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Journal of the History of Philosophy, Volume 11, Number 1, January 1973, pp. 65-90 (Article) Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press
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Nietzsche and Nihilism
R I C H A R D SCHACHT
WAS NIETZSCHE A NIHILIST. 9 It is widely thought that he was; and Arthur Danto, in his book Nietzsche as Philosopher, 1 subscribes wholeheartedly to this view. Indeed, Danto claims that "Nihilism" is "the central concept of his philosophy." 2 He attributes to Nietzsche " a deep and total Nihilism" 3---one which "is not an ideology but a metaphysics." 4 Nietzsche, he states, makes "unbridled claims in behalf of this extreme Nihilism"; s and he asserts that "Nietzsche's philosophy is a sustained attempt to work out the reasons for and the consequences of Nihilism . . . . " ~ In short, according to Danto, "Nietzsche's is a philosophy of Nihilism." 7 Is Danto right? There are several ways in which one might attempt to answer this question. First, one might examine Nietzsche's own assertions about the nature of nihilism, and see whether he explicitly subscribes to it as he himself conceives it. Secondly, one might consider the way in which "nihilism" as a philosophical doctrine is standardly defined, and then determine whether or not the definition is applicable to Nietzsche's philosophical views. "Nihilism" in the philosophical sense of the term may be defined either as the doctrine that nothing true can be said about reality, or (more narrowly) as the doctrine that there are no objectively valid axiological principles. Nietzsche might thus legitimately be termed a "nihilist" if it were the case that he subscribes to either (or both) of these doctrines. (Danto claims that he subscribes to both.) It is m y contention that, whichever way one chooses to approach the question, the answer is that Danto is wrong; and that Nietzsche (or, at any rate, the mature Nietzsche, i.e., from Zarathustra--1883--onward) was not a nihilist, either as he himself conceives of "nihilism," or in either of the senses of the term mentioned above. I shall attempt to show this, first by considering what he himself has to say about nihilism, and then by showing that his actual views are such that the term "nihilism" cannot be applied to them in either of the senses indicated, a
i N e w York: Macmillan, 1965. Danto, p. 22. Danto, p. 31. 9 Danto, p. 30. Danto, p. 33. s Danto, p. 34. Danto, p. 80. In my citations from Nietzsche's writings, I shall use the following translations, and shall identify the citations by using the letters indicated, together with the numbers of the
they are very nearly the only ones in the entire corpus of Nietzsche's writings which could be cited in direct support of these claims. ed. would come into the world. Further: even in the passages cited above. 1966). Hollingdale (New York: Random House. .The Will to Power.23. most of pages on which they occur. without perishing. s. . a2 WP." 15 And. 1967). but rather only certain ones.'" 11 He does say that "Nihilism ." 16 But can these passages support the weight of Daato's claims? Two facts ought to give one pause at once. the merely apparent character [of things].E c c e Homo. ed. that Nietzsche makes "unbridled claims in behalf of this extreme Nihilism"? 1o Nietzsche does say: "it is the measure of strength to what extent we can admit to ourselves. of being. as the denial of a truthful world. TI .O n the Genealogy of Morals. trans.. in which he is nothing if not candid about himself. in a note of 1887. 1954). ." 9 Is this true? A n d is it true. I have admitted to myself only recently.Beyond Good and Evil trans.66 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY (1) " A t times." Danto says. WP. Walter Kaufmann and R. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage Books. 1. except in the case of The Will to Power. ' Danto. Ecce Homo.a n expression which itself actually applies to him only in a restricted sense. 22. Walter Kaufmann and R. BGE . in The Portable Nietzsche (see above). s. in a passage intended to serve as the preface to a work he planned to entitle T h e Will to Power. and trans. he refers to himself not as a "'nihilist" but as an " i m m o r a l i s t " . Danto." or to his philosophy as "nihilism. GM . s.l12. all of these passages are taken from Nietzsche's notebooks. in On the Genealogy of Morals. s. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books. the necessity of lies. 1967). associated primarily with the Judeo-Christian tradition. ed." 14 He does say. that the most extreme form of pessimism.. genuine nihilism." 13 He does say that "It could be the sign of a crucial and most essential g r o w t h .. have become incommensurate . 11 WP. A C ~ The Antichrist. . "That I have hitherto been a thoroughgoing nihilist. J. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Viking Press. WP . Nietzsche "spoke of his philosophy as Nihilism. . Walter Kaufmann. can be a sign of strength: the spirit may have grown so strong that previous goals . In his published writings.15. s. and trans.3. in On the Genealogy of Morals. he does refer to himself as "the first perfect nihilist of Europe. . in which case the section numbers of Kaufmann's edition shall be given. First. . ed. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books. preceded by an s. . W P . s. 12 He does speak of "nihilism as the necessary consequence of our valuations so far. a~ W P . ... might be a divine way of thinking. Is WP. which he himself never published. in The Portable Nietzsche. nihilism. Ecce Homo.." In Ecce H o m o . . Preface.Twilight of the Idols. EH . moreover. . 33. T o this extent. 1. trans. A n d secondly. since he does not repudiate all forms of morality. he never refers either to himself as a "nihilist. Walter Kaufmann.69n. he m a y scarcely be said to make "'unbridled claims" on behalf of "extreme Nihilism. J. 1967). ~.. p.25." O n the contrary. p.
" 22 Again: "The nihilistic movement is merely the expression of physiological decadence. Nihilism appears at that point . indeed. has even now lived through the whole of nihilism. s. .3. =1 WP. and of the world as it ought to be that it does not exist. 25 1~ WP." he goes on to refer to himself as one "who. the inference that there is no meaning at all).4. . the Christian-moral one.13. . . is the psychologically necessary effect once the belief in God and an essentially moral order becomes untenable. s.69n." 27 A n d he immediately proceeds to characterize the relation of his philosophy to nihilism as follows: For one should make no mistake about the meaning of the title that this gospel of the future wants to bear." 24 Again: The belief in . . however. One interpretation has collapsed. it would seem to weight against it. 'The Will to Power: Attempt at a Revaluation of All V a l u e s ' in this formulation a countermovement finds expression. s. even if one considers only those passages which provide the strongest support for it. the following remarks: " A nihilist is a man who judges of the world as it is that it ought not to be. 2= W~p. Preface. aim and meaninglessness. (He does n o t say: " T h a t I a m a thoroughgoing nihilist . outside himself. ~o WP." 23 Again: "We can abolish either our reverence [for traditional values] or ourselves. l . while this consideration does not rule out the possibility that he m i g h t still have thought himself to be one. his wording provides little support for this interpretation. . And. =" WP. s. =0 WP." 22 Again: "It is in one particular interpretation. 29 Nietzsche does not assert that he is a nihilist.38. s. s." 2o Again: "Nihilism represents a pathological transitional stage (what is pathological is the tremendous generalization. when one considers the sustained critical analysis to which "nihilism" is subjected in the large body of notes which make up the first book of T h e W i l l to Power.NIETZSCHE AND NIHILISM 67 them either are quite tentative or are qualified by subsequent remarks. that nihilism is rooted. . for example. . . to say the least. In the last passage cited. . The latter constitutes nihilism. ") Thus the case for the mature Nietzsche's having conceived his position as one of nihilism is weak. but because it was considereal the interpretation. .55. =a W P . second emphasis added. It is to this analysis that I now shall turn. a movement that in some future will take the place of this perfect nihilism . . .585A. to the end. but rather only that he has "hitherto been" one. s. after referring to himself as "the first perfect nihilist of Europe.25. (2) Consider. ~= WP. it now seems as if there were no meaning in existence at all . however. . Preface. first. regarding both principle and task. emphasis added. == WP. . s . leaving it behind. It becomes completely untenable. is Finally: in the earlier note of 1887. s.
