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Nyden-Bullock In the past decade, there has been an increasing amount of scholarship dedicated to the comparative study of the philosophies of Nietzsche and Spinoza. Such comparison serves as a useful way to further understand the work and historical context of each philosopher. In addition, since they come at the dawn and dusk of the modern period and both reject important tenets usually associated with modern philosophy, this comparative study also serves as an interesting way to approach the modern period itself. Most commentators on the Spinoza-Nietzsche relationship are quick to point out that Spinoza’s Conatus and Intellectual Love of God serve the same functions as Nietzsche’s Will to Power and Love of Fate. Yet, while these doctrines are at the heart of Spinoza’s and Nietzsche’s philosophies, their overall philosophies are quite different. Several commentators describe this paradox. However, few, if any, attempt to explain it. In this paper, I will attempt to explain the Spinoza-Nietzsche paradox by focusing on the role of the will and intellect in their philosophies. It is clear that intellect plays a fundamental role in the philosophy of Spinoza and that will is a central concept for Nietzsche. However, what may not be as clear is that Spinoza’s intellect and Nietzsche’s will play a very similar role in their respective attempts to achieve a higher form of human existence. Both Spinoza and Nietzsche explain and advocate a movement from passivity or reactivity to activity in terms of an egoistic, psychological drive to increase one’s power. In this sense, their project is the same: to achieve human freedom within a completely naturalized world by capitalizing on a very basic drive that we humans share with the rest of existence (Schacht, 169). Spinoza calls this drive the conatus while Nietzsche calls it will to power. Both philosophers produce a substantial psychological account in terms of these drives. However, Spinoza gives this account in terms of intellect, while Nietzsche gives it in terms of will. This difference might
teleology. Even though the divergences are admittedly tremendous. they are due more to the difference in time. teleology. for example. the possibility of an unegoistic perspective. Humans are part of nature and are subject to the necessity of the world in the same way as all other natural beings and objects. Spinoza’s and Nietzsche’s Commitment to Naturalism. In summa: my solitude. Let’s begin by looking at their shared commitment to a naturalized world. And so we are left with two important questions. and the existence of good and evil. utterly enchanted. the moral world order. and evil. this most unusual and loneliest thinker is closest to me precisely in these matters: he denies the freedom of the will. a moral world order. (emphasis mine) . is at least a dualitude (Soloman and Higgens. In taking this position. and that Nietzsche considers will more important than intellect. I am utterly amazed. and what a precursor! I hardly knew Spinoza: that I should have turned to him just now was inspired by 'instinct'. 92). Spinoza and Nietzsche are rejecting several tenets of traditional modern philosophy. the unegoistic. Both philosophers maintain a rigorous naturalism. what do Spinoza and Nietzsche have to gain by making will and intellect one? And second. culture. Nietzsche himself recognizes this brotherhood in the following postcard to Franz Overbeck. one of the things that makes Spinoza and Nietzsche different from many modern philosophers is that they collapse the distinction between will and intellect. Not only is his over-all tendency like mine— making knowledge the most powerful affect— but in five main points of his doctrine I recognize myself. if will and intellect are ultimately the same thing. the belief in free will.2 lead us to believe that Spinoza considers intellect more important than will. which. there are two things we must understand: Spinoza’s and Nietzsche’s shared commitment to a naturalized world and the historical background out of which their naturalized philosophies arose. I have a precursor. as on very high mountains. First. However. and science. then how is it that Spinoza’s and Nietzsche’s different approaches yield such different looking philosophies? Part I: The Collapse of the Will/Intellect Distinction In order to understand what Spinoza and Nietzsche have to gain by collapsing the will/intellect distinction. often made it hard for me to breathe and made my blood rush out.
