Free Will and Religion: A Nietzsche Perspective

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Free Will and Religion: A Nietzsche Perspective

Free will has been studied for many centuries and has still puzzled ordinary people, many thinkers, scholars, theories, literary figures, and theologians worldwide. It has been confused with so many factors such as necessity or determinism from which the individual wonder whether his actions are based on self will or driven by conditions he cannot control. Other scholars linked it with moral responsibility and faith in God claiming that there is really no free will since it is influenced and manipulated by many factors (Kane 2).

For many essentialists, free will is not recognized as an independent concept but rather a dynamic and essential context (Sack 79). Over the decades, ancient doctrines had been made recognizing the existence of free will; however many philosophers questioned it such as Friedrich Nietzsche who was one of the known philosophers to criticize free will. In the ancient and medieval studies of free will, a theological dimension has been recognized by many philosophers as a connection to ‘free will’. St. Thomas Aquinas and St.

Augustine, whom Nietzsche share similar conclusions, considered free will as a gift from God and by possessing it means that we are beyond animals. More thinkers were intrigued by free will such as Descartes, Hume, and Kant who offered several solutions, a metaphysical framework, and a dichotomy of passion and reason to explain its dynamics. Free will becomes even more problematic as more ideas and concepts were linked to it such as ‘determinism’ and ‘causality’ offered by Schopenhauer and Freud (Dilman 2).

These studies seemed to accept that many factors influence free will yet free will still exists. However, for Nietzsche free will is not affected by the course of events, fate, and it has no law (Dworkin 178). Nietzsche criticized “free will” by differentiating Christian free will and aristocratic free will. He believed that it is just an idea used to make an individual feel guilty particularly as a Christian religion control mechanism over the people.

He argued that the “will” is not free because it is commanded within by the “I” and that the “I” and the power within the will is not the same. Additionally, he argued that the actions expressing the will are incorrectly connected to the human will; the power behind willing is separable from external events. Hence, free will is just a matter of “strong” and “weak” will (Dworkin 178). In Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future published in 1886, Nietzsche continued to explore about his previous work—Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

His arguments attacked on moral consciousness which led to the human presuppositions of “self-consciousness”, “truth”, including “free will”. Instead, he offered the idea of will to power as a concept to explain human behavior and concluding that there is no universal morality. He criticized philosophers and suggested qualities for new philosophers: creation of values, originality, imagination, self-assertion, and danger. He arrived at a concept of the perspective of life which he called “beyond good and evil” (Nietzsche, Faber, and Holub).

The assumptions in Beyond Good and Evil are disturbing and unsympathetic to the traditional moral and philosophical assumptions. Nietzsche strongly suggested an “aristocratic” perspective of life as he probed on the history of moral values and the demise of strong cultures. These made his work attractive especially the chapters On the Prejudices of Philosophers, The Free Spirit, The Religious Essence, On the Natural History of Morals, and What is Noble (Spinks 167).

Nietzsche disagreed with free will but he did not explicitly approve that the will is “unfree” either. Some wills are strong and some are weak. Given a tautology “the light shines”, there will be no light unless it shines and that the light does not have a free choice whether to shine or not to shine at all. Hence, the power in will is manifested only through the action or on how it is manifested. Nietzsche further argued that will cannot be free or unfree such that a power has no free choice whether to materialize itself in mild or severe fashion.

However, this kind of perspective was not perceived by a common consciousness among people and the notion of strong and weak will is not accepted (Kazantakis and Makridis 28). According to Nietzsche, free will is an idea created by the weak so that they could elevate themselves as an equal to their masters. If the status or worth of an individual is not measured according to the quantity of power he possessed, the weak who use his power mildly becomes better or greater to an individual who is able to manifest a deed in a mild or harsh manner.

The strong accept this theory of free will but this indicates pride. One will consider that his actions have undivided responsibility, either “good” or “evil,” and come up to a conclusion that his actions is independent and free from regulation of other wills (Kazantakis and Makridis 29). The metaphysics of “weakness” is explained by Nietzsche by referring to the soul, God, and free will which he described as words that refer to nothing. Will, on the other hand, is a complicated idea that is represented only by a word and commanded by a superior being within a man he assumes is able to obey.

The soul, on the other hand, becomes a subject that is eternal, stable, and represents morality and emotions. The notion of stable entity proves the instability of reality and of the world. It cannot be avoided and experience through suffering particularly of the weak. Hence, there is weakness and the weak in return tries to invent an alternative to this kind of reality (Dudley 152). In Beyond Good and Evil, it is impossible to explain free will in relation to morality without the religious framework or a philosophy with God.

During the time that famous scholars (including Nietzsche) dealt with free will, Christianity has been the prevailing religion all over Europe and its influence greatly manifested on numerous publications. God is hailed as the source of all morality and its meanings through holy writings such as the Bible, divine interventions, and intermediations. However, Nietzsche presented an overman that is beyond “good and evil”. The overman is independent, creates his own values, and disregards good and evil.

Nietzsche reversed the reality instead by saying that God is created by people, they associated him with values, and followed its doctrines “as if these values had been decreed by divine will” (Earnshaw 51) As an essentialist, Nietzsche shared the same belief that people create and live by their own values. Hence, the definition of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is relative to the people and their respective societies. Despite man’s lack of ability to discriminate between what is truth and imaginary, the “will to truth” is probably the highest “good”.

