That Which Does Not Kill Us Makes Us Stronger. – Friedrich Nietzsche

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“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” This quote is attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher, cultural critic, and scholar. This quote is a part of aphorism number 8 from the Maxim and Arrows, a section of the Twilight of the Idols by Friedrich Nietzsche. Usually, the use of this quote is for obstacles and struggles we make in our lives, makes us stronger, and adds to our wisdom.

Also, this quote has been famous among psychologists and philosophers. It is mostly used for mental health such as Post Traumatic Growth (PTG). People who gain a positive effect from their mental illness such as depression and anxiety, use this quote to motivate others. So, whenever one faces hardships, they should be able to knock them down and not let those hardships hurt themselves. Instead, they should make themselves stronger [1].

Friedrich Nietzsche

Who Was Friedrich Nietzsche? 

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was born on October 15, 1844. He grew up in the town of Rocken, near Leipzig, in the Prussian Province of Saxony. Friedrich Nietzsche was named after King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia. He was a German philologist, cultural critic, and philosopher. His work has had a profound influence on modern intellectual history. 

Nietzsche began his career as a classical philologist before he turned to philosophy. In 1869, at the age of 24, he became the youngest holder of the chair of classical philology at the University of Basel [2].

Resigning from the University of Basel was mainly due to the plague that kept him isolated for most of his life. Secondly, his peers forced him to retire from the University of Basel. In the following decade, he completed much of his primary writing. 

Friedrich Nietzsche

Collapse and Misuse

In 1879, Nietzsche took leave from the University of Basel, but his health did not improve. Later on, he started writing books on his developed style, starting from [3]:

  • Daybreak (1881)
  • The Gay Science (1882)
  • Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-85)
  • Beyond Good and Evil (1886)
  • Genealogy of Morality (1887)
  • Twilight of the Idols (1888)
  • The Wagner Case (1888)

After the first collapse, Nietzsche spent 11 years of his life in complete mental darkness. Firstly, in an asylum in Basel, then under the care of his mother in Naumburg, and after her death in 1897, his sister took care of him in Weimar. His collapse was long attributed to atypical general paralysis caused by latent tertiary syphilis. 

Later on, he was diagnosed with degeneration of cerebral blood vessels and retro-orbital meningioma, a tumor of the brain that meninges behind the right eye. On August 25, 1900, he had a stroke because of pneumonia that he could not survive. 

Major Reasons Behind This Quote

He Was Sick Most Of His Life

One would think that a philosopher who advocates embracing the suffering and triumph of over-man must be the equivalent of Chuck Norris. It turns out that Nietzsche’s philosophy is seemingly ironic when you get to know that he was sick all the time and not very super masculine.

Part of this was due to syphilis that he contracted earlier. Paul Deussen has cited the episodes of the brothel of Cologne in 1865. He used brothels as an instrument to understand the way of thinking of philosophers, mostly about women. But sadly, he contracted syphilis from different brothels. Since then, he has been sick for the rest of his life. 

Nietzsche Was A Failure During His Lifetime

Although Nietzsche had an impression that he became the youngest chair holder of classical philology at the University of Basel, his peers alienated him and forced him to retire at the age of 35. Also, he wanted to abandon the philosophy in favor of gardening but he failed terribly. Also, he was not famous during his life, but his work got recognition after his death.

Rejection in Love

Nietzsche-paul-ree-lou-von-salome

Nietzsche proposed to Lou Salome three times and he was rejected each time. After being rejected, he never got married, which was never his decision. For him, women had to sacrifice themselves for the benefit and care of men. But not to forget, his epic hipster mustache scared women. [4] 

Twilight of the Idols

Gotzen-dammerung

The origin of “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” comes from the book Twilight of the Idols by Friedrich Nietzsche. He wrote this book in just a week while he was on holiday in Sils Maria. In this book, he wrote a synopsis of his philosophy. Twilight of the Idols is the final and most important project of Friedrich Nietzsche as it states the transvaluation of all values. 

