Nietzsche, Nihilism, and the “Overcoming” of Western Metaphysics

(PHIL-4410-01-SPRING [55383])

Dr. Edgar Boedeker             – Spring 2013 – Tues. & Thurs., 3:30-4:45 – Lang 20


Office hours: 1-1:45 Mondays, 3:00-3:25 Wednesdays, and 1-1:45 Fridays in my office, 145 Baker Hall.  I would also be happy to meet with you at another time, to be arranged in advance.  If you would like to schedule a meeting, please contact me by e-mail ( or phone (273-7487).


Required texts (available at University Book & Supply):

- Friedrich Nietzsche, Basic Writings of Nietzsche (introduction by Peter Gay; translated by Walter Kaufmann), Random House (ISBN 0679783393).

- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Portable Nietzsche (translated by Walter Kaufmann), Viking Penguin (ISBN 014015.0625).

- Martin Heidegger, Basic Writings, Revised and Expanded Edition (edited by David Farrell Krell), Harper & Row (NOT the original 1977 edition; but rather either the1993 edition [ISBN 0060637633] or the 2008 edition [ISBN 0061627001]).

- Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche: Volumes Three and Four (ed. By David Farrell Krell; Harper Collins, ISBN 0060637943).

- Martin Heidegger, The End of Philosophy (tr. by Joan Stambaugh), University of Chicago Press (ISBN: 0060638567).


Required photocopy packet (soon available at Copyworks, located at the corner of College and 23rd Streets).


Course description: We will begin by examining Friedrich Nietzsche’s (1844-1900) attempt to conduct a historical “genealogy” and a psychological and philosophical “diagnosis” of the condition of “nihilism” – the experience of the emptiness of our values – that he believes characterizes the modern West.  We will then move on to examine what is probably the deepest, and also the most sympathetic, critique of Nietzsche: that of Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) in his later writings, beginning around 1935.  One central issue here will be the question of whether Nietzsche, as he himself believes, has truly overcome the long tradition of Western metaphysics, or whether, as Heidegger argues, Nietzsche is actually the “fulfillment”, or “culmination” of this tradition.  We will conclude by investigating Heidegger’s view of art, which can be seen as the basis of his critique of Nietzsche.  We will then move on to Heidegger’s own critique of contemporary “nihilism”, which he understands differently than Nietzsche.  Here, we will come to understand how he sees its relation to our modern, “technical”, way of relating to nature and other people; and his suggestions for overcoming nihilism and metaphysics.  Along the way, we will read two classic essays in late-20th-Century “analytic” philosophy of language (by Rudolf Carnap and Donald Davidson) that deal with strongly related themes in Nietzsche and Heidegger.


We will be viewing three videos outside of class.  Probably during mid-February, we will view a lecture given at UNI in 2000 by John Dominic Crossan (b. 1934) on the historical Jesus.  Probably late in March, we will view Leni Riefenstahl’s (1902-2003) classic Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will (1935).  Probably early in April, we will view the B.B.C. documentary The Architecture of Doom.   Viewing all three of these videos is a requirement for the course, and will for the most part be done outside of class, on your own time.



1. 40% of your final grade will come from 10 completed worksheets (on the reading for a particular course meeting) and/or “analytic response papers” from 1 to 2 pages in length on a study question or a topic of your choosing.  The due-dates are given on the syllabus.  Absolutely no late analytic response papers and/or worksheets will be accepted, unless due to an absence that you have asked me, and I have agreed, to count as excused.

The purpose of the analytic response papers is to encourage you to do each reading assignment, and to come to class prepared to discuss it.  Each should be about 2 pages in length.  In an analytic response paper, you should not attempt to summarize all of a given reading assignment.  Instead, you should focus on a single key passage or argument made in a reading assignment, explicating this passage or argument as clearly as possible.  Space permitting, in an analytic response paper, it would be good to pose a question about the passage or argument – either about how to interpret it or how the claims made might be problematic – that would make for illuminating discussion in class.  Worksheets and/or analytic response papers may be turned within a week after the passage or argument in question was assigned.  It’s a good idea to choose your topics “strategically”, as initial drafts of portions of your longer papers (see section 4 below).  I’ll do my best to give ample comments on both worksheets and analytic response papers, and to return them to you promptly.

