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The Journal of Nietzsche Studies 31 (2006) 42-60

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Determining One's Fate:

A Delineation of Nietzshe's Conception of Free Will

Ghent University
Willing liberates!—thus I teach you f[reedom] o[f the] w[ill]
KSA 10.371


Nietzsche researchers and historians of philosophy alike rarely pay attention to the philosopher's account of the problem of determinism and free will.1 In like manner, in the research on determinism and free will, Nietzsche's view on the topic is seldom mentioned, let alone analyzed. Although the passages in which Nietzsche discusses the issue explicitly are not numerous, his ideas are original. At face value, though, his use of the notion of free will is inconsistent: on the one hand, he rejects free will as the ultimate cause of human action; on the other hand, he attributes a positive connotation to freedom of the will. The aim of this essay is to pinpoint and investigate both the positive and negative statements on free will and to disentangle Nietzsche's ambivalence on this topic.

The theoretical frame and structure of the paper are inspired by the contemporary debate in analytical philosophy on the problem of determinism and free will. The concept of free will is typically opposed to the idea of determinism. The pivotal question in the historical and contemporary discussion boils down to the following: Are humans endowed with a free will, which enables them to act according to their own choices and purposes, independently of any external factor, and are they therefore fully responsible for the acts they commit? Or are humans rather determined, implying that they do not bear ultimate responsibility for their actions? In the current discussion on determinism and free will, two tendencies can be identified: compatibilism and incompatibilism. Incompatibilists consider free will and determinism incongruous with each other. Within incompatibilism one can distinguish between two opposing views, depending on whether free will or determinism is accepted as the fundamental principle. Libertarians refute the supposition that humans are in any way determined and establish theories in favor of the human capacity to choose and act freely, while "diehard determinists" or no-freedom theorists, by contrast, assert [End Page 42] that humans are entirely conditioned and have no free will at all at their disposal. Compatibilists, on the other hand, contend that freedom in every significant sense, including free will, is coexistent with determinism (McFee 2000, 53–67; Kane 1996, 13–16).2

In this essay, I will first discuss and contextualize Nietzsche's negative perception of free will. Second, I will treat Nietzsche's account of determinism. And finally, I will analyze the philosopher's positive statements on free will and examine his position toward the problem of determinism and free will. To this end, I will study in detail two juvenile essays (BAW 2:54–62) in which Nietzsche deals with and provides a solution for the problem of fate and free will. These essays are crucial for understanding Nietzsche's positive account of free will and thereby occupy a key position in my essay.

1. Nietzsche's Dismissal of the Libertarian Views

In most of the texts that deal explicitly with the free will issue, Nietzsche repudiates the notion of a free will (KSA 2.103–6; KSA 6.90; KSA 6.95). One major argument against the idea of free will is that the conception of the agent as causa sui (cause of itself) is self-contradicting (KSA 5.35). For if human actions result from choices, which in turn emanate from the will, and, supposing that the will is determined by human nature, human actions are not caused by the agent as such, but rather are conditioned by the way the agent is (Leiter 2001, 292–93).

Free will is generally considered a necessary condition for granting humans moral responsibility. Humans are held to be morally responsible for actions based on free choice (intentional, voluntary, or deliberate actions), while they are not considered morally accountable for happenings or events that occur without...


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