is nothing more than an awareness of the body (EII P13). disbelieve. There is a necessary relation between all parts within each worldview. One idea is determined by another idea in the same way that one body is determined by another. free from the constraints of the world. He rejects the traditional concept of a soul as a non-physical entity separate from the world and free to act on and in the world as it so chooses. desires. the universe is indifferent to the wants of humans. the order and connection of ideas is the same as that of things (EII P7). Nietzsche also naturalizes the soul. People are aware of their 1 References to Spinoza’s works use the following abbreviations: E: The Ethics P: Proposition Schol: Scholium . For Spinoza. As Nietzsche points out. In other words. and fear. rather. However. As humans. People are not discoverers of the universe in itself. the worldviewss we create determine our will. As Spinoza explains in the Appendix of Part I of The Ethics. beliefs. and fears within our worldview determine what we believe. Ideas are not separate.1 In being so. as beings incapable of living outside our own created worldview. let us look at each one individually. or mind. Nietzsche denies the individual a special subject/object relationship to the universe. we create worldviewss. they are part of the interconnected world understood through the attribute of thought. they are creators of worlds within a chaotic universe. Our ideas. autonomous entities. The reason people tend to attribute teleology to the universe is because they are born ignorant of the causes of things. they are determined by the world itself. just because humans create worldviewss does not mean that humans are free to affirm or deny as they please. Rather. both he and Spinoza deny freedom of the will. Rather. the soul. We. Both philosophers reject the view that a benevolent creator made the universe for human use. they do not accept the view that human beliefs and choices are determined by an autonomous entity. are also subject to that necessity.3 In order to clearly understand the importance of these similarities. In other words. A second aspect of their naturalization of human existence is their denial of teleology.
Through an act of will. and so on. However. however. In this way. In other words.” Not only do Spinoza and Nietzsche say that the universe is not ordered for or in the image of humanity. humans always act with an end in view. Completely affirming one’s fate requires the ability to desire to repeat one’s past over and over again to infinity. thought. they assume that nature provided them for their advantage. not one that we find. that end being their advantage. As he says in the following passage from The Gay Science. each person creates her own worldview. Every event. Nietzsche is also critical of our anthropomorphic tendencies to describe the universe. etc. one must affirm their entire worldview. arrangement. wisdom. According to Nietzsche. desire. as we will see later. one could not change anything in the past without changing what one is today. the universe itself is chaotic. an order of necessity exists . As he says in section 109 of The Gay Science. In other words. to affirm what one is now. Because they did not provide these things for themselves. Nietzsche sums up this concept in his challenge of the eternal return. they both allow for an order of necessity from a given perspective. there are no unegoistic perspectives. they also deny that we can have knowledge of the universe itself. but found them in nature. In other words. the order that we attribute to the universe is an order that we create. “None of our aesthetic or moral judgments apply to it. on Nietzsche’s account. while they both deny order to the universe itself.4 wants and desires. The total character of the world. Further. form.. It is only out of our need to survive that we create orderly worlds. Yet. Necessity exists as fate within these worldviews. and whatever other names there are for our aesthetic anthropomorphisms (section 109). is in all eternity chaos––in the sense not of a lack of necessity but of a lack of order. beauty. All knowledge is from a given perspective and. they are unaware of the causes of these wants and desires. they notice that many things in the natural world can act towards their advantage. is necessitated by those that precede it. For this reason.
