Maudemarie Clark on Nietzsche’s Will to Power

Maudemarie Clark on Nietzsche’s Will to Power:


(Chapter 7, From: ‘Nietzsche – Truth & Philosophy’, 1990)



A remaining problem for my interpretation of Nietzsche’s posi-

tion on truth is its apparent incompatibility with two of his most

important doctrines. As they are traditionally interpreted, the

doctrines of will to power and eternal recurrence are metaphysi-

cal theories. According to my interpretation, Nietzsche rejects

metaphysics. His denial of the thing-in-itself leaves no place into

which a metaphysical theory could fit. My final two chapters

interpret the doctrines of will to power and eternal recurrence so

that they are fully compatible with this rejection of metaphysics.

The first section of this chapter gives reasons to interpret will

to power as a metaphysical doctrine if it is supposed to be true.

The remaining sections argue that Nietzsche’s published works

give us reason to deny that he regarded it as a truth.

  1. Will to power as metaphysics

Most interpreters attribute to Nietzsche what I shall call the cosmo-

logical doctrine of will to power, the claim that the world, or at

least the organic world, is will to power. The Nachlass provides

ample evidence for doing so, including Nietzsche’s answer to the

question “Do you know what ‘the world’ is to me?”: “This world is

the will to power — and nothing besides! And you yourselves are also



this will to power – and nothing besides” (WP 1067). The idea is

that the world consists not of things, but of quanta of force en-

gaged in something on the order of “universal power-struggle”

(Schacht, 221), with each center of force having or being a ten-

dency to extend its influence and incorporate other such centers.

It certainly seems to be a metaphysical theory, comparable, for

instance, to Leibniz’ monadology. Heidegger seems right that will

to power constitutes Nietzsche’s answer to the metaphysical ques-

tion concerning the essence of what is (see Chapter 1).

From the viewpoint of my interpretation, the main reason to

take it as a metaphysical theory is that its basis appears to be a

priori theorizing concerning the nature of reality. Although our

empirical theories tell us otherwise, Nietzsche evidently provides

us with a priori grounds for believing that the world is really will

to power. My analysis in section 2 shows that Nietzsche’s pub-

lished argument for the cosmological doctrine of will to power

begins from a premise that could only be known a priori, and I

see no reason to believe that the arguments in Nietzsche’s note-

books are any different in this regard. In that case, however,

Nietzsche’s theory is vulnerable to his own criticism of metaphys-

ics, for he claims that only acceptance of the thing-in-itself cre-

ates room for a priori theorizing about the nature of reality.

One common strategy for reconciling Nietzsche’s criticism of

metaphysics with his doctrine of will to power is to claim that the

former rejects only “true” or “other” worlds, whereas the latter

gives Nietzsche’s account of “this” world. This strategy seems to

be Schacht’s when he claims that will to power gives Nietzsche’s

account of “this” world (168). The problem is that we have no

way of making the distinction between “this” world and the

“other” one except in terms of the distinction between empirical

and a priori knowledge. Nietzsche’s insistence that “this” world is

the only demonstrable one means that the only world of which

we can have knowledge is the empirical world, the world accessi-

ble to empirical investigation (see Chapter 4, section 3). To claim

knowledge of the world on the basis of an a priori theory there-

fore amounts to belief in a “true” world, and is precisely what

Nietzsche rejects as metaphysical. According to Schacht’s recon-

struction of it, however, Nietzsche’s argument for the claim that

the world is will to power is a priori. None of its premises are

presented as empirical ones. Its first premise, for instance, is that

everything is in a state of becoming. This is not presented as a


hypothesis we formulate on the basis of experience, but as a

conclusion we must draw once we recognize, in effect, that any

notion of stability, aim, or unity belongs to our merely human

perspective, and that since we have projected permanence into

the world, we must “pull it out again,” thus leaving becoming as

the only reality (206). This is an a priori argument that I have

already criticized in my earlier treatment of Schacht as a viola-

tion of perspectivism (Chapter 5, section 5).

Another strategy for showing that will to power does not con-

flict with Nietzsche’s rejection of metaphysics is to argue that it

actually amounts to a rejection of metaphysics. Nehamas adopts

this strategy, which he makes quite plausible in broad outline. He

interprets the doctrine of will to power as a denial that a meta-

physical theory “of the character of the world and the things that

constitute it can ever be given” (1985, 80). He need not deny the

doctrine’s a priori character. Instead, he denies that will to power

is a theory as to the nature of reality.

Identifying it with the claim (made in the Nachlass) that a thing

is the sum of its effects, Nehamas takes the doctrine of will to

power as equivalent to Nietzsche’s denial of the thing-in-itself.

As I have interpreted the latter, this would give reason to deny

that the will to power is a metaphysical theory, for the denial of

the thing-in-itself merely gets rid of an excuse for devaluing the

empirical world. Nothing substantial follows from this about the

nature of the world. We are told merely that we have no excuse

for devaluing empirical knowledge in general, that is, no excuse

for constructing a priori theories of the nature of reality. But in

Nehamas’ interpretation, it seems that something substantial

does follow from Nietzsche’s rejection of the thing-in-itself: for

example, that nothing can exist by itself, that everything is inter-

connected, and that nothing can change without changing every-

thing else (81—83). If there is a way to show that these are not

really substantive claims about the nature of reality, Nehamas

has not provided it. His use of the last of these claims to justify

Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal recurrence (see Chapter 8, sec-

tion 5) makes it especially difficult to see how he can deny that

the doctrine of will to power says something about the way the

world is. But since his account makes will to power an a priori

theory derived solely from logical and conceptual consider-

ations, Nehamas seems to commit Nietzsche to an a priori or

metaphysical theory of the nature of reality.


His ultimate reason for denying this is his interpretation of

Nietzsche’s perspectivism. He thinks that because Nietzsche be-

lieves that the question as to what something is “can never have a

single answer that holds good for everyone,” his view that every-

thing is essentially interconnected (the will to power) “is part of

his effort to show that there is no ready-made world to which our

views and theories could be true once and for all” (81). In other

words, the will to power implies that what anything is depends

on what everything else is, and perspectivism entails that the

nature of everything else depends on one’s perspective. I have

already argued against Nehamas’ interpretation of Nietzsche’s

perspectivism (Chapter 5, section 5). But even if I accepted it, I

would not consider successful his attempt to deny metaphysical

status to the doctrine of will to power. For perspectivism does all

of the work in Nehamas’ interpretation of Nietzsche’s rejection

of metaphysics. Contrary to what he implies, will to power has no

essential role to play in it, for if perspectivism is true, he believes

there is no ultimate truth about reality – whether or not every-

thing is interconnected. Nehamas does not therefore give us

sufficient reason to equate the doctrine of will to power with

Nietzsche’s rejection of metaphysics, nor therefore to deny what

otherwise seems the case, that the doctrine makes a substantive a

priori and therefore a metaphysical claim about the nature of


Given my account of what for Nietzsche constitutes a “true”

world, and therefore a metaphysical theory, Kaufmann offers the

most promising way of rendering Nietzsche’s theory of will to

power consistent with his rejection of metaphysics. He claims that

Nietzsche’s will to power, unlike Schopenhauer’s metaphysical

will to existence, is “essentially an empirical concept arrived at by

induction” (1968, 204). According to Kaufmann, the will to

power first appears, in the aphoristic works prior to Zarathustra, as

“a psychological drive in terms of which many diverse phenom-

ena could be explained, e.g., gratitude, pity, self-abasement.” Suc-

cess in explaining such different types of behavior was the basis,

Kaufmann believes, upon which Nietzsche then formulated the

hypothesis that all human behavior could be explained in terms of

the will (which I take to be equivalent here to a motivating desire)

for power. This psychological doctrine is the core that Nietzsche

then widened to include the behavior of all living beings, and that


he generalized into “the still more extreme hypothesis that will to

power is the basic force of the entire universe” (207).

According to Kaufmann’s interpretation, then, Nietzsche’s cos-

mological doctrine of the will to power is perfectly compatible

with his perspectivism and rejection of metaphysics. In contrast

to Schacht’s version, for instance, Kaufmann’s involves no a pri-

ori assumption that the human perspective on things is flawed. If

the world is will to power, it follows that our common-sense view

is flawed. But the claim that common-sense perspectives are

flawed follows from the truth of the will to power rather than

being its presupposition; therefore, Kaufmann’s interpretation

does not commit Nietzsche to a metaphysical theory. Nietzsche

claims not that the world in itself is will to power, but that the

latter is “the one and only interpretation of human behavior

[and reality in general] of which we are capable when we con-

sider the evidence and think about it as clearly as we can” (206).

In other words, will to power is the theory that best accounts for

the data available from the human perspective and is therefore

the one we have reason to consider true.

In fact, Kaufmann thinks it obvious that the cosmological

theory of the will to power is not true, and claims that it “need not

be taken seriously, not even in an effort to understand Nietzsche”

(1967, 510). Denying it any important role in Nietzsche’s philoso-

phy, he treats the cosmological theory as an over-enthusiastic and

ill-advised extension of the psychological doctrine to which he

does accord a central role. A major advantage of his interpreta-

tion is that it explains how Nietzsche could have arrived at the

doctrine without violating minimal standards of consistency, that

is, without violating his perspectivism or rejection of metaphysics,

and it insulates the psychological doctrine of the will to power

from the cosmological doctrine, so that we can legitimately regard

the former as worthy of the serious consideration Kaufmann and

I agree we should deny the latter.

From my viewpoint, Kaufmann’s interpretation also has the

advantage of fitting the published works much better than do

Schacht’s and Nehamas’. When Nietzsche first talks about the

will to power, it is in psychological contexts. His point is to ex-

plain specific kinds of human behavior. There is no attempt to

give a cosmological theory (either the will to power or anything

else) in these works. Nietzsche’s concern is the human world, not


the cosmos. In Z, will to power first appears as a view of the

cosmos, but even here the cosmological view is introduced by

psychological considerations (Z II, 12). Further, the cosmology

has more the character of a vision, a poetic conception of reality,

than a cosmological theory, and Z is a work of fiction. It articu-

lates Zarathustra’s cosmological vision, which may or may not

also be Nietzsche’s. In BG, Nietzsche does give an argument –

the only one in his published works —for the conclusion that the

world is will to power (see section 2). But he also claims to under-

stand psychology as the doctrine of the development of the will

to power (BG 23). In his later works, for example, GM, the will to

power seems to function largely as it did in the ones in which he

first formulated it: to explain various human behaviors and ten-

dencies in terms of the desire for a sense of power. It is difficult

to deny therefore that the theory of will to power originated in

attempts to account for various human behaviors.

