Peter Wessel Zapffe

Peter Wessel Zapffe
Born December 18, 1899
Tromsø, Norway
Died October 12, 1990(1990-10-12) (aged 90)
Asker, Norway
Alma mater University of Oslo
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Biosophy, philosophical pessimism
Main interests
Metaphysics, nihilism, antinatalism
Notable ideas
Biosophy, 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[1]—his system of philosophy in line with the work of the earlier philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, by whom he was inspired—as well as his firm advocacy of antinatalism.[2] 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 work, the philosophical treatise On the Tragic (Om det tragiske, 1941).


Zapffe's theory 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:

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. He is the author of many humorous short stories about climbing and other adventures in nature.

Personal life

Zapffe married twice. He remained married to his second wife Berit Zapffe until his death in 1990. Berit herself died in May 2008. Zapffe remained childless by choice.


Collections of his shorter writings
Other works

See also


  1. Tangenes, Gisle, "The view from mt Zapffe". Philosophy Now.
  2. Zapffe remarked that children are brought into the world without consent or forethought:
    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)).
  3. 1 2 3 4 Zapffe, Peter Wessel, "The Last Messiah". Philosophy Now. Retrieved April 2, 2008.
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