Will to Power: The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche

Course No. 415
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Course No. 415
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Course Overview

"God is dead."

"The Superman."

"The Will to Power."

"The Eternal Recurrence."

Among shapers of contemporary thought—including Darwin, Marx, and Freud—Friedrich Nietzsche is perhaps the most mysterious and least understood. His aphorisms are widely quoted, but as both man and thinker he remains an enigmatic figure, "philosophizing with a hammer" and hurling unsettling challenges to some of our most cherished beliefs.

Who was this eccentric German genius? This lonely and chronically ill, yet passionate, daring, and complex seeker?

  • Was he a proto-Nazi, or would he have found Hitler despicable?
  • Who was this man who caustically attacked the Christianity of his day but who wept openly when he saw a horse mistreated in the street?
  • Why are his brilliant insights so relevant for today?
  • How did he become the most misinterpreted and unfairly maligned intellectual figure of the last two centuries?

Professor Robert Solomon is the Quincy Lee Centennial Professor of Business and Philosophy at The University of Texas at Austin and a member of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers.

He has received several awards for excellence in teaching, including a Fulbright Lecture Award and a Standard Oil Outstanding Teaching Award.

In his precise yet conversational style he weaves biographical detail, abstract analysis, and humor, constructing an engaging, well-rounded portrait of the most enigmatic, complex figure in all of philosophy. He is joined in many lectures by his wife and fellow Nietzsche scholar, Professor Kathleen Higgins, also of The University of Texas at Austin.

A Lonely Genius's Quest

Nietzsche's body of work has been enormously influential, but it consists of a hodgepodge of reflections, accusations, bits of psychoanalysis, church and secular history, advice to the lovelorn, moral reminders, and some forgeries created by Nietzsche's nefarious sister.

To provide shape to Nietzsche's thought, each lecture focuses on specific ideas that preoccupied Nietzsche while tracing the profound themes that give meaning to his work.

Lectures 1 through 3 provide a context within which we can better understand Nietzsche's life and work. These are essential and foundational introductions to him. Professors Solomon and Higgins:

  • Debunk the myths, rumors, and misunderstandings surrounding Nietzsche. (They show, for example, that he was not insane, misogynistic, power-mad, anti-Semitic, or amoral.)
  • Connect his thought to that of his predecessors Socrates, Plato, Jesus, and Schopenhauer and that of his near-contemporaries Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Marx, and Freud.
  • Investigate how Nietzsche's method of explaining human beliefs and practices in terms of personality and character (as opposed to justifying them through reason) enabled him to refute Socratic assumptions, English utilitarianism, Christian compassion, and Schopenhauer's pessimism.
The Death of God and The Birth of Tragedy

Lectures 4 through 8 explore Nietzsche's subtle and complex critique of both religious belief and Greek rationalism.

  • What did Nietzsche mean when he declared "God is dead"? We see that Nietzsche did not seek to condemn true spirituality but to question the mindset that insists on eternity, that is obsessed with unity and coherence, and that demands predictability and justice in a world that is neither predictable or just.
  • We examine Nietzsche's near-worship of pre-Socratic Greek culture and his championing of instinct, passion, and aestheticism.
  • We study Nietzsche's first work, The Birth of Tragedy (1872), famous for its brilliant analysis of the creative tension between the cults of rational Apollo and ecstatic Dionysus in pre-Socratic Greece.
  • We see how Nietzsche contrasts tragedy, which accepts suffering and makes something beautiful out of it, with Platonic, Socratic, and Christian thought, which he accuses of trying to deny the meaning of suffering by invoking a superior, otherworldly life.

Lectures 9 through 11 focus on Nietzsche's famous style, which deftly combines the majesty of the prophet, the force of the Homeric warrior, and the lyricism of the poet, but which nonetheless is rife with fallacies, inconsistencies, exaggerations, and scathing personal attacks.

Harsh but Insightful Criticisms

In lectures 12 through 15, Professor Solomon takes a closer look at Nietzsche's harsh but insightful criticisms of the intellectual currents of his time—Christian moralism, evolution, socialism, democracy, and nationalism. Here we meet Nietzsche the "moral psychologist," who revolutionized our understanding of the "human, all too human" motives that underlie our beliefs.

  • Is Nietzsche correct that "every philosophy is a personal confession and an unconscious memoir"?
  • Are pity and laughter just forms of dominance and power?
  • How much of morality is, in fact, a scheme to bring down one's superiors through guilt? How do repression, religion, and rationalization assist in this scheme?
  • How does Nietzsche criticize previous ideals of love?
  • Is Nietzsche a powerful anti-nihilist? Is he correct in rejecting the utilitarian's moral guideline "the greatest good for the greatest number" as a nihilistic rejection of life? (He says: "Man does not live for pleasure; only the Englishman does.")
  • How does Nietzsche's "morality of virtue" contrast with Judeo-Christian morality? And how does he argue that 2,000 years of Christianity enriches and spiritualizes "healthy" morality?

