Dancing in Chains: A History of Friedrich Nietzsche's Physiological Relativism
Mitchell, Benjamin David
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This study examines the historical development of Friedrich Nietzsches physiological relativism through a reading of his private and published works as well as several of the periodicals and scientific popularizations with which he was familiar. Nietzsches early interest in the relationship between genius and physiology was influenced by Arthur Schopenhauers insistence that geniuses were able to intuitively understand the objective world because of their unique physiological organization. However, the more physiology Nietzsche encountered the more doubts he had about Schopenhauers philosophical claims and Richard Wagners re-articulation of them. Nietzsches rejection of Schopenhauer and Wagner can be seen in his changing assessment of the limits of knowledge and the meaning of genius, of physiological, moral, and psychological vivisection, and how he came to see a close relationship between cruelty, necessity, and knowledge. Nietzsches understanding of life as a process of dynamic self-regulation featured many similarities with other physiological thinkers of his age including Claude Bernard and his idea of the milieu intrieur and Hermann von Helmholtzs account of the active nature of perception. Nietzsches interest in educational reform, experimentation, and self-fashioning was a further development of his exploration of how organisms and individuals achieved a state of relative freedom and independence through their interdependence from their physical and cultural environments. His interest in the intersection of physiology, aesthetics, and epistemology led him to define meaningful freedom and creativity in terms of how individuals related to their own limitations and crafted new limitations for themselves. Even basic physiological perceptions were creative, for just as perceptions shaped ideas and experiences, ideas and experiences shaped perceptions. Nietzsches understanding of creativity within limits was the compliment of his idea of how an individuals independence was achieved through more refined forms of interdependence with their physical, perceptual, cultural, and cosmic environments. The bermensch was the culmination of this process. Just as organisms and individuals achieved states of relative independence through interdependence with their environments, the bermenschs independence was achieved through how they tamed contingency by assimilating the cosmos in its entirety by willing the eternal return of the same.