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Essay/Term paper: Two brands of nihilism

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Philosophy

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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.


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, arrives 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.


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

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, the virtuous man ("for the sinner that repents')...(progress of
the idea: it becomes more subtle, insidious, incomprehensible - it becomes
female, it becomes Christian.)" The true world is promised, but removed and the "
apparant" 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 form 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 "nots" 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 trasencendent 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.


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
siuated 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 might one 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 reponse 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 who spoke
thus?"(GS, 341).

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 is the world, in a spirit of affirmation? Nietzsche imagines no greater
affirmation of life can be concieved 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" (WWI
589). 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 oject 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 concieves 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 surorised 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 indivuals
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 are overcome.


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