The Paradox of Fatalism and Self-Creation in Nietzsche

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Thinking out loud about Nietzsche's philosophy. Corrections welcome in the comments; I'll update the list periodically. The bottom line is that articles on Nietzsche don't get cited a lot, certainly not as much as books!

Brian Leiter, The Paradox of Fatalism and Self-Creation in Nietzsche - PhilPapers

Raymond Geuss, "Nietzsche and Genealogy" , 80 citations 3. Ken Gemes, "Nietzsche's Critique of Truth" , 60 citations 7.


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Brian Leiter, "Nietzsche and the Morality Critics" , 58 citations 8. The most extensive development of this Nietzschean critique of morality appears in his late work On the Genealogy of Morality , which consists of three treatises, each devoted to the psychological examination of a central moral idea. In the First Treatise, Nietzsche takes up the idea that moral consciousness consists fundamentally in altruistic concern for others. He begins by observing a striking fact, namely, that this widespread conception of what morality is all about—while entirely commonsensical to us—is not the essence of any possible morality, but a historical innovation.

In such a system, goodness is associated with exclusive virtues. There is no thought that everyone should be excellent—the very idea makes no sense, since to be excellent is to be distinguished from the ordinary run of people.


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  • Nietzsche shows rather convincingly that this pattern of assessment was dominant in ancient Mediterranean culture the Homeric world, later Greek and Roman society, and even much of ancient philosophical ethics. It focuses its negative evaluation evil on violations of the interests or well-being of others—and consequently its positive evaluation good on altruistic concern for their welfare.

    Such a morality needs to have universalistic pretensions: if it is to promote and protect the welfare of all, its restrictions and injunctions must apply to everyone equally. It is thereby especially amenable to ideas of basic human equality, starting from the thought that each person has an equal claim to moral consideration and respect. BGE The exact nature of this alleged revolt is a matter of ongoing scholarly controversy in recent literature, see Bittner ; Reginster ; Migotti ; Ridley ; May 41—54; Leiter —; Janaway 90—, —9; Owen 78—89; Wallace ; Anderson ; Poellner , but the broad outline is clear enough.

    Afterward, via negation of the concept of evil, the new concept of goodness emerges, rooted in altruistic concern of a sort that would inhibit evil actions. For Nietzsche, then, our morality amounts to a vindictive effort to poison the happiness of the fortunate GM III, 14 , instead of a high-minded, dispassionate, and strictly rational concern for others. That said, Nietzsche offers two strands of evidence sufficient to give pause to an open minded reader.

    Second, Nietzsche observes with confidence-shaking perspicacity how frequently indignant moralistic condemnation itself, whether arising in serious criminal or public matters or from more private personal interactions, can detach itself from any measured assessment of the wrong and devolve into a free-floating expression of vengeful resentment against some real or imagined perpetrator. The First Treatise does little, however, to suggest why inhabitants of a noble morality might be at all moved by such condemnations, generating a question about how the moral revaluation could have succeeded.

    The Second Treatise, about guilt and bad conscience, offers some materials toward an answer to this puzzle. Nietzsche begins from the insight that guilt bears a close conceptual connection to the notion of debt. The pure idea of moralized guilt answers this need by tying any wrong action inextricably and uniquely to a blamable agent. As we saw, the impulse to assign blame was central to the ressentiment that motivated the moral revaluation of values, according to the First Treatise. Thus, insofar as people even nobles become susceptible to such moralized guilt, they might also become vulnerable to the revaluation, and Nietzsche offers some speculations about how and why this might happen GM II, 16— These criticisms have attracted an increasingly subtle secondary literature; see Reginster , as well as Williams a, b , Ridley , May 55—80 , Leiter —44 , Risse , , Janaway —42 , and Owen 91— In such cases, free-floating guilt can lose its social and moral point and develop into something hard to distinguish from a pathological desire for self-punishment.

    Ascetic self-denial is a curious phenomenon indeed, on certain psychological assumptions, like descriptive psychological egoism or ordinary hedonism, it seems incomprehensible , but it is nevertheless strikingly widespread in the history of religious practice. One obvious route to such a value system, though far from the only one, is for the moralist to identify a set of drives and desires that people are bound to have—perhaps rooted in their human or animal nature—and to condemn those as evil; anti-sensualist forms of asceticism follow this path.