In Lectures 16 through 20, Professor Solomon pulls back and attempts to summarize Nietzsche's preoccupations. In a nod (and a wink) to our times, he compiles "top-ten lists" of both Nietzsche's favorites and his favorite targets. You will be intrigued to see who makes both lists! Also in this section, we encounter Nietzsche the historicist and Nietzsche the "immoralist," and discover the source of his vitriolic personal attacks.

The final four lectures examine Nietzsche's highly unorthodox "genealogy" of morality, as well as his most enduring image, that of the Ubermensch (super-man or over-man), and the notion of the will to power and "the eternal recurrence." Because these concepts have been misappropriated as rationalizations for monstrous behavior, they are usually misunderstood. You learn:

  • How the will to power explains our need for self-expression
  • How the Ubermensch is an expression of the innate human yearning for excellence
  • How Nietzsche characterizes the alternative to the Ubermensch—the "last man," who can quickly be sketched as the "ultimate couch potato" and the final fruit of utilitarian philosophy.

The "eternal recurrence" is Nietzsche's powerful, personal test. If you knew that you would live your life again and again for eternity, is it the life you would will? In short: do you in fact love your life? This is not a nihilist's question. It is a powerful call to full awareness and action in life.

Nietzsche's Love of Life

As you make your way through these lectures, you'll discover that Nietzsche, even at his most polemical and offensive, exudes an unmistakable enthusiasm and love of life. In fact, you'll see that his exhortation to learn to love and accept one's own life, to make it better by becoming who one really is, forms the project that is the true core of his work.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Why Read Nietzsche? His Life, Times, Works, and Themes
    The opening talk in the series provides an overview of Nietzsche's life and the remarkable historical period in which he lived. We also survey the sequence, context, and overarching themes of his works, and catalog the influences upon him. x
  • 2
    Quashing the Rumors About Nietzsche
    Professors Robert Solomon and Kathleen Higgins invalidate the spurious rumors surrounding Nietzsche, for example, that he was insane, misogynistic, nihilistic, anti-Semitic, power-mad, relativistic, and amoral. x
  • 3
    The Fusion of Philosophy and Psychology
    We investigate how Nietzsche's method of explaining human beliefs and practices in terms of personality and character (as opposed to justifying them through reason) enabled him to refute Socratic assumptions, English utilitarianism, Christian compassion, and Schopenhauerian pessimism. Nietzsche's procedures were similar to those used by Dostoyevsky, Marx, Freud, and, ironically, the Christian existentialist Kierkegaard. x
  • 4
    “God Is Dead”—Nietzsche and Christianity
    With this infamous pronouncement, Nietzsche seeks not to condemn true spirituality, but to question the mindset that insists on eternity, that is obsessed with unity and coherence, and that demands predictability and justice in a world that is neither predictable or just. Nietzsche never fully escapes his Lutheran upbringing, which shapes his ideas about Christian hypocrisy and passivity, and influences his "war" on guilt and sin. x
  • 5
    Nietzsche and the Greeks
    Nietzsche virtually worshipped the pre-Socratic period in ancient Greece, in particular, the tragedians Aeschylus and Sophocles and the philosopher Heraclitus. Are they the source of his whole philosophy? Moreover, why did Nietzsche rail so harshly against Socrates's and Plato's celebration of reason and accuse Euripides of "murdering" tragedy? x
  • 6
    “Why the Greeks Were So Beautiful”—Nietzsche on Tragedy
    Nietzsche's first work, The Birth of Tragedy (1872), is especially noteworthy for its brilliant analysis of the creative tension between the cults of rational Apollo and ecstatic Dionysus in pre-Socratic Greece. How did Nietzsche contrast tragedy, which accepts suffering and makes something beautiful out of it, with Platonic, Socratic, and Christian thought, which he accuses of trying to deny the meaning of suffering by invoking a superior, otherworldly life? x
  • 7
    Nietzsche and Schopenhauer on Pessimism
    Schopenhauer, the severe pessimist, is a looming presence in Nietzsche's thought. Nietzsche felt the weight of Schopenhauer's pessimism, and struggled to counter it by embracing "cheerfulness," creative passion, and an aesthetic viewpoint. x
  • 8
    Nietzsche, Jesus, Zarathustra
    Why did Nietzsche feel such a sense of close identification with the ancient prophets Jesus, Socrates, and Zarathustra (Zoroaster)? What was Nietzsche up to in his oddest but best-known book, the Biblical parody Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which introduces the concept of the Übermensch and its evolutionary alternative, the "last man"? x
  • 9
    Nietzsche on Reason, Instinct, and Passion