Despite these advantages, I believe that Kaufmann’s theory

must be rejected. One of its major aims is to answer the objection

that Nietzsche’s doctrine of the will to power does not explain

anything, that by finding the will to power at work everywhere, it

empties it of all meaning and reduces it to a “mere phrase,” devoid

of explanatory power or cognitive significance. Kaufmann’s an-

swer is that “on the contrary, it is surprising how much of human

behavior Nietzsche illuminates by calling attention to the will to

power and its hidden workings” (1967, 511). One may agree with

Kaufmann here, yet claim that the enlightening character of ex-

planations of behavior in terms of the desire for power is depen-

dent on an implicit contrast with other motives, and is therefore

lost as soon as all other motives are interpreted as expressions of

the will to power. The enlightening character of contemporary

accounts of rape in terms of power, for example, seems depen-

dent on the implied contrast between the desire for power and the

desire for sex. What the rapist fundamentally wants is not sexual

gratification but a sense of power. This explanation loses its en-

lightening character if one goes on to say that all behavior is

motivated by a desire for power, for then the motive for rape has

not been differentiated from any other motive.

The empiricist interpretation of Nietzsche’s doctrine can be

maintained in the face of this kind of objection only if the will

to power is defined so that at least some possible motives are

not instances of it, and the contrast between power and other


possible motives is preserved. We can understand the will to

power in such terms if we define “power” as the ability to do or

get what one wants. The satisfaction of the will to power, a

sense of power, has then nothing essential to do with power

over others, but is a sense of one’s effectiveness in the world.

This understanding of the desire for power not only allows the

possibility of other desires, but actually demands it, because it

requires us to distinguish the desire for power – for the ability

to satisfy one’s desires —from the other desires one wants to be

able to satisfy. It amounts to thinking of the will to power as a

second-order desire for the ability to satisfy one’s other, or first-

order, desires (cf. Frankfurt).

This would not rule out by definition the truth of the claim that

all behavior is motivated by a desire for power. For it is not

impossible – in the sense of logically contradictory – to have a

desire to be able to satisfy whatever first-order desire one might

come to have even though one has never had a first-order desire.

The existence of a second-order desire for power does not there-

fore entail the existence of any first-order desires, and is compati-

ble with the empirical hypothesis that in the case of human beings,

“whatever is wanted is wanted for the sake of power” (Kaufmann,

1967, 511). If there is nothing contradictory in this hypothesis,

however, it is surely undeserving of serious consideration. It

would make human life an attempt to gain the ability to satisfy

first-order desires even though we have no such first-order de-

sires, or only those first-order desires we have invented or created

as an excuse for satisfying our second-order desire for power. It is

not seriously entertainable that human beings would have devel-

oped a desire for power (or perhaps more accurately, for a sense

of power) unless they already had other desires that they were

sometimes unable to satisfy. It seems obvious that the desire or

need for power develops on the foundation of other desires and

needs, even though in human beings obsessed by power it may

come to have more importance than any of them and may operate

in all human beings in some contexts in which no first-order

desire exists.

I conclude that Nietzsche’s doctrine of will to power may be

construed as an empirical hypothesis that all human behavior is

motivated by a desire for power, but only at the cost of depriving

it of all plausibility, which would mean that Nietzsche was less

astute about psychological matters than many (including Freud)


have thought. I agree with Kaufmann’s suggestion that Nietz-

sche’s doctrine of the will to power must be empirical if it is to

cohere with his rejection of metaphysics and that it originated in

his reflections on human motivation —in his recognition of the

desire for power, or for a sense of power, as an important human

motive. I also agree that in calling our attention to this motive,

Nietzsche does illuminate large areas of human life and behav-

ior. I resist, however, the idea that Nietzsche believed that all

behavior is motivated by the desire for power because I do not

see any way in which this could be a plausible or interesting

hypothesis about human behavior. Of course, Nietzsche might

have believed it anyway. But, if we confine ourselves to the works

Nietzsche actually published, I will argue that we find little rea-

son to believe he did, and quite a bit to think he did not.

  1. The published argument for the world as will

to power

For determining Nietzsche’s published doctrine of the will to

power, Beyond Good and Evil seems the most important source.

Because Zarathustra’s conception of life as will to power is too

metaphorical and anthropomorphic to take seriously as a literal

account of the essence of life and gives us no reason to assume

that Nietzsche accepts it, we would naturally look for Nietzsche’s

own doctrine of the will to power in Beyond Good and Evil, the

first book published after Zarathustra. BG does not disappoint in

this regard. It not only contains the first articulation of the doc-

trine of will to power in Nietzsche’s own voice, but its first two

parts contain four relatively detailed sections that provide a

more sustained reflection on the doctrine than we find in any of

Nietzsche’s other books (BG 9, 22, 23, 36). It also discusses the

will to power by name in at least eight other sections (BG 13, 44,

51, 186, 198, 211, 227, 259), and in several others without men-

tioning it by name (BG 230, 257). The will to power is mentioned

much less frequently in Nietzsche’s later books, and it never

again receives sustained discussion or explanation.

If we had to choose one of BG’s passages on the will to power

as the most important, 36 would be the obvious choice. It pres-

ents a detailed argument for the cosmological doctrine of will to

power, and is the only passage in all of Nietzsche’s published

writings to do so. I will argue, however, that if we look at the


argument carefully, we find overwhelming reason to deny that

Nietzsche accepts it.

In the first place, he formulates both premises and conclusion

in hypothetical form. He begins by asking us to “suppose noth-

ing else is ‘given’ as real except our world of desires and passions,

and we can not get down, or up, to any other ‘reality’ besides the

reality of our drives.” After a relatively long argument, he con-

cludes that “the world viewed from inside, the world defined

and determined according to its ‘intelligible character’ —it would

be ‘will to power’ and nothing else” (BG 36). This passage cer-

tainly tells us how one could argue for the conclusion that the

world is will to power. But it asserts neither the premises nor the

conclusion. It tells us that if we accept a number of premises –

that no reality is “given” to us except that of our passions or

affects (i.e., our will), that the will is a causal power, and that our

entire instinctive life can be explained as a development of one

form of will, will to power —then we have a right to “determine

all effective force univocally as will to power” and thus to regard

will to power as the world’s “intelligible character.” At most, the

passage itself gives us reason to believe that Nietzsche accepts the

last of these premises, which he apparently calls “my proposi-

tion.” But as he does nothing to assert any of the other premises,

nothing in the passage commits Nietzsche to the argument. Of

course, if the other premises are obviously true, or if Nietzsche

claims they are true elsewhere, we would have strong reason to

suppose that he accepted the argument. In fact, however, the

other two premises I have mentioned have little plausibility, and

Nietzsche argues against them in BG and other works.

The first premise —that only the world of our desires and

passions is “given” as real, and that we cannot get up, or down, to

any other “reality” than that of our drives —seems to mean that

we have knowledge regarding the existence and nature of our

drives, but not regarding anything else, that is, the external or

material world. The basis for accepting this premise cannot be

experience – for it challenges what experience has to teach us

about the external world, but must be an a priori account of what

constitutes “true knowledge,” an account that gives the inner

world priority over the outer. Why would anyone think we had

reason to accept such a position?

The only plausible answer would have to be some variation on

Descartes’ granting of priority to the inner world because of its


alleged indubitability. The reality of our own thoughts is “given”

to us, immediately certain, according to Descartes, whereas the

existence of the external world can be doubted. To make it even

halfway plausible that we cannot get up or down to a “reality”

other than the world of our drives, Nietzsche would have to

offer a similar argument, with desires or drives playing the role

Descartes gave to thoughts. He would have to claim, much as

Schopenhauer did, that the fact that “I will” (effectively desire) is

directly present to me, thus “given” or “immediately certain,”

whereas all knowledge of the external world is mediated by ob-

servation and is therefore dubitable. In that case, the first prem-

ise would openly conflict with Nietzsche’s denial in BG 16 that

there are any “immediate certainties,” including “I think” or “I

will.” BG 34 returns to the issue of “immediate certainties,” claim-

ing that faith in them is “a moral naivete that reflects honor on

us philosophers,” though “apart from morality, this faith is a

stupidity that reflects little honor on us.”

Even if we could find a way of defending the first premise of

BG 36 without commitment to “immediate certainties,” it would

still be incompatible with BG 19’s criticism of philosophers like

Schopenhauer who “speak of the will as if it were the best-known

thing in the world.” For that is exactly what the premise asserts.

The argument of BG 36 is, in effect, that because the will is the

only thing we really know, we must make the experiment of

explaining the rest of the world in terms of its type of causality. I

do not see how we can seriously believe that Nietzsche accepted

the doctrine of the will to power on the basis of this argument.

The second part of the argument —that we must attempt to

explain the rest of the world in terms of the will’s kind of

causality —is even more obviously incompatible with Nietzsche’s

views than the first premise. For Nietzsche does not believe in

the causality of the will. Consider GS 127:

Every thoughtless person believes that will alone is effective; that

willing is something simple, a brute datum, underivable, and intel-

ligible by itself. He is convinced that when he does something —

strikes something, for example —it is he that strikes, and that he

did strike because he willed it. He does not see any problem here;

the feeling of will seems sufficient to him not only for the assump-

tion of cause and effect, but also for the faith that he understands

that relation. He knows nothing of the mechanism of what hap-


pened and of the hundredfold fine work that needs to be done to

bring about the strike, or of the incapacity of the will in itself to do

even the tiniest part of it. The will is for him a magically effective

force; the faith in the will as the cause of effects is the faith in

magically effective forces.

