Friedrich Nietzsche is one of history’s most misinterpreted philosophers, and it isn’t hard to understand why; his lengthy writings are sometimes obscure and it isn’t always clear what he’s getting at.
It can be easier to grasp Nietzsche’s big ideas by studying his aphorisms — succinct yet insightful statements — which he intentionally penned at times (some of his works contain sections devoted to just such sayings). The punchy format of aphorisms fit the terse, strength-focused ethos of Nietzsche’s philosophy perfectly, and he explicitly said his “ambition [was] to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.”
The pithiness of his aphorisms shouldn’t be mistaken for simplicity, however. Nietzsche liked the aphorism because its meaning wasn’t one-dimensional, but could encompass layers of irony, sarcasm, and nuance which reward the reader who goes beyond the surface to contemplate deeper meanings.
Many of Nietzsche’s aphorisms have become standard sayings in popular culture. “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” has been used by football coaches to motivate players during grueling summer workouts and by Kanye West in one of his biggest hits Many of Nietzsche’s other aphorisms have been adopted by artists looking to inspire themselves to reach for bigger and bolder visions, which was part of his intent; while the philosopher’s work has often been interpreted in a societal and political context, his themes on the will to power and waging war are frequently meant as metaphors for creative and intellectual struggle.
Indeed, many of Nietzsche’s aphorisms are designed to jostle the individual out of existential complacency. He doesn’t want people to simply sleepwalk through life. You can feel Nietzsche grabbing you by the shirt collar and slapping you awake as you read his axioms. He wants you to live dangerously and shake off the fetters of weakness and mediocrity to reach further and higher.
Below we share a collection of some of Nietzsche’s most inspiring, incisive, and insightful aphorisms. Whenever you feel like you need an existential kick in the butt, give these a read.
“The true man wants two things: danger and play.”
“Be careful, lest in casting out your demon you exorcise the best thing in you.”
“The secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is: to live dangerously!”
“Silence is worse; all truths that are kept silent become poisonous.”
“I have often laughed at the weaklings who thought themselves good because they had no claws.”
“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster.”
“When you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”
“Nothing on earth consumes a man more quickly than the passion of resentment.”
“Become who you are.”
“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”
“If we possess our why of life we can put up with almost any how.”
“A good writer possesses not only his own spirit but also the spirit of his friends.”
“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity.”
“That every will must consider every other will its equal — would be a principle hostile to life, an agent of the dissolution and