The Most Important Philosophy Is Your Own

Excerpt: Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

(Introductory Note: Zarathustra is a character who embodies the wisdom and ideals of Nietzsche’s philosophy. Zarathustra is speaking to his followers in this passage.)

I now go away alone, my disciples! You too now go away and be alone! Thus I want it.

Truly, I advise you: go away from me and guard yourselves against Zarathustra! And better still: be ashamed of him! Perhaps he has deceived you.

The man of knowledge must not only love his enemies, he must also be able to hate his friends.

One repays a teacher badly if one always remains only a pupil. And why, then, should you not pluck at my laurels?

You revere me; but what if your reverence tumbles one day? Beware that a statue does not strike you dead!

You say you believe in Zarathustra? But of what importance is Zarathustra? You are my believers: but of what importance are all believers?

You had not yet sought yourselves: then you found me. Thus do all believers; therefore all faith amounts to so little.

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



No matter how wise Zarathustra or any teacher may be, and no matter how much we may benefit from their guidance, Nietzsche reminds us that ultimately we must each find our own way. Thus his hero, Zarathustra, a spiritual teacher of mankind, removes himself from his students lest they remain his pupils and disciples forever.

There is a dignity to each individual human being that Nietzsche defends, especially against the danger posed by a sage such as himself. If we worship him or any other sage, if our admiration for his genius turns into blind faith in his teachings, then we are in grave danger of losing our independence, our ability to think for ourselves, and ultimately our ability to be ourselves. To make an idol of anyone or any system of thought, Nietzsche warns, is like creating a statue that will eventually crush your own spirit.

Of course one is to some degree shaped and perhaps even permanently influenced by one's teachers, and Zarathustra does not ask his students to forget him absolutely. But there is a real sense in which every student at some point needs some space from his teachers, so that he can give shape to himself free of their immediate influence. This freedom may seem to involve a wholesale rejection and separation, and locally that may be true. The pull to remain in the teacher’s orbit can be powerful, and one might even need to go to the polar extreme to free oneself from it, to gain the necessary distance. Thus Nietzsche speaks in strong terms, of “guarding” yourself against and being “ashamed” of your teacher, “hating your friends”, and “losing” and “denying” your former guide. Nowhere may this be more true than in the parent-child relationship.1 Zarathustra sets a model for all teachers and parents, to not only tolerate this separation, but to actively support it in order to foster a healthy independence and individuality. As Zarathustra and all wise teachers and parents know, there will be a time for reunion and reconciliation, all the more meaningful because between independent individuals—“only when you have all denied me will I return to you.”

Thus Nietzsche offers his philosophy for our reflection, and, like many other great thinkers, his insights are often deeply instructive. But Nietzsche insists that in learning from him we never give up our own selves: “’This – is now my way, - where is yours?’ Thus I answered those who asked me ‘the way’. For the way – that does not exist!”2



1 I would like to thank Evelyn Williams for pointing out this connection to the parent-child relationship.
2 Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part Three, Of the Spirit of Gravity, section 2, based on R.J. Hollingdale translation.

Posted: May 2004

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