Value for Life and Nietzsche Essay Sample
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Value for Life and Nietzsche Essay Sample
What is so significant about the concept of a “value for life? ” Are our concepts and commitments only valid in regards to their usefulness? In “The Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life” Nietzsche makes the comment that persons should ” serve history only to the extent that history serves life”, or perhaps in others words humanity should perceive, comprehend and interpret history only to the point of its utility.
Further, he advocates what he calls the “active forgetting” of events, the letting go of them, for he argues that “when it [history] attains a certain degree of excess, life crumbles and degenerates, and through this degeneration history itself finally degenerates also. ” On face value such a concept may not seem very insightful, but a closer analysis raises some important questions and these will be the focus of this paper.
One of the most important issues that arises when introducing the reader with the concept of a “value for life” is precisely what is meant by such a term, for its significance is crucial to assessing Nietzsche’s comments on history. If history is to be subservient to life, as he suggests, then what does life mean? Given the content of the text it appears that he uses the term to refer to the seemingly never-ending process of “becoming”, the constant flux that creates the future. Thus as long as history assists this process then history of useful.
But then we come to another important line of enquiry. Whose process of becoming is he referring to? The individual’s or the collective’s? As I see it, the text on this point is not entirely clear. He seems to move between the individual and society at will, leaving one with the nagging sensation of the Aristotelian concept of the common good. However regardless of whether he refers to one or the other the most pressing question is who gets to define for both the individual or society or both what is good for life and what is not?
It is on this point that the weakness of Nietzsche’s concept begins to show. To put it simply, Nietzsche’s construction is incomplete because of a failure to appreciate that a “value for life” is an abstract term that can mean vastly different things for vastly different reasons. Given that history is a means by which we are “becoming”, then it is understandably a powerful tool and Nietzsche recognised it, because as he saw it “[history] stands in the service of an unhistorical power. ” .
But in his attempt to address and discuss what he believed to be the incorrect scientific study of history in favour of unhistorical living, he leaves the door open for all sorts of problems. For example, if the State were to decide what concepts and ideas from the past were useful, then one immediate thinks of the harrowing images of Nineteen Eighty-Four, where all facets of the past are manipulated and presented to the masses in a way that serves the needs of the powerful, a place where inconvenient truths are easily forgotten.
Alternatively if the individual is left to determine what history is useful to them, then this too would leave gaping holes, for individuals are rarely able to look in the mirror to ugly reflections. Therefore Nietzsche’s comments, perhaps with good intentions, can nevertheless be fatal to criticism and alternative thinking. One can easily interpret them in such a way that a status quo in maintained or dissent is quashed in the name of upholding “order”, a situation that can cause grave harm.
While Nietzsche is harshly critical of voluminous amounts of history, in the sense that they cloud understanding through a maze of contradicting theories, facts and interpretations, limiting them to usefulness would suppress the creative capacity of human beings and limit freedom of speech even more than it already is at present. Thus usefulness is perhaps not the best gauge for concepts, ideas or commitments. Personally I would concur more with John Stuart Mill’s concept of the ?
”marketplace of ideas’, a view that sees freedom of speech as essential for the discovery of the truth. To put this into context, the more information that is available, the better the chances of the emergence of concepts and ideas that serve life. It therefore follows that all viewpoints and ideas (including those of history) should be openly discussed without any government or other impediment. Advocating this point of view would no doubt add to Nietzsche’s woes, but in the end there is a choice to make.
If we follow Nietzsche then there is the danger that in the quest to identify what is useful, only that which is convenient and non threatening to the State, society or the individual will filter through, or we permit all ideas to be discussed freely and increase the danger that concept and ideas will become alien and difficult to understand without a dedicated and prolonged effort. I would argue that the latter is the better of two negatives, for while an information overload is a probable consequence, at least there would exist the potential for unhindered exploration without the danger of restricting the field of play.
This is preferable to a situation where the confines of the field are pre determined and certain concept and ideas are beyond questioning. In light of this, the enquiry that should be followed, first elaborated on by Immanuel Kant, is why it is that large portions of human beings, despite being blessed with such a high capacity for learning, are never willing to seek a better understanding of all that assists in their “becoming” (such as history). Now here we may point to phenomenon such as the culture industry, nihilism and defeatism, but as interesting as a discussion of this question is, it is obviously beyond the scope of this essay.