WP.s cited above. Christianity] but also from that which was bound to grow out of it.e. . What requires explanation is: given that these passages express his basic stance in relation to nihilism. 573. z6 Again: "Some have dared to call pity a virtue .l. WP. WP. What is this nihilism of which he speaks? " W h a t does nihilism mean? That the highest values devaluate themselves. . nihilism.. 96. In neither case. s.. he regards it positively. F o r in them nihilism is regarded as a phenomenon deriving from and related to others which he associate. p." zl "'Radical nihilism is the conviction of [the] absolute untenability of existence when it comes to the highest values one recognizes. s. and to this extent.t h e world will appear valueless and meaningless to those who cannot 26 2r 2s 3.a n d die. 16.68 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY And from Nietzsche's published writings: "there m a y actually be puritanical fanatics of conscience who prefer even a certain nothing to an uncertain something to lie down o n .. this victor over God and nothingness--he come o n e day. GM. who will redeem us not only from the hitherto reigning [i. and to explain why.12B. p. AC. . against which he directly and strongly reacts. that does not only rhyme. s. .. WP. 650. the will to nothingness. s.2. do his remarks imply an unqualified amrmation of nihilism." Nietzscbe says. AC. ao 3x 32 a3 BGE." 3o The advent of nihilism is inevitable. he suggests that while it may prove disastrous. In others. this antichrist and antinihilist. he attempts to show that "the advent of nihilism" is at hand.t h i s was done by a philosophy that was nihilistic and had inscribed negation of life upon its shield. which would conflict with the attitude expressed in the passage.s with "decadence.." and also as a danger. p.3." z7 Again: "Nihilism and Christianism: that rhymes.. ." 3s When this is recognized--as it is coming to b e . and which he considers it imperative to overcome. . the nausea. it is difficult indeed to see how anyone could conclude that Nietzsche considered himself a nihilist. "stands at the door.a n d one should always keep this in m i n d . and is indeed inevitable. its advent m a y also in certain circumstances be a good sign. . how is one to understand those of his other remarks pertaining to nihilism which have led D a n t e and others to conclude that he embraced it? In some of these remarks. This I shall now attempt to show. (3) "Nihilism. . ." zs A n d finally: This man of the future. T o be s u r e . p. But this is nihilism and the sign of a despairing. this bell-stroke of noon and of the decision that liberates the will again and restores its goal to the earth and his to man." 32 Why is the advent of nihilism held to be inevitable? Because " W e have measured the value of the world according to categories that refer to a purely fictitious world. however. mortally weary soul .2 9 ideal great great hope must In the light of these and other similar passages.
on his view. so the world looks valueless. When it is recognized that the world cannot be understood in terms of the categories which traditionally have been applied to it. after all. WP. according to Nietzsche. . but is also.. sr s. he does not commit himself to the position that nihilism is a doctrine which is both final and correct. It. And those in question include all of u s . for Nietzsche. . . s. The answer to this question is twofold. in his prophecy and explanation of the advent of a period of nihilism. s.n o t excepting Nietzsche himself--at least for a time. a period of nihilism must follow. WP. 'unity'. s." 37 The nihilist. But that is not. 'being' which we used to project some value into the world--we pull out again. however. only one of which is transitional in a positive direction. ''35 For it is not the intrinsic meaninglessness and incomprehensibility of the world itself that he holds to be the source of the coming nihilism.13. does not stop with a repudiation of the previously accepted interpretation of the world. the end of the line. He considers it necessary to distinguish between two types of nihilism. is not only not logically warranted. With the collapse of our traditional world-view. but moreover "a pathological transitional stage (what is pathological is the tremendous generalization." a6 Nietzsche goes on to observe that "'the untenability of one interpretation . that nihilism is rooted. WP. it is psychologically unavoidable. the Christian-moral one.1. is held not to be the "expression" of "decadence. its source is held to be the collapse of an (erroneous) interpretation of the world: "It is in one particular interpretation. . But that does not mean that it is valueless. ss s.7. . is not simply a transitional stage." as the other is. But it should be clear that. however. but rather a symptom of the fact that the fictions of the traditional world-view are no longer needed: "Nihilism . the question arises of his attitude toward it. those who cannot conceive of it in any other terms will despair of being able to comprehend it at all. denying the possibility of any alternative.1.NIETZSCHE AND NIHILISM 69' conceive of its value and meaning in any other terms. and it remains to be seen what Nietzsche intends to propose along these lines. nihilism. he generalizes. This is only natural. can be a sign of strength: the spirit may have grown so strong that s. WP. "pathological". seems 'meaningless'~but that is only a transitional stage. awakens the suspicion that all interpretations of the world are false. indeed. because his attitude toward it depends on whether it has the character of epilogue or prologue." a4 The world looks valueless. the logical illegitimacy of the generalization by itself does not serve to establish that some other interpretation of the world is in fact either possible or correct. and is essentially incomprehensible. Rather. " T h e categories 'aim'. according to Nietzsche. (4) Given that Nietzsche holds a period of nihilism to be inevitable following the collapse of "the Christian-moral" interpretation of the world. the inference that there is no meaning at all). This generalization. s. s. WP." 3s Of course.12A. "The universe seems to have lost value.
" he writes. if at all possible. on the other hand." 46 And he regards it as "the danger of dangers" because he holds that no one can do without any world-view indefinitely.--The nihilist's eye idealizes in the direction of ugliness . .69n. .22. perhaps as its by-pass to a new Buddhism? to a Buddhism for Europeans? to---nihilism?" 44 Nietzsche's attitude toward nihilism of the former sort. "when we have to pay for having been Christians for two thousand years: we are losing the center of gravity by virtue of which we have lived. s. WP. it deeply worries him. in the Preface he added to the Genealogy o/Morals. 19.30." 43 And. He felt it to be imperative. P r e f a c e ." but moreover to go beyond the stage of "active nihilism" which must be expected to follow the demise ~' 40 (~ '~ WP. have become incommensurate . s . and his great anxiety in the face of the former possibility was the source of the urgency with which he attempted to realize the latter. s. .70 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY previous goals . WP. as the traditional world-view must go. It must come. that the most extreme form of pessimism.23. s. .. and the fact that it is coming may be due at least in part to the fact that some feel strong enough to try to do without the traditional world-view. 39 Thus Nietzsche writes: "Nihilism: It is ambiguous: A. Nietzsche considers "nihilism as the necessary consequence of our valuations so far" to be "'The danger of dangers. "The time has come." he states: " F o r some time now. is quite different. 41 Still. . we are lost for a while. . He says: "It could be the sign of a crucial and most essential growth. this question profoundly worried Nietzsche. as the most sinister symptom of a European culture that had itself become sinister. Still. He thinks of "the nihilistic catastrophe that finishes Indian culture". Unless we are able to achieve a new world-view in relation to which we may orient ourselves--one which is more tenable than the traditional o n e . . Nihilism as a sign of increased power of the spirit: as active nihilism. s. " WP. genuine nihilism. . would come into the world. s. . for example. Nihilism as decline and recession of the power of the spirit: as passive nihilism.even the strongest will not be able to endure. B.. .21. in the note: "'The perfect nihilist. WP. s. he says: " I understood the ever spreading morality of pity . . he does not view "the advent of nihilism" as an unmitigated disaster.s W P . for example. So. . "~ WP." 4s For this reason." 47 The question is: are we to remain lost. . not merely to avoid "passive nihilism." 4o Nietzsche is profoundly contemptuous of nihilism of the latter sort. of the transition to new conditions of existence. "" GM. 42 and fears that a similar fate may be in store for the West. our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe. . if a new world-view is to take its place. in the paragraph in which he speaks of "the advent of nihilism. as. l 1 2 . s. or can we find a new "center of gravity"? Faced with the advent of nihilism.2.64. 96 W P . p.
" WP. and that " T o this extent. which went beyond it. [which] will take the place of this perfect nihilism.. at least by those who are strong enough to live with an awareness of them. to our attention that what we believe about the world is all wrong . for example. is directly at odds with Danto's contention that: "He was loss interested in characterizing the world as it might be in itself than be was in bringing . It is interesting to observe that Nietzsche's own understauding of his work." in favor of " a countermovewent. .. p. therefore.NIETZSCHE AND NIHILISM 71 of the traditional world-view. and he is anxious that we do not stop there either. might be a divine way of thinking. and deals with contradiction and criticism only as a means . . and that they are going to have to be abandoned. with the words "to this extent. . n i h i l i s m . in relation to the traditional world-view. p. "leaving it behind. . . as expressed in this passage. he holds that there are positive general truths. and which ought to be recognized. but moreover that in his p h i l o s o p h y . s. "is aITwmative." 48 A n d in fact he holds not only that this is possible. it does not refute this claim simply to show that he did not consider himself to be one. it is a step in the right direction. st I shall argue that. however.3-4. . But it is only that. For. .a n d more specifically. he is far from embracing it unreservedly and unconditionally. only a "transitional stage. . in his conception of "the will to power"--this "countermovement finds expression. . ." A nihilism of strength compares favorably in his eyes with the blind acceptance of what he regards as the lies and deceptions associated with the traditional world-view. 5. about reality." so But he qualifies his approval even as he gives it. Preface. p. 130. 511. He was less interested in stating what was true than in telling what was false" (Danto. both about the nature of reality and in the matter of value. . . with a N o to traditional morals and values and a denial of traditional metaphysics. Further. whether or not the affirmations Nietzsche makes are sufficient to refute the claim that he in ]act was a nihilist.15. ~0 WP." 49 While Nietzsche does see something positive in one type of nihilism. 98). TI." Nietzsche himself does not want to stop there. as Danto contends he does. there is only that to be said) . He wants us to see that they are untenable." he says. . that "there is nothing about reality to be said (or. ss. But he is just as concerned--indeed. which can be stated. and that Nietzsche does not hold. (~ Ibid.. 65 Danto.. . He does at times speak highly of it in The Will to Power--as. to be sure. more so---that something else should take their place. whether we like it or not. st II It remains to be determined. " M y style. .. when he says that it can take the form of a courageous denial of the existence of any "true world" apart from this one. and that he regarded his philosophy as a "countermovement" to nihilism. it constitutes progress. on the contrary. . I shall now attempt to show that this claim too is wrong.
