NIETZSCHE, FRIEDRICH (1844-1900)
1869 –1879 Professor of Philology,
1889: madness, from which he never entirely recovered.
His best work was done in the 10 years before that.
For more, see attached, Chronology, from Walter Kaufmann, The Portable Nietzsche.
He is a difficult person to get into, his texts polyvalent, very rich and capable of different and even contrary interpretations. We ourselves will look at his texts through three sets of glasses:
1. Nietzsche as the Philosopher of the Death of God (making his texts the ancestor of 20th Century Atheistic Existentialism esp. Sartre, and inspiration of Death of God theology etc.)
2. Nietzsche as Philologist and Analyst and Archaeologist of Words (making his texts the ancestor of Derrida and Deconstructionism and such-like)
3. Nietzsche as the Philosopher of the Will to Power (making his texts the ancestor of Foucault, as also unfortunately of Nazism and such-like.
This is not meant, by any means, to exhaust the texts. We could also take him as a Philosopher of Process, emphasizing Becoming over Being, for example. And one must also say that we cannot make Nietzsche responsible for people who have made use of his texts in one direction or another.
1. Nietzsche as Philosopher of the Death of God
Read together Joyful Wisdom, section 125, also 124.
Nietzsche is reporting a deed,
something that has already happened in the
· Nietzsche thinks and hopes this event is, overall, a good thing, something to be cheerful about,
· the beginnings of a joyful wisdom, a gay science, in which we have to take full responsibility, to rewrite knowledge and truth
· and to redo morals: it opens up the possibility of, and indeed demands a revaluation of all values, for which purpose Nietzsche is to engage in a Genealogy of Morals – that is, of the old morals, what’s behind them, what they represent, where they come from, what is their ‘genealogy’
· It also opens up the possibility of a new kind of human being, the birth of the ‘overman’ or ‘superman’, the self-directed, self-controlled, passionate superior individual.
· However, sometimes he can’t quite convince himself. It is a big deed we have done after all and will have such drastic consequences. Perhaps it is not joyful wisdom after all, perhaps it’s the beginning of tradegy. Compare Joyful Wisdom section 342, Incipit Tragaedia. See also Reinhardt’s introduction p. 12.
2. Nietzsche as Philologist and Archaologist of Language (and proto-‘deconstructionist’)
Nietzsche started scholarly life as a professor of philologist, and remains to the end the analyst and archaeologist of words. For the following, read esp. Twilight of the Idols, chapter on “’Reason’ in Philosophy”, also “How the ‘True World’ Finally became a Fable” and “The Four Great Errors”.
(a) He is aware always of the element of rhetoric, especially in texts of metaphysics.
· Philosophy is a mask of texts. The philosopher is not only a thinker but also a write, a worker with words, with language.
· Every text, including in philosophy, is the result of a manifold of layers, substitutions, additions and subtractions, and the words and way there are put together, grammatical constructions, are not only the work of one person but a process prepared in the history of the culture.
· What appears as a smooth text, therefore, is the end form of an irrecoverable process: the transparency of the text is an illusion, it is not a mirror image of reality but a contraction of language, a linguistic construction, words, words, words…
· This however is only the beginning of the critique. It is deepened and radicalized with the help of a certain theory of language.
(b) Nietzsche’s theory of language:
· Language is a machine of making our way in the world in order that we may live in it. It works by putting together the non-identical by means of primitive metaphors. The history of language is a process of forgetting the metaphorical origin of such words. [Cf. Later on, Derrida, Western Metaphysics as White Mythology, philosophical concepts as erased metaphors.]
Words, that is to say, have a practical purpose. They are created by us human beings for the sake of meaning stability, dividing up reality into neat little self-identical bundles: otherwise we couldn’t live at all, it would be too chaotic.
· Philosophy takes a further step and thinks that there are identities in reality corresponding to the stability of meaning of our words. Philosophers become the victims of the illusion of the word. They think that there really are egos, and wills, and stable objects of knowledge.
· In this context we need an archaeology or a genealogy of language, to remember once again the metaphorical origin of our words and to endeavour to avoid the metaphysical bewitchment.
