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Nietzsche: A Philosophy in Context

May 14, 2010

Francis Fukuyama in The New York Times:

One of the pitfalls of writing a biography of a great philosopher is the temptation to reduce important ideas to mere psychology, an outgrowth of some fluke in the philosopher’s personal development. Julian Young, a professor at the University of Auckland and Wake Forest University, has for the most part avoided this trap by writing a “philosophical” biography of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) in which the life story provides context but ultimately not explanation for the ideas. In so doing he has provided a serious and readable, if not exactly ground-breaking, introduction to Nietzsche’s “philosophy with a hammer.”

Context is particularly important in Nie tzsche’s case because his life story was so dramatic. The young Friedrich (or Fritz, as he was known) was, by all accounts, simply the most brilliant student any of his formidable professors had ever encountered, going all the way back to his boarding school days at Pforta. His teacher of classical philology at Leipzig, Friedrich Ritschl, said that in his 39 years of teaching he had “never known a young man who has matured so early.” Nie tzsche was awarded a doctorate at age 24 and a professorship at the University of Basel the same year; he was promoted to full professor at 25 — a feat not even Larry Summers could duplicate. [More]

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