Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum


Recommended Posts


“. . . trembling with the craving and rapture of questioning . . .” –GS 2

To age 30, the major philosophic influences on Nietzsche were Emerson, Plato (largely negative), Schopenhauer, Lange (materialism), and Kant. At age 21, shortly after his conversion to atheism, Nietzsche read Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Presentation (1844). He remained a Schopenhauerian for ten years, 1865–75. He continued to read Schopenhauer to the end of his intellectual life. Of special importance, during his philosophically mature period, was his study of Schopenhauer’s On the Basis of Morality (1839), which includes a major critique of Kantian ethics. Nietzsche read Kant’s Critique of Judgment in 1867–68. It appears that his knowledge of Kant’s philosophy outside that work was indirect, coming through a good number of writers on Kant (Brobjer 2008, 22–42, 46–49).

Schopenhauer’s WWP includes endorsement of basic elements of Kant’s theoretical philosophy such as Kant’s distinction between things as they are in any possible cognition of them and things as they are in themselves. Nietzsche had evidently assented to that view of the world and our situation, but broke with this Kantian view along with his break from Schopenhauer’s philosophy, acutely in 1875–76. Nietzsche took a semi-positivist, anti-metaphysical turn at this time, spurred in part by work of Paul Rée (Small 2005). During this profound shift, Nietzsche read favorably the moralists and Enlightenment figures of France.

Schopenhauer had come to the view (1844) that there is a blind, natural, striving will operating in all organisms. This unitary will was alleged to be manifest in organisms by the purposiveness of their ontogeny, inner organization, and interdependence with other species of organisms (WWP I 2.187, 4.323–24, 4.364–65).

Nietzsche had read favorably Julius Bahnsen’s Contribution to Characterology: With Special Regard to Educational Questions in 1867. In this work Bahnsen “followed Schopenhauer closely but at the same time developed his philosophy in a more individual direction by emphasizing that true reality is not one general will as Schopenhauer claimed but instead was many contradicting wills that constitute human beings whose inner life therefore is always in turmoil” (Brobjer 2008, 48).

In Human, All Too Human, Nietzsche criticizes Schopenhauer’s calling by the single designation will what are in fact “many different human states.” Such talk of the will has, “through the philosopher’s rage for generalization turned out to be a disaster for science: for this will has been turned into a metaphor when it is asserted that all things in nature possess will; finally, so that it can be pressed into the service of all kinds of mystical mischief it has been misemployed towards a false reification – and all the modish philosophers speak of it and seem to know for certain that all things possess one will and, indeed, are this one will. . . .” (AOM [1879] 5; also GS 99, 127)

In that rejection of Schopenhauer’s doctrine of will, Nietzsche sounds like one come down to earth and science. Nietzsche comes closest to such an outlook at this stage of his development, but in another of his rejections of doctrines of Schopenhauer, and Kant, we see his enduring bent of mind, which is not to stand with level-headedness, sound science, and close philosophical analysis. Rather, his stand is: Recall extravagant metaphysical ideas and the criticisms that have been made of them in the history of philosophy. Insinuate that he is siding with the criticisms and yet that he is a critic transcending them. Treat the world and comprehensions of it in philosophy as most truly explicable as products of human psychology (cf. Pippin 2010).

Here is Nietzsche setting aside a grand Kantian distinction in “Appearance and the Thing in Itself” (cf. BT 87)). After recalling the fate of the distinction in Hegel and Schopenhauer, he calls on “science” to vindicate his own mythic rendition of reality. “With all these conceptions the steady and laborious process of science, which will one day celebrate its greatest triumph in a history of the genesis of thought, will in the end decisively have done; for the outcome of this history may well be the conclusion: That which we now call the world is the outcome of a host of errors and fantasies which have gradually arisen and grown entwined with one another in the course of the overall evolution of the organic being, and are inherited by us as the accumulated treasure of the entire past – as treasure: for the value of our humanity depends upon it.” (HH I 16; also 9–11, 18–19; GS 54)

Nietzsche opens that aphorism with this statement: “Philosophers are accustomed to station themselves before life and experience – before that which they call the world of appearance – as before a painting that has been unrolled once and for all and unchangeably depicts the same scene . . . .” It is reasonable that he does not want to retain the name and concept world of appearance, for he wants to deny the distinction between that world and a realm of things as they are apart from perception and theoretical reason. Many of us today call the single world that is: the world. That was not what Nietzsche selected to replace world of appearance. He opts for life and experience. Kant’s world of appearance was the world from which the mind makes experience, geometry, and scientific law appropriate to that world. Nietzsche objects to the idea that there is a world, a knowable world, that “once and for all and unchangeably” is the same single thing it is. In lieu of world is life, and of this he writes:

The picture of life – The task of painting the picture of life, however often poets and philosophers may pose it, is nonetheless senseless: even under the hands of the greatest of painter-thinkers all that has ever eventuated is pictures and miniatures out of one life, namely their own – and nothing else is even possible. Something in course of becoming cannot be reflected as a firm and lasting image, as the ‘the’, in something else in course of becoming.” (AOM 19; also 114 and WS 171)

Nietzsche does speak of the world. He speaks of our judgments about the world. However, it is not truths reported in judgments that is basis of judgments. In his view, it is the judge, the one pronouncing judgment, wanting to appear as striving for truth that is the root of devotion to truth and root of intellectual conscience (AOM 26, 33, 90; HH I 629–37; UM 86-93, 145; cf. D 248). Even more important than truth, the judge. Technique: Replace straight thought about the world and our situation in it with a story of how culture has brought about the appearance that such thought is straightly what it is about. Trump reason with psychology, the world with the human being, and truth with justice (HH I 636–37; D 539; GS 76, 109, 112).

