Ambivalence, the Self, and Ambivalence about the Self in Nietzsche

This is a draft I wrote a couple years ago but haven’t yet submitted for publication.  As always, comments, objections, questions, etc. are welcome.


Desire is the very essence of man.

~ Spinoza (Ethics III.D1)


Nietzsche seems ambivalent about the existence of the self.  Sometimes he affirms it, but just as often he denies it.  In this paper, I argue that Nietzsche has a positive theory of the self that diverges from traditional views so significantly that he can consistently affirm the self as he conceives it while denying the self as traditionally conceived.  In particular, the Nietzschean self is characterized not by unity, consciousness, knowledge, and rationality, but by plurality, diversity, non-consciousness, and desire.  On his view, a state belongs to oneself in a minimal way if it inheres in one’s body, but to truly possess a state one must endorse it with a higher-order desire.  If one is ambivalent in virtue of bodily possessing a state while desiring to be rid of it, one in a way both possesses and does not possess that state.  In addition, being a self at all on Nietzsche’s view is not an all-or-nothing matter; it admits of degrees.  Selves are individuated by their bodies, but one is more a self in direct proportion to one’s wholeheartedness and lack of ambivalence.

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