Sunday, February 16, 2014

Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil: Chapter Two and the Will to Power

The ultimate concern of this chapter is the possibility of philosophy.  If we accept that our ‘truths’ are merely the prejudices of philosophers, then we are led to scepticism.  However, Nietzsche believes that there is a role for the genuine philosopher, and this involves a ‘free spirit’ (‘spirit’ [geist] also translated as ‘mind’) that goes beyond scepticism and involves a new insight into nature.  This leads to a new philosophy, a new ‘religion’ that also entails a new morality and politics.

The ‘free spirit’ is what anticipates the ‘philosopher of the future’. Here Nietzsche asks us to see the world differently – ultimately as expressions of the will to power. A key section of Chapter 2 on the topic of the will to power is Section 36. Note how Nietzsche uses terms such as ‘assuming this’ and ‘supposing that’, so this passage presumably cannot be seen as a straightforward statement of what the will to power is (keep in mind what Nietzsche has already said about the will to power in Sections 13 and 22, in particular that all is ‘interpretation’). To some extent then, what Nietzsche is presenting is a thought-experiment and is highly speculative. Having said that, Burnham points out that, given that truth equals representation for Nietzsche, then Section 36 – and all of Nietzsche’s views for that matter – are both statements of what is and are highly speculative.

Whereas scholars such as Arthur Danto argue that this is Nietzsche’s ontology, other scholars such as Maudemarie Clark, points out that this view would conflict with what Nietzsche says in Sections 13 and 22, which is why the passage is deliberately set out in hypothetical form. Having said that, as Janaway notes, Nietzsche is nonetheless presenting his view; not so much ‘ontological’ as ‘psychological’.

In Section 36, Nietzsche presents a series of hypothesis:

1.    Suppose that one ‘representation’ (i.e. what is ‘real’) of the world is that it consists of drives and passions and nothing else. Thinking (intellect) is only a relationship between these drives. Thinking is not a representation of these drives, but the drives themselves!
2.    Suppose also that the ‘material world’, the world of mechanistic cause and effect, is also part of this model and so is actually an organic unity. i.e. drives, the will, etc. are not something separate from the physical. So the physical world is not delusion, not ‘appearance’ but, rather, part of Nietzsche’s  model (which is itself an ‘appearance’)
3.    All organic functions can be ‘traced back’ to the will to power in the sense that all things are a power relationship, to achieve mastery and dominance (not something separate from the drives, but rather that which consolidates the drives). This includes thought itself (and philosophy): it is the will to power spiritualized! It is abstract ideas etc. that, ironically, often set out to disguise the will to power by giving other explanations for the world.

The key thing to note here is that the scientific view of the world sees everything in terms of physical cause and effect, whereas Nietzsche speculates that it is will; a kind of ‘instinctual life’ which includes emotions. Even physical process, such as animals or plants feeding on other animals or plants, involves the will to power, of matter acting on (and taking over or consuming) other matter. In an existential (phenomenological) sense, Nietzsche is saying that we experience the world this way, not that this is the way the world really is.

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