Trump metaphysics with biology. The principle that there are things having in themselves something in virtue of which they are the self-identical things they are, different from some other things, is a principle that evolved from the lower organisms. The distinctions among different substances are the different relations they have to organisms. “Belief . . . in identical things is . . . a primary, ancient error committed by everything organic. . . . [Metaphysics is] the science that treats of the fundamental errors of mankind – but does so as though they were fundamental truths” (HH I 18; also 10; GS 110, 111).

Notice that the predicament of an individualist who is also a determinist—such as Nietzsche—is made less acute by absence of same things and same actions. Uniqueness of the individual is guaranteed without the bright possibility of different human actions upon same conditions and without the dark possibility of same human actions upon same conditions.

There is an ancient enduring doctrine in philosophy that reason can be kept from truth by interference from feeling and preferences; therefore guard against this subversion. Nietzsche slides from that sound wariness to doubtfulness that reason can attain truth not beguiled by human need and utility (HH I 32, 131, 146, 227, 517, AOM 32, 50, 98; D 543; GS 110). He does, however, hold to the idea that we (true intellectual sorts) have some true needs, and one of them is a need for truth, which only impartial critical and experimental reason could possibly win (HH I 22, 633–35; D 270, 424, 432; GS 2). Moreover, skepticism not subject to experimental test wins nothing (GS 51).

In Human Nietzsche was at a phase more welcoming of “science,” “scientific philosophy,” and “philosophical science” than in his earlier or later phases. He speaks of science getting us closer “to the true nature of the world and to a knowledge of it” (HH I 29; also 38, 27; D 270). Even here though, in 1878, he depreciates the ability of science, mathematics, and logic to reach important truth. Nietzsche was himself not well versed in the hard sciences nor in mathematics beyond high school geometry. (He had high school physics and opened some biology books eventually; he alludes to chemistry and geology in his writings.)

Science furthers ability, not knowledge. – The value of having for a time rigorously pursued a rigorous science does not derive precisely from the results obtained from it: for in relation to the ocean of things worth knowing these will be a mere vanishing droplet. But there will eventuate an increase in energy, in reasoning capacity, in toughness of endurance; one will have learned how to achieve an objective by the appropriate means. To this extent it is invaluable, with regard to everything one will afterward do, once to have been a man of science” (HH I 256; cf. 251, 635, WS 4; earlier, BT 74–75, 82, 85–88, and TL).

More important than the results of science, the practice? No, the preceding passage was written by a philosopher living in the nineteenth century, in the midst of enormous scientific and technological advancement decade after decade. Nietzsche recognized the great utility of modern science, though he inveighed against making utility its aim (HH I 6, 38; D 41, 195; GS 12, 37). Modern science has delivered truth, which is the proper aim of science. This it does not by the lifetime work of the individual scientist, necessarily narrowly channeled for solid contribution, rather by accretion of such narrow contributions across generations (D 547; GS 46).

Error regarding life necessary to life. [An error concerning life, which error is necessary for life] – Every belief in the value and dignity of life rests on false thinking . . . .  [He who has] succeeded in encompassing and feeling within himself the total consciousness of mankind . . . would collapse with a curse on existence – for mankind has as a whole no goal . . . . If in all he does he has before him the ultimate goallessness of man, his actions acquire in his own eyes the character of useless squandering. . . . / In mitigation. – But will our philosophy not thus become a tragedy? Will truth not become inimical to life . . . ? A question seems to lie heavily on our tongue and yet refuses to be uttered: whether one could consciously reside in untruth? Or, if one were obliged to, whether death would not be preferable? For there is no longer any ‘ought’; for morality, insofar as it was an ‘ought’, has been just as much annihilated by our mode of thinking as has religion. Knowledge can allow as motives only pleasure and pain, utility and injury: but how will these motives come to terms with the sense for truth?” (HH I 33–34; cf. 6, 22; GS 1, 7, 110, 121)

With truth and knowledge in significant opposition to life, its value, and the values it requires, there is no morality with oughts beyond is. Furthermore, there is no given goal for humanity as a whole, so adopting individual goals supporting that sort of goal is not a source for external, given direction in which actions among possible actions one should take.

Mankind as a whole has no goal, and mankind is not the goal of nature. Truth is not always something salutary and useful to man. “To determine that a plant makes no contribution to the treatment of sick human beings is no argument against the truth of the plant” (D 424). Nietzsche goes on to suggest “that truth, as a whole and interconnectedly, exists only for souls that are at once powerful and harmless, and full of joyfulness and peace (as was the soul of Aristotle), just as it will no doubt be only such souls capable of seeking it . . .” (D 424; cf. Spinoza at GS 37). Nietzsche is on to some truth here. I observe, however, that determining that a plant makes no contribution to the treatment of human beings does contribute to the overall goal of finding plants that are curative. Mankind’s knowledge, especially in scientific integration, can make mankind the goal of nature.

