Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Reality is 'becoming' and never is..."

Even though, in my opinion, the Ubermensch and self-overcoming take center stage in Zarathustra, R. J. Hollingdale stresses the underlying importance of will to power and eternal recurrence throughout the work. “Between The Gay Science and Thus Spoke Zarathustra Nietzsche arrived at the hypothesis that all actions are motivated by the desire for power. Employing Schopenhauer's terminology he called this principle the 'will to power', and by means of it he now tried to give a picture of a possible reality deprived of all metaphysical support.

“The will to power is introduced in the chapter called 'Of the Thousand and One Goals': hitherto there have been many peoples, consequently many 'goals' - i.e. moralities; the reason each people has had its own morality is that morality is will to power - not only power over others but more essentially power over oneself.” (
Hollingdale, page 158)

This is echoed by
Walter Kaufmann: “Nietzsche first speaks of the 'will to power' in the chapter 'On the Thousand and One Goals.' The chapter begins with moral relativism. Different nations have - this is the meaning of the title - different goals and moral codes. All of these, however, have one thing in common: they are creations of the will to power.

“Nietzsche's difference with those who would rationalize the valuations of their own society is apparent. Against them he urges moral relativism, and - lacking any revelation - he cannot a priori assert the superiority of the values of his own society; nor can he judge, or even compare, the values of different societies unless they have something in common. Against relativists, however, Nietzsche urges that there is a common element that makes possible comparative judgments of value about the moral codes of various societies.

“'A table of virtues hangs over every people. Behold, it is a table of its overcomings; behold, it is the voice of its will to power. Praiseworthy is whatever seems difficult to a people; whatever seems indisputable and difficult is called good; and...the rarest, the most difficult - that they call holy.'

“The will to power is thus introduced as the will to overcome oneself. That this is no accident is certain. The will to power is not mentioned again until much later - and then at length - in the chapter 'On Self-Overcoming.' After that it is mentioned only once more in Zarathustra. The will to power is conceived of as the will to overcome oneself.” (Kaufmann, page 200)

Once again, Nietzsche is bold and outlandish with much that he proclaims. His intent is often to shock his readers. He prefers ‘evil’ over ‘weakness’, for example, in a theme that he will develop further in his later philosophy. “Great wickedness, even, is preferable to weakness, because it gives ground for hope: where there is great crime there is also great energy, great will to power, consequently the possibility of 'self-overcoming'. One has misunderstood Nietzsche completely unless one realizes that he visualized the over-coming of self as the most difficult of all tasks, as well as the most desirable; that he considered the will to power to be the only drive alive in man; that a strong but ungoverned will to power was needed for the hardest task; and that therefore the man of strong but ungoverned will to power was preferable to the man whose power was weak, although the former is certainly more 'dangerous'." (Hollingdale, page 162)

It should be stressed, however, that even though Nietzsche takes this position, this does not make him an advocate for ‘evil’. Kaufmann clarifies: “Nietzsche was not primarily a moral philosopher at all. He called himself an 'immoralist' - but did not praise 'immoral' deeds. He was concerned with the artist, the philosopher, and those who achieve self-perfection - the last having taken the place of the saint. Particular actions seemed much less important to Nietzsche than the state of being of the whole man - and those who achieve self-perfection and affirm their own being and all eternity, backward and forward, have no thought of the morrow. They want an eternal recurrence out of the fullness of their delight in the moment. They do not deliberate how they should act to avoid unpleasant consequences - knowing all the while that whatever they are about to do has already been done an infinite number of times in the past.” (page 322)

“All creatures desire power but only man is able to desire power over himself; only man has the requisite amount of power to achieve self-mastery. The distinction between man and animal, obliterated by Darwin, is restored - and without recourse to the supernatural; moral values, deprived of divine sanction, now received a new, naturalistic sanction: quanta of power; human psychology is now understood in terms of power; 'good' is now understood as sublimated 'evil', the evil and the good passions being essentially the same, i.e. will to power. All men desire happiness because all desire the feeling of increased power; the greatest increase of power brings the greatest happiness; that which demands the greatest power in the overcoming of oneself; the happiest man is the man who has overcome himself - the superman.” (Hollingdale, pp. 162-163)

Perhaps Kaufmann gives us the best definitions of what Nietzsche actually meant by ‘will to power.’ “...the will to power is a thriving that cannot be accurately described either as a will to affect others or as a will to 'realize' oneself; it is essentially a striving to transcend and perfect oneself. Nietzsche's opposition to the conception of a will to live or of a desire for self-preservation is due to this insistence that nothing that is alive is sufficient unto itself.” (page 248)

“...the will to power is essentially a creative force. The powerful man is the creative man; but the creator is not likely to abide by previously established laws. A genuinely creative act contains its own norms, and every creation is a creation of new norms. The great artist does not stick to any established code; yet his work is not lawless but has structure and form.” (page 250)

So, Nietzsche is concerned with “the state of being of the whole man” and with the “creative” and “self-overcoming” qualities of the will to power. This is the basis for Nietzsche’s “new religion.” “...he came to see in his thirties that the 'death of God' meant that a new description of reality was called for in which the metaphysical world could find no place. In his forties he put forward three hypotheses which, whether he intended it or not, offered naturalistic substitutes for God, divine grace and eternal life: instead of God, the superman; instead of divine grace, the will to power; and instead of eternal life - the eternal recurrence.” (Hollingdale, page 164)

"The premise behind the eternal recurrence is that the metaphysical world is an 'idea' belonging to the phenomenal world; i.e. does not exist: appearance is reality; when we deduct everything that can be called appearance we have nothing left over; consequently there can be no 'breakthrough' to another 'level' of reality - such expressions have no meaning, for however 'deep' we go we cannot get out of the world of phenomena.