2. Class participation: I expect that all students will participate actively and constructively in classroom discussions.  Asking questions and responding to what I or fellow students say are excellent ways for you to learn.  Doing so regularly will boost your final grade by up to two-thirds of a letter-grade, for example, from a B+ to an A.  On the other hand, if your presence in class contributes to a negative learning environment (for example, repeatedly coming to class late, or treating fellow students with disrespect), this can reduce your final grade by one third of a letter grade.

3. Attendance: I reserve the right to take attendance at the beginning of each class period.  You are permitted two unexplained absences during the semester.  For each unexplained absence beyond these two, your final grade will be reduced by one third of a letter grade.  For example, someone who would otherwise receive a B+ in the course, but who has 5 unexcused absences (i.e., 3 more than the 2 allowed), will receive a C+ in the course.  The only excuses I will accept are a doctor’s note or a funeral announcement.

I realize that this is a fairly strict attendance policy.  I have instituted it mainly because much of the learning that you will do in this course will take place in class.  Asking questions, raising objections, and listening to others are important skills that you will get to practice in class discussions.  In addition, coming to class is necessary to doing well in this course.  Finally, if you initiate class discussion on a given topic, this will aid others in coming to terms with the material covered. 

4. Two papers, both about 7 pages in length, on an important aspect of one of the texts we read.  Paper topics are linked to the due-dates.

- The first paper, due in class on the date assigned (see tentative schedule below), and worth 25% of your final grade. 

- The final paper will be due early during exam week (see schedule below), to be handed in in my mailbox in the Department of Philosophy and World Religions (Baker 135), and worth 35% of your final grade. Please feel free to discuss any of your papers with me as you write them.

I strongly encourage you to co-write your paper with (just) one other member of the class.  Co-writing is an increasingly important skill in such fields as business, science, teaching, law, etc.  Since I will hold a co-written paper to exactly the same standards as a single-authored paper, it is definitely to your advantage to co-write a paper.  After all, two heads are better than one!  If you co-write a paper, however, please make sure that you and your co-author both check it for consistency in style, verb tense, coherence, etc. 

Criteria for writing and evaluating a paper:

I. Thesis (20 points). 

A. Does your essay have a clear and informative thesis?

B. Does your thesis offer a compelling insight into the text and issue under consideration?

C. Do you explain why your thesis matters, i.e., why it’s important?

D. Is your thesis stated at the end of an introductory paragraph?

II. Support of thesis (60 points).

A. Thesis defense. Does your essay have a consecutive argument that defends your thesis, carefully moving the reader from one point to the next (or does it simply run in place)?  Your aim is not to prove to the reader that your thesis is iron-clad, but to show that it is reasonable, that what you see in the text is there to be seen.  So do you cite and quote evidence from the text (a good rule of thumb is to use three examples), and do you explain how that evidence supports your thesis?  Do you lead the reader through your argument, one step at a time, explicitly telling me how that step supports your thesis?

Remember that the reasons you give for or against an argument should be more than simply your beliefs or opinions.  Rather, they should be potentially convincing to someone else, even if this person may not initially share your beliefs or opinions.  After all, are you convinced that something is true just because someone else happens to believe it?  Thus in trying to bring your reader over to your side, make sure to meet him or her in the middle by appealing to reasons that they might accept.

B. Evidence and reasoning. Does your essay have adequate citation and quotations from relevant texts that support the argument of the paper, and do you explain how those citations and quotations in fact support the argument?

C. Consistency. Does your essay demonstrate internal consistency or ways of handling contradiction and paradox as they emerge in the argument?