The book has been divided into twelve sections:

  1. Foreword
  2. Maxims and Arrows
  3. The Problem of Socrates
  4. Reason in Philosophy
  5. How the “True World” Finally Became Fiction
  6. Morality as Anti-Nature
  7. The Four Great Errors
  8. The Improvers of Mankind
  9. What The Germans Lack
  10. Skirmishes of an Untimely Man
  11. What I Owe to the Ancients
  12. The Hammer Speaks

Maxim and Arrows, one of the Twilight of the Idols sections, states a part of aphorism number 8, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”. The original quote was “From life’s military school – What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” [5]

Later on, the quote has been changed and borrowed as the title of many works and referred to in various contexts such as [6]:

  • G. Gordon Liddy, a former aide to President Richard Nixon used this phrase when he came out of prison. 
  • Mortality by Christopher Hitchens expanded the reflection on the quote while he was dying. 
  • The opening of the film Conan the Barbarian (1982) was done with Nietzsche’s famous quote. 
  • Marilyn Manson’s song “Leave A Scar” (2009) had changes in the lyrics “What Doesn’t Kill You Will Leave A Scar.” 
  • In the Dark Knight (2008), the Joker said this quote “Whatever Doesn’t Kill You Simply Makes You Stranger.”

Use Of That Which Does Not Kill Us Makes Us Stronger

This famous quote by Friedrich Nietzsche has been alluded to or quoted with little variation in albums and songs.

Albums 

If It Don't Kill You It Just Makes You Stronger

  • If It Don’t Kill You, It Just Makes You Stronger (1989) by Bruce Willis
  • Only God Can Judge Me (1996) by 2Pac had a line in his song “That Which Does Not Kill Me Can Only Make Me Stronger.”
  • What Doesn’t Kill You … (2004) by Candiria
  • The Thing That Does Not Kill You, Makes You Stultified (2004) by Goribor
  • What Doesn’t Kill Us (2008) by What Made Milwaukee Famous
  • What Doesn’t Kill Me … (2009) by Ektomorf
  • What Doesn’t Kill Me (2010) by Young Sid
  • What Doesn’t Kill You, Eventually Kills You (2011) by Gay for Johnny Depp

Songs 

What Doesn't Kill You (Jake Bugg song)

  • Stronger (2007) by Kanye West starts with “That don’t kill me, can only make me stronger.”
  • Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) (2011) by Kelly Clarkson was originally titled What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger).
  • What Doesn’t Kill You (2013) by Jake Bugg.
  • Doesn’t Kill You (2016) by The Anchoress.
  • You Ain’t Ready (2019) by Skillet had the line “What Doesn’t Kill Me Makes Me Who I Am.”

Others 

What doesnt kill you film

  • A 2008 American crime drama by Brian Goodman was titled What Doesn’t Kill You. 
  • A novel written by Iris Johansen in 2012 was titled What Doesn’t Kill You. 

That Which Doesn’t Kill Us, Makes Us Stronger – Does It?

Every famous quote has a positive and negative effect on people. Some people use these quotes in their lives for a positive impact but some use them the other way. Even though “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” got famous after Nietzsche’s death, it had a huge impact on people who love philosophy.

His book Twilight of the Idols was published a year before his death. Nietzsche’s philosophy and this quote match his life because he has been sick for most of the time. Also, he got rejected three times by the woman he loved. After that, he caught syphilis at a very young age, and then he was not so healthy. This could be one of the reasons that he said “That Which Does Not Kill Us, Makes Us Stronger”.

References

1] TOLLE, E. (2014). What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger. Retrieved 2 March 2022, from https://thebestbrainpossible.com/what-doesnt-kill-you-makes-you-stronger/

2] Magnus, B. (2021, October 11). Friedrich Nietzsche. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Friedrich-Nietzsche

3] Friedrich Nietzsche (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). (2017). Retrieved 3 March 2022, from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nietzsche/

4] Wolters, E. (2013). 5 Crazy Facts About The Life of Friedrich Nietzsche. Retrieved 2 March 2022, from http://www.critical-theory.com/5-facts-about-nietzsche/

5] Strong, T., & Polt, R. Twilight of the Idols Friedrich Nietzsche. Retrieved 3 March 2022, from http://www.faculty.umb.edu/gary_zabel/Phil_100/Nietzsche_files/Friedrich-Nietzsche-Twilight-of-the-Idols-or-How-to-Philosophize-With-the-Hammer-Translated-by-Richard-Polt.pdf

6] Twilight of the Idols or How to Philosophize with a Hammer : Friedrich Nietzsche. Translator Daniel Fidel Ferrer. : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive. (2013). Retrieved 2 March 2022, from https://archive.org/details/TwilightOfTheIdolsOrHowToPhilosophizeWithAHammer

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