“From this thought to the thought that everything is repetition is a short step. To speak of a 'timeless world' is merely to use the characteristically negative language of metaphysics: the 'metaphysical world' is simply the negation of the actual world; the actual world exists in time, therefore one of the attributes of the metaphysical world must be timelessness (just as it is 'disembodied', i.e. spaceless). If we can never break out of the reality we perceive, then we are bound to a reality one of whose attributes is time; i.e. time is not an 'illusion' masking a 'timeless reality'. Another of the attributes of the reality to which we are bound is 'becoming', reality is 'becoming' and never is. Since reality 'becomes' in time, if a final state were possible it would have been achieved a long time ago; but empirically this is not so.” (Hollingdale, pp. 165-166)

Kaufmann makes an important distinction that eternal recurrence should be related to as more existential than rational. “...the eternal recurrence was to Nietzsche less an idea than an experience - the supreme experience of a life unusually rich in suffering, pain, and agony. He made much of the moment when he first had this experience because to him it was the moment that redeemed his life. Beginning with The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche had inquired how life might be 'justified.' His first answer, proposed several times in his first book, had been: 'Only as an aesthetic phenomenon is the world justified.' It was not until August 1881, near Sils Maria, '6,000 feet beyond man and time' that the thought came to Nietzsche that the man who perfects himself and transfigured his physis achieves ultimate happiness and experiences such an overwhelming joy that he no longer feels concerned about the 'justification' of the world: he affirms it forward, backward, and 'in all eternity.' 'Not merely bear what is necessary, still less to conceal it...but to love it.'

“It is noteworthy that Nietzsche also says that this feeling of joy, this 'amor fati', is his 'formula for the greatness of a human being.' Power is still the standard of value - but this joy is the conscious feeling that is inextricably connected with a man's possession of power. Conversely, the man who experiences this joy is the powerful man - and instead of relying on heavenly powers to redeem him, to give meaning to his life, and to justify the world, he gives meaning to his own life by achieving perfection and exhausting every moment.” (pp. 323 - 324)

What the overman (and ‘higher culture’ for that matter) embraces as a scheme or practicality is the love of change in habits, customs, traditions, and establishing new goals. “'Becoming' is for Nietzsche utterly random change: this is the ultimate consequence of the 'death of God' which others had refused to draw, the inevitable result of the disappearance of the 'regulating finger of God' from the world; and it is to this that he alludes when he says that mankind must fix its own goal, for unless men make a purpose for themselves they will continue to live as they have lived hitherto - in chaos.

“But time is infinite, so the present state of the universe must be a repetition of a previous state, as must the state which preceded it and the state which succeeds it: all events must recur an infinite number of times.

“The consequence for the life of anyone who realizes this, says Nietzsche, is that the knowledge crushes him, unless he can attain to a supreme moment of existence for the sake of which he would be content to relive his whole life. The evil and pain in his life then become a positive good, since they were necessary for the achievement of this one supreme moment: if one event were subtracted, everything following would be different. The life to aim for is the life containing the greatest amount of joy - and joy is the feeling that power increases, that an obstacle is overcome. The superman, therefore, as the man whose will to power has increased the most by overcoming the most, is the most joyful man and the justification of existence. Such a man will affirm life, love life and say Yes even to misery and pain, because he realizes that the joy of his life will be repeated endlessly, neither will he flinch from the knowledge that it's pain must be repeated too. (Hollingdale, pp. 166-167)

It cannot be stressed strongly enough, however, that Nietzsche does not offer his readers specific steps or a “program” toward self-realization. This is not about “following” Nietzsche or “changing the world” or “worshiping” anything. It is, rather, striving to master the “self” in the Perpetual Moment. Distinctive among philosophers I know, Nietzsche advocates each person must discover the will to power in their own unique way. Further, this is a continuum. “...Nietzsche has little thought of power over others, and mankind as a whole does not represent to his mind an advance over other animals, any more than reptiles seem to him 'superior' to fish. He has in mind the 'fortunate accidents' - Socrates or Caesar, Leonardo or Goethe: men whose 'power' gives them no advantage in any 'struggle for existence' - men who, even if they outlive Mozart, Keats, or Shelley, either leave no children, or in any case no heirs. Yet these men represent the 'power' for which all beings strive - for the basic drive, says Nietzsche, is not the will to preserve life but the will to power - and it should be clear how remote Nietzsche's 'power' is from
Darwin's 'fitness'. Moreover, the sharp antithesis of these notes underline the fact that Nietzsche's dual vision of overman and recurrence glorifies the moment - 'all simultaneously' - and not progress.” (Kaufmann, page 329)