Nihilism In Nietzsche; A Critical Evaluation Of Nigerian Situation
In the history of thought, Nietzsche occupies a fundamental position especially in the contemporary era. His ideas and postulations are not only thought provoking but brain storming; not so much because of his originality but for daring the ‘undared’. In the light of this, Copleston confirmed: “For whatever one may think about Nietzsche’s ideas, one cannot question his vast reputation and the power of his ideas to act like a potent wine in the minds of a good many people” TO PLACE AN ORDER FOR THE COMPLETE PROJECT MATERIAL, pay N3, 000 to: BANK NAME: FIRST BANK ACCOUNT NAME: OKEKE CHARLES OBINNA ACCOUNT NUMBER: 3108050531 After payment, text the name of the project, email address and your
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After payment, text the name of the project, email address and your names to 08064502337.1 Nietzsche’s fame is not busted by his postulations of the Superman, Eternal Return, Transvaluation of Values and not even the Will to Power. The landmark that makes him remembered today is his famous nihilistic acclamation ‘God is dead!’ Nietzsche identified this calamity with European nihilism. The European culture, once a religious culture, had become religionless. However, since this culture was built on the foundation of the Christian religion, the death of God in the hearts of the 19th century European meant the collapse of the foundation of their culture, moral values, tradition, and this was for Nietzsche a tragedy. To buttress this Omoregbe opined: “Nietzsche foresaw and predicted in a prophetic way that Europe was heading for a period of gloom and eclipse, a period of instability, aimlessness, emptiness and darknes”.2 Furthermore, in his magnum opus ‘The Will To Power’ Nietzsche wrote:
What I relate is the history of the two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism…for sometime now, our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade: restless, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end, that no longer reflects, that is afraid to reflect.3
With regard to Nigerian situation, there is no gainsaying the fact that Nietzschean nihilistic principles have been directly translated into Nigerian experience. Nigerian situation is that whereby the concept of God has become a dead concept. This is so because God is dead in the hearts of Nigerians. Consequently everything is permitted; nothing is meaningful and nothing works, no central objective and rallying point. Morality is thrown to dogs and meaning goes with it. This explains why there are crisis, violence, lawlessness, assassination, armed robbery, embezzlement, injustice, anarchy and chaos in Nigerian society and this without mincing words or exaggeration is what I identified as Nigeria in nihilism. However to explore Nigerian nihilism with clarity and precision, and to bring it to limelight; moral nihilism, religious nihilism, educational nihilism, economic nihilism and political nihilism, remains the focal point of this memoir. Hence, what does Nietzsche mean by nihilism? What are the consequences and implications? And how do we evaluate Nietzschean nihilism with regard to Nigerian situation?
This project is divided into five chapters. Chapter one introduces the whole frame of the study with the general introduction and methodology. It further states the problem, the purpose of the study and the scope of the study. Chapter two focuses on definition of the term nihilism and traces its historical account in the history of thought, which is literature review. Chapter three centres on nihilism in Nietzsche where we shall see what he meant by nihilism and its implication. The exposition of Nigerian situation where we shall witness the influence of Nietzschean nihilism in Nigerian society is the proper locus of chapter four. Chapter five takes care of evaluation and conclusion. It is this final chapter that bears my opinion concerning the topic.
1.2 NIETZSCHE’S BIOGRAPHY
Fredrick Wilhelm Nietzsche was born in October 15th 1844 at Rocken in Prussian Saxony (present day Germany), into a family where his father and grandfather were Lutheran pastors. When Nietzsche was barely five years, his father died. Consequently, he was brought up at Naumburg in the feminine company of his mother, sister, grandmother and two aunts. Between 1854 and 1864 he studied at Pforta. There, his admiration for Greek thought was ignited, as he was particularly attracted to the Greeks gods, writing of Plato, Aristotle and Aeschylus. In October 1864, Nietzsche went to the University of Bonn. Later that year he moved to Leipzig, to further his philosophical studies under Ritsch. During his stay in Leipzig, Friedrich gradually abandoned Christianity, occupying his mind with atheism of Schopenhauer. As at 1869, Friedrich Nietzsche was appointed professor at Basel at the age of 24 years.
