Tuesday, January 29, 2013

An Existential Greek? Nietzsche and Anaximander

"Where the source of things is, to that place they must also pass away, according to necessity, for they must pay penance and be judged for their injustices, in accordance with the ordinance of time." --Anaximander

Nietzsche, in his engaging and dramatic way, interprets this quote of Anaximander's as an expression of existentialism. While today the existentialist movement is considered a small part of the history of philosophy (and also manages to make its way into quite a few comic strips), Nietzsche describes it as the second great step of the Greeks toward a philosophical tradition. Beginning with Thales, who asserted that everything was water and, in effect, that all is one, Anaximander took the next big step by putting Thales philosophy in a human context. Sure, all is one; but if, as Anaximander asserts, the "one" is not water but an indefinite and infinite substance, then the question of how human beings can be becomes a truly perplexing one. After all, "that which truly is...cannot possess definite characteristics, or it would come-to-be and pass away..." (Nietzsche 47). As such, human beings cannot be part of the indefinite, infinite substance, because they have definitive qualities that make them susceptible to passing away, something that sets them apart from the fundamental principle.

I haven't yet decided whether or not I agree with Nietzche. It is certainly possible for people to have had an existential crisis before the emergence of the philosophical movement known as existentialism. However, Nietzsche posits that Anaximander's philosophy itself was existential, a different claim altogether. The claim that human beings continue to linger in existence is because of their guilt for treading on the ground of the fundamental principle is certainly an existential position, but it's unknown whether Anaximander himself would agree with this interpretation. I'll have to think on the position more before I make any decisions. Hmm.....

Fun question for readers.....based on the reading, do you think that Anaximander has been presented as a step toward the Overman? I have my own opinion on this, but I'm interested to know what you all think.

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