Nietzsche on nihilism

Yates, Dominic (2016) Nietzsche on nihilism. Masters thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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Nietzsche, though he used various senses of ‘nihilism’, had two main conceptions: nihilism as the belief that life is meaningless (which I term ‘value-nihilism’), and nihilism as negation of life. I argue that value-nihilism is Nietzsche’s main conception of nihilism prior to 1888. Then, in 1888, Nietzsche introduced the conception of nihilism as negation of life. This explains why Christianity is seen as an antidote (though also a cause) of nihilism in the pre-1888 work, and then comes to be seen as intrinsically nihilistic in the 1888 work: Christianity provided a meaning to life, but did so in ways that negated life. I endorse Bernard Reginster’s view of nihilism as a characterisation of value-nihilism; however, it does not explain Nietzsche’s claims that Christianity is nihilistic. Ken Gemes offers a view that aims to reconcile value-nihilism and the nihilism of Christianity. He sees nihilism as being, fundamentally, a state of ‘wholesale repression’ of the natural drives, which he terms ‘affective nihilism’. Value-nihilism is then said by Gemes to be a cognitive expression of affective nihilism. However, I argue that value-nihilism is not necessarily an expression of affective nihilism. I take Gemes’s view to be more compatible with Nietzsche’s 1888 view of nihilism as negation of life. However, I argue that while affective nihilism is a central feature of Nietzsche’s account of nihilism as negation of life, a more expansive conception of negation of life best captures the diversity of Nietzsche’s use of the notion. I suggest a conception of nihilism as expression of will to nothingness as an alternative unified conception to affective nihilism. This has the advantage that it can be seen to be expressed by value-nihilism as Nietzsche uses the notion in the published works, as well as capturing the diverse forms of negation of life.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
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School/Department: School of Social Sciences, History & Philosophy > Philosophy
Depositing User: ORBIT Editor
Date Deposited: 17 May 2017 17:34
Last Modified: 17 May 2017 17:34

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