Continental Philosophy

Friedrich Nietzsche

What was Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of a “gay science?”

In a series of aphorisms, Nietzsche advocates philosophy as a celebration of life, in contrast to the stultified and stultifying practices of the German intellectuals, whom he had criticized as philistines throughout his writings during the 1870s. He caps his scientific ideals with the cosmological and possibly Neoplatonistic doctrine of life as a cycle, which he calls the “eternal recurrence.” Everyone’s life recurs an endless number of times, and the test of a life worth living is that every moment one can will the infinite return of that moment in some future life, and do so with joy.

Nietzsche applauded “the ideal of the most high-spirited, alive, and world-affirming human being who has not only come to terms and learned to get along with whatever was and is, but who wants to have what was and is repeated into all eternity.” And although he thought that we eternally recur, built into what happens again and again is continuous choice, in a chance spectacle of endless opportunity. (In form, this perspective is a re-enactment by Nietzsche of the birth of tragedy, with the forces of high spirit and reason affirming the worst that has, can, and will happen.)


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