Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Nietzsche’s Schopenhauer and Education

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_350

Education as Liberation of the True Self

A key role for the Nietzschean educator is to reveal or liberate the true self. This is not a focus on the humanist subject but rather an exhortation to break free from conventionality, to be responsible for creating our own existence, and to overcome the inertia of tradition and custom:

…for your true nature lies, not concealed deep within you, but immeasurably high above you, or at least above that which you usually take yourself to be. Your true educators and formative teachers reveal to you what the true basic material of your being is, something in itself ineducable and in any case difficult of access, bound and paralysed: your educators can be only your liberators. (Nietzsche 1983, p. 129)

The true self could be revealed and one’s acquired identity overcome, not by introspection but by examining our revered objects and educators of the past, as stepladders upon which we have climbed so far; in other words, how have we become who we are. Examining those held in high esteem was for Nietzsche the path to our true selves.

Nietzsche frequently refers to Schopenhauer as his “true educator,” a topic explored fully in his essay “Schopenhauer as Educator,” published in 1874 as one of the Untimely Meditations. Although a reader can be forgiven for believing that it is the earlier philosopher in person that Nietzsche is referring to, the image is more a metaphor for Nietzsche’s own self-educative process, and his description of Schopenhauer an attribution based on his perception of his own life. He was to write many years later, “….in Schopenhauer as Educator my innermost history, my becoming is inscribed. Above all, my promise! …” At bottom it is admittedly not “Schopenhauer as Educator” that speaks here but his opposite, “Nietzsche as Educator” (Nietzsche 1967, “The Untimely Ones”, p. 3).

In the light of Nietzsche’s own admission, an analysis of his Untimely Meditation is more likely to reveal his own philosophy of education rather than that of his mentor. Nietzsche’s depiction of himself as Schopenhauer’s opposite is his retrospective attempt to reject Schopenhauer and the pessimistic response to life. However, at the time of writing, Nietzsche obviously saw himself in Schopenhauer (or Schopenhauer in himself), and Schopenhauer’s ideas permeated much of Nietzsche’s later writing as well.

Schopenhauer as Nietzsche’s True Educator

Nietzsche identifies two maxims for the successful educator: on the one hand, to recognize and develop particular strengths in a pupil; on the other hand, to draw forth and nourish all the aspects in harmony. Schopenhauer was a philosopher who for Nietzsche was capable of achieving this balance. It is worth noting that Nietzsche does not ascribe to Schopenhauer any intentionality in his educative task. Rather he sees Schopenhauer setting a moral example to be emulated. The educative function seems to be one that is determined by the pupil, who adopts the challenge of achieving the standard set by his exemplar.

Three qualities of Schopenhauer stood out for Nietzsche: his originality and honesty in a period of German philosophy that he saw characterized by conformity; his cheerfulness emanating from courage and strength; and his uncompromising steadfastness. Nietzsche also followed Schopenhauer in his contempt for scholars in their limited search for “pure knowledge.” He saw Schopenhauer as liberating philosophy from the control of State and society.

Nietzsche’s early infatuation with Schopenhauer is evidenced in his psychological positioning of himself in relation to Schopenhauer as

…a son being instructed by his father. It is an honest, calm, good-natured discourse before an auditor who listens to it with love. (Nietzsche 1983, p. 134)

Janaway (1994) details the Schopenhauerean themes that impacted on subsequent musicians and philosophers, among them his aesthetic theory, his philosophy of music, his recognition of the unconscious, his treatment of the overpowering sexual drive, his pessimism, and his questioning of the value of human existence. Nietzsche believed life was more important than knowledge, and that art and music could provide the pathway to a joyful and creative existence. He followed Schopenhauer in his view that nonrational forces were at the heart of reality.

The period of German Nationalism in the mid nineteenth century was characterized by Bismarck’s reliance on imagery of “iron and blood” and left little room for dissidence or free speech. Nietzsche distanced himself from German Nationalism and had a high regard for independent thinking and untimely men. What he found in Schopenhauer was this independence, a man not bound by conventional thinking nor by social etiquette.

Nietzsche, in line with Schopenhauer’s contempt for Hegel, often denounced Hegel’s idea of the State as the highest goal for mankind. He argued that under the power of the State the moneymakers and the military held power; that serving the State was a lapse into stupidity, counterproductive to culture; instead he saw it as the duty of philosophers to concern themselves with the world of culture, so that the spirit of humanity could be preserved. It was important therefore for Nietzsche to theorize the nature of this “spirit” and it was in Schopenhauer’s image that he found his clues.