Nietzsche could not have made clearer that he denies the causal-

ity of the will [Maudemarie does not distinguish here between free will and ‘will’ in the determinist sense, thus her error.]. Later works refer to “the great calamity of an error

that will is something which is effective,” and insist that today we

know it is “only a word” (TI II, 5), or only “a resultant” (A 14).

His point is the same when he responds as follows to the “old

belief” that we are “causal in the act of willing.”

Today we no longer believe a word of all this. The “inner world” is

full of phantoms and will-o’-the wisps: the will is one of them. The

will no longer moves anything, hence does not explain anything

either – it merely accompanies events; it can also be absent (TI

VI, 3).

In BG itself, Nietzsche explains that what we actually refer to

when we talk of “the will” is a complex of sensation, thought, and

the affect of command (the feeling of commanding an action).

But because we use one word for this complex, and it appears, in

the vast majority of cases, only when the action was to be expected,

we are able to deceive ourselves into believing that “willing suf-

fices for action” (BG 19), that is, that we experience in ourselves

something that commands and thereby brings about actions.

Nietzsche’s problem with this seems clear from BG 3. He does not

deny that something within us has causal power. But he denies

that the ultimate causes of our actions are conscious: “most of the

conscious thinking of a philosopher is secretly guided and forced

into certain channels by his instincts” (BG 3). The ultimate causes

of our actions, then, are not the conscious thoughts and feelings

with which Nietzsche claims we identify the will.

Given these passages, we cannot reasonably attribute to Nietz-

sche the argument of BG 36. The problem is not that it makes

use of the idea of will, but that it depends crucially on what

Nietzsche has explicitly and repeatedly rejected, a belief in the

causality of the will. “The question,” according to this argument,


is in the end whether we really recognize the will as efficient, whether

we believe in the causality of the will: if we do – and at bottom our

faith in this is nothing less than our faith in causality itself- then

we have to make the experiment of positing the causality of the will

as the only one. “Will,” of course, can effect only “will” —and not

“matter” (not “nerves,” for example). In short, one has to risk the

hypothesis whether will does not affect will whenever “effects” are

recognized —and whether all mechanical occurrences are not, inso-

far as a force is active in them, will force, effects of will (BG 36).

This may give the impression that Nietzsche supports the causal-

ity of the will because otherwise he would have to give up some-

thing we cannot do without, “our faith . . . in causality itself.” If

so, it seems to me that Nietzsche is playing with us, for he clearly

believes we can do without this faith. Consider TI VI, 3:

People have believed at all times that they knew what a cause is;

but whence did we take our knowledge – or more precisely, the

faith that we had such knowledge? From the realm of the famous

“inner facts,” of which not a single one has so far proved to be

factual. We believed ourselves to be causal in the act of willing: we

thought here at least we caught causality in the act.

Nietzsche makes the point repeatedly that we have interpreted

causality in terms of our experience of willing (this would mean,

in particular, the feeling of commanding an action). Our “faith in

causality” is our faith in this interpretation of the causal relation.

But BG 21 has already urged us to abandon this “faith”: “one

should use ’cause’ and ‘effect’ only as pure concepts, that is to say,

as conventional fictions for the purpose of designation and

commmunication.” Nietzsche’s formulations in this passage may

still belong to stage 5 of his tale of the “true world,” because he

does not in any later book call causal concepts “fictions” or deny

their role in explanation. But his point in this passage —to rule

out “the prevailing mechanical doltishness which makes the

cause press and push until it effects its end” (BG 21) – does not

require these formulations. It is the same point Hume designed

his analysis of causality as constant conjunction to serve: as Nietz-

sche puts it, that the idea of an ” ‘unfree will’. . . amounts to a

misuse of cause and effect.” In other words, our resistance to the

idea of human behavior as determined comes at least in part

from our misunderstanding of causal relations as involving “con-


straint, need, compulsion to obey, pressure, and unfreedom”

(BG 21). Nietzsche differs from Hume only in claiming that our

misunderstanding of determinism comes from our projection of

our own experience of willing, and of being subject to the will of

others, into our idea of causality.

I conclude from this that Nietzsche encourages us to continue

to think in causal terms (going so far as to equate the “sound

conception of cause and effect” with “science” and “knowledge”

in A 49) but to abandon the interpretation of causality we derive

from our experience of willing. BG 36 therefore gives us no

reason to retain belief in the causality of the will, nor any way of

reconciling its argument with Nietzsche’s repeated rejection of

that causality. Various means of reconciliation have been sug-

gested, but none seem plausible. Schacht implies that the causal-

ity at issue in BG 36 is of the type Nietzsche was prepared to

accept (185). However, this ignores the fact that Nietzsche explic-

itly makes the argument of BG 36 depend on the causality of the

will, something he nowhere accepts. Schacht denies that Nietz-

sche’s use of “will” to describe the world’s “intelligible character”

conflicts with his dismissal of will as “just a word” on the grounds

that “will” is used here as a metaphor, with the conceptual con-

tent of “will to power” specified and exhausted through the idea

of a tendency or disposition of forces “to extend their influence

and dominate others” (220—2). But even if we accept this, it will

not save the argument of BG 36. For the latter depends on an

appeal to our intuition of ourselves as causal in the act of willing

as a basis for interpreting the material world as will to power,

and that is precisely the appeal for which Nietzsche accused

Schopenhauer of enthroning a “primeval mythology” (GS 127).


  1. Two other strategies of reconciliation may seem promising. First, one could

argue that Nietzsche rejects the causality of the will only in the sense of mental

causes or conscious acts of will (TI VI, 3, e.g.). In that case, as long as willing is

not interpreted so that it must be conscious, Nietzsche need not reject its

causality. The problem is that if willing is not conscious, it becomes impossible

to understand how BG 36 would support its first premise: that only willing is

“given,” and that we cannot get up or down to any world beyond our drives.

Danto’s reconstruction of Nietzsche’s argument for the will to power suggests

a second strategy (231): that Nietzsche rejects the will’s capacity for acting on

matter, but does not deny its ability to have an effect on other wills. “Will can

only effect will, of course” (BG 36). The problem is that the idea that will

affects only will is clearly part of the primitive mythology —”one can have an

effect only on beings who will” – that Nietzsche claims Schopenhauer en-

throned (GS 127).


Perhaps Nietzsche left us a different and better argument for

interpreting the world as will to power in his notebooks. But BG

36 contains his only published argument for this interpretation,

and it is a quite clear and extended argument, and it therefore

deserves to be looked at in its own terms before we start decid-

ing that we can understand it better in terms of the Nachlass. If

what I have been arguing is correct-that Nietzsche gives us

very strong reason to deny that he accepts the argument of BG

36 —it follows not that we should try to fix up the premises, but

that we should try to understand why he presented us with this

argument. Surely there is something in need of explanation

here, if the only argument he published for the cosmological

doctrine of will to power appears to depend on premises he

rejects in the same work. I suggest that this is quite deliberate,

and that Nietzsche is challenging us to look for an explanation. I

am encouraged in this interpretation by a number of the pas-

sages that surround BG 36: by Nietzsche’s praise of masks (BG

40), his stress on the importance of the distinction between the

esoteric and the exoteric (BG 30), his admission that he does

everything to be “difficult to understand” combined with ex-

pressed gratitude for “the good will to some subtlety of interpre-

tation” (BG 27), and even by his claim that refutability is not “the

least charm of a theory” (BG 18). The best place to look for an

explanation is surely not the Nachlass, which only gets us side-

tracked into more arguments of the same kind, but the sur-

rounding material of BG.

  1. Philosophy and the doctrine of will to power in

Beyond Good and Evil

Nehamas aptly calls Beyond Good and Evil a work of “dazzling

obscurity,” insisting that individual sections dazzle with their bril-

liance, yet “we do not understand its structure, its narrative line”

(1988, 46). I believe we may be able to get clearer on a major part

of its structure, and at least one of its narrative lines, if we come

to it with questions posed by section 36: Namely, what is the

function of its argument in the larger work? And why does

Nietzsche present to us in such detail an argument he does not


Consider the characterization of philosophers in BG 5:


What provokes one to look at all philosophers half suspiciously,

half mockingly, is not that one discovers again and again how

innocent they are —how often and how easily they make mistakes

and go astray; in short, their childishness and childlikeness —but

that they are not honest enough in their work, although they

make a lot of virtuous noise when the problem of truthfulness is

touched even remotely. They all pose as if they had discovered

and reached their real opinions through the self-development of

a cold, pure, divinely unconcerned dialectic (as opposed to the

mystics of every rank, who are more honest and doltish —and talk

of “inspiration”); while at bottom it is an assumption, a hunch,

indeed a kind of “inspiration” —most often a desire of the heart

that has been filtered and made abstract – that they defend with

reasons they have sought after the fact. They are all advocates

who resent that name, and for the most part even wily spokesmen

for their prejudices which they baptize “truths” – and very far

from having the good courage of the conscience that admits this,

precisely this, to itself; very far from having the good taste of the

courage which also lets this be known, whether to warn an enemy

or friend, or, from exuberance, to mock itself.

Given this criticism, we would expect Nietzsche to deny that he

has arrived at his own philosophical views through a “divinely

unconcerned dialectic” – that is, solely through rational consider-

ations and concern for truth without regard to what he would

like to be true – and to exhibit “the good taste of the courage to

let this be known.”

We can fit these expectations with the puzzling nature of BG

  1. Its argument is exactly of the type one would expect Nietz-

sche to give for the cosmological doctrine of the will to power if

he claimed to arrive at it through a “divinely unconcerned dialec-

tic.” I suggest that by constructing the argument so that it relies

on premises he rejects earlier in the very same book, Nietzsche

seeks to display the courage and self-knowledge to warn us that

his doctrine is “a desire of the heart that has been filtered and

made abstract,” a “prejudice” he has baptized “truth.”

