THE MEANING OF LIFE – NIHILISM – PART III

We ended last time with Nietzsche’s negative critique of Western philosophy and Christianity and his concerns with late 19th century European nihilism. Nietzsche foresaw that any solution required delineation of a new system of metaphysics and ethics founded on modern truth, not ancient myth and error. Unfortunately he failed to complete work on his system prior to his mental incapacitation from tertiary syphilis, so we must assemble one from the major ideas he developed in his existent works.

Nietzsche’s Metaphysics

Reality consists of an undirected universe, materially finite, but eternal. It has no final goal, but is a ‘monster of energy,’7 ever-changing, creative and destructive. There is no God and no soul, and therefore no divine law, absolute morality, heaven, or afterlife. However, since the universe works with a finite number of particles for an infinite amount of time, the current reality will recur exactly as it is now an infinite number of times meaning each of us must endure our life over and over – a principle he calls Eternal Recurrence.

Science offers objective truth; but subjective truth, particularly of the philosopher is greater. “The value of an idea has greater significance than the truth of the idea.”8 Truth is in effect what promotes health defined as the strength and preservation of the individual. Objective truth functions only as a means to that end.

The will is neither free nor unfree, but weak or strong. Human strength of will he calls the will to power; not power over others, but rather power over oneself as self-control and artistic and philosophical ability.

Nietzsche’s Ethics

For Nietzsche, the good is natural life and strength of will. He rejects the four traditional forms of ethics – (1) Christian morality, which diminishes earthly life and traditional strength, (2) secular values – mere abstractions presuming equality of human will, (3) herd values, the errors of common men absent of individuality, and (4) philosophical ethics based on the deception of absolutes. In their place he encourages positive values developed through individual strength of will and directed at transformation and heroic greatness – the synthesis or evolution of the uberman of superman.

For Nietzsche this translates into simple and surprisingly tame principles, for example: (1) Be yourself, (2) Live life fully, (3) Free yourself from belief in God, (4) Have a generous spirit, (5) Take joy in suffering; life is worth it. He urges us to embrace existence for its own sake. One’s fate is in one’s own hands; expect no help from another, particularly a deity. Life is tragic; this is the lesson of the pre-Socratic Greeks in their culture of Dionysus – the impulse to life of joys and pains. “Life at bottom is indestructibly powerful and pleasurable.”9

Nietzche and the Meaning of Life

In conclusion, we see that Nietzsche considers and rejects nihilism. He suggests we maximize our strength of will and live a life we want to live in every detail “again and again in all eternity.”10 He promotes the “greatest elevation of man’s consciousness of strength as that which creates superman.”11 Ultimately he offers a metaphysical rationale and ethical framework to find meaning, but leaves its final form to us.

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1Mann, Heinrich, The Living Thoughts of Nietzsche. David McKay Company, Philadelphia, 1939. Page 21.

2Ibid., page 54.

3Ibid.

4Ibid., page 68.

5Ibid., page 111.

6]’Ibid.

7Ibid. page 150.

8 Magill, Frank. Masterpieces of World Philosophy. HarperCollins Publishers.  1990. ISBN 0-06-270051-0. Page 697.

9 Mann, Heinrich, The Living Thoughts of Nietzsche. David McKay Company, Philadelphia, 1939. Page 134.

10Ibid., page 148.

11Ibid., page 149.

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