Darwin and Nietzsche: Part I

Charles Darwin

In approaching a discussion of the thinking of Nietzsche and Darwin, we must first establish the basic terms that ground the thinking of the scientist, Darwin, and the philosopher, Nietzsche and show what distinguishes them. Nietzsche once wrote that Darwinism is “true, but deadly”. What did he mean by that?

From our earlier writings we can see that the essential distinction between the ancients and the moderns is the understanding of nature and eternity (beings and Being) and of nature and history (beings and Time). Both Darwin and Nietzsche are 19th century thinkers and both are responsible for much of the thinking that grounds what we have called the “modern”. What students study in the Areas of Knowledge and how these beings/things are understood will help us to understand the origins of the language that we use everyday unthinkingly.

In what manner are beings understood (knowledge) and what is the ‘what’ of beings in both the “essentia” of beings, and ‘how’ these beings ‘are’ (the “existentia” of beings) in both these thinkers?

Friedrich Nietzsche

For Nietzsche three terms: 1) “will to power” as the “what” of beings and 2) “eternal recurrence of the same” as the “how” of beings will be described. Among those human beings who have understood the what and the how of beings are, according to Nietzsche, the 3) “overman”.  From within these three terms the grounds of the thinking of Nietzsche will be shown, what Nietzsche called “knowledge”, and we will attempt to understand the concepts “values”, “empowerment” and “quality of life” or “enhancement of life” that arise from this understanding/knowledge of beings as “will to power”. How these beings are in their being as the “eternal recurrence of the same” will also be explicated. From these we can make some preliminary statements about the fact-value distinction that rules today in the methodologies of the human and natural sciences as well as come to some conclusions about John Dewey’s idea of “growth” as “empowerment” and the role that the principle of reason (technology) plays in this “growth” and in the establishment of the “values” that are realized through the improvement of “quality of life”. These are essential assumptions that are made in the thinking that one is exposed to today and it is essential to clarify what they mean. We will attempt to explore the roots of these concepts.

In discussing Darwin, we will attempt to understand two terms: 1) “evolution” or the progressive development of the species through time by chance, or the “what” of beings; and 2) “modification” as the “how” of beings in time will attempt to be clarified. The essential question for Darwin the scientist was an “ontological” question: the what and the how of beings; it was not a scientific question. We will show this to be the case and how analytical philosophy enjoins Darwinism to give us the substance of what is taken to be knowledge in the Western world today. For both Darwin and Nietzsche, Being is “Life” or bios, and this bios was to be understood “historically”.

Nietzsche: Will to Power as Knowledge

Nietzsche is the most comprehensive modern thinker. By “comprehensive” is meant that he thought through the explicit and implicit assumptions of modernity and their consequences.

What is “knowledge” for Nietzsche? Knowledge is “will to power”. His last writing is entitled Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is?  In the book Nietzsche writes about the destiny of the West, not merely about himself as an individual for he sees his thinking as the destiny of the West. It is in this book that the understanding of “personal knowledge” as “empowerment” and “will to power” is made clear.

In TOK, you inquire in order to reach useful reasons, responses and approaches to problems and questions that can be placed in oral presentations and essays. Your “thinking” is driven by a “scientific methodology” (research, if you like) that always operates on a ground or foundation of what has already been decided: the fact that nature, history, art are beings/things that have been defined and are made Areas of Knowledge. Real thinking questions the surety of this knowledge framework approach because it tries to understand the horizons of how these things/beings have come to be determined. It inquires into the “de-fin-ition” of these things: that which is responsible for the establishment of the “limits” or horizons of the things/beings that are being examined.

Nietzsche is the transition from the preparatory phase of the modern age—1600-1900—to the beginning of its consummation, the revealing of its essence. We do not know the time span of this consummation. It will either be very brief and catastrophic or else very long and experienced as the self-perpetuating novelty of what has already been attained through the discoveries of the modern age. These possible outcomes are based on what we have defined beings/things as being.

The history of the West is to be understood as “metaphysics” – “physics” in the Greek sense means the “physical” or “beings that as such subsist and come to presence of themselves”. “Meta” means “over and away from, beyond” to the things/beings Being. From the beings/things, we think of their Being as their most universal definition, as their ground and cause. So, for example, the Christian idea of creation from a First Cause is metaphysical. The Enlightenment idea of a governance of all beings/things under the principle of reason or a cosmic reason is metaphysical. Beings/things are that which lays claim to an explanation: “reasons” for the “why” and the “how” of beings.