It will seem strange that Nietzsche would construct an argu-

ment he does not accept to warn us of the motivation behind his

doctrine. After all, whatever his motives for accepting it, his job

as a philosopher is to explain the reasons anyone would have to

accept it. The construction of an argument he knows is bad for

his doctrine suggests he believes there are no good reasons to


accept it. But the motives philosophers have had for construct-

ing their theories seem irrelevant to whether there are good

reasons for accepting them. To answer this objection, I will argue

that Nietzsche’s claim in BG 5 concerns not merely the motiva-

tion of philosophers, but also the status of their doctrines. When

read in light of the sections that follow, BG 5 makes it reasonable

to conclude that Nietzsche denies the truth of the cosmological

doctrine of will to power and that he seeks to warn us of this by

constructing the argument of BG 36.

Consider BG 6, which I have already discussed in Chapter 6

(section 3). Nietzsche claims that the moral or immoral intentions

of a philosophy constitute “the real germ of life from which the

whole plant” grows. He illustrates what he means when he pro-

ceeds to treat Stoicism as a model of philosophy. You Stoics, he

writes, “pretend rapturously to read the canon of your law in

nature” (BG 9). That is, Stoics claim to derive from the study of

nature reasons for accepting the moral law “live according to

nature.” After arguing against the plausibility of their claim, Nietz-

sche explains that the Stoics really “want something opposite.”

Your pride wants to impose your morality, your ideal on nature –

even on nature – and incorporate them in her; you demand that

she be nature “according to the Stoa” and you would like all

existence to exist only after your own image —as an immense

eternal glorification and generalization of Stoicism. For all your

love of truth, you have forced yourselves so long, so persistently,

so rigidly-hypnotically to see nature the wrong way, namely, Stoi-

cally, that you can no longer see her differently. And some abys-

mal arrogance finally still inspires you with the insane hope that

because you know how to tyrannize yourselves – Stoicism is self-

tyranny – nature, too, lets herself be tyrannized: is not the Stoic –

a piece of nature?

But this is an ancient, eternal story: what formerly happened

with the Stoics still happens today, too, as soon as any philosophy

begins to believe in itself. It always creates the world in its own

image; it cannot do otherwise. Philosophy is this tyrannical drive

itself, the most spiritual will to power, to the “creation of the

world,” to the causa prima (BG g).


  1. I ignore the reference to the will to power in the last line of this passage for

now, but discuss it in detail in section 4.


Nietzsche’s point is that though philosophers claim otherwise,

their theories are not even designed to arrive at truth. They are

attempts to construct the world, or an image of the world, in

terms of the philosopher’s values. I have already interpreted

Nietzsche as saying this about metaphysics (Chapter 6, section 3).

The metaphysician is not, contrary to what he claims, driven by a

desire for knowledge of ultimate reality, of things as they are

themselves. Because we have no conception of any such thing, it

could be of no cognitive interest to us, and Nietzsche does not

believe that metaphysics has been based on a mere mistake about

this. He believes that philosophers have used the idea of things-

in-themselves to create the appearance of room for a “true” or

metaphysical world, thus as an excuse for baptizing as the

“truth” what is only their prejudices read into the world. In the

passage I have just quoted, Nietzsche claims that this is true of all

philosophy. If he is consistent about this, he must admit that his

cosmological doctrine of the will to power is an attempt to read

his values into the world and that he does not consider it to be

true. His acceptance of it is inspired not by a will to truth, but by

a will to construct the world in the image of his own values. The

Stoics construct the world by picturing nature as subject to law.

Nietzsche pictures the same nature as will to power.

He pretty much admits this in BG 22, a passage famous for its

apparent admission that the doctrine of will to power is “only


Forgive me as an old philologist who cannot desist from the mal-

ice of putting his finger on bad modes of interpretation: but

“nature’s conformity to law,” of which you physicists talk so

proudly, as thought – why, it exists only owing to your interpreta-

tion and “bad philology.” It is no matter of fact, no “text,” but

rather only a naively humanitarian emendation and perversion of

meaning, with which you make abundant concessions to the demo-

cratic instincts of the modern soul! “Everywhere equality before

the law; nature is no different in that respect, no better off than

we are” —a fine instance of ulterior motivation . . . But as was said

above, this is interpretation, not text; and somebody might come

along who, with opposite intentions and modes of interpretation,

could read out of the same “nature,” and with regard to the same

phenomena, rather the tyrannically inconsiderate and relentless

enforcement of claims of power – an interpreter who would pic-

ture the unexceptional and unconditional aspects of all “will to


power” so vividly that almost every word, even the word “tyranny”

itself would eventually seem unsuitable, or a weakening and at-

tenuating metaphor – being too human – but he might, neverthe-

less, end by asserting the same about the world as you do, namely,

that it has a “necessary” and “calculable” course, not because laws

obtain in it, but because they are absolutely lacking, and every

power draws its ultimate consequence at every moment. Suppos-

ing that this too is only interpretation —and you will be eager

enough to make this objection? – well, so much the better (BG 22).

It is easy to misunderstand the kind of “interpretation” discussed

in this passage. For Nietzsche, because all knowledge is interpreta-

tion, physics is interpretation too. As I have argued (Chapter 5),

this amounts to anti-foundationalism and therefore to the claim

that knowledge, and therefore physics too, is always subject to

revision. But Nietzsche does not use “interpretation” in this sense

in the above passage, as he shows by not including physics as

interpretation (in contrast, e.g., to BG 14). Instead, the theories

and mathematical formulas in terms of which the physicist calcu-

lates and predicts the relations between various phenomena here

count as the “text,” which Nietzsche claims can be interpreted in

(at least two) different ways, as nature’s conformity to law or as will

to power. The interpretation one gives these mathematical formu-

las, he claims, depends on which moral values one reads into

them. We regard the physicist’s formulas as “laws” that nature

must obey because we read democratic prejudices – that is, demo-

cratic values – into them (though BG 9 makes clear we might get

the same result from the values of Stoicism). That is, we construct

or use metaphors to imagine or “picture” the text provided by

physics as analogous to something in our own experience, and

which metaphors we use reflect and depend upon our moral

values. The passage suggests that such metaphors have no cogni-

tive function, but only extend to the universe our sense of moral-

ity, generalizing and therefore glorifying what we consider impor-

tant. This in no way denies that physics provides knowledge or

truth. Not physics itself, that is, physical theories, but the meta-

phors in terms of which we interpret them read moral values into


When Nietzsche argues that “with opposite intentions and

modes of interpretation,” we could, in effect, construe the same


nature as will to power, he means that we could arrive at the

cosmological doctrine of the will to power by reading into the

same text provided by physics values opposed to democratic

ones. When he suggests that the will to power, too, is “only inter-

pretation,” therefore, he puts it on a par not with physics, but

with a belief in nature’s “conformity to law,” which owes its exis-

tence to “bad ‘philology’ ” and democratic values. I therefore

take his “so much the better” as an admission that his doctrine of

the will to power does read his values into nature, that he there-

fore does not regard it as any truer than the idea that nature

conforms to law, but that this is fine with him since he thereby

remains consistent with everything he has said about knowledge

and philosophy.

Of course, if one believes that Nietzsche denies all truth, it will

come as no surprise that he denies the truth of the cosmological

doctrine of will to power. But my whole interpretation argues

against the larger claim. I therefore interpret Nietzsche’s admis-

sion in BG 22 that his doctrine is “only interpretation” as a warn-

ing that, in contrast to the claims he makes, he does not regard the

cosmological will to power as true, or as belonging to the realm of

knowledge. Although he does not mention “philosophy” in BG

22, the metaphor of nature’s obedience to law is the very same one

he stresses when presenting the projection of the Stoics’ values

into nature as the model of what philosophers always do. If my

interpretation of it is correct, therefore, BG 22 implies that philo-

sophical theories are not true, that they do not belong to the realm

of knowledge. It suggests instead that philosophers always take a

“text” provided by some form of knowledge and read values into

it by constructing the appropriate metaphors.

It is not difficult to interpret the cosmological will to power so

that it fits this pattern. In at least two passages of BG, the will to

power is presented as if it had value implications. In BG 186, the

fact that the essence of life is will to power is taken to show “how

insipidly false and sentimental” Schopenhauer’s basic principle

of morality is. In BG 259, the fact that life is will to power is

presented as showing the impossibility of overcoming exploita-

tion, and therefore the life-negating character of the demand

for its overcoming.

According to the usual interpretation and the one immediately

suggested by these passages, Nietzsche gives reasons against cer-


tain value judgments (hurting anyone is wrong; exploitation is

wrong) by appealing to the truth about life, that its essence is will

to power. In that case, Nietzsche would be doing what the Stoics

claimed to be doing, namely, basing value judgments on knowl-

edge of nature. But if Nietzsche’s own case fits what he claims

about all philosophy, he has actually arrived at his characteriza-

tion of nature by reading his values into it. He wants nature to live

only after his own image, as an eternal generalization and glorifi-

cation of what he finds valuable.

To pursue this line of interpretation, we must take the world

as will to power as a generalization and glorification of the will to

power, the psychological entity (the drive or desire for power)

discussed in section 1. Because he considers this drive so impor-

tant, I suggest, he glorifies it by picturing all human motivation,

all of nature, and sometimes, all of reality, as its expression.

When he appears to reject Schopenhauer’s morality on the

grounds that life is will to power (BG 186), we can read him as

rejecting it instead because he values the will to power, which

Schopenhauer’s morality condemns. And when he rejects the

demand for an end to exploitation on the grounds that life is will

to power (BG 259), we can interpret this as a claim that the

strengthening of the will to power, which he values, makes exploi-

tation inevitable.

TI’s comments on the Greeks support this reading. “I saw

their strongest instinct, the will to power,” Nietzsche writes, “I

saw them tremble before the indomitable force of this drive.”

This implies that the Greeks had other instincts, thus that the

will to power was one among other drives, albeit the most impor-

tant one. Because the passage proceeds to identify this drive with

“inner explosives” and a “tremendous inward tension” that “dis-

charged itself in terrible and ruthless hostility to the outside

world,” one may doubt that Nietzsche values it so highly as to

generalize and glorify it in his picture of the world as will to

power. But the same passage gives an indication of why he

would, by presenting the will to power as responsible for the

Greeks’ political institutions and other cultural achievements.