There were for Nietzsche three inspirational images of man in the modern era: the man of Rousseau, full of fire and ready for revolution; the man of Goethe, committed not to action but to contemplation; and the man of Schopenhauer, who reconciles action and contemplation, voluntarily taking upon himself the suffering involved in being truthful, destroying his earthly happiness through his courage, and frequently remaining misunderstood. Nietzsche’s image of Schopenhauerean man describes the self-overcoming inherent in his later formulation of the Ubermensch.

Schopenhauer had interpreted Kant’s ideas, to depict the world in terms of two aspects: that of representation, or the way we experience things, and that of will, an unconscious, irrational force, blind and constantly striving throughout all nature. The human condition was one of being constantly torn between the rational process of the conscious mind and the underlying all-pervasive will. Since the will had no element of space and time, it therefore lacked individuation. There being no plurality of individuals, all there was in itself was Will.

Nietzsche acknowledges that Kant’s thought could easily lead to skepticism and relativism, resulting in an eventual nihilism, a destination that was anathema to Nietzsche’s whole philosophical project. Schopenhauer’s educative value seems to rest for Nietzsche in his ability to face the profound depression he feels at the valuelessness of his existence, and to transform it through contemplation. Aesthetic experience, Schopenhauer claimed, could provide a perception of the world uncluttered by subjective desires. What made Schopenhauer even greater for Nietzsche is that he grappled with the issues of life in an era that would limit his freedom to do so, and yet still emerged the genius.

Schacht (1995) argues that Schopenhauer’s radical stance did not fit easily with Western religious and philosophical thought. He clashed with the Christian interpretation of divinity, with contemporary beliefs about rationality and historical progress, and with belief in the possibility of human happiness. The image of a solitary thinker issuing a challenge to accepted tradition is one easily associated with Nietzsche as well, so it could be argued that Nietzsche has assimilated not only Schopenhauer’s ideas but also his style of philosophy, and according to Janaway, “even his nuances of voice and terminology” (1994, p. 101). Other commentators go further:

His writings, all of them, are full not just of quotations and paraphrases from Schopenhauer, but of phrases allusions and rhythms both conscious and unconscious. Nietzsche breathed Schopenhauer and cannot be understood without him (Young 1992, p. 3)

Rather than an enlightenment quest for happiness and truth, life was a continuous struggle. This pessimistic description of life, however, was not an end point for Nietzsche but rather an ideal beginning for his counternihilistic philosophy.

Nietzsche challenges himself to derive a practical morality from his Schopenhaueran ideal – what he calls a “chain of fulfillable duties.” In other words, he wants to demonstrate how the Schopenhaurean ideal educates. The practical duties deriving from this picture involved the advancement of culture through the production of Schopenhaueran man.

For we know what culture is. Applied to the Schopenhaurean man, it demands that we prepare and promote his repeated production by getting to know what is inimical to it and removing it – in short, that we unwearyingly combat that which would deprive us of the supreme fulfillment of our existence by preventing us from becoming such Schopenhauerean men ourselves (Nietzsche 1983, p. 161)

Culture and the Genius

Schacht (1995) argues that for Nietzsche, culture is the sphere in which human animality takes on a spiritual dimension. What is to be promoted is the introduction to, and participation in, cultural life; and Nietzsche’s exhortation to become yourself is to be understood not as a call to return to nature or to intensify one’s subjectivity but rather as an appeal to ascend to culture, and to contribute what one can to its enrichment.

What distinguishes man from animal for Nietzsche is our ability to catch a glimpse of ourselves on the path toward man as something high above us. Nietzsche sees nature as needing knowledge for its own redemption and self-enlightenment – the intellect in the service of the will – and yet man spends most of his time trying to escape awareness of his wretched predicament, by focusing on the State, on science, on making money, or on being sociable.

It is only rare men who emerge from the dreamlike state and lift us up. These rare men are for Nietzsche no longer animal but true men – the philosophers, artists, and saints. It is they who create the new metaphors of life; it is through them that Nature is transformed, through the promotion of the culture:

It is the fundamental idea of culture, insofar as it sets for each one of us but one task: to promote the production of the philosopher the artist and the saint within us and without us and thereby to work at the perfecting of nature. For, as nature needs the philosopher, so does it need the artist, for the achievement of a metaphysical goal, that of its own self-enlightenment, so that it may at last behold as a clear and finished picture that which it could see only obscurely in the agitation of its evolution - for the end, that is to say, of self-knowledge. (Nietzsche 1983, p. 160)

While not denying that individuals must learn to take part in the struggle for existence, he argues that all the present institutions are engaged in producing currency rather than culture and that there is a need for a new type of institution, one that can focus on culture.

