Metahistories of philosophy: Kant and Nietzsche


Daniel Fidel Ferrer
Central Michigan University Libraries


The purpose of this paper is to use Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzsche as springboard to a general investigation of the nature of Metahistories of philosophy. Kant and Nietzsche are two very dissimilar philosophers and they have approached the history of philosophy in radically different ways. By comparing and contrasting their approaches, then a sharp and clear idea of a Metahistory of philosophy should appear. Metahistories of philosophy follow the course and direction of the history of philosophy. If there is a dynamic principle at work in the development of the history of philosophy, then a Metahistory of philosophy seeks to understand these major trends and inner determinations (necessities) at work. Is there a purpose and reasons for way the history of philosophy has developed? Do we need the phenomenological or hermeneutical destruction of history of philosophy? Has philosophy reached its completion or goal? Is there a continuing history to philosophy?


Both Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) had a relationship to past philosophers and this reverberates throughout their writings. The purpose of this paper is the assessment of Kant's and Nietzsche's relationship to early philosophies and to investigation their overall Metahistories of philosophy. In general, Kant had less interest in the early philosophers, whereas Nietzsche's work is covered with name-dropping of philosophers, writers, politician, and artists of every kind. Nietzsche has a myriad of remarks about various philosophical and religious positions or -isms. Nietzsche's critique and dialogue with whole history of philosophy comes partial from his background in philology and his study of the Greeks, but a major part of his philosophy is directed at the value structure of philosophies and religion (Christian in particular). Nietzsche situated himself within history and has a highly developed Metahistory of philosophy. Although extreme opposites in the their approach to philosophy, both G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831) and Nietzsche are historical thinkers. Part of Nietzsche's Metahistory of philosophy comes from a meaningful and penetrating dialogue with G.W.F. Hegel.

This can be seen by the view of Hegel that Nietzsche had in his early essay "On the Use and Abuse of History for Life," 1874. This is the second of Nietzsche's Untimely Meditations (1873-1876). Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen. Zweites Stück: Vom Nutzen und Nachtheil der Historie für das Leben.

Nietzsche said this about Hegel's influence:

I believe that there has been no dangerous variation or change in German culture in this century, which has not become more dangerous through the monstrous influence of the philosophy of Hegel, an influence which continues to flow right up to the present.

Nietzsche then goes on to say, "Thus, for Hegel the summit and end point of the world process coincided with his own individual existence in Berlin." Nietzsche view of Hegel was undoubted influence negatively by Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), but the Hegelian view of the world spirit progressing in history up to the point of the 1820s in Berlin is a view that Nietzsche surely wants to reject. To justify the present with the past (if Hegel did indeed do this, certainly many people have interpreted Hegel this way), yes, Nietzsche would not stand for this kind of thinking.
(Nietzsche had more says about Hegel's philosophy of history, see his notes of 1873, for example, VI, 336). Hegel did say, "The owl of Minerva, takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering." (Philosophy of Right, Preface dated, Berlin, June 25th, 1820). This means philosophers do not appear until after the historical moment or epoch. Philosophers for Hegel only look and deduce history after it has happen. For Hegel world history had an aim, a plan, and there was reason in history. Nietzsche rejected this view of history.

Following his critique of Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach (1804-1872), Karl Marx (1818-1883) said, "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it." Theses On Feuerbach, written spring of 1845. One of Feuerbach main works was entitled: Principles of Philosophy of the Future (1843), Grundsätze der Philosophie der Zukunft. Nietzsche was reading this book in 1882 (Thomas H. Brobjer, "Nietzsche's Reading and Private Library, 1885-1889"). I think Nietzsche got some of his inspiration from Feuerbach's pointing toward the future. One of Nietzsche's important works is entitled, "Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future" (1886). So, in a sense there is more than just the question of changing the world with philosophy, but the direction of philosophical thinking as pointing toward the future.

Nietzsche's dialogue with Hegel is over the direction of philosophy and how one reads this history of philosophy and of course how one understands history as such. For Hegel history always is a progression.

The issues with any Metahistories of philosophy most always include a dialogue with Hegel. Although not explicitly part of this paper nevertheless, Hegel is still part of this investigation. No philosopher before him had such a metaphysical sweep of the history of philosophy and with it philosophy of history as Hegel had. In addition, Hegel's equates his own philosophy with the progress of the history of philosophy. Hegel was the first great philosopher to undoubtedly develop a systematic and comprehensive Metahistory of philosophy. Hegel understood and implicitly knew the course of the history of philosophy as a philosophical problem.

However, in this paper I will assess and investigate the Metahistories of philosophy that were developed by Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzsche. Hopefully by comparing and contrasting we will gain a deeper understanding of doing a Metahistory of philosophy. As a contemporary and insightful philosopher, Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) said, "The greater a revolution is to be, the more profoundly must it plunge into its history." ("Nietzsche's Overturning of Platonism," 1936). A paradigm shift or a revolution within philosophy can only come about by a plunge into the history of philosophy and for that we need a well-developed idea and concept of a Metahistory of philosophy.