Error of life regarding itself runs deep, according to Nietzsche. In an individual organism, including the individual human, what appears to be teleological action is not action due to final causes, but is entirely the result of efficient causes. That we feel hunger is not due to a desire of the organism to sustain itself, not due to that end or any other end. Hunger in an organism appears to it as not connected with antecedents or consequents. It appears as something isolated, such as the isolation envisioned in the concept freedom of the will. “Belief in freedom of will is a primary error committed by everything organic . . .” (HH I 18; also 38; cf. D 6, 148; see also Small 2005, 69). Similarly, in The Gay Science (1882), Nietzsche writes that it is a self-deception to “conceive reason as a completely free, self-originated activity” (GS 110).

Value is not in the world. Value is from those who thoughtfully sense the world, who create the world that concerns human beings (GS 301). “It is not the world in itself, it is the world as idea (as error) that is so full of significance, profound, marvelous, and bearing in its womb all happiness and unhappiness” (HH I 29; cf. D 76, 148). We who will to value bear the pearls within us as waves seeking treasures on the shore (GS 310; also 59, 324, 342; D 102). Even more important than value, the weight-giving (HH 177; cf. 629). (Cf. Clark 1998, 47–73.)

Nietzsche was familiar prior to HH with the egoisms of Hobbes, Spinoza, Stirner, and La Rochefoucauld (Brobjer 2008; Safranski 2002). Nietzsche held to psychological egoism in HH. The good for each agent is what the agent sees as useful to his self-preservation (HH 103). This is a thesis of how people are and cannot otherwise be; it is not a normative egoism. The challenge for the thesis of psychological egoism is to show that cases in which behavior appears to be unselfish are actually selfish.

A soldier willing to die for his country or a mother who deprives herself for the sake of her child would seem not egoistic. “Is it not clear that in . . . these instances man loves something of himself, an idea, a desire, an offspring, more than something else of himself, that he thus divides his nature and sacrifices one part of it to the other?” (HH I 57; also 138). The ascetic is a partisan to parts of himself warring with other parts of himself (HH 137, 141; cf. D 215). Amelioration of the suffering of others relieves one of any pain one may feel at the sight of the suffering and gives one the satisfaction of exercising power (HH I 103; also 133). Furthermore, virtues such as prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice would be abolished if egoism were abolished. No vanity, no virtues (WS 285).

“The struggle for pleasure is the struggle for life. Whether an individual pursues this struggle in such a way that people call him good, or in such a way that they call him evil, is determined by the degree and quality of his intellect” (HH I 104; cf. 99 and AOM 91). Knowledge is pleasurable mainly because it brings consciousness of one’s strength, its acquisition can be a victory over one’s former conceptions, and it can make one feel superior to other people (HH I 252). Causing others to suffer, which is called “evil,” is not basically about those others; it is selfish in that it is exciting, sometimes sweet revenge, and it gives one a feeling of power and ascendancy (HH I 103; further, D 18, 30).

Nietzsche takes egoism as desirable, as normative, even in HH. “Let us work for our fellow men, but only to the extent that we discover our own highest advantage in this work: no more, no less. All that remains is what it is one understands by one’s advantage; precisely the immature, undeveloped, crude individual will understand it most crudely” (HH I 95). Such admonitions are out of order if everyone simply does seek his or her own advantage. Urging better understanding of what is one’s advantage is also out of order. If other motives outweigh improvement of understanding what is one’s advantage, then they do, and they are selfish motives. Psychological egoism is an unstable position. Nietzsche lets go of it as absolutely general, beginning with his next book. (See also Abbey 2000, 37–39; and Clark and Leiter 1997, xxiv–xxv.)

“‘There are so many days that have not yet broken’. –Rig Veda”. That is the epigram Nietzsche placed at the fore of Daybreak – Thoughts on the Prejudices of Morality (1881). The obligatory force of moral judgment (e.g. in Kant) and moral feeling (e.g. in Schopenhauer) are at odds with the obligatory force of reason. The foundations of the former obligatory force are all defective. We need to “construct anew the laws of life and action,” and for this we should take our foundation-stones from the “sciences of physiology, medicine, sociology, and solitude. . . . It is from them that the foundation-stones of new ideals (if not the new ideals themselves) must come” (D 453; cf. HH I 37).

Moralities can be false in two ways. Motives for actions can be other than the moral ones people claim for them. That is one kind of falseness, and Nietzsche sees a lot of it. Another is to base morality on false premises. Where motives are genuinely moral, as designated in past and present moralities, the base premises are false. True, some of the things that have been regarded as immoral ought to be avoided, and some of the things that have been regarded as moral ought to be done. But this is so for reasons other than those that have hitherto been adduced (D 103).

Some of the old ideals are wrong. Their valence is conferred inversely, or the weights given them are too much compared to weights given to other possible ideals. The feeling rated positively and called humility by Christianity could be rated negatively and called cowardice by another custom (D 38).

The right valence and balance is found by the feeling of power and its lack (D 23). The feeling of power and its lack is the cipher of religions (D 65), of praising or blaming after wars won or lost (D 140), of the pleasantness of being a banker (D 205), of ecstatic self-sacrifice (D 215). The feeling of power is a factor beyond utility and vanity in national decisions for war (D 189, 360). The feeling of power is an inducement to look to distant goals beyond direct consequences to others or to oneself (D 146). The feeling of power is the first effect of happiness (D 356, 146).

Men may have their needs and desires fulfilled; they may have health, food, housing, and entertainment. Yet they remain unhappy if they lack power in the soul. They may lose everything, yet be almost happy, if they retain that power. Nietzsche quotes Luther: “‘Let them take from us our body, goods, honor, children, wife: let it all go—the kingdom [Reich] must yet remain to us!’” (D 262; also 206).

