Two Brands of Nihilism :
As philosopher and poet Nietzsche's work is not easily conformable to the traditional schools of thought within philosophy. However, an unmistakable concern with the role of religion and values penetrates much of his work. Contrary to the tradition before him, Nietzsche launches vicious diatribes against Christianity and the dualistic philosophies he finds essentially life denying. Despite his early tutelage under the influence of Schopenhauer's philosophy, Nietzsche later philosophy indicates a refusal to cast existence as embroiled in pessimism but, instead, as that which should be affirmed, even in the face of bad fortune. This essay will study in further detail Nietzsche view of Schopenhauer and Christianity as essentially nihilistic.
Nihilism…Throughout his work Nietzsche makes extensive use of the term nihilism. In texts from the tradition prior to Nietzsche, the term connotes a necessary connection between atheism and the subsequent disbelief in values. It was held the atheist regarded the moral norms of society as merely conventional, without any justification by rational argument. Furthermore, without a divine authority prohibiting any immoral conduct, all appeals to morality by authority become hollow. By the atheists reckoning then, all acts are permissible.
With Nietzsche's appearance on the scene, however, arrive the most potent arguments denying the necessary link between atheism and nihilism. It will be demonstrated that Nietzsche, in fact, will argue it is in the appeal to divine proscriptions that the most virulent nihilism will attain. There is a second sense of nihilism that appears as an outgrowth of the first that Nietzsche appeals to in his critique of values. It contends that not only does an active, pious, acknowledgment of a divinity foster nihilism, but also, the disingenuous worship of a deity that has been replaced in the life man by science, too, breeds a passive nihilism.
Christianity…Nietzsche conceives the first variety of nihilism that fostered through active worship, as pernicious due to its reinforcement of a fundamental attitude that denies life. Throughout his life Nietzsche argued the contemporary metaphysical basis for belief in a deity were merely negations of or tried to deny, the uncertainties of what is necessarily a situated human existence. Religious doctrine is steeped in, and bounded by references to good and evil and original sin. The religious student is taught original sin, with the hopes the student will faithfully deny a human nature. Good and evil are not the approbation or prohibition against certain actions. Rather, such doctrine codifies self-hatred and begs the rejection of human nature. Christianity goes beyond a denial of just the flesh and blood of the body to do away with the whole of the world. In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche suggests in several places, that the world is falsified when dictated by the tenets of dualistic philosophies, with emphasis on Christianity.
How the True World Finally Became Fable, a section in Twilight of the Idols, is subtitled The History of an Error, for it supposes to give a short rendering of how the "true world" is lost in the histories of disfiguring philosophies that posit otherworldly dualistic metaphysics. First, Plato's vision of the realm of forms. The true world - attainable for the sage, the pious, the virtuous man...” a feasible world, achievable through piety and wisdom. A world a man may come to know, at least possible for the contemplative and diligent student. In this early imagining the world is not entirely lost yet, it is however, removed from the concrete world. A world hardly accessible but by the few who might escape the cave.
The first realization of nihilism is the denial of the sensuous world for the really real. The idea of the true world removed is then characterized as the Christian world. "The true world - unattainable for now, but promised for the sage, the pious and the virtuous man (for the sinner that repents)... (Progress of the idea : it becomes more subtle, insidious and incomprehensible - it becomes female, it becomes Christian.)" The true world is promised, but removed and the apparent world is denied for the sake of attainment of the real one. The undermining of sensuous values attains what Nietzsche calls ascetic ideals, good, evil, God, truth and the virtues that are demanded to attain in light of these forms the codes of the priests. These metaphysical codes are designed to give the pious a transcendent idealized place to go, one that will replace the sensuous situated world of humanity. The series of not’s that Christianity embraces, truth is not of the body, not of this world, not humanity, this general negation of the world reveals to Nietzsche, Christianity's fundamental denial of life. Ultimately, the unattainable world is the truth. God's point of view is the view from nowhere, an unquestionable unbiased veridical apprehension of the really real.
Another sense of nihilism arises, rooted somewhat in the first. It will not be the abdication of this world for some other instead. This brand of nihilism attains when one's words overtly call attention to God, and the values fostered in His name, but the very idea of no God has replaced the hitherto dominant theocentric paradigm, science now situates man's place in the universe. Nietzsche is perhaps most famous for his rallying cry, GOD IS DEAD. Nietzsche will contend, in the parable of the Madman that we have taken a step away from the stultifying belief in the transcendent realm, but are far from behaving as if we acknowledged His death. The events for which God was invented have now all been explained by a science, the holiest and mightiest...has bled to death under our knife. But the crowd listening only stares on silently looking on surprised. The madman is too early, for the wielders of the blade have not measured the full implication of His death. There remains the residue of Christian faith that is still in need of overcoming. Our greatest reproach against existence," he writes, "was the existence of God", and he believes, our greatest relief is found in the elimination of this idea.
But in rejecting the Christian formulation the role and importance of existence is left an open question. The question turns now on the significance of existence. Despite the overt and honest atheism both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche profess to share, the Schopenhauer formulation of the significance of existence will appear, at least, if not more life denying to Nietzsche than the Christian.
Schopenhauer…If one understood a fundamental project of Nietzsche as a will to affirm life even in the face of great tragedy, Schopenhauer stands in stark contrast. It is beyond the scope of this paper to determine where exactly Nietzsche would be situated with respect to his cosmology, and the notion of eternal return. But to illustrate the contrast of Nietzsche with Schopenhauer a delving into will bring some of this difference into relief.
Nietzsche asks how one might respond if a demon were to reveal that all of a life, every moment, would be forever repeated. "This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more," with nothing new but to repeat every pain and every joy. Would a response be to praise and exalt the demon for that or is one more likely to "throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the one who spoke thus?”
For the purpose of this paper it matters not if the demon speaks truly, for the idea serves a function…could one affirm life and live as if one had to eternally repeat it? The challenge then is to live joyfully, in the sensuous world. Could one face optimistically the ambiguities, uncertainties and chaos that are the world, in a spirit of affirmation? Nietzsche imagines no greater affirmation of life can be conceived than this test of willing.
For Schopenhauer, this is unlikely, in his the World as Will and Idea, a passage is offered that could hardly be a more explicit denial, "at the end of life, if a man is sincere and in full possession of his faculties, he will never wish to have it over again, but rather than this, he will much prefer absolute annihilation". Schopenhauer's pessimism has some roots in our inability to adequately satisfy our wants. A casual reading might have one to believe both philosophers took the will to be the same object or process, but that where one celebrates it the other denigrates it. A more careful reading will reveal, however, that, Nietzsche though initially impressed with the Schopenhauer conception of the will, he will later reject it.
Schopenhauer conceives the will to be a primal metaphysical reality. The mileage the two philosophers get from investigating WILL, the term is no coordinate in their use, nor are we surprised at the disparity of their mature philosophies. For Nietzsche, the resignation of the will is a forlorn denial of life. Similarly, the appeal to a transcendent deity also indicts the individuals as resentful in the face of those who can affirm life. Nietzsche proposes one should affirm life even in the midst of tragedy, thus the passive nihilism that embraces the ascetic ideals is overcome.
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