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10 Ansichten18 SeitenA study of Nietzsche's agonistic relationship with 18th century philosopher and natural scientist Roger Joseph Boscovich

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A study of Nietzsche's agonistic relationship with 18th century philosopher and natural scientist Roger Joseph Boscovich

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Author(s): Robin Small

Source: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 46, No. 3 (Mar., 1986), pp. 419-435

Published by: International Phenomenological Society

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andPhenomenological

Research

Philosophy

Vol. XLVI, No. 3, Marchi986

BoscovichContraNietzsche

ROBIN SMALL

Monash University

An interest

in physicaltheoryis evidentin manyofthewritingsof Nietzon hisideasofan important

sche.So too is theinfluence

thinker

oftheprein thedevelopment

viouscentury

whose significance

of modernscienceis

perhaps still not fullyrecognized.Nietzscheencounteredthe work of

RogerJosephBoscovichat an earlystagein hiscareer,and was impressed

byitsrelevanceto his own concerns.'In ithe foundan alternative

to traditionalformsofatomism:forBoscovich,atomswereno longersolidparticlesbut instead 'points of matter',located in space but withoutany

extensionoftheirown. Boscovicharguedthatall thepropertiesattributed

to mattercould be explainedin termsof the propertiesof force.Each

pointof matterin his theoryservesas thecenterof a fieldof force,which

variesin a rathercomplicatedway accordingto distancein orderto give

riseto the familiarphenomenaof bodies and theirbehavior.

In laterwritingsNietzschepaid tributeto thetheoryof Boscovichas a

discoveryto be rankedwiththe contributionof Copernicusto human

knowledge.'Justas Copernicushad shown the apparentimmobility

of

theearthto be an illusion,so Boscovichrevealedtheapparentsolidityof

materialsubstanceto be a fictionbased on theunreliablecharacterofour

senses.Materialisticatomismcould thusbe describedas "one of thebest

refutedtheoriesthereare."3In place ofthisdoctrinewe shouldinsteadsee

theworldas consistingof 'centersof force'.4It is the "states,alterations,

See K. Schlechtaand A. Anders,Friedrich

Vondenverborgenen

Nietzsche:

Anfdngen

seinesPhilosophierens

Cannstatt:FriedrichFrommannVerlag, i96z),

(Stuttgart-Bad

pp. 127-53.

KGW V/z, p. 54i and VII/z, p. z64. "KGW" here indicatesNietzsche,Kritische

ed. G. Colli and M. Montinari(Berlin-NewYork: Walterde

Gesamtausgabe:

Werke,

Gruyter,1973- ).

BeyondGood and Evil,Sect. iz. Where available the Englishtranslationsof Walter

Kaufmannhave been used.

KGW VIII/3,pp. i63, i65 and i68 (The Willto Power,Sect. 567, 636, and io66,

respectively).

Nietzschealso uses the terms'atoms of force':KGW VII/3,p. 284 (The

WilltoPower,Sect.637, and 64z), and 'pointsof force':KGW VII/3,p. 378 and VIII/i,

p. 90.

BOSCOVICH

CONTRA NIETZSCHE

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

4I9

ofBoscoIn a recentarticle,GeorgeJ.Stackhas analysedtheinfluence

vichon Nietzschein some detail.7I do not intendto repeathis account.

I wishto disMy concernin thisarticleis to do somethingquitedifferent:

cuss some ideas overwhichBoscovichand Nietzschestandopposed. Of

ofthesame,a

centralimportancehereis theidea oftheeternalrecurrence

themewhose importancein Nietzsche'sthoughtcan hardlybe overestimated. In many of his writings(thoughprimarilythose found in his

unpublishednotebooks)Nietzscheattemptsto supportthisdoctrinein

termsofideas based at leastinparton hisreadingofBoscovich.Yet when

we look intoBoscovich'sTheoryof NaturalPhilosophy,we findthathe

describesa theorywhichis verysimilarto theone defendedbyNietzsche,

and offerswhat is clearlyintendedto be a refutationof it.8 It is this

conflictthatI intendto discuss.In additionI will mentiona numberof

morerecentdiscussionsofthesame theme,and showto whatextentthey

continuethe same dispute.

Boscovich'sobjectionsare raised againstan argumentwhichhe presentsin thisway:

The combinationof a finitenumberof termsare finitein number;but the combinations

throughoutthe whole of infiniteeternitymusthave been infinitein number,even if we

assumethatwhatis understoodbythenameof combinationsis thewhole seriespertaining

agitationoftheatoms,ifall cases hapto so manythousandsofyears.Hence,in a fortuitous

things,one ofthemis boundto

penequally,as is alwaysthecase in a longseriesoffortuitous

recuran infinitenumberof timesin turn.9

has a cause, he

whichrelieson the conceptof chance. Since everything

claims,thosewho use such arguments"errin thefactthattheyconsider

Ratherthisis a term

thatis initselftrulyfortuitous."

thatthereis anything

whichwe use when we are ignorantof the cause of something.

point

Having made thisobjection,Boscovichmoveson to a different

whichis rathermorecomplex:"But,leavingthatoutofaccount,itis quite

numberofterms

falseto saythatthenumberofcombinationsfroma finite

5KGW V/z,P- 421-

6 Ibid., p. 398.

7

8

Quarterly

6z (i98i): 69-87.

but only as an

Stack mentionsBoscovich'srejectionof the idea of eternalrecurrence,

"assumption."

Ibid.,p. 73.

M.I.T. Press,i966), p. i9i.

42O

ROBIN

SMALL

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

oftheuniverse

totheconstitution

thatarenecessary

is finite,

ifall things

concerns

question

that

the

crucial

sees

clearly

Boscovich

areconsidered."