Therefore. the blood is accounted as a part. he explains that there are two different ways to consider substance. lymph. the blood itself is controlled by the overall nature of the circulatory system. that is. Spinoza maintains that Natura naturans is not ordered. God.e. It is only with respect to our imagination that things can be said to be beautiful. is Nature.. in contrast. However. one must be a part within the whole of nature. and of intelligently observing how each particle interacts. and it would have no idea of how the parts of the blood are controlled by the overall nature of the blood. To sum up. God. the universe considered in terms of its parts (EI P 27 Schol). Natura naturata. what a human perceives of Natura naturata will depend on their perspective. ugliness. As Spinoza writes Henry Oldenburg in November of 1665: .. . in terms of Natura naturans and Natura naturata. and so on. nor can we say much about it. ugly. etc. i. In the same way. and that by the overall nature of the body. The worm would regard each particle as a whole. Spinoza makes a similar distinction. According to Spinoza’s monism. not as a whole” (Letter 32). Spinoza gives a famous example to help make this idea clear.. Imagine a tiny worm living in the blood that is capable of distinguishing by sight the particles of the blood. there is nothing outside of the one Substance. not a part.. or Substance conceived modally. or Substance in itself and conceived through itself (EI P29 Schol). Spinoza understands Natura naturata as an infinity of further part/whole relations. What an individual perceives of Natura naturata will depend on the perspective of that individual.I do not attribute to Nature beauty. In the Ethics. “From this perspective. Natura naturans is Nature. wellordered or confused (Letter 32). in order to see the parts of the whole. In other words. order or confusion. while Nietzsche denies order to the universe itself. Natura naturata by definition can only be perceived from a given perspective. it is the universe as a whole.5 within each worldview. he allows an order of necessity from the perspective of each created worldview.
Nietzsche’s philosophy allows for limitless worldviews. Spinoza’s account differs from Nietzsche’s in an important way. all humans share an essential human nature. on the other hand. In other words. is limited to one correct understanding of the universe from the human perspective. or interpretations of the universe. . Spinoza. Spinoza invokes an elaborate order involving necessary relationships of cause. and entailment. while allowing for an order of necessity on a perspectival level. to conceive anything in terms of Natura naturata requires the perspective of a given mode. God’s understanding of itself as Natura naturans. As Spinoza puts it. For this reason.6 Spinoza. singular mode. However. the level of order that is perceived in terms of Natura naturata by any given mode follows from the nature of the particular mode whose perspective is in question. that is. Some might object that Spinoza’s philosophy has a perspectiveless viewpoint. like Nietzsche. requires an adequate understanding of its relations to those things acting on and being acted on by it. A human enters into an understanding of these necessary relations by gaining an adequate understanding of itself. we would be mistaken to consider God’s intellect as a perceiver of order in the same way as our own intellect. denies order at the level of the universe itself. When considering Nature from the point of view of a particular. On the other hand. Nietzsche takes an existentialist approach to human nature. it could not involve knowledge of order. however. The order of the infinite modes of substance as Natura naturata follows from the essence of substance as Natura naturans. The conception of order can only be had in terms of Natura naturata. God’s knowledge of itself is as a complete unity and does not involve modal knowledge of itself. which is achieved through reason. Further. which in turn. According to Spinoza. Since Natura naturans does not involve parts. containment. He believes that individuals create their own essence. He views any other human interpretation as errors stemming from the imagination. In contrast.
The importance of this commitment to their philosophy sheds light onto their purpose in making will and intellect one. differs from our intellect both as to its essence and as to its existence. Their denial of free-will. The fact that Spinoza and Nietzsche deny a perspectiveless viewpoint has important consequences on their moral theory.God’s intellect. more powerful being. If she perceives it as harmful. nothing is good or evil in itself. When philosophers claim to discover natural moral law what they are actually doing is imposing the laws of their doctrine onto nature (BGE. Some modern philosophers have made a distinction between human will and intellect. and evil do not reflect anything about the object to which they are applied. moral world order. In this way. After all. she calls it good. It is this very distinction that has enabled them to separate humanity from a transcendent. we can see that Spinoza and Nietzsche are both committed to a naturalistic philosophy. The Historical Context of Their Naturalism At this point. Nietzsche and Spinoza understand morality in terms of power. bad. For example. The terms good. moral or otherwise. and the existence of good and evil are examples of this commitment. Rather. §9)2. Descartes considered will and intellect to be attributes of God’s infinite and simple nature and therefore he considered will and intellect to be one and the same in God. They claim that everything has the drive to increase its power. there is no such order. and therefore. insofar as it is conceived to constitute the divine essence. teleology. while the power of the will is 2 Reference to Nietzche’s wirks use the following abbreviations: BGE: Beyond Good and Evil GS: The Gay Science §: section number . in humans. However.. and cannot agree with it in anything except in name. every individual seeks what is to her advantage. The universe as a whole is devoid of moral content. If a person perceives something as advantageous. as we supposed (EI P17 Schol).7 . There is no unegoistic perspective. Morality does not follow from any moral world order inherent in the universe. unegoistic perspectives. they describe a relationship between the object and the speaker.. Instead. she calls its evil.