D. Addressing an objection. Does your essay show an awareness of a possible objection to your thesis?  Does your essay address this objection?

III. Style and presentation (20 points).

A. Does your essay

1.      avoid grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors?  (This is very important, since the reader can’t help but take these factors as indicating the author’s care in writing the paper.)

2.      have clear and well-structured sentences, paragraphs, and arguments?

3.      have properly defined key terms?

4.      have properly documented quotes?  Page numbers in parentheses placed after the quote are sufficient if you are dealing with just one text.

B. Succinctness. Is every paragraph, sentence, and even every word absolutely necessary to your argument (or do you have irrelevant material and rambling discussion)?


Notes on the papers:

One thing that a philosophy paper should not be is a “book report”, i.e., an attempt to summarize an entire philosophical text.  Instead, a good philosophy paper should give a close analysis of a single key argument in a text.  An “argument” in this sense isn’t a verbal fight (this isn’t the Jerry Springer Show, after all!).  Rather, an argument is a chain of reasoning from certain statements (called the “premises”) to another statement (called the “conclusion”) that the argument claims is supported by the premises. 

A good philosophy paper contains both an analysis of such an argument and some criticism of it.  A good criticism generally consists of either (1) reasons why one or more of the premises of the argument is false, or (2) reasons why the premises in fact do not support the conclusion (in which case the conclusion still might be false even if the premises were true).  You may or may not agree with the argument; and you may or may not agree with your criticism of it.  This doesn’t matter for the purposes of this course.  Remember that the reasons you give for or against an argument should be more than simply your beliefs or opinions.  Rather, they should be potentially convincing to someone else, even if this person may not initially share your beliefs or opinions.  After all, are you convinced that something is true just because someone else happens to believe it?  So don’t just state whether or not you agree with the author’s conclusion.  Instead, try to give reasons for or against the author’s argument for this conclusion.

In my experience, the most common way for paper grades to suffer is due to a lack of documentation in the texts.  You should use direct citations sparingly – generally only if the exact wording of the passage is either directly relevant to the argument you’re making, or particularly clear and concise.  (Short direct citations should be placed in quotation-marks; direct citations over 3 lines long should be offset, indented, single-space, and without quotation-marks.)  In other cases, use indirect citation – paraphrasing in your own words what the author says, and telling the reader where s/he says it.

Further note: Each semester, I teach almost 100 students.  Although I give each as much individual time and attention as I possibly can during the semester, I will not be able to send you your individual grade for the course at the end of the semester.  I submit the grades to the Registrar as soon as I can during the week of final exams, and ask you to kindly wait see your grade until it has been reported electronically.

WEBSITE: The Department of Philosophy and World Religions has relatively few funds available for photocopying (or for anything else, for that matter!).  The great majority of our course materials will therefore be placed on our website:, with the syllabus linked to the title of our course.  These materials will include worksheets for you to fill out on the readings, handouts outlining lectures, materials for use in in-class group projects, and suggested paper topics.  Please check the website frequently for updates. 

MAILSERV: From time to time, I will send announcements pertaining to the class via e-mail.  To facilitate our electronic communication, a MAILSERV distribution list has been created for this class using your UNI e-mail addresses.  The list members include myself and is supposed to be constantly updated to include just those students who are registered for the class at a given time.  Unfortunately, the new policies by the Powers that Be in charge of this allow only me, and not students, to send to the list.

It will be your responsibility to check your e-mail regularly, read the announcements, and print out all attachments.  I strongly recommend that you purchase a 3-ring binder to organize and store the various handouts for this class.

Cheating and plagiarism (from UNI’s academic ethics policy): “Students at UNI are required to observe the commonly accepted standards of academic honesty and integrity. Except in those instances in which group work is specifically authorized by the instructor of the class, no work which is not solely the student’s is to be submitted to a professor in the form of an examination paper, a term paper, class project, research project, or thesis project.

