The Eternal Recurrence of the Same: A Historical Account of Nietzsche's Philosophy of History

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The Eternal Recurrence of the Same: A Historical Account of Nietzsche's Philosophy of History

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Title: The Eternal Recurrence of the Same: A Historical Account of Nietzsche's Philosophy of History
Author: Canning, Gregory
Abstract: The interpretation of Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy has been a source of controversy ever since his lapse into insanity at the beginning of 1889. One aspect of his thought, in particular, has been a point of contention among scholars since the 1930s--his thought of the eternal recurrence. This is when scholars first devoted considerable attention to the difficulty of interpreting this teaching within the context of his philosophy as a whole. The works of Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger, and Karl Löwith were instrumental in establishing the eternal recurrence as an important part of Nietzsche's philosophy. Among the three, Löwith's interpretation of the eternal recurrence has been most influential: for Löwith, the recurrence breaks apart into two incommensurable halves, a cosmological doctrine regarding the eternity of the world and an anthropological doctrine regarding human life. These halves contradict one another and cannot be brought together to form a coherent unity--a position largely accepted in the scholarship since Löwith's time. This dissertation seeks to correct this interpretation by examining Nietzsche's works, beginning with the earliest and working its way toward his final writings (the opposite of Löwith's procedure). The result is a new interpretation of the eternal recurrence that illuminates the coherence of the doctrine. The source of the thought lies in Nietzsche's reflection on the nature of science and its detrimental influence on life in The Birth of Tragedy and, significantly, the "History" essay (1874). Nietzsche's struggle to find a life-affirming scientific position results in what he calls the "gay science," which unifies science and life in the eternal recurrence. While this thought remains central in such works as The Gay Science and Thus Spoke Zarathustra, it seems to fade to the background in his later works. Careful examination of these later works, however, demonstrates that Nietzsche's critiques of truth, science, and religion in the "revaluation of all values" are dependent on the foundation of the eternal recurrence. Reading Nietzsche's works chronologically not only yields an interpretation that demonstrates the coherence of the eternal recurrence, but also demonstrates the unity of his philosophy of history and philosophy of science.
Description: Degree awarded: Ph.D. Philosophy. The Catholic University of America
Date: 2011-06-24

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