meaning the way one mental event necessitates another mental event. In this way.8 unlimited. Hence. He is also providing a method of becoming a more powerful human being. and two. Spinoza characterizes his psychology in terms of intellect. 40). what makes humans more like God than other creatures is that they have will and intellect. In doing so. Our ideas naturally become more adequate. the intellect is not (Descartes. to distinguish humans from a more powerful God. psychology becomes a way of understanding and achieving a type of salvation within a naturalized world. then how is it that their different approaches yield such different looking philosophies? To answer this question. A good deal of The Ethics is concerned with defining. that is. Similarities in Approach Both Spinoza and Nietzsche use psychology to describe human activity as well as to give a normative account of how some humans might achieve a higher form of existence. describing. thus increasing the power of intellect. more powerful. Through becoming aware of the causes of the emotions. as we attain a higher awareness of our . Spinoza is doing much more than providing a handbook of the human psyche. it will be helpful to look at the second part of their overall project: to find a higher form of human existence within a naturalized world. By denying the distinction between will and intellect Spinoza and Nietzsche effectively destroy one of the foundations of the transcendent view which they reject in favor of a naturalized view. On the other hand. to distinguish humans from a lesser physical world. humans can become relatively more active and self-determined. and cataloguing the affects or passions. Therefore. As mentioned earlier. what distinguishes human nature from Divine nature is this separation of will and intellect. the distinction of will and intellect serves two basic functions: one. Part II: Different Approaches to Psychology We are now ready to ask the second question: if the will and intellect are ultimately the same thing.
and ultimately. we are the proximate cause of these ideas and therefore active. we must first understand Spinoza’s distinction between active ideas and passive ideas. but by the power of things that are outside us (EIV Appendix).. or reason. the preservation of Nature as a whole or Natura naturans as opposed to the mere preservation or our individual body and mind. and wills its preservation (i. Further. So the ultimate end of the man who is led by reason. therefore. In life. as far as we can. i.. In this sense. In doing so. In this one thing consists man’s highest happiness. From this passage it is clear that Spinoza considers reason to be a desire. blessedness is nothing but that satisfaction of mind that stems from the intuitive knowledge of God. by which he strives to moderate all the others. Indeed. it is especially useful to perfect. In order to understand what the moderation of the affects has to do with human freedom. and therefore for human liberation. Hence. the perfection of the intellect is the road to human freedom. for reason is the desire (or will) by which we strive to adequately understand necessity. It is the highest blessedness that . that by which we strive to affirm and identify with necessity. The moderation of the affects is extremely important to Spinoza because it is a necessary condition for making intellect more active. By replacing our passive ideas with active ones. is that by which he is led to conceive adequately both himself and all things that can fall under his understanding (EIV Appendix). that is our conatus or striving toward self-preservation. which follow from the necessity of his nature. They are not defined by human power.9 motives and desires. and his actions. his highest Desire. But perfecting the intellect is nothing but understanding God.e. reason is intellect itself and therefore will itself. his attributes. Passive ideas are not related to our nature except insofar as we conceive things inadequately.) This unification with Nature is what Spinoza means by intellectual love of God. one unites to Nature in that one unites to Nature’s essence. or conatus. or what he also calls adequate ideas.e. we become more powerful. Reason is nothing other than the most active striving to preserve one’s being. Active ideas. follow from the necessity of our nature alone. our intellect. or blessedness. In the final stage of human freedom. one both understands and wills the necessity of the universe (as Natura naturata) because one realizes that our own existence is tied up in it.
