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”).

To be a “pilgrim” (status viatoris)

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Viator means wanderer, walker, wayfarer, pilgrim. The last term has acquired a special meaning and became a familiar part of religious parlance. We speak of the “pilgrimage” of this earthly life. This is a perfectly honorable and legitimate use of the word, to which no serous objections can be raised. However, certain rather melodramatic overtones have become associated with this usage, overtones which may blur the precise meaning of this important term, or even cause us to brush it aside. In reality the concept of status viatoris involves nothing sentimental, nor even anything distinctively religious or theological. What is meant, rather, is that man, as long as he exists in this world, is characterized by an inward, as it were ontological quality of being on-the-way to somewhere else. Continue reading

Nietzsche — “obedience over a long period of time in a single direction”

Beyond Good and Evil


Every morality is, as opposed to laisser aller [letting things go], a bit of tyranny against “nature”; also against “reason”; but this in itself is no objection, as long as we do not have some other morality which permits us to decree that every kind of tyranny and unreason is impermissible. What is essential and inestimable in every morality is that it constitutes a long compulsion: to understand Stoicism or Port-Royal or Puritanism, one should recall the compulsion under which every language so far has achieved strength and freedom—the coercion of meter, the tyranny of rhyme and rhythm. How much trouble the poets and orators of all peoples have taken—not excepting a few prose writers today in whose ear there dwells an inexorable conscience—“for the sake of some foolishness,” as utilitarian dolts say, feeling smart—“submitting abjectly to capricious laws,” as anarchists say, feeling “free,” even “free-spirited.” But the curious fact is that all there is or has been on earth of freedom, subtlety, boldness, dance, and masterly sureness, whether in thought itself or in government, or in rhetoric and persuasion, in the arts just as in ethics, has developed only owing to the “tyranny of such capricious laws”; and in all seriousness, the probability is by no means small that precisely this is “nature” and “natural”—and not that laisser aller! Continue reading

Lessing on Laocoön: the expression of pain at the battle of Troy


“A cry is the natural expression of physical pain. Homer’s wounded warriors not infrequently fall to the ground with a cry. Venus shrieks aloud at a mere scratch [Iliad V. 343], not because she must be made to represent the tender goddess of sensuality, but because suffering nature must have her due. Even iron Mars screams so horribly on feeling the lance of Diomedes that it sounds like the shouting of ten thousand raging warriors and fills both armies with terror [Iliad V. 859].

High as Homer raises his heroes above human nature in other respects, he still has them remain faithful to it in their sensitiveness to pain and injury and in the expression of this feeling by cries, tears, or invectives. In their deeds they are beings of a higher order, in their feelings true men.

I know that we more refined Europeans of a wiser, later age know better how to govern our mouths and our eyes. Courtesy and propriety force us to restrain our cries and tears. The aggressive bravery of the rough, early ages has become in our time a passive courage of endurance. Yet even our ancestors were greater in the latter than the former. But our ancestors were barbarians. To master all pain, to face death’s stroke with unflinching eye, to die laughing under the adder’s bite, to weep neither at the loss of one’s dearest friend nor at one’s own sins: these are the traits of old Nordic heroism. Palnatoko decreed that his Jomsburghers were not to fear anything nor even so much as mention the word “fear.”

Not so the Greek! He felt and feared, and he expressed his pain and grief. He was not ashamed of any human weakness, but it must not prevent him from attaining honor nor from fulfilling his duty. The Greek acted from principles whereas the barbarian acted out of his natural ferocity and callousness. In the Greek, heroism was like the spark hidden in the flint, which sleeps quietly as long as no external force awakens it, and robs it of its clarity or its coldness. In the barbarian, heroism was a bright, consuming, and ever-raging flame which devoured, or at least blackened, every other fine quality in him. When Homer makes the Trojans march to battle with wild cries, while the Greeks go in resolute silence, the commentators rightly observe that the poet thereby intends to depict the former as barbarians and the latter as civilized peoples. I am surprised that they did not notice a similar contrast of character in another passage [Iliad VII. 421]. Here the opposing armies have agreed to a truce and are busy burning their dead, which does not take place without the shedding of hot tears on both sides. But Priam forbids his Trojans to weep. He does this, Madame Dacier says, because he is afraid they may grow too softhearted and take up the battle on the following day with less courage. True! But why, may I ask, should only Priam fear this? Why does Agamemnon not issue the same command to the Greeks? The poet’s meaning goes deeper: he wants to tell us that only the civilized Greek can weep and yet be brave at the same time, while the uncivilized Trojan, to be brave, must first stifle all human feeling. “Weeping does not make me indignant” is the remark that Homer has the sensible son of wise Nestor make on another occasion” [Odyssey IV. 195] (Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Laocoön, p 8-10).