Where happiness is, there is “the feeling of power: this wants to express itself, either to us ourselves, or to other men, or to ideas or imaginary beings. The most common modes of expression are: to bestow, to mock, to destroy—all three out of a common basic drive” (D 356; also 146).

The drive for the feeling of power, like all drives, has no moral valence. In itself it is neither good nor evil. It acquires moral rating “only when it enters into relations with drives already baptized as good or evil or is noted as a quality of beings the people has already evaluated and determined in a moral sense” (D 38; also 110, 35, and GS 21).

In The Gay Science benevolence is ciphered by the feeling of power. Benefactors whose temperament is irritable and who are covetous of the feeling of power find pleasure in lording their power over the beneficiary. Proud natures, by contrast, are often hard and not obliging towards those who suffer and are broken; proud natures delight in unbroken persons who could become their equals, worthy contestants for power; towards these, the proud are more obliging (GS 13; also 118; D 133).

There is something Nietzsche presupposes to be good, and noble too. A man who “flees from himself, hates himself, does harm to himself—he is certainly not a good man” (D 516). One should be benevolently inclined towards oneself. Therefore, reject allegedly virtuous benevolence towards others in which one would “live in others and for others” (D 516). One who “flees from himself, hates himself, and does harm to himself” is not benevolently inclined towards himself. Therefore, one who is benevolent towards others so as to “live in others and for others” cannot be virtuous by that (contra Comte, D 132; see also GS 119).

Nietzsche continues in GS to render some occasions of putative self-sacrifice, such as that of martyrs, as for the self, for the self not to part from its feeling of power (GS 13). Still, at least in some other cases, he sees some degree of genuine self-sacrifice. Industriousness, obedience, and justice are praised by society as moral virtues insofar as these virtues benefit others and prevent an agent from applying “his entire strength and reason to his own preservation, development, elevation, promotion, and expansion of power” (GS 21).

Does Nietzsche hold to the ancient “medical formulation of morality” captured by the dictum “virtue is the health of the soul”? No. To get closer to Nietzsche’s mark, one would need to at least change the dictum to read “‘your virtue is the health of your soul’. For there is no health as such, and all attempts to define such a thing have failed miserably. Deciding what is health even for your body depends on your goal, your horizon, your powers, your impulses, your mistakes and above all on the ideals and phantasms of your soul. Thus there are innumerable healths of the body . . .” (GS 120). Furthermore, considering the usefulness of illness to quicken the development of one’s virtue, especially one’s “thirst for knowledge and self-knowledge,” Nietzsche would question “whether the will to health alone is not a prejudice, a cowardice . . .” (GS 120). Notice the last word in the phrase “will to health alone.” Preserving one’s own health, of body and soul, remains a virtue in Nietzsche’s book, a virtue in competition with others.



Abbey, R. 2000. Nietzsche’s Middle Period. Oxford.

Brobjer, T.H. 2008. Nietzsche’s Philosophical Context – An Intellectual Biography. Illinois.

Clark, M. 1998. “On Knowledge, Truth, and Value: Nietzsche’s Debt to Schopenhauer and the Development of his Empiricism.” In Willing and Nothingness – Schopenhauer as Nietzsche’s Educator. C. Janaway, editor. 1998. Oxford.

Nietzsche, F. 1873. The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings. (Includes “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense” [1872].) R. Geuss and R. Speirs, trans. 1999. Cambridge.

——. 1873–76. Untimely Meditations. R.J. Hollingdale, trans. 1997. Cambridge.

——. 1878–80. Human, All Too Human. (Includes “Assorted Opinions and Maxims” and “The Wanderer and His Shadow.”) R.J. Hollingdale, trans. 1986. Cambridge.

——. 1881. Daybreak. Hollingdale, trans. 1997. Cambridge.

——. 1882. The Gay Science I–IV. J. Nauckhoff, trans. 2001. Cambridge.

Safranski, R. 2000. Nietzsche – A Philosophical Biography. S. Frisch, trans. Norton.

Schopenhauer, A. 1859 [1819]. The World as Will and Presentation (Vol. I). Aquila, trans. 2008. Pearson Longman.

Small, R. 2005. Nietzsche and Rée – A Star Friendship. Oxford.

Edited by Boydstun
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Transition from “Feeling of Power” to “Will to Power”

In 1878 Nietzsche wrote: “That in which men and women of the nobility excel others and which gives them an undoubted right to be rated higher consists in two arts ever more enhanced by inheritance: the art of commanding and the art of proud obedience” (HH I 440). These arts together, Nietzsche finds noble.

He writes in 1881 that where happiness is, there is “the feeling of power: this wants to express itself, either to us ourselves, or to other men, or to ideas or imaginary beings. The most common modes of expression are: to bestow, to mock, to destroy—all three out of a common basic drive” (D 356; see also 146).

The drive for the feeling of power, like all drives, has no moral valence. In itself it is neither good nor evil. It acquires moral rating “only when it enters into relations with drives already baptized as good or evil or is noted as a quality of beings the people has already evaluated and determined in a moral sense” (D 38).

When it comes to morally permitting oneself a new desire, for a newly discovered pleasure, Nietzsche’s criteria are liberal. If what is opposed to the desire are merely practical obstacles or merely “people for whom we feel little respect—then the goal of the new desire dresses itself [and admirably so] in the sensation ‘noble, good, praiseworthy, worthy of sacrifice’, the entire moral disposition we have inherited thenceforth takes it into itself, adds it to the goals it already possesses which it feels to be moral” (D 110).

