Friedrich Nietzsche and the Free Spirit Ideal
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Friedrich Nietzsche and the Free Spirit Ideal

This is Friedrich Nietzsche's concept of the free spirit ideal and its implications from his middle works.

Friedrich Nietzsche is interested in achieving a concept that he called the ‘free spirit’ in the middle works of his writing career. He believes that everyone has their own essence and that certain types of humans are intrinsically more valuable than others, and he especially means that the best humans are those that can self-actualize. There is not one answer for how specific individuals can self-actualize, but when they do, they are closer to the free spirit ideal. One must free themselves to become a free spirit. The free spirit ideal is an ideal that promotes human freedom from the constraints of society’s institutions. The freedom that Nietzsche seeks involves freeing of the mind and not just the body from the obstacles and institutions that society has presented to us. The free spirit loves their self and lives life without shame. To become a free spirit, one must live life in the pursuit of knowledge and everything that we do and experience is for this pursuit of knowledge. According to Nietzsche, the church is a prime example of one of these institutions that stops us from achieving freedom and even if the church is brought down, then we must free ourselves from the values that it has created. The 2000-year-old values that Christianity has given us are a constraint on becoming a free spirit, and even if one rejects the church, one must eliminate these values from their mind and create their own values. These values cause self-oppression and Nietzsche wants us to reject these values in order to free ourselves from our own mind and progress individually.

Being a free spirit relates to the concept of gay science because of the type of pursuit of knowledge that Nietzsche speaks of. Gay science refers to "Life as a means to knowledge" and he says that with this in one's heart they can live boldly and gaily and laugh gaily as well. Nietzsche refers to many intellectuals as being too serious and they must find it burdensome to engage in good thinking. He states that scholars believe that "where laughter and gaiety are found, thinking does not amount to anything" and this is the prejudice against "gay science." He wants to be able to pursue knowledge with joy and laughter and not be constrained by making the pursuit of knowledge a dry chore. If we can do this, then we have gay science and gay science is part of what being a free spirit is all about. If we are living our life for the pursuit of knowledge, then everything that we do is part of this purpose, and if we love our lives, then we must be able to enjoy ourselves and be gay scientists. Free spirits love their lives and find much joy in mostly everything they do and this includes pursuing knowledge, hence the relationship between free spirit and gay science.

The early Nietzsche was very concerned with a rebirth of tragedy to solve our problems and a rejection of Socrates. Early Nietzsche was very concerned with trying to get in touch with the one life will, and he thought that following Socrates would lead to suffering and a false understanding of the deeper truths of existence. All of this changes drastically in the middle works when he rejects many of his former beliefs about humanity and when he becomes a real atheist. Nietzsche is now a kind advocate of Socrates in the sense that he admires the idea of life as the pursuit of knowledge and a love of our lives and selves. In the early works, Nietzsche was trying to find a solution to coping with the horrors of existence, but in the middle works he was trying to become a free spirit that loved life. In the middle works, the free spirit and life as the pursuit of knowledge are the answers for our existence rather than tragedy as an answer for coping with a terrible existence. Nietzsche learns to affirm life in the middle stages and he rejects his former idea as life being a horror of existence. He loves life in the middle works and he affirms things that are horrific to most people and things that are beautiful to most people.

As Nietzsche transitions from the middle to the later works he realizes that there are limits of the free spirit ideal. He realizes that Socrates, who was part of the basis for this ideal, was actually a pessimist that viewed knowledge as more valuable than life itself. Nietzsche realized this because of the dying words of Socrates (which can be read in Plato’s dialogues) and he realized that there were other important aspects of life besides simply knowledge. Nietzsche loved life and he wanted to be able to affirm life through the eternal recurrence doctrine that was to be the premise for the beginning of his late authorship. He was also concerned with the will to power doctrine that he presents in short in the Gay Science, and this is huge for his thought in the later works. Nietzsche was developing new doctrines that were central to his thought which he achieved while living in the pursuit of knowledge, and he knew that these doctrines were beyond only the pursuit of being a free spirit. His new doctrines were to encompass the concept of the free spirit and build on this concept with further metaphysical concepts.

Sources: Friedrich Nietzsche. Gay Science. Trans. Walter Kaufmann.

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