Will to Power

will to power

Nietzsche is the natural successor of Schopenhauer where the former turned the latter’s conclusions upside down; in World as Will and Representation, Schopenhauer observes that it is the “will-to-live” that is responsible for our drives, moods, and individuation. However, the will-to-live is aimless beyond basic desires, absent of good & evil/without morality, and wholly irrational; his ethical conclusion however is the abnegation of life (will as evil) as such striving by the will can only result in the suffering by the ego. Schopenhauer quotes, “Man can indeed do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wants”; much of later Psychoanalysis that began in the latter half of the 19th century will redress this problem as the denial of life itself would result in the very extinction of the human species! No doubt, psychoanalytic concepts such as the Freudian libido and the unconscious were influenced by these ideas. Prior to this, the first to radically address Schopenhauer’s solution (asceticism as “will-to-nothingness”) was Nietzsche; the problem of nihilism is posed where the Western man is at a loss of values/meaning (another definition derives from the non-distinction of dualistic extremes).

Nietzsche’s answer to nihilism originates with Greek tragedy where art, emerged from the tension between the Apollonian-Dionysian (order-chaos) dichotomy, transforms human suffering into a passionate affirmation of life. Subjectivity collapses back into the will-to-life (“Primordial unity”, Dionysian) and exaggerates it (frenzy); order re-emerges (Apollonian) to give the energy form (art). Such an act of destruction-creation (creative-destruction) puts man into the continual state of flux/becoming, of joy-sorrow, and of gain-loss. To affirm life is to recognize such a duality best summarized by amor fati or to love fate.


The procreative tendencies of affirming life produces conflicting power centers that are in conflict. The Apollonian impulse to organize these centers produces a higher-order of complexity that in man, emerges as consciousness (Ego) for ordering the power-struggle; observation of this phenomenon by the ego is dubbed Will-to-power. Nietzsche uses this concept to explain his moral theory, or rather the rejection of normative ethics on the grounds that individuals of different will-to-power are sufficiently different (degrees of power constitutes standards for value). Master-morality is the morality of the strong-willed where man experiences himself as determining his values (he is creator of values); his view is consequentialist in sense that what is harmful/helpful for me is bad/good in itself. This is in contrast to slave-morality which reevaluates the values created by the masters. His view accords right/wrong by intention rather than consequences; value is accorded according to the greatest utility for the whole community. It is no surprise that Nietzsche criticizes Christianity as it preaches universal brotherhood or egalitarianism.

At the far extremes, the master who acquires the power to overcome nihilism whilst avoiding the trappings of both other-worldliness and asceticism is the Ubermensch. Moreover, the Ubermensch is able to will the “eternal recurrence”, the nihilist extreme that all that has happened before will happen again ad infinitum (non-uniqueness of events itself!). Such a figure is the posited as a goal for humanity to strive towards (human as a bridge between animal and the Ubermensch) and represents Nietzsche’s answer to nihilism. Unfortunately, history’s reaction to this answer was disastrous (two world-wars to boot); this remains the ongoing problem for modern man that all later philosophers will have to address.

Will to Power

Will & Representation

will and representation

Modern subjectivism acquires new-found significance in the works of Schopenhauer and later that of Nietzsche. Schopenhauer integrates a number of Eastern concepts (Buddhist striving/suffering, subject-object core) with the Western post-Kantian framework (noumena/phenomenon, thing-in-itself). His first major thought uncovers an important assumption behind Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason (knowledge/truth must have sufficient explanations); particulars that require explanations presuppose a subject that seek the explanation (subject-object divide is the root of sufficient reasons).  Moreover, sufficient explanations can be differentiated by the categories of the objects referenced; material things have casual relations, abstractions by logic, Mathematical/geometrical constructions by number/space, psychology/motivation by moral reasoning. Explanations, by such categories of objects, shall also be mutually exclusive or unmixed. This argument is used against Kant’s thing-in-itself (a mind-independent object that is inaccessible to human experience) as having caused mind-dependent sensory experience (causality between these objects is a categorical error); sensory experiences are denied their external causes and instead must be related in another way.

Schopenhauer’s answer is a Pantheist one where sensory information are not caused but instead are representations of the Will (two-sides of the same coin) e.g. the appearance of lightning is the representation of the Will of electric potential, the movement of our physical bodies as manifestation of our own wills. The unity between Will and representation in our bodies (subject with object) assigns it greater importance as it is treated as the point of reference to all other objects; acts of the will are instantly objectified by the body and thus one and the same . Will is objectified through a two-tiered approached (Platonic Ideas which are outside space-time, and then by their particulars which are constituted in space-time). The world of appearances is thus a reflection of Will (Panpsychism).


Schopenhauer’s Will is unlike that of the rational/logical self-consciousness of the German idealists of his time; Will is a wholly mindless, aimless, and non-rational urge responsible for our instinctual drives. It is blind-impulse with neither aim nor determination; such a world strives for nothing in particular but only to further fragment (differentiate, individuate) itself (through principles of sufficient reason, law of free-energy will agree). The experience of such fragmentation is human suffering and  frustration. Three solutions are posited:

  1. The aesthetic perception or merging with less-differentiated minds (discernment through objects, losing oneself in an object) and access its Platonic Idea; high-art gives spatial-temporal forms to these Ideas which allow others to more closely access them. Music has special importance as they contain the structures of the world itself along a feeling axis.
  2. Having compassion for the suffering of others as they are cut from the same cloth (from the act of Humanity itself). Recognizing the universal consciousness in everyone curbs the energy of blind impulse. Determining our own innate propensities/characteristics (self-knowledge) leads to tranquility.
  3. Asceticism or minimizing one’s desires reduces suffering and frustration; it is a form of regression into a less differentiated state and the curtailing of will to knowledge.
Will & Representation