For this 2nd part of my three part discussion on Nietzsche’s ‘will to power’ (WTP), I wish to investigate the claim that Nietzsche is a reductionist in concern to humans being driven solely by the WTP like machines. As with my last entry on Neitzsche, this essay comes from my senior thesis and has be rescaled for this blog. Thus, I have added and deleted certain items to ensure the shortest yet best discussion possible. And like my last entry, I ask that if you feel like saying anything about the post to do so! Every work is a continuous work that should be shaped and sculpted over and over again. Hopefully, with enough work, I can entertain my ideas on Nietzsche at the next FPA convention thanks to the help all you critical readers can give! Enjoy!
The Will to Power as a Reductionist Theory
I believe that one can interpret Nietzsche’s idea of the WTP as a reductionist theory based on a certain view of his writings. I must admit that this idea has been most prevalent in my discussions of Nietzsche, including instances in which I taught several classes on The Genealogy of Morals. This view relies on the numerous instances in which Nietzsche refers to concepts such as “free will,” “freedom of will,” and “freedom from will” as misinterpretations, illusions, or mere farces. However, if he so passionately attacks these concepts, then the WTP no longer becomes a ‘will’ but a driven or force, and the human is reduced to something analogous to an automaton drive by a command called the WTP.
Nietzsche’s writings are rife with attacks on freedom, so I shall list a few passages and elaborate on those which show his attacks at their best.
We no longer have any sympathy nowadays for the concept ‘free will’: we know only too well what it is – the most disreputable piece of trickery the theologians have produced, aimed at making humanity ‘responsible’ in their sense, i.e. at making it dependent on them… People were thought of as ‘free’ so that they could be judged and punished – so that they could become guilty. (TI: “Errors,” 7)
[The person who wishes to judge] requires the belief in a “free subject” able to choose indifferently, out of instinct of self-preservation which notoriously justifies every kind of life… [It is] the sublime sleight of hand which gives weakness the appearance of free choice and one’s natural disposition the distinction of merit. (GM: I, XIII)
One has much to work with in just these two passages. It is clear that Nietzsche is attacking “freedom” in the context of moral culpability. In order to judge a person as having done something right or wrong, it must first be established that they choose to act such-and-such a way and then acted out that way; this is simple moral philosophy. Thus, in any situation, there is an agent X and an act A, and if X does A ‘freely’ and without extraneous pressure from an external source, they can be held responsible for their actions. Yet, Nietzsche believed that the ‘doer’ and the ‘deed’ cannot be separated as he harshly states “But no such agent exists… the ‘doer’ has simply been added to the deed by imagination – the doing is everything.” (GM: I, XIII) Agent X and act A are, then, really intertwined with each other in that there is only A, or that X is A. This may seem a bit of a stretch in that it appears that Nietzsche is claiming that there are only acts, and not agents, but this is a simplified view. Let us take up the Birds of Prey as written in The Genealogy of Morals. When the prey of the birds looks towards the Birds (and if they had the capacity of reason and language), they would perhaps say that the Birds are evil for eating them. Though, ask the Bird of this and they may look at you “quizzically” and state that they are only acting on their nature – they are Birds of Prey, and thus feast on prey; “To expect that strength will not manifest itself as strength… [is absurd].” (GM: I, XIII) The Birds, along with agents, are defined by what they do, what they are driven to do by their wills; to expect otherwise would be to expect the Birds of Prey to be not Birds of Prey. Thus, X is a scholar in that they willed to be a scholar or is a glutton in that they will as such and so forth.
