The Journal of Nietzsche Studies 25 (2003) 95-100
[Access article in PDF]
Wolfgang Müller-Lauter. Nietzsche: His Philosophy of Contradictions and the Contradictions of His Philosophy [Nietzsche: Seine Philosophie der Gegensätze und die Gegensätze Seiner Philosophie]. Trans. David J. Parent. 246 pp. plus foreword by Richard Schacht and preface by the author. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999. Paperback. 0-252-06758-4. £20.85.
Wolfgang Müller-Lauter's Nietzsche: Seine Philosophie der Gegensätze und die Gegensätze Seiner Philosophie, first published in 1971, played a crucial role in the development of Nietzsche studies in Germany but has rarely been discussed in detail by English-language commentators. 1 It presents an interpretation of Nietzsche that is explicitly opposed to those that were prominent in Germany in the 1960s, particularly those of Heidegger, Jaspers, and Löwith. Müller-Lauter's claim is that these interpretations fail to recognize the philosophical significance of the insoluble [End Page 95] contradictions that are manifested in Nietzsche's statements about the world. These interpretations instead marginalize Nietzsche's contradictions by attributing a noncontradictory meaning to him and identifying as inessential or accidental those statements that contradict this meaning (1-3). For Müller-Lauter, these contradictions rather reflect a systematic "philosophy of contradictions," according to which contradiction is "actual," "real," or "immanent" to things in the world. Such non-self-identical things are, therefore, not comprehensible under the law of noncontradiction (5, 7-11).
In the first chapter, Müller-Lauter endeavors to show that Nietzsche articulates this contradictory world as a system of forces or "wills to power." A force, as a "will to power," is understood to exist in an antagonistic relation to all other forces. This antagonism over power is, for Müller-Lauter, the single essential quality of force, in a system otherwise comprised merely of quantitative differences in forces' power. More than this, however, he maintains that a force is, for Nietzsche, constituted by its antagonistic relation to other forces, by its particular antagonistic state in the system of forces. This constitution by antagonistic relations explains, Müller-Lauter maintains, why Nietzsche holds that things in the world are constituted by contradiction, or by contradictory features, and that the notion of "a" self-identical thing or force is problematic. Nietzsche's descriptions of forces as "wills" or other apparently isolable, self-identical entities or agents ("dynamic quanta," "drives," "impulses"), as entities that might be thought to be distinguishable from the power they "have" or "pursue" or from the events they determine, therefore reflect merely the restrictions the human intellect and its positing of self-identical things. According to Müller-Lauter, Nietzsche's philosophical enterprise is always to reduce the apparent unity of any thing, whether organic or inorganic, animal or human, to "a unity of organisation and cooperation [that] is formed and constantly transformed only by the multiply gradated antagonism of the many" (11-22). 2
In the following chapters, Müller-Lauter argues that Nietzsche's accounts of history, nihilism, morality, Christianity, truth, the Übermensch, and the eternal recurrence, besides manifesting certain contradictions of their own, all rest upon this systematic account of the essential contradictoriness of the world. Thus, in the second chapter, Nietzsche is understood to describe history as a "continuum of becoming," exclusive of mechanical causation, teleology, and unified agency, a history merely of forces and their organization and cooperation. It is in this context that Müller-Lauter interprets Nietzsche's concern with the modern "disintegration [disgregation]" of the human individual. On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life is interpreted as explaining this disintegration in terms of fictions (of self-identical, responsible agents and enduring values) that are necessary for the maintenance of the human organization of forces, but that have been undermined by the modern recognition of historical becoming (23-30). Müller-Lauter claims, however, that after Thus Spoke Zarathustra Nietzsche instead explains the disintegration of the human organization in terms of the replacement of an original, "strong," "healthy," and "natural" form of organization...