In the years between 1869 and 1889, Nietzsche had published a lot of works including ‘The Dawn of Day’, ‘Joyful Wisdom’, ‘The Birth of Tragedy’, ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ and ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’, etc. From his multiple works, he was able to posit ideas of the Superman; The Will to Power, Eternal Return, and God is Dead etc. As at 1888, with the publication of the Antichrist and Ecce Homo, clear signs of mental disorder manifested in Nietzsche. Though he was hospitalised in January 1889, he never recovered fully from the insanity till the end of his life. He died on August 25th 1900.
1.3 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM.
We live in the era when men are more concerned with power, pleasure, wealth and connection than character formation. An era when Hobbesian theory of man being wolf to man, the Machiavellian principle of might is right, and the Darwinian evolutionism of survival of the fittest are not only accepted but also cherished and adopted as the guiding principle in human relation. Today, what matters is how successful one is, with little or no regard to the means of the attainment of that success thus instead of the means justifying the end, the reverse is the case. Thus honesty is disregarded, indolence is extolled, probity is derided, and ostentation is paraded. Hence, there is apparent disregard of rule of law. Crime is committed with impunity. Therefore, there is loss of order and the society is chaotic.
This is not unconnected with Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche’s nihilistic proclamation. Having seen the meaninglessness, nothingness and absurdity of Judeo/Christian belief in God, Nietzsche announced to the world his shocking discovery that “God is dead”.4 He does not simply say that God does not exist, but that God is dead. What a catastrophe? Strengthening this, Omoregbe opined that: “What formerly gave meaning and sense of direction to human existence is no longer there. Men are now left simply with nothing, with emptiness and a meaningless existence”.5 Thus, the nothingness and nihilism of human existence, according to Nietzsche is the consequences of the death of God. It is this apparent lack of meaning and nihilism is what we are experiencing in Nigeria today. The situation in Nigeria has grown worse that she is “being described in international circles as the second most corrupt country in the world”6, by The Transparency International. It is to elicit this cankerworm or virus and to quarantine it that is the major problem of which this research sets out to resolve.
1.4 THE PURPOSE OF THE STUDY
Among philosophers, the term ‘nihilism’ is mostly associated with Nietzsche. Thus, the sole aim or purpose of this project is to make clear what Nietzsche meant by nihilism and to see how far this has affected the situation in Nigeria.
1.5 THE SCOPE OF THE STUDY
Even though Nietzsche said many things, this study is limited to his idea of death of God, from which Nietzsche’s nihilism is interpreted. Nigerian situation is also a follow up to Nietzsche’s nihilistic doctrine.
This work is purely expository, interpretative and evaluative. Radically, Nietzsche’s dictum ‘God is dead’ is exposed as it were, which forms the base from which his nihilism is interpreted. This is followed by critical evaluation of Nigerian situation using Nietzsche’s nihilism as guideline.
THE CONCEPT OF NIHILISM
2.1 NOTION OF NIHILISM
The term ‘nihilism’ is derived from the Latin word ‘nihil’ that literally means ‘nothing’. The New Webster’s Dictionary of English Language defines nihilism as “an attitude rejecting all philosophical or ethical principles.”1 Further, The Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy views the term as a “philosophy of negation, or rejection, or denial of some or all aspects of thought or life.”2 As a philosophical concept, nihilism is the view that the world, especially human existence, is without meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth or value. Within nihilism, faith and similar values are discarded because they have no absolute objectivity as such they are invalid.
