Peter Wessel Zapffe

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Peter Wessel Zapffe
Portrait of Peter Wessel Zapffe.jpg
BornDecember 18, 1899
Tromsø, Norway
DiedOctober 12, 1990(1990-10-12) (aged 90)
Asker, Norway
Alma mater University of Oslo
Bergliot Espolin Johnson
(m. 1935;div. 1941)

Berit Riis Christensen
(m. 1952)
Awards Fritt Ord Honorary Award (1987) [1]
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Continental philosophy
Philosophical pessimism
Main interests
Metaphysics, nihilism
Notable ideas
Biosophy, antinatalism, "The Last Messiah", "remedies against panic"

Peter Wessel Zapffe (December 18, 1899 – October 12, 1990) was a Norwegian metaphysician, author, lawyer and mountaineer. He is often noted for his philosophically pessimistic and fatalistic view of human existence. [2] His system of philosophy was inspired by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, as well as his firm advocacy of antinatalism. [3] His thoughts regarding the error of human life are presented in the essay "The Last Messiah" (Norwegian : Den sidste Messias, 1933). This essay is a shorter version of his best-known and yet to be translated work, the philosophical treatise "On the Tragic" (Om det tragiske, 1941). [2]


Philosophical work

Zapffe's view is that humans are born with an overdeveloped skill (understanding, self-knowledge) which does not fit into nature's design. The human craving for justification on matters such as life and death cannot be satisfied, hence humanity has a need that nature cannot satisfy. The tragedy, following this theory, is that humans spend all their time trying not to be human. The human being, therefore, is a paradox.

In "The Last Messiah", Zapffe described four principal defense mechanisms that humankind uses to avoid facing this paradox:

On the occasion of the 65th birthday of the Norwegian-Canadian philosopher Herman Tønnesse n, the book I Choose the Truth. A Dialogue Between Peter Wessel Zapffe and Herman Tønnessen (1983) was published. The two had known each other already for many years. Tønnessen had studied at the University of Oslo together with Arne Næss. [5]

Other interests and works

Zapffe was a prolific mountaineer and took a very early interest in environmentalism; this form of nature conservationism sprung from the intent, not of protecting nature, but to avoid human culturalization of nature. [6]

Zapffe was the author of many humorous short stories about climbing and other adventures in nature. [7]

Personal life

Son of the apothecary Fritz Gottlieb Zapffe and Gudrun Wessel, Zapffe was related on his maternal side to the Danish-Norwegian admiral Peter Tordenskjold. [5]

Ascent to the Stetind with Arne Naess, 1937. Photographic work Arne Naess - ny rute gar i hele venstre profil (mot luften). 1937. Tysfjord, Stetind.jpg
Ascent to the Stetind with Arne Næss, 1937. Photographic work

In Kristiania, in 1921, Zapffe learned for the first time about mountaineering, beginning with climbing challenges in Bærum, in Kolsås, the first mountain he climbed. In 1924 he was the first person to climb the top of Tommeltott in Ullsfjorden; in 1925, the Småting (south side) in Kvaløya; and the Bentsjordtind between Malangen and Balsfjorden. And in the same year: Okshorn, Snekollen and Mykkjetind were climbed. In 1926 it was a summit in Senja and also the Hollenderan summit in Kvaløya, first trodden by him: in 1987 the highest peak of the Hollenderan in Kvaløya was named after him. Today the summit is called "Zapffes tind" ('the top of Zapffe'). In 1928, Zapffe climbed the first summit of Skamtinden and was also the first to climb the front side of Svolværgeita. [5]

In 1940 Zapffe applied to the Norsk Tindeklubb, but it was rejected. However, in 1965 he was accepted into a mountaineering society but as an honorary member, and again in 1987 in a mountaineering club from Tromsø. [5]

In 1928, due to a storm, Umberto Nobile's zeppelin crashed on the way back to Italy. Roald Amundsen (a friend of the Zapffe family) and Peter Zapffe assisted in the rescue of the zeppelin crew. There, Peter served as interpreter for the expedition. Later in the DS «Isbjørn» Peter served as German interpreter, his father was also on board: the expedition was then to search for the missing Amundsen, but was unsuccessful.

Peter left Tromsø on June 5, 1929. He found a room on Erling Skjalgssøns street in Kristiania, living quite frugally and in a mentally catastrophic state: "The idea of death as the greatest consolation and escape, and which is always at hand, penetrates me with even greater force". [5]

Similar to Emil Cioran, he lived since 1978 on a state pension. In 1987 he received the Honor Award from the Fritt Ord Foundation for "the original and versatile character of his literary work". [5]

In his last years of life, when he was frequently visited by journalists, he had an interview with Asker og Bærum Budstikke, in which he described himself as a nihilist: "I am not a pessimist. I am a nihilist. Namely, not a pessimist in the sense that I have upsetting apprehensions, but a nihilist in a sense that is not moral". [5]

Zapffe with camera, 1949. Stereoscop, 1949 by Peter Wessel Zapffe.jpg
Zapffe with camera, 1949.
[Unknown silhouettes], photographic production (Silhuetter av personer) by Peter Wessel Zapffe.jpg
[Unknown silhouettes], photographic production

