Whitehead and Nietzsche: Overcoming the Evil of Time
by Strachan Donnelley
Strachan Donnelley is presently teaching in the Seminar College at the New School of Social Research, New York, NY. The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 1-14, Vol. 12, Number 1, Spring, 1982. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Whitehead and Nietzsche, indefatigable process philosophers, march to decidedly different philosophic drums. Yet at a striking junction, they cross paths. Both find human life and the temporal world of becoming plagued by an ultimate evil that is deeply involved with the nature of time -- in particular, with the essential passage of time and the temporal dimension of the past. Time threatens to devour human significance and the humanly good life.
But here the similarities end. At this crossroads, Whitehead and Nietzsche meet face to face, locked in a fundamental quarrel over the particular evil of time’s passage. For Whitehead, temporal process inevitably destroys worldly achievements. The temporal advance of the universe militates against any lasting permanence, against any realm of final, worldly being (PR 340/ 517). The destruction of a realm of permanence or being is precisely the evil of becoming and process, an evil which Whitehead refuses to accept as final. It must be overcome. Yet this evil is exactly what Nietzsche gladly embraces and calls for. Becoming must be rescued from the permanent obstacle of being, not a realm of being from the evergrinding jaws of becoming. The final problem of time is precisely that it does produce permanence, the stubborn past, which weigh too heavily on the worldly liveliness of human actors. This is the situation Nietzsche refuses to accept. A creative solution is required for overcoming the brute givenness of the past.
In this essay, I wish critically to examine these rival doctrines of the evil of time. This involves understanding Whitehead’s and Nietzsche’s conceptions of time within the context of their basic philosophic visions and, in particular, in relation to their interpretations of the nature of value and the good. Further, I examine their creative solutions to the problem of time, which embody their understanding of the finally good life, the culmination of their philosophic efforts. This twin investigation prompts final questions and reflections. Is time, properly understood, really an evil? Have Whitehead and Nietzsche adequately grasped the nature of the finally good life?
1. The Evil of Time: Whitehead
For Whitehead, time is no "empty container," essentially independent of the becoming process and concrete actualities which he claims fundamentally characterize the universe. It is no empty vessel within which the substantive world evolves. Rather, time is produced by the atomic, episodic actualities which together constitute and engender the universe, as it advances into novelty (PR 21/ 31, 65f./ 101ff.). Whitehead’s doctrine of actual occasions, which centrally involves the essential relatedness of these final concreta, is the key to understanding his conception of time.
Briefly, actual occasions are integral drops of experience which, in an episode of subjective immediacy, experientially gather the antecedent world into a novel, concrete unity (MT 205ff.). This experiencing is the immediate actual occasion itself At the conclusion of its immediacy, it becomes an object for superseding actualities. An actual occasion is an experiential episode in which final and efficient causation are essentially interwoven (PR 21/32). It arises out of a particular stage of the world through its ‘objectification’ or nonconscious ‘prehension’ of the systematically arrayed actualities in its past (PR 5lff/ 81ff.) The particular character or definiteness of these experiential bonds is finally determined by what novel creature the occasion "desires" to become (its ‘subjective aim’), given the real opportunities provided by that world (PR 88/ 135). Novelty is achieved through subjective response, the subject’s private reactions (‘subjective forms’) to given entities. This response determines how the world is prehensively appropriated into a complex unity and how the immediate actuality ‘concrescence’ into a final concretum (AI 226). Crucial to this episodic activity is the immanent content and character given by the definitely characterized world of past actualities and the novel forms of definiteness aimed at. The occasion’s particular concrescence is determined by the mating of these two sources of character.
Time is engendered in and by these concrete situations. The present is constituted by episodic immediacy. The past is constituted by former episodes of subjective activity, in their essential relatedness. The future is the anticipation of novel creative uprisings, as related to the present and the past.
This doctrine of the essential relation of time to self-constituting actualities strictly determines what the nature of time must be. By necessity, Whitehead must hold an epochal theory of time (PR 68/ 105). There is no nature at an instant, for the real present is an episode of activity. Secondly, there can be no universal, uniform flow of an "autonomous" time or any continuity of temporal becoming. There are many particular presents (some whose durations "overlap" one another), many particular pasts, many particular futures. Further, as a dependent and relative reality, time is essentially filled by the realized character of the advancing world. The past is always the world of settled actualities. The immediate present is the experiential entertainment of these realized characters, plus entertainment of the potential forms of immediate concrescence and the more or less proximate future. The entertainment of potential forms of definiteness is the reality of the future, relative to any immediate actuality. Still further, the past exists only in the present, as inherited experience, and the present exists by virtue of the past, which is its very basis. This means that as the universe episodically advances, time necessarily has a cumulative character. The ever-growing, character-filled past is experientially gathered into the crookedly advancing, cutting edge of present immediacy (PR 237/ 363).