The counterexample seems to be Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), who had no understanding of the history of philosophy. Scholars are finding more and more of Schopenhauer's influence in Wittgenstein writings. Wittgenstein did not read widely in the history of philosophy.

The purpose of this paper is an attempt to work out the concept of a Metahistory of philosophy through an investigation of two dissimilar philosophers, namely, Kant and Nietzsche.

Kant's Metahistory of philosophy


SECTION: Critique of Pure Reason

Let us begin by looking at the final section of the Critique of Pure Reason (CPR) (Kritik der reinen Vernunft). The section is called, "The Transcendental Doctrine of Method. Fourth Chapter. The History of pure reason." (CPR, A852/B800 to A855/B883). Kant starts of by talking about "place that is left open in his system and must be filled in the future." It is interesting to note the same kind of issue Kant talked about in his last unpublished work, the Opus postumum (written 1796-1804). This was collection of writings that Kant was working on very late life and did not finalized or publish. Sometime Kant talks about a 'transition', then a 'gap', a 'pain like that of Tantalus', and then the "unpaid bill of my uncompleted system' (Letter Christian Garve, September 21, 1798). This is in regard yo the "Transition from metaphysical foundations of natural science to physics." This heading appears early in the Opus postumum (et. p. 10, AK 21:373).

So, where is the other part of which Kant had promised, "must be filled in the future" (CPR, A852/B880) in the Critique of Pure Reason? Namely, the complete history of pure reason or a comprehensive history of philosophy. Kant never did work out a detailed history of philosophy or a history of pure reason. In fact, where Kant left holes or gaps in his philosophical system, then philosophers have rushed in to complete the Kantian project. The neo-Kantians, Friedrich Adolf Trendelenburg (1802-1872) and Wilhelm Windelband (1848-1915) are some examples of philosophers who have developed in the history of philosophy.

Now back to Kant's outline of pure reason in the Critique of Pure Reason.
Kant starts by giving a 'cursory outline' of the 'chief revolutions' in metaphysics (CPR, A855/B881). There are three points in this small section.

1) "With regard to the object of all of our rational cognitions".
Kant said we have the sensual philosophers (Epicurus, 342-270 BC) and the intellectual philosophers (Plato, 427-348 BC).

2) "With regard to the origin of pure cognitions of reason" (Vernunfterkenntnisse). Kant said we have the empiricist (Aristotle 384-322 BC, John Locke 1632-1704) and noologists (Plato, Leibniz 1646-1716).

3) "With regard to method". (In Ansehung der Methode).
Kant said we have the naturalistic (Democritus 460-370 BC) and the scientific methodology. The scientific leads to either the dogmatism (Christian Wolff (1679-1754) or skepticism (David Hume (1711-1776). In this same section, Kant concludes that the "critical path alone is still open" (CPR, A855/B883). This is very last page of the Critique of Pure Reason. Note: Kant in this section does not say "Wissenschaft," but rather, "szientifische" methodology (szientifischen Methode). Why does he use this word?

This points back to the Preface of the Critique of Pure Reason, where Kant says, "It is treatise on the method" (CPR, Bxxii). Kant sees himself within the history of metaphysics working on a subsection under 'method' and then 'scientific'. The location within metaphysics for the Kantian 'critical path' is under the direction of method, and then scientific headings.

Kant begins the Critique of Pure Reason with the image of the "battlefield of these endless controversies is called metaphysics" (CPR, Avii). He then tells us a little story of about how in the beginning metaphysics started with "administration of the dogmatists, her rule was despotic" (CPR, Aix). These battles continue and almost come to end with the famous John Locke (1632-1704), but "fell back into the same old worm-eaten dogmatism" (CPR, Ax). Thus, the text of the Critique of Pure Reason begins with the history of philosophy and then the final section is called the history of pure reason (Die Geschichte der reinen Vernunft). Within this beginning and ending is this treatise on the method of the "metaphysics of metaphysics", namely, the Critique of Pure Reason (Letter To Marcus Herz, May 11, 1781, Correspondence, et. p. 181). So, Kant is situating himself within his own history of pure reason, that is, within his own Metahistory of philosophy.

Kant says at the beginning of the chapter on the history of pure reason:

I will content myself with casting a cursory glance from a merely transcendental point of view, namely that of the nature of pure reason, on the whole of its labors hitherto, which presents to my view edifices, to be sure, but only in ruins. (CPR, A852/B880). (Beginning of chapter, Die Geschichte der reinen Vernunft).

There are two important points here.

1) Kant is going to look at the history of pure reason, that is, the history of philosophy from a special point of view, namely, the "transcendental point of view". Or, in other words, from Kant's own point of view. This is a Metahistory of Philosophy from the transcendental point of view (transzendentalen Gesichtspunkte). The uniquely Kantian position.

2) The past is in "ruins" (Ruinen). Note this point very well. This is crucial point and conclusion for Kant.

