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Student number: 704619

Explain and assess Nietzsches claim that the world is will to power and
nothing besides.

The will to power is one of Friedrich Nietzsches big ideas, considered to be his
most convoluted concepts that rose to prominence and controversy, partly due to
its lack of intelligibility and political misappropriation, but mostly due to the fact
that much of the discussion of will to power comes from careful editing of
Nietzsches unpublished notebook. He defines the will to power as an insatiable
desire to manifest power; or as the employment and exercise of power, as a
creative drive, etc. This seemingly intuitive concept has invoked strong reactions,
dividing opinions among the scholars, owing to the fact that it may be interpreted
as three different doctrines: will to power as an ontological doctrine, as causality
and as a psychological doctrine (Welshon 2004). Firstly, as an ontological
doctrine, the will to power is asserted as the basis of which every being comes to
existence1. It is intended to bear the value of truth and to supply knowledge
about the reality of the world (Clark 2001). Meanwhile, the interpretation of will
to power as causality implies the ability of the notion will to power in becoming
the causal and explanatory basis in the psychological, biological and physical
domain, which sometimes referred to as the empirical doctrine.(Kaufmann
1968) Finally, the will to power can also be interpreted to restrictively, work
simply within the psychological domain, which proposes an explanation of
variety of human behaviors and its societal relation on the basis of will to power.

This essay will explain what constitutes of Nietzsches conception of will to


power, specifically with reference to his claim that the world is will to power and
nothing besides (Nietzsche 1901). Next, a discussion will ensue on how each
interpretation of the will to power supposedly works. This will be finally be
concluded by an assessment of the will to power and the choice of interpretation
that will lead to the most intelligible reading: will to power as a limited
psychological doctrine.

At face value, the quotation (and thus its extensive excerpt) as well as the
Nachlass appears to support the interpretation of will to power as an ontological
doctrine. Nietzsche, which has been known to reject materialism and atomism 2,
establishes the idea that everything in this universe, including the atomic level of
beings are instances of will and its conscious levels of existence are made up of
instances of power (Welshon 2004). These instances of power are referred to as
quanta of power and dynamic quanta, in which each quantums distinguishing
features are derived from the effect it produces and that which it resists
(Welshon 2004). The essence of these quanta of power is traced from their
relation to all other quanta. These power quanta form a structured union of
power, with each union concerned with extending its power (Nietzsche 1901).
They are essentially pathos, which in turn make up the world, again through
relations of force with one another. Thus, Nietzsche arrives to the claim that the
world as a monster of energy, a play of forces, and continuously in motion. 3

1 http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ontological-commitment/
2
3
Student number: 704619

When we turn to Nietzsches published works, such as Beyond Good and Evil,
many of the assertions appear to point to will to power as a causal force, which
views the aforementioned as an efficient causality for the psychological,
biological and physical domain, that according to Kaufmann is an empirical
concept arrived at by induction.4 It was in Kaufmanns belief that the will to
power originally has success in explaining a range of psychological phenomena,
leading to the psychological doctrine. Subsequently, according to Kaufmann,
Nietzsche extended his hypothesis into the biological domain, which are further
generalized to the physical domain. Within the domain of human behavior,
Nietzsche states that individually, the love of power is the demon of men 5 and
collectively, in a society, a table of the good hangs over every people, it is the
voice of their will to power.6 According to him, this is not the only case in which
the will to power has explanatory uses. Rather, everything from the behavior of
complex animals, trees, plants7 to lower level of living organisms, such as the
protoplasm8, has one thing in common: will to power as causality to its existence.
This extension to biology is also evident in Nietzsches opposition to the
Darwinian theory of evolution9, which was based on self-preservation and
survival. Finally, the generalization continues to include will to power as the
basic force of the universe10, or the will to power physics, largely influenced by
Boscovichs work on the ideas of force11.