· As well as the nature and purpose of language as such, there is also at work the idea of knowledge as ‘insight’. For a good sight the object should be stable, and ‘true’ reality the object of knowledge comes to be thought of as something stable – even if this means projecting true reality into another world, ‘behind’ the world of the senses, ‘true reality’ behind the ‘mere appearances’,
· “We are still being constantly led astray by words and concepts into thinking things are simpler than they are… A philosophical mythology lies hidden in language, and it breaks out again at every moment, however careful one may be.” (Nietzsche, Works,I, pp. 878-9, cited in Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol. 7, Part II, pp. 184 in Ch. 22.)
This is, among other things, an attack on Plato and also Aristotle: there are no self-identical Forms, there are no Universals, either above the things or in the things. But it is much wider than that, and scientists are just as guilty as the philosophers.
3. Nietzsche as the Philosopher of the Will to Power:
All that exists is in its depths and totality the Will to Power: “This world is the Will to Power – and nothing else. And you yourselves too are this Will to Power – and nothing else!” (Quoted in Copleston, Op.Cit., p. 181.)
It is important, however, that we do not take this as some self-identical substance behind the world and manifesting itself in the world (in spite of the derivation of the idea to some extent from Schoepenhauer). The Will to Power is not something behind the appearances, it is the pattern immanent in the appearances, taking as many varieties as the appearances. Everything is expression of power, or better, everything is into power, self-inflation of one kind or another.
(a) We can take it as first of all a commentary on the extent of the desire for power at work, often in subtle ways, in human affairs, directly or by way of sublimation, the will to power at work everywhere in one form or another. Cf. Marx: everything is ideology, or everything is class struggle. Cf. Freud, everything is repressed or sublimated libido. But it is more than this.
(b) It is, in addition, a criticism of the classical concept of the will, and freedom of the will and ‘willing’.
· What we call ‘will’ is a plurality of instincts and forces continuously involved in a struggle for supremacy. So called ‘decisions’ are but the tip of the iceberg, the last moment of the struggle. There is no unique will behind it all.
· The notion of the will is created by us by a process of simplification for the sake of a word to cover this process of the struggle of forces. We see chaos, and we fill the gap with a word. That’s all.
· What we think of as a feeling of willing is but a feeling accompanying the victory of one force over the other, a double or two sided pleasure: 1) there is a pleasure in overcome a resistance (commanding force); and 2) there is a pleasure in feeling oneself an executive instrument (obeying force). This happens in the psyche, as well as outside.
· It is a supreme illusion to take this feeling for a cause. It is but the echo of a fight already fought out in the unconsciousness, a sign of a conflict of forces resolved for the moment, an effect or symptom rather than a cause.
(c) Nietzsche extends this analysis to the whole world: not only the activity of the human body but all the phenomena of the universe may be understood in terms of a similar plurality of forces. Once again, however: what he calls the Will to Power is not something behind the forces in humanity and in the universe at large, but a reference to the inner orientation of the forces. It’s a way of saying that every force is a self-inflation, a dynamism towards preponderance, which is a goal immanent in itself and present in as many varieties as there are forces. It is all a play of interacting forces affecting and being affected by each other. Every force is self-inflation, willing itself, orientation towards the demonstration of its powers.
(d) Knowledge and Truth are like everything
else expressions of this Will to Power (for this section, see
· Knowledge works as an instrument of power: the will to know depends or is a variation on the impulse to master a certain field of activity and enlist it to its service. The aim of knowledge is not to know, in the sense of grasping absolute truth for its own sake, but to master.
· We impose order and form on the multiplicity of impressions and sensations to the extent necessary to master them. Which is to say, the process of knowing is grounded in vital needs and expresses the will to master the otherwise unintelligible flux of becoming. Knowledge is a process of interpretation. Certain kinds of interpretation are useful for us, or for a group of us, to make. That’s all there is to it.
“Truth is that sort of error without which a particular type of living being would not live. The value of life is ultimately decisive.”