for what one has forbidden so far as a matter of principle has always b e e n . ~ B u t m y truth is terrible. "if we take 'true' in [the] conventional sense of expressing what is the case.. 328. p. being strong enough to do so . ~5 6~ 97 ss s. 218.72 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY Nietzsche's views on these matters do entail a rejection of the basic tenets of most traditional metaphysical and axiological systems.. from this and other published works. nihilism is u n d e r s t o o d . 60 A n d he writes: "what Zarathustra wants: this type of m a n that he conceives. 219.I believe it should b e .. a Christian. E H ." then it is Nietzsche's position that "nothing is true and everything is false." s9 "Zarathustra. . how much truth does it dare? M o r e and more that became for me the real measure of value. 331. as well as from The Will to Power.. E H . p. the following passages from Ecce Homo: " ' W e strive for the forbidden': in this sign m y philosophy will triumph one day. a Rationalist. . . 75. this means the opposite of the cowardice of the 'idealist' who flees from reality . p. or an adherent of some other such traditional philosophical or religious world-view. E H . . . so 61 Danto. s.t r u t h alone. and B G E . In support of this contention. and then some of his main points concerning axiological matters. of.. Danto.t o involve the claim that neither the world nor values are such that anything both positive and objectively true m a y be said about them. E H . (1) According to Danto. as "born out of the innermost wealth of truth. E H . p. p. 93. but moreover that it has been discovered. . but they are of such a nature that he could be termed a nihilist only if it were to be arbitrarily stipulated that everyone is a nihilist who is not a Platonist. however. s6 Again: "the truth speaks out of m e . and that he himself has discovered it (or elements of it). WP. 6t Innumerable similar passages could be cited." Nietzsche in fact holds that there is such a thing as " t r u t h " truth about the nature of things and about man. for so far one has called lies truth. 49. ." 55 Again: " I was the first to discover the truth by being the first to experience lies as lies . 326. p. But what is it that he has discovered. . They clearly indicate that." 53 H e takes Nietzsche to be saying that men have not discovered "the truth" about the world. but rather because "'there is none to discover. p. which he refers to repeatedly as "the truth"? 5s 5.. . then Nietzsche most emphatically is not a nihilist. Nietzsche also frequently speaks of "truth" in connection with both the person and the message of his Zarathustra." 57 Again: " H o w much truth [can] a spirit endure. not because anything has kept them f r o m it. If. p. . Thus Spoke Zarathustra. 326. "is more truthful than any other thinker.'" s8 In Ecce Homo. . on the other hand. . H e refers to his work. and his alone.'" 54 Consider. posits truthfulness as the highest virtue. His doctrine. and not only that it m a y be discovered." he says.1041. and about m a n ' s nature. . p. far from holding that "nothing is true. 219. conceives reality as it is. p. E H . E H . I shall first consider some of his basic views about reality generally.
" W P . the Kantian.will to power. " BGE. for example. 21. "Suppose.NIETZSCHE AND NIHILISM 73 (2) M a n y things. "is merely a special case of the will to power. eL also s. as my proposition has it.658. it is set forth. s. *' BGE." 67 H e refers to the "will to power" as that "in which I recognize the ultimate ground and character of all change. s. " 69 H e even goes so far as to say that "'the innermost essence of being . according to Nietzsche. suppose all organic functions could be traced back to this will to power and one could also find in it the solution of the problem of procreation and nourishment ." 64 And." he states categorically. M y formula for it is: Life is will to power.254. "it is possible to trace all its drives to the will to power. p. from other passages in this work and elsewhere. that Nietzsche is quite convinced of the truth of his hypothesis. but it is quite clear. the mechanistic. the validity of which is to be determined by its explanatory power.619. --then one would have gained the right to determine all efficient force univocally a s . " W P . In the last lines of the last section of The Will to Power.-. in Beyond Good and Evil. . etc. he states his fundamental "discovery" and his most profound metaphysical "truth" as follows: "This world is the will to power----and nothing besides! A n d you yourselves are also this will to p o w e r . .r W P . but most importantly. in his eyes. in The Will to Power: "But what is life? Here we need a new. the Hegelian. he argues at length that each of the others is false.619.2 WP.--which is no less but also no more ultimately valid than they are. s." are to be understood in these terms. s." 65 All of the phenomena associated with life.685." he states. "Life. "is will to power.5 W P ." he says. .1067. .." he says." as " T h e victorious concept 'force'. also p. but rather as a serious hypothesis. of the will to power. not as a poetic vision. and he further argues at length that his is true. "In the case of an animal. . p. s.63 In this passage the matter is stated hypothetically. we succeeded in explaining our entire instinctive life as the development and ramification of one basic form of the will--namely. the Christian. likewise all the functions of organic life to this one source." he says. The world viewed from inside. more definite formulation of the concept of 'life'. In Beyond Good and Evil.a n d nothing besides!" 62 Nietzsche is by no means prepared to regard his conception of the world as "will to p o w e r " as merely one more world-interpretation alongside others--the Platonic. of course. which I designate as 'will to p o w e r ' . "Life itself. On the contrary.692. 203.'" ~6 Nietzsche also extends the application of this concept beyond the phenomena associated with life. 48. the world defined and determined according to its 'intelligible character'--it would be 'will to power' and nothing else. one thing in particular. " WP. from the "lowest" to the "highest. . . s. in terms of which science has come to understand all things. "still needs to be completed: an inner will must be ascribed to it.