In The Gay Science (first four books – 1882), Nietzsche continued to craft an ideal of character called nobility, disdaining and mocking much of what is called moral character. Virtues are drives (GS 21). All our conscious understanding that seems sovereign over our competing drives is in truth only “the ultimate reconciliation scenes and final accounts” of unconscious warring, of unconscious dominations and submissions, among various drives (GS 333).

“Once you had passions and named them evil. But now you have only your virtues; they grew out of your passions.

. . .

“It is distinguishing to have many virtues, but it is a hard lot. And many went into the desert and killed themselves because they were weary of being the battle and battlefield of virtues. . . .

. . .

“Look, how each of your virtues is greediest for the highest. It wants your entire spirit to be its herald . . . .” (Z I “On the Passions of Pleasure and Pain”)

“Upward flies our sense; thus it is a parable of our body, a parable of elevation. Such elevation parables are the names of the virtues. Thus the body goes through history, becoming and fighting. And the spirit—what is it to the body? The herald of its fights and victories, companion and echo.” (Z I “On the Bestowing Virtue”)[1]

In Daybreak Nietzsche had emphasized a feeling of power in human beings, a feeling that “has evolved to such a degree of subtlety that in this respect man is now a match for the most delicate gold-balance. It has become his strongest propensity; the means for creating this feeling almost constitutes the history of culture” (23). The feeling of power and its lack is the cipher of religions (65), of praising or blaming after wars won or lost (140), of the pleasantness of being a banker (205), of ecstatic self-sacrifice (215). The feeling of power is a factor beyond utility and vanity in national decisions for war (189, 360). The feeling of power is an inducement to look to distant goals beyond direct consequences to others or to oneself (146). The feeling of power is the first effect of happiness (356, 146).

Will to power is announced in Zarathustra, one year after Gay Science (I–IV). The role of feeling of power is taken over by will to power. “A tablet of the good hangs over every people. Observe, it is the tablet of their overcomings; observe, it is the voice of the will to power” (Z I “On a Thousand and One Goals”). Why the shift from feeling to will? One cluster of reasons might be as follows: Nietzsche may have been trying to increase the coherence and the depth of his basis for egoism and for rejection of altruism. To have a heavyweight theory of ethics in contention with Schopenhauer[2] (Will 1859 [1819]; Basis 1839), Darwin[3] (Origin 1859; Descent 1871), and Spencer[4] (Data 1879), Nietzsche needed to get down to biology, the biology beneath psychology and back of human evolution.

Nietzsche had written that our experience of pleasure or pain and our feeling of will are results of an interpreting intellect, with most of this interpretation occurring subconsciously (GS 127; see also HH II, AOM 5). Beneath consciousness are drives competing against one another for dominance (GS 333). Beneath virtues are drives (GS 21). Would feeling for power be a plausible characterization of blind unconscious drives? Nietzsche had contended, contradicting Schopenhauer, that only intellectual animals can experience pleasure or pain (GS 127). What then of the blind animal vitalities composing our bodies and their resulting blind drives? Shall they be animated by a feeling of power? (Cf. Williams 2001, 15–16; Soll 1998, 101–2.)

I mentioned in Part 1 that Nietzsche had read favorably, in 1867, Julius Bahnsen’s Contribution to Characterology: With Special Regard to Educational Questions. In this work Bahnsen “followed Schopenhauer closely but at the same time developed his philosophy in a more individual direction by emphasizing that true reality is not one general will as Schopenhauer claimed but instead was many contradicting wills that constitute human beings whose inner life therefore is always in turmoil” (Brobjer 2008, 48).

Nietzsche had read, in 1876 and 1883, a renovation of Schopenhauer’s system that made it less metaphysical. That was Philipp Mainländer’s Philosophy of Redemption (1876),5 in which the author claimed that throughout nature “instead of one metaphysical will, there are many individual (and immanent) wills that continually struggle with one another” (Brobjer 2008, 69). That is an opening for an individualistic theoretical employment of will in nature, in nature more widely than in intellectual animals such as man.

In 1881 and 1883, Nietzsche studied Wilhelm Roux’s The Struggle of the Parts in the Organism (1881), in which it is proposed that “organs, tissues, cells, and even molecules of organic matter are found in an unceasing struggle for existence with one another for food, space, and in the utilization of external stimulation” (Moore 2002, 37). Life is here characterized by continual excessive growth of parts and by self-regulation which checks, orders, and selects excesses for the functional requirements of the whole. Nietzsche transmutes self-regulation into mastery over subservient parts in the organism (ibid. 43–44, 81; Gayon 1999, 169–70). (See Brobjer 2008, 85–87, for other possible sources or triggers for Nietzsche’s fastening upon the will-to-power idea in 1880–83.)

From their will to power, the wisest men make valuations, then seat them “solemn and cloaked” on a skiff which is launched upon the river that is the people. Now, wisest ones, “the river carries your skiff along . . . .

“The river is not your danger and the end of your good and evil, you wisest ones; but this will itself, the will to power—the unexhausted begetting will of life.

“But in order that you might understand my words on good and evil, I also want to tell you my words on life and the nature of all that lives.

“I pursued the living, I walked the greatest and smallest paths in order to know its nature.