But it is error none the less. All ‘truths’ are fictions, interpretations, ways of looking at things. Some ways of looking at things have proved practically necessary for the welfare of the race, others have not. That’s all. All so called truths, even the fundamental rules of logic, are simply expressions of the Will to Power, instruments to enable us to dominate the flux of Becoming, or one group of human beings to dominate another, or one set of powers in the psyche to have a victory over the others.
· Truths and also values have then to be totally unmasked. Values and truths are just strategic places occupied by the self-inflating will, instruments or tools which will uses for confirming itself in its own direction, in the direction it wants to go. They are sign posts given for the will itself in its struggle for self-inflation. We create moral laws that suit, and listen only to what we want to hear, and the ‘values’ and ‘truths’ thus created re-enforce our will.
(e) Furthermore, most so called truths and most so called values are symptomatic of what Nietzsche regards as decadent will, in the service of declining life. E.g. Christianity:
· A quantitative difference between the competing forces takes on the aspect of a qualitative difference, making for a qualitative differentiation, a bipolarity in the field of forces. In any situation there is going to emerge an active or dominating force and a reactive, regressive or resisting force.
· Only the dominating force is a creative one: to be in reaction is a form of saying no to the imperative of life. But the dominated force cannot stop willing, so it becomes a decadent will, turns self-negation itself into a positive good, prefers to will its own nothingness, to will a progress on the way of self-negation which is the way of decadence. Thus for example the emphasis on humility and obedience in Christian morality, and the invitation for meekness, kindness and compassion etc. Christianity is morality of the losers, decadent, in the service of declining life.
(f) We stand then in need of what Nietzsche calls a genealogy of truths and values,
· We need to relate every asserted truth or value with the original direction of the will at work in it, as manifested in the history of the formulation and validation of that value.
· This will enable us to demystify truths and values which belong to the negative forces, such as morality, religion, Christianity, Western Metaphysics since Plato, and even natural science, which according to Nietzsche is but another species of nihilism.
· The object will be to establish a new hierarchy of values, to bring about a transvaluation of all values, in which the positive will is the highest value: an exaltation of the strong man, independent, courageous, without fear and without compassion, and a depreciation of the moral man.
· [Please excuse the sexist language: Nietzsche is blatently sexist, so lets not give the wrong impression.]
· Note that the revaluation or transvaluation is not in terms of what is really true in the sense of mirroring reality, but in terms of what species of will is being served by the ‘truth’ or ‘value’ in question in the course of the struggle between the forces at work.
(g) It is at this point that Nietzsche introduces the myth of the Superman or the Overman, a man of the future which is not yet. Man is just rope strung between animal and superman. This opens up enormous questions of interpretation, however, e.g. whether the overman = the strong man, devoid of pity and compassion, or rather the overman = the human being who has organized the chaos of their passions, give style to their character and become creative. Nietzsche’s text is itself ambiguous and polyvalent, even on particular points.
(h) It is in this context of life-affirming versus life-denying truths, values and kinds of person that we can make sense also of the Myth of Eternal Return (Cf. Joyful Wisdom, section 341, “The Heaviest Burden”). If you really want to know whether you are life affirming, ask yourself whether you could bear to live it over and over again without end, with all its troubles and small triumphs, in all its detail. Not just, I would do it all again, but I would do it all again, again, again and again.
Some Comments on Nietzsche:
· The theme of ‘the death of God’ is pretty right sociologically as a statement about public life, particularly in the economic sphere. We try to have it both ways: Nietzsche tells us we can’t. But everything depends on which God is dead. Perhaps the God of Nietzsche’s text is better off being dead. Perhaps also the Christian morality which Nietzsche criticizes is also better off gone? We do need to be continually self-critical, unmasking the Idols of Death in our images and concepts of the God of Life and Liberation.
· The emphasis on power motivation at work everywhere, in one way or another, the only thing wanted for its own sake.
This is something of a rhetorical oversimplification, for the sake of making a point. But even if all or almost all behaviour can be illuminated by finding the will to power at work in it, that does not mean that this is all that is going on. There is power at work everywhere, e.g. in every school, every family, every workgroup, not only between government and governed. There is a micro-physics as well as a macro-physics of power – thus Foucault. This has to be taken into account, we’ll be fools not to, but it may not be all that is going on.