Ifwe imagareformed.

oftheseelements

thewayinwhichcombinations

ordertobe

onlytheir

alonga singlelineandconsider

inethemas arranged

willnotbe opento hisobjection.

theargument

significant,

I readilyacknowledgethismuch;that,ifall thelettersthatgo to forma poem ofVirgilare

shakenhaphazardin a bag, and thentakenout of it,and all thelettersare setin order,one

thatcombinationwhichformed

aftertheother,and thisoperationis carriedon indefinitely,

thepoem of Virgilwill returnaftera numberof times,ifthisnumberis greaterthansome

definitenumber.

oftheuniverse'

morethanthis.For

involves

However,the'constitution

itinvolves

thearrangements

ofthepointsofmatter

withina

one thing,

in

andmoreover

is infinitely

divisible

spacewhichhasthreedimensions,

tobelocatedalonga

theseterms

eachofthem.Thusevenifwedo imagine

oflocationsforthislinewith

number

singleline,therewillbe an infinite

whenwe

ofspace.Furthermore,

respect

to eachofthethreedimensions

of

onthislinebut

takeintoaccountnotonlytheorderofthepoints matter

theirdistancesfromone another,we findthateach of themcan be

totheothers.

inaninfinite

number

ofpossiblewayswithrespect

arranged

ofmotionofthepoints

thepossiblespeedsand directions

Considering

Boscovichthusconcludes:

addsstillmoreordersofinfinity.

higherthanthe

of an orderthatis immensely

Hence,thenumberofcombinationsis infinite

ofinstantsoftime;and thus,notonlydoes itfollowthatnotall thecomorderoftheinfinity

numberoftimes,buttheratioevenofthosethat

binationsarenotboundto returnan infinite

of a veryhighorder.

do not returnis infinite,

interms

of

method

ofargument

thatBoscovich's

We shouldunderstand

is

thatallsuchthinking

withhisinsistence

isnotincompatible

probability

Itisdesigned

toshow

ad hominem.

Forthisisanargumentum

misguided.

thatifwe do lookat theworldas a wholeintermsonlyofthepossible

thatthe

we mustarriveat theconclusion

ofitselements,

combinations

Boscoisinfinitely

combination

ofanyparticular

improbable.

occurrence

further

in arguingfora divineprovivichwantsto use thisconclusion

denceas theonlycausewhichcan, as he puts it, 'overcome' such an

lineof

We are nothereconcernedwiththisfurther

infinite

improbability.

exceptto notehow manyoftheassumptionsoftheargumentfor

thought,

are in factacceptedbyBoscovich.He does forinstance

eternalrecurrence

accept thatthe numberof pointsof matteris finite.'0This indeedprovideshimwithanotherargumentfortheexistenceof God: how else can

we accountforthe factthatthereare thisnumberof pointsratherthan

Ibid.,p.

i92.

BOSCOVICH

CONTRA NIETZSCHE

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

42I

finitespace. Yet he does notacceptthefirst

premiseoftheargument,

that

the combinationsof a finitenumberof termsare finitein number.Nor

does he accept the model whichpresentsthesecombinationsas determinedbychance,sincethisis incompatiblewiththeprinciplethateverythingmusthave a definitecause.

Let us turnnow to the argumentused by Nietzscheas an attempted

of his doctrineof eternalrecurrence,

and to some of the

demonstration

objectionsmade againstit in recentyears.We shallsee thattheseare to a

largeextentsimplyrestatements

of theobjectionsmade by Boscovichto

the argumenthe describes.Firstof all we should remindourselvesof a

typicalversionof the argumentfoundin the notebooksof Nietzsche:

Iftheworldmaybe thoughtofas a certaindefinite

quantityofforceand as a certaindefinite

and therenumberof centersof force- and everyotherrepresentation

remainsindefinite

foreuseless- itfollowsthat,in thegreatdice gameofexistence,itmustpass througha calculablenumberofcombinations.In infinite

time,everypossiblecombinationwould at some

numberof times.And since

timeor otherbe realized;more:itwould be realizedan infinite

all otherpossiblecombinationswould

betweeneverycombinationand its nextrecurrence

have to takeplace, and each ofthesecombinationsconditionstheentiresequenceofcombinationsin thesame series,a circularmovementof absolutelyidenticalseriesis thusdemonstrated.'1

suitableforourpurposenotjustbecauseitis veryoftencited,butbecause

it bringsout the presencein the argumentnot only of the elementof

chance,but also of theprincipleof determinism.

Each makes an importo the argument.Firstthe argument

tant,in factessential,contribution

fromprobabilityis used to show thatin an infinite

timeeverypossible

stateof forcemustrecur.Then Nietzschearguesthatifanystateof force

does recur,thestatesof forceto whichit is linkedbythisprinciplemust

also recur.As he puts it in Thus Spake Zarathustra,"Are not all things

thatthismomentdraws afterit all thatis to

knottedtogetherso firmly

come?"'3 This in turnleads to a conclusionabout eternalrecurrence:"If

- then

onlyone momentoftheworldwereto return- said thelightning

would have to return.14

everything

"

I

I'

14

Ibid., p. '93.

KGW VIII/3,p. i68 (The Will to Power, Sect. io66).

Thus Spake Zarathustra,"On the Vision and the Riddle."

KGWVII/I,p. 503. Cf.J.S. Mill,A System

ofLogic(London: Longman,1970), p. 277:

"And ifanyparticularstateoftheentireuniversecould everrecura secondtime,all subsequentstateswould returntoo."

422

ROBIN

SMALL

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Nietzscheis a determinist

theworldat anyone momentconditionsthetotalstateoftheworldat any

othermoment.The questionis: how arewe to understandthis?Nietzsche

in thathe repudiatesseveral

partscompanywithtraditionaldeterminism

of such determination.

commonideas about the significance

He denies

thatthereare laws of naturewhich compel eventsto take one course

ratherthananother.'5He deniesthatcauses bringabout theireffectsby

pushingand pressingotherobjects.'6These are attemptsto interpret

naturein termsof everydayhuman activitieswhich are assumedto be

understoodbecause of theirfamiliarity.