“With a hundredfold mirror I captured even its glance, when its mouth was closed, so that its eyes could speak to me. And its eyes spoke to me.

. . .

“Wherever I found the living, there I found the will to power; and even in the will of the serving I found the will to be master.

. . .

“And this secret life itself spoke to me: ‘Behold’, it said, ‘I am that which must always overcome itself.

“‘To be sure, you will call it will to beget or drive to a purpose, to something higher, more distant, more manifold: but all this is one, the one secret.

. . .

“‘[Schopenhauer] who shot at truth with the words “will to existence” did not hit it . . . .

. . .

“‘Only where life is, is there also will; but not will to life, instead—thus I teach you—will to power!

“‘Much is esteemed more highly by life than life itself; yet out of esteeming itself speaks—the will to power!’—

“Thus life once taught me, and from this I shall yet solve the riddle of your heart, you wisest ones.

“Truly, I say to you: good and evil that would be everlasting—there is no such thing! They must overcome themselves out of themselves again and again.” (Z II “On Self-Overcoming”)6

For Nietzsche valuing is an expression of organic will to power. Organisms operate by the principle of will to power. Correct valuing for human beings is continual experimental overcoming of present expressions of will to power (held up and cloaked as correct, temporarily accepted as morally right), superseding them with new expressions of will to power. Virtue is an ascent of this sort of self-overcoming. For Nietzsche life is the pursuit that is will to power. By the time of Zarathustra, human life is a definite version of that pursuit. Nonetheless, as always, Nietzsche will not have it that the character of human life is sufficiently fixed to specify values and virtues valid for all men across all the days of the species (GS 335, 120; D 560).

A few years earlier (1879) Nietzsche had criticized Schopenhauer for taking will to designate a simple, single human state and for imputing will, in a blind form, to nature more generally (HH II, AOM 5). Nietzsche is now ready to make such a wider imputation of will, at least to all of organic nature, provided we see this will not as will to life, but as will to power. Also unlike Schopenhauer, we are to take each organism to have its own isolated will; it is not the case that apparently individual wills are only phenomenal images of a single noumenal will in nature.

Section 61 of the fourth book of Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Presentation (I) is titled “The Egoism Inherent in Every Being.” Each person naturally “wants everything for himself, wants to possess everything, at least to hold sway over it, and would annihilate whatever opposes him. . . . The whole of nature beyond him, thus also all other individuals, exist only in presentation to him, he is always conscious of them only as presentation to him, thus merely indirectly and as something dependent on his own essence and existence; for with the loss of his consciousness the world is necessarily lost for him as well . . . . Every cognizant individual is thus in truth, and finds himself to be, the entire will for life, or the very in-itself of the world . . . . Every individual . . . has regard for his own existence and well-being before any other, indeed, in the natural standpoint, is ready to sacrifice all else to it, is ready to annihilate the world, just to maintain its own self . . . . This disposition is the egoism that is essential to everything in nature.” (391–92)

The one world-will which is in oneself wholly and completely is also in countless other individuals in the same manner. Conflict abounds. Egoism so conceived has brought about the great tyrants and evildoers, and it brings about always the war of all against all “as soon as any mass of people is released from all law and order” (393).

In Schopenhauer’s view, the will for life is affirmed in the primary, simple way when one’s own body maintains itself. The sex drive, too, is an affirmation of one’s will for life, although, the consequent propagation is not.

The will of one person “encroaches upon the boundary of another’s affirmation of will in that the individual either destroys or injures the very body of the other or compels the forces belonging to the other’s body to serve its will instead of the will making its appearance in the other’s body” (394). These conflicts are known by the word wrong and they are felt as wrongdoing (394–95). Examples: cannibalism, murder, “intentional mutilation, or mere injury to another’s body, indeed any blow, . . . subjugation of other individuals, in forcing them into slavery, and in attack upon the property of others, which, so far as the latter is regarded as the fruit of their labor, is in essentials the same in kind as the former wrong [slavery] and relates to it in the way mere injury relates to murder” (395–96).

Nietzsche, his new and distinctive concept of life now set, has Zarathustra muse, among some old broken tablets, formerly held holy:

“‘Thou shalt not rob! Thou shalt not kill!’ . . .

“But I ask you: where in the world have there ever been better robbers and killers than such holy words?

“Is there not in all life itself—robbing and killing? And for such words to have been called holy, was truth itself not—killed?

“Or was it a sermon of death that pronounced holy what contradicted and contravened all life? —Yes my brothers, break, break for me the old tablets!” (Z III “On Old and New Tablets”)

Nietzsche completed the final part of Zarathustra (Part IV) in early 1885. He had lately been studying Biological Problems (1884) by the Anglo-German zoologist William Henry Rolph, here writing on evolution and associated ethics. When nutritional resources are abundant, “the life-struggle is no longer waged for existence, it is no struggle for self-preservation, . . . rather, a struggle for an increase in one’s acquisitions. . . . It is constant, it is eternal; it can never be extinguished, for there can be no adaptation to insatiability. . . . Furthermore, the life-struggle is then no defensive struggle, but rather a war of aggression. . . . But growth and reproduction and perfection are the consequences of that successful war of aggression. . . .While the Darwinists hold that no struggle for existence takes place where the survival of the creature is not threatened, I believe the life-struggle to be ubiquitous; it is first and foremost precisely such a life-struggle, a struggle for the increase of life, but not a struggle for life!” (97; quoted in Moore 2002, 53)

