Nihilism In Nietzsche; A Critical Evaluation Of Nigerian Situation

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

Nihilism In Nietzsche; A Critical Evaluation Of Nigerian Situation

Table Of Contents

  • Title
  • Certification
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgement
  • Table of Contents  v

Chapter One

General Introduction

  • 1.1 Introduction
  • 1.2 Nietzsche’s biography
  • 1.2 Statement of the problem
  • 1.3 Purpose of the study
  • 1.4 Scope of the study
  • 1.5 Methodology

Chapter Two

The Concept of Nihilism

  • 2.1 Notion of nihilism
  • 2.2 Nihilism in the history of thought
  • 2.3 Kinds of Nihilism

Chapter Three

Nihilsm in Nietzsche

  • 3.1 Preliminary remark
  • 3.2 Background of Nietzschean nihilism
  • 3.3 God is dead; Nietzsche’s nihilistic thought
  • 3.4 Implication of Nietzsche’s nihilism

Chapter Four

Exposition oOf Nigerian Situation

  • 4.1 Preliminary remark
  • 4.2 Moral nihilism
  • 4.3 Religious nihilism
  • 4.4 Educational nihilism
  • 4.5 Economic nihilism
  • 4.6 Political nihilism

Chapter Five

Critical Evaluation and Conclusion

  • 5.1 Evaluation 57
  • 5.2 Conclusion 62
  • Bibliography 63

Chapter One

General Introduction

1.1 Introduction

In the history of thought, Nietzsche occupies a fundamental position especially in the contemporary era. His ideas and postulations are not only thought provoking but brain storming; not so much because of his originality but for daring the ‘undared’. In the light of this, Copleston confirmed: “For whatever one may think about Nietzsche’s ideas, one cannot question his vast reputation and the power of his ideas to act like a potent wine in the minds of a good many people”.1 Nietzsche’s fame is not busted by his postulations of the Superman, Eternal Return, Transvaluation of Values and not even the Will to Power.

The landmark that makes him remembered today is his famous nihilistic acclamation ‘God is dead!’ Nietzsche identified this calamity with European nihilism. The European culture, once a religious culture, had become religionless. However, since this culture was built on the foundation of the Christian religion, the death of God in the hearts of the 19th century European meant the collapse of the foundation of their culture, moral values, tradition, and this was for Nietzsche a tragedy. To buttress this Omoregbe opined: “Nietzsche foresaw and predicted in a prophetic way that Europe was heading for a period of gloom and eclipse, a period of instability, aimlessness, emptiness and darknes”.2 Furthermore, in his magnum opus ‘The Will To Power’ Nietzsche wrote:

What I relate is the history of the two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism…for sometime now, our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade: restless, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end, that no longer reflects, that is afraid to reflect.3

With regard to Nigerian situation, there is no gainsaying the fact that Nietzschean nihilistic principles have been directly translated into Nigerian experience. Nigerian situation is that whereby the concept of God has become a dead concept. This is so because God is dead in the hearts of Nigerians. Consequently everything is permitted; nothing is meaningful and nothing works, no central objective and rallying point. Morality is thrown to dogs and meaning goes with it. This explains why there are crisis, violence, lawlessness, assassination, armed robbery, embezzlement, injustice, anarchy and chaos in Nigerian society and this without mincing words or exaggeration is what I identified as Nigeria in nihilism. However to explore Nigerian nihilism with clarity and precision, and to bring it to limelight; moral nihilism, religious nihilism, educational nihilism, economic nihilism and political nihilism, remains the focal point of this memoir. Hence, what does Nietzsche mean by nihilism? What are the consequences and implications? And how do we evaluate Nietzschean nihilism with regard to Nigerian situation?

This project is divided into five chapters. Chapter one introduces the whole frame of the study with the general introduction and methodology. It further states the problem, the purpose of the study and the scope of the study. Chapter two focuses on definition of the term nihilism and traces its historical account in the history of thought, which is literature review. Chapter three centres on nihilism in Nietzsche where we shall see what he meant by nihilism and its implication. The exposition of Nigerian situation where we shall witness the influence of Nietzschean nihilism in Nigerian society is the proper locus of chapter four. Chapter five takes care of evaluation and conclusion. It is this final chapter that bears my opinion concerning the topic.