Kant often uses these analogies and images of building a house. The second division of the Critique of Pure Reason is called "Transcendental doctrine of method". On the incredibly first page we hear Kant's images. He talks of the building edifices, building materials, height, strength, erection of a sturdy dwelling, etc (CPR, A707/B735). Thus, when we come to the last chapter of the section and we hear from Kant that there are 'only ruins,' then keeping with this analogy from Kant's view there is nothing to really 'build-on' from history of philosophy. Therefore, I understand Kant's own position (from the 'transcendental point of view') that the history of philosophy is not helpful or important, it is in 'ruins'. I understand Kant is saying that Kant's own transcendental or critical idealism is not based on the history of philosophy and it totally unique to Kant. In other words, Kant has to begin his building from the ground-up or from the essential foundations. There is nothing to build-on, only a little dirt to begin the building. Therefore, sticking with this image, for Kant, the ground is reason.

Kant wanted to develop is his own metaphysical system, but somewhere he got trapped writing the Critique of Pure Reason. He said in a letter that it would take him three months (1772) to finish his work. In reality, it took him another nine years before the Critique of Pure Reason (1781) was published. Here we start to see why. All Kant sees is 'ruins' everywhere. He does not have any building materials to even begin to build a sturdy dwelling (namely, a metaphysical system, a system of science).

Kant is doing a propaedeutic. That is just getting the ground ready for the building process or Kant in another publication he calls it a prolegomena. Now, this is not the science or a doctrine or in terms of the image - this is not the sturdy dwelling, but rather, a propaedeutic, that is, laying out the foundational project (think of Heidegger's Kant and Problem of Metaphysics). Kant said in an early part of the Critique of Pure Reason, "...we can regard a science of the mere estimation of pure reason, of its sources and boundaries, as the propaedeutic to the system of pure reason. Such a thing would not be a doctrine, but must be called only a critique of pure reason..." (CPR, A11). From the ruins there are no blocks to build a metaphysical system or a system built on science. In other words, this is neither a Wissenschaft nor szientifische system. This points to why Kant had to a do a "critique" before getting to the real knowledge of metaphysics. From this point of view the critique of pure reason project is not metaphysics, but rather a "critique" of reason, which needs to be done before the science of a metaphysical system. That is why Kant called the Critique a "metaphysics of metaphysics". The fundamental foundation, the ground, before doing the project of metaphysics. But for Kant this is not some kind of special physics in the Aristotelian sense, but rather the critique of pure reason. Aristotle would not understand the project, which is why Kant is so unique.

SECTION: What Real Progress has Metaphysics Made in Germany Since the Time of Leibniz and Wolff?

Kant wrote this work in 1793. The German title is: Welches sind die wirklichen Fortschritte, die Metaphysik seit Leibnizens und Wolffs Zeiten in Deutschland gemacht hat? This was about the same time he was working on Religion within the Bounds of Unaided (blossen) Reason. This work (Progress) by Kant was edited by Friedrich Rink (the manuscripts have subsequently been lost) and published shortly after Kant's death in April 1804. Kant's work was in a response to prize question announced by the Royal Academy of Sciences (Berlin, January 24, 1788). Kant in the end did not submit his manuscript. Nevertheless, we have with this work another attempt by Kant to look at the past in philosophy and we might see if another facet of Kant's Metahistory of philosophy comes forward into the light.

Kant right in the beginning of the Introduction gives us a picture of his view of metaphysics. Kant said,

But this science is metaphysics, and that completely changes matters. This is a boundless sea in which progress leaves no trace and on whose horizon there is no visible destination that allows one to perceive how near one has come to it. (et. p. 51).

There is no trace of anything good left, namely, no progress. The boundless sea is without a history and without even a horizon to navigate the ship. Kant is lost at sea. The sea is the history of metaphysics or at the very least, just the lost sea of metaphysics in general. Kant abruptly, then drops an interesting remark; "Ontology has made little progress since Aristotle's time" (et. p. 53). (Perhaps Martin Heidegger would agree with him. He told a group of students to read Aristotle first for 15 years, before reading Nietzsche).

Kant then goes on to talk about the three steps taken by metaphysics.

Thus, philosophy has gone through three stages in regard to metaphysics. The first was the stage of dogmatism, the second skepticism, and third the criticism of pure reason. (et p. 61).

This sounds again like Gottfried Wilhelm Freiherr Von Leibniz (1646-1716) and Wolff (Wolff's follower, Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten (1714-1762), Kant used his Metaphysics (1757) in his lectures), Hume, and then Kant. When Kant thinks of skepticism, I think in this context it must be Hume. Although already in December of 1792, in a letter to Jacob Sigismund Beck, Kant mentions the assumed name of Aenesidemus (real name is: Gottlob Ernst Schulze, 1761-1833) where "an even wider skepticism has been advanced" (Correspondence, et. p. 445). The complete title of the book was Aenesidemus oder über die Fundamente der von Herrn Professor Reinhold in Jena gelieferten Elementar-Philosophie, 1792. In Germany, Schulze's name during this time became synonymous with skepticism. Kant might also be thinking of the early Greek skeptics. For example, Kant mentions in a different context, "Pyrrho among others was a great Skeptic" (Lectures on Metaphysics, et. p. 305). Plus, on the same page he says, "Sextus Empiricus, who brought all doubts together" (Lectures on Metaphysics, et. p. 305). Thus, Kant was well acquainted with skepticism from a variety of sources in the complete history of philosophy.

