Original Research - Special Collection: New Landscapes in Identity

Nietzsche and our discourses on identity

Douglas G. Lawrie
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 77, No 3 | a6618 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v77i3.6618 | © 2021 Douglas G. Lawrie | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 14 March 2021 | Published: 22 July 2021

About the author(s)

Douglas G. Lawrie, Department of Religion and Theology, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa


Through his views on perspectivism and the will to power, Nietzsche indirectly influences many current discourses on identity. This article places these themes in the broader context of Nietzsche’s thought. Firstly, it is indicated how difficult it is to speak of someone’s identity by showing how many ‘Nietzsches’ appear in his writings, notebooks and letters and the accounts of his contemporaries. Such comparative readings, although they may cast new light on Nietzsche’s philosophy, are rare in Nietzsche scholarship. Next, his views on identity are briefly explored, paying attention to his rejection of the centred subject, equality and morality and his view on hierarchy, creativity and power struggles. Finally, it is argued that Nietzsche confronts our discourses on identity with challenges regarding the ubiquity of power struggles, the role of ressentiment, the possibility of communication across boundaries, the importance of the individual and the problem of affirmation.

Contribution: Discourses on identity, although fashionable, are often confusing. Instead of offering solutions, this article uses Nietzsche’s life and philosophy to identify some causes of confusion and indicates where crucial decisions regarding our presuppositions have to be taken. Its aim was not to produce knowledge but, in line with Nietzsche’s practice, to ‘produce ignorance’, to question the terms we use confidently, without fully considering their meaning or implications.


Nietzsche; identity; will to power; hierarchy; perspectivism; ressentiment; personhood; types; affirmation


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