UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Cruelty and you : the discipline of great suffering in Nietzsche's philosophy of agency Levesque, Marc


The concept of cruelty in Nietzsche’s thought does not in actuality speak to malice or violence, rather it refers to a disposition to self and world that we must adopt in order to most effectively organize our capacities of agency. Nietzsche locates our profound need to situate ourselves interpretatively against a world characterized by meaninglessness as the source of agency, in so doing, we provide a build a frame within which our worldly actions can be infused with meaning, and thereby derive a sense of ontological security. Contemporary interpretations, Nietzsche charges, actually frustrate our meaningful exercise of agency insofar as the sense of security they engender is the product of interpretative avoidance of, rather than engagement with, the ‘real’ world, marked as it is by the presence of flux, change, death, and suffering. Against these interpretations, Nietzsche asserts that we must be cruel to ourselves, adopting more realistic accounts of the world, and deriving our certainty from an ethic of challenge whereby we attempt to assert ourselves against the world. By recognizing constraint as the chief condition for freedom, Nietzsche suggests that we can adopt an attitude towards ourselves and the world characterized by self-discipline. In so doing, we can situate the products of our interpretive activity as the grounds for all value, and work to hold ourselves accountable to self-imposed standards that most permit the confluence of self-certainty in, and creative engagement with, the world. Such an interpretation offers greater purchase on contemporary political and ethical concerns than readings of Nietzsche as an aristocratic radicalist, valuing the creation of higher men at the expense of the great majority of mankind. Instead, Nietzsche in this reading expresses a deep concern for creating better people in general. In this regard, Nietzsche’s philosophy of agency, and its close relationship to cruelty, can be deployed to interrogate contemporary interpretations and ethical commitments that may be hindering our ability as a culture to promote the meaningful self-experience of agency, and thus, enjoy both freedom and autonomy in Nietzsche’s terms.

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