“Cheating of any kind on examinations and/or plagiarism of papers or projects is strictly prohibited. Also unacceptable are the purchase of papers from commercial sources, using a single paper to meet the requirement of more than one class (except in instances authorized and considered appropriate by the professors of the two classes), and submission of a term paper or project completed by any individual other than the student submitting the work. Students are cautioned that plagiarism is defined as the process of stealing or passing off as one's own the ideas or words of another, or presenting as one's own an idea or product which is derived from an existing source.

“It is not acceptable for the work or ideas of another scholar to be presented as a student's own or to be utilized in a paper or project without proper citation. To avoid any appearance of plagiarism or accidental plagiarism, it is important that all students become fully cognizant of the citation procedures utilized in their own discipline and in the classes they take. The plea of ignorance regarding citation procedures or of carelessness in citation is not a compelling defense against allegations of plagiarism. A college student, by the fact that he or she holds that status, is expected to understand the distinction between proper scholarly use of others’ work and plagiarism.”

Any student who is found to have cheated or plagiarized will receive the grade of “F” for the class.  In addition, if you are found to have copied anything from an Internet website without proper documentation, or to have engaged in any other particularly flagrant forms of cheating or plagiarism, the instructor will “recommend suspension from UNI for a period ranging from the term in which the infraction occurs (with a loss of all credit earned during that term) to permanent suspension from the University.”  The instructor will also report this “action in writing to the instructor’s department head (and, if the student is from a different department, to the head of the student’s department), and to the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. The Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs will notify the student in writing that such action has been taken, and will maintain a file for each student so disciplined.”


Disabilities: I will make every effort to accommodate disabilities.  Please contact me if I can be of assistance in this area.  All qualified students with disabilities are protected under the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C.A., Section 12101.  The ADA states that “no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.”  Students who desire or need instructional accommodations or assistance because of their disability should contact the Office of Disability Services located in 213 Student Services Center (273-2676 Voice, or 273-3011 TTY).

Tentative course schedule

I. Nietzsche

Tuesday, January 15: Introduction: Nietzsche’s philosophical background, especially Immanuel Kant (1723-1803) and Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860). 

Thursday, January 17: Friedrich Nietzsche’s (1844-1900) discussions of Schopenhauer in Section 16 (BWN pp. 99-104) from The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music (1872); and Sections 5-6 (BWN pp. 538-542) from the Third Essay of On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic (1887) Handout1 Handout2 Handout3.  Also read (and most importantly) The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music (1872), sections 1-9 (BWN pp. 33-72). Worksheet Handout

Tuesday, January 22: The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, sections 10-18 (BWN 73-114). Worksheet

Thursday, January 24: Skim The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, sections 19-25 (BWN pp. 114-144).  These sections are the most nationalistic and worst that Nietzsche wrote; they’re not worth paying nearly as much attention to as sections 1-18, so please don’t.  But do read his later “Attempt at a Self-Criticism” (1886; BWN pp. 17-27), which helps to set the record straight.  Also read “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense” (1873) (PN pp. 42-47), keeping in mind that this work is from Nietzsche’s early period, and doesn’t exactly reflect his later views of truth.  Worksheet  1st worksheet or analytic response paper due. 

Tuesday, January 29: On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic (1887), Nietzsche’s Preface and First Essay, “Good and Evil,” “Good and Bad”, (BWN pp. 451-492). Worksheet Handout Slightly expanded handout

Thursday, January 31: On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic, Second Essay, “Guilt,” “Bad Conscience,” and the Like (BWN pp. 493-532). Worksheet Handout1 Handout 2

Tuesday, February 5: On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic, Third Essay, “What Is the Meaning of Ascetic Ideals?”, Sections 1 (pp. 533f), 7 (pp. 539-544), 11-16 (pp. 552-565) and 23-25 and 27-28 (pp. 581-592, 595-599; on the will to truth and faith in science as a kind of new asceticism). Worksheet.  Also read selections from The Gay Science (1882) PN pp. 95-102, (1887) PN pp. 447-450.  2nd worksheet or analytic response paper due. 

