Nietzsche, Nature, Naturalism: On the Aesthetic, Normative, and Post-Humanist Elements of Nietzsche’s early Naturalist Position

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This dissertation is born out of the simple desire to understand what the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) meant when he claimed throughout his corpus that humanity needs to be ‘naturalized’. I fulfill this through an examination of Nietzsche’s juvenilia, the notes leading to the publication of The Birth of Tragedy (1872) and a discussion of the dithyrambic chorus of satyrs as found in Nietzsche’s first work. It is already in this first work that Nietzsche signals how modern culture, led astray by the archetype of the theoretical optimist, Socrates, finds itself in a situation where nature is ‘alienated, inimical, or subjugated’ (BT 1, p. 18/ ‘entfremdete, feindliche oder unterjochte’, KSA 1.29) from ‘her lost son, humankind’ (BT 1, p. 18/ ‘ihrem verlorenen Sohne, dem Menschen’, KSA 1.29). It is through art that a rebirth of a tragic culture in which humanity will celebrate its unification with nature becomes possible. Thus, this dissertation seeks to understand how art makes such a union possible. Hence, operative in the background to my desire to understand The Birth of Tragedy is the conviction, hypothesis or perhaps merely the hunch, that in this work we might find a philosophy of art that can help humanity re-establish an affirmative relationship with nature in the face of contemporary society’s main predicament: the ecological crisis. The choice for Nietzsche’s early period primarily stems from a state of confusion in which I found myself when I studied The Birth of Tragedy for the first time. Having already studied Nietzsche’s The Gay Science (1882/1887) and Beyond Good and Evil (1886) in my years as a master student, I was well familiar with the standard tripartite division according to which Nietzsche’s work is divided into an ‘early’, ‘middle’ and ‘late’ period. The works of this early period, The Birth of Tragedy and the Untimely Meditations (1874 – 1876), are often categorized as ‘metaphysical’, ‘romantic’ and ‘anti-naturalistic’. These works are followed by a middle period, starting with Nietzsche’s ‘positivist’, ‘anti-metaphysical’ or ‘naturalist’ turn in Human, All To Human (1878), Human, All too Human II (1886), Daybreak (1881) and The Gay Science (1882, 1887). There is no denying that Nietzsche speaks of an ‘artiste’s metaphysics’ (BT ASC 2, p. 5/ ‘Artisten-Metaphysik’, KSA 1.13), sometimes equates the Dionysian with the infamous ‘thing-intself’ (BT 8, p. 41 / ‘Ding an sich’, KSA 1.59) and shows hostility towards science when the application of reason is driven to its monstrous extremes by Socrates and modernity. However, what confused me was that I could also see clear signs of his latter naturalism in claims such as that both the Dionysian and Apollonian are ‘artistic powers which erupt from nature itself’ (BT 2, p. 19/ ‘künstlerische Mächte […] die aus der Natur selbst […] hervorbrechen’, KSA 2.30). At times, I felt unable to take Immanuel Kant’s (1724 - 1804) and Arthur Schopenhauer’s (1788 - 1860) ontological or epistemological distinction between the thing-in-itself and appearance, and apply it directly to Nietzsche’s Dionysus and Apollo.2 Additionally, I wondered in what way his call to ‘naturalize humanity’ (GS 109, p. 110 / ‘uns Menschen […] vernatürlichen’, KSA 3.469) in The Gay Science and his call ‘to translate humanity back into nature’ (BGE 230, p. 123/ ‘Den Menschen nämlich zurück-übersetzen in die Natur’, KSA 5.169) in Beyond Good and Evil echoed his early attempt to make a rebirth of tragic culture possible in which nature and humanity are unified.3 While Nietzsche does not explicitly call for the naturalization of humanity in this early work, he did seem to offer a theoretical study of what it means for human beings to naturalize when he examines how the Dionysian magic transformed the ancient Greeks into satyrs, an ‘original and natural’ (BT 8, p. 41/ ‘Ursprüngliche und Natürliche’ KSA 1.58) human-animal hybrid. Studying these tensions contribute to my desire to understand what Nietzsche means when he pleas for such a naturalization
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Tilburg University
  • Prange, Martine, Promotor
  • van de Ven, Bert, Co-promotor
Award date31 Mar 2023
Print ISBNs 978-94-6483-013-2
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2023


  • Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Humanity
  • Democritus
  • Schopenhauer
  • Kant
  • Goethe


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