Buttressing this, the most prominent philosopher of nihilism, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche characterized nihilism as emptying the world and especially human existence of meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth or essential value. He defined the term as any philosophy that, rejecting the real world around us, and physical existence along with it, results in apathy toward life and a poisoning of the human soul. He further describes it as “the will to nothingness”.3 For Nietzsche, “a nihilist is a man who judges of the world as it is that it ought not to be and of the world as it ought to be that it does not exist. According to this view, our existence has no meaning: the pathos of in vain is the nihilists’ pathos”.4
- NIHILISM IN THE HISTORY OF THOUGHT
The origin of Nihilism in the History of thought is not quite certain. However, it originated from the Latin word ‘nihil’ meaning ‘nothing’. The term was first used to describe Christian heretics during the Middle Ages. The earliest use of the term in French Language dates 1787. The Oxford English Dictionary gives 1817 as its earliest use in English Language. In Russia, it was applied in the 1850s and 1860s to young intellectuals who, influenced by Western ideas, repudiated Christianity, considered Russian society backward and oppressive and advocated a revolutionary change. The best-known fictional nihilist was Bazarov in Ivan Turgenev’s novel Fathers and Sons (1862). Although the word ‘nihilism’ is of resent historical vintage, the attitude it represents is not. It stretches and cuts across various epochs. Below is the historical perspective.
2.2.1 ANCIENT EPOCH
The first nihilists were likely the Greek sophists who lived 2500 years ago. They used oratorical skills and argumentative discourse to challenge the values upon which everyday beliefs rested. They were very critical thinkers who questioned the foundation of traditional beliefs, traditional ways of life, traditional institutions and customs including religion and morality. They cast doubt on the real existence of the gods. Perhaps, the earliest original nihilists were Protagoras and Gorgias. Protagoras was best known for having said: “man is the measure of all things, of those that are that they are, of those that are not, that they are not.”5 Further he said:
With regard to the gods, I cannot feel sure either that they are or that they are not, nor what they are like in figure; for there are many things that hinder sure knowledge, the obscurity of the subject and the shortness of human life.6
Further, it was Gorgias who was famous for having said: “nothing exist, that if anything exists, it is incomprehensible, and that even if it is comprehensible, it cannot be communicated.”7
While Plato and Aristotle sought to defend existing institutions, the stoics on the other hand remained impervious. Wisdom is associated with the exercise of inner control over the institutions and traditions. To achieve this, the Stoics withdraw into their shells. It is this idea of withdrawal that is identified with nihilism. Prominent among the Stoics is Seneca who: “advocated self-detachment from material possession; true happiness does not come from material possession; it does not come from outside of man but from within”.8
Scepticism is a school of thought founded by Pyrrho of Elis (360-270 B.C.). He denied the possibility of certainty in knowledge. There is therefore no absolutely certain and objective knowledge of anything because nobody can make any claim to true and certain knowledge about anything. And so, there is no objective standard of moral judgment. Next among the sceptics is Sextus Empiricus, who argued against belief in God, when he said:
We sceptics follow in practice the way of the world, but without holding any opinion about it. We speak of the gods as existing and offer worship to the gods and say that they exercise providence, but in saying this we express no belief, and avoid the rashness of the dogmatizers…. Those who affirm positively that God exists cannot avoid falling into impiety. For if they say God controls everything, they say he is the author of evil things; if on the other hand they say that he controls some things only, or that he controls nothing, they are compelled to make God either grudging or impotent, and to do that is quite obviously an impiety.9
As a result of the expression of nihilism inherent and implicit in ancient era, St. Augustine refuted them especially
2.2.2 MEDIEVAL EPOCH
Medieval philosophy is mainly the philosophy of the Christian thinkers who were both philosophers and theologians, who made no clear-cut distinction between philosophy and theology in their works. These philosophies flourished in the middle ages and have their caveat as ‘credo ut intelligam’ (I believe in order to understand). From this background they philosophised and any philosophy that goes contrary to this principle merits automatically their sledgehammer of criticism. Among these philosophers was St. Augustine. Some of these ancient philosophers especially the sophists and the sceptics doubted the possibility of knowing anything for certain. The sophist Gorgias, even wrote a book in which he tried to prove that nothing exists. St. Augustine refuted the sceptics arguing that any body who doubts the existence of all things, is at least sure of his own existence since he would not be able to doubt anything if he did not exist. Even if one is deceived, for Augustine, to be deceived is itself a proof of one’s existence. He affirmed God’s existence from the principle of cause and effect. He views the universe as an effect of a cause. Every effect points to and reveals its cause, and from an effect one can proceed to the cause. Similarly, from creation one can proceed to the creator, for creation points to and reveals its creator. Since there are beautiful and good things, there must be the source of beauty and goodness namely, God.