Thursday, February 7: Twilight of the Idols (1888), PN pp. 465-6, 473-501; In “Skirmishes of an Untimely Man” sections 8-11 (PN 518-521), 14 (PM 522-3), 20-24 (PN 526-530), 32-36 (PN 533-36), 43-48 (PN 546-553), “What I Owe to the Ancients” sections 3-5 (559-563). {“What the Germans Lack”, sections 7-11, 14, 18-26, 32-48 (PN pp. 517-521, 522f, 524-553).}  Worksheet Worksheet

Tuesday, February 12: The Antichrist (1888), sections 6-9 (PN pp. 572-576), 18 (PN pp. 585-6), 20-42 (PN pp. 618-609). Worksheet

Thursday, February 14: The Antichrist, sections 27-61 (PN pp. 618-656). Worksheet  3rd worksheet or analytic response paper due. 

Tuesday, February 19: Rudolf Carnap, “Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology” (1950; available at*)  Worksheet; and Donald Davidson (1917-2003), “On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme” (1974; in course packet). 

Thursday, February 21: Nietzsche on positing values as condition of the possibility of truth and knowledge.  Read the following:

- “The Will to Power as Knowledge” (1939), section 2 (NIII pp. 10-14);

- passage #507 (written by Nietzsche in1887, the same year as the Genealogy of Morals) from The Will to Power (Der Wille zur Macht), referred to as “WM” (N III p. 33);

- “The Will to Power as Knowledge”, sections 10-14 (N III, pp. 64-93). Worksheet

- “Nietzsche’s Metaphysics” (1940), section 2 (NIII pp. 193-200); and

- European Nihilism (1940), section 10 (N IV pp. 58-68).  4th worksheet or analytic response paper due. 

Tuesday, February 26: Nietzsche’s view of nihilism: Heidegger, European Nihilism (1940), sections 1-9 (N IV, pp. 3-57). Worksheet 

Thursday, February 28:  Thus Spoke Zarathustra, First Part (1883): Zarathustra’s Prologue and sections 1-5 and 17 (PN pp. 121-149 and 174-177); Second Part (1883): sections 1, 2, and 12 (PN pp. 195-200 and 225-228); very important: Third Part (1884): section 2 (PN pp. 267-272). Worksheet


II. Heidegger’s ontology, and his critique of Nietzsche’s will to power as the ‘end’ of what Heidegger calls “nihilistic metaphysics”

Tuesday, March 5: the early thought of Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) in Being and Time (1927).  Read this article by yours truly, which attempts to define the most important concepts in Heidegger’s first major work. 

Here’s how to access and print out the article: (1) go to this website: ; (2) click on the yellow “Find it!” button; (3) hit the “informaworld Taylor & Francis Group” link; (4) enter your username and password (this should be the same as your CAT ID); (5) in the “Search” box, type in “Boedeker”; (6) click “Full Text PDF” just under the first article title you see, “Individual and Community…”; and (7) print out the article, and enjoy!  Handout1 Handout2  5th worksheet or analytic response paper due. 

Thursday, March 7: Heidegger, “On the Essence of Truth” (1930-1943; sections 1-5; MHBW pp. 115-138).  A note that Heidegger himself wrote in the margin of his own copy of this essay on what is p. 130 of our translation in MHBW reads: “Between section 5 and 6, the leap into the turning (which comes to presence in the appropriating event).”  He thus reminds himself that sections 1-5 of the essay belong to his early philosophy (through 1930), whereas sections 6-9 belong specifically to his later thought (beginning around 1935). Worksheet   Also read “Recollection in Metaphysics” (1940) (EoP pp. 75-83) as an orientation to how Heidegger conceives the “history of being”.  First paper due (topics given here)

Tuesday, March 12: Heidegger’s critique of Nietzsche’s metaphysics as carrying out Descartes’ interpretation of the beingness of entities as what can correspond to the subject’s con-sciousness of (1) its private ideas and (2) its enacting a judgment by re-presenting these ideas: European Nihilism, sections 11-16 (N IV pp. 69-110). Worksheet   

Thursday, March 14: Heidegger’s critique of Nietzsche’s metaphysics: European Nihilism, sections 17-22 (N IV pp. 111-149). Right Worksheet; wrong Worksheet   6th worksheet or analytic response paper due. 