m e t a p h y s i c a l p r o p o s i tions to be true. he f o u n d the i d e a u n e n d u r a b l e . to include not merely the events of his own life but all events which have occurred. to be sure. alive. he p u t s f o r w a r d " t h e i d e a l of the m o s t h i g h . he will never wish to have it to live over again.s p i r i t e d .. only the result he anticipated is the exact opposite of the one Nietzsche desires. only he extends them. in B e y o n d Good and Evil.. .693. he seems less c o n c e r n e d with the t r u t h of the d o c t r i n e t h a n with the c u l t i v a t i o n of a n affirmative a t t i t u d e t o w a r d life so g r e a t t h a t o n e not o n l y c o u l d endure the t h o u g h t of an eternal r e c u r r e n c e of the s a m e series of events w h i c h has p r o d u c e d a n d is the existing world. n o t as false. s. however. ed. and to encompass a recurrence of them not merely once but infinitely many times ("eternally"). . b u t w h o w a n t s to h a v e what was and is r e p e a t e d into all eternity . there is n o t h i n g s e l f . Indeed. a n d w o r l d . vx A t o t h e r times. b u t m o r e o v e r c o u l d desire such a recurrence. . who was intimately acquainted with Schopenhauer's work. a n d t h a t he s h o u l d h a v e c o n t i n u e d to r e g a r d o n e ' s r e a c t i o n to the i d e a as a decisive test o f o n e ' s a t t i t u d e t o w a r d life. may initially have intended his affirmation of the idea of eternal recurrence as a response to Schopenhauer. . if offered a choice between living the same life over again and absolute annihilation. Irwin Edman [New York: Modern Library. as a test of the nature of one's attitude toward life. and upon one's own experience in particular. ~1 BGE. f o r e x a m p l e . but rather than this. in The World as Will and Idea. and he contends that if one is "in full possession of his faculties. p. t h a t the i d e a c o u l d a p p e a r t e r r i b l e indeed. 267. A f t e r all. for he knew. and then ask oneself which one would choose. p.74 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY is will to p o w e r . E v e n D a n t o is c o m p e l l e d to a d m i t t h a t N i e t z s c h e c o m m i t s h i m s e l f to the truth of his d o c t r i n e of the eternal r e c u r r e n c e of the s a m e events. f r o m p e r s o n a l experience. I n d e e d . 1956]..) Nietzsche. w h i l e in 7o WP. it is o n l y r e a s o n a b l e t h a t he s h o u l d h a v e b e c o m e all the m o r e c o n c e r n e d with t h e p r o b l e m o f o u r r e s p o n s e s to the i d e a of eternal recurrence. once N i e t z s c h e b e c a m e c o n v i n c e d of the t r u t h of the d o c t r i n e of eternal recurrence. T o will the eternal recurrence o f the s a m e events is for N i e t z s c h e the u l t i m a t e e x p r e s s i o n of an affirmative a t t i t u d e t o w a r d life. A t times. Schopenhauer suggests that one reflect upon the hard facts of life. A n d t h a t he s h o u l d have b o t h concerns is n o t u n r e a s o n a b l e . . in just the terms Schopenhauer proposes in his test. So. I n m o m e n t s of p e s s i m i s m a n d weakness. 68. . Schopenhauer. Nietzsche may initially have conceived the significance of the idea of eternal recurrence---and the idea itself--in these terms. he will much prefer absolute annihilation. 70 T h e s e a n d o t h e r s i m i l a r p a s s a g e s m a k e it c l e a r that N i e t z s c h e is c o m m i t t e d to a definite if r a t h e r u n o r t h o d o x m e t a p h y s i c a l w o r l d view. . T h e one for w h i c h he is p e r h a p s b e s t k n o w n is t h e p r o p o s i t i o n that all events r e c u r eternally. . a n d t h a t he i n t e n d s his statements of it to be taken. i. b u t as t r u e .a f f i r m i n g h u m a n b e i n g who h a s n o t o n l y c o m e to t e r m s a n d l e a r n e d to get a l o n g with w h a t e v e r was a n d is. a n d d e s i r i n g that p e o p l e s h o u l d have a n a t t i t u d e t o w a r d life so p o s i t i v e that they can e m b r a c e it gladly.e. (3) H e f u r t h e r holds a n u m b e r of other. b u t as t r u e in the sense of being f a i r l y a c c u r a t e a n d a d e q u a t e e x p r e s s i o n s of the w a y the w o r l d r e a l l y is. to indicate that his response to Schopenhauer's test differs from Schopenhauer's own as radically as possible. t h o u g h related. .a n d as true n o t m e r e l y in a relative or p e r s p e c t i v a l sense.c o n t r a d i c t o r y in b o t h m a i n t a i n i n g the truth of a doctrine. had proposed a similar test." (The Philosophy of Schopenhauer. that with w h i c h N i e t z s c h e is c o n c e r n e d is the d e m o n s t r a t i o n of t h e truth of the p r o p o s i t i o n t h a t the s a m e series of events which h a s o c c u r r e d m u s t recur eternally.
595." 7a He never completed. If there were for it some unintended final state. I r2 E H . finite force. s.. 75 WP. Presentation of the doctrine and its theoretical presuppositions and consequences. . it must [already] have been reached. p. 1. how much truth does it dare?" 72 That Nietzsche does hold this doctrine to be true is clear. every possible combination would at some time or another be realized an infinite number of times. for it cannot be so thought of. it must pass through a calculable number of combinations. . Nietzsche thus states his argument for the truth of the doctrine of eternal recurrence as follows: If the world may be thought of as a certain definite quantity of force and as a certain definite number of centers of force--and every other representation [of it] remains indefinite and therefore useless--it follows that. In infinite time. a circular movement of absolutely identical series is thus demonstrated: the world as a circular movement that has already repeated itself infinitely often and plays its game in infinitum. this also must have been reached. that an infinite time has preceded the present m o m e n t . And since between every combination and its next recurrence all other possible combinations would have to take place.a b o u t which he says: "The world. In one he states: "The law of the conservation of energy demands eternal recurrence." and what a better man than himself would in part be like. it is by no means my intention to argue for the validity either of Nietzsche's presuppositions or of his reasoning from them. on the contrary. He undoubtedly had the doctrine of eternal recurrence in mind when he wrote the passage in which he asks: " H o w much truth [can] a spirit endure. "'The eternal recurrence .1057. . may not be thought of as unlimited. the third of the presuppositions cited above--"finite f o r c e " . Ts WP.1062. 7s Now. s. m 218.' " 77 Assuming the validity o f these presuppositions. in part. W'P. Proof of the doctrine. but his basic line of reasoning is indicated clearly enough in a number of other notes in The Will to Power. 2.NIETZSCHE AND NIHILISM 75 moments of exuberance and strength. A n d this suggested to him both that he himself was still "human-all-too-human. 74 WP. s. and secondly.I062. the systematic discussion which he here contemplates." 75 Nietzsche does not think it to be necessary to argue for the first of these "presuppositions.1066. This argument itself presupposes. . which reads." He spells out and argues for the second as follows: "If the world had a goal.. in the great dice game of existence.1063. s. as force. s. let alone published.'" 74 In another: "Our presuppositions: no God. first. One of the notes in The Will to Power consists of an outline of a projected discussion of it. s.a presupposition Nietzsche considers incontrovertable. and each of these combinations conditions the entire sequence of combinations in the same series. we forbid ourselves the concept of an infinite force as incompatible with the concept 'force. ~s WP. however. he embraced it enthusiastically." 76 He takes it to be obvious. that no such goal or final state has been reached. no purpose. ~8 WP.
" WP." a5 And: " W h a t determines rank. spectator divinity. . a type becomes fixed and strong. . .'" 79 Again: " T h e influence of 'external circumstances' is overestimated by Darwin to a ridiculous extent: the essential thing in the life process is precisely the tremendous shaping. s4 Again: " I distinguish between a type of ascending life and another type of decay. which is after all the will of life . through the long fight with essentially constant unfavorable conditions. clay.857. pp. . disintegration. I shall not develop any others at length. s. chaos. 74. his philosophy cannot be considered nihilistic in the sense under consideration. " WP. p. BGE. it is a consequence of the will to power. simply in order to indicate some of the other matters about which he considers it possible to discover and state facts and truths. 81 BGE. B G E . but perhaps it would be we!l to cite a few. and that this provides a further illustration of the fact that. forrngiver. injury. s. at its mildest. p. exploitation . s2 Next. . and nothing else. " WP. I would only contend that these passages d e a r l y show him to have been convinced of the truth of the doctrine of eternal recurrence and of its demonstrability.855. is only quanta of power. 21. and the wretched spiritual game of goals and intentions and motives is ew BGE. self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent results. 210. weakness. imposition of one's own forms. and to uncover and refute illusions and falsehoods. First. s. and that his reasoning is fallacious.647. as a basic organic function. . incorporation and at least. dirt. A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength--life itself is will to power. . on life and living things: "Physiologists should think before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. form-creating force working from within which utilizes and exploits 'external c i r c u m s t a n c e s ' ." 8x And finally: Life itself is essentially apropriation. (4) Innumerable other illustrations of this fact m a y be found in his extensive discussions of the m a n y more specific phenomena to which he directs his attention. 'Exploitation' does not belong to a corrupt or imperfect society. p. If this should be an innovation as a theory--as a reality it is the primordial fact of all history: people ought to be honest with themselves at least that far. " BGE. . h a m m e r hardness. p. and seventh day: do you understand this contrast?" sa And: " m a n is the as yet undetermined animal . whatever the merit of the specific positions he takes m a y be. on man: " I n m a n creature and creator are united: in m a n there is material. both in his published writings and in the notes which make up The Will to Power." s6 Again: " F o r it is our energy that disposes of us.. 203-204. it belongs to the essence of what lives. . 154.76 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY would argue that several of his presuppositions are in fact questionable at best. overpowering of what is alien and weaker. excess. " . . . but in m a n there is also creator. " so And: " A species comes to be. . nonsense. . 8. sets off rank. hardness. suppression. fragment.
