Pulling oneself up by the hair: understanding Nietzsche on freedom

Claire Kirwin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Reading Nietzsche’s many remarks on freedom and free will, we face a dilemma. On the one hand, Nietzsche levels vehement attacks against the idea of the freedom of the will in several places throughout his writing. On the other hand, he frequently describes the sorts of people he admires as ‘free’ in various respects, as ‘free spirits’, or as in possession of a ‘free will’. So does Nietzsche think that we are or perhaps could be free, or not? I argue that we ought to read these seemingly conflicting claims as part of one unified project, which is to try to understand what true freedom would look like. Nietzsche’s attacks on ‘free will’, I suggest, are not intended to establish that we are not free, but rather to show that a certain tempting picture of freedom is confused and totally inadequate for purpose. The positive half of Nietzsche’s project, then, should be read as his attempt to do a better job–to provide an account of freedom that better articulates what we were trying, via the confused picture, to get at.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)82-99
Number of pages18
JournalInquiry (United Kingdom)
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2018


  • free will
  • freedom
  • Nietzsche
  • Sovereign Individual

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy


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