The “civilized” Greeks were not afraid of showing their pain because their identity was rooted firmly within. The “barbarian” Trojans’ identity was dependant upon the esteem and impressions of others (i.e., their identity was not internal to the same degree, but externally dependant) hence the ferociousness going into battle and the stoicism in burying their dead. Of course the Greeks conquered Troy. Lessing is studying the Laocoön group with a view to exploring the limits of art in expressing pain.

Scripture and acedia

Judges 5:15-17 (Song of Deborah and Barak)

“Among the clans of Reuben
there were great searchings of heart.
Why did you sit still among the sheepfolds,
to hear the whistling for the flocks?
Among the clans of Reuben
there were great searchings of heart.
Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan;
and Dan, why did he stay with the ships?
Asher sat still at the coast of the sea,
staying by his landings” (ESV).

Psalm 91: 5,6

“You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday” (ESV).

“You will not be afraid of nocturnal fright,
of an arrow that flies by day,
of a deed that travels in darkness,
of mishap and noonday demon” (New English Translation of the Septuagint).

Psalm 106:24,25

“Then they despised the pleasant land,
having no faith in his promise.
They murmured in their tents,
and did not obey the voice of the LORD” (ESV).

2 Corinthians 7:10

“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (ESV).

Ancient and medieval exegesis identified “the destruction that wastes at noonday” and “worldly sorrow” with acedia.

“Heaven” and the Ascension

“To understand it [heaven], let us skip all approximations and go straight to the point: Heaven is the intimate reserve of holy God, that which St. Paul calls the “light inaccessible” which he inhabits, unapproachable for any creature (I Tim. 6:16). When we meet a person in the street or in a room, he stand there openly before us. We can look at him, photograph him, describe him, and can often guess a good deal of what is going on inside him. Withal, he is more or less ‘public.’ On one point, however, he remains impenetrable: his attitude towards himself, his manner of answering for himself and his acts. For the most part, man is absorbed by corporal, psychological, sociological realities; in other words, by public things. But there are certain moments when he retires into a corner of his being that is closed to others–into his most personal self. No one can violate that privacy; if it is to be opened, then only by opening itself. This is what happens in love, when a person not only permits himself to be observed, not only speaks about himself, but gives himself in vital exchange. If the other accepts him, likewise opening the way to his most intimate self, desire the other more than himself, entering into pure contemplation and exchange, the the two intimacies unite in a single community open to both participants, but closed to everyone else. The greater and deeper the person and his experience, the less accessible this inmost realm will be. But what if it is not question of a person, but of God? God, the incommensurable, infinite, simple; essence of truth and holiness? His reserve is absolute. Nothing can even approach it. God is all light because he is Truth itself; all clarity, because nothing can overshadow him; he is the Lord, free and genuine Being to whom all that is belongs–yet inaccessible in his light, mysterious in his truth, invulnerable in his kingdom. This initmate reserve of God is heaven, ‘destination’ of the risen Lord–and not only of his spirit, but of the whole resurrected Lord in all his living reality” (Romano Guardini, The Lord, p 429).

Love and approval

“We have seen that loving concern, although it actually confirms the beloved in his existence, can also have a shaming element. This fact–which seems paradoxical only at first glance–indicates that love is not synonymous with undifferentiated approval of everything the beloved person thinks and does in real life. As a corollary, love is also not synonymous with the wish for the beloved to feel good always and in every situation and for him to be spared experiencing pain or grief in all circumstances. “Mere ‘kindness’ which tolerates anything except [the beloved’s] suffering” has nothing to do with real love. Saint Augustine expressed the same idea in a wide variety of phrases: “Love reprimands, ill will echoes”; “the friend speaks bitterly and loves, the disguised foe flatters and hates.” No lover can look on easily when he sees the one he loves preferring convenience to the good. Those who love young people cannot share the delight they seem to feel in (as it were) lightening their knapsacks and throwing away the basic rations they will eventually need when the going gets rough” (Josef Pieper, Faith, Hope, Love, p 187).