Their political institutions grew out of preventative measures

taken to protect each other against the will to power, Nietzsche

claims, “and with festivals and the arts they also aimed at nothing

other than to feel on top, to show themselves on top” (TI X, 3).

Further, the beginning of The Antichrist leaves no doubt that


Nietzsche did place the highest value on this drive when it gives

this answer to the question “what is good?”: “Everything that

heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power

itself.” What Nietzsche here puts forward as the good seems to

be exactly what he found in such abundance among the Greeks:

the will to power – a psychological entity, one drive among oth-

ers (though in the Greeks, the strongest drive) – and the satisfac-

tion of this drive, “the feeling of power in human beings” and

“power itself.” It is clearly a particular component of human life,

rather than life or the world as a whole, that Nietzsche here

values under the title of “the will to power.” It is this component

of human life, I am claiming, that Nietzsche “generalized and

glorified” in his picture of life and the cosmos as will to power.

In addition to its line of argument about the nature of philoso-

phy, BG offers more specific support for my reading in the first

section after BG 36 to mention “will to power.” After describing

those who call themselves “free spirits” but want only “security,

lack of danger, comfort, and an easier life for everyone,” Nietz-

sche writes that “we with opposed feelings” (wir Umgekehrten)

having opened our eyes and conscience to the question where and

how the plant “man” has so far grown most vigorously to a

height – we think that this has happened every time under the

opposite conditions, that to this end the dangerousness of a situa-

tion must grow to the point of enormity, his power of invention

and simulation (his “spirit”) had to develop under prolonged pres-

sure and constraint into refinement and audacity, his life-will had

to be changed into an unconditional power-will (BG 44).

The distinction drawn here between a “life-will” and a “power-

will” constitutes very strong evidence for the interpretation I have

suggested. It amounts to an admission that life itself is not will to

power, because it says that a power-will does not automatically

come with life, but must be developed by enhancing one’s life-



The passage also shows that Nietzsche believes there is rea-

  1. Nietzsche suggests the same point in the passage in which he explains the

Greeks’ will to power. He writes that “one needed to be strong; danger was

near, it lurked everywhere. The magnificent physical suppleness, the auda-

cious realism and immoralism which distinguished the Hellene constituted a

need, not ‘nature.’ It only resulted, it was not there from the start” (TI X, 3).

This means that certain effects of the will to power were not there from the

start, and it implies that the will to power itself was something that grew


son to value the will to power that has nothing to do with cos-

mology (or metaphysical biology/psychology), namely, that every

enhancement of the human type depends on a strengthening of

the will to power. Nietzsche evidently finds in the will to power the

source of everything “for whose sake it is worthwhile to live on

earth, for example, virtue, art, music, dance, reason, spirituality —

something transfiguring, subtle, mad, and divine” (BG 188). He

believes that these enhancements of the human type require “the

craving for an ever new widening of distances within the soul

itself, the development of ever higher, rarer, more remote,

further-stretching, more comprehensive states” (BG 257), and

that this would have been impossible without that “pathos of dis-

tance’ that grows out of the “ingrained difference between strata”

that one finds in an aristocratic society. The idea seems to be that

the desire for, hence the development of, such higher states of

soul requires a spiritualized version of the will to power.

This claim requires much more explanation and examination

than I can give it within the scope of this book. But the passages I

have discussed provide strong evidence that Nietzsche gives a

reason for valuing the will to power that in no way implies that the

world or life is will to power, or that human beings want only

power, namely, that this drive is the source of what is most valu-

able in human life, the activities and states of soul that make life

worth living. They also help us to see the following passage, which

begins with a description of psychology as the “doctrine of the

forms and development of the will to power,” as a partial explana-

tion of why Nietzsche was not more forthright about his position:

The power of moral prejudice has penetrated deeply into the

most spiritual world, which would seem to be the coldest and most

devoid of presuppositions, and has obviously operated in an inju-

rious, inhibiting, blinding, and distorting manner. A proper

physio-psychology has to contend with the unconscious resistance

in the heart of the investigator, it has “the heart” against it: even a

doctrine of the reciprocal dependence of the “good” and the

“wicked” drives, causes (as refined immorality) distress and aver-

sion in a still hale and hearty conscience —still more so, a doctrine

of the derivation of all good impulses from wicked ones. If, how-

ever, a person should regard even the affects of hatred, envy,

stronger under the conditions of Greek life, that it was not their “strongest

instinct” as a matter of “nature.”


covetousness, and the lust to rule as conditions of life, as factors

which, fundamentally and essentially, must be present in the gen-

eral economy of life (and must, therefore, be further enhanced if

life is to be further enhanced) – he will suffer from such a view of

things as from seasickness (BG 23).

Finally, the passages discussed here allow us to see how Nietz-

sche’s cosmological doctrine of will to power fits the characteriza-

tion he gives of philosophy in his discussion of the Stoics: He

pictures life as will to power because he values the will to power,

not because he has reason to believe that life is will to power (or

that power is the only human motive). The argument of BG 36,

in the context of the account of philosophy in part one of BG,

can therefore be read as Nietzsche’s way of letting it be known —

“whether to warn an enemy or friend” (BG 5) —that his doctrine

of the will to power is a construction of the world from the

viewpoint of his moral values.

  1. The psychology of the will to power and its

relation to the will to truth

I have argued that Nietzsche’s doctrine of will to power is not a

doctrine at all. Although Nietzsche says that life is will to power,

he also gives us clues that he does not regard this as a truth or a

matter of knowledge, but as a construction of the world from the

viewpoint of his values. However, this is only half the story, for it

is not plausible to interpret everything Nietzsche says about

power in this way. He clearly claims all sorts of knowledge of the

human desire for power, for example, and this is the other side

of the story.

What Nietzsche claims knowledge of, I suggest, is the will to

power, a second-order drive that he recognizes as dependent for

its existence on other drives, but which he generalizes and glori-

fies in his picture of life as will to power. The knowledge Nietz-

sche claims of the will to power belongs to psychology rather

than to metaphysics or cosmology. In BG 23, he writes that he

understands psychology as “the doctrine of the forms and develop-

ment of the will to power” identifies this psychology as a “proper

physio-psychology,” to differentiate it, I assume, from anything

metaphysical, and asserts that psychology is “the path to the

fundamental problems.” Interpreting the will to power as a


second-order drive allows us to see that Nietzsche’s claims to

knowledge of it are perfectly compatible with his claims about

knowledge. His psychology of the will to power does not depend

on denying the relevance of sense testimony, or on the assump-

tion of a thing-in-itself, and is therefore not a metaphysical doc-

trine or a violation of his perspectivism. Although I cannot un-

dertake a systematic exploration of Nietzsche’s psychology here,

I will examine enough of it to explain why he considers it “the

path to the fundamental problems.”

I will focus on Nietzsche’s psychology of the will to truth in its

relation to his claim that philosophy is the “the most spiritual

expression of the will to power” (BG 9). This claim about philoso-

phy has a prominent place in the treatment of the will to power

in both BG and Z. BG first mentions the will to power to charac-

terize the drive responsible for philosophy (BG 9). Z introduces

it to characterize what lies behind a people’s values – what the

people call “good and evil,” Zarathustra says, reflects their “will

to power” (Z I, 15) – but mentions it next to claim that the peo-

ple’s values reflect the will to power of the wisest (Z II, 12),

among whom philosophers are at the very least included. In the

same section, Zarathustra calls the will to power of the wisest

their “danger.” He then proceeds to formulate the cosmological

version of will to power, in the obviously metaphorical and an-

thropomorphic language mentioned earlier. An interpretation

of these claims about values, philosophy, and the will to power

will help to explain why Nietzsche considers knowledge of the

will to power “the path to the fundamental problems” (BG 23)

and why he generalizes and glorifies this drive in his cosmologi-

cal doctrine of will to power.

First, why does Zarathustra portray values as the voice of a

people’s will to power (Z I, 15)? The point does not seem to be to

explain the act of valuing. About that, Zarathustra says merely

that a people could not survive without esteeming. The will to

power is introduced to explain why a people esteems as it does.

Zarathustra has already said that a people must not esteem as its

neighbor esteems, presumably because it would then have no

identity as a separate people. So what a people values depends in

part on what its neighbor values. The other major factor that

determines values, he suggests, is what gives a people the great-

est sense of its power or effectiveness. But that depends on sev-

eral other factors. Because power is a second-order desire, it


depends, to begins with, on their first-order desires. If there is

no perceived need or desire for something, the ability to do or

get it will not give a sense of power, and therefore, according to

Zarathustra’s account, it will not be esteemed. A second factor he

mentions is what they find difficult. If something comes easy, the

ability to do it will not give much sense of power either. Finally,

Zarathustra says a people value what makes them “rule, and

triumph, and shine to the envy of their neighbor” (Z I, 15).

Various forms of winning in competition with others – including

ruling over them – provide very obvious ways of confirming

one’s power in the world. Zarathustra’s stress on this factor

seems to show that Kaufmann’s account of the will to power is

too moralistic when he says (1958, 119) that what is meant by

“power” in this context “is clearly power over self,” or, as he calls

it elsewhere, “self-overcoming.” Nothing Zarathustra says in this

first passage on the will to power suggests the possibility that

power over oneself would satisfy the will to power, much less that

it has the kind of privileged status Kaufmann gives it. What the

will to power aims at is evidently a sense of effectiveness in rela-

tion to the world, a sense of one’s ability to have the world satisfy

one’s (first-order) will.

Self-overcoming is not connected to the will to power until

Zarathustra claims in part 2 that the people’s values reflect the

will to power of the wisest. This means that the people’s values

are determined by what gives those they recognize as the wisest

(priests and philosophers) the greatest feeling of power or effec-

tiveness. Because Nietzsche argues in GM that priests and phi-

losophers have been proponents of the ascetic ideal, this seems

to mean that the self-overcoming or self-denial required by the

ascetic ideal has given priests and philosophers the greatest sense

of their power or effectiveness. This suggests that priests and

philosophers connected the will to power to self-overcoming,

diverting it away from more obvious ways of acquiring a sense of


This connection to the ascetic ideal also explains why Zara-

thustra warns the wise that the will to power is their “danger.” For

this ideal appears to turn the activity of valuing, which Zara-

thustra presents as necessary for, and directed by, life, against life

itself. Both Zarathustra and Nietzsche turn to the psychology of

the will to power to understand how this is possible.