How did Kant see these three stages in metaphysics?

Kant said,

This temporal order is based on the nature of the human capacity for knowledge. When the first two had been gone through, metaphysics was in such a state that for many generations it swung from unbounded trust in reason in itself to boundless mistrust and then back again. (Progress, et p. 61).

So, Kant is saying in this remark that Metahistory is based on "human capacity (Erkenntnisvermogens). Then Kant describes a process of trust (Vertrauen) or not trusts in reason. But clearly the movement and motion within history is a 'swinging' (schwankend, vacillation, wavering) back and forth between the two opposites of 'unbounded' and 'boundless' trust in reason. Thus, at this point Metahistory of philosophy is the swinging between trust and not trust in reason. Kant can see himself in this process as being for the trust in reason. In other words, Kant is on the side of rationalism. The Kantian Metahistory of philosophy is a process between reason (ratio) and reasonlessness (note: this is not irrationalism, we must wait 100 years before this becomes an issue).

Perhaps Kant saw Schulze's contemporary skepticism as just part of the process. However, at the time, Karl Leonhard Reinhold's (1758-1823) widespread popularization of Kant's philosophy was underway and then Schulze devastating critique of Reinhold's Kantianism as an infinite regress obviously upset Kant's agenda. Even Hegel had to come to terms with contemporary skepticism in his essay "On the Relationship of Skepticism to Philosophy, Exposition of its Different Modifications and Comparison of the Latest Form with the Ancient One," (1802) (Kritisches Journal der Philosophie) which is a critical discuss and review of Schulze's work. In this way Kant's Metahistory of philosophy could take into account the contemporary philosophical schools of his time.

Section : Lectures on Logic

The Blomberg Logic

Kant learned a great deal about the history of philosophy from the work of Johann Formey (1711-1797), Kurzgesfassete Historie der Philosophie von Hernn Formey, Berlin 1763 (Abridged History of Philosophy). Kant wrote Formey a letter in June 28, 1763 (Correspondence, et. p. 69-70) and often had people send Formey copies of Kant's works (Correspondence, et. p. 88). Formey was the permanent secretary of the Berlin Royal Academy of Sciences, he was a Wolffian, and wrote over 600 books and 20,000 letters. It is not clear where Kant came up with the critical remarks about Greek philosophers, since he read Plato and Aristotle in Greek. Perhaps it was Formey's views, for example, Kant remarked, "Plato was very rhetorical, and obscure, and in such way that he often did not understand himself. (Lectures on Logic, et. p. 23). About Aristotle, Kant said, "Aristotle developed a blind trust in himself, and he harmed philosophia more than he helped it." (Lecture on Logic, et. p. 23). Is this Kant or could this be Formey view of the history of philosophy?

Kant is of course talking through the lecture notes of his students. In this case, the Blomberg Logic was based on Kant's lectures of the early 1770s. Kant in one part of his lectures talks about the ancient philosophers as being either skeptical or dogmatists. This is a familiar refrain from Kant. However, he does go on to says,

Carteius, Malebranche, Leibniz, and Wolffus, the last whom, through his industry, produced a systema of philosophy, were in recent times the ones who improved philosophy, and were its true fathers. All of the efforts of our philosophy are 1) dogmatic, 2) critical. Among critical philosophers Locke deserves priority. (Lectures on Logic, et. p. 24).

Kant's Critique of Pure Reason was reviewed 1782 by J.G.H. Feder (1740-1820). In this review Kant was portrayed as just restating Bishop George Berkeley's (1685-1753) Idealism and Kant responded is the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason (2nd edition, 1787). However, in this passage we note two things of interest: a) Kant points to more recent philosophers as the 'true fathers' of philosophy, b) again Locke seems to be praised for his importance. Kant often has critical remarks about Berkeley, for example, calling him a "dogmatic idealism" (CRP, B274). Kant discusses this whole issue with Berkeley in his "Refutation of Idealism" (CRP, B274-287).

In the Dohna-Wundlacken Logic (1792), Kant said, "Dogmatism and skepticism are opposed to one another" (Lectures on Logic, et. p. 745). He then goes and states his position, "Criticism is the middle way between dogmatism and skepticism, the principle of a rightful trust in one's use of reason" (Lectures on Logic, et. p. 480).
This shows Kant working and thinking through his relation to earlier philosophers and the history of philosophy. Although it does not give us anymore-direct insight into Kant's Metahistory of philosophy, it does show his thoughtful dialogue with past philosophers.

