Some Terms: The Body, Health, Will to Power

  • C. Heike Schotten


In Platos Republic, that foundational text of Western political theory, the discussion that takes place between Socrates and his interlocutors centers around their attempt to answer the ethical question “why be just?” To answer this question, Socrates suggests that they build a “city in speech,” a project that is premised upon a now famous presumption that has come to be called the analogy between city and soul:

“It looks to me as though the investigation we are undertaking is no ordinary thing, but one for a man who sees sharply. Since we’re not clever men,” I said, “in my opinion we should make this kind of investigation of it: if someone had, for example, ordered men who don’t see very sharply to read little letters from afar and then someone had the thought that the same letters are somewhere also, but bigger and in a bigger place, I suppose it would look like a godsend to be able to consider the little ones after having read these first, if, of course, they do happen to be the same.”

“Most certainly,” said Adeimantus. “But, Socrates, what do you notice in the investigation of the just that’s like this?”

“I’ll tell you,” I said. “There is, as we say, justice of one man; and there is, surely, justice of a whole city too?”

“Certainly,” he said.

“Is a city bigger than one man?”

“Yes, it is bigger”; he said.

“So then, perhaps there would be more justice in the bigger and it would be easier to observe closely. If you want, first we’ll investigate what justice is like in the cities. Then, we’ll also go on to consider it in individuals, considering the likeness of the bigger in the idea of the littler?”1