Nietzsche'sansweris thatthey

are notunderstoodat all, and thattherealnatureofour own actionsis as

unknownto us as anythingin the outsideworld. He concludesthat a

causal accountofnaturalprocessesis notan 'explanation',ifthisexpressionis usedto meana reductionoftheunfamiliar

to thefamiliar,butonly

an 'interpretation'.

ofnature,however,is nottouchedbythesecritiThe mathematization

cisms.On the contrary,Nietzscheseemsto be aware thatthisresearch

programcan proceedwithmoresuccessifitis no longerhinderedbymisleadingassociations.To cease thinkingof forceas Druck und Stoss,and

is onlyto giveup a modelwhichhas shown

ofatomsas solid Klfimpchen,

itselfto be inadequate,not to invalidatethe theoryfor which it was

designed.It is afterall thescientiststhemselveswho have demandedthe

couldnotuse littleclumpsofatoms

change:"The mathematical

physicists

fortheirscience:therefore

theyconstructa worldofpointsof force,with

whichone can calculate."7 His model hereis Boscovich,who he points

out was not an idealistbut a mathematician.'8

Nietzschegoes beyond

Boscovichinsomeways:hisgeneralattackon thenotionofnatural'laws'

would preventhimfromtalkingof a 'law of force'in theway Boscovich

does, and he criticizesthe'dynamicatom' as notyetfarenoughremoved

fromthesolid atomof traditionalthinking.'9

But again all thesechanges

do not alterhis convictionthatthe world is calculable.The problemis

onlyto findthemodelwhichbestallows us to graspthenatureofthiscalculability.

One mightbe puzzledbyNietzsche'sabilityto combinea kindofdeterminismwithan argumentwhichcomparesbecomingto a 'dice game',

and talksof "theenormouslyaccidentalcharusestheidea ofprobability,

'5

I6

17

I8

MixedOpinionsandMaxims,Sect.9; TheGayScience,Sect.io9.

KGWVII/3p. 224.

KGWVII/3,p. 378.

Selected

Letters

ofFriedrich

Nietzsche,

ed. andtrans.C. Middleton

(Chicago:Univer-

'9

BOSCOVICH

CONTRA NIETZSCHE

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

4Z3

acterof combinations.""0

time,everypostheory,hissayingthat"in infinite

Nietzsche'suse oftheidiomofprobability

siblecombinationwould at some timeor otherbe realized,"is notto be takenat facevalue.

withhis talkof "thegreatdice game of existence"and "therealizationof

For,intertwined

thatis at odds withthe

everypossiblecombination"we findtheexpressionofa determinism

idea thatchangesin theworld are to be understoodon themodelof a dice game and that

holdingthateverypossible

to interpretNietzscheas straightforwardly

makes it difficult

combinationwill in factbe realized."'

would be an easy task. We could

valid, the refutationof determinism

simplybypointingouttheactualoccurrence

accomplishsucha refutation

grantedto

anycredibility

of dice gamesin thereal world.Or conversely,

determinism

would turntheactualoccurrenceof dicegamesintoa philoseemsveryplausible,on

sophicalproblem.Neitherof thesealternatives

and the

the face of it. This suggeststhat the doctrineof determinism

theoryof probabilityneed not be seen as 'at odds' witheach other.After

is to be

all, Laplace's classic statementof the principleof determinism

foundin thesecond chapterof his PhilosophicalEssay on Probabilities,

whereit is followedby an account of probabilityin whichdice games

figureas an examplemorethanonce." Nietzsche'sstatementthat"The

hands of necessityshake the dice-boxof chance"" is the metaphorical

expressionof a pointwhichis not as paradoxicalas it mayat firstseem.

Yet I thinkthereis someforcein theseremarksofSoll. Perhapsitis this:

in natural

suggeststhepresenceof patternsand regularities

determinism

processes,and thedice game imagesuggeststheabsenceof anysuchpatterns.Yet presencein realitydoes notimplypresencewithinthescope of

humanknowledge.Nietzscheholds thatthe processof becomingis far

withinourpowersofobservation.Formany

morecomplexthananything

that

thisis so - in thecase of dice games,for

phenomenawe do admit

cause and effect

example- butforotherswe supposethatwe can identify

In Nietzsche'sview thisis simplyan illusion.Even

withsome certainty.

withthephenomenawhichare closestto us, our own mentalstates,our

of thewhole process.We simplify

awarenessextendsonlyto a fragment

10

Essays,ed. R.

A Collection

ofCritical

inNietzsche:

des Gleichen,"

EwigeWiederkehr

ii

23

Laplace, A PhilosophicalEssay on Probabilities,trans.F. W. Truscottand F. L. Emory

(New York: Dover, 1952), p. 3: "Presenteventsareconnectedwithpreviousones bya tie

based upon theevidentprinciplethata thingcannotoccurwithouta cause whichproduces it."

TheDawn,Sect. 130.

424

ROBIN SMALL

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

and thusmisrepresent

whathappensin fitting

it intoour setof concepts,

and in proceedingto use theseas themodel foran understanding

of the

processesof 'outside' reality.The real patternsin both cases remain

unknownto us. Fromthisone can see whyNietzscheuses thedice game

image;he wantsus to extendtheadmissionwe makewithrespectto dice

gamesto coverthewholeof reality,and recognizeeveryotherprocessas

equallybeyondourpowerto calculateand predictwithrealcertainty.

But

once again,thisis nota denialoftheprincipleofdeterminism.

