Below is a part of my senior thesis I recently wrote for my degree in Philosophy at Stetson University. In this part, I attempted to show that Nietzsche’s ‘will to power’ is a mythological doctrine and not a metaphysical or empirical theory. Since this is a blog, I’ve cut down on my work so that no reader will be bogged down with a lengthy essay. However, I believe what I have fits my idea of a good defense of a thesis that originally came from M. Clark. In a few days I will submit another part (or parts) of my thesis that come from the ‘heart’ of my work’s thesis. Enjoy and please comment like hell since I consider my thesis a ‘work in progress’ for future journal submission. (Note: Before this part of the essay, I went over Heidegger’s idea that the ‘will to power’ is a new valuation for Nietzsche, and hence the language of the first sentence. If wanted, I can always add that section if enough of you care to read it.)
I believe that since I have successfully shown that one can question the idea that WTP is a new valuation, I wish now to return to the issue of trying to see which of the differing ideas of the WTP is closest to Nietzsche’s own writings. Given above, we have three ways to approach the WTP, either as a metaphysical doctrine in that it gives an account of what this world is in-and-of-itself (Danto), an empirical doctrine borne of an observation of living things (Kaufman), or a mythological explanation meant to give an explanation of why life is as we see it (Clark). Instead of approaching each individually as I did above, I wish to address them together since I feel that if the WTP is one of these, then we can conclude the others are not proper interpretations of the WTP.
I wish to use two passages in which Nietzsche expresses ‘seeing’ the WTP in life around him. The first comes from Thus Spoke Zarathustra:
I pursued the living; I walked the widest and the narrowest paths that I might know its nature… Where I found the living, there I found will to power; and even in the will of those who serve I found the will to be master. (Z: II, “On Self-Overcoming”)
The second comes from Beyond Good and Evil:
Physiologists should think before putting down the instinct of self preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living being seeks above all to discharge its strength – life is will to power; self preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent results. (BGE: 13)
In the first quote, the WTP appears as a drive of life since he states that “in the will” of the servants there was a “will to power” or become “master.” This observation comes to Nietzsche’s character, or his voice-piece, Zarathustra as he seeks the nature of life. Thus Nietzsche appears to commit himself to a metaphysical view in that he is answering “What is life’s nature/essence?” with “It is a will, a will to power.” However, the WTP is still being treated as a will and not a metaphysical thing such as Plato’s Forms but as something one can see and observe. Hence the use of the phrases “pursued the living” and “where I found the living.” In the second quote, the WTP takes on a much stronger metaphysical appearance in that Nietzsche uses it to reject the idea that the sole object of living beings is to continue their being; he claims that this is not so and instead “life is will to power” or that the main purpose of life is to project its ‘power’ onto its surroundings. Once again it appears as if Nietzsche is answering the question above with the same answer, but this time warning one of other ‘false’ ideas. There is a lack of an empirical tone in this quote in that instead of implying that he came to this conclusion through looking or analyzing life he merely asserted that this is so. Thus far, we have reason to believe that the WTP is a metaphysical thing or perhaps derived of empirical understanding of life, but I believe that Clark was in the right in calling the WTP a mythological theory.
First, while Nietzsche does remark an admiration of disciplines such as psychology and even writes against the aptness of philosophers to distance themselves from the tangible world for another world, his writings on the WTP are never written as to allude to empirical studies as the source of his thinking on it. True, he does write as one who looks at life and attempts to understand it, but not in any strict sense that one would call empirical. Second, I feel that Clark has given us good reason to reject the WTP as an empirical claim in that it invalidates Nietzsche’s keen insight of humanity. If one were to say empirically that the essential drive of life is WTP, then all other drives are made moot; rape is not instigated by a ‘sex drive’ nor eating be a ‘hunger drive’ but by the WTP. We may call certain actions as results of or driven by such-and-such a drive, but this is just a luxury of language to express the manifestations of the WTP. This makes the WTP appear limited and childish which is far from the intellectual investment Nietzsche gives to developing his own ideas. Third, I believe the writings of Nietzsche themselves express the WTP as a mythological theory meant to be an interpretative story of the world.
