Jonathan Mills on the idea of Nietzschean “pure will”

A reader of this blog requested my thoughts on what Nietzsche meant by “pure will”. I thought I would ask my old thesis prof for his thoughts because he is far and away more knowledgable in things Nietzsche than I am…

“Pure” vis-a-vis Nietzsche is different from metaphysical-moral concepts of purity, where subjectiveness, particular biases and so on are view’d as intrusions into what ought to be (objective, universal, transpersonal [where the personal is a universal concept thereof]).
Accordingly, my guess is “pure will” would mean willing that is affirmative of one’s own particularities: there could be no universalness in willing that would pertain to both Lars’s willing and Mills’s willing and X‘s willing and so on, except in some existentially unimportant sense (that we’re all willing similarly enough to refer to “willing” in generis).
Nietzscheanly pure willing is free of metaphysically moral criteria whereby in some residual way one still evaluates one’s willing according to e.g. congruence with Christianity or theoretic wisdom-as-such (as-if universal wisdom – wisdom that would apply to all of us, or toward which we all ought to be striving).
Nietzscheanly pure willing is always the willing of someone who wills, a willer. So also is Platonistic or Christian willing – and Buddhistic not-willing! – but this is done supposedly in a person-neutral, situation-neutral, etc way. A pure Nietzschean willer doesn’t hide from behind universal criteria that he claims are necessary and universal and which thus absolve him from responsibility for his willing and the intended consequences of his willing.

Obviously will in this sense is different from “willpower”: a given Platonist or Christian might have more thumotic energy to devote to exertions of will, resoluteness and so on) than does a given Nietzschean: only the Nietzschean decides that he ought to will for the enhancement of his own self’s potentiality, whereas the Christian decides that he ought to will toward his integration into the Kingdom of God that pertains to everyone in essentially the same way.

More subtly, will in this sense is different from “will to power,” reveal’d by Nietzsche: this is Heidegger’s “Gelassenheit” – letting go or “releasement,” which doesn’t tyrannize against nature (naturing) (cf BGE ¶188) but accentuates, intensifies, coherences every nature. And woe to whomever’s naturing can’t withstand intensification imposed by the will-to-power guy, or the will-to-power posse (LS: “planetary aristocracy”)!!

Yours in unintelligent laughter, jpnill

P.S. Did you mean your question psychologically in a certain way? I mean, what is Nietzsche’s concept of will in the psyche as distinguish’d from appetite, libido, eros, thumos, itching, etc? Such psychology is necessary and can be beneficial, although seems so far that such distinctions can’t be made with clear boundaries.
Classically, we can see how Plato shows thumos or spiritedness to emerge (frustration of desire or appetite provokes a drive that is different from the desire or appetite), but then Plato also shows thumos integral to some desires, some eros, and maybe even to all descriptions and hence to all logos (which must impose a verbal or conceptual distinction upon a reality that doesn’t match the concepts, unless one chooses a word so inclusive and universal (e.g., “reality” “everything” etc) as to lack descriptive power. Compare “spirituality” (Hitlerism, materialism, Jim Houstonism, Jesuitism, Augustinianism, etc are all “spirituality”).

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2 Responses to Jonathan Mills on the idea of Nietzschean “pure will”

  1. bookcrazy says:

    I cannot thank you enough for taking the pains for this post – Thanks.
    Well, I asked this not because I was reading him but because his concept of pure will was used by Colin Wilson a number of times in his book. He describes the incident where Nietzsche, during a stormy night, saw a man killing two children with his son watching. And then Nietzsche writes, “Lighting and tempest are different worlds, free powers, without morality. Pure Will, without the confusions of intellect – how happy, how free.” This vision has been described as the ‘vision of pure being’ by Wilson, and he has drawn quite a few parallels with Dostoevsky’s characters. I just wanted to know what sense is the word used by Nietzsche.
    From this post, and an earlier post of yours about Nietzsche’s Beyond Good & Evil, I comprehend that in some way he calls for purity in the sense of deleting all conditioning that human beings go through. Like the sense of what is wrong, what is right, what is moral, what is healthy, what is the meaning of a certain things. Unconditioning of human mind or rather an unconditioned human mind is what he means by pure, I understand.(?)
    But what does he mean by “will”, I am not yet sure. Does it mean ‘want’ (not in the materialistic, maybe in a spiritual sense). Or does it mean nature – pure will thus meaning where man’s “original” nature would take him? Just confirm my understanding if possible.
    Thanks a lot again

  2. Jonathan Mills says:

    Dear Bookcrazy, All mazel tov to you for striving to understand Nietzsche! — or, rather, mazel beyond tov and roa. Yet Nietzsche doesn’t call for “deleting all valuational conditioning” that we incur: that is impossible (“only something that has no history [or becoming, genesis] is definable” Genealogy ii ¶13), and anyway undesireable: we would then have no ancestral conditioning material [tohu wabohu] to rework selectively, rankingly, adjustingly, revereingly and despisingly. The virtue of justice would be impossible. And health would be impossible: Zarathustra strives for the great health that follows the great diseases.