Whatgives

Soll's argumentitsappeal is, I think,our tendencyto place confidencein

our knowledgeof reality.Fromthisstandpointdeterminism

has always

been takenas an optimisticdoctrine,providinga reassurancethatsuch

confidence

is notmisplaced,and thatoursearchesforcauseswillnotbe in

vain. If thisis an illusion(as Nietzschealleges) it is at least a beneficent

one,perhapsevenone of thoseerrorswhichhe holdsto be indispensable

fortheconductof life.Certainlya recognitionof 'thegreatdice game of

existence'is not likelyto be advocatedforanypracticaladvantage.But

relevantto thepresentdiscussion.Nietzthisconcernis not particularly

inhisargumentdoes notassume

sche'suse oftheprincipleofdeterminism

that we in fact possess knowledgeof even a single causal link. It is

sufficient

forhimto claimthatthetotalstateoftheworldat each moment

determines

thetotalstateoftheworldat each othermoment;and thereis

no inconsistency

betweenthisand histalkof "thegreatdicegameofexis"

tence.

Boscovich'sfirst

was based

objectionto thetheoryofeternalrecurrence

of chancewereinconsistent

on theclaimthatconsiderations

witha commitmentto determinism.His second objection was quite different,

because it dependedon approachingthe argumentabout chance on its

own terms.I turnnow to a closerexaminationof thisapproach.

Similarargumentsput forwardby later writershave been directed

specificallyagainstNietzsche'stheoryof eternalrecurrence.The bestknownof all such argumentsis thatof GeorgSimmel,firstpublishedin

Simmeluses a simplemodel to show thata finitenumberof eleI907.

4 He asks us to

mentsneed not have a finitenumberof combinations.

imaginethreewheelsofequal size,rotatingon thesame axis. One pointis

ofeach wheel,thethreepointsare arranged

markedon thecircumference

in one straightline,and thewheelsare set in motion.The secondwheel

rotatestwiceas fastas thefirstand thethirdat i/X timesthespeedof the

first.Simmelclaimsthat,howeverlongthewheelsturn,"thestateof the

threepointsfromwhichthemovementbegancan neverrecurin all eter-

24

und Nietzsche,

Simmel,Schopenhauer

Dunckerund Humblot,I 03), p. i83.

BOSCOVICH

CONTRA NIETZSCHE

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

4Z5

theirstateat any one momentwill eventuallybe repeated.

One can see that this argumentis valid by followinga reductioad

absurdumprocedure.Let us supposethatat sometimethethreepointsdo

returnto theiroriginalline-up.We can tellwhenthefirst

wheelreturnsto

itsinitialposition,becausewheneverthishappens,and onlywhenithappens,thepointson thefirstand secondwheelsare aligned.Havingnoted

thisfactwe can forgetthesecondwheel,whose functionis to enableus to

identify

completerevolutionsof thefirstwheelwithoutreference

to outside objects." Now suppose thatthethirdwheeltoo returnsto itsoriginal position.Clearlythefirstand thirdwheelswilleach have revolvedan

integralnumberof times.If we call thesenumbersa and b respectively,

thengivenour information

about therelativespeedsofthewheels,it fol=

lows thatb akr.But nris an irrationalnumber,whichmeansthatthere

areno twointegersa and b forwhichtheformulaar= a/bholdstrue.Thus

our hypothesisthatthe originalpositioncan again be reachedmustbe

abandoned,because it has led to a contradiction.

This argumenthas been describedas a "simplemathematicalrefutation."z6 Yet it dependson theassumptionthatan irrationalnumbersuch

as arcan be used to measuresomethingin thereal world,in thiscase the

speedof a movingobject.Now in orderto thinkofspeed in thisway,we

mustmakethesame assumptioneitherabout space or about time.Given

thepositionof arin thedenominatoroftheexpressionused here,itseems

to be servingas a measureoftime.This recallsthepremiseofBoscovich's

claim thatthe numberof possible arrangements

of unextendedobjects

Thatargumentrestedon

evenwithina finite

partofspace mustbe infinite.

of space; thisone restson assumingthe

assumingtheinfinite

divisibility

oftime.Grantingthevalidityofthereductioad absurinfinite

divisibility

dum argumentjust discussed,then,we are stillable to choose whichof

Our choice

severalpremisesto abandon in orderto avoid contradiction.

need not be the same as Simmel's.

Severalrecentwritershave attemptedto offera different

replyto Simmel's argument.Ivan Soll for instance writes: "Simmel's refutation

ofpatternsofrecombination

dependsupon thepossibility

beingregulated

are ruledout,but,ifNietzschedid indeedhold

so thatcertainrepetitions

that the recombinationwas random,Simmel's argumentswould lose

25

z6

position;if thisremainsit seemsto me thatthe second wheel is superfluous.

K. Jasper,Nietzsche:An Introduction

to the Understanding

of his Philosophical

Activity,

trans.C. F. Wallraffand F. J. Schmitz(Chicago: HenryRegneryCompany,

i965), p. 355.

4z6

ROBIN SMALL

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

byarguingthat"The advantageof thevariationthesisis thatin itsrelianceupon therandomcharacterofrecombination it providesa methodof escape fromSimmel'sargumentagainst

unirecurrencesince that argumentis dependentupon a deterministic

verse."i28

BerndMagnus too criticizesSimmelforthe way in which "he

has ruledout randomizedconfigurations."

He concludes: "The persuasivenessof Simmel'sconclusion,that the numberof configurations

or

is infinite,

combinationof configurations

dependsentirelyon the introductionof a formulawhichdefines

theoutcomein advance.The formula

rathercuriously,

thattheorderofconfigurations

suggests,

is notsubjectto

probabilityrequirements.