he does not mean that it is meaningless to speak of "reality" at all. ." s7 And: "All 'purposes'. or that nothing true can be said about it. 75. which commentators like Danto have seized upon. "today's ears resist such truths".995. even plain. and with reference to which this world is unreal. .7 WP. . . 54-55. unchristian. and Nietzsche's m a n y other substantive assertions and denials in connection with issues in philosophical psychology and the philosophy of mind. s. . 115. If. "if we take 'true' in [the] conventional sense of expressing what is the case. 90 and he speaks of the emergence of a new breed of "investigators and microscopists of the soul"---of w h o m he considered himself to be the first--"who have trained themselves to sacrifice all desirability to truth. '~ GM. and social and political institutions. s. (5) At this point one might begin to wonder what possibly could have led Danto and others to attribute this position to Nietzsche. 25. serves the enhancement of the species ' m a n ' as much as its opposite does. . then Nietzsche clearly is not a nihilist. tyrannical in man. illusory. pp. what he means is that there is no world or reality or realm which transcends that in which we live. quite a number of times. p." 92 They make it quite evident that Nietzsche does not hold this view. consequently. for present purposes): Nietzsche says. and on such matters as the nature and origin of conventional morality. . harsh. immoral t r u t h . . In saying this. and. both in his published writings and in his unpublished notes. therefore. however.F o r such truths do exist. according to Nietzsche." 88 Further: "We think t h a t . In fact. it is difficult to believe that Danto is talking about the same person. a nihilist is one who takes this position. by their distaste for the conditions of life and their longing for stability and order.NIETZSCHE AND NIHILISM 77 only a foreground----even though weak eyes m a y take them for the matter itself. have been led. we do not even say enough when we say only that much . t= Danto. p. For example (and most importantly. Nietzsche does not mean what they have taken him to mean when he says these things.--" 91 When one considers passages such as these. " WP. everything in him that is kin to beasts of prey and serpents. Rather. 'meaning' are only modes of expression and metamorphoses of one will that is inherent in all events: the will to power. religious belief.. Indeed. when he attributes to Nietzsche the view that. ugly. 89 In this connection Nietzsche says.. their interpretation of him is based on a misconstrual of his actual points. to invent the idea of a world other than this one that is more . every truth. Philosophers and religious thinkers throughout history. and have used to support their interpretation of him. a mere appearance. repellent. or merely phenomenal." then "nothing is true and everything is false. p. everything evil. ~o B G E . that there is no "true world" in connection with which the term "truth" has an application (which application moreover has often been held to be its only proper philosophical one).675. however. s~ B G E . 'aims'. terrible. The reason would appear to be that Nietzsche does say some things which might s e e m to warrant this attribution.
. . 486. awakens the suspicion that all interpretations are false. or that there are no fundamental truths about reahty which m a y be discovered and expressed. from the very way in which he refers to it. ." and "metaphysical world" (the last mentioned referring to what is represented as "reality" in traditional metaphysical systems). . A n d since.. ." one of the ways in which Nietzsche felt it appropriate to deny the existence of such an "other world" was to assert that there is no "true world. o5 W P . . p. s. but which it should be obvious he does not. 484. at the conclusion of the section which follows. *s TI." "thing-initself. His denial of the existence of a "true world" and of "truth" in this sense.78 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY conformable to their desires.. Nietzsche recognizes that nihilism is the natural first response to the discovery that the "true world" of traditional theology and metaphysics is a mere fiction: "the untenability of one interpretation of the world. In this same note. The reasons for which 'this' world has been characterized as 'apparent' are the very reasons which indicate its reality. And. or only under conditions which could not obtain except in such a world.i n this sense." 95 It "awakens the suspicion"--but does it follow that "'all interpretations are false"? Obviously not. And. italicizes them. In Twilight of the Idols. the expressions "true world" and "truth" have become associated with this "other world. and to assert that this other world is the true or real world.'" 94 That is. . upon which a tremendous amount of energy has been lavished. 93 And. any other kind of reality is absolutely indemonstrable. Further. more importantly for present purposes. and the fact that Nietzsche intends his denial of the existence of a "true world" and of "truth" to be understood as subject to this restriction is to be seen in the fact that he usually either places the expressions in scare-quotes. for example.. no. the actual world ceases to seem merely to be an apparent world. for it was only by contrast to the fictitious other world which was regarded as the "true world" that the actual world was taken to be merely apparent. world of forms." he states: " T h e true w o r l d . if that is not decisive. is it Nietzsche's conclusion that it follows? Clearly. his attempt to establish that reality can and should be understood in terms of the concept of "the will to power" is. But only in this sense. in their hands "truth" has come to be understood in such a way that it has application only to such a world. . . It TI. Second proposition . . is by no means tantamount to the assertion that it is meaningless to speak about "reality" at all. Nietzsche writes: "First proposition.w e have abolished. : the 'true world' has been constructed out of contradiction to the actual world ." and thus no " t r u t h " .1. and comes to be recognized as reality. What world has remained? The apparent one perhaps? But no! With the true world we have also abolished the apparent one. or else links them explicitly with such expressions as "other world. with the abolition of the idea of a "true world" apart from the actual world. he speaks of the "rebound from ' G o d is truth' to the fanatical faith 'All is false' "---a "fanatical faith" which Danto seems to think Nietzsche shares. entitled " H o w the ' T r u e World' Finally Became a Fable. p. however. by traditional metaphysical and theological convention. .
in effect. the matter must be settled by looking at what Nietzsche actually has to say about value. a quite different conclusion is suggested by such remarks as these: "One has deprived reality of its value. as I believe I have shown. If nothing true can be said about reality. Of course. namely the diminution. however. p. The question therefore arises: Is Nietzsche a nihilist in the latter respect? Danto claims he is. his major premise is false. Indeed. the consensus of popular opinion is if anything more strongly behind Danto than on the previous one. for it consists. p. to precisely the extent to which one has mendaciously invented an ideal world. that he openly declares war on what he often simply terms "morality" and "the moral interpretation of the world". his own included. of course. is not to show that he is not an axiological nihilist. that Danto is wrong here too. Nietzsche can be considered a metaphysical nihilist only if his remarks about the untenability of conceptions of "the true world" of the sort associated with traditional theology and metaphysics are taken to apply to all possible interpretations of the world. and that the passages cited in this section demonstrate this conclusively. asserting that it is "Nietzsche's view" that "Values have no more application to the world than weights do to numbers . 33. I shall contend. 96 And. and only if he is held not to have gone beyond the nihilistic reaction which he describes as the "rebound" or natural initial response to the discovery of the untenability of these traditional conceptions and world-views. his argument does not establish his conclusion.r EH. in merely pointing out that if Nietzsche is a metaphysical nihilist. making him *~ Danto. its truthfulness. then obviously there can be no substantive and positive assertions pertaining to values which have an objective basis in reality. and that Nietzsche is no more an axiological nihilist than he is a metaphysical nihilist. III T o show that Nietzsche is not a metaphysical nihilist. . the falsity of his major premise does not suffice to establish the contrary conclusion. for one who cannot be considered a nihilist with reference to his views on the nature of reality might nonetheless quite consistently hold that there is no objective basis in reality for value-determinations. of man. . that to understand him in this way is to misunderstand him completely.'" Yet it does not follow from this that he therefore holds all values to be completely conventional and without objective basis in reality. It seems to me. ." 97 Again: "to us the democratic movement i s . . . Danto's argument for this conclusion has little force. 218.NIETZSCHE AND NIHILISM 79 In short. its meaning. however. but since. and that he denies the existence of any Divinely ordained moral principles or self-contained "moral facts. he must afortiori be a nihilist with reference to values. . Danto's reasoning is sound. In the light of the foregoing. on this point.. a form of the decay. . . (1) It must be admitted at the outset that he does frequently characterize himself as an "irnmoralist".
