Thomas Lambert FPO

Nietzsche on Strength
Jan 26, 2023, 12:30 pm3:30 pm
201 Wooten Hall


Event Description

In this dissertation, I offer an extended interpretation of nineteenth century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s ethical ideal of strength [Stärke]. As I argue in these chapters, Nietzschean strength is strength of will. Furthermore, I argue, Nietzsche advances a distinctive and philosophically rich theory of what it is to have a strong or weak will.

In Chapter 1, I confront the notorious passages in which Nietzsche appears to be engaged in little more than the crude worship of physical dominance and martial prowess. I argue that such a flat-footed interpretation would be mistaken, and I demonstrate that Nietzsche’s praise of strength and criticism of weakness is best understood as referring to strength and weakness of will. This raises the question guiding the subsequent two chapters, namely, how Nietzsche conceives of these notions.

In Chapter 2, I turn to the question of how Nietzsche accounts for the phenomenon historically identified with weakness of will in the Western philosophical tradition, akrasia. Akratic action is typically defined as action contrary to an agent’s better judgment, but Nietzsche’s view appears to be that both action and better judgment have their source in the strength of the drives. Thus, it is unclear how they could ever diverge. I demonstrate, however, that Nietzsche can ultimately account for akrasia.

As I show in Chapter 3, however, Nietzsche does not identify weakness of will with akrasia. Instead, Nietzschean weakness of will is a condition of character, resulting from the ordering of one’s drives, that disposes agents not only to act akratically, but also to exhibit another sort of agential failure: irresoluteness, the failure to persist in their intentions. Strong agents, in turn, are insulated from experiencing either phenomenon. Hence, Nietzsche’s theory of strength and weakness of will is a unifying theory.