That is a particularly

odd oversightwhenone

attemptsto offera cogentcounterexample."29

All theserepliesto Simmelrelyon thecontrastbetweenchanceor randomnesson theone hand and determinism

on theother.But whereasin

Boscovich's firstobjection this contrastis used against the notion of

chance,thesewritersturntheargumentaround.TheycriticizeSimmelfor

settingup hisexamplein a way thateliminatestheelementofchancealtogether.It is truethatSimmeldoes this.He assumesnotonlythatdeterminismholdstrue,butalso thattheformulagoverning

thecourseofeventsis

availableand can be stated.Yet does an introduction

ofchancelessenthe

forceof his argument?To bringin thiselementwe need denyonlySimmel'ssecondassumption.Let us suppose,then,thatthesethreewheelsare

allowed to move away fromtheircommonaxis or to move at different

speeds,and thatthesevariationsare allowedto occurat random.The outcome is simplythatthenumberof possiblesituationsis increasedbysevIn other words, Boscovich's second objection

eral orders of infinity.

immediately

becomesapplicable.The recurrence

oftheoriginalcombinationis no longerruledout bya principleofdeterminism,

butitis ruledout

In theoriginalexample,therecurrence

bya principleofprobability.

ofthe

same state is impossible;in our revisedversionit is merelyinfinitely

improbable.This seemsnotto be muchofan improvement.

Can we overcometheproblembykeepingthepresenceof chanceto some minimum?

Supposewe do so byallowingthespeed ofjustone of thethreewheelsto

varyat random,meanwhilekeepingthewheelon thesameaxis as theothers. Since onlya singlevariableis now involved,only a singleorderof

27

z8

29

J. Krueger,"NietzscheanRecurrenceas a Cosmological Hypothesis,"Journalof the

History

of Philosophy

i6 (1978): 44z.

B. Magnus,Nietzsche's

Existential

Imperative

(Bloomington-London:

Indiana UniversityPress,1978), p. 93.

BOSCOVICH

CONTRA NIETZSCHE

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

4Z7

infinity

is introducedintotherangeof possiblecombinations.But thisis

thatwe attributeto thelengthof timethrough

thesame kindof infinity

whichthemovementtakesplace. In thatcase, an estimationof theprobofanyone stateis impossible.We are leftwithan

abilityoftherecurrence

indeterminate

result,which neitherproves nor disprovesthe theoryof

eternalrecurrence.

We mightnotebeforeleavingSimmel'sargumentthatanotherattempt

fromthosejust conhas beenmade to offera reply,along linesdifferent

sidered. Arnold Zuboff argues that Simmel fails to consider the

'phenomenalcharacter'of his example.He writes:"How manydifferent

phenomenalpossibilitiesare therein Simmel'sline-upofwheels?I would

say that therecan be only finitephenomenallydiscernibleline-ups."3"

Therefore,he concludes,althoughSimmelis correctin sayingthatthe

will neverrecur,it is also correctto say thatsome

originalconfiguration

will occur which is phenomenallyindistinguishable

from

configuration

that one. Furthermore, whereas actual repetition would be

unlikely,"thisphenomenalrepetitionwill in contrast

"overwhelmingly

be "overwhelmingly

likely."

This I thinkis a sound argument.Certainlyour sensesare limitedin

betweensituations.That beingthecase,

theirabilityto detectdifferences

the wheels in Simmel'sexample would at some timereach a position

whichwould appear to us to be thesame as theiroriginalposition.For

some of us, of course,thatmighthappenquite soon. The questionhoweveris: whatdoes thisprove?It seemsto me thatitmissesthepointofthe

of the

Nietzschespeaks of therecurrence

doctrineof eternalrecurrence.

and

a

of

the

he

insists

on

distinction

between

verysharp

similar,

same,not

thetwo: "The similaris nota degreeofthesame: rathersomething

totally

fromthe same.""i Further,he deniesthatany of thethingswe

different

taketo be thesame are reallythesame.This is one ofthebasic illusionsof

ourexperience:thatin orderto organizeitintoa patternwhichwillallow

we identify

thingsas thesamewhenthey

us to cope withourenvironment,

are merelysimilar.Nietzscheassertshoweverthatrealityis a processof

absolute becoming:"The treeis somethingnew in everymoment:the

formis assertedby us because we cannot perceivethe finestabsolute

"3Z

movement.

on thispointare to

thatNietzsche'sinsistences

Now itis quitestriking

be foundin muchthesameplaces as hissketchesofthedoctrineof eternal

Nietzscheplaces

That is becausethetwo are complementary:

recurrence.

30

31

3

KGW V/z,P- 4?3

Ibid., Pa 452-

4z8

ROBIN SMALL

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

greatimportanceon the'sameness'ofeternalrecurrence

preciselybecause

he denies the samenessof anythingelse. He even offersan argument

designedto prove thatthis is impossible:two thingsthe same as each

otherand existingat thesame timewould have to have thesame causes,

and thatin turnwould implyan endlessregress."Thus we would haveto

assumethatsomethingthesame had beenpresentback into all eternity,

despiteeveryalterationofthegeneralstateand creationofnewproperties

- an impossibleassumption!"33

I takeit thatNietzsche'sreasonforrulin

ing out thisassumptionas impossiblelies in his view thateverything

realityis relatedto everything

else,or inotherwords,thatthereis onlyone

world. If we accept this assumption,we mustrejectthe notionof any

seriesof causes whichwould standapart fromthegeneralcourseof the

world.Thus in turnwe mustrejecttheclaimthatwithinone stateof the

world therecan existtwo thingsthe same as each other.

It would not be trueto say thatZuboff'scommenton Simmel'sargumentdeniesanyof thesepoints.Whythenshouldit be open to criticism?

thenotionof 'phenomenal'reality

One mightcriticizeit forintroducing

intotheargumentat all. The pointis notjustthatthisis out of place in a

but thatit is out of place in consideringa concept

thoughtexperiment,

I refer

whichcan be approachedonlyin termsof a thoughtexperiment.

As

again to theconceptof sameness,as it figuresin Nietzsche'sthinking.

ofthesame

manycommentators

have pointedout,theeternalrecurrence

is not an eventforwhichevidenceof theempiricalkindcan be provided.