" 105 and says: "Dionysus is a judge!--Have I been understood?" 106 Unfortunately. in one w o r d .." t09 o. . xo2 W P . he holds that there is a single.125. ultimate. It is not divinely ordained. are .t h a t is life itself. in connection with the idea that all events are transitory: " T o me . and to call them good. . . e m p h a s i s added." 102 And: "Fundamental innovations: In place of 'moral values'. and in particular. 117. nor without pity. s. except the degree of power--assuming that life itself is the will to power.." 104 A n d finally. . los W P . p. first e m p h a s i s a d d e d . ways of thinking that measure the value of things in accordance with pleasure and pain. loz W P . B G E . but neither is it a mere human convention or invention. there is. . H e says: " T h e r e is nothing in life that has value. 1o7 W P . 103 Again. s. . we m a y not even have given o u r h u m a n existence a moderately fair value.'" 9s Again: " a l l ." 107 A n d he further holds that this absolute value is grounded in the very nature of things. 1o. 10. It derives directly from a consideration of the very essence of life as Nietzsche conceives it: namely. W P . " culminating in the ideal of a "union of spiritual superiority with well-being and an excess of strength. . .899. 17. s. an objective basis for his particular value-determinations. " BGE. Nietzsche speaks of "a Dionysian value standard for existence. and while we thought that we accorded it the highest interpretation. ~o6 W P ." 101 Again: "destruction of the world of being: intermediary period of nihilism: before there is yet present the strength to reverse values and to deify becoming and the apparent world as the only world. by reference to which the value of everything else can and should be determined: namely. p. on his view. xo5 W P . . . purely naturalistic values .1041. . of what he frequently refers to as "the type ' m a n ' . s. the quantitative and qualitative enhancement of life. s. W P .585A. [But] the world might be far more valuable than we used to believe. as "will to power. p. naivet& on which everyone conscious of creative powers . absolute value.80 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY mediocre and lowering his value." H e writes: " F o r this is the doctrine preached by life itself to all that has life: the morality of development. . . s. by all too m a n y writers who---in spite of these and m a n y other similar p a s s a g e s .462. . s. will 100k down not without derision.55. Nietzsche has not been understood. everything seems far too valuable to be so fleeting: I seek an eternity for everything. which are mere epiphenomena and wholly secondary.I065. T o have and to want more--growth.32. loo G M .. In point of fact." 99 Again: " m y problem . . . s. . xos W P . s. 153. . ." aos And because of the connection Nietzsche envisages between this absolute value and the essential nature of things. .1051.m a i n t a i n that he is a nihilist and a complete relativist in the matter of value. . : under what conditions did m a n devise these value judgments good and evil? and what value do they themselves possess?" xoo Again: " T h e world does not have the value we thought it had .
as he himself states he is. And it is on the basis of this conviction that he proceeds to pose and consider "the problem of the value of truth. knowledge. p. if he himself did not hold that there is some value-standard by reference to which the traditional values he proposes to consider could be "re-valued. with no objective basis in reahty. 1~2 When he speaks of "the highest enhancement of hfe." once again." of which he constantly speaks. then his value is in ~:o :~l 112 11s D a n t o . . even to the casual reader.899. It is not his intention merely to de-value these values. he states his general point as follows: " M a n has repeated the same mistake over and over again: he has made a means to life into a standard of life. institutions and the like are to be determined. but he clearly is no nihilist. his contention is that certain things have been regarded as absolute values whose actual value is only derivative. that "Values have no more application to the world than weights do to numbers . as Danto says he does. Thus he says: "If [an individual] represents the ascending course of mankind. by reference to which the actual value of these traditional values can and should be determined. p.NIETZSCHE AND NIHILISM 81 Nietzsche thus is far from holding. instead of discovering the standard in the highest enhancement of life itself . which ought to be set in their place.. social institutions." in the first part of Beyond Good and Evil. . he holds that the fundamental nature of things and their ultimate value are to be conceived in precisely the same terms." He does not propose simply to show that traditional values are nothing more than conventions. what he has in mind is: "union of spiritual superiority with well-being and an excess of strength. On the contrary. 33. He thus is a naturalist in the matter of value. W P . . 11o On the contrary. on his view. . and art in subsequent writings. that Nietzsche is not an axiological nihilist. Indeed. and to the implementation of which he devotes a great deal of attention. . precisely in terms of the extent to which they enhance or detract from the (quantitative and qualitative) degree of power of the beings under consideration--their "quanta of power" being just what they essentially are for Nietzsche. 9. . Nietzsche could not have undertaken such a project. B G E . which ought to be recognized. W P . practices. . conventional morality. it is difficult to imagine any stronger version of the thesis that valuedeterminations have an objective basis in reahty than his. and the values of actions.354. The point may be stated quite simply. s. l t t and the question of the value of such things as religion. The first concerns his program of a "re-valuation of values.. there are several basic considerations which ought to suggest. . (2) On a more general level. he proceeds to assess the actual value of traditional values--and also of men. . or even have conceived it. while maintaining that there are no others which have been overlooked." l~a And with this standard of value in mind. and that there is an ultimate value. or even--in some cases--precisely the opposite of what it has been taken to be. s. On these issues.
Nietzscbe regarded him as the herald of things to come. there is this matter of the enhancement versus the decline of hfe: shall I simply describe the situation. and mankind thus would sink into a degenerate and ultimately moribund condition. and of Schopenhauer's ideal of the termination of all life becoming 11. however. 1 t 4 (3) The second consideration is even more general. and say to himself: "Values have no more application to the world than weights do to numbers. . It seemed to Nietzsche that Western m a n . . If Nietzscbe had been a nihilist where values are concerned. associated with our Judeo-Christian-Socratic heritage. It pertains to Nietzsche's basic concern.373. if no one could show any other way. decay. H e sensed impending disaster.82 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY fact extraordinary .a n d indeed mankind generally-is at the cross-roads. and while Schopenhauer was not taken seriously by most of his contemporaries. H e could allow that weak souls like Schopenhauer will quite naturally find life too disagreeable to b e worth living on the only terms it offers them. and let things take the course they appear to be taking? Or shall I take sides. even though there is really nothing to choose between the two?" This was not at all the way in which Nietzsche approached the matter. which have given structure and meaning to life in the Western world for the past 2500 years. and has made them untenable any longer. . s. [While] H he represents the descending course. and I would suggest that no one with any feeling for this basic concern of his could possibly consider him a nihilist in the matter of value. are being called into question. . in terms of which life could once again be seen to be meaningful and desirable. He saw Schopenhauer as the first modern European to exhibit and explicitly embrace this latter sort of development. and the increasing urgency with which he wrote. in a cool hour.. . the West would go the way of the East. then he has little value . And now. chronic sickening. For what would it matter to someone if growth and development gave way to stultification and decline. on one side or the other. Indeed. . they have been undermined by the spirit of truthfulness. But he was far from indifferent to the possibility of the whole human race coming to be like Schopenhauer. Nietzsche hardly viewed the situation he contemplated with indifference. A n d Nictzsche felt that unless a new world-interpretation was developed. if he held that nothing really had any value anyway? In fact. and few have felt that more depended upon the success of their philosophical enterprises. WP. at least as great as that with which Plato viewed the collapse of traditional values in the Greece of his day. The fundamental assumptions about ourselves and the world. On the contrary. he viewed it with alarm. which led him to undertake the investigations and to write the things he did.. . which has exposed their foundations. Few philosophers have been motivated in their philosophical efforts by a stronger fundamental concern. he should have been content at most simply to describe this situation. were expressions of the intensity of his concern. . He did not sit down. and the relentlessness with which he drove himself.
is characterized by Nietzsche as "the radical repudiation of value. s. and moreover. he describes his own position as follows: "Against 'meaninglessness' on the one hand. have been on equally firm--or weak--ground.NIETZSCHE AND NIHILISM 83 a reality. objectively groundless imperatives. s.. subjectively determined. "the earth. able to take the hardships of life in their stride. He is not saying that he. he held that this m u s t not h a p p e n . He was not content simply to observe that the strong will be able to find life endurable and even desirable in spite of its hardships. and is the only absolute value which does not rest upon illusion. and Schopenhauer." he says. since the question of the general validity of such claims does not even arise. has chosen to regard the enhancement of life affirmatively. just as they have missed the fact that the enhancement of life is an absolute value. creative men. Nietzschc's emphasis. seems 'meaningless'--but that is only a transitional stage. that there ought to come to be men who are stronger and more creative than any now or previously existing--he himself included. emphasis added. for whom life lacked any positive meaning. And he did not regard these as his own personal. and that if no one is strong. then the human race will cease to develop and ultimately to exist. "Now that the shabby origin of [traditional] values is becoming clear. but that others.a meaning deriving from the value he takes to be associated with the realization of the ideal of a "union of spiritual superiority with well-being and an excess of strength. meaning." t20 His own pronouncement. Nietzsche does not consider himself merely to be indicating a personal preference. against moral value judgments on the other. that there ought to be strong. "the universe seems to have lost value. ought to be enhanced.. which he places in the mouth of Zarathustra. s. ." In taking this position." 11s The use of the term "objective" in this context is not mine. The overman is the meaning of the earth. n. s. is very different: "Behold." and life." t17 In the same note in which this characterization occurs.7. and Christianity. n~ VV~F. deriving from "the doctrine preached by life itself to all that has life. who have conceived its meaning differently. Ibid. these things are true without n~ W P ." the symbol of which is the "overman.1. H e writes: "What is the objective measure of value? Solely the quantum of enhanced and organized power. and the rest--have missed the true meaning of the earth." 119 But this byword is certainly not his own." 11s His formulation of the byword of nihilism is: " ' E v e r y t h i n g lacks meaning'. Friedrich Nietzsche. I teach you the overman.. ought to continue to develop.674." in the axiological sense. For him. nl Ibid. and desirability. that life ought to flourish. ~20 WP. while the weak will not. Rather. he is saying that Schopcnhauer--and Plato. have a " m e a n i n g " .125. He is not saying that the "overman" is the meaning of the earth Jor him." 116 "Nihilism. in the nature of life itself. or giving expression to his own feeling of strength and vitality." For Nietzsche. even though nothing is of any intrinsic value. but rather has an objective foundation. but his. Rather. but rather as imperatives with an objective basis in reality. n~ W'P.