    It is true that Nietzsche transcends “morality,” which means, I think, false ancestral valuational “conditioning” that has one half of the one ancestral inheritance struggling to expel or defeat the other half. The “good” whether in master-moral mode or in slave-moral mode are hoodwink’d (by “metaphysics” or “confusions of intellect’) to believe that their opponents are unnecessary and intruding on what could be a great world situation — whether the opponents are in master-morality styled “bad” or are in slave-morality styled “evil.” The easy (and false) pop-Nietzschean or even pop-Rousseauan resolution of good-evil/bad is to be given to see at the end of some episode of dualistic contention that the bad or the evil were necessary in order to make a passionate Life, lots of noise, smoke, excitement, commotion, hubbub. “Yes, the good-evil or good-bad division was false in a way, but true in the sense that it served Life Whatever.”

    The death of God in this sense means that not only the prima facie meaning of “good” is inglorious or charismaless, but evil too. Arendt: evil is now “banal.” Luther’s dismissal of the good-evil/bad theology of glory occurs to me here. The theology of the cross says the thing as it is. Not that the God on the Cross is reveal’d to be a merely objective object without any charisma or glory (or magesty, hod) — but the charisma isn’t bound up with dualistic theology, cosmology, metaphysics.

    But we can see that even when one is given to see the course of dualistic moralities all valuationalness isn’t deleted: the Educators wish for an enthusiastic grateful response for having lived an exciting hubub Life: the falsehood or lying is to be deem’d just or right, not unjust or wrong. But tumultuous commotion for Passionate Life Whatever doesn’t enhance or improve values: this pop Nietzscheanism is nihilism. We haven’t selectively, rankingly, reveringly, despisingly transvalued our value.

    Anyway, to have exited morality or the “small perspectives of ‘good’ and ‘evil’” is not to have arrived at a position or condition in which impulsiveness is just or right. Impulsiveness isn’t even free in that a self isn’t at his noblest in impulsiveness: he merely tries to act without valuational forethought and go for kicks or something — passionateness whatever for Life whatever, as if this is spontaneity, when it is a deliberate, intentional effort in anti-condition’dness or something like that.

    Nietzsche who praises Mozart, Spinoza Shakespeare, Israel, Jesus, Dostoevsky, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, et al, does not wish to project a future of intentionally random impulsiveness against condition’dness that demands no transcendence, no intelligence, no insight, no focus etc, and no reverence before oneself. He would never teach Glaucon and Adeimantus “Intentional random impulsiveness and arbitrary passionateness for Life Whatever is your best possibility.” This was something like Callicles’s doctrine in Plato’s Gorgias — freedom from conditioning by Law or Nomos (culture) in the interests of the resentful many.

    This is the lifestyle of the aristocrat roué revered by the nihilistic Madame Bovary (cf Allan Bloom, Closing of the American Mind, p. 135). Her reverence is nihilistic because she is driven merely by contempt for the bourgeoisie: she has a merely negative goal. Someone could say that, well, at least the degenerate aristo “lived,” whereas Homaois the pharmacist didn’t. But Life in this mode is reveal’d by Nietzsche to be merely death: consummated in despair and suicide. The aristo in his youth essentially accepted the Calliclean doctrine that impulsiveness vs codes of decorum (Nomos, culture) is “free” and beautiful (kalos: cf that “Callicles” means “famous for beauty”). Il faut épater le bourgeois. Il faut épater tes parents. (Shock the middle class. Shock your parents.) Far from being free of the opinion of the many wishes to have their reverence, which he correctly sees is truest in them when they complain of the unfairness of natural inequality and the crimes of the great. Nietzsche shows that the kalon or beautiful is a detour for longing away from the noble (gennaios, vornehm), where the question of Be (cf Colin Wilson’s concern about “pure being”) is indefinitely defer’d on or fore-gotten. …

    Of course, Socrates aided by Gorgias (rhetorican, culture power) tangles Callicles in embarrassment about shame, and Nietzsche sees in Plato’s acceptance of Socratic problematics a mistaken path away from tragic insight or the tragic sense of life. Not that Nietzsche agrees with Callicles that the best life is to go around shocking people by one’s aggressions against culture and decorum. Still less does Nietzsche see truth in tragedy: no matter how beautiful the dramatic words of tragic poets (and of existentialism theorists), a true perspective is comic, and even the “Dionysian pessimism” that he crafts for culture (Gay Science ¶370) is only a preparation — for a new “good and evil” or “noble and base” that is just and true, not metaphysically or theologically false.

    Right now, though, I have no guess at the meaning of “will” in Nietzsche. Hobbes defines will as the desire (or desire set?) selected and modify’d by the ego for expression or doing. Nietzsche may define “will” in his way too.

    Well, I gotta go daydream for a while that I’m the young boyfriend of Jane Austen.
    jonathan mills
    cc. John and Kelly Cleese

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