Nor can familiarkindsofexperiencebe citedin itssupport.Ifforinstance

I could remembertheoccurrencein a previouscycleof the experienceI

haveat thismoment,itwould notbe thesameexperienceafterall,because

itwould containthisadded element.In justthesameway,I cannotforesee

can I (as some

ofthissameexperience.Nor therefore

thefuturerecurrence

writersseemto think)have anyof thekindsof feelingsabout thisrecurconrencewhichwould presupposesucha cognition.Anotherinteresting

sequenceis thatcommon-sense

questionsabout thecriterionof personal

forinstance,simplymake no sense in thiscontext.Such quesidentity,

tionsariseonlyforconceptswhichcan be appliedto experienceintheway

thathas specifically

beenruledout byNietzschefortheconceptof sameness.Thisis notto saythatitis uselessor meaningless,

onlythatitsuse and

in kind.

meaningare ratherdifferent

For thesereasonsit seemsto me thatZuboff'scommentdoes not do

oftheconbecauseitmodifiesthestrictness

justiceto Simmel'sargument,

ceptof sameness.In thisrespectSimmel'sargumentis noticeablyfaithful

as a result.Nor

to thedoctrinewhichitattacks,and all themoreeffective

33

BOSCOVICH

CONTRA NIETZSCHE

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

4Z9

or for

not being'plausible',as ifa thoughtexperimentwere bound to observe

such requirements.

Fromthepointof view of possibleargumentsabout

probability,

Simmel'sexampleis relatively

favorableto Nietzsche'scase,

as we haveseen.My conclusionis thatnoneoftheserepliesdirectsitselfto

thetrulyimportant

Beforelookingintothis,

aspectofSimmel'sargument.

I

however, wishto mentionone morerecentcriticism

of Nietzsche'sdoctrinewhichbears a strongaffinity

to Boscovich'ssecond objection.

ArthurDanto has rejectedNietzsche'sargumentfor reasons which

have to do withthenotionofenergy.(For thepurposeofthisdiscussion,I

will followNietzschein usingtheword 'force'as equivalentto 'energy',

incorrectthoughthisis in termsof modernusage.) He writes:

Imagine

someconservative

thetotalenergy

energy

system

ofwhichhassomefinite

number,

iskinetic.

say6,wheresomeoftheenergy

so

Supposeagainthatthekinetic

energy

increases,

butat a ratesuchthatthefirst

6 whilethelatter

thepotential

energy

decreases,

approaches

o. Theselimitscouldbe approached

approaches

without

and

indefinitely

beingreached,

beaninfinite

number

of'states'ofkinetic

therecouldinprinciple

a different

energy,

having

at everyinstant,

therecurrence

magnitude

without

ofanysinglemagnitude.34

kineticenergyand the potentialenergythat remains,and the relation

betweenthe two is just the relationbetweentheirrespectivequantities.

Danto is arguingthatsincean infinite

numberofsuchmeasuresare possible evenwithinthestatedlimit,thenumberoftotalstatesofenergyis also

In a footnotehe statestheunderlying

infinite.

principleof theargument:

"It clearlydoesn'tfollowfromthefactthatthesumis finitethatthereis a

finitudeof parts." It is theapplicationof thismathematicaltruthto the

case of energythatprovidesDanto's argumentwithitspoint.But again,

thequestionof thatapplicationis nota purelymathematicalone. Rather

it is a questionabout thecharacterof energy.Is it possiblefora certain

kindofenergyto approachthezerolimitindefinitely

withoutreachingit?

Or is thererathera quantumof energywhichrepresents

thelimitof any

in thiscentury

suchprocess?Many scientists

haveheldthatthereis sucha

quantum,and if theyare correct,Danto's argumentmust be invalid.

WhetheranyofNietzsche'svariousremarkson thesubjectofforcecan be

seen as makingthesame claimseemsto me unclear.Certainlyhe denies

thatforcecan everbe dividedintoequal parts;thisis one ofhisarguments

againstthepossibilityof a stateof equilibrium.35

Equal divisionis only

A. Danto,"Nietzsche,"

inA Critical

History

ofWestern

Philosophy,

ed. D. J.O'Con-

nor (New York: The FreePress,i964), p. 400. See also A. Danto, Nietzscheas Philosopher (New York: The Macmillan Company,i965), p. zo6.

KGW V/z,p. 4z8.

430

ROBIN

SMALL

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

forcewere infinitely

divisible,a divisionof any forceinto equal parts

would alwaysbe possible.Ifitis not,thenforcecannotbe infinitely

divisible. Again,Nietzschedoes saythat"theworldmaybe thoughtofas a certaindefinite

quantityofforceand as a certaindefinite

numberofcentersof

"6 From thisit does not followthateach centerof forcealways

force.

containsthesamequantityofforce.In Danto's examplethetotalquantity

ofenergyis constant,and so is thenumberofitscomponents,buteach of

thesevariesin the quantityof energyit contains.If howeverNietzsche

does holdthateveryparticularforceis constantinquantity,thenumberof

possibletotalstatesofforcewillagain be finite.In thatcase,theconstancy

of thetotalamountof forcewould no longerbe a basic assumption,but

rathera consequenceof theconstancyof boththenumberof forcesand

theirindividualquantitiesof force.Nietzschewould agreewithone featureof Danto's example,however:his distinction

betweenpotentialand

kineticenergy,and hisassumptionthatthesameenergycan at one timebe

potentialand at anothertimekineticenergy.Thisdoes notaffectthemain

argument,because such changesare not alterationsin the quantityof

to notehow farthisexampleis in accordwith

energy.Still,itis interesting

Nietzsche'sapproachto physicaltheory.Thisis a pointwhichI willreturn

to laterin the discussion.

