Nietzsche’s Lebensphilosophie—the philosophical school that focuses on the quality of lived experience—is profoundly influenced by pre-Socratic Greek thought. Taking cues from thinkers like Heraclitus and Parmenides, Nietzsche crafts a unique perspective on existence that blends ancient wisdom with his own innovative insights.

Heraclitus (or, “Iraklitos” as he is known to modern Greeks) developed doctrines of perpetual change and a dynamic unity of opposites, perspectives that set the stage for Nietzsche’s power-driven worldview. Inspired by Heraclitus, life, for Nietzsche, becomes an eternal flux as he rejects stagnant notions of truth in favor of a continuous state of becoming. It is that becoming which is the stuff of Lebensphilosophie. It is why philo-sophy is the love of wisdom, not the love of truth. Becoming is an ongoing condition of learning, growing, traveling yet never arriving.

By contrast, Parmenides’ proposition of a singular, unchanging reality engages Nietzsche in a philosophical tug-of-war. Nietzsche challenges the traditional dichotomy between being and becoming, advocating for an affirmative embrace of life’s complexities, both joyous and tragic. Being in the world is about always already becoming. Becoming is the being of sentience, that is to say, the nature of awareness of self in the world.

Central to Nietzsche’s Lebensphilosophie is the concept of eternal recurrence, echoing the cyclical nature of pre-Socratic thought. For the ancients, life, with all its facets, is envisioned to endlessly repeat, highlighting the interconnectedness and continuity of existence. For Nietzsche, the end of becoming is the moment of death, when one has the chance for an affirmation of all that they have done in living—positive, negative, right, wrong. The eternal recurrence is the notion that if at the very end of life, one can choose all the experiences of life as if they were to be reborn only to live the exact same life, the identical sufferings, joys, mistakes, and loss, only that person is truly free. This is the great affirmation of Nietzsche’s existential thought.

Nietzsche’s philosophy aligns with the pre-Socratic emphasis on individual experience and subjectivity. Rejecting abstract truths, he encourages a personal and experiential engagement with life, drawing parallels to the pre-Socratic emphasis on personal wisdom and the significance of lived experiences.

Moreover, Nietzsche’s Übermensch, also called the “overman” or “superman”, mirrors the pre-Socratic pursuit of human excellence. Like the ancient Greeks striving to actualize their fullest potential, Nietzsche envisions individuals transcending societal norms, embracing their unique, creative capacities, and reaching new heights of self-realization. In the Greek tradition, this is called “areti” or virtue.

In essence, Nietzsche’s Lebensphilosophie intricately weaves together the foundational ideas of pre-Socratic Greece, offering a compelling framework for understanding and navigating the complexities of life. It’s a philosophical tapestry that seamlessly blends ancient wisdom with Nietzsche’s groundbreaking contributions, creating a lens through which we can examine the perpetual dance of existence. More importantly, Lebensphilosophie calls us to engage in becoming our greatest selves.