The unfolding of will, which he described as neither free nor unfree, is perhaps an action of the will to what is true. Nietzsche presented another assumption that can be considered logical. He said that even though searching or willing for the truth is the highest, there are more fundamental matters behind this: affirmation of life, preservation of species, and so on. Therefore, “untruth” becomes a part of the will as “truth” is. If this is the case, then conventional philosophers are not seekers of the universal truth but simply rationalizing their prejudices (Earnshaw 52).

Since Nietzsche did not accept either free or unfree will, his idea of will is reflected on his concepts of ‘will to truth’ and ‘will to power’. He found out that philosophers like him have an incredible role and impact in creating directing what to will for. Philosophers have great and creative minds and most of them are commanders and legislators. Through their knowledge, they can create; their creation leads to legislation; and their legislation push for will to truth. However, the meaning for will to truth is will to power.

Hence, his idea of an overman who is beyond good and evil is externalized since philosophers can extend and reach visions that are not good or God oriented (Allen 71). Religion not only signifies an important role to explain Nietzsche’s “good and evil” and to describe what to will but also it can also be an instrument for the philosopher-legislator. As Nietzsche described human beings as “free spirits” or individuals having the “most comprehensive responsibility who has the conscience for the overall development of mankind”, he argued that a philosopher will use religion for his knowledge to be cultivated.

Through religion, the philosopher’s creations can influence human beings and dictate their wills. However, the religion that Nietzsche is referring is a religion that is linked with philosophy and used merely for education and cultivation, a means among other means, but not the ultimate end. Otherwise, if religion is used separated from philosophy and as a legislator on its own, the effects are unexpected and dangerous (Allen 72). Fate, consequences, or course of events do not play significant roles in Nietzsche’s will.

The act of willing is not similar to the power behind willing or the causal relationship brought by the natural science. No necessity can influence willing and unfree will is just a mythology. No law is bound to change will other than the power in other wills. The belief on the “unfreedom of the will,” or the idea that an individual might decide or act upon dictation or influence, is just a mere excuse used by individuals to prevent them from responsibilities and point the blame to other matters. Nietzsche’s argument on “unfree will” was similar to St.

Augustine’s who argued that God indeed has ‘foreknowledge of events’ but gave man a ‘power to will’. If a man’s will is not successful in doing what it wills, fate is not the cause but a more powerful will. However, the weak often blame fate as the root of suffering instead hence Augustine said that “fate belongs to the weaker of two parties, will to the stronger. ” (Dworkin 178). At first glance, Nietzsche argument on will can be vague, confusing, and challenging but given the mass of ideas presented in Beyond Good and Evil, readers and thinkers can get plenty of advice from a seemingly manual type for philosophers publication.

In defining his analysis on will, Nietzsche began by attacking the conventional philosophers and philosophical assumptions. The assumptions can be pretty confusing and devastating to other philosophers and his views on God can be described as anti-Christ. Undeniably, he made a strong conclusion by saying that the “will to power”—the strongest will of all that is driven by emotions and things that man is passionate of, can change numerous things in the world.

In order to correct this kind of prejudice, Nietzsche offered a solution he called the “free spirit” which can be achieved through isolation and independence or living a different live, the difficult one. In order to grasps what he meant about “free spirit”, he further described morality and truth which can be confusing and might unacceptable to others. He said that the only real things in this world are man’s emotions, passions, and motivations. Nietzsche provided a doctrine that is simplified and meant to be understood by ordinary people.

The shift is observable since his previous works were mostly misunderstood and used for destructive purposes. Nietzsche attack on Christianity and/or religion intrigued numerous scholars. He described religion as the cause of the distortion of people’s values, pushed many to become non-believers, and offer self-sacrifice. On the other hand, some found his assertions contradictory such as man’s inability to know the truth yet in his book he seemed to declare a lot of truths. He said that philosophers must avoid justifying their own opinions yet Nietzsche sounded like a dictator of his self-declared truths.

Nevertheless, he is able to point out that truth is relative among people, that there is no universal truth, and that man should will for his own truth. Works Cited Allen, Douglas. Comparative Philosophy and Religion in Times of Terror. Lexington Books, 2006 Dilman, Ilham. Free Will: A Historical and Philosophical Introduction. Routledge, 1999. Dudley, Will. Hegel, Nietzsche, and Philosophy: Thinking Freedom. Cambridge University Press, 2002. Dworkin, Ronald William. The Rise of the Imperial Self. Rowman & Littlefield, 1996.

Earnshaw, Steven. Existentialism: A Guide for the Perplexed. Continuum Publishing Group, 2007. Kane, Robert. Free Will. Wiley-Blackwell, 2002. Kazantakis, Nikos & Makridis, Odysseus. Friedrich Nietzsche on the Philosophy of Right and the State. SUNY Press, 2006. Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhem, Faber, Marion, & Holub, Robert. Beyond Good and Evil. Oxford University Press, 1998. Sack, Robert David. A Geographical Guide to the Real and the Good. Routledge, 2003 Spinks, Lee. Friedrich Nietzsche. Routledge, 2003.


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