Last, but not least, the most used reading of Nietzsches will to power resides in
its psychological interpretation. This is simply the core, most plausible idea of the
empirical doctrine above, without extension towards the biological and physical
domain. The will to power, according to this view, underlies all kinds of human
behaviors, with a range of psychological and moral implications such as in
Beyond Good and Evil and Genealogy of Morals.

Following the exposition on the three interpretations of the will to power, this
essay will proceed with the contention that the most intelligible reading of
Nietzsche will be to reject the ontological doctrine, as well as the empirical
doctrine within the biological and physical domain, while accepting a limiting
version of the psychological doctrine. Here, the presiding view is that from the
psychological, biological and physical doctrines, the extension to the biological
and physical world merely acts as an extended hyperbole to affirm the former.

The ontological doctrine is problematic for several reasons, excluding the fact
that it simply appears like an extremely speculative, quasi-scientific account of
4 Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (New York,
1968), 204.
5 Daybreak section 262
6 Z On a Thousand and One Goals, 42
7 WP section 704, page 374
8 WP section 702, page 373
9 TI Skirmishes of an Untimely Man section 14, 199
10 Walter Kaufmann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (New York,
1968), 207.
11 G. Whitlock, Examining Nietzsches Time Atom Theory Fragment from
1873, Nietzsche-Studien, Band 26, 1997, pp. 350-60.
Student number: 704619

the universe that should never render any serious considerations. One problem
of taking this view is that the ontological doctrine is not compatible with
Nietzsches views on knowledge and truth. We are, according to Nietzsche,
limited by the use of concepts and language. The latter is never extra-
perspectival, since it arises within a certain perspective, implying that anything
the language referred to will not be extra-perspectival too. Therefore, force, etc.
do not refer to anything outside a certain perspective, which contradicts the very
idea of ontology, a study that supplies a general theory about being, that requires
the subjugation of a certain perspective. Moreover, Nietzsche has also denied the
value of anything metaphysical or non-empirical, as well as the value of
knowledge and truth. Thus, we need to conclude that there is no will to power
ontology, at least to maintain the consistency in Nietzsches philosophy.

The empirical doctrine, fortunately, allows for its reconciliation with Nietzsches
perspectival view of knowledge, which is its major advantage. It ensures the
validity of Nietzsches body of thinking, due to the fact that if Nietzsches claim
were meant to be true, then it can only be so if it merely describes the empirical
reality of the world, i.e. an empirical doctrine. The will to power is the underlying
basis of the workings of the world from the human perspective, not violating
perspectivism, instead of an ontological doctrine claiming something that is true
in-itself, suggesting a view of an existence of a thing-in-itself that arises from
no perspective at all, violating the two views that Nietzsche has been so openly
against.

Nevertheless, the empirical doctrine has to be rejected, in light of its extension to


the biological and physical domain. A more pressing issue, in my view, which
leads to the rejections of the three doctrines, is that they are the result of
Nietzsche reading his values into the world.12 He projects his own pre-
conceived value of the will to power psychology to other area, possibly due to his
confirmation bias.13 This cognitive shortcomings leads to a collection of
supporting evidence that is selective in nature, aligning with ones preconceived
values, which is palpable to be the case here. Moore describes Roux and Rolphs
biological theories that Nietzsche was influenced by, is obscure at best, but
extremely relevant to Nietzsches concern14. Furthermore, Pearson, in
commenting on Boscovichs influence on Nietzsches physical doctrine of the will
to power, suggests that Nietzsches commentary has been too much informed by
an ignorance of the theoretical contexts15, with Boscovichs ideas being
decontextualized and over-determined.16 Nietzsche himself, on another matter,
has admitted that the will to power is only interpretation. 17 This adds on to the

12 Clark, page 5, right part.


13 https://explorable.com/confirmation-bias
14 Moore,Gregory,Nietzsche,BiologyandMetaphor,CambridgeUniversityPress,2002,228pp,
$55.00,ISBN0521812305. http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/23160nietzschebiologyandmetaphor/

15 Keith Ansell Pearson


16 Keith Ansell Pearson
17 Clark, page 6
Student number: 704619

complexity of the matter because admittance entails that his theory cannot be
treated as true, which is often presented as such.

