Good and Evil); Zur Genealogie de Moral (1887; On the Genealogy of Morals); Der Antichrist (1888; The Antichrist); and Ecce Homo (completed 1888, published 1908). Nietzsche's last major work, The Will to Power (Der Wille zur Macht), was published in 1901.

One of Nietzsche's fundamental contentions was that traditional values (represented primarily by Christianity) had lost their power in the lives of individuals. He expressed this in his proclamation “God is dead.” He was convinced that traditional values represented a “slave morality,” a morality created by weak and resentful individuals who encouraged such behavior as gentleness and kindness because the behaviour served their interests. Nietzsche claimed that new values could be created to replace the traditional ones, and his discussion of the possibility led to his concept of the over man or superman.

According to Nietzsche, the masses (whom he termed the herd or mob) conform to tradition, whereas his ideal overman is secure, independent, and highly individualistic. The overman feels deeply, but his passions are rationally controlled. Concentrating on the real world, rather than on the rewards of the next world promised by religion, the overman affirms life, including the suffering and pain that accompany human existence. Nietzsche's overman is a creator of values, a creator of a “master morality” that reflects the strength and independence of one who is liberated from all values, except those that he deems valid.

Nietzsche maintained that all human behavior is motivated by the will to power. In its positive sense, the will to power is not simply power over others, but the power over oneself that is necessary for creativity. Such power is manifested in the overman's independence, creativity, and originality. Although Nietzsche explicitly denied that any overmen had yet arisen, he mentions several individuals who could serve as models. Among these models he lists Jesus, Greek philosopher Socrates, Florentine thinker Leonardo da Vinci, Italian artist Michelangelo, English playwright William Shakespeare, German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Roman ruler Julius Caesar, and French emperor Napoleon I.

The concept of the overman has often been interpreted as one that postulates a master-slave society and has been identified with totalitarian philosophies. Many scholars deny the connection and attribute it to misinterpretation of Nietzsche's work.
  An acclaimed poet, Nietzsche exerted much influence on German literature, as well as on French literature and theology. His concepts have been discussed and elaborated upon by such individuals as German philosophers Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger, and German Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, German American theologian Paul Tillich, and French writers

Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre After World War II (1939-1945), American theologians Thomas J. J. Altizer and Paul Van Buren seized upon Nietzsche's proclamation “God is dead” in their attempt to make Christianity relevant to its believers in the 1960s and 1970s. See also Existentialism.