where is yours?" he does not mean this to apply to Zarathustra's basic teaching. on t h e one hand.84 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY qualification. It is values so conceived that Nietzsche has in mind when he discusses those which prevail among the great masses of men." The fact that he calls this a "teaching. taken by themselves. Like the claim that he is a metaphysical nihilist. differences of values. and that there is nothing more to be said for the ultimate value he proposes than there is for the traditional values whose ul. he says that the true task of the genuine philosopher "demands that he create values. but rather to the ways in which particular individuals are to live in light of it. consequently. which Niet. does not count against the truth of his claims. for example. T o understand these and other similar passages properly. Nietzsche does frequently speak of changes of values. if Nietzsche had not been convinced that it mattered whether or not life flourished and developed. p. . but that.zsche treats quite differently. Here it is illuminating to refer again to Thus Spoke Zarathustra. do the valuations to which they give rise. Indeed. it is necessary to distinguish between two sorts or orders of values. would seem to support the view that he is a relativist in the matter of values. One consists of values which are the creations of particular individuals or groups of men. Paul or most men or even anyone at all would concur. 12s WP. but rather is merely subjectively determined.as it did. and so greatly--if he had felt that the world actually is utterly devoid of meaning. he recognizes that these men and most others most definitely do not concur. Zarathustra's pronouncements would be absurd. has no objective standing. These conditions and circumstances vary greatly. z ~ BGE. whose physiological conditions and natural and social circumstances lead them to esteem certain qualities and to condemn others. And also like this other claim. and quite independently of whether Schopenhauer or Plato or St. and in terms of which he proposes to "'revalue" traditional values. (4) The claim that Nietzsche is an axiological nihilist is thus quite clearly wrong. and so. the misunderstanding it reflects derives from a misconstrual of a number of things he does say about values and morality. And this could not have mattered to h i m ." lzl And he also often says things like: "In valuations are expressed conditions of preservation and growth." 122 But passages like these should not be taken to imply that he holds that even the basic value he affarms. When he has Zarathustra say to his friends: "This is my way. for him." and tries to teach it to men. reflecting nothing more than his own needs or disposition.timacy and objective validity he denies. Nietzsche has Zarathustra attempt to "'teach" men that "the overman is the meaning of the earth." For example. or render them merely subjective and personal. and the work itself would have been an absurdity. and the "creation of values. and holds that all values are merely creations of those whose interests they serve. There are. so obviously. s. implies that he does not regard it merely as an expression of a purely personal valuedetermination.507. 136. it reflects a profound misunderstanding of him. many passages in his writings which.
but rather that "preached by life itself to all that has life. passages in Nietzsche's writings like the following." This value is one which he regards as objective and absolute. .. answering to their own distinctive powers and abilities. t h e y . It is quite true that Nietzsche regards judgments about or estimations of the value of life. for he holds that they are strongly correlated with the psychological and ultimately the physiological characteristics of those who affn'm them. of enabling themselves--and through them." lza It does not "express conditions of preservation and growth" of some one individual or group. or to ask which of several competing sets of such values is the "true" or "right" one.t o attain the highest possible degree of spiritual development. never be true. of the quantitative and qualitative enhancemerit of -life. 12a WP. that men differ profoundly with regard to the psychological and physiological characteristics to which they are related. not as propositions which--at least in principle--might be true. and in particular of "the type 'man'. and that consequently it is improper to claim universal validity for any set of values which "express conditions of preservation and growth" of one particular individual or group of men. and as a means." conceived in terms of the emergence of a union of the greatest possible physical well-being and strength with the greatest possible spiritual development. It should thus be clear that this lowerorder relativism in the matter of values. for it or against it. and indeed are quite necessary. upon which Nietzsche insists. and that it will further be appropriate for men of exceptional ability to "create" their own particular "values" as a way. p. But he also holds that they are not absolute. concerning life. it follows that different lower-order valuations of various particular things by different types of men are entirely in order." i. It seems to me. can. however.NIETZSCHE AND NIHILISM 85 and when he urges higher men to create their own values. x24 TI. Given this as the ultimate value. that they in fact do not. to be sure. The matter is different. .125. is by no means incompatible with the idea of an ultimate and non-relative standard of value. on the other. . .e. (5) There are. or strictly conventional. judgments of value. from Twilight of the Idols: Judgments. . the value o / l i / e cannot be estimatedA z4 Passages like this one may seem to pose a serious problem for the interpretation of Nietzsche I am suggesting. . with regard to the value by reference to which Nietzsche proposes to carry out his program of a "re-valuation of values. in the end. being grounded in the very nature of things. 474. It is held not to be the value of some particular individual or group of men.. but rather pertains to the general desirability o/"preservation and growth. are worthy of consideration only as symptoms. however. These values are not thought by Nietzsche to be completely arbitrary. s. and since one man's meat is sometimes another man's poison. "the type 'man' " . to which he is equally firmly committed.
because he denies the objective validity of any standard of value of this sort. then the question of the value of life cannot arise. and therefore because there is no conceptually distinct value or standard of value in terms of which its value can be "estimated. and which is to be resolved by seeing how life fares when measured against a standard of value which has some other derivation. the wisest men of all ages have judged alike: it is no good". . p. "Concerning life." on his view. ." In this connection." even when they are positive. So. in its highest form of development. never be true. not because life is without value. and then says: " ' A t least something must be sick here. it is even a judgment at all. 474. T I .'" xz5 A n d he goes on to suggest that "the great sages are types of decline . is a judgment of a quite different sort--if. in its highest form of development. Thus "the value of life cannot be estimated. when Nietzsche says that "judgments" concerning the value of life "can . . s. it is of interest that he goes on to say: " F o r a philosopher to see a p r o b l e m in the value of life is thus an objection to him . the ultimate standard of value is to be conceived in terms which derive directly f r o m a consideration of the essential nature of life itself. for his characterization of certain estimations of the value of life as expressions of "sickness. ." we retort. .. this does not yet touch the central point. his point concerns judgments in which life is asserted to be of value because it happens to contain certain features to which a conceptually distinct standard of value attributes positive significance. p. . for example. is the ultimate value. with reference to philosophers according ta w h o m "no ultimate meaning is posited except the appearance of pleasure or displeasure. he observes that." 127 Yet his language in these and other similar passages is significant. a2r WP. that the value of life is not problematical in this sense. and if the former is given and determined by the latter. 126 Again: he states. is the ultimate value." that " f o r any bealthier kind of man the value of life is certainy not measured by the standard of these trifles. and the value of life cannot become a problem. but rather because its essential nature itself determines the ultimate standard of value. . However. . His contention that life. . indeed. . xz. which concerns Nietzschc's meaning in asserting that "the value of life cannot be estimated. the way in which he speaks of them clearly indicates that he thinks there is something wrong with them. on the contrary.86 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY but rather as indications of the sort of stuff the person is m a d e of who m a k e s them. He holds. in the same section of Twilight o] the Idols. l~a I take him to mean that one is mistaken to think that the value of life is something problematical--an issue which remains open after the essential nature and conditions of life have been determined." "decadence." and "decline" certainly suggests that he does not consider them to be on a par with that of " a n y healthier kind of man. and because it itself. Nietzsche denies that any such judgments are true. 12s I b i d .." Similarly. F o r it does not involve passing judgment upon the extent to which life is capable of 12~ T I . 473. on the other hand. . For him.35.'" At the very least.