Section: Lectures on Metaphysics

Kant's point of view on the history of metaphysics can be summarized by one of his remarks, "The whole of metaphysics is nothing other than a chain of built-up and overthrown systems." (Lectures on Metaphysics, et. p. 134). This passage points again to Kant's remarks about the history of philosophy being in ruins. Another passage says, "Up to now in metaphysics we still have not had anything satisfactory, for all systems can be shaken.' (Lectures on Metaphysics, et. p. 127).

Kant said that Hume "aroused me from a dogmatic slumber" (Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, 1783). However, in the lectures notes called Metaphysik Mrongovius (1782-1783) we have an interesting and perhaps a more candid remark about Hume from almost the same year. Kant said,

Something similar to a critique of pure reason was found with David Hume, but he sank into the wildest and most inconsolable speculation over this, and that happened easily because he did not study reason completely, but rather only this or that concept. An investigation of practices (facti), how we arrive at cognition, where from experience or though pure reason. Locke accomplished much here…" (Lectures on Metaphysics, et. p. 137).

An interesting point, again we have the praise of the empiricist Locke and rather critical and almost sarcastic remarks about Hume. Kant is saying rather decisively that Hume's philosophy looked at "only this or that concept". This is Kant's position on the overall consequence of Hume's philosophical skepticism to Kant's project of transcendental and critical idealism ("my transcendental, or, better, critical idealism" (Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, 1783). Kant's critical idealism points away from Humean skepticism. Kant does have unbounded trust in reason and the pervasiveness of these criticism of Hume suggest strongly that Kant's rationalism was the foundation of his project.

Kant's transcendental philosophy (idealism) can be seen as providing the ontology of rationalism (Lectures on Metaphysics, et. p. 307). Kant said that "Transcendental philosophy is also called ontology, and it is the product of the critique of pure reason." ( Lectures on Metaphysics, et. p. 421). The concept of "critique" means an outline (Vorriss) of pure reason. A critique looks at the sources and boundaries (Quellen und Grenzen) (CPR,A11), at the architectonic, at the sources of pure reason and hence, a "critique" is the method but reason is the content. Reason and rationalism is the touchstone of the Kantian project.

Conclusion on Kant's Metahistory of Philosophy


A final note on one of Kant's genuine and interesting position.

How should it be possible to learn philosophy anyway? Every philosophical thinker builds is own work, so to be speak, on someone's else's ruins, but no work has ever come to be that was to be lasting in all its parts. Hence, one cannot learn philosophy, then, just because it is not yet given. But even granted that there a philosophy actually at hand, no one who learned it would be able to say he was a philosopher, for subjectively his cognitions of it would always be only historical. (Lectures on Logic, et. p. 538).

Again we have the metaphor of being among the 'ruins'. The metaphysical systems are broken down blocks and ruins, which give us nothing to built on. But then Kant sinks in his final conclusion. Every system is only 'historical', even Kant's system only gives us another part of the boundless sea. A philosopher must build his own system even though it is some how on parts of 'ruins'. We can learn Kant's system, but that does not mean we are philosophers. In the middle of this remark by Kant, we see the function of the "But even granted", so he might granted you can have a philosophical system, but in fact, this does you no good, since you have this system only 'subjectively' and 'historically'. Crucial philosophical point for Kant.

Kant does see a course and development to the history of philosophy. Kant has a Metahistory of philosophy that can be seen through an analysis of his works. However, Kant did not develop his thinking in any systematically or comprehensive way. This topic is still left open in the Kantian system, however, we can try to fill the gap by an assessment of Kant's writings, but the purists may insist on a more philological reading. Back to Kant's project.

To summarize Kant's Metahistory of Philosophy:

1) From the transcendental point of view, there many edifices, but only ruins remain.

2) Metaphysics as philosophy is a boundless sea and progress has left no trace.

3) Metaphysics as philosophy has been a swinging back forth between trust in reason and mistrust in reason.

4) This history of philosophy or Metahistory of philosophy is made of overthrown system and all philosophical systems are shaken and broken.

5) Philosophical systems can only be known 'subjectively' and 'historically'. Does Kant really mean this? What are the implications?

Nietzsche's Metahistory of philosophy

Nietzsche has a very rich and complex relationship with the history of philosophy and history in general. One of his good friends was the famous Swiss philosopher of history, Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897) who developed a whole new theory of cultural history. Nietzsche not only attend his lectures, but in addition he had student lecture notes of different lectures that Burckhardt did over a period of many years. Burckhardt influenced Nietzsche relationship to history and his profound effect can be seen in many of Nietzsche's writings.

Nietzsche says in his autobiographical work Ecce Homo (written 1888), "I am a disciple of the philosopher Dionysus" (Preface, Section 2, et. P. 217). The Greek philosophers are important for Nietzsche as a source and origin of his thinking. For example, in the Will To Power (#419, 1885) notes, he says,

A few centuries hence, perhaps, one will judge that all German philosophy derives its real dignity from being a gradual reclamation of the soil of antiquity, and that all claims to "originality" must sound petty and ludicrous in relation to that higher claim of the Germans to have joined anew the bond that seemed to be broken, the bond with the Greeks…

Nietzsche sense of the Greek world and the modern world does not allow him to think of historical progress or development like Hegel or Kant. He said, "But the nineteenth century does not represent progress over the sixteenth; and the German spirit of 1888 represents a regress from the German spirit of 1788. "Mankind" does not advance, it does not even exist." (Will to Power, #90, Jan-Feb 1888). There are of course many other places where Nietzsche says the same thing. He does not seem to quite get to the point of Heidegger of saying that the ancient Greeks were more original thinkers than the rest of the philosophers. Nietzsche has a high regard for many things from ancient Greek.