These epochal and cumulative characters of time importantly figure in Whitehead’s interpretation of concrete values and the humanly good life. Values are realized in the episodic, complex situations which are actual occasions. A concrete value is an actual occasion and, as such, has essential reference to the temporally deep world and to causation, final and efficient (AI 227). In its atomic epoch of self-constitution, the occasion freely determines just how the already realized values of the antecedent world are to be causally efficacious in its novel concretion of experience (PR 54ff./ 85ff., 119/ 182). Immediate, individual value is the actuality’s unique subjective liveliness engendered in this concrescence (PR 339/515; MT 152). Creative activity and character are the warp and woof of concrete values. Specifically, the particular complex form of final subjective response centrally depends on the settled characters of antecedent experiencers. Their former emotional or feeling characters are more or less conformally repeated in the immediate occasion, modified only by the relevant, novel potentials of character aimed at by the subject (PR 162/246). This crucial immanence of the antecedent, temporally deep world is the cumulative character of time.
This cumulative character underlies further fundamentally important cosmic adventures: the engendering of world order; the fashioning of worldly societies of epochal occasions; the advent of biological organisms, human beings, and world-historical cultures (PR 88ff./ 136ff.). These adventures into novel realizations of value depend on the introduction, the emphasis, and the repetition of forms of definiteness or character in superseding actualities (PR 98/150,230/352). The cooperative activities provide for the realization and survival of ever more complex characters. Finally, there emerges a relatively stable, complexly charactered, and significantly ordered world which serves the immediate subjective intensity of those actual occasions that can experientially incorporate the world’s diverse riches. Such occasions are those that reign in the complexly structured, organic society that is a human being. The humanly good life is the immediately intense, novel enjoyment of an agent-filled world, plus creative implication in furthering the world’s novelty of character and significant order (PR 339ff./ 515ff.). This is the creation of human civilization, vibrant and cosmically significant, which in turn serves the lively depths of immediate experience (AI 362).
All of these evolving ventures depend on the cumulative character of time, whereby settled actualities are objectively immanent and causally efficacious in their future descendents. Yet despite this cosmological service, Whitehead judges time to be an ultimate evil. Evil infects its very nature on two counts. The epochal character of temporal becoming is itself an evil. As noted, the final goodness of existence is realized by and essentially involves an actuality’s immediate emotional liveliness (PR 338/ 514, 340/ 516). But such immediate goodness never lasts. The concrete, unique present, the episodic immediacy of a novel actuality, perishes with final concretion. Immediate subjects epochally arise and fall. Epochal time has the essential character of ‘perpetual perishing’ (PR 340/ 517).
Moreover, time’s cumulative character is seriously undercut by the epochal processes that constitute it. Immediacy involves objectification of the past, which, due to the demand for concrete unity of experience, necessarily means experiential elimination of incompatible characters realized in past actualities (PR 26/39,231/353). In the inexorable march of the evolving cosmos, this eventually and inevitably results in the past fading below distinctness of immediate, vivid experience, the past’s only mode of effective existence.
In sum, thanks to the rigors of the creative advance, actualities lose their immediacy and the experiential incorporation of their individual achievement in superseding actuality (PR 340/ 517). Time as perpetually perishing means the ruthless destruction of world subjects, character, and order in the service of novel subjects, character, and order.
Whitehead claims that the higher reaches of rational, human life refuse to accept this as the final, culminating fact (PR 340/ 516). There is the insistent intimation of an order where both immediacy and character are retained, where novelty and achieved order are not antagonistic, where life is not merely a transient enjoyment, transiently useful (PR 340/516). A finer balance of immediate subjects and the evolving world is required, where being and becoming are adequately merged. Here, the twin ultimates, permanence and flux, are finally conjoined and stand in mutual requirement (PR 338/ 513). The solution requires a permanence in fluency and fluency in permanence, the wedding of both novel immediacy and permanence of character. The solution essentially requires a transformation of times character, from ‘perpetual perishing’ into vital everlastingness, both immediate subjects and the world they constitute, the goodness of life and the world, essentially saved (PR 347/ 527).
Such a solution and transformation are impossible in our world, where the evil of epochal time reigns supreme. An extra-mundane actuality, a saving God, is needed -- a nonepisodic actuality, ever in living immediacy, who experientially gathers the advancing universe into its own expanding concreteness.
This is Whitehead’s theistic solution to the evil of time, which we will later examine in more detail. We first turn to the conceptions of time and evil in Nietzsche’s atheistic Thus Spoke Zarathustra.1
2. The Evil of Time
Nietzschean time is neither epochal nor cumulative. It is not essentially connected with or dependent upon causation, final or efficient. In short, it is not the production of cosmic becoming. Rather, time is more of an "empty container," an independent reality, providing the spacious room in which immediate becoming takes place. Becoming depends on time, not time on becoming. Nietzsche, understandably, still orbits in a Newtonian universe. Yet this has decisive significance for his doctrine of evil, and for his creative solution to evil.