It can however, be quite uncharitable to simply disregard Nietzsches ontological


and empirical doctrine as a complete fairytale. Firstly, Nietzsche tries to engage
with the science of his day within his capacity as a philosopher and not a
scientist, which naturally lends his thinking into the conformation bias that we
are all susceptible to. Secondly, his admission that his theory is only
interpretation shows, to the least, some self-awareness in his value-projection,
suggesting that the criticized interpretations above may not be of Nietzsches
intention. Thirdly, the act of thinking, of the constant search of truth within the
human perspective is the only thing that we can do as human beings. Our ability
to think is the only thing that we can know to be true, at least for our own self.
For Nietzsche, this will to truth is motivated by will to power, which means that it
is the only thing that is true in this world, hopelessly limited while remaining
perspectival in the only relevant, human perspective. Anything beyond the
human domain is incomprehensible and irrelevant. We devise ways to knowing
this empirical world and we create ontological theories in concepts and language.
It is, therefore, impossible to rule out the possibility that the ontologies are both
true and untrue. What can anyone, let alone an individual, although as great as
Nietzsche, do about this limit to rationality?

In light of the points above, then, how should we interpret Nietzsches will to
power? I propose the adoption of a limited view of the psychological doctrine.
The limitedness here comes from the plausible rejection of everything wanted is
for the sake of power18, implying that humans have no first-order desires,
which is incomprehensible, since beings who never had any other desire would
have a desire to be able to satisfy their desires.19 Thus, I propose this: a
psychological doctrine whose value does not lie in the sphere of knowledge, but
in that of life.20 The will to power should not be accepted as a knowledge-based,
scientifically proven doctrine, since it will and should never hold up its
truthfulness within that realm. Instead, within the larger picture of life, one
sees the value of Nietzsches will to power: its truthfulness. With complete
objectivity being non-existent, the closest we can come to truth is by gathering all
kinds interpretations, learning as much as we can, to finally come to choose our
best interpretation. In this sense, Nietzsches will to power can be true; in the
way its adoption affirms life more than any other interpretation of life.

Furthermore, in my opinion, the will to power may be intended as an elitist filter


to pick out the strong, right kind of readers, or at least the ones with the potential
to be so. The strong will accept the will to power, not as something that is true
as such, but true in the other sense discussed above. The sophistication of
interpretations of the strong in perceiving the complexity and nuance of
Nietzsches ideas renders the understanding that the first two doctrines are
merely form of Nietzsches idealization as his overall style, which is not
18 Kaufmann, in Edwards (ed.), Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 511
19 clark page 4 left
20 Translated by Daniel Breazeale, Philosophy and Truth: Selection from
Nietzsches Notebooks of the Early 1870s (Atlantic Heights, NJ, 1979), 17.
Student number: 704619

important in understanding Nietzsche. This divides the strong from the weak,
as the latter will take the doctrine at face value and flat out reject it.

Also, one may undermines the persuasive power of theory in directing the way
we thinks and acts in a specific way, regardless of whether it is based on
observations existing in nature. In this, theories become self-fulfilling
prophecies as it influences the way people think they should do and what they
think others do. Collectively, a theory can turn to be true by this virtue, providing
that it has a strong persuasive power, which is where Nietzsches idealization
comes in handy. Idealizing is a tremendous drive to bring out the main features
so that the others disappear.21 This is not unusual in Nietzsche, as he habitually
relies on pre-reflective responses to get his readers in accord with his views.
Thus, this procedure fits what could be Nietzsches purpose to infect the thinking
of the strong, in an attempt of furtherance and affirmation of life.

In my conclusion, the claim that the world is will to power and nothing besides
should not be taken as a proclamation of ontology or even an empirical truth in
the biological and physical domain. The will to power is true, in its limited
psychological sense, whose value lies in its role as art and encouragement to the
affirmation of life and therefore should not be perceived and judged as true
science or hard, factual, knowledge.

21 Clark