    In some sense a Romantic thinker, Nietzsche went against the grain of Enlightenment philosophy by debunking the primacy of reason in human life and defending instinct and passion. How did Nietzsche anticipate Freud's notion of the unconscious? x
  • 10
    Nietzsche’s Style and the Problem of Truth
    We subject to analysis Nietzsche's eccentric style of writing and argument, including his use of aphorisms, personal attacks, and appeals to emotion. We also scrutinize Nietzsche's often-exaggerated views about truth and interpretation. x
  • 11
    Nietzsche on Truth and Interpretation
    Here is a still-closer look at Nietzsche's inconsistent ideas about truth and interpretation. These include his assessment of science at various stages of his work, and his pragmatic "perspectivism," which rejects the idea that there is a privileged, objective, absolute, or "God's eye view" of reality. x
  • 12
    “Become Who You Are”—Freedom, Fate, and Free Will
    Now we turn to Nietzsche's politics, including his harsh views on socialism and democracy, his subtle views on freedom and free will, his celebration of fate, and his notorious views on the "great man." Accordingly, we discuss Nietzsche's mixed view of Darwin's theory of evolution, how Hegel both anticipated and countered some of Nietzsche's main concerns, and how Nietzsche and Kierkegaard reveal themselves to be kindred spirits in their reaction to Hegel. x
  • 13
    Nietzsche as Moral Psychologist—Love, Resentment, and Pity
    What were Nietzsche's ideas about the connection between personality, morality, and philosophy? What insights does he offer into the motivations underlying compassion? Is Nietzsche explaining rather than justifying (or attacking) morality? x
  • 14
    Nietzsche on Love
    Was Nietzsche misanthropic and misogynistic? How do his ideas on love and friendship, which he saw as intimately related, compare to those of his predecessors, especially Plato and Aristotle? Does Nietzsche, properly understood, actually anticipate many of the theses of contemporary feminism? x
  • 15
    Nietzsche and Women
    Professor Kathleen Higgins examines the claim that Nietzsche was a misogynist. She parses some of Nietzsche's most famous (or notorious) remarks about women, and suggests that they are not the blatantly sexist utterances they are often thought to be. x
  • 16
    Nietzsche’s “Top Ten”
    Professors Solomon and Higgins catalog those thinkers whom Nietzsche most admired, and those whom he attacked. x
  • 17
    Nietzsche on History and Evolution
    Nietzsche believed that any understanding of human affairs is necessarily grounded in a particular time and culture. What was his view of history and its uses and abuses? How did he interpret Hegel and Darwin? What hopes for human evolution did he harbor? What is the source and shape of his concern with what is conducive to and what is destructive of life? x
  • 18
    What Is Nihilism? The Problem of Asceticism
    Is Nietzsche himself a nihilist, or is his entire philosophy in fact an attack on nihilism? Why did he denounce as "decadent" such things as truth, religious belief, egalitarianism, reason, otherworldliness, and, particularly, asceticism? x
  • 19
    The Ranking of Values—Morality and Modernity
    Why did Nietzsche refuse to think of values as being either objective or subjective? Why did he hold that values are earthly and culture- and species-specific? Why did he argue that, in the final analysis, there are only healthy and unhealthy values, and that modern values are unhealthy? x
  • 20
    Nietzsche “Immoralism”—Virtue, Self, and Selfishness
    Is Nietzsche's notorious "immoralism" actually an embrace of Homeric ethics? How is it that in his ethical system, personal virtue and character count far more than rational rules and principles, and selfishness and morality are not mutually exclusive? x
  • 21
    On the Genealogy of Morals—Master and Slave Morality
    We examine the books Beyond Good and Evil (1886) and On the Genealogy of Morals (1887), wherein Nietzsche details his conception of master versus slave morality. His Genealogy of Morals is an attempt to uncover and evaluate the historical roots of these two types of morality. This lecture also examines the idea of "resentment," which provides the basis of Nietzsche's moral psychology. x
  • 22
    Resentment, Revenge, and Justice
    We continue our discussion of Nietzsche's idea of resentment, adding to it his ideas about revenge and justice. We revisit his condemnation of asceticism, the self-denial that is often a part of extreme religious practice, in light of these new ideas. x
  • 23
    The Will to Power and the Übermensch
    This lecture considers two of Nietzsche's alleged "doctrines": the Will to Power and the over-man. It analyzes the psychological significance of the former, as well as its Schopenhauerian origins. Then it links the two doctrines by analyzing the Übermensch as the full manifestation of the will to power. x
  • 24
    Eternal Recurrence—Nietzsche Says “Yes!” to Life
    We conclude by extending our scrutiny of three of Nietzsche's most famous doctrines: the Will to Power, the Übermensch, and the eternal recurrence of the same. Finally, we evaluate Nietzsche's emphasis on "saying 'yes!' to life." x

