Nietzschean Science - The Will to Power as Physics (Influence of Lange, Democritus, Boscovich)


Taken from The Nietzsche Podcast, episodes 45 & 46. Support the show on Patreon:

In this episode, we revisit the Pre-Platonic lecture series given by Nietzsche at Basel, the notes for which were assembled and translated by Gregory Whitlock. These lectures detail Nietzsche’s views on the first philosophers of Ancient Greece, and how they demonstrated that the spirit of scientific investigation is a manifestation of will to power: to bound the boundless within the understanding of reason, by appeal to as few possible starting principles. Nietzsche believes that the Pre-Platonic philosophers - Thales, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Democritus and others - represented the descent from an understanding of the world as controlled by a personified heaven, into something explained by natural forces. The end result is materialism: matter as explained by matter itself and its properties or laws. This is powerful and dangerous as an innovation. Materialism offers the greatest utility, but precedes a slide into nihilism. Many of Nietzsche’s insights in his interpretation were influenced by the philosopher of science, Friedrich Albert Lange. In this episode, we examine the relation of Nietzsche to Lange, their view of the Pre-Platonics, and then analyze each figure individually to see how each fits in to Nietzsche’s narrative of the unfolding of scientific thought in Greece. Rather than a mere historical curiosity, Nietzsche finds the Greeks to express the same driving tendency that underlies science in our own time.

On our second excursion into Nietzschean science, we’re studying Nietzsche’s two most celebrated figures in science: one from Ancient Greece and another from Enlightenment Europe. In Democritus, Nietzsche sees the zenith of the materialist project in Greek philosophy, opening the way for a mathematical atomist description of the world, carried on by the Pythagoreans. In Boscovich, he finds a continuation of this project, centuries later - to describe the world by one force or law, and account for the problem of motion in a way that rejects Kantian or Newtonian appeals to God, or Spinozistic teleology.

What comes out of this inquiry is an understanding that Nietzsche may have construed the will to power as a physical reality from the very beginning. From this perspective, will to power is the answer to the problem of motion; it is the inner, “intelligible character” of matter; it is the qualitative expression of what Boscovich’s unified field theory offers us in quantitative terms. This episode culminates in a look at some of Nietzsche’s more extreme or puzzling statements in his notes where will to power is discussed as a very real physical principle. Pictured in the episode art are Democritus and Boscovich.

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