1.2 Nietzsche’S Biography

Fredrick Wilhelm Nietzsche was born in October 15th 1844 at Rocken in Prussian Saxony (present day Germany), into a family where his father and grandfather were Lutheran pastors. When Nietzsche was barely five years, his father died. Consequently, he was brought up at Naumburg in the feminine company of his mother, sister, grandmother and two aunts. Between 1854 and 1864 he studied at Pforta. There, his admiration for Greek thought was ignited, as he was particularly attracted to the Greeks gods, writing of Plato, Aristotle and Aeschylus. In October 1864, Nietzsche went to the University of Bonn. Later that year he moved to Leipzig, to further his philosophical studies under Ritsch. During his stay in Leipzig, Friedrich gradually abandoned Christianity, occupying his mind with atheism of Schopenhauer. As at 1869, Friedrich Nietzsche was appointed professor at Basel at the age of 24 years.

In the years between 1869 and 1889, Nietzsche had published a lot of works including ‘The Dawn of Day’, ‘Joyful Wisdom’, ‘The Birth of Tragedy’, ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ and ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’, etc. From his multiple works, he was able to posit ideas of the Superman; The Will to Power, Eternal Return, and God is Dead etc. As at 1888, with the publication of the Antichrist and Ecce Homo, clear signs of mental disorder manifested in Nietzsche. Though he was hospitalised in January 1889, he never recovered fully from the insanity till the end of his life. He died on August 25th 1900.

1.3 Statement Of The Problem.

We live in the era when men are more concerned with power, pleasure, wealth and connection than character formation. An era when Hobbesian theory of man being wolf to man, the Machiavellian principle of might is right, and the Darwinian evolutionism of survival of the fittest are not only accepted but also cherished and adopted as the guiding principle in human relation. Today, what matters is how successful one is, with little or no regard to the means of the attainment of that success thus instead of the means justifying the end, the reverse is the case. Thus honesty is disregarded, indolence is extolled, probity is derided, and ostentation is paraded. Hence, there is apparent disregard of rule of law. Crime is committed with impunity. Therefore, there is loss of order and the society is chaotic.

This is not unconnected with Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche’s nihilistic proclamation. Having seen the meaninglessness, nothingness and absurdity of Judeo/Christian belief in God, Nietzsche announced to the world his shocking discovery that “God is dead”.4 He does not simply say that God does not exist, but that God is dead. What a catastrophe? Strengthening this, Omoregbe opined that: “What formerly gave meaning and sense of direction to human existence is no longer there. Men are now left simply with nothing, with emptiness and a meaningless existence”.5 Thus, the nothingness and nihilism of human existence, according to Nietzsche is the consequences of the death of God. It is this apparent lack of meaning and nihilism is what we are experiencing in Nigeria today. The situation in Nigeria has grown worse that she is “being described in international circles as the second most corrupt country in the world”6, by The Transparency International. It is to elicit this cankerworm or virus and to quarantine it that is the major problem of which this research sets out to resolve.

1.4 The Purpose Of The Study

Among philosophers, the term ‘nihilism’ is mostly associated with Nietzsche. Thus, the sole aim or purpose of this project is to make clear what Nietzsche meant by nihilism and to see how far this has affected the situation in Nigeria.

1.5 The Scope Of The Study

Even though Nietzsche said many things, this study is limited to his idea of death of God, from which Nietzsche’s nihilism is interpreted. Nigerian situation is also a follow up to Nietzsche’s nihilistic doctrine.

1.6 Methodology

This work is purely expository, interpretative and evaluative. Radically, Nietzsche’s dictum ‘God is dead’ is exposed as it were, which forms the base from which his nihilism is interpreted. This is followed by critical evaluation of Nigerian situation using Nietzsche’s nihilism as guideline.

Chapter Five

4.0 Critical Evaluation and Conclusion

4.1 Evaluation

While criticizing Nietzsche, one must not lose sight of his wonderful achievements and contributions to humanity especially in field of psychology and philosophy of existentialism. His idea of radical, creative, strong and independent personality led to the wonderful achievements in science and technology. Nietzsche’s prophetic insight cannot be overlooked. He prophesied that power politics and vicious wars were in store for the future of which the new age of terrorism and barbarism and the two world wars is a vindication.

Furthermore, there is no doubt that Nietzsche is a genius whose ingenuity manifested in his unique development of his line of thought irrespective of the consequences and implications. He is enigmatic and unpredictable thinker whose ideas was more of poetic and prophetic but undiluted.

Again, his courage is unparalleled, as no philosopher before and after him has taken atheism seriously as to announce the death of God. By so doing, Nietzsche brought atheism to the logical conclusion of nihilism.
Inasmuch as people tend to understand nihilism as a negative philosophy, there is something in nihilism, that man of integrity and rationality cannot overlook. In the reality of the world, despair and frustration is inevitable in extreme situations. Every faith and believe must explore the possibility of nothingness. No philosophy and no faith may arrogate to itself a certainty on which objective reliance can be placed. Since faith is a risk, it must be constantly aware of the nihilistic threat, lest it succumb to the temptation of pride, to which it so often has succumbed when it has become ossified.

