Nietzsche's psychology of hierarchy

Paul E Kirkland, Fordham University


In this dissertation, I argue that psychology is central to the meaning and purposes of Nietzsche's work. Rather than suspending all ethical judgment or upholding a universal morality, Nietzsche offers models of psychological strength: the teaching of eternal return, the ethics of enemy love, laughter, and his own writing. In Nietzsche's models for psychological strength, my interpretation finds the basis for separating him from both those who find in Nietzsche the roots of totalitarian politics and those who find in Nietzsche's view of the self a playful creativity they suppose supports liberal individualism. Through the deficient model of the free spirit of Beyond Good and Evil, I examine the role of honesty in Nietzsche's work and its confrontation with the need for appearances and masks. Through a careful examination of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, I explore the search for a human meaning for the earth, the problem of revenge, the psychological importance of the teaching of eternal return, and its ethical implications. While Zarathustra begins by teaching the Uebermensch, this empty teaching of creativity gives way to the problem of revenge and the need for a new form of redemption. The teaching of eternal returns seeks to overcome the problem of revenge by reconciling the will with the past, freedom with necessity, and the desire for immortality with the temporal character of human life. I argue that the psychological meaning of eternal return takes priority to its cosmological claims and that this teaching encourages an ethics of enemy-love, internalized as self-overcoming. Nietzsche's use of comedy exhibits the possibility of the internal split that combines the capacity for self-knowledge with the possibility of self-overcoming. I argue that Nietzsche stands above his character Zarathustra who teaches doctrines and that his writing manifests such an internalized split, the self-challenging that makes possible philosophy that does not collapse into dogmatism. His autobiographical Ecce Homo takes a comic form to encourage this split, appeal to a democratic audience, and to exemplify Nietzsche's distance above his own characters and their doctrines. Nietzsche thus succeeds where his character fails by offering indirect communication that makes possible the partial connection necessary for political life and by maintaining the distance from his doctrines necessary for new challenges and continued thought.

Subject Area

Political science|Philosophy|Psychology

Recommended Citation

Kirkland, Paul E, "Nietzsche's psychology of hierarchy" (2002). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3037222.