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2010-02-24
Will to Power and Nihilism in Nietzsche's Philosophy
Everyone who has dipped into Nietzsche has heard about his "Will to Power", however it is interpreted by philosophers in many different ways and there seems to me, to be no real agreement as to what "Will to Power" is in Nietzsche's philosophy.  Heidegger states it is the essentia of beings in Nietzsche's metaphysics, taking Nietzsche to be the one initiating the commencement of metaphysics by introducing a metaphysical concept that is based in valuative thought, i.e. will to power is the will to create value and bestow meaning upon the world.  And by doing so, negating all past meta-narratives done by previous philosophers as being just another mode of will to power.  Other philosophers do not take "Will to Power" as seriously and consider it a brief footnote in Nietzsche that was aborted and not systematically thought out. 

Nietzsche, does talk about Will to Power in the Nachlass notes in some detail, but should we take these notes seriously since he abandoned his project of his so called 'magnum opus' of the Will to Power: Re-evaluation of all Values? 

Is their a strong conection between Will to Power, valuative thinking, and Nihilism?  To clarify: If Nietzsche's fundamental metaphysical principle is Will to Power and that principle is based in valuation, does Nietzsche's Will to Power, ultimately lead to Nihilism?  Nihilism being the de-valuation of all values and the rejection of any absolute perspective of the world, the denial of Truth per se. 

What significance does Nihilism have within Nietzsche's philosophy, how is Nihilism to be interpreted within Nietzsche's philosophy and how is it to be overcome if at all?

Finally, if you have any interpretations of Will to Power and its significance in Nietzsche's philosophy feel free to express them!

Thanks,

Richard S. Ramig

2010-03-01
Will to Power and Nihilism in Nietzsche's Philosophy
Reply to Richard Ramig
I don't think the Will to Power can be dismissed as a footnote in Nietzsche's thought.  Not unless we dismiss Beyond Good and Evil and Zarathustra, as well.

In section 36 of Beyond Good and Evil (pp.70-73), Nietzsche claims that his thesis--presumably the thesis of the entire book--is that "our entire instinctive life" is "the development and ramification of one fundamental form of will--namely the Will To Power."  The idea, I gather, is that passions/desires may be regarded as the only given, the only real.  Appealing to Ockam's Razor, he stipulates that the world may be nothing but the expressions and ramifications of desires and passions.  He is explicitly rejecting idealism, though--for he does not claim that these are peculiarly mental, as opposed to material, phenomena.  He claims instead that the forces of nature are not the expressions of human desires and passions, but rather that nature itself is a world of passions and desires--just of a more primitive sort.  Ultimately, will to power is manifest in bodily interaction, and not merely the product of human valuation--though it is that, too.

It is also worth noting that one of the main aims of Beyond Good and Evil is to challenge the view that there is a primary "will to truth." Instead, he claims that the very notion of truth, or a drive to discover the truth, is the result of more primitive drives.  The thesis, then, is that intellect and reason are wills--or drives/forces--which are but expressions of another drive/force, and that is the will to power.  But that is not to say that people who want truth really just want power.  It is rather to say that people can want truth, because truth is an expression of power.

Is this a metaphysical argument?  Partly so, since Nietzsche is referring to "kinds of causality" and the logic of our discourse about them.  However, his arguments also seem at least partly psychological; he is trying to locate the source of human values in physiology and nature.  (Later in the book he says "the philosophers of the future" will be psychologists, doesn't he?)  There is thus a strong connection between the notion of Will to Power and the issue of human values.

As for nihilism and the rejection of absolute perspectives and Truth:  The Will to Power is tied to Nietzsche's perspectivalism, for any truth is the expression of the will to power, and not a pure, unadulterated will to truth.  Yet, the Will to Power itself is the "intelligible character" of the world as seen from within, as it is in itself. So that must be an absolute Truth and perspective.  Our personal or intellectual "truths" and perspectives are of another sort--ramifications of the most primitive force of nature--but nonetheless real and vital.  They are who we are, and we can either embrace that or try to deny/suppress our own drives.  Turning to section 56 of the same book (pp. 100-101), I think Nietzsche found nihilism self-refuting.  I would put it this way:  if nothing matters, then it does not matter that nothing matters.  Nihilism cannot be maintained, but leads us to discover ourselves and the world anew as active expressions of power.  It leads us--if we are willing to travel--to investigate the sources and ramifications of our values, to find what matters in our desires and passions.  (To add my own two cents, Nihilism can be maintained, but only as a way of avoiding inquiry.  Nihilism disappears as soon as inquiry begins in earnest.)

I hope the above is of some interest.  I find these ideas stimulating, though the metaphysical aspect turns me off a little.  I spent a good deal of time with Nietzsche from high school to grad school, but that was a long time ago and I no longer feel any intellectual commitment to him.


Regards,
Jason
Feb. 27, 2010

2010-06-23
Will to Power and Nihilism in Nietzsche's Philosophy
Reply to Richard Ramig
I, for one, do not think that the will to power is Nietzsche's fundamental metaphysical principle.

I think that the eternal recurrence of the same is more fundamental and this has been neglected in most 20th century scholarship... The will to power has materialist and physicalist influences and I refer you to Stack's excellent "Lange and Nietzsche".  For Heidegger, the will to power is at once the Being of Beings and a way to re-think Becoming. Heidegger has to my mind the most powerful and interesting reading of both will to power and eternal recurrence but ultimately I am not satisfied with his conclusions. He sees a metaphysical unity at work between the will to power and the eternal recurrence which is brought out by the fact that both of these concepts refer to the "permanentization" of Becoming...

As for the connection to nihilism... Eternal recurrence again has priority in my opinion: eternal recurrence is the way in which Nietzsche believes that he overcomes nihilism.  Everything repeats and recurs therefore nothing matters might be a nihilistic way to interpret recurrence and this nihilistic aspect of recurrence is definitely present within the thought as Nietzsche was well aware.  But everything repeats and recurs and this means, on the contrary, that everything has meaning...

Hope this helps,

For a more rigorous and extensive presentation see my book: "Heidegger's Nietzsche: Being and Becoming" , (Montreal, 2010, 8thhouse Publishing),

Paul Catanu