From the passages above one sees clearly why Nietzsche believes the will was made ‘free.’ As said above it was to allow judgments to be made on the actions of others and to subvert people to a system of rules that made one out to be ‘good’ or ‘evil.’ Our language began to follow suit and became entranced by these concepts such that one began to use ideas such as ‘freedom’ and ‘responsibility’ in a way that was in accordance with the above. Though, if people such as Nietzsche were preaching the illusions of ‘freedom,’ it can be asked why people kept these concepts. He states
It is certainly not the least charm of a theory that it is refutable; it is precisely thereby that it attracts subtler minds. It seems that the hundred-times-refuted theory of a “free will” owes its persistence to this charm alone; again and again someone comes along who feels he is strong enough to refute it. (BGE: 18)
The charm came twofold for Nietzsche. First, he saw people as unwilling to give up a sense of responsibility for one own and other’s actions which allowed them to their merit statuses of being ‘good’ or ‘evil.’ One could admit that to be called good or to understand oneself as good does bring with it a sense of pride or, for a lack of better words, goodness. It also allows one to see themselves as part of the ‘better’ groups in society, not akin to the ‘evildoers.’ Second, by saying one is free and can be ‘affected’ by outside forces then one could shift responsibility onto those forces. This could be borne of numerous reasons, such as “an inward self-contempt,” but by saying one is free, one can point at the ‘evil’ forces in society as reasons for their actions. If I can show within reason that my poor childhood upbringing caused my life of crime, I can shift responsibility off myself since, as a free being, I was ‘affected’ to be such a person. I can then shift being responsibility away from my inner desires for I could say they are mere products of outside forces – while I am responsible for acting gay, I can blame my desires to act gay as borne of an influential mother. (BGE: 21)
If one was keen enough, he/she will point to an above quote in which Nietzsche uses the phrase “freedom of will” in a positive light. However, it must be noted that “freedom of will” takes two forms in Nietzsche’s writings. The first has been discussed so far and is the concept of freedom which Nietzsche harshly criticizes. The second is in conjunction with the sense of one’s ability to satisfy one’s desires, or their sense of volition. This is seen when he writes that
“Freedom of the will” – that is the expression for the complex state of delight of the person exercising volition, who commands and at the same time identifies himself with the executor of the order – who, as such, enjoys also the triumph over obstacles, but thinks within himself that it was really his will itself that overcame them. (BGE: 19)
Thus, this concept of “freedom of will” is merely a phrase that describes the delight one takes in acting on their desires. This fits together with Nietzsche’s overall idea of the WTP and how one gains pleasure from action.
Before summarizing this section, I wish to discuss what I feel is Nietzsche’s final ‘nail’ in the concept of ‘freedom’ which in turn will lead one to the dilemma of reductionism.
No one is responsible for simply being there, for being made such and such a way, for existing under such conditions, in such surroundings. The fatality of one’s being cannot be derived from the fatality of all that was and will be…. One is necessary, one is a piece of fate, one belongs to the whole, one is whole… (TI: “Errors,” 8 )
This sets before the reader many views. First, one is, let us say, Z (in that Z is a composite of qualities, personalities, and so forth that allow us to define a person and who they are) only because they are born as such. We commonly look at one’s upbringing, surroundings, and so forth to give us reason to believe one came to be Z because of outside factors, along with some internal factors which is the concern of psychiatrist. However, for Nietzsche, one is Z only because he/she is born that way and not because he/she was “brought up on the streets” or was “born with a silver spoon in their mouth.” Second, what one ‘is’ is a necessary thing. Just as a claim that God is a necessary being means that God cannot, in any world, be not God, claiming that one being Z is necessary carries with it the implication that one cannot have been otherwise. If, by following my desires, I come to be a scholar, then under Nietzsche’s views I would claim that it would always be that I was a scholar, and while I may not have manifested the qualities as readily in my toddler years, I was fated to be a scholar when I grew up. The ramifications of all the above passages and the one directly above lead one to what I see as a bleak view of the person as a non-person.
Look at what we mean by the word “person” in everyday context. When asked to define a person, we tend to say that they are free in that they are responsible for their actions or that they are always changing in that yesterday I was such-and-such a way (i.e. a mad valet) and today I am something new (i.e. a happy scholar). It seems that ‘freedom’ in the sense that we use it and that Nietzsche attacks is integral with being a person. Yet, what if I were to circumvent this idea of freedom from the person? I claim that when one is born, he/she is fated to be such-and-such a way and that this is a necessary thing that cannot be altered by any force. Think of the “Star Wars” movies in which characters continuously are told that they are doomed to be a certain type of person because “It is [their] destiny.” I then tell you that these concepts of ‘freedom’ that we use are mere products of persons who wish to moralize us, to control us under the banners of ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ What one is left with is that a person would no longer suffice to be a person to us. Instead, they are reduced to an automaton in that they are analogous to a machine made with a specific purpose, and while the machine may not be used for that purpose at first, it is fated to assume its ‘proper’ role. This is much against a Sartean idea of a person in which one defines oneself in the choices they freely make; hence one’s existence precedes their essence – one must exist and then act in order to define themselves. Instead, the person’s existence and essence exist simultaneously – they are Z and act in accordance to being Z just as the wind acts as wind and is defined as wind at the same time. Yet, let us not forget what it is that defines us according to Nietzsche, or what drives us to be who we are. Our fundamental drive is the WTP and nothing else. This is what Nietzsche states in his writings. Therefore, the person, in these readings of Nietzsche is reduced, and therefore Nietzsche appears to us as a Reductionist in his view of the WTP. We are what our WTP is. It is here that we arrive at the dilemma of Nietzsche and where I wish to begin my next entry in which, in the face of the above, I wish to ‘rescue’ Nietzsche and show that while Nietzsche can be read as a Reductionist, one can make the case that he is not in this context of the WTP.
-Ian A. Wasser