NietzscheEternalReturn - Michael Lacewing N i e t z s c h e...

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© Michael Lacewing Nietzsche on eternal return THE IDEA OF ETERNAL RETURN Nietzsche says that no sacrifice is too great to help bring new philosophers into existence (§23). What could justify this? The quick answer is that they justify life, even with all its suffering. With them, it is possible to say that it – life, history – is worth it. The goal of humanity, says in Nietzsche in an early work, lies in its highest specimens. ( Untimely Meditations , II §9) Throughout history, human beings have suffered terribly, physically and mentally. For what purpose? We deceive ourselves about this to try to make life bearable. One self- deception is to say that this life is not worth much, that there is a better, greater world, that we suffer because we sin. But there is no transcendent world. This life is it. With no transcendent world, are we left with the judgement that life is worthless, pointless – pessimism? We need a new ideal, one based in this life, not denying it. We need ‘the ideal of the most audacious, lively, and world-affirming human being, one who has learned not only to accept and bear that which has been and is, but who also wants to have it over again, just as it was and is , throughout all eternity’ (§56). The ability to say ‘Yes’ to life is the ultimate mark of someone who is ‘higher’ and a genuine free spirit. This idea of ‘having it over again… throughout all eternity’ is the idea of the ‘eternal return’ of the world and everything that happens. In his unpublished notebooks, Nietzsche toyed with the idea that the world actually does repeat itself, that everything that has happened in the past will happen again, that everything that happens in the future has happened in a previous cycle. But he never defended the idea in print. So we should not interpret him as making a metaphysical claim. Instead, Nietzsche presents it as a psychological test: what sort of person could will the eternal return of the world? To will eternal return is different from merely accepting it or resigning oneself to it. It is to want it. Second, in what you will to happen again, you change nothing. So to will eternal return is to will all the wars, genocide, natural disasters, diseases, torture, mental illness and broken hearts that have ever occurred. All events are ‘entangled’ with each other. So to will the return of any happiness or joy is to will the return of every sorrow. Third, to will something is also to accept responsibility for it. You can be held accountable for what you deliberate choose to do. To will eternal return, then, is to be able to accept responsibility for the entirety of human history. New philosophers ‘assign value and rank according to how many and how many sorts of things one person could bear, could take upon himself, by how far a person could extend his responsibility’ (§212). To will eternal return is to take responsibility, of a kind, for everything that happens. New philosophers will take on themselves responsibility for the future of the human race, to make of us something ‘higher’ (§61).
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So what would it take to be able to will eternal return? Above all, one needs to resist
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This note was uploaded on 03/07/2010 for the course HUM 112 taught by Professor Barry during the Spring '10 term at Bilkent University.

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NietzscheEternalReturn - Michael Lacewing N i e t z s c h e...

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