But he does pose the question if "perhaps sick thinkers are more numerous in the history of philosophy?" (The Gay Science: la gaya scienza, 1886, Preface, section 2, et. p. 34). Nietzsche's remarks are often tormented and murky and they make for difficult understanding and straight foreword explanations are not easy. His virulence and caustic quality makes his thinking and philosophy complicated to elucidated.

Nietzsche's Metahistory of philosophy was ripened and put into a single page by Nietzsche in September 1888. The year 1888 saw Nietzsche write his last four books. Although Twilight of the Idols (Die Götzen-Dämmerung) was written in 1888 it was not published until January 24, 1889. This page is its own section (the fourth) and it contains a complete vision of the course of the history of philosophy, namely, Nietzsche's Metahistory of philosophy. Heidegger's remarks captures the importance of this section, "in a magnificent moment of vision, the entire realm of Nietzsche's thought is permeated by a new and singular brilliance" (Nietzsche Vo1, et. p. 202).

A Kantian note on the word, Übersinnlichen (the supersensuous). Translation note: Übersinnlichen could be translated as oversensuous or oversense or oversensorial. Kant in the unpublished essay, What Real Progress has Metaphysics Made in Germany Since the Time of Leibniz and Wolff? of 1793 defines metaphysics as "the science of advancing by reason from knowledge of the sensible (Sinnliche) to the knowledge of the supersensuous. (Progress, et. p. 53). The object of the Kantian problem is the transition from the sensible (sensory) to supersensuous. There are three objects or components to the supersensuous, namely, God, freedom, and immortality (Progress, et. p. 294-295). But what can we know of these objects? In the second preface to the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant said, "Now after speculative reason has been denied all advance in this field of the supersensuous…" (CPR, Bxxi). Kant was not happy about this and went on to say in the same paragraph that "cognitions a prior that are possible, but only from a practical intention." (praktischer Absicht) (CPR, Bxxi).

This is the background on Nietzsche's thought of the "true world". Translation note: the German is "wahre Welt" this can also be translated as the "real world", but I think it makes more sense to translated as the "true world". This is the realm of Plato's idea (eidos, ideos). The world of the forms. Or, to cross the line and have only knowledge at level of opinion (doxa). Nietzsche wrote in the Will to Power, #568 (March-June 1888), "Critique of the concept "true and apparent world". Of these, the first is mere fiction, constructed of fictitious entities." Thus, there is nothing to the true world (Will to Power, #567). These are concept-mummies (Begriffs-Mumien). So, from this analysis Nietzsche has a decisive and lucid vision of the central and inner logic of metaphysics. For Nietzsche, this is the fundamental constitution of metaphysics and hence he uses this distinction to lay out his Metahistory of philosophy. Does Nietzsche himself get caught within metaphysics? Short answer: yes, but he pushes the limits of metaphysics. His finger is pointing onward. Nietzsche's Metahistory of philosophy is partially Nietzsche looking back into history, but Nietzsche's vision for philosophy points toward the future. At this point, let us read Nietzsche words and then grapple and grasp his historical/philosophical vision.

This next page (following 6 points) is the complete text of Section 4 from Nietzsche's Twilight of Idols or How to Philosophize with a Hammer (written August and September, 1888).

The History of an Error

1. The true world--attainable for the sage, the pious, the virtuous man; he lives in it, he is it.

(The oldest form of the idea, relatively sensible, simple, and persuasive. A circumlocution for the sentence, "I, Plato, am the truth.")

2. The true world--unattainable for now, but promised for the sage, the pious, the virtuous man ("for the sinner who repents").

(Progress of the idea: it becomes more subtle, insidious, incomprehensible--it becomes female, it becomes Christian. )

3. The true world--unattainable, indemonstrable, unpromisable; but the very thought of it--a consolation, an obligation, an imperative.

(At bottom, the old sun, but seen through mist and skepticism. The idea has become elusive, pale, Nordic, Königsbergian.)

4. The true world--unattainable? At any rate, unattained. And being unattained, also unknown. Consequently, not consoling, redeeming, or obligating: how could something unknown obligate us?

(Gray morning. The first yawn of reason. The cockcrow of positivism.)

5. The "true" world--an idea which is no longer good for anything, not even obligating--an idea which has become useless and superfluous-consequently (therefore), a refuted idea: let us abolish it!

(Bright day; breakfast; return of bon sens (good sense) and cheerfulness; Plato's embarrassed blush; pandemonium of all free spirits.)