The role of the new educational institution would be to provide support and protection for those committed to his idea of culture. He talked of a new order of schools as the “consecrated home of all higher and nobler culture,” where the dedicated few could prepare within themselves and around them for the birth of the genius and the ripening of his work. What this meant in practice was to assemble the free spirits of the age together and introduce them to Schopenhauer’s (or Nietzsche’s?) philosophy. That required withstanding social opinion and religious dogma, and becoming aware of the political distortions embedded in normalized concepts such as “progress,” “universal education,” “national,” “cultural struggle,” and the “modern state.”

Again we find Nietzsche trying to liberate man from the strictures of fashion and convention, this time through his awareness of the defining power of language as a cultural medium. He criticized the ornate style of literary men and the elegance of journalists as unsuitable for the cultural leadership role they were trying to play, as they were merely “servants of the moment.” There was no hope for a higher notion of education through State-funded efforts either. In his early lectures on education (Nietzsche 1909), Nietzsche saw the State as necessarily furthering its own interests in terms of maximizing the utility value of its citizens and promoting a culture that would enhance government.

Tanner (1994) observes that one of the characteristics of nineteenth-century German philosophy was the idea of adversarial opposition, in which the outcome is more fruitful than anything that could be produced by either of the opponents going it alone. Nietzsche was no exception, and for him life involved opposition between the instinctual, amoral energy of Dionysus and the ordered and beautiful form of Apollo, the nonrational versus the civilized, the wild versus the refined.

Of special importance to him was his notion of overcoming adversity. Commentators suggest that his philosophy may have been driven by a lifelong personal struggle against illness, against convention, and against his eventual insanity. It is this personal struggle and self-overcoming that typifies Nietzsche’s later formulation of the Ubermensch or “overman” concept. Kaufmann (1974) dispels the myth of Nietzsche’s overman as any sort of outwardly focused bully, preferring instead the explanation of Ubermensch as a repudiation of conformity to any single norm and the antithesis of mediocrity and stagnation, in other words an attempt to realize his own unique individuality. Man who has overcome himself and his adverse conditions is the overman.

Nietzsche describes among the adverse conditions of Schopenhauer’s life his “culturally pretentious” mother, and notes among the positive qualities that allowed Schopenhauer to rigorously maintain his path: the rugged manly character of his father; his focus on men rather than books; reverence for truth and not government; his international experience; his dislike for a strong State; his refusal to be involved in politics; his ability to recognize the genius in himself and others; his financial independence, and especially his freedom. His lack of training as a scholar was also celebrated by Nietzsche. These qualities not only allowed Nietzsche to celebrate Schopenhauer as Ubermensch but also described much of the predicament Nietzsche himself had to overcome to find freedom in his own life.


Reference to Nietzsche’s works

  1. Nietzsche, F. (1909). On the future of our educational institutions (translated with introduction by Kennedy, J.M.). In Oscar Levy (Ed.), The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche. London: T. N. Foulis [1872].Google Scholar
  2. Nietzsche, F. (1983). Schopenhauer as educator. In Untimely Meditations (trans: Hollingdale, R.J.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, [1874].Google Scholar
  3. Nietzsche, F. (1967). Ecce Homo (together with on the genealogy of morals), (translated and edited by Kaufmann, W.), New York: Random House, [1889].Google Scholar

Other References

  1. Ansell-Pearson, K. (1994). An introduction to Nietzsche as political thinker. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Cooper, D. E. (1983). Authenticity and learning: Nietzsche’s educational philosophy. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  3. Hollingdale, R. J. (1996). The Hero as Outsider. In B. Magnus & K. Higgins (Eds.), The Cambridge companion to Nietzsche. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Janaway, C. (1994). Schopenhauer. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Kaufmann, W. (1974). Nietzsche: Philosopher, psychologist, antichrist (4th ed.). Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Schacht, R. (1995). Nietzsche’s first manifesto: On Schopenhauer as educator. In Making sense of Nietzsche: Reflections timely and untimely. Urbana/Chicago: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  7. Schopenhauer, A. (1847). On the fourfold root of the principle of sufficient reason (trans: Payne, E. J. F.). Illinois: Open Court Classics (1974).Google Scholar
  8. Soll, I. (1988). Pessimism and the tragic view of life: Reconsiderations of Nietzsche’s birth of tragedy. In R. Solomon & K. Higgins (Eds.), Reading Nietzsche. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Tanner, M. (1994). Nietzsche. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Young, J. (1992). Nietzsche’s philosophy of art. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Independent ResearcherAucklandNew Zealand
  2. 2.Education and Management Services (NZ) Ltd.AucklandNew Zealand