Nietzsche is the consummation of Western metaphysical thinking. By this is meant that in his thinking one finds the end of the tradition, the essence, of Western metaphysics in the same way that one finds the end of the acorn in the oak. For those of us from the English-speaking West, what Nietzsche’s thinking had to think will rule (though his being a German, many in the West have determined that since he was one of the “losers” of history, because of the Great Wars of the 20th century, he was not in touch with the evolving truth of things). This perception has delayed Nietzsche’s arrival on the English-speaking scene, and his thoughts and ideas have been given to us through lesser minds and, in many cases, other language than that in which they were originally thought. The idea of the “superman” (although the original idea from Nietzsche is best translated as “overman”) is just one, although extreme, example of what occurred to Nietzsche’s thought in the North American setting.

Nietzsche’s fundamental thoughts of “will to power” and “eternal recurrence of the same” say the same and think the same about the “how” and the “why” of beings/things.

Values and Valuation:

The word “values” is a relatively new, and frequently used, term though it is a word used in an unthinking manner. Nietzsche did not coin the term, but it is through his thinking that it has come to common parlance in Western English. Even recent Popes of the Roman Catholic Church have spoken of “values” when talking about morals, cultures, aesthetics and religious topics. Nietzsche used the word “values” to indicate a “condition of life”, a condition of life’s being “alive”, what has come to us in the phrase “quality of life”. “Life”, for Nietzsche, refers to what is and for beings/things as a whole as well as our own lives.

Nietzsche does not see the essence of life in “self-preservation”, the struggle for existence, as suggested in Darwinism, but rather as self-transcending enhancement—what we understand as “empowerment” or “will to power”. “Values” are that which supports, furthers and awakens the enhancement of life, “quality of life”. Only what enhances life, and beings as a whole, has value, is a value. “Values” as conditions make “life” dependent on them; the essence of what conditions (“values”) is determined by the essence of that which it is supposed to condition (Life). Enhancement of the kind that is achieved through life is an “over beyond itself” (metaphysics). In enhancement, life projects higher possibilities of itself before itself and moves itself forward into something not yet attained, something first to be achieved, what we call invention, creativity. In these writings we have called this enhancing projecting the technological.

Enhancement as the looking ahead to something higher is called by Nietzsche “perspectivism” and finds its grounding in art. “Values” condition and determine “perspectively” the fundamental conditions of life.

“Valuation” in Nietzsche means that we determine and ascertain the “perspectival” conditions of life that make life what it is i.e. assure its essential enhancement. Nietzsche reverses or inverts the ancient, longstanding human being-in-the-world that is the Platonic-Christian one because it “de-values” the beings at hand in the here and now as what “ought not to be” because they represent a falling away from what “truly” is; the falling away from the Ideas and from God’s will  and the divine order of Being. One finds this inversion of Nietzsche’s in his use of Biblical language in his great work Thus Spake Zarathustra. Nietzsche places consequences (what we call social/cultural “contexts”) before deeds as grounds, the perspectival conditions for “life”. While this notion is now commonplace in our thinking, it originates in the thinking of Nietzsche.

But this is not the whole of it. For Nietzsche, we must re-determine the essence of life itself, and the perspectival conditions for this new essence. The conditions that seek for self-preservation (Darwinism) are downgraded to those that basically hinder or even negate life and life’s perspectival enhancement.

If life is merely understood as “self-preservation” in the service of other, later things then life as “life-enhancement” is not provided the ground for the “essence” from which life comes forth and remains rooted: its principles. Life understood as “self-preservation” floats upon a great sea of nihilism, which is “deadly”. Nietzsche’s contrary assertion is that life is “will to power”. The Greeks began Western philosophy and metaphysics by saying “being as a whole is physis” understood as Nature. Nietzsche completes Western metaphysics by stating that “being as a whole is will to power”.

Therefore for Nietzsche, science in general, knowledge in general, is a configuration of will to power. But what is science? What is knowledge? To further explore these questions will help us to understand what it is that Nietzsche means by “will to power”.

Knowledge and knowing were conceived as techne by the Greeks. Will to power is the final dominance of Being “over” beings as a whole, but in the veiled, shadowy form of Being’s abandonment of beings (to use Platonic/Heideggerian terminology).



Author: theoryofknowledgeanalternativeapproach


2 thoughts on “Darwin and Nietzsche: Part I”

    1. To speak of will to power as a “result of” or resulting in knowledge already assumes an understanding of knowledge as will to power, that one has some knowledge of what will to power is, what its essence is. As will be made clear as these writings progress, the principle of reason (from which the language of “as a result of” originates i.e. the ground of such language) is will to power and technology is the highest form of will to power.


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