Why Nietzsche embraced eternal recurrence

History of European Ideas 34 (3):310-323 (2008)
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Abstract

Nietzsche's embrace of the idea of eternal recurrence has long puzzled readers, both because the idea is inherently implausible and because it seems inconsistent with other aspects of his philosophy. This paper offers a novel account of Nietzsche's motives for that embrace—namely that Nietzsche found in eternal recurrence the only possible way to reconcile three potent and apparently conflicting convictions: (1) there are no Hinterwelten (“worlds-beyond”), (2) the great love (take joy in) all things just as they are (amor fati), and (3) all joy wills eternity. The case for this account has two parts. I show first that Nietzsche was deeply committed to each of these principles at or before the time the idea of eternal recurrence “came to” him in 1881 and second that these principles, though in apparent conflict, can, as Nietzsche understood them, be reconciled by, and only by, the idea of eternal recurrence. It follows, I argue, that the idea of eternal recurrence was originally independent of Nietzsche's conceptions of the will to power and the Übermensch.

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John Nolt
University of Tennessee, Knoxville

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