Nietzsche also considers the understanding of our psychological drives as a means to achieving power. Nietzsche advocates a move from reactivity to activity. The final stage in human freedom is complete affirmation of the necessity of one’s being and world. Master morality is when one is selfdefined. accounts for two major differences between their philosophies: one. rather than being a reaction to others. when one’s desires stem from an active will to power. by understanding and willing necessity. let’s examine their views on conscious thought. respectively. Nietzsche’s account of psychology is very similar to Spinoza’s. their radically different approaches towards the emotions. Like Spinoza. for him the move is not one of thought or reason. etc. Nietzsche’s discussion of master and slave moralities serves much the same purpose as Spinoza’s discussion of active and passive ideas. However. However. Differences in Approach The fact that Spinoza and Nietzsche characterize their psychologies in terms of intellect and will. humans can grasp eternity during their life. Eternity is here and now and the best we can do is to understand and affirm that. Nietzsche characterizes his psychological account in terms of will.10 a human can attain and the only way a human can hope for eternity. . However.) to a state where one actively creates one’s own worldview. religion. Slave morality is when one’s beliefs and desires are caused by something other than the self. and two. First. Nietzsche calls this state love of fate. the status they give to conscious thought. One should move from the state in which one reactively accepts the creations of others (society. The mind dies when the body dies because the body and mind are ultimately the same thing. In this way. Spinoza rejects any idea of an afterlife. Such affirmation includes the understanding of necessity for what it is: a necessary interconnection of ideas that represent the worldview that we created. but one of wills that create and affirm oneself and one’s world.
Spinoza views certain affects as limitations to life because they make the intellect passive rather than active. In fact. while Nietzsche considers the unconscious desires. etc. §198). he specifically criticizes Spinoza for “laughing-no-more and weeping-no-more” in his attempt to destroy the affects through analysis and vivisection (BGE. there are unconscious motivations and desires and they are more informative about an action than the conscious ones (BGE. Since Spinoza understands the primary drive to power in terms of intellect. Nietzsche. we should note that this difference is not as . to be the most powerful state. Nietzsche understands consciousness as a trait in humans that has recently evolved and is therefore "the most unfinished and unstrong" (GS. he advocates that we destroy such affects through rationally understanding their cause.11 Conscious Thought. as limitations of one’s activity. §12). envy. Nietzsche believes that the decisive value of an action is what is unintentional about that action. or active ideas. In contrast.. and so he conceives the soul as nothing more than a social structure of drives and affects (BGE. §12). This view explains why Nietzsche considers the affects necessary for life. He therefore sees consciousness as the least vigorous type of thinking (GS. it only makes sense that Spinoza considers conscious thought. While this difference is an important byproduct of choosing to focus on intellect or will. sees affects as a necessary condition of life (BGE. each living thing is nothing more than affects. Therefore. At the same time. on the other hand. or active affirmations. but increase our power by acting out of the necessity of our own nature. This difference results from their different approaches to psychology. §11). After all. By being conscious of the true origins of the affects. He sees the affects of hatred. In other words. Emotions. Another major difference in their philosophies is their treatment of the emotions. to be the most powerful state. §333). he conceives of the soul as nothing more than ideas about the body (EII P13). we are no longer passively acted on by unknown causes. Spinoza advocates a moderation of the passions. In contrast. Spinoza understands consciousness as the most vigorous type of thought. Further. In this light. Nietzsche characterizes the primary drive to power in terms of will. §32).
