The Eternal Return of the Same: Nietzsche’s ‘Valueless’ Revaluation of All Values

David Rowe

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In this paper I argue that Nietzsche should be understood as a “thorough-going nihilist”. Rather than broaching two general projects of destroying current values and constructing new ones, I argue that Nietzsche should be understood only as a destroyer of values. I do this by looking at Nietzsche’s views on nihilism and the role played by Nietzsche’s cyclical view of time, or his doctrine of the eternal recurrence of the same. I provide a typology of nihilisms, as they are found in Nietzsche—negative, reactive and radical—through a close reading of an unpublished fragment in his later notebooks, remnants of which are scattered throughout his published work. I show how the progression between the different stages of nihilism are a “necessary consequence of the ideals entertained hitherto” , with the eternal recurrence of the same playing a vital role in this progression. The last stage of nihilism—radical nihilism—is ambiguous between a life-denying, or passive, nihilism and a life-affirming, or active, one; but, I argue, both kinds of nihilism preclude a construction of new values. But there is an inherent tension within Nietzsche’s account of nihilism insofar as it relies on the eternal recurrence of the same. This tension is brought out nicely by Löwith and partially resolved by Klossowski. There are at least two meanings of the eternal recurrence of the same. In one sense, the cosmological reading, it is intended to make sense of the idea that time is infinite and matter is finite by claiming that every possible combination of matter will recur infinite times. In the other sense, the anthropological reading, it is a kind of thought experiment, analogous to Kant’s categorical imperative: “live in every moment so that you could will that moment back again over and over” . There is a tension between these readings insofar as one must will to live in such a way that they will do it again, over and over , but also that what they do will make no difference, for what one decides to do has been done innumerable times. I argue that this tension can only be resolved by considering Nietzsche as aiming at “goal-lessness as such” and placing him as an active nihilist
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-86
Number of pages16
JournalParrhesia: a journal of critical philosophy
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes

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