Voluntary Motion Body Politic Rational Justification Metaphysical Principle Free Spirit 
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  1. 1.
    Plato, Republic, trans. Allan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1968), 368d–369a.Google Scholar
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    Baruch Spinoza, Ethics, trans. Samuel Shirley (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992) Book II, Lemma 7, Scholium.Google Scholar
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    Even Locke dabbles in this body politic imagery, arguing that “when any number of men have, by the consent of every individual, made a community, they have thereby made that community one body, with a power to act as one body, which is only by the will and determination of the majority: for that which acts any community, being only the consent of the individuals of it, and it being necessary to that which is one body to move one way; it is necessary the body should move that way whither the greater force carries it, which is the consent of the majority: or else it is impossible it should act or continue one body, one community, which the consent of every individual that united into it, agreed that it should.” John Locke, “Second Treatise of Government” in Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), §96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    BGE §12. As we will see, although Nietzsche’s view is very much opposed to the Platonic/ Christian model of the soul, it resembles, in many respects, the account offered by Aristotle in De Anima, defining psyche as the principle of living things. Indeed, in its usage by Homer, Herodotus, Sophocles, and Aesop, psyche means “breath,” “esp. as in the sign of life”; it is only the Platonic usage that refers to psyche as “the soul or spirit of man,” as the principle of living things. Indeed, in its usage by Homer, Herodotus, Sophocles, and Aesop, psyche means “breath,” “esp. as in the sign of life”; it is only the Platonic usage that refers to psyche as “the soul or spirit of man,” as that which is “opposed to soma.” Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), 903.Google Scholar
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    I therefore disagree with Elizabeth Grosz’s claim that “Nietzsche does not have a coherent theory of the body as such.” Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), 121. Conway’s conceptualization of the soul as the “invisible body” that informs and is informed by the visible one admirably makes clear Nietzsche’s refusal of any soul/body dualismGoogle Scholar
  12. (Daniel W. Conway, Nietzsche’s Dangerous Game: Philosophy in the Twilight of the Idols [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997], 23–30), yet the emphasis on vision as the primary psychological sense unwittingly reinstates this dualism by reifying the “visible” body as a perceptible, material container for Nietzsche’s invisible and “sumptuary” soul. The distinction between the body (morphe) and the drives that construct it (will to power) cannot be so easily made for Nietzsche. As Joanne Faulkner argues, “Nietzsche uses the body as a metaphor for the intellect, and intellect for the body, such that the reader is left chasing him through the labyrinth of his thought, which refuses to stop on either side of the spirit-body divide.” Joanne Faulkner, “The Body as Text in the Writings of Nietzsche and Freud,” Minerva 7 [2003], 112. Further, as we will see in the next chapter, the crucial diagnostic sense for assessment of this discernible conglomeration of drives is not vision but smell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    An ideal is still an ideal, and therefore regulative. See Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1990) and Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex” (New York: Routledge, 1993).Google Scholar
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    GM II:16. See Daniel W. Conway, “The Birth of the Soul: Toward a Psychology of Decadence,” in Nietzsche and Depth Psychology, ed. Jacob Golomb, Weaver Santaniello, and Ronald Lehrer (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999) for a discussion of the development of the soul as the body’s contraction of illness.Google Scholar
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    Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Richard Tuck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 45.Google Scholar
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    As l’aul Patton aptly notes, “Whereas Hobbes’s dynamic is one of preservation or increase in the capacities of a given body, or preservation through increase of the body’s capacities, Nietzsche’s dynamic includes activity which might lead to its destruction or to its transformation into a different kind of body, as well as activity directed at the maintenance or increase of the power of the body in question. For Nietzsche, the power of a given body is a function of the activity of which that body is capable and not simply the powers of others which it can command.” Paul Patton, “Nietzsche and Hobbes,” International Studies in Philosophy 33, no. 3 (2001), 106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. It is for this reason that Nandita Biswas Mellamphy concludes that Hobbesian power is essentially reactive, unlike the activity of will to power. Nandita Biswas Mellamphy, “Corporealizing Thought: Retranslating the Eternal Return Back Into Politics,” in Nietzsche, Power and Politics: Rethinking Nietzsche’s Legaryfor Political Thought, ed. Herman Siemens and Vasti Roodt (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008), 709–10.Google Scholar
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    Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche, 4 vols., trans. David Farrell Krell (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991). Arthur Danto’s important study claims: “It is hardly avoidable that we think of Will-to-Power in almost exactly the terms in which men once thought of substance, as that which underlies everything else and was the most fundamental of all … It is a metaphysical or, better, an ontological concept, for “Will-to-Power is Nietzsche’s answer to the question ‘What is there?”” Arthur Danto, Nietzsche as Philosopher (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965), 215. More recently, John Richardson has argued that will to power is metaphysical insofar as it constitutes a systematic truth about essence.Google Scholar
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    Bernd Magnus agrees, noting that “without the Nachlass it is virtually impossible to read eternal recurrence and will to power as first-order descriptions of the way the world is in itself.” Bernd Magnus, “The Use and Abuse of The Will to Power,” in Reading Nietzsche, ed. Robert Solomon and Kathleen Higgins (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 233. Laurence Lampert cites Heidegger’s reliance on the unpublished notes as a prominent reason for his resolute interpretation of will to power as a metaphysical principle (Laurence Lampert, “Heidegger’s Nietzsche Interpretation,” Man and World 7, no. 4[1974]), and Danto’s claim that will to power is an ontological concept depends on his multiple citations from the Nachlass. An exception to this generalization is Wolfgang Müller-Lauter, who cites generously from the unpublished writings and yet nevertheless concludes that “Nietzsche’s philosophy excludes as irrelevant to actual events the question of the ground of being in the sense of traditional metaphysics.”Google Scholar
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    Despite the reams of scholarship on Nietzsche’s inimitable style, I have yet to encounter more than a single discussion of Nietzsche’s use of quotation marks, nor any acknowledgment of their function as a distancing mechanism or sarcasm. Eric Blondel argues that Nietzsche’s quotation marks highlight two distinctions: the first, between moral language and his own (therefore indicating that moral language is “improper, if not vulgar, slang, obscene, or incorrect”), and, second, to suggest the gap between language in general (which, like moral language, is always already metaphysical) and his own. See Eric Blondel, Nietzsche, the Body, and Culture: Philosophy as a Philological Genealogy, trans. Seân Hand (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), 148–56. Blondel at least agrees that these “inverted commas” function as a means of indicating that the words being used are not those in some sense intended, desired, or employed literally by Nietzsche himself: “Inverted commas indicate that appearances are deceptive” (174).Google Scholar
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    Some commentators have argued that will to power nevertheless remains a teleological drive, if for no other reason than because it seems necessitated by the “to” (zu) of “will to power” (Wille zur Macht). See Gregory Moore, Nietzsche, Biology, and Metaphor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. and John Richardson, Nietzsche’s New Darwinism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), chap. 1. Yet is grammar the key interpretive point here? If will “to” power is a drive “toward” expenditure, but that expenditure is neither a predeterminable end state nor a static condition; if, in fact, the Macht toward which Wille zur Macht drives can never be known or predicted, then what becomes of telos? Indeed, what remains of zu? Is this instead an example of how “‘being’ is projected by thought, pushed underneath, as the cause” rather than the effect of language? “Indeed, nothing has yet possessed a more naïve power of persuasion than the error concerning being … After all, every word we say and every sentence speak in its favor” (TI “Philosophy” §5). Becoming can thus have no advocate by definition; this does not mean, however, that Nietzsche’s own use of Wille zur Macht makes him the unsuspecting spokesperson for being.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 111.
    In this claim, Nietzsche is in good company—this critique of liberal equality is by now a familiar one. See, for example, Wendy Brown, “Liberalism’s Family Values,” in States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995);Google Scholar
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© C. Heike Schotten 2009

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