Nietzsche explains asceticism as an internalization of the will


to power. In BG 51, he tells us it was the ” ‘will to power’ that

made [the most powerful human beings] stop before the saint”


Why did they bow? In him —and as it were behind the question

mark of his fragile and miserable appearance —they sensed the

superior force that sought to test itself in such conquest, the

strength of will in which they recognized their own strength and

delight in dominion: they honored something in themselves when

they honored the saint. Moreover, the sight of the saint awakened

a suspicion in them: such an enormous amount of denial, of anti-

nature will not have been desired for nothing, they said to them-

selves and asked themselves. Perhaps there is a reason for it, some

very great danger about which the ascetic, thanks to his secret

comforters and visitors, might have inside information?

That is, the powerful perceived the saint’s asceticism as an ex-

pression of his will to power, even though he turns this will

against his own impulses. In his discussion of the bad conscience,

Nietzsche makes it explicit that this self-denial expresses an inter-

nalized will to power (GM II, 18). He claims that “the delight that

the selfless man, the self-denier, the self-sacrificer feels . . . is tied

to cruelty,” and that the force involved is the same force that is

“at work on a grander scale in those artists of violence and orga-

nizers who build states”:

namely, the instinct for freedom (in my language: the will to power);

only here the material upon which the form-giving and ravishing

nature of this force vents itself is man himself, his whole ancient

animal self and not, as in that greater and more obvious phenome-

non, some other man, other men (GM II, 18).

The will to power described here expresses itself by disciplining,

castigating, forming, and otherwise getting power over the self.

How did this come about? Nietzsche evidently believes that one

condition for this internalization of the will to power is that

“outward discharge was inhibited” (GM II, 16). He traces the bad

conscience to the change that occurred when human beings were

“finally enclosed within the walls of society and peace,” and the

bulwarks of political organization kept them from satisfying the

“instincts of wild, free, prowling man.” These instincts – “hos-

tility, cruelty, joy in persecuting, in attacking, in change, in


destruction” —could be satisfied only by being turned back

against their possessors. Given that Nietzsche explicitly claims

that this is a matter of internalizing the will to power, he must

count the instincts civilization suppressed as external expressions

of the will to power. When such external expression was blocked,

human beings got their sense of power by directing the same

instincts against the self—by hurting and persecuting themselves

rather than others. In this project, they had help from the priests

who invented the ascetic ideal.

Nietzsche treats the priests as the real experts in the internal-

ization of the will to power. In their case, it is internal rather than

external barriers that kept them from directing the will to power

outward. There is “from the first something unhealthy in such

priestly aristocracies and the habits ruling in them which turn

them away from action and alternate between brooding and

emotional explosions” (GM I, 6). The priests are the “most evil

enemies,” Nietzsche claims, “because they are the most impotent,”

i.e., the ones who have the greatest problem giving direct or

external expression to their will to power. “It is because of their

impotence that in them hatred grows to monstrous and uncanny

proportions, to the most spiritual and poisonous kind of hatred”

(GM 1,7). The priests’ inability to exercise their will to power in

direct ways strengthens it, so that it requires for its satisfaction

incredible acts of “spiritual revenge,” and is “ultimately satisfied

with nothing less than a radical revaluation of their enemies’

values” (GM I, 7).

The priests’ asceticism is another way in which their strong will

to power is expressed. Nietzsche makes clear that the priest’s

self-denial aims for power not merely over the self, but also over


here rules a ressentiment without equal, that of an insatiable in-

stinct and power-will that wants to become master not over some-

thing in life but over life itself, over its most profound, powerful,

and basic conditions; here an attempt is made to employ force to

block up the wells of force; here physiological well-being itself is

viewed askance, and especially the outward expression of this

well-being, beauty and joy; while pleasure is felt and sought in ill-

constitutedness, decay, pain, mischance, ugliness, voluntary de-

privation, self-mortification, self-flagellation, self-sacrifice. All

this is to the highest degree paradoxical: we stand before a dis-


cord that wants to be discordant, that enjoys itself in this suffering

and even grows more self-confident and triumphant the more its

own presupposition, its physiological capacity of life, decreases

(GMIII, 11).

But, contrary to what the ascetic believes, Nietzsche claims that

asceticism is itself “an artifice for the preservation of life” (GM III,

12). The ascetic ideal “indicates a partial physiological obstruc-

tion and exhaustion against which the deepest instincts of life,

which have remained intact, continually struggle with new expe-

dients and devices.” The ascetic ideal is one such expedient, and

it engages human beings in a “physiological struggle against

death (more precisely: against disgust with life, against exhaus-

tion, against desire for the ‘end’).” This means that the ascetic

ideal actually promotes the affirmation of life – by which I mean

the sense of life’s value, the feeling that life is worth living – even

though its message is precisely that life itself has no value. And it

does this, according to Nietzsche’s theory, because it gives its

followers a sense of power.

I believe we find throughout GM the view that a sense of

power promotes, and is perhaps necessary for, the affirmation of

life. Nietzsche gives his most explicit statement of this view when

he calls the will to power the “most life-affirming drive” (GM III,

18). I take this to mean that the best way to promote the affirma-

tion of life – to overcome depression or disgust with life, to boost

one’s willingness to go on, to keep acting, willing, changing —is

to satisfy the need for a sense of power or effectiveness.

In the same passage, Nietzsche also makes clear that the priest

provides the people with alternatives to the more obvious ways

of satisfying their will to power that involve hurting each other.

An alternative is necessary because the more obvious expressions

of the will to power threaten to “blow up herd and herdsmen”

(GM III, 15), whereas the inability to express it at all threatens

human beings with depression or sickness of the will (e.g., GM

II, 16; III, 28). The point seems to be that without a sense that

our will matters, that we can be effective in the world, it will be

difficult to work up a great deal of enthusiasm for living and



The ascetic ideal evidently works to provide a sense of

  1. My formulations in this paragraph may distort the causal picture somewhat if

the feeling of power belongs to the level of consciousness, because Nietzsche

denies that the ultimate causes of our actions are found at that level. It would


power, thereby promoting such enthusiasm for living, as Nietz-

sche suggests in the following account of the asceticism of early


cruelty towards themselves, inventive self-castigation —this was

the principle means these power-hungry hermits and innovators

of ideas required to overcome the gods and tradition in them-

selves, so as to be able to believe in their own innovations. I recall

the famous story of King Vishvamitra, who through millennia of

self-torture acquired such a feeling of power and self-confidence

that he endeavored to build a new heaven (GM III, 10).

Nietzsche thus explains asceticism as an “artifice for the preser-

vation of life” (GM III, 12). But why was the ascetic ideal needed

for this? That is, why couldn’t ascetics just internalize their will to

power and gain a sense of power without denying the value of

human life? The problem seems to be that an ascetic who be-

lieved he engaged in asceticism simply in order to get a sense of

power would no longer be able to get a sense of power from it.

As Nietzsche presents him, the priest is not satisfied simply by

having a sense of power over his other instincts; he needs a

feeling of power over life itself. This he gets by interpreting the

then be more in accord with Nietzsche’s views on these matters to think of a

sense of power as a phenomenological or epiphenomenal reflection of our

actual doings rather than a cause of them. In other words, we will have a sense

of power sufficient for enthusiasm in living and doing if there are no obstruc-

tions to acting, whereas we will suffer from physiological depression and its

psychological or conscious reflection, a sense of powerlessness, if such obstruc-

tions do block our path(s) to action. This fits Nietzsche’s physiological empha-

sis in his description of the ascetic ideal’s fight against disgust with life. He

claims that the ascetic ideal fights “profound physiological depression” {GM

III, 17) by allowing otherwise blocked impulses to be expressed against the

self. As a result “[t]he old depression, heaviness, and weariness were indeed

overcome through this system of [ascetic] procedures; life again became very

interesting: awake, everlastingly awake, sleepless, glowing, charred, spent and

yet not weary” (GM III, 20). The connection to a sense of power seems to be

that the latter is the reflection in consciousness of success in satisfying one’s

impulses. The ascetic ideal evidently works to promote a sense of power and

the affirmation of life by providing alternate ways of satisfying impulses. If

this is correct, we should formulate Nietzsche’s general thesis about the will to

power as a claim that a satisfaction of this drive, namely, a sense of power, is

the reflection in consciousness of whatever is necessary for the affirmation of

life. The ascetic ideal saved the will —fought depression, which amounts to

promoting the affirmation of life —by providing a way to satisfy otherwise

blocked impulses by directing them against the self, and the reflection in

consciousness of its success is a sense of power. I ignore this complication in

the remainder of my discussion.


denial of his other instincts as a triumph over life. This is what

the ascetic ideal allows him to do, by holding out self-denial as

the ideal, and life itself as without value unless it turn against

itself. The ascetic needs the valuation and interpretation of life

offered by the ascetic ideal in order to get a sense of power from

self-denial. It would not work to say to himself “I value self-

denial only because I get a feeling of power from it.” Because the

will to power is a second-order drive, being able to do something

furnishes a sense of power only if there is some independent

reason to want to be able to. Nietzsche says that the powerful

people who honored the ascetic thought that he must have some

“inside information” precisely because they could not interpret

his self-denial as a sign of strength or power unless they believed

he got something out of it besides a sense of power (BG 51).

Thus ascetics needed a way of interpreting their activity of self-

denial that gave it value quite apart from any sense of power

they got from it, which is what the ascetic ideal provided.