For Rolph’s principle of insatiability Nietzsche substitutes his own principle, will to power. “The wish to preserve oneself is a sign of distress, of limitation of the truly basic life-instinct, which aims at the expansion of power and in so doing often enough risks and sacrifices self-preservation. . . . / . . . . The struggle for survival is only an exception, a temporary restriction of the will to life; the great and small struggle revolves everywhere around preponderance, around growth and expansion, around power and in accordance with the will to power, which is simply the will to life.” (GS V 349; also BGE 13, 259)

I mentioned in Parallels and Influence that Nietzsche read Guyau’s A Sketch of Morality without Obligation or Sanction in 1885, the year it was published. There were remarkable affinities between their ideas. In common background, they had knowledge of certain authors and currents in contemporary psychology, biology, and philosophy. In this 1885 work, Guyau was setting aside morality from religious faith, from Kantian duty, and from utilitarianism. He was investigating how far morality could be determined from a purely scientific view of the nature of life. There were differences between the two thinkers. Guyau had some training in and love for science; he prized modern, capitalistic life; and although his was a thoroughly individualistic vision, it was not an egoistic vision. Guyau’s life-philosophy exerted some influence on Nietzsche’s (unacknowledged) and a considerable influence on Bergson’s (acknowledged).

Concerning morality based on faith, Guyau writes that “the believer wants to believe without knowing.” Faith is a “renunciation of all personal initiative . . . . This kind of intellectual suicide is inexcusable, and that which is still more strange is the pretension to justify it, as is constantly done, by invoking moral reasons. Morality should command the mind to search without resting—that is to say, precisely to guard itself against faith. . . . In the domain of thought there is nothing more moral than truth; and when truth cannot be secured through positive knowledge, nothing is more moral than doubt. . . . We must therefore drive out of ourselves the blind respect for certain principles, for certain beliefs. We must be able to question, scrutinize, penetrate everything.” (S 62–63; cf. BGE 46, 186; GS V 344, 347)

Concerning Kant’s precept “‘Act in such a way that your maxim may become a universal law,’ no sentiment of obligation whatever will attach itself, so long as there is no question of social life and the deep inclinations awakened by it. . . . / . . . . Will it be said that the universal law itself contains at bottom will—pure will? The reduction of duty to the will of law, which itself would still be a purely formal will, far from building up morality, seems to us to produce a dissolvent effect on the will itself. The will to do a certain deed cannot be based on any law which is not founded on the practical and logical value of the deed itself.” (S 50)

There must be a specific valued object for pursuit to be morally praiseworthy. Without a specific object valued for its actual or potential uses, “we should no longer have courage to will and to merit; we do not use our will for the mere sake of willing” (S 32).

Guyau proceeds to lay out his positive moral theory with a preamble: “Scientific morality, in order not to include from its very beginning an inverifiable postulate, must be first individualistic. It should preoccupy itself with the destiny of society only in so far as it more or less includes that of the individual” (S 71–72).

To aim at a target is not to hit it, but the distribution of hits about it can show the center. “Where is the centre of the universal effort of beings towards which the strokes of the great hazard of things have been directed?” (S 73). Hedonists would say the aim is to minimize pain and maximize pleasure. That is certainly a typical direction of our desire, but it can be applied only “to the conscious and more or less voluntary acts . . . . Even those acts achieved in full consciousness have generally their beginning and first origin in dumb instincts and reflex movements. . . . The natural spring of action, before appearing in consciousness, must have already acted from underneath in the obscure region of the instincts. The constant end of action must primarily have been a constant cause of more or less unconscious movements. In reality, the ends are but habitual motive causes become conscious of themselves. . . . Every conscious desire, therefore, has first been an instinct [in the broad sense]. The sphere of finality coincides, at least in its centre, with the sphere of causality . . . . The problem: What is the end, the constant target, of action? becomes therefore, from another point of view, this problem: What is the constant cause of action? In the circle of life, the point aimed at blends with the very point from which the action springs.” (S 74)

“An exclusively scientific morality must, to be complete, admit that the pursuit of pleasure is only itself the consequence of the instinctive effort to maintain and enlarge life. The aim which, in fact, determines every conscious action is also the cause which produces every unconscious action. It is, then, life itself—life most intense and, at the same time, its most varied forms. From the first bound of the embryo in the womb of its mother, to the last convulsion of old age, every movement of the creature has, as cause, life in its evolution. The universal cause of our acts is, from another point of view, its constant effect and end.” (S 75)

So far as the discipline of ethics can be a science, its task will be to articulate “the means of preserving and enlarging material and intellectual life,” and its laws “will be identical with the deepest laws of life itself” (S 75–76; further, 80–81). There is in us a cause which “operates as an aim, even before any attraction of pleasure; this cause is life, tending by its nature to grow and to diffuse itself, thus finding pleasure as consequence, but not necessarily taking it as an end in itself” (210–11). Life in its “aspiration towards incessant development . . . makes its own obligation to act by its very power of action” (211). Life makes also “its sanction by its very action; for, in acting, it takes joy in its own capacity” (213).

For Nietzsche we know that there is a deepest law of life, and that is will to power. Growth he sees as expansion of power (BGE 230, 259; GS V 349).

