Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist by Walter Kaufman

It’s fair to say that Friedrich Nietzsche ( and probably divides opinion more than any other philosopher. A great many philosophers do not even think he counts as one of their number. Yet in a 2005 BBC Radio 4 In Our Time‘ poll ( to guage estimations of who was the greatest philosopher in history, Nietzsche came 4th beating Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Aquinas and Kant.

The secondary literature on Nietzsche is absolutely vast so where should one begin to make up one’s own mind? The book which helped me most to begin with was Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (1974) by Walter Kaufmann ( This classic is the benchmark against which all modern books about Nietzsche are measured. When Kaufmann wrote it in the immediate aftermath of World War II, most scholars outside Germany viewed Nietzsche as part madman, part proto-Nazi, and almost wholly unphilosophical. Kaufmann rehabilitated Nietzsche nearly single-handedly, presenting his works as one of the great achievements of Western philosophy.

Responding to the powerful myths and countermyths that had sprung up around Nietzsche, Kaufmann offered a patient, evenhanded account of his life and works, and of the uses and abuses to which subsequent generations had put his ideas. Without ignoring or downplaying the ugliness of many of Nietzsche’s proclamations, he set them in the context of his work as a whole and of the counterexamples yielded by a responsible reading of his books. More positively, he presented Nietzsche’s ideas about power as one of the great accomplishments of modern philosophy, arguing that his conception of the ‘will to power’ was not a crude apology for ruthless self-assertion but must be linked to Nietzsche’s equally profound ideas about sublimation. He also presented Nietzsche as a pioneer of modern psychology and argued that a key to understanding his overall philosophy is to see it as a reaction against Christianity. Many scholars in the past half century have taken issue with some of Kaufmann’s interpretations, but the book ranks as one of the most influential accounts ever written of any major Western thinker.

To begin thinking more deeply about Nietzsche follow up with The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche (1996) edited by Bernd Magnus and Kathleen Higgins (
If pressed for time go for Nietzsche: A Very Short Introduction by Michael Tanner (2000,
Nietzsche described himself as the ‘philosopher of the hammer’. Bash your brains out reading his work. To embark on a lifetime of reading and scholarship about Nietzsche follow the bibliographies on
To see if you even remotely want your brains bashed out, first listen to the BBC Radio 4 ‘In Our Time’ episode (45 minutes) on Nihilism (which discusses Nietzsche). Available from With Rob Hopkins, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Birmingham; Professor Raymond Tallis, Doctor and Philosopher; Professor Catherine Belsey, University of Cardiff. Chaired by Melvyn Bragg. First broadcast Thursday 16 Nov 2000.

560 pages in Princeton University Press

ISBN 978-0691160269


Friedrich Nietzsche                         Walter Kaufmann

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