Suppose nothing else were “given” as real except our world of desires and passions, and we could not get down, or up, to any other “reality” besides the reality of our drives – for thinking is merely a relation of these drives to each other: is it not permitted to make the experiment and to ask the question whether this “given” would not be sufficient for also understanding on the basis of this kind of thing the so-called mechanistic (or “material”) world? (BGE: 36)
This quote starts the reader down the road of epistemological questioning. He asks that we suppose that the only things that a person can access are their subjective qualities, such as thoughts and wills; this harkens to the philosophical idea that while we lack the ability to break out of our subjective limitations and gain access to the objective world, we still have a grasp of understanding our subjective realm (ex. “I don’t know if he is in pain, but I certainly feel that I am in pain.”). Instead of becoming worried of this assertion, Nietzsche further delves into the subject by claiming that perhaps we should use this accessible subject to understand the material world. If the reader is willing to give Nietzsche this argument, he then asks us to “suppose” another point.
Suppose, finally, we succeeded in explaining our entire instinctive life as the development and ramification of one basic form of the will – namely, of the will to power, as my proposition has it… [T]hen one would have gained the right to determine all efficient force univocally as – will to power. The world viewed from inside, the world defined and determined according to its “intelligible character” – it would be “will to power” and nothing else. (BGE: 36)
It is here that Nietzsche ends his argument. In a more formal form, his argument would be as follows: If the only things one can call as “real” and accessible are our thoughts, sensations, etc. and if we use those “real” and accessible items to understand the material world and if we find that all these “real” and accessible items can be explained as coming from one will, the will to power, then we can claim that it is through this “will to power” that one can attempt to understand the material world. One may just as easily dismiss one of the premises or conclusions, but there is a great importance one must pay heed to in the lines above: Nietzsche’s language. He does not say that we must accept the above claims nor even hint that the above claims are true, he only asks that we “suppose” these claims in an attempt to understand how one may explain reality as WTP. The reader is not being asked “What is the nature of reality?” but is being asked “How can one approach reality?” if one can be said to have only access to their subjective qualities. This comes up most readily in the last sentence of the second passage where Nietzsche uses the phrase “world viewed from inside.” Hence, this is where Nietzsche comes off as presenting the WTP as a mythological story in that it is meant to help one explain, not give knowledge or understanding. Just like the story of Persephone and Hades is used to explain the changes of seasons based on what seems apparent – winter fading into spring, etc. – the WTP is meant to explain reality based on what seems apparent – sensations, etc. In this way, Nietzsche prevents himself from making the WTP into a metaphysical concept in that he does not say that the world is WTP but that to understand the world one might find it useful to look at it through the understanding of the WTP. However, the skeptic of this claim might point to the places where Nietzsche states that the world is WTP, thus making the WTP a cosmological and metaphysical concept.
I must point out that this is how I once saw the WTP, but I feel that one need not accept the cosmological use of WTP and Nietzsche does not give the reader reason to do so also. An example of this is in Nietzsche’s work in which he points out the way in which philosophers project their philosophies onto reality, just as one would wear colored glasses to make the world appear as one wants it to.
But this is an ancient, eternal story: what formerly happened with the Stoics still happens today, too, as soon as any philosophy begins to believe in itself. It always creates the world in its own image; it cannot do otherwise. Philosophy is this tyrannical drive itself, the most spiritual will to power, to the “creation of the world,” to the causa prima. (BGE: 9)
It is interesting to note that Nietzsche, who often talks negatively of the Stoics, he never states that he is any different or does otherwise. His attack on people such as the Stoics may be in part that they do not admit that the world appears to be ‘stoic’ because they approach it as Stoics (see the above passage in which Nietzsche attacks the ascetics in that they do not admit they are acting as ascetics). However, in that Nietzsche does not state he acts differently and even calls himself a philosopher/scholar throughout his works (more so as a philosopher of tomorrow, but that is still a philosopher), I believe Nietzsche gives us reason to say he does the same. Nietzsche has faith in his theory of explaining the world as WTP and thus begins to see all of reality as WTP. Hence, while the WTP may be something that is only to be found in willing beings, Nietzsche need only expand his mythological story from just those beings to all of the world to create a cosmological doctrine. Though, we do not need to accept it since Nietzsche is acting like the Stoics: he is reading his philosophy unto the world.
– Ian Wasser