are by our very natures engaged. as he understands them. possible. Rather. so also. merely one type of human morality besides which. for example." x29 And it is indicated even more clearly when he states: Morality in Europe today is herd animal morality--in other words. for Nietzsche. 115. . Indeed. (6) Next. it is necessary to consider Nietzsche's denunciations of what he often refers to simply as "morality" and "'the moral interpretation of the world. What. questions still remain. and the very nature of which indicates an ideal that both constitutes the ultimate value and determines the standard of value for everything falling within its compass. 55. x3~ Even if Nietzsche is not really an "immoralist" in a strict or absolute sense. does not mean 'Beyond Good and Bad'. above all higher moralities. and the Utilitarians for their moral theories." These have often been taken to provide a clear indication of the fact that he is a nihilist. p. is* BGE." what he means to repudiate is those moralities which have prevailed in Western culture up to the present time. and after which many other types. . in his denunciations of "morality." what he means to repudiate is those metaphysical systems which traditionally have prevailed in Western thought. the contrary is suggested by the famous passage in which he states that "Beyond G o o d and Evil . in which all of us. however. of what he terms "slave" morality or "herd" morality. rather than the possibility of any metaphysics at all. which has rules set not by us. In short: life.eolves a misunderstanding of his meaning. are. He is opposed to so m u c h of what has passed and currently passes for "morality" that he often uses the term descriptively to refer to it. When Nietzsche's assertion that "the value of life cannot be estimated" is viewed in this light.NIETZSCHE AND NIHILISM 87 satisfying certain antecedently determined conditions. and more generally. as we understand it. so to speak. a game. He also rejects the similar claims of Plato. and so refers to himself as an "immoralist. that he is opposed to every possible morality in principle. is not something the value of which can be judged or determined by reference to any independent criteria. however. but rather merely accepting it on its own terms. it seems to me quite evident that it is not to be construed as a profession of axiological nihilism. or ought to be." It does not follow. nor by mere chance." and his characterization of himself as an "immoralist. Just as. is to be made of his assertion that "there are no moral phenomena at all. however. Hegel. before which. Nietzsche is harshly critical of the claims of Christian morality. in his denunciations of "metaphysics. . though it is a misunderstanding for which his frequent failure to qualify his use of the terms " m o r a l " and "morality" is partly responsible. which exists because the world as "will to p o w e r " of necessity gives birth to it. Kant. to absolute and universal validity. it is. but by the essential features of the "will to power" that is constitutive of reality generally. however well or poorly we can and do play. rather than morality as such. p. In fact. but only a moral interpretation of 121 G M . this in.
t36 And he maintains that. Certain moral principles. it would be well to recall Nietzsche's exclamation: "Dionysus is a / u d g e ! . on his view..1051.462." (7) Finally. all that follows is that Nietzsche rejects the complete autonomy of moral principles. So. neither logically presupposing them nor depending upon them in any other way. I teach Yes to all that strengthens. W P . I submit. It is quite consistent with this position to hold. since men differ radically in terms of what he calls "order of rank.. "I propose. . even if they have no objective status independently of it. there is the problem of the interpretation of those passages in which Nietzsche seems to commit himself to a moral relativism..." or "I affirm. but naturalism in morality surely is something quite different from nihilism." ~33 131 z32 133 134 135 136 1~7 133 B G E ." b u t . Thus he says: "Moralities must be forced to bow first of all before the order o~ rank . In fact.125." And this. W P . That is." and so have different "conditions of life." a concrete morality which will be appropriate for one sort of men will differ from that which will be appropriate for another. W P . s. but its outlines may be grasped by taking his characterization of it as a "morality of development" together with the statement: "I teach No to all that makes weak--that exhausts. . s. for he says many of the same sorts of things in this context. . however. may be derived from his standard of value.287. i n v i r t u e of their relation to certain non-moral "facts. 133 and the "naturalization" of morality is by no means equivalent to the complete repudiation of it. . p. is precisely Nietzsche's position. . 149. saying: "My philosophy aims at an ordering of rank: not at an individualistic morality. . W P .H a v e I been understood?" 134 This is not the place to spell out his own morality in detail. Thus he asserts that his "fundamental innovation" in this area is the "Naturalization of morality". VV'P. s. 137 And he explicitly denies that he is proposing a single sort of practical morality--a morality of individualism--for adoption by all men. The problem here is similar to that which arises in connection with his apparent commitment to a form of relativism in the matter of values. . s. Once again. 85. s." or "I will. he refers to "the doctrine preached by life itself to all that has life" as "the morality of development. .88 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY phenomena"? 131 It might seem to follow from this that Nietzsche holds that there is no objective basis for the assessment of particular moral claims and purported moral principles. . ~35 And note well: Nietzsche does not say.256. p. that there are moral principles for which there is an objective basis. that stores up strength . s. he rejects the view that moral principles express a special kind of facts--"moral facts"--which are ultimate in the sense of being independent of facts of any other sort. For example: "I understand by 'morality' a system of evaluations that partially coincides with the conditions of a creature's life. B G E ." 132 Nietzsche's morality might fairly be characterized as naturalistic. for example." I teach. however.54. W P .
either metaphysically or axiologically. no real difficulty is posed by these and similar passages. In this way. but it is important to observe that he further holds that each is right for one type of men. For those who would be unable to endure an existence unstructured by conventions. another type of concrete "morality" is indicated. It reflects the only sort of contribution they are capable of making to the enhancement of the "type": namely. while maintaining his commitment to a non-relative morality at another. nor deserves to be considered one. which reflects the much greater and more direct contribution they are capable of making to the enhancement of the "type. for those who are strong enough to live a life of their own. He further holds. . Far from considering nihilism to be the last word. however. and wrong for another. And that this is so is something which is determined by reference to the general "morality of development" to which he is committed." which corresponds quite closely to prevailing and traditional conventional morality. and to the basic standard of value which underlies it." Far from holding that there are no truths about reality which may be discovered and stated." Neither type of "morality" is right or appropriate for all men. and has a good deal to say of a substantive nature ~l W P . that men are far from equal where the relevant capacities are concerned. he in fact holds the contrary. and the desirability of which he suggests when he says: "A high culture can stand only upon a broad base. however. A careful analysis of his writings shows that he neither considered himself to be a nihilist. It is an individualistic. In brief: Nietzsche's "morality of development" is a consequence of his identification of the greatest possible enhancement of strength and spirituality of "the type 'man' " as the ultimate standard of value. more fundamental level. and to which his own philosophy is a "countermovement. he actually regards it as a mere "transitional stage. that Nietzsche is a "nihilist." a natural consequence of t h e discovery of the untenability of certain traditional metaphysical and axiological views--which. what Nietzsche likes to refer to as "herd morality. upon a strong and healthy consolidated mediocrity." 139 On the other hand. and for those whose acts of self-assertion would not be creative. s. therefore. one type of concrete "morality" is indicated. because there is no actual nature of things to discover and describe. The solution to the problem they seem to raise once again is to be found by distinguishing between the basic moral principle to which Nietzsche is committed and the differing lower-order "moralities" which are indicated by it when the differing capacities of men are taken into consideration." is wrong. according to Nietzsche. endorsed by Danto." and that his philosophy is a philosophy of "radical nihilism. and that therefore the enhancement of "the type ' m a n ' " would not be served if all men were to live individualistically and self-assertively. (8) In short: the widespread view. it is possible for Nietzsche to take a position of moral relativism at one level. and neither is wrong or inappropriate for all. and who have the capacity to be truly creative.NIETZSCI-IE AND N I H I L I S M 89 As in the case of his remarks on values. he himself goes beyond. self-assertive morality. however.864.
University o[ Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) .90 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY in this connection. because they will not even see the need for it. indeed. I have not been concerned in this paper either to defend or to criticize them. than that of merely showing that he does take such positions.m u c h more important. And far from denying objective validity to all value-judgments and moral principles as such. and do not propose to turn to this task now. is not at all to show that the substantive positions Nietzsche takes on these matters are correct. of course. This task is an important o n e . and therefore takes no substantive metaphysical and axiological positions wttich require evaluation.. if the erroneous view prevails that Nietzsche is a nihilist. T o show this. and what they are.. Yet philosophers will not turn to such an undertaking. he in fact maintains that a certain standard of value and a certain morality have an objective basis in the very nature of things.
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