Heidegger, Martin. Nietzsche. Translated by David Farrell Krell. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.


Is Nietzsche then not at all so modern as the hubbub that has surrounded him makes it seem? Is Nietzsche not nearly so subversive as he himself was wont to pose? Dispelling such fears is not really necessary; we need not bother to do that. On the contrary, the reference to the fact that Nietzsche moves in the orbit of the question of Western philosophy only serves to make clear that Nietzsche knew what philosophy is. Such knowledge is rare. Only great thinkers possess it. The greatest possess it most purely in the form of a persistent question. The genuinely grounding question, as the question of the essence of Being, does not unfold in the history of philosophy as such; Nietzsche too persists in the guiding question.

The task of our lecture course is to elucidate the fundamental position within which Nietzsche unfolds the guiding question of Western thought and responds to it. Such elucidation is needed in order to prepare a confrontation with Nietzsche. If in Nietzsche’s thinking the prior tradition of Western thought is gathered and completed in a decisive respect, then the confrontation with Nietzsche becomes one with all Western thought hitherto.

The confrontation with Nietzsche has not yet begun, nor have the prerequisites for it been established. For a long time Nietzsche has been either celebrated and imitated or reviled and exploited. Nietzsche’s thought and speech are still too contemporary for us. He and we have not yet been sufficiently separated in history; we lack the distance necessary for a sound appreciation of the thinker’s strength.

Confrontation is genuine criticism. It is the supreme way, the only way, to a true estimation of a thinker. In confrontation we undertake to reflect on his thinking and to trace it in its effective force, not in its weaknesses. To what purpose? In order that through the confrontation we ourselves may become free for the supreme exertion of thinking.

But for a long time it has been declaimed from chairs of philosophy in Germany that Nietzsche is not a rigorous thinker but a “poet-philosopher.” Nietzsche does not belong among the philosophers, who think only about abstract, shadowy affairs, far removed from life. If he is to be called a philosopher at all then he must be regarded as a “philosopher of life.” That rubric, a perennial favorite, serves at the same time to nourish the suspicion that any other kind of philosophy is something for the dead, and is therefore at bottom dispensable. Such a view wholly coincides with the opinion of those who welcome in Nietzsche the “philosopher of life” who has at long last quashed abstract thought. These common judgments about Nietzsche are in error.

The error will be recognized only when a confrontation with him is at the same time conjoined to a confrontation in the realm of the grounding question of philosophy. At the outset, however, we ought to introduce some words of Nietzsche’s that stem from the time of his work on “will to power”:

“For many, abstract thinking is toil; for me, on good days, it is feast and frenzy” (XIV, 24).