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In The Will to Power, the "work" to be treated in this lecture course, Nietzsche says the following about philosophy (WM, 420):
I do not wish to persuade anyone to philosophy: it is inevitable and perhaps also desirable that the philosopher should be a rare plant. I find nothing more repugnant than didactic praise of philosophy as one finds it in Seneca, or worse, Cicero. Philosophy has little to do with virtue. Permit me to say also that the man of knowledge is fundamentally different from the philosopher. --What I desire is that the genuine concept of the philosopher not perish utterly in Germany ....
At the age of twenty-eight, as a professor in Basel, Nietzsche writes (X, 112):
There are times of great danger in which philosophers appear--times when the wheel rolls ever faster--when philosophers and artists assume the place of the dwindling mythos. They are far ahead of their time, however, for the attention of contemporaries is only quite slowly drawn to them. A people which becomes aware of its dangers produces the genius.
The Will to Power--the expression plays a dual role in Nietzsche's thinking. First, it serves as the title of Nietzsche's chief philosophical work, planned and prepared over many years but never written. Second, it names what constitutes the basic character of all beings. "Will to power is the ultimate factum to which we come" (XVI, 415).
It is easy to see how both applications of the expression "will to power" belong together: only because the expression plays thesecond role can and must it also adopt the first. As the name for the basic character of all beings, the expression "will to power" provides an answer to the question "What is being?" Since antiquity that question has been the question of philosophy. The name "will to power" must therefore come to stand in the title of the chief philosophical work of a thinker who says that all being ultimately is will to power. If for Nietzsche the work of that title is to be the philosophical "main structure," for which Zarathustra is but the "vestibule," the implication is that Nietzsche's thinking proceeds within the vast orbit of the ancient guiding question of philosophy, "What is being?"
Is Nietzsche then not at all so modern as the hubbub that has surrounded him makes it seem? Is Nietzsche riot nearly so subversive as he himself was wont to pose? Dispelling such fears is not really necessary; we need not bother to do that. On the contrary, the reference to the fact that Nietzsche moves in the orbit of the question of Western philosophy only serves to make clear that Nietzsche knew what philosophy is. Such knowledge is rare. Only great thinkers possess it. The greatest possess it most purely in the form of a persistent question. The genuinely grounding question, as the question of the essence of Being, does not unfold in the history of philosophy as such; Nietzsche too persists in the guiding question.
The task of our lecture course is to elucidate the fundamental position within which Nietzsche unfolds the guiding question of Western thought and responds to it. Such elucidation is needed in order to prepare a confrontation with Nietzsche. If in Nietzsche's thinking the prior tradition of Western thought is gathered and completed in a decisive respect, then the confrontation with Nietzsche becomes one with all Western thought hitherto.
The confrontation with Nietzsche has not yet begun, nor have the prerequisites for it been established. For a long time Nietzsche has been either celebrated and imitated or reviled and exploited. Nietzsche's thought and speech are still too contemporary for us. He and we have not yet been sufficiently separated in history; we lack the distance necessary for a sound appreciation of the thinker's strength.
Confrontation is genuine criticism. It is the supreme way, the only way, to a true estimation of a thinker. In confrontation we undertake to reflect on his thinking and to trace it in its effective force, not in its weaknesses. To what purpose? In order that through the confrontation we ourselves may become free for the supreme exertion of thinking.
But for a long time it has been declaimed from chairs of philosophy in Germany that Nietzsche is not a rigorous thinker but a "poetphilosopher." Nietzsche does not belong among the philosophers, who think only about abstract, shadowy affairs, far removed from life. If he is to be called a philosopher at all then he must be regarded as a "philosopher of life." That rubric, a perennial favorite, serves at the same time to nourish the suspicion that any other kind of philosophy is something for the dead, and is therefore at bottom dispensable. Such a view wholly coincides with the opinion of those who welcome in Nietzsche the "philosopher of life" who has at long last quashed abstract thought. These common judgments about Nietzsche are in error. The error will be recognized only when a confrontation with him is at the same time conjoined to a confrontation in the realm of the grounding question of philosophy. At the outset, however, we ought to introduce some words of Nietzsche's that stem from the time of his work on "will to power": "For many, abstract thinking is toil; for me, on good days, it is feast and frenzy" (XIV, 24).
Abstract thinking a feast? The highest form of human existence? Indeed. But at the same time we must observe how Nietzsche views the essence of the feast, in such a way that he can think of it only on the basis of his fundamental conception of all being, will to power. "The feast implies: pride, exuberance, frivolity; mockery of all earnestness and respectability; a divine affirmation of oneself, out of animal plenitude and perfection--all obvious states to which the Christian may not honestly say Yes. The feast is paganism par excellence" (WM, 916). For that reason, we might add, the feast of thinking never takes place in Christianity. That is to say, there is no Christian philosophy. There is no true philosophy that could be determined anywhere else than from within itself. For the same reason there is no pagan philosophy, inasmuch as anything "pagan" is always still something Christian --the counter-Christian. The Greek poets and thinkers can hardly be designated as "pagan."
Posted November 2, 2008
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