“Becoming who one is” in Spinoza and Nietzsche

Iyyun 50:327-38 (2001)
The connection between Spinoza and Nietzsche has often been remarked upon in the literature on the two thinkers.1 Not surprisingly, Nietzsche himself first noticed the similarity between his (earlier) thought and the thought of Spinoza, remarking to Overbeck in an oft-quoted postcard, “I have a precursor, and what a precursor!” He goes on to say, “Not only is his over-all tendency like mine – making knowledge the most powerful affect – but in five main points of his doctrine I recognize myself; this most unusual and loneliest thinker is closest to me in precisely these matters: he denies the freedom of the will, teleology, the moral world order, the unegoistic, and evil. Even though the divergences are admittedly tremendous, they are due more to the difference in time, culture, and science.”2 One aspect of his own thought that Nietzsche does not list here, however, is his “doctrine” of “becoming who one is.” Is this an example of a point at which Spinoza and Nietzsche’s views separate? In this paper, I should like to consider whether or not Spinoza could plausibly be understood to have had a similar view; that is, I should like to examine whether or not the process for Spinoza of achieving happiness and beatitude can be seen principally as an instance of “becoming who one is.” There are, of course, some obvious and notorious difficulties in trying to understand what Nietzsche meant by the phrase “to become who one is.” After all, Nietzsche seems to deny both the existence of the self (as substance) and being in general, saying that there is only becoming. What, then, might this phrase mean? As this paper concerns principally the philosophy of Spinoza, I do not want to get too bogged down in the difficulties involved in interpreting Nietzsche; rather, I wish to follow without further argument the..
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