This era was characterized by series of literary and cultural movements in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. It began in Italy and eventually expanded into Germany, France, England, and other parts of Europe. The focus during Renaissance turned from abstract discussions of religious issues to the morality of human actions and emphasizes on humanism and individualism. Scholars of this era believed that they live in a new age, free from the darkness and ignorance that characterized the preceding era of religious superstition. Some of these scholars are Niccolo Machiavelli and William Shakespeare.
Machiavelli (1469-1527), whose nihilistic view, ‘the end justifies the means’ made him famous, is one of those philosophers who proclaimed nihilism without knowing it. Thus, a successful ruler for him is one who is able to maintain oneself in power by any means (fair or foul). This is synonymous with Nietzsche who believes in the will to power.
Shakespeare (1564-1616), eloquently summarized the existential nihilist perspective when in this famous passage near the end of Macbeth, he had Macbeth pour out his disgust for life:
Out, out, brief candle!
Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon stage.
And then is heard no more; it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
2.2.4 MODERN EPOCH
During the modern epoch of philosophy, medieval view of the world as a hierarchical order of being created and governed by God was supplanted by the mechanistic picture of the world as a vast machine, which moves with strict physical laws, without purpose or will. Hence, science took precedence above God. Our present world received more attention than the world to come. Thus, the aim of human life was no longer conceived as preparation for salvation in the next world but rather as the satisfaction of people’s natural devices. Political institutions and ethical principles ceased to be regarded as reflections of divine command and came to be seen as a practical device invented by man. This era witnessed the undermining of religious authority and gave agnostic and atheistic ideas opportunity to be heard.
The father of modern philosophy Rene Descartes (1596-1650) was impressed by the certainty, clarity and indisputability of mathematical method. But this is not the case with philosophy. Thus, the gamut of Cartesian philosophy was therefore to reconstruct philosophy on a new and firm foundation with the mathematical method as its base. This is exemplified in his methodical doubt. In the process of his doubt, Descartes came to a point where he could say he is sure of one thing and that is his famous ‘‘Cogito ergo sum, I think, therefore, I am.”11 By implication, he established his own existence first and foremost before any other thing else, paving the way for nihilism.
While the rationalist claim that reason alone is the avenue through which we encounter knowledge, the British empiricist on the contrary states that all knowledge is derived from experience. Hume brought this claim to its logical conclusion. He would therefore have nothing to do with metaphysics that deals with idealistic and abstract knowledge that is not derived from sense perception. In fact, Hume recommends that any book dealing on metaphysics should be burnt, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion. He questioned the principle that whatever exists must have a cause. This principle according to him can neither be demonstrated nor is it known by intuition. For him, the idea of causality derives from the frequent association of things that generally go together. There are no observable necessary connections between things that follow each other. By criticising the traditional metaphysics and the principle of cause and effect, Hume annihilated as it were the concept of God. Thus, nihilism is implicit in Hume’s philosophy.
Kant distinguished sharply between phenomena and noumena. We can only know the former; we can never know the later because they are not objects of sense perception and categories of human understanding. It implies that God belonging to noumena cannot be known. It is this idea of unknowability of noumena that is the reason why Kant is more or less classified as a nihilist.
The philosophy of Hegel climaxed in nothingness and nihilism through his dialectical process of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. This is as result of his discovery of the Absolute Being (reason, idea, spirit, God). Not only that he discovered Being, he emptied Being of its content, thus ending his philosophy in nihilism. This remains an instigator to Nietzsche.