Turningnow to the otherobjectionsbased on the notionof infinite

we can see a certaindifference

divisibility,

betweenthem.Boscovich's

originalobjectionis statedin termsof space, while Simmel'sexample

appears to relyon the idea thattimeis infinitely

divisible.These might

seemto be exactlyanalogous arguments.Howeverit is noticeablethatin

both Nietzsche's proof of eternal recurrenceand in the argument

describedby Boscovichthesignificance

of space is ratherdifferent

from

thatof time.Nietzschesaysnothingabout space in mostof his presentations of this argument,but most commentatorsassume that what he

meansby 'combinations'is to be explainedin termsof space. In Boscovich'sargument,

wherespace is mentioned,

itis in orderto specifywhatis

meantbya 'combination'ofterms.Timeon theotherhand is statedto be

infinite

as a premiseofeach argument,

and itscontribution

is a muchmore

directone. So I thinkwe have to deal witheach case in its own right.

Let us returntherefore

to Simmel'sargument.Would Nietzscheagree

withthepremiseunderlying

theapplicationof arto the measurement

of

time?Does he regardtimeas infinitely

divisible?The answerto thisis

unclear.37

Yet itwould be in keepingwithNietzsche'sapproachto offera

36

37

In hisearlysketchfora theoryof'timeatoms',Nietzschedoes say: "Time is nota contin-

BOSCOVICH

CONTRA NIETZSCHE

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

431

replyto Simmel'sobjectionalongtheselines:"Iftimewereinfinitely

divisible,thenevenwithina finitespan oftimetherewould be an infinite

number of momentsat whichcombinationsof forcescould take place. But

thereare onlya finitenumberof such combinations.Thereforemustnot

everyone of themoccurwithin,say,thenextminute?Includingtheone

whichis the same as thepresentstateof affairs?But we know thatthis

does not happen. Thereforewe mustrejectthe assumptionthattimeis

infinitely

divisible."

This is justa versionofNietzsche'sown basic argument,

turnedaround

in muchthe same way as his argumentagainstthe possibilityof a final

state."8It stilldependshoweveron thepremisethatthecombinationsof a

finitenumberoftermsare finitein number.We mightchoose to abandon

thispremisein orderto avoid thefalseconclusionof theargumentrather

thantheotherone. That possibilitybringsus back again to thequestion

raisedbyBoscovichabout combinationsofterms.Itseemsthatwe cannot

avoid confronting

theproblemof understanding

justhow suchcombinations are constituted.That thisis the crucialquestionis seen in Boscovich'saccount.As we noted,he mentionsa situationin whichthenumber

of combinationsof a finitenumberof termsis indeedfinite,namelythe

in whichthelettersforming

a poemofVirgilare arrangedand

experiment

rearrangedat randombutalwaysin a singleorder.Here thecombination

is formedin a simpleway: each termcomes eitherbeforeor aftereach

otherone in the sequence, and the sum of theserelationsis all thatis

neededto definea particularcombination.But accordingto Boscovich,

ofpointsof matterin space involverelationswhichare

thearrangements

not limitedin this way, and thereforethe same conclusioncannot be

reached.

We can ask variousquestionsabout the relationsbetweencentersof

forcewhichNietzschethinksmakethemintocombinations.Arethey,for

or symmetrical

or transitive

relations?One thingseems

example,reflexive

to be clear:theycannotbe relationswhichadmitofdegrees.This pointis

who arguesthat

madein an articleon eternalrecurrence

byM. C. Sterling,

we needmakeonlytheassumptionthatcombinationsare formedby "an

all-or-nonesortof interaction"to arriveat theconclusionthatthenumberof combinationsof a finitenumberof centersof forcewill be finite.39

This howeveris not a completeargument;in factit is onlya beginning.

That thereare no degreesof interactiondoes not implythatthereis not

38

39

p.

as faras I know.

i8i. But he does not returnto thisthemein laterwritings,

See e.g. KGW V/z,p. 432.

M. C. Sterling,"RecentDiscussionsof EternalRecurrence:Some CriticalComments,"

NietzscheStudien6 (1977): z65.

432

ROBIN

SMALL

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

thatthisis thecase. He assumestoo thatanyrelationbetweencentersof

forcemustbe a symmetrical

one. Hence hisstatement:"Accordingto this,

overand above their

therewould be no otherstatesoftheseforce-centers

beingeithercombinedor not combined."Such assumptionsenable his

argumentto proceedto its conclusion,but theirunexplainedstatusalso

castsitsplausibilityintosome doubt. In therestof thisdiscussion,I will

offersome suggestionswhich may provide assistancein approaching

theseunansweredquestions.

Nietzschedoes giveus some clues as to thekindsof relationsbetween

centersof forcewhichconstitutea particularcombination.In generalhe

calls them'power-relationships'.40

It appears thata power-relationship

is that"thestronger

is asymmetrical.

Whathappensin suchan interaction

becomes masterof the weaker,in so faras the lattercannot assertits

degreeof independence."4'In otherwords,therelationis one ofthecontrolor dominationof one forceby another.Severalfeaturesof thisconrelaceptcan be statedreadilyenough:forinstance,thatit is a transitive

tion,or thatwhereasa forcecan controlmorethanone otherforce,one

forcecannotbe controlledbymorethanone force.Suchpointsalso open

up the possibilityof indirectas well as directrelationsbetweenforces,

how Nietzschecan holdthateverywhichwould helpus inunderstanding

else.

thingis somehowrelatedto everything

of space in

One interesting

questionhere is: what is the significance

Nietzschestatesone important

fact:thateveryforce

power-relationships?

has a certainrange.Justas we see thingsonlywithina certainhorizon,so

"In thesame

too all our sensesare activeonlywithinparticularlimits.42

and only

way,everyforcehas itssphere;itactsonlyso farand so strongly

a

not

of

limitation."43

on thisand that, on anything

Similarly

else, sphere

Nietzschewrites,"Evenin thedomainoftheinorganican atomofforceis

Withoutthis limitation,he

concernedonly with its neighborhood."44

in one respect,and thatwould be

claims,a forcewould be indeterminate

somethingof an absurdity.Nietzschedoes not howeversay thatthereis

any otherrole of space in theinteractionof forces.That is: he does not

suggestthattherelationofcontrolor powervariesin degreeas a continuous functionof distance.This beingthe case, the argumentconcerning

space used by Boscovichis one which would not apply to Nietzsche's

40

KGWV/z,P. 224 and 259, VII/3,P. 387 andVIII/i,p. 133 (TheWillto Power,Sect.