Nevertheless, in the words of Bertrand Russell, “is there any knowledge so certain that no reasonable man could doubt it?”1 Therefore, Nietzsche’s divination of nihilism is not without shortcomings. He is criticized based on the following five points – ‘God is dead’ is a misnomer, his background of modern and enlightenment age, ethical relativism, Nietzsche’s personality crises, and inherent contradiction in his philosophy.

By declaring God dead, Nietzsche had destroyed all forms of meaning and opted for nihilism. However, the idea of God’s demise is quite incoherent and illogical. God as a necessary and self-subsistent Being cannot be thought not to be let alone dying. Mortality is not one of his properties or possibilities. Thus, nihilism is flop since its fundament ‘God is dead’ is a misnomer.

Furthermore, to understand why Nietzsche said what he said, reference must have to be made to his background and prejudice. Nietzsche belongs to the epoch of modern philosophy and enlightenment age. During this era, the medieval view of the world as a hierarchical order of beings created and governed by God, was supplanted by the mechanistic picture of the world as a vast machine that without purpose or will. Science took precedence over spirituality, and the physical world received more attention than the world to come. The aim of human life was no longer conceived as a preparation for salvation in the next world, but rather as the satisfaction of people’s natural desires. Political institutions and ethical principles ceased to be regarded as reflections of divine command and come to be seen as practical devices created by humans. Man became the lord and master of himself and the world. Nietzsche radically brought the tenets of this age to its finality. Thus, when Nietzsche was propounding his philosophy of nihilism, he was speaking from his background. As such, nihilism is watered down because it is his prejudice.

Besides, nihilism is untenable arguing from the perspective of ethical relativism. Undoubtedly, morality is a part of culture and as such, differs from culture to culture. It is a matter for every society to decide for itself. Thus, it can vary from one society to another, that is, what morality spells out in one place or age may be quite different from what the same morality may ordain in another place and age. Generalizing nihilism as the wrath of humanity is thus inconsequential.

Moreover, Nietzsche’s life is full of crises. He is a son of a Lutheran pastor, yet he opted for atheism and nihilism. He hated women because the woman he intended to marry disappointed him. For him, women are big fools, good for nothing except for recreational activities and as property by men. He was accredited to have said ‘if thou goesth to a woman, forget not thy whip’. More so, he was devastated by ill health and resigned his chair of professor ship at University Basel in 1879 on health reasons. He became insane for eleven years before his death. From the excursion and incursion into Nietzsche’s personality crises we can understand his concept of superman as a solace to his crises. Superman for him is a human figure who would take the place of God. Nietzsche sees himself more or less as this superman when he said, “superman is all that ailing, lonely, tormented, neglected, Heir Professor Dr. Friedrich Nietzsche would like to be”.2 His conception of nihilism is a

Lastly, Nietzsche’s philosophy is full of contradictions. For instance, he is an ethical relativist who rejected the notion that there is universal and absolute system of morality that is applicable to everyone. For him, people are different and to conceive morality in universal terms is to disregard the basic differences between individuals. Therefore, it is unrealistic to assume that there is only one kind of human nature, whose direction can be prescribed by one set of rules. On the other hand, he is an ethical universalist who strongly affirms that there is one basic instinct that characterizes human nature, and that is ‘the will to power’. The notion of nihilism that is inherent in the will to power is unjustifiable because of this obvious contradiction.

5.2 Conclusion

Life is meaningful and cannot be thought otherwise. For Nietzsche to claim that nihilism must necessarily result from the death of God is untenable because God as a necessary being cannot be thought not to be let alone dying. However, is meaning only identifiable with God? If yes, what of those who do not believe in God, yet they live meaningful lives? Therefore, the philosophy of nothingness is a flop. Life is very meaningful as to be thought meaningless.

Finally, concerning Nigerian situation, I submit that people cannot live together peacefully in a country of abject poverty. People cannot live together peacefully where religious and ethnic differences prevail and pose constant threat to lives and properties. Again, people cannot live in peace in a democracy where oppositionists are either witch hunted or silenced for life. Following Martin Luther King Junior, I enjoin on Nigeria to know that “we are held together by a single garment of oneness, tied together by a single network of mutuality, what affects one directly affects the other … injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.3

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