Even though all the aforementioned thinkers in one way or the other exerted influence on Nietzsche, it was the pessimism of Schopenhauer that exerted enormous influence on the background of Nietzsche’s nihilistic philosophy. His opinion of life was that it is an endless strife, conflict, suffering and evil. It is impossible to stop any of these because they are manifestation of the blind, traditional, irresistible, eternal urge of the self-tortured will. “In fact, life itself is a crime; existence is an evil, the penalty for which is suffering”.13 Thus, Nietzsche’s discovery of Schopenhauer’s work The World as Will and Idea boosted his atheistic and nihilistic thought. Hence, as Copleston puts it:
By this time Nietzsche had abandoned Christianity, and when at Leipzig he made the acquaintance of Schopenhauer’s main work one of the features which attracted him was as he himself said, the authors atheism14
Karl Marx enthroned materialism as God. Hence in his dialectical materialism, he confirmed the primacy of matter over spirit. This gave rise to his view of religion as ‘opium of the people’. He also endorsed revolution as the only way to bring about change in the world. This is in congruence with Nietzsche’s ideas of Transvaluation of Values, Will To Power and Superman.
Nietzsche’s firm as a philosopher of nihilism is unparalleled by any of his predecessors. Inasmuch as the previous thinkers before him expressed an element of nihilism, they lacked the courage to convey nihilism to a conclusive end. However, Nietzsche courageously, fearlessly, and confidently took nihilism to its logical conclusion by declaring God dead. Thus, morality, value, tradition, and religious authority were flawed.
2.3 KINDS OF NIHILISM
2.3.1 COSMIC NIHILISM
This regards nature as either wholly unintelligible, or indifferent to basic human concerns. In either case, the cosmos is seen as giving no support to distinctively human aims or values, and it may even be regarded as actively hostile to human beings. “The absolute form of cosmic nihilism denies the universe any form of intelligibility or meaning”.15 In line with this, the German thinker, Max Stirner, referred to cosmic nihilism “as a metaphysical chaos”.16
- MORAL OR ETHICAL NIHILISM
This kind of nihilism denies any possibility of justifying moral judgements on ground that morality is a cloak for egoistic self-seeking and therefore a sham. Moral principles are nothing more than expressions of subjective choices, preferences or feelings of people who endorse them. In summary: “moral or ethical nihilism rejects the possibility of absolute moral or ethical values. Instead, good and evil are nebulous, and values addressing such are the product of nothing more than social and emotive pressures”.17
- EPISTEMOLOGICAL NIHILISM
Epistemological nihilism denies the possibility of justifying claims to knowledge because it assumes that a foundation of infallible, universal truths would be required for such assessments and no such thing is available. This is because it views all claims to knowledge as entirely relative to cultural contexts or the vagaries of individual thought. This kind of nihilism views knowledge as ultimately arbitrary and incommensurable because it sees all attempts at its justification or criticism as useless. In summary, “Epistemological nihilism denies the possibility of knowledge and truth; this kind of nihilism is currently identified with post-modern antifoundationalism”.18
- POLITICAL NIHILISM
Political nihilism calls for the complete destruction of existing political institutions, along with their supporting outlooks and social structures but has no positive message of what should be put in their place. It is associated with the belief that the destruction of all existing socio-political order is a prerequisite for future improvement. “Political nihilism is defined as the realization that the social organization is so bad as to make destructions desirable for its own sake”19 It is the realization that all values are relativistic.
- EXISTENTIAL NIHILISM
“Existential nihilism negates the meaning of human life, judging it to be irremediably pointless, futile and absurd”.20 Thus, human existence has no purpose, value, or justification. There is no reason to live and yet we persist in living. The human situation is therefore absurd. The philosophical position of existential nihilism is that a genuinely meaningful life is impossible. It is also “the notion that life has no intrinsic meaning or value, and it is no doubt the most commonly used and understood sense of the word today”.
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