Tuesday, March 26: Deconstructing the history of ontology and Nietzsche’s role in it.  Read the following texts, both from 1941: “Metaphysics as History of Being: Whatness and Thatnes in the Essential Beginning of Metaphysics: idea and energeia” (EoP 1-32); and “Sketches for a History of Being as Metaphysics” (EoP 55-70).  Especially interesting here is Heidegger’s remarks on the importance of Martin Luther’s demand for the “certainty of his salvation” (EoP p. 21 & p. 58) as preparing the modern (Cartesian) interpretation of the beingness of entities as ob-jectivity for a re-presenting con-scious sub-ject.  Handout Handout

Thursday, March 28: Nietzsche’s metaphysics as itself “nihilistic” (in Heidegger’s sense): “Nihilism as Determined by the History of Being” (1944/46) (N IV, pp. 199-250).  Worksheet

Tuesday, April 2: Nietzsche’s interpretation of the beingness of entities (as what can be known according to the values posited by the will to power) as the “completion” of Western metaphysics.  Read the following:

- Section 1 of “The Will to Power as Knowledge” (1939; N III pp. 3-9);

- “The Eternal Recurrence of the Same and the Will to Power” (1939) (N III pp. 161-183); and

- Heidegger’s remarks on Nietzsche’s self-proclaimed “countermovement against Platonism” at MHBW p. 239 (from 1946) and MHBW p. 433 (from 1964).  Here, Heidegger is addressing Nietzsche’s prescient note that “My philosophy is an inverted [umgedrehter] Platonism: the farther from what truly is, the purer, more beautiful, the better it is.  Living in appearance as goal” (written by Nietzsche in 1870 or 1871, while he was working on The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, and quoted in Volume I of Heidegger’s Nietzsche, p. 154).  Worksheet  7th worksheet or analytic response paper due. 


III. The technical epoch in the history of being, and the “overcoming” of its implicit metaphysics

Thursday, April 4: Carnap, “The Overcoming of Metaphysics through Logical Analysis of Language” (1932; in course packet). Worksheet; and handout giving corresponding pages between Carnap’s OM and WiM in BW, as well as “translations” of these passages by the less syncopated ones in SZ.

Tuesday, April 9: Heidegger, “Overcoming Metaphysics” (1936-1946, published in 1951 and 1953) (EoP pp. 84-110).

Thursday, April 11: Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology” (1953, published in 1954), first half (MHBW) Handout Worksheet  PLEASE NOTE that this is probably the MOST important work by Heidegger that we’ll read this semester, so give yourself some time to re-read and reflect on it.

Tuesday, April 16: Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology”, second half (MHBW) 8th worksheet or analytic response paper due. 

Thursday, April 18: Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art” (1936), first half (MHBW pp. 143-175). Worksheet Being and Time on spatiality

Tuesday, April 23: Heidegger, “The Origin of the Work of Art”, second half (MHBW pp. 175-212).   9th worksheet or analytic response paper due. 

Thursday, April 25: Heidegger, “Building, Dwelling, Thinking” (1951) in MHBW pp. 323-339. Worksheet 

Tuesday, April 30: Heidegger, “Memorial Address” (1955) (“Releasement”: Gelassenheit): photocopy.

Thursday, May 2: catch-up day (whew!).  10th worksheet or analytic response paper due. 

Tuesday, May 7, pm,in my mailbox in the Department of Philosophy and World Religions, Baker 135: Final paper due (topics given here).