    As Nietzsche emphasizes, purified guilt is naturally recruited as a tool for developing asceticism.


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    • Suffering is an inevitable part of the human condition, and the ascetic strategy is to interpret such suffering as punishment , thereby connecting it to the notion of guilt. Despite turning her own suffering against her, the move paradoxically offers certain advantages to the agent—not only does her suffering gain an explanation and moral justification, but her own activity can be validated by being enlisted on the side of punishment self-castigation :.

      For every sufferer instinctively seeks a cause for his suffering; still more precisely, a perpetrator, still more specifically, a guilty perpetrator who is susceptible to suffering,. GM III, The principal bow stroke the ascetic priest allowed himself to cause the human soul to resound with wrenching and ecstatic music of every kind was executed—everyone knows this—by exploiting the feeling of guilt.

      Consider, for example, the stance of Schopenhauerian pessimism, according to which human life and the world have negative absolute value.

      From that standpoint, the moralist can perfectly well allow that ascetic valuation is self-punishing and even destructive for the moral agent, but such conclusions are entirely consistent with—indeed, they seem like warranted responses to —the pessimistic evaluation. That is, if life is an inherent evil and nothingness is a concrete improvement over existence, then diminishing or impairing life through asceticism yields a net enhancement of value.

      While asceticism imposes self-discipline on the sick practitioner, it simultaneously makes the person sicker, plunging her into intensified inner conflict GM III, 15, 20— While this section has focused on the Genealogy , it is worth noting that its three studies are offered only as examples of Nietzschean skepticism about conventional moral ideas. Nietzsche tried out many different arguments against pity and compassion beginning already in Human, All-too-human and continuing to the end of his productive life—for discussion, see Reginster , Janaway forthcoming , and Nussbaum Nietzsche resists the hedonistic doctrine that pleasure and pain lie at the basis of all value claims, which would be the most natural way to defend such a presupposition.

      From that point of view, the morality of compassion looks both presumptuous and misguided. It is misguided both because it runs the risk of robbing individuals of their opportunity to make something positive individually meaningful out of their suffering, and because the global devaluation of suffering as such dismisses in advance the potentially valuable aspects of our general condition as vulnerable and finite creatures GS ; compare Williams 82— For him, however, human beings remain valuing creatures in the last analysis. It follows that no critique of traditional values could be practically effective without suggesting replacement values capable of meeting our needs as valuers see GS ; Anderson , esp.

      Nietzsche thought it was the job of philosophers to create such values BGE , so readers have long and rightly expected to find an account of value creation in his works. It is common, if not altogether standard, to explain values by contrasting them against mere desires. Consider: If I become convinced that something I valued is not in fact valuable, that discovery is normally sufficient to provoke me to revise my value, suggesting that valuing must be responsive to the world; by contrast, subjective desires often persist even in the face of my judgment that their objects are not properly desirable, or are unattainable; see the entries on value theory and desire.

      We [contemplatives] … are those who really continually fashion something that had not been there before: the whole eternally growing world of valuations, colors, accents, perspectives, scales, affirmations, and negations. Only we have created the world that concerns man! Some scholars take the value creation passages as evidence that Nietzsche was an anti-realist about value, so that his confident evaluative judgments should be read as efforts at rhetorical persuasion rather than objective claims Leiter , or relatedly they suggest that Nietzsche could fruitfully be read as a skeptic, so that such passages should be evaluated primarily for their practical effect on readers Berry ; see also Leiter Others Hussain take Nietzsche to be advocating a fictionalist posture, according to which values are self-consciously invented contributions to a pretense through which we can satisfy our needs as valuing creatures, even though all evaluative claims are strictly speaking false.

      First, while a few passages appear to offer a conception of value creation as some kind of legislative fiat e. Second, a great many of the passages esp. GS 78, , , , connect value creation to artistic creation, suggesting that Nietzsche took artistic creation and aesthetic value as an important paradigm or metaphor for his account of values and value creation more generally.