This explains why Nietzsche thinks that the will to truth over-

comes the ascetic ideal (Chapter 6, section 5). If his psychology

of asceticism is correct, once the will to truth exposes it, ascetics

can no longer get what they wanted from the ideal except by

denying or ignoring the truth. To believe fully that asceticism is

an expression of the same impulses that the ascetic ideal con-

demns, that is, the will to power, would make it impossible to get

a sense of power from ascetic practices, since it would make it

impossible to interpret them as a triumph over life. Nietzsche’s

psychology makes them appear instead as “an artifice for the

preservation of life,” a way in which life detains “its creatures in

life and compels them to live on” (BT 18). Rather than giving

mastery over life, asceticism amounts to being outsmarted or

mastered by life. This explains why Nietzsche considers psychol-

ogy the “path to the fundamental problems” (BG 23). Those

with the will to truth cannot go back to explicit acceptance of the

ascetic ideal once they accept Nietzsche’s claim that their will to

truth is itself an expression of the ascetic ideal. The difficulty

here is psychological: one would feel foolish rather than power-

ful embracing a life-devaluing ideal if one accepted Nietzsche’s

theory that one’s motive was to get a sense of power necessary

for feeling better about life. I have argued in the previous chap-

ter that those with the will to truth must therefore create a new

ideal. An examination of Nietzsche’s psychology of the will to


truth will reinforce this point, and will help us to see the grounds

he has – in addition to his belief that the world needs such an

ideal – for thinking that philosophers need to create one.

Nietzsche claims, of course, that the will to truth is itself the

latest expression of the ascetic ideal. This means that the will to

truth expresses the will to power, as BG 230 also makes clear. In

the previous section, Nietzsche has explained that all of higher

culture is a spiritualization of cruelty, and that

even the seeker after knowledge forces his spirit to recognize

things against the inclination of his spirit, and often enough

against the wishes of his heart – by saying No where he would like

to say Yes, love, and adore – and thus acts as an artist and trans-

former of cruelty. Indeed, any insistence on profundity and thor-

oughness is a violation, a desire to hurt the basic will of the spirit

which unceasingly strives for the apparent and superficial – in all

desire to know there is a drop of cruelty.

This suggests that in the case of knowing, the will to power is

directed back against the knower. The knower gets a sense of

power by hurting “the basic will of the spirit.” But this seems

strange. If knowing is motivated by the desire for power, one

would expect it to be a desire for power over the objects of


In fact, the next section, which sets out to explain Nietzsche’s

claim about the “basic will of the spirit” because it “may not be

readily understood,” seems to admit that knowledge is first di-

rected by the need for a sense of power in relation to the exter-

nal world.

That commanding something which the people call “the spirit”

wants to be master in and around its own house and wants to feel

that it is master; it has the will from multiplicity to simplicity, a will

that ties up, tames, and is domineering and truly masterful.

In thus explaining the will to knowledge in its first stage, Nietz-

sche ignores an earlier stage, where “knowing” is directed by

more immediately practical needs, the need to know how to

build a fire, kill an animal, bake bread, and so on. His concern in

this passage is to explain what motivates knowledge when we get

to a more theoretical level, where knowledge is wanted quite

apart from the obvious practical purposes it serves. The original


intent in such knowing, Nietzsche suggests, is to “appropriate

the foreign,” that is, “to assimilate the new to the old, to simplify

the manifold, and to overlook or repulse whatever is totally con-

tradictory.” What it is after is growth, “or, more precisely, the

feeling of growth, the feeling of increased power” (BG 230).

On Nietzsche’s view, then, the desire for theoretical knowl-

edge is not originally directed by a will to truth. What the knower

wants is not truth, but the feeling of intellectual appropriation or

command over the world. Therefore, “an apparently opposite

drive serves this same will” (the will to power that intellectual

appropriation of the world serves):

a suddenly erupting decision in favor of ignorance, of deliberate

exclusion, a shutting of one’s windows, a kind of state of defense

against much that is knowable, a satisfaction with the dark, with

the limiting horizon, a Yea and Amen to ignorance – all of which

is necessary in proportion to a spirit’s power to appropriate, its

“digestive capacity,” to speak metaphorically —and actually “the

spirit” is relatively most similar to a stomach (BG 230).

Thus, the intellectual appropriator is too easily satisfied with a

feeling of command over the world to count as having a will to

truth. Of course, intellectual appropriation may happen upon the

truth, but Nietzsche claims that the will behind it is the same will

that lies behind avoidance, ignorance, masks, and so on. What

follows is a point already made in Chapter 6, that the will to

truth – the commitment to truth at any price – is a late develop-

ment. Originally, the discoverer of theoretical truths is satisfied at

least as much by simplification, falsification, flight into ignorance

(as Nietzsche seems to think the history of philosophy attests).

How to explain the emergence of a will to truth is the question

with which Nietzsche begins BG: “What in us really wants

‘truth’?” He gives his most direct answer in BG 230.

This will to mere appearance, to simplification, to masks, to

cloaks, in short, to the surface —for every surface is a cloak —is

countered by that sublime inclination of the seeker after knowledge

who insists on profundity, multiplicity, and thoroughness, with a

will which is a kind of cruelty of the intellectual conscience and

taste. Every courageous thinker will recognize this in himself, as-

suming only that, as fit, he has hardened and sharpened his eye

for himself long enough and that he is used to severe discipline, as


well as severe words. He will say; “there is something cruel in the

inclination of my spirit”; let the virtuous and kindly try to talk him

out of it.

This is the psychological side of the analysis of the will to truth as

the latest expression of the ascetic ideal. Nietzsche claims that a

will to knowledge or truth, as opposed to a will to what I have

called “intellectual appropriation,” requires the internalization

of the will to power, the ability to get a sense of power out of

denying oneself the satisfaction of interpretations one would like

to be true because of what one actually has reason to believe.

But how does this occur? Nietzsche does not answer this ques-

tion here, but the answer suggested by both BG and GM is that it

developed out of philosophers’ commitment to the ascetic ideal.

Zarathustra’s talk to the wisest suggests that philosophy in-

volves two different orientations expressive of the will to power.

A will to the thinkability of all beings; this I call your will. You

want to make all being thinkable, for you doubt with a well-

founded suspicion that it is already thinkable. But it shall yield

and bend for you. Thus your will wants it. It shall become smooth

and serve the spirit as its mirror and reflection. This is your whole

will, you who are wisest: a will to power – when you speak of good

and evil too, and of valuations. You still want to create a world

before which you can kneel: that is your ultimate hope and intoxi-

cation (Z II, 12).

Zarathustra here attributes two different desires to philoso-

phers, first, the desire for the intellectual appropriation of the

world, a desire to make the world fit into its categories. Secondly,

there is the desire “to create a world before which [they] can

kneel,” that is, to construct a picture of the world that reflects the

philosopher’s values. The first of these tendencies or desires

differentiates philosophers from mythmakers. But BG 5 makes

clear that in the case of philosophers, the desire for knowledge

or intellectual appropriation is subordinate to the second desire,

of constructing the world in the image of its values. This means

that the categories into which philosophers have attempted to

force the world have been determined by the ascetic ideal. For, as

I have already argued in detail, Nietzsche thinks philosophy has

been an expression of that ideal.


Consider again GM’s claim that the typical doctrines of dog-

matic or metaphysical philosophy are exactly what one would

expect if the ascetic priest, “this incarnate will to contradiction

and antinaturalness[,] is induced to philosophize.”

Upon what will it vent its innermost contrariness? Upon what is felt

most certainly to be real and actual: it will look for error precisely

where the instinct of life most unconditionally posits truth. It will,

for example, like the ascetics of the Vedanta philosophy, down-

grade physicality to an illusion; likewise pain, multiplicity, the en-

tire conceptual antithesis “subject” and “object” – errors, nothing

but errors! To renounce belief in one’s ego, to deny one’s own

“reality” —what a triumph! not merely over the senses, over appear-

ance, but a much higher kind of triumph, a violation and cruelty

against reason – a voluptuous pleasure that reaches its height when

the ascetic self-contempt and self-mockery of reason declares:

“there is a realm of truth and being, but reason is excluded from it!”

(GMIII, 12)

The philosophical doctrines mentioned here are ones BG counts

as projections of the philosopher’s values. We see from this pas-

sage one of Nietzsche’s reasons for thinking that this philosophy

expresses a spiritual will to power – like the ascetic, the philoso-

pher’s desire for a sense of power or effectiveness turns against

the self, forcing it to give up the satisfaction of its natural inclina-

tions (e.g., by reducing physicality to an illusion, or renouncing

belief in one’s ego). Because Nietzsche explicitly calls this philoso-

phy a way in which the spirit has “raged against itself,” it seems

clear that he considers it an internalization of the will to power.

But it also is a will to power directed against the world. For the

world is forced to accept categories that devalue it, allow it value

only as a means to, or condition of, something that is its own

negation. As in the case of more obvious ascetics, the philoso-

pher’s internalized will to power is evidently interpreted in a way

that gives a sense of power in relation to the world.

When the ascetic priest is induced to philosophize, he is in-

duced to use the means for intellectual appropriation, the re-

sources of logic, concepts, thinking, for carrying out ascetic

projects. Some independent development of thinking, that is,

of intellectual appropriation, is necessary, but it is taken over by

the ascetic ideal for its own purposes (to devalue the empirical

world). Yet, the ascetic ideal ultimately pushes the spirit far


enough in its asceticism that the will to intellectual appropria-

tion becomes a will to truth.

This is why Nietzsche suggests in BG 2 that the will to truth

grew out of the will to deception. We are liable to misunderstand

this claim —in ways that support radical interpretations of Nietz-

sche’s position on truth – if we do not recognize that Nietzsche

means by the “will to truth” the commitment to truth at any price

and that he considers this a late and rare development. His

suggestion in BG 2 is not that one who wants truth really wants

to be deceived, or wants something that does in fact deceive, or

that such a person is bound to find illusion rather than truth.

The point is rather that the commitment to truth that we find in

Nietzsche’s own writings, for instance, grew out of the ascetic

ideal’s use of the will to intellectual appropriation and the will to

deception this involved. This deception was the pretense that

what was actually a matter of reading their own ascetic values

into the world was instead devotion to truth. Nietzsche claims

that an actual will to truth grew out of this pretended will to


Nietzsche admits, therefore, that his own will to truth is an

expression of the will to power, but this introduces no paradoxes

into his position. To say that the will to truth is an expression of

the will to power is not to deny that it is a will to truth or that it

arrives at truth. The will to truth expresses an internalized will to

power, after all. It makes the knower give up comforting or

desirable views precisely because they conflict with what there is

reason to believe. It is quite different in the case of the external-

ized will to power with which Nietzsche first identifies philoso-

phy (BG 9): the desire to create the world in the image of one’s

values. The latter will is not constrained by considerations of

truth, but constructs the world to fit its own will, though it pre-

tends to be concerned only with truth.

