Lecture 7: Nietzsche: Immoralist and Nihilist?
's conviction that philosophy should deeply reflect the
personal concerns of individual human beings. But for Nietzsche, this entailed rejection of
traditional values, including the Christian religion. Nietzsche's declaration of "the death of god"
draws attention to our culture's general abandonment of any genuine commitment to the
Christian faith. Nietzsche insists that there are no objective standards or universal rules for
human life, no absolute values, no certainties on which to rely. If truth can be achieved at all, it
can come only from an individual who purposefully disregards everything that is traditionally
taken to be "important." Such a super-human person (Ger.
), Nietzsche supposed,
can live an authentic and successful human life.
2. In his time, Friedrich Nietzsche was the most radical philosopher the Western tradition had
ever produced; he posed a fundamental challenge to the rationalism that had dominated Western
philosophy since Plato. Nietzsche was in his own way an extreme
. The senses reveal
things only as they appear, but there is nothing more to things than their appearance. Since all
appearing takes place from a certain perspective, there is nothing to distinguish one perspective
as superior to another. What is wrong with bringing diverse objects under abstract conceptions?
The problem, Nietzsche argued, was that things are always only
, never identical. (A
similar point was made in the mid-twentieth century by Ludwig Wittgenstein, who held that
general concepts express "family resemblances" among individuals.) We regard diverse items as
identical or falling under a single concept because it is useful, even necessary, to do so. But this
usefulness masks the fundamental untruth of categorization.
3. Yet, if we eliminate objectivity and question categorization then how is it possible to explain
the permanent character of the world. There are at least two ways in which we conceptually
represent the world as permanent. For existing objects, change is regarded as no more than the
replacement of "accidental" properties while "essential" properties endure. Suppose with
Aristotle that a human being is a rational animal. Then change (growth, learning, illness, etc.) in
an individual human takes place against the enduring backdrop of rationality and animal nature.
The individual endures as long as it partakes of its essence.
Another way of understanding permanence in the face of change is to describe the individual
itself as unchanging. The atoms suffer no alteration, but only reconfiguration. Since they are not
subject to change, the source of their motion is located outside them, in necessary "laws" of
What remains when the leveling influence of concepts is removed is a