      NIETZSCHE: THE NATURE OF OUR WORLD AND OUR MISSION IN IT

      While some Soll attack this entire idea as confused, other scholars have called on these passages as support for either fictionalist or subjective realist interpretations. In addition to showing that not all value creation leads to results that Nietzsche would endorse, this observation leads to interesting questions—e. If so, what differentiates the two modes? Can we say anything about which is to be preferred? Nietzsche praises many different values, and in the main, he does not follow the stereotypically philosophical strategy of deriving his evaluative judgments from one or a few foundational principles.

      A well-known passage appears near the opening of the late work, The Antichrist :. What is good? Everything that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself.

      Existentialism

      That doctrine seems to include the proposal that creatures like us or more broadly: all life, or even all things period aim at the enhancement of their power—and then further, that this fact entails that enhanced power is good for us or for everything.

      The same conception has been developed by Paul Katsafanas , who argues that, qua agents, we are ineluctably committed to valuing power because a Reginster-style will to power is a constitutive condition on acting at all. His account thereby contributes to the constitutivist strategy in ethics pioneered by Christine Korsgaard and David Velleman , On this view, what Nietzsche values is power understood as a tendency toward growth, strength, domination, or expansion Schacht —88; Hussain Leiter is surely right to raise worries about the Millian reconstruction.

      Nietzsche apparently takes us to be committed to a wide diversity of first order aims, which raises prima facie doubts about the idea that for him all willing really takes power as its first-order aim as the Millian argument would require. It is not clear that this view can avoid the objection rooted in the possibility of pessimism i.

      Given his engagement with Schopenhauer, Nietzsche should have been sensitive to the worry. I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati : let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse.

      Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: someday I wish to be only a Yes-sayer. GS Let our brilliance make them look dark. No, let us not become darker ourselves on their account, like all those who punish…. Let us look away.

      diroblu.ml After that penultimate section, Nietzsche quotes the first section of Thus Spoke Zarathustra , which returns repeatedly to the same theme of affirmation see, e. That critique is directed in large measure against aspects of morality that turn the agent against herself—or more broadly, against the side of Christianity that condemns earthly existence, demanding that we repent of it as the price of admission to a different, superior plane of being.

      What is wrong with these views, according to Nietzsche, is that they negate our life, instead of affirming it. The affirmation of life can be framed as the rejection of nihilism, so understood. For Nietzsche, that involves a two-sided project: it should both undermine values by reference to which the world could not honestly be affirmed, while also articulating the values exemplified by life and the world that make them affirmable. Readers interested in this issue about the compatibility of Nietzschean affirmation with Nietzschean critique should also consult Huddleston, forthcoming, a, which reaches a more diffident conclusion than this entry.

      If we are to affirm our life and the world, however, we had better be honest about what they are really like. Endorsing things under some illusory Panglossian description is not affirmation, but self-delusion. How much truth does a spirit endure , how much truth does it dare? More and more that became for me the real measure of value.

      Reading Response Guidelines

      EH Pref. Some texts present truthfulness as a kind of personal commitment—one tied to particular projects and a way of life in which Nietzsche happens to have invested. For example, in GS 2 Nietzsche expresses bewilderment in the face of people who do not value honesty:. I do not want to believe it although it is palpable: the great majority of people lacks an intellectual conscience.

      No, life has not disappointed me… ever since the day when the great liberator came to me: the idea that life could be an experiment for the seeker for knowledge…. Indeed, he assigns the highest cultural importance to the experiment testing whether such a life can be well lived:. A thinker is now that being in whom the impulse for truth and those life-preserving errors now clash for their first fight, after the impulse for truth has proved to be also a life-preserving power. Compared to the significance of this fight, everything else is a matter of indifference: the ultimate question about the conditions of life has been posed here, and we confront the first attempt to answer the question by experiment.

      To what extent can truth endure incorporation? That is the question; that is the experiment. A second strand of texts emphasizes connections between truthfulness and courage , thereby valorizing honesty as the manifestation of an overall virtuous character marked by resoluteness, determination, and spiritual strength.

      Such wishful thinking is not only cognitively corrupt, for Nietzsche, but a troubling manifestation of irresolution and cowardice. Finally, it is worth noting that even when Nietzsche raises doubts about this commitment to truthfulness, his very questions are clearly motivated by the central importance of that value.