The main question for understanding Nietzsche’s view of the

future of philosophy concerns what happens to this externalized

will to power, the will to construct the world in its own image,

when the will to intellectual appropriation becomes the will to

truth. Several passages of BG indicate that when the will to intel-

lectual appropriation becomes the will to truth, it belongs to

science or scholarship rather than to philosophy (consider the

contrast between philosophy and science or scholarship in BG 6,

and throughout part 6). Thus Nietzsche’s will to truth is dis-


played in his psychology of the will to power, for instance, not in

his philosophical “doctrine” of will to power. It is certainly clear

that the will to construct the world in the image of the philoso-

pher’s values can no longer pretend to be a will to truth.

Nehamas has argued in effect that we must go further and say

that Nietzsche has no place for this will with which he identifies

philosophy (1988, esp. 56 ff.). According to Nehamas, BG es-

chews argument and merely exemplifies Nietzsche’s own values

in order to avoid doing that for which he criticizes other philoso-

phers, namely, reading his own values into the world. The inter-

pretation I have offered suggests a quite opposed answer. What

Nietzsche objects to in previous philosophers is not that they

read their values into the world, but that they pretended to be

doing something else, that they were not “honest enough in their

work” (BG 5). If my interpretation is correct, what BG attempts

to exemplify is precisely the compatibility between the will to

impose the philosopher’s values on the world and the will to

truth. The cosmological doctrine of the will to power is the kind

of construction of the world Nietzsche claims philosophers have

self-deceptively engaged in. The difference is that Nietzsche

knows perfectly well it is not the truth and that he gives us the

clues we need to figure out that it is actually a projection of his

life-affirming (and self-affirming) ideal.

Nietzsche suggests not only that the will to truth can coexist

with the philosopher’s will to impose values on the world, but

that the former may actually require the latter. Consider BG

230’s account of the task of those with a will to knowledge or

truth. After claiming to find in every courageous thinker “a will

that is a kind of cruelty of the intellectual conscience,” Nietz-

sche writes that it would “sound nicer . . . to be distinguished

not by cruelty but by ‘extravagant honesty,’ we free, very free

spirits —and perhaps that will actually be our —posthumous

reputation.” But Nietzsche claims that “we hermits and mar-

mots have long persuaded ourselves in the full secrecy of a

hermit’s conscience” that such “moral tinsel words” belong to

“the gold dust of unconscious human vanity, and that under

such flattering colors and make-up the basic text of homo natura

must again be recognized.”

To translate human beings back into nature; to become master

over the many vain and overly enthusiastic interpretations and


connotations that have so far been scrawled and painted over the

eternal basic text of homo natura; to see to it that we henceforth

stand before human beings as even today, hardened in the disci-

pline of science, we stand before the rest of nature, with intrepid

Oedipus eyes and sealed Odysseus ears, deaf to the siren songs of

old metaphysical bird catchers who have been piping at us all too

long, “you are more, you are higher, you are of a different

origin” – that may be a strange and insane task, but it is a task –

who would deny that? Why did we choose this insane task? Or,

putting it differently, “why have knowledge at all?”

Everyone will ask us that. And we, pressed this way, we have put

the same question to ourselves a hundred times, we have found

and can find no better answer (BG 230).

The ultimate task of those committed to truth is evidently to

“become master over the many vain and overly enthusiastic inter-

pretations” of their own will to truth, to recognize the latter as an

internalized will to power, a matter of cruelty against the self. We

can explain why this might appear as an “insane task” to Nietz-

sche in terms of the fact that it undermines the ascetic ideal that

is responsible for the existence of the will to truth. So why this

task? Because Nietzsche does not fill in this blank, he evidently

wants the reader to do so on the basis of the surrounding mate-

rial. Alderman suggests that the next section shows the task has

not been chosen but given, for Nietzsche writes that “at the

bottom of us, really ‘deep down,’ there is, of course, something

unteachable, some granite of spiritual fatum, of predetermined

decisions and answers to predetermined selected questions” (BG

231). But then the question is: What is it about us that gives us

this task, and why can we not simply abandon it? It seems to me

that Nietzsche must expect us to fill in the blank at least partly

from what he has been saying in this section about cruelty: that

what has given us this task is a tremendous and tremendously

internalized will to power. This will has put the whole of our

ability for intellectual appropriation in the service of the truth.

In BG 227, he even refers to “us” as “we last Stoics.” And he calls

on “us” to “remain hard” should our honesty, the “virtue from

which we cannot get away” and “the only one left us” (the last

virtue we share with traditional morality?), “grow weary one

day” and want things “better, easier, tenderer.” To do this, we

must “come to the assistance of our ‘good’ with our ‘devils,’ ”

namely, “our adventurous courage, our seasoned and choosy


curiosity, our subtlest, most disguised, most spiritual will to

power and overcoming of the world.”

This “most spiritual will to power and overcoming of the

world” cannot refer to our will to truth, because it is supposed to

keep the will to truth from growing “weary.” Nietzsche’s wording

suggests that the will to truth requires the aid of an externalized

will to power, one that provides a sense of power in relation to

the world. Such a will always accompanies an internalized will to

power in Nietzsche’s account of philosophers. The internaliza-

tion of the will to power was promoted by the ascetic interpreta-

tion of existence, which gave philosophers a way of overcoming

the world by devaluing it. As one would expect of the successors

to the ascetic priest, Nietzsche’s philosophers need a sense of

power in relation to the world, not just in relation to themselves.

I suggest that this is Nietzsche’s final argument for why we must

propose new ideals. As BG 10 suggests, if they are going to live

“vigorously and cheerfully,” philosophers cannot confine them-

selves to the truth, to what science and scholarship can reveal.

Philosophers need to be able to “create values,” to put their

stamp on the world. They have done this through their adher-

ence to the ascetic ideal, by devaluing the world, making it accept

the philosopher’s devaluing categories. But this required a cer-

tain self-deception, a failure to understand their own psychol-

ogy. They cannot both face up to the truth about themselves and

get a sense of power over the world from the ascetic ideal.

Hence, the necessity of inventing a new ideal – if we agree with

Nietzsche that we cannot pursue truth simply for its own sake.

The creation of an alternative to the ascetic ideal would give

philosophers a sense of power in relation to the world insofar as

they get to decide what is valuable, but it would also give them an

ideal in whose service they could pursue truth. An externalized

will to power could thus come to the aid of the will to truth.

I assume that Nietzsche himself has brought to the aid of his

own will to truth his doctrine of life as will to power. For though

he presents it as if it were true (perhaps exemplifying the sugges-

tion of BG 4 to “recognize untruth as a condition of life”), it is

actually his “creation of the world,” a construction of the world

from the viewpoint of his own ideal. I will discuss this ideal in my

final chapter, but have already made clear that it is Nietzsche’s

alternative to the ascetic ideal. It should therefore be easy to see

why Nietzsche would regard the world as will to power as an


alternative to the ascetic ideal’s interpretation of life (which he

sometimes calls the “moral world-view”). According to Nietz-

sche’s theory, the ascetic interpretation of life is a construction of

the world from the viewpoint of the ascetic ideal. Since it ideal-

izes the denial both of life and of the value of life, the ascetic

ideal gives us an interpretation of life that deprives it of value. I

have argued that Nietzsche also considers the world as will to

power a construction of life from the viewpoint of an ideal. He

believes this construction of the world expresses an opposed

ideal, I suggest, because it glorifies the will to power, a drive he

thinks aims at what is necessary for affirming or finding value in


This line of interpretation also helps to explain the embarrass-

ing material of part 6 of BG in which Nietzsche suggests that

philosophy should “dominate” (BG 204) and that”genuine philoso-

phers are commanders and legislators” (BG 211). The point is not to

denigrate the “objective person,” who is called a “mere instru-

ment” (BG 207), or the scientists, scholars and “philosophical

underlaborers” who are supposed to be “servants” of philosophy

(BG 211) —for these are clearly components of the philosophical

soul. Nietzsche’s point is that knowledge is not enough for ascetic

priests who have been “induced to philosophize.” Even when

they have developed a real will to truth, and have therefore

pursued knowledge rigorously, they have done so in service to an

ideal that gives them a sense of power in relation to the world,

and they cannot pursue it rigorously without commitment to

some ideal that establishes the value of a commitment to truth.

Because they can no longer pursue truth in service to the ascetic

ideal, they must, if they are to remain truthful, invent a new

ideal to serve. But this is clearly not “pure invention,” as Nietz-

sche’s ideal philosopher is constrained by a commitment to truth,

and the truth destroys the old ideal and shows us the form that a

new ideal must take. If there is still room for decision or “com-

manding” here, it is because rational considerations alone cannot

tell us that we ought to pursue the truth or affirm life, and in any

case, we might choose instead to be “puritanical fanatics of con-

science who prefer even a certain nothing to an uncertain some-

thing to lie down on – and die” (BG 10). But if philosophers are

to continue the vigorous pursuit of truth, Nietzsche’s claim

seems to be that they must do so in service to a new ideal.

Nietzsche does not deny therefore that philosophers could


abandon the will to truth. But it seems unlikely that those with

such a strong and strongly internalized will to power could live

“vigorously and cheerfully” by simply relaxing the demands of

their will to truth. What is more likely for philosophers who

refuse to invent a new ideal, I think Nietzsche would say, is that

they will continue to serve the ascetic ideal in various disguised

forms (for instance, devoting their work to showing that philoso-

phers cannot do what they have wanted, namely, to establish a

priori the truth about reality and to provide a rational foundation

for values). As my next chapter will show, Nietzsche was very

aware of the possibility of serving the old ideal while claiming

devotion to a new one.