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Epitome of Will to Power, Book 3, Part I

Epitome of Will to Power, Book 3, Part I

5 Mins
March 8, 2011

This commentary is part of The Atlas Society's 2000 online "CyberSeminar" entitled " Nietzsche and Objectivism ."

[Moderator’s note: David Potts and other participants from time to time offer us notes on the reading they have been doing associated with the CyberSeminar. I circulate these because I think some participants may find them interesting, but they are not directly part of the CyberSeminar discussion.]

Point 1. We have no cognitive access to things-in-themselves (473, 479, 488, 552, 553, 555, 574). All the metaphysical notions in terms of which we understand reality--causation, substance, thing, space, time, subject/object, mind, matter, form, being, identity, noncontradiction--are fictions (512-517, 520-522, 524, 530-531, 549, 552, 574, 589). Causation, in particular, is a figment having its origin in an analogy drawn from intentional action (550, 551, 554).

Point 2. Consciousness, mind, the knowing subject, are likewise fictional (475-479, 488, 524, 526, 529, 574). We do not experience the ego (481, 483, 484, 490, 518, 523). Specific drives, thoughts, experiences, passions occur, but no unified subject underlies or comprises them (477, 485, 490, 529). Moreover, the body, physical states, and attributes are better known to us than the mental (489, 491, 518, 532).

Point 3. The intellect is perspectival; that is, it “sees” from a specific vantage point, in a specific way (473, 481, 555, 567, 616). Therefore, the intellect cannot criticize its own perspective (473, 486, cf. 569).

Point 4. Knowledge is not disembodied; as knowers we are not disinterested but seek knowledge to preserve and enhance our lives (480, 494, 495, 498, 505, 507, 510, 513-515, 520, 521, 552, 563, 567, 579).

Point 5. We live in a world of becoming, not being (517, 520, 531, 552, 570, 579, 580, 584, 617). This is not the phenomenal world of experience as opposed to the world of things-in-themselves, since this distinction is invalid; rather, it is the world (488, 552, 553, 567-569). There is no identity in reality (520, 552, 532, 536, 544).

Point 6. There are no facts (477, 481, 556, 560, 604). Rather, we interpret the world according to a schema of categories (such as substance and attribute, cause and effect, subject and object, space and time, mind and matter, appearance and reality) (477, 479, 513, 515, 517, 521, 522, 549, 584, 589). Reason requires some such schema (487, 517, 518, 520, 522, 544).

Point 7. In this way we create the world of being (516, 517, 521, 574, 584, 586, 617). At the same time we create the bogus distinction of things-in-themselves (or “reality”) vs. appearance (552, 553, 568, 586).

Point 8. The categorial schema is not fixed but created by powerful, creative individuals (513, 605, 606). It could be other than it is at present (514, 600, 615). The schema determines what scientists subsequently “discover” (521, 606).

Point 9. We create identity by coarseness of observation, or where the tempo of change is slow; in effect we ignore, we filter out differences (506, 521, 532, 552, 560, 580). Thus we are enabled to employ general terms and concepts (506, 521, 569). (Identity, incidentally, is holistic; that is, any attribute can only be specified by its effects on other things (557, 561).)

Point 10. Identity is the basis of calculability, i.e., of scientific laws, mathematical laws, predictions of future events (515, 551, 568, 569). Calculability is what we require for survival (480, 515, 521). The fundamental opposition that motivates epistemology is not reality vs. mere appearance but the calculable vs. the chaotic (566, 569, 580, 584).

Point 11. Thus the intellect, by achieving calculability, gains mastery, power; “knowledge” is the intellect’s expression of its will to power (480, 496, 503, 505, 507, 514, 517, 552, 589, 617).

Point 12. The will to truth is thus the intellect’s will to power (495, 514, 533-534, 552, 583C). Truth can only be conceived by intellect as consisting in identification with the “things-in-themselves” of some categorial schema (507, 517, 539, 552, 585A). But things-in-themselves, like the schema, are fictions (point 1, above). Thus truth ultimately is a chimera we must strive to transcend (539, 542, 543, 578, 583-586, 592, 602, 616).

Nietzsche is never more conflicted than over the nature of truth.