6. The true world--we have abolished. What world has remained? The apparent one perhaps? But no! With the true world we have also abolished the apparent one.

(Noon; moment of the briefest shadow; end of the longest error; high point of (pinnacle) humanity; INCIPIT ZARATHUSTRA.). [end of section].

Remarks on Nietzsche's Metahistory of philosophy as fable and an error (Irrthums).

For Nietzsche the course of the history of philosophy has just been a fable (Fabel), that is, a fictitious story of the "true world" and man's relationship to the "true world". The history of philosophy has been a fabrication, not even a legend or a parable, but rather, just a myth. Philosophers have been confused about the supersensuous world. This is just a simple error in thinking. But of course, at what cost? How has this lead the Western World into a dangerous straight? The essence of Nihilism is heard here. This fable obviously leads to Nietzsche's critique of the religious realm, which is full of the supersensuous world (the eternal God). Nietzsche's Ockham razor cuts off the world of the supersensuous.

Nietzsche uses a the image of the different parts of the day. In point 4, we start with the "morning", in point 5, it is the "bright day or broad daylight", and then in point 6, we have "noon" (in German: Morgen, Heller Tag, Mittag). We now have the "shortest shadow" at noon. This is the high point, the summit, the peak, the tip, the top of the rock, the apex, the top of the wave, the very pinnacle of mankind (humanity, Menschheit). Afterwards humanity can perished or incipit tragoedia (The Gay Science: la gaya scienza, 1886 #342).

What are the periods of Metahistory does Nietzsche show us?

The six periods are:

1) Plato.
2) Platonism and Christian.
3) Kantian.
4) Auguste Comte (1788 - 1857) (positivism).
5) Early Nietzsche (but still caught between the two worlds).
6) Midday sun - Nietzsche's own final philosophy in the name of Zarathustra.

In The Gay Science: la gaya scienza, 1886, Nietzsche says, "incipit tragoedia" (#342, the tragedy begins) and in this points to Zarathustra, whereas in the this section of the Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche says "INCIPIT ZARATHUSTRA" in capital letters in both the English version and the German edition. Nietzsche asks the question in Ecce Homo in the section about the Gay Science, where he asks the question, "What is here called "highest hope" - who could have any doubt about that when he sees the diamond beauty of the first words of Zarathustra flashing at the end of the fourth book?" Nietzsche's endings are often the beginnings. The going under (untergehen), the setting of the sun, the twilight of the setting sun. The twilight of the old idols, the old truths (Ecce Homo, "the old truth is approaching its end"). But out of the process of going under, Nietzsche says "I am he that brings these glad tidings. - Thus I am also a destiny." (Ecce Homo). So from this fable and history of error, Nietzsche does brings us something, - a gift. What is that gift? The beginning of Zarathustra, "INCIPIT ZARATHUSTRA" means the starting of the time of Zarathustra here on earth.

Who is Zarathustra?
Zarathustra the teacher of the overman/superman (Übermensch, frenzy and lightening) and of the eternal return of the same (ewigen Wiederkunft des Gleichen). Nietzsche says in Ecce Homo at the beginning of the section on Thus Spoke Zarathustra, "Now I shall relate the history of Zarathustra. The fundamental conception of this work, the idea of eternal recurrence, this highest formula of affirmation that is at all attainable…". What does this mean for Nietzsche Metahistory of Philosophy?

For Nietzsche, the supreme point (point 6, midday) comes to be Nietzsche's final philosophy. Do you hear shades of Hegel and some of Kant? Nietzsche's last philosophy is at the final ultimate end point of his Metahistory of philosophy, namely, Nietzsche, the thinker as he was during September 1888 in Sils-Maria (Upper Engadine, Switzerland).

What is the end point or goal for Nietzsche's Metahistory of philosophy? Answer: Nietzsche and his Zarathustra. For Nietzsche, Zarathustra is a code name for: (negative) end of the ideals and idols, the old truths, the end of the eternal supersensuous world, death of God, (positive) free spirits, immoralist, Dionysus, overman, innocent of becoming, will-to-power, and the highest affirmation - the eternal return of the same.

To summarize Nietzsche's Metahistory of Philosophy:

1) Nietzsche Metahistory of philosophy is a fable and the history of an error, which is the fundamental logic of metaphysics, namely, the two worlds, the eternal supersensuous world and the apparent world.

2) Near the end of Nietzsche's Metahistory of philosophy we have the two worlds abolished, but still the distinction is there. Nietzsche's early thought moves with this distinction.

3) The end and goal of Nietzsche's Metahistory of philosophy is Nietzsche's own final and ultimate philosophy, code name: Zarathustra. Nietzsche is caught within his own shadow. Else where Nietzsche has pointed toward the future.


By comparing and contrasting the philosophies of Kant and Nietzsche, we wanted to get a sense if there is a dynamic principle at work in the development of the history of philosophy. One thing has become clear in Hegel, some parts of Kant, and Nietzsche they all see themselves as the end point in their Metahistories of philosophy. Hegel's position is well known. But from this analysis we can see some of Kant and Nietzsche coming to this point. In contrast to Heidegger, who sees himself building a bridge forward, ambit of a narrow path.

