Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

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Were Nietzsche’s Cardinal Ideas – Delusions?

Eva M Cybulska


Nietzsche’s cardinal ideas - God is Dead, Übermensch and Eternal Return of the Same - are approached here from the perspective of psychiatric phenomenology rather than that of philosophy. A revised diagnosis of the philosopher’s mental illness as manic-depressive psychosis forms the premise for discussion. Nietzsche conceived the above thoughts in close proximity to his first manic psychotic episode, in the summer of 1881, while staying in Sils-Maria (Swiss Alps). It was the anniversary of his father’s death, and also of the break-up of his friendship with Wagner, the most important relationship in his life. Despite having been acquainted with these ideas from reading philosophy and literature, Nietzsche created them de novo and imbued them with very personal meaning. Surprisingly, he never defined or explained his cardinal thoughts in his published writings, perhaps because rationally he could not. A resultant hermeneutic vacuum provoked an avalanche of interpretations in secondary literature. But could these ideas be delusions? A current definition of delusion is challenged, and an attempt is made at a limited comparison between delusion, scientific/philosophical doctrine and poetic creation. It is also argued that psychosis is a way of re-living trauma, and delusions can therefore be seen as a form of reasoning that helps to make sense of the world in a state of psychotic disintegration. Far from being false beliefs, delusions are a true expression of one’s innermost feelings and pain, albeit indirectly. The relationship between early parental loss and repeated trauma, psychosis and creativity is also explored.

Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology, Volume 8, Edition 1 May 2008
AJOL African Journals Online