Note 1. The preceding represents my attempt to distill an epistemology from WP 3.I which is both coherent and faithful to the text. Since the text is not fully coherent (not that, being a jumble of notebook entries never prepared by Nietzsche for publication, there is much reason to expect it to be coherent), this is a treacherous task. I have tried to assemble as many citations as possible for each proposition, on the theory that any single notebook entry in isolation need not imply much or any commitment on Nietzsche’s part, and also because single entries can often be rather obscure. For example, section 566, cited in point 10, is brief and obscure; together with the other citations listed there, however, I believe it fits (and supports) the suggested interpretation. In short, with Nietzsche context is everything so I have tried to supply as much as I could. Finally, none of this should be taken to indicate that the contents of WP 3.I represent “Nietzsche's epistemology.” For all we know, he was dissatisfied with it in whole or in significant chunks, which could be why he published very little on epistemology.

Note 2. There is a question whether the world of becoming is supposed to be external and unprocessed. Can Nietzsche hold the world of becoming to be external? If it is, how does he know it’s a world of becoming (or anything else about it)? Moreover, wouldn’t the world of becoming then be “things-in-themselves,” “reality”--a false category? Although there are indications that Nietzsche may have sometimes approached a Heideggerian conception of epistemology without a Cartesian subject--of no subject/object distinction whatever--and therefore of no unprocessed world whatever (see, for example, especially 552 and cf. BGE 36), I doubt whether the text of WP 3.I fully sustains such an interpretation. Too many passages imply the independent existence of a world that supplies material to the senses. Also, Nietzsche never suggests that the world of becoming in any way depends on us. It is common for philosophers (e.g., Kant) to declare X unknowable and then proceed to tell us things about X, so that is not a strong argument against Nietzsche’s holding that becoming is external. Finally, examination of his arguments against things-in-themselves shows that what he attacks is their supposed self-identity, their unity, not their externality, so this also provides little reason to believe that becoming is not external. The difference this question makes has to do with the sense in which the world of becoming is unknowable: if the world of becoming is external then it is unknowable because it is behind the veil of perception; if it is not external (the internal/external distinction being bogus), then it is unknowable because knowledge as such requires a categorial schema and the world of becoming doesn’t do categorial schemas.

Note 3. It may be helpful to view the outlook presented in points 1 through 12 as a form of instrumentalism à la analytic philosophy of science. “Knowledge,” according to instrumentalism, should be understood not as discovering truths about a reality underlying the phenomenal world of appearance but merely as an instrument for calculating future phenomena and thereby gaining mastery over the phenomenal world around us. It is true that science talks of atoms and the like as something real, but instrumentalism says these should be thought of as fictions convenient for computing predictions, not as literal reality. Nietzsche differs from conventional instrumentalism mainly in his extension of these principles to everything about underlying reality, including space, time, the conscious ego, identity itself, even logic, and his assertion that the outer world is an identityless world of becoming. Also, Nietzsche does not regard the fictitious world of being as a wholly benign thing, since it has been moralized and made into the realm of ascetic values like God and truth and disinterested knowledge (583, 585A, 592; cf. GM iii.24 and iii.27).

Note 4. Nietzsche is never more conflicted than over the nature of truth. Sometimes by “true” he seems to mean (A) what we should believe (483, 487, 497, 516, 517, 519, 579). But at other times he seems to mean (B) identification with the world of being (536-539, 542, 543, 568, 585, 586, 592, 602). And at still other times he seems to think of truth as (C) relative to a given will or being or species (532, 535, 540, 568 third paragraph, 493). It is meaning (B) that I have singled out in point 12 above as the critical one--identification with the world of being. This is the sense of “truth” he rails against in sections 583-586 as the consolation prize of thinkers too weak to deal forthrightly, creatively, productively with the world of becoming. This sense of truth explains otherwise paradoxical passages such as 543: “In a world that is essentially false, truthfulness would be an antinatural tendency.” That is, since the world of being is “essentially false”--a fiction--yet nevertheless the standard of truth, truthfulness is “an antinatural tendency.” Truth in the (B) sense is inherently false and misleading, even corrupting, for the world of being, with which it is an identification, doesn’t exist. Therefore, “reverence for truth is already the consequence of an illusion. Everything is false!” (602) Again, the world of becoming is not true either, if the standard is the fictitious world of being: “The world [of becoming] with which we are concerned is false, i.e., is not a fact but a fable and approximation. It is ‘in flux,’ as something in a state of becoming, as a falsehood always changing but never getting near the truth: for--there is no ‘truth’” (616). Note, finally, that truth in sense (C) is perhaps only a generalization of (B) allowing for different interpretations of the world of becoming, ones that diverge from our current categorial schema.

David L. Potts
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David L. Potts
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Ideas and Ideologies