But on the other hand, it looks like Kant has the most interesting and far-reaching position.

How should it be possible to learn philosophy anyway? Every philosophical thinker builds is own work, so to be speak, on someone's else's ruins, but no work has ever come to be that was to be lasting in all its parts. Hence, one cannot learn philosophy, then, just because it is not yet given. But even granted that there a philosophy actually at hand, no one who learned it would be able to say he was a philosopher, for subjectively his cognitions of it would always be only historical. (Lectures on Logic, et. p. 538).

What is Kant's position?

Kant's position here is similar to Heidegger when he wants people to think about the matters for thinking and not to worry about becoming Heideggerians or getting Heidegger right; but rather, thinking through the matters or issues themselves. Remember the principle, following both Hegel and Edmund Husserl, the remarkable phenomenological methodology motto, that is, "to the things themselves" (die Sachen selbst). Heidegger pushed his student away from him and tried to point them to on their own paths. Although they (and us) traveled along with him (Erfahrung). Heidegger at one point said there is no Heideggerian philosophy.

Nietzsche uses the expression Versuch, an experiment, and an attempt. In the Gay Science: la gaya scienza, 1886, he says, "We ourselves wish to be our experiments…" (#319). Individuals must develop and attempt their own singular unique historical thinking. Fly and be your own eagle, do not be sheep. Nietzsche stated clearly with the expression, "I want no "believers" (Ecce Homo, Why I am a Destiny, section #1). How many philosophers in the history of philosophy would have said they want no "believers" in their metaphysical systems?

Nietzsche said in Thus Spoke Zarathustra:

One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil.

Now I bid you lose me and find yourselves; and only when you have all
denied me will I return to you.

Verily, my brothers, with a different eyes shall I then seek my lost ones;
with a different love shall I then love you.

Nietzsche does not want "pupils" or "believers". This is not a question of faith or the use of reason to find foundations of metaphysics or some new values in philosophy. But rather, an admonishment to the eagles to fly on your own. He said in the Wanderer and His Shadow (#267), "There are no educators. As thinker, one should speak only of self-education".

Final remarks.

Kant is saying that even if we pick up his philosophy, still we are not philosophers. We can show respect by following a philosophers thoughts, but in the end, we must find our own path otherwise we are following philosophers only in a subjective and historical way.

No one can climb the mountain for you. A guide like Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger for example, may help you by pointing out the way they have gone. The mountain in its stillness - awaits the climber, awaits the thinker.




Immanuel Kant

Kant in Web Space

Electronic Texts

Kant in German

Critique of pure reason / Immanuel Kant ; translated and edited by Paul Guyer, Allen W. Wood. Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge
University Press, 1998.

Correspondence / Immanuel Kant ; translated and edited by Arnulf Zweig.
Cambridge, U.K. ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Prolegomena to any future metaphysics that will be able to come forward as science / translated and edited, with selections from the Critique of pure reason, by Gary Hatfield. Cambridge [England] ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Lectures on logic / Immanuel Kant ; translated and edited by J. Michael Young.
Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Lectures on metaphysics /Immanuel Kant; translated and edited by Karl Ameriks and Steve Narago. Cambridge [England] ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1997.

What Real Progress has Metaphysics Made in Germany Since the Time of Leibniz and Wolff? / by Immanuel Kant. Translation and introduction by Ted Humphrey.
New York : Abaris Books, 1983.

Friedrich Nietzsche in Web Space

Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche in German

The gay science; with a prelude in rhymes and an appendix of songs. Translated, with commentary, by Walter Kaufmann. New York, Random House, 1974.

The will to power. A new translation by Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale. Edited, with commentary, by Walter Kaufmann, with facsims. of the original manuscript. New York, Random House, 1967.

Twilight of the idols, or, How to philosophize with a hammer / Friedrich Nietzsche ;
translated with an introduction and notes by Duncan Large. New York : Oxford University Press, 1998. Some parts were used.

Also used was the online version translated by Walter Kaufmann.

German Version of Twilight of the idols, or, How to philosophize with a hammer " Götzen-Dämmerung oder Wie man mit dem Hammer philosophirt."

The Portable Nietzsche, translated by Walter Kaufmann New York: Viking Press, 1968, p.190. In "Thus Spoke Zarathustra", On the gift-giving virtue.
See also some selections from The Wanderer and His Shadow and notes from 1873.

Ecce Homo / by Friedrich Nietzsche; translated by Walter Kaufmann ; edited, with commentary, by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books, 1967.


Richard Pulaski for his disbelief in this project.
Incredulity is good.

Professor Dr. Gisela Moffit (CMU) for helping reading German
Fraktur and a discussion on schwankend.

See this reference on Fraktur:


Daniel Fidel Ferrer.
309-A Park Library
Central Michigan University
Mount Pleasant, MI


September 2, 2003 Updated.