631).

4I

42

43

44

The Dawn, Sect. 117.

KGWV/i,p. 642.

KGWVII/3,P. 284 (TheWillto Power,Sect.637).

BOSCOVICH

CONTRA NIETZSCHE

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

433

account.

The point is incidentallyclosely linked with Nietzsche's denial of

infinite

space. He writesthat"Only on thefalseassumptionof an infinite

space, in whichforceevaporates,so to speak,is thefinalstatean unproductive, dead one."h45 I take it that what Nietzsche means by

'evaporation'is a situationin whicheveryforcepasses out oftherangeof

everyotherforce.If forceswere arrangedand rearrangedat random

withinan infinite

space, theoccurrenceof thissituationat some timeor

otherwould be veryprobable.But in thatcase therewould be no more

interactionbetweenforces,and a 'finalstate' would resultof the kind

whichNietzschetakesto be impossibleforreasonsexpressedin a differentargument:"If an equilibriumofforcehad beenreachedat anytimeat

all, it would stillexist:thusithas nevercome about. The presentstateof

thingscontradictsthe assumption."46

I now turnagain to Nietzsche'sdescriptionof a power-relationship

as

one in which "the strongerbecomesmasterof theweaker." The words

stronger'and 'weaker' here do not referto the quantitiesof forcecontained on each side, for Nietzsche emphasizesthat a small forcecan

'becomemaster'ofa muchlargerforce.To understandwhathe meanswe

mustnotethedistinction

betweentwo different

kindsof force,or rather

two different

formswhichanyparticularforcecan take.Nietzschespeaks

of 'latentforce'and 'livingforce',followingtheterminology

of contemporarywriterssuch as RobertMayer.47When a force'becomes master'

of anotherforce,it controlsthetendencyof thisforceto assumeone or

otherof theseforms.That is: itdetermines

whethera latentforceremains

as itis or turnsintoa livingforce,and whethera livingforceremainsa living forceor becomesa latentforce.In the modernterminology

used in

Danto's example,thesealterationsare the transformation

of potential

energyintokineticenergyand viceversa.More generally,

then,we can say

thatthestrength

of a forcelies in itspowerovertheaccumulationor the

discharge(Ausl6sung)of otherforces.48Nietzschealso makes the dis-

4

4

48

space would renderwhatI call 'all-or-noneinteraction'muchlessplausible."Art.cit.,p.

z66. This seemsan arbitrary

In theexampleprovidedbyBoscovich,in which

statement.

certainlettersare arrangedalong a line,thefiniteor infinite

lengthof thelinemakesno

difference

to therelationsbetweentheletters.Yet theseare 'all-or-none'relationsin the

sensethattheydo not obtainto thisor thatdegree.Whyshouldextendingthisto three

dimensionsmake a difference?

KGW V/z,p. 432.

R. B. Lindsay,JuliusRobert Mayer: Prophet of Energy(Oxford: PergamonPress,

'973).

KGWV/z,pp-349-5I,

434

390-9i

and439-40.

ROBIN SMALL

All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

out thatpeople oftenmistakeone fortheother:"One has mistakenthe

helmsmanfor the steam."49They suppose that 'more power' implies

itis theeconomicaluse offorcewhichis the

'moreforce'.On thecontrary,

The directingforce which

criterionof power in such interactions.5"

expends as littleas possible of its own force,like the helmsmanwho

directsthe course of a ship with the touch of a hand, has the most

power.5'The idea thatthiskindof cause has to be equal to its effectis

simplya fallacy,based on the assumptionthateverycause is a driving

force.

This brief sketch allows us to see that Nietzsche's idea of

'combinations'of centersof forcesinvolvesrelationswhich are not as

simpleas one mightat firstthink.Severalformsof forcehave been mentioned,suchas thelatentand 'living'forms;and one mightadd theother

distinctionsbetweenheat, motion,electricity

and so on, whichwould

make thetotalpicturemorecomplicated.The transformations

of forces

are theirinteractions

are of variouskinds,and so too therefore

and combinations.Yet as far as our presentdiscussionis concerned,the main

questionis justwhetherthereare onlya finitenumberof ways forsuch

combinationsto be formed.Nothingwe have said rulesthisout. The distinctionbetweenseveralkinds of controlexercisedby one forceover

anotherdoes notimplythatthereare degreesofthisrelation.We can concludethatthereis as yetno reasonto regardBoscovich'ssecondobjection

as a refutation

ofNietzsche'stheoryofeternalrecurrence.

The mainvalue

of his arguments,and of those recentargumentwhichhave proceeded

along similarpaths,is thattheyforceus to look more closelyinto the

structure

of thisremarkabledoctrine.

4 TheGayScience,

Sect.36o.

50

KGWVIII/z,p. zoi (TheWillto Power,Sect.639), and VIII/3,p. 53 (The Willto

Power, Sect. 689). For a different

use of this 'principleof economy',see R. Small,

"Nietzsche'sGod", PhilosophyToday z6 (i98z): pp. 48-49.

It shouldbe notedthatnothingat all is said in thisdiscussionabout thewill to power,

thatis, about the driveto gain more and morepower. This is anothertopic,and one

whichrequiresa different

approachfromthekindfollowedhere.I mentionithereonlyto

preventconfusion.

5I

BOSCOVICH

CONTRA NIETZSCHE

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435

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