Nietzsche’s time yawns from infinity to infinity. However, it has a certain inexorable, more or less uniform flow -- from the future, through the present, into the past. The universe is through and through a realm of becoming and thus essentially temporal in character, but it moves in the opposite direction. Becoming moves out of the past, into the present, towards the future. Although time provides room for becoming and opportunities for radically new beginnings, time and becoming, in their counter-movements, are potential antagonists. Given the nature of Nietzschean becoming, this antagonism inevitably breaks into the open. Time radically dogs the footsteps of becoming.
Nietzsche’s dominative concern is with the possibilities of human becoming. In the name of earthly life, he wages a frontal attack on any metaphysics of being and against being’s essential tool, reason. The ‘Being’ of reason stands opposed to earthly becoming and its dynamic agent, the protean will. In truth, at the bottom of all things is flux, impermanence, transience, and chance (TSZ 218). Being is the doctrine that "everything stands still," a fateful doctrine resting only on belief in philosophical and theological authorities, not on the nature of reality (TSZ 218f.). Lord Chance, the world’s oldest nobility, must be put back on the throne of metaphysics, with the consequent ascendency of innocence, accident, and wantonness (TSZ 186). Reality and concrete things are thus released from all servitude under purpose. There is no eternal will acting over and through things. There is no overarching rational design to the universe -- no eternal reason-spider and spider-web (TSZ 186). All things escape the clutches of cosmic lawfulness and necessity. The old gods, whether Spinoza’s Substance or Hegel’s Absolute Spirit, are banished. In sum, there is no finely ordered cosmos. Comedy triumphs over tragedy. The happy certainty of all things is that they prefer to dance on the feet of chance (TSZ 186).
The fundamental nature of becoming, and human life, is will to power. Life’s fundamental characteristic is the active, continual endeavor to overcome whatever stands in its way, including itself. Life is that which must overcome itself again and again; that which trust sacrifice itself for its own power and active exercise; that which must be struggle, becoming, goal, and conflict of goals, necessarily following crooked paths and creating beyond itself (TSZ 138). Life is a protean fountain of delight, in need of enmity, dying, and martyrdom, devoured only by a disgust which must be overcome in the pursuit and creation of its own immediate goodness (TSZ 120f.). It is not unfathomable, but merely changeable and untamed. It is not profound, faithful, eternal, or mysterious, but loved and praised only because of its activities, e.g., willing, desiring, and loving (TSZ 131f.).
With these themes of overcoming and creative sublimation, there emerges Nietzsche’s interpretation of man as creator, valuer, and conceiver. Man is the footsteps of life’s will to power (TSZ 138). Through man, life, as will to power, puts itself and its values on the river of becoming (TSZ 136). It creates "worlds." However, this is radically different from Whitehead’s understanding of man’s participation in world creation. With Nietzsche, man aboriginally and necessarily imposes his values (his ‘fors’ and ‘againsts’) and conceptions on reality. This is his way of overcoming. The world is "created" through conceiving and valuing -- the world as it appears to some world-historical people or individual. ‘Being’ is to bend and to accommodate itself to the subject’s will and to become subject to the mind as the mind’s own reflection and mirror (TSZ 136). Will to power, that fallen Hegelian, is to read and to honor itself in its own creation. Further, conceiving and valuing cannot be separated from each other or the basal willing, for the final necessary end is to conceive, i.e., to create, a human (or inhuman) world that man can revere (or creatively despise) (TSZ 136). The protean will, not reason, is behind our most basic world conceptions. All world views and world beliefs are expressions of will to power, the reflections of some ruling will at the moment of its ascendency (TSZ 137). Men either command such beliefs, are ruled by them or are both commanders-obeyers (TSZ 137).
This is decidedly not Whiteheadian. For Whitehead, values conceptions, and order are not radically created de novo and imposed on an amorphous whirlwind of becoming. The nonhuman world has values, order, and "conceptions" of its own, which we only creatively modify in the very act of being our human selves. We have both feet in an objective order of things. This is the fundamental message of the essential conjunction of final and efficient causation, the cumulative character of time, and the essential, reciprocal relation of subject and objectified world. We do not confront a radically alien world, for the "other," the real world as the foundation of experience, is ourselves. With Nietzsche, human actors threaten to become unhinged, internally isolated as they are from any objective basis in an orderly world, nonhuman or human (TSZ 234). This perhaps is the issue of the final independence of time from becoming, of the present as not essentially depending on the content of the past. Nevertheless, we are not cut loose from all moorings. Life as will to power remains an inescapable given. We necessarily have at least one foot in reality. And life harbors the possibility of discovering its true reality and goodness.
Nietzsche claims that modern man, through the machinations of will to power, has in fact become unhinged. He has lost his earth, the sense of his creative self, and his aboriginal innocence. Over the course of cultural evolution, due to an impotence at the heart of the will and to recurