I came across the following passage reading an English version of Nietzsche's The Gay Science:

Consciousness (Bewußtsein)[6] — Consciousness (Bewußtheit) is the latest development of the organic, and hence also its most unfinished and unrobust feature. [...]

[6] The usual German word for 'consciousness' is Bewußtsein (literally 'being-in-a-state-of-awareness-of' and this is the term Nietzsche uses in the title of this paragraph. He then however shifts to the much more unusual word Bewußtheit, which has an ending (heit) that usually signifies an abstract property, and argues against the view that having such a property is something fundamental or specially important to humans.

Would it be correct to translate Bewußtheit as awareness? If not, what does it mean exactly, and how does it relate to Bewußtsein?

Here is the original text:

Das Bewusstsein. — Die Bewusstheit ist die letzte und späteste Entwickelung des Organischen und folglich auch das Unfertigste und Unkräftigste daran. [...]

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    At first I thought "well, isn't that a mere philosophical issue?", but now I think this is a very interesting question which relates to the very often remarkable precision of the German language. +1
    – Olaf
    Commented Sep 26, 2012 at 17:29
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    I didn't know that Bewusstheit exists...
    – Em1
    Commented Sep 26, 2012 at 20:55
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    To be honest, I never heard the word "Bewusstheit" before.(Little note: Since the spelling reform you write Bewusstsein with a double 's'("ss"))
    – Ahmad
    Commented Sep 26, 2012 at 23:14
  • @Olaf: I was afraid of that too, but two things led me to think otherwise. First, this is early in Nietzsche's philosophical writings, and he hadn't advanced any theory that could serve as reference to the meaning of the word. Second, even later, Nietzsche doesn't deal much with consciousness, at least it's not central to his philosophy. I'm not a philosopher so I could be wrong, in which case I encourage corrections.
    – cako
    Commented Sep 27, 2012 at 1:22
  • @Ahmad: Thank you, I've only started to learn German. I guess I have an older version of the book!
    – cako
    Commented Sep 27, 2012 at 1:23

2 Answers 2


From Duden Online:


das Wahrgenommen-, Geleitetsein durch das klare Bewusstsein


  • die Bewusstheit einer Handlung
  • mit Bewusstheit handelnde Menschen
  • ein Mensch von hoher Bewusstheit

Bewusstsein has various meanings:

  1. a. Zustand, in dem man sich einer Sache bewusst ist; deutliches Wissen von etwas, Gewissheit
    b. Gesamtheit der Überzeugungen eines Menschen, die von ihm bewusst vertreten werden (Psychologie)
    c. Gesamtheit aller jener psychischen Vorgänge, durch die sich der Mensch der Außenwelt und seiner selbst bewusst wird

  2. Zustand geistiger Klarheit; volle Herrschaft über seine Sinne

  • 1
    What about their English translation?
    – Gigili
    Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 7:31
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    @Gigili in English both can be translated as "consciousness" or "awareness". It depends on the context what's the right expression in German.
    – splattne
    Commented Sep 28, 2012 at 12:24

Both terms are used with different meanings in different contexts. The Wikipedia articles for each term give a good overview. In its most widespread use

Bewusstsein (eng. consciousness) is the ability to percieve one's own mental states and processes. It is the basis for rational thought and (supposedly) what differentiates humans from animals. To understand the meaning of the word, you can take it literally: you are (sein) conscious (bewusst) of what goes on in your mind. The antonym for Bewusstsein is Bewusstlosigkeit (unconsciousness).

Bewusstheit (eng. awareness) is the state of being aware. It is used most often in conjunction with (a) meditation, where it denotes the state of no-thought and unjudging perception, or (b) psychological techniques enhancing self-control, by helping clients to become more aware of their mental states and enable them to direct their thoughts and actions consciously. Awareness training is used by psychologists to help people with eating disorders or to create better relationships.

Different theorists use both words in different ways, but fundamentally,

Bewusstsein is an ability that results from human evolution,

Bewusstheit is a state that results from a psychotechnique.

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