12 deep as it at first seems. and simpler (GS. Nietzsche also sees passions such as pity. Such affects limit one’s power of activity. to an active will. Spinoza is not interested in destroying all of the affects. only the passive ones. It is these types of affects that Spinoza wants to get rid of. but unconscious desires for external things. humility. but he certainly does not praise the types of affects that Spinoza is trying to destroy. In other words. and shame are confused ideas that are caused not by our nature. Nietzsche may praise affects in general. However. when Spinoza advocates replacing inadequate ideas with adequate ones. §333). and therefore. §179). and shame as limitations to our power. Spinoza praises the virtues of other affects such as joy. only they are darker. He defines consciousness as “a certain behavior of the instincts toward one another" (GS. emptier. thoughts are nothing more than mere shadows of our feelings. For example. the affects of pity. Therefore. Nietzsche also makes this connection. humility. he only wants to overcome what he calls the passions because they are not caused through our nature alone. In other words. . he is advocating that we make the transformation from a passive intellect to an active intellect.
one begins the road to activity from a point in which she distinguishes between will and intellect. will or intellect. why are Nietzsche’s and Spinoza’s characterizations of psychology in terms of the will and intellect so different. In other words. if we look back at those differences. new travelers to the destination of activity choose a road. etc. to belong to a world designed by a benevolent creator. The answer is to be found in the process of becoming active itself. However. with the realization that will and intellect are the same. the road that looked most fruitful in his time. For Nietzsche. not realizing that they are actually the same.13 The Source of These Differences However. The very achievement of intellectual love of God and love of fate occurs at the moment that one realizes that will and intellect are one. once one completely wills the necessity of the world that she created she also affirms the fact that she is the creator. Therefore. In conclusion. Spinoza and Nietzsche were no different in their journeys. This approach successfully points out some of their fundamental agreements while explaining some of the divergences in their . Here we find our answer. once one fully understands that her preservation is tied up in the necessity of Nature. For Spinoza. Nietzsche chose will. more than likely as a reaction to what he perceived as the modern period’s failure to navigate the road of reason. for example. she automatically wills that necessity. Notice that both Spinoza’s and Nietzsche’s accounts end with the realization that will and intellect are one. They had to begin somewhere. Therefore. many differences surface. we will see that the differences are not as deep as they first appear. The road to activity starts in passivity or reactivity. a state in which one misunderstands the true nature of things. we are still left with the question: if will and intellect are the same thing. In other words. a very useful approach to the Spinoza-Nietzsche paradox is a study of the role of will and intellect within their philosophies. one might think themselves to have free will. Spinoza chose intellect. a state in which. she now understands that the nature of the universe is chaos and her role in that universe is as a creator of an ordered world.
We can now understand the seventeenth century indictment of Spinoza’s materialism and the nineteenth century controversy of Nietzsche’s announcement of the death of God as the modern reaction to the naturalism that results from the unification of the will and intellect. an ideal for which both Spinoza and Nietzsche strove. such an approach provides a helpful framework for understanding how these two lonely thinkers fit into the modern picture. .14 thought. Further.
Robert Stoothoff. 1. ________. and Kathleen M. Princeton: The Princeton University Press. ________. Dugald Murdoch. Richard. Vol. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. 1995 Soloman. The Philosophical Writings of Descartes. Translated by Walter Kaufman. Translated by John Cottingham. The Ethics. Friedrich. Meditations of First Philosophy.. Baruch. Translated by Walter Kaufman.15 Works Cited Descartes. 2. The Collected Works of Spinoza. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. Robert C. New York: Vintage Books. Translated by Samuel Shirley. 1985. The Gay Science: With a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of Songs. Edited and translated by Edwin Curley. Reading Nietzsche. 1974. René. 1988. Inc. Spinoza. Schacht. New York: Vintage Books. Higgens. Nietzxche. Spinoza: The Letters. Vol. 1996. New York: Cambridge University Press. New York: Oxford University Press. in Making Sense of Nietzsche: Reflections Timely and Untimely. . 1989. 1995. “The Nietzsche-Spinoza Problem: Spinoza as Precursor?” Chap. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.
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