For Guyau the deepest laws of life are that it is nutritive and self-preservative and that it is fecundity (S 70, 75, 79, 209–10). Beyond nutrition and appropriation necessary for self-maintenance, there may accumulate superabundance capable of the expansion of life that is reproduction. This is a good for humans, as it is for all other life forms. Generation is an elevated intensity of life. Without sexual reproduction, the good that is man, with family and society, would not exist (82–83). “Individual life is expansive for others because it is fruitful, and it is fruitful by the very reason that it is life” (209–10).

Guyau does not think that scientific morality can disparage the tendency of modern higher classes to have fewer children (S 114), and he realizes that having children is in tension with creating intellectual works (83), but he thinks there is a “need of each individual to beget another individual; so much so that this other becomes a necessary condition of our being. Life, like fire, only maintains itself by communicating itself” (210). We find the same force of expansion with intelligence: “It exists in order to radiate” (210). Likewise with sensibility: We need to share our joys and sorrows. “It is our whole nature which is sociable. . . . [Life] cannot be entirely selfish, even if it wished to be. . . . Life is not only nutrition; it is production and fecundity” (210). “The purely selfish happiness of certain epicureans is an idle fancy, an abstraction, an impossibility. . . . Pure selfishness, . . . instead of being a real affirmation of self, is a mutilation of self” (212).

In this period (1885–86), Nietzsche made a few doodles in his notebooks concerning procreation and how it might be portrayed in terms of will to power, but these were not ideas sufficiently developed and secure for him commit to publication. Some of these jottings are included in the posthumous collection of his notes called The Will to Power. Nietzsche remarks in Beyond Good and Evil §36 that procreation and nutrition are “a single problem.” He seems to be following Ernst Haeckel or following Guyau following Haeckel: “‘Reproduction’, says Haeckel, ‘is an excess of nutrition and growth in consequence of which a part of the individual is created [as becoming another individual] independent in everything’” (S 82). Nietzsche’s single solution (explanation) for this “single” problem (phenomenon) is his ubiquitous efficacious force, the will to power.

Guyau included biological fecundity in his basic characterization of all life. For human life, this encompassed not only procreation, but intellectual fecundity and practical productivity (S 76, 183–84, 214).

In his career, Nietzsche moved from “feeling of power” as the driver of human psychology and behavior to “will to power” as driver of not only those realms, but of the biology beneath them. I think Nietzsche’s attempt to characterize all living activities as occasions of a will to power, a commanding-and-obeying, is false and highly contrived (BGE 13, 19, 22, 23, 36, 44, 226, 230, 259; GS V 349).



1. Lester Hunt (1991) has perceptively, gracefully, and critically treated Nietzsche’s idea of enmity of the virtues (pp. 81–89).

2.  Cartwright 1998, 134–40; Higgins 1998, 158–68.

3.  Gayon 1999, 158–73; Moore 2002, 21–34, 57–58; Small 2005, 181–94.

4.  Moore 2002, 62–72; Small 2005, 163–80

5.  In this title, I have translated Erlösung as Redemption because that is how the term is rendered by translators of Schopenhauer. However, it would also be reasonable to translate Erlösung as Deliverance. Schopenhauer and Mainländer were atheists and thought that death is the end of the individual. They thought of death as deliverance from the suffering pervasive in life.

6.  There are helpful comments on this passage from Robert Pippin in the Introduction, pp. xxv–ix, of Z.



Brobjer, T. 2008. Nietzsche’s Philosophical Context. U of Ill Press.

Cartwright, D. 1998. Nietzsche’s Use and Abuse of Schopenhauer’s Moral Philosophy of Life. In Janaway 1998.

Gayon, J. 1999. Nietzsche and Darwin. In Biology and the Foundation of Ethics. J. Maienschein and M. Ruse, editors. Cambridge.

Guyau, J. 1885, 1890. A Sketch of Morality without Obligation or Sanction. G. Kapteyn, trans. 1898. Watts & Co.

Higgins, K. 1998. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche: Temperament and Temporality. In

Hunt, L. 1991. Nietzsche and the Origin of Virtue. Routledge.

Janaway, C. 1998. Willing and Nothingness: Schopenhauer as Nietzsche’s Educator. Oxford.

Moore, G. 2002. Nietzsche, Biology and Metaphor. Cambridge.

Nietzsche, F. 1878 & 1979. Human, All Too Human I & II. (Includes “Assorted Opinions and Maxims.”) R.J. Hollingdale, trans. 2001. Cambridge.

——. 1881. Daybreak. R.J. Hollingdale, trans. 1997. Cambridge.

——. 1882 & 1887. The Gay Science I–IV & V. J. Norman, trans. 2006. Cambridge.

——. 1883–85. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. A. Del Caro, trans. 2006. Cambridge.

——. 1886. Beyond Good and Evil. Horstmann and Norman, trans. 2002. Cambridge.

——. 1901. The Will to Power. Kaufmann, trans. 1967. Vintage.

Rolph, W. 1884. Biologische Probleme, . . . Entwicklung einer Rationellen Ethik. Englemann.

Schopenhauer, A. 1841. On the Basis of Morality. Payne, trans. 1965. Berghahn.

Schopenhauer, A. 1859 [1819]. The World as Will and Presentation (WWP I). R.E. Aquila, trans. 2008. Pearson Longman.

Small, R. 2005. Nietzsche and Rée: A Star Friendship. Oxford.

Soll, I. 1998. Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and the Redemption of Life through Art. In Janaway 1998.

Williams, L. 2001. Nietzsche’s Mirror: The World as Will to Power. Rowman & Littlefield.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...