Zapffe's hobbies were varied, showing an early enthusiasm for painting. However, photography occupied him since the age of 12 through his father (himself a photographer), who lent his photographic equipment to Peter. This also meant a kind of compensation for his myopia. The impact of his work as a photographer can be seen reflected in his work Rough Joys (1969), where it seems that he reconstructs ekphrase from his photographic documentation during his trips to the mountains. Much of his photographic production is currently cultural heritage. [5]

Zapffe married Bergljot Espolin Johnsen in 1935; they divorced in 1941. He married Berit Riis Christensen in 1952, they remained together until his death in 1990; Berit died in May 2008. [8] Zapffe remained childless by choice. [9] He was lifelong friends with the Norwegian philosopher and fellow mountaineer, Arne Næss. [1]

Selected works

Collections of his shorter writings

See also


  1. 1 2 3 "Biography of Peter Wessel Zapffe". Open Air Philosophy. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  2. 1 2 Tangenes, Gisle R. (March–April 2004). "The View from Mount Zapffe". Philosophy Now. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
  3. Zapffe remarked that children are brought into the world without consent or forethought: {{quote|In accordance with my conception of life, I have chosen not to bring children into the world. A coin is examined, and only after careful deliberation, given to a beggar, whereas a child is flung out into the cosmic brutality without hesitation. (To Be a Human Being (1989–90); the philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe in his 90th year (1990 documentary, Tromsø Norway: Original Film AS [ permanent dead link ])).
  4. 1 2 3 4 Zapffe, Peter Wessel (March–April 2004). "The Last Messiah". Philosophy Now. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Haave, Jørgen (1999). Naken under kosmos : Peter Wessel Zapffe, en biografi. Oslo: Pax. ISBN   82-530-2117-8. OCLC   44854528.
  6. Zapffe, Peter Wessel (1969). "Parting with Gausta" (PDF). Open Air Philosophy.
  7. Zapffe, Peter Wessel (1937). "Stetind" (PDF). Open Air Philosophy.
  8. "Peter Wessel Zapffe". Hemneslekt. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  9. Reed, Peter; Rothenberg, David, eds. (1993). "Peter Wessel Zapffe". Wisdom in the Open Air: The Norwegian Roots of Deep Ecology. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press. p. 56. ISBN   978-0-8166-2150-7.

Related Research Articles

Pessimism is a negative mental attitude in which an undesirable outcome is anticipated from a given situation. Pessimists tend to focus on the negatives of life in general. A common question asked to test for pessimism is "Is the glass half empty or half full?"; in this situation, a pessimist is said to see the glass as half empty, while an optimist is said to see the glass as half full. Throughout history, the pessimistic disposition has had effects on all major areas of thinking.

"The Last Messiah" is a 1933 essay by the Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe. One of his most significant works, it sums up his own thoughts from his book, On the Tragic, and, as a theory describes a reinterpretation of Friedrich Nietzsche's Übermensch. Zapffe believed that existential crisis or angst in humanity was the result of an overly evolved intellect, and that people overcome this by "artificially limiting the content of consciousness."

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Tromsø is a municipality in Troms og Finnmark county, Norway. The administrative centre of the municipality is the city of Tromsø.

Biosophy, meaning wisdom of life, is "the science and art of intelligent living based on the awareness and practice of spiritual values, ethical-social principles and character qualities essential to individual freedom and social harmony". It stands in relation to biology, which can be broadly described as the understanding of life.

The Prodigal Son: a dramatic renarration written by Norwegian author and philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe (1899–1990) in 1951, is a dramatized representation of the life of Jesus, named Immanuel in Zapffe's play.

Ecosophy or ecophilosophy is a philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium. The term was coined by the French post-structuralist philosopher and psychoanalyst Félix Guattari and the Norwegian father of deep ecology, Arne Næss.

Arne Næss Jr. was a Norwegian businessman, shipping magnate, mountaineer, and the second husband of Diana Ross.

Existential crisis Psychological concept

Existential crisis, also known as existential dread, are moments when individuals question whether their lives have meaning, purpose, or value, and are negatively impacted by the contemplation. It may be commonly, but not necessarily, tied to depression or inevitably negative speculations on purpose in life such as the futility of all effort. This issue of the meaning and purpose of human existence is a major focus of the philosophical tradition of existentialism.

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Herman Tønnessen was a Norwegian–Canadian philosopher and writer. Having studied with Arne Næss, in the years following the end of World War II he was affiliated with the Norwegian Institute for Social Research.

Arne Næss Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer

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Kaare Espolin Johnson

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OpenAirPhilosophy Open Air Philosophy Project

OpenAirPhilosophy is a project presenting a selection of the work in environmental philosophy of Norwegian philosophers Arne Naess, Sigmund Kvaløy Setreng, and Peter Wessel Zapffe promoting the inherent worth of living beings regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs, plus a restructuring of modern human societies in accordance with such ideas. The name of this project, Open Air Philosophy, comes from a practice in Norway called friluftsliv, which translates as “open-air life.” The term evokes a sense of belonging to the land, making friends with free nature.

Ole Martin Moen Norwegian philosopher

Ole Martin Moen is a Norwegian philosopher who works primarily with applied ethics and value theory. He is Professor of Ethics at Oslo Metropolitan University and Researcher in Philosophy and Principal Investigator for the 5-year research project "What should not be bought and sold?" at the University of Oslo, funded by the Research Council of Norway.