(2011) Nietzsche's Will to Power as Naturalist Critical Ontology


While the debate continues over whether Nietzsche’s conception of the will to power is intended as ontology, biology, psychology, or some variant of the three, there is a significant consensus on many sides that were the will to power intended as an ontology, it would be inconsistent with his anti-metaphysical stance, implausible from a contemporary scientific perspective, and very poorly supported, based only on wild metaphysical speculation or sloppy, pseudo-scientific generalization. In this paper, I suggest, to the contrary, that Nietzsche’s published works contain a substantial, though implied, argument for the will to power as ontology. Further, this ontology and the supporting argument for it are fully consistent with a naturalist methodology. Indeed, I will suggest that Nietzsche believes the will to power ontology follows directly from his rejection of metaphysics and is grounded in a critical form of naturalism. Consequently, even if he is mistaken in this conclusion, we must take the will to power ontology as seriously as we do his critique of metaphysics, for it is intended as a direct consequence of that critique. I will further suggest that, once we have recognized Nietzsche’s implied philosophical argument for the will to power ontology, we can better understand the intended scope and purpose of the theory of the will to power, as well as reject many of the influential interpretations of the concept, including the vitalist (Heidegger, Schacht), intentionalist (Clark), evolutionary (Richardson), and teleological (Reginster) readings. In contrast to these interpretations, I argue that the will to power as ontology follows directly from his rejection of three principal metaphysical presumptions: substance, causal agency, and teleology. As a rejection of substance, the will to power describes reality as consisting of general will, not objects, agents, or discrete wills. As a rejection of causal agency, it describes events as maximal manifestations of power rather than as realized potencies—abilities, motives, or possibilities actualized by efficient causal agencies. Finally, as a rejection of teleology, the will to power is a descriptive principle of action and events as essentially active engagements of obstacles, rather than an explanatory final cause, purpose or aim. Consequently, the will to power is a not a theory of desires, intentions, or drives, but rather a basic descriptive principle of events or activity, describing not agency but the causal process as a whole, and tending not toward accumulating power or overcoming resistance, but rather toward the activity of resistance as such. I conclude that the will to power is a critical ontology about what reality is not, rather than a positive theory of reality, intended not to explain events but to reveal and reject the common metaphysical presuppositions that underlie many common-sense, philosophical and scientific explanations of reality, such as freedom of the will, rational and moral motivation, physical atomism and the concept of natural law.

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