Friedrich Nietzsche and the will to meaning

Tracey, David Leo (2022) Friedrich Nietzsche and the will to meaning. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Friedrich Nietzsche argues that human beings are characterized by a need to believe that their lives are meaningful. This need explains our vast human history of religious theodicies and asceticism. Certain commentators (Danto, Casey) hold that, according to Nietzsche, this will to meaning is a purely harmful disposition of the human being. Others (Leiter, Gardner) hold that the will to meaning is only valuable because it eliminates meaningless suffering. In contrast to both readings, I propose that Nietzsche rediscovers the value of the will to meaning for human life. I argue that, for Nietzsche, the will to meaning is life’s own solution to the threat of nihilism. To be alive, for Nietzsche, is to be subject to the conditions of conflict and ephemerality. Under these conditions, one can lose faith in their values and fall victim to nihilism: the mentality for which life is not worth living. In the absence of foundational grounding values, the will to meaning encourages us to commit to some principle with which to ground the meaning of life. The will to meaning, however, can be expressed in many forms, and some of these, e.g., the ascetic ideal in its Christian form, can themselves perpetuate nihilism. But not all expressions of the will to meaning perpetuate nihilism, and to argue that Nietzsche condemns the will to meaning in its entirety is to overlook the possibility of its healthy and vitalizing expressions. I argue that Nietzsche presents us with at least three images of such vitalizing expressions of the will to meaning. These are the alternative form of theodicy that he identifies in Ancient Greece, the use made of the ascetic ideal by the philosopher, and the productive tension that belongs to modern humanity as a bridge to the Übermensch. In each case, the will to meaning guides the individual to structure their life as a quest in a way that is enhancing by Nietzschean standards.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 15705
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 334-347)
Keywords: Nietzsche, meaning of life, philosophical psychology, existentialism, nihilism
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Philosophy
Date: October 2022
Date Type: Submission
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, 1844-1900; Psychology--Philosophy; Existentialism; Nihilism; Meaning (Philosophy)

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