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Your professors

Robert C. Solomon Kathleen M. Higgins

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Robert C. Solomon, Ph.D.
The University of Texas at Austin

Professor 2 of 2

Kathleen M. Higgins, Ph.D.
The University of Texas at Austin
Robert C. Solomon (1942–2007) was the Quincy Lee Centennial Professor of Business and Philosophy at The University of Texas at Austin, where he taught for more than 30 years. He earned his undergraduate degree in Molecular Biology from the University of Pennsylvania and his master’s and doctoral degrees in Philosophy and Psychology from the University of Michigan. He held visiting appointments at the University of...
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Dr. Kathleen Higgins is Professor of Philosophy at The University of Texas at Austin, where she has been teaching for over 20 years. She earned her B.A. in Music from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and her M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. in Philosophy from Yale University. Professor Higgins taught at the University of California, Riverside, and she is a regular visiting professor at the University of Auckland. Her...
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Will to Power: The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 78.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from like remembering an old friend Though this course, from 1999, shows its age, and though the quality of the two professors' presentations is markedly uneven, following these lectures for me was like meeting up with a couple of people who'd known an old friend. I was reminded of how much Nietzsche, after I'd read all of his books, had shaped my own world view, and how profound his impact on me still was. This series has the potential of opening you up to a re-evaluation of your own philosophy, a surely worthwhile undertaking.
Date published: 2020-09-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Extremely academic Can be difficult to assimilate by ordinary people. It covers way more than Nietzche with many observations on other philosophers. It could have lasted half the time...
Date published: 2020-06-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great intro to Nietzche Okay, so the first few lectures a bit wacky...... but once you get into it, it’s very educational and interesting. I have not read Nietzche and I wanted an overview to know where to start. This course nailed down the basics and carved out Nietzche’s turf in the philosophical world. I am so happy I got this course.
Date published: 2020-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Nietzsche at his best. Much of Nietzsche's writing is a commentary on other philosophers and history. This series doesn't limit itself to just Nietzsche but instead gives the fuller picture by describing in some detail what Nietzsche is commenting on. I quite appreciate this as I am not an expert in any of this. The lectures are grouped by concept, not by Nietzsche's works and so are very integrative. Both lecturers seem to know the man like the back of their hand and weave a unique and scholarly view of the works. I also am quite impressed by their style of delivery. They both talk to you as if they are sitting in your living room. I often forget I'm even listening and will spontaneously say something back to them about what they are saying. They are both so adept at bringing their point to a head, to a dramatic,"aha" moment, that I truly forget myself and yell out "yes" as if I am finally understood myself. If you think Nietzsche is a genius then you will appreciate these lectures as his true genius is demonstrated time and time again.
Date published: 2020-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from VERY thorough introduction! I was extremely surprised to see this course not rate a solid 5. Prof. Solomon is a terrific lecturer and he's one of the true modern day experts on Nietzsche. I've listened to this course a few times and pick up new things each time - and most importantly the course encourages me to go and read more of the original source material. I'd say if you're a beginner to Nietzsche or philosophy you might have to go slow at times but the result is well worth it.
Date published: 2018-12-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Course covers many ideas beyond The Will to Power. Thoughtful, well-organized presentations by both professors. Comprehensive introduction to Nietzsche's ideas and the relationship of his ideas to those of Socrates, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, and other great thinkers. I fully enjoyed the course.
Date published: 2018-09-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A good place to start learning about Nietzsche I suggest listening to these lectures before choosing to read any of Nietzsche's books. The lecturers are clearly Nietzsche scholars. Their insight into the philosopher's thought processes, clarifying the general misunderstanding of who he was, the true meaning of his philosophy, his culture and his personal life separates the myth from reality. After you listen to the lectures, you will have a head start on understanding his books, e.g. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, The Gay Science or The Antichrist and maybe discover the beauty of his philosophy.
Date published: 2018-08-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Don't listen to the haters Excellent course. I recommend getting the transcripts which come in two nice books for only $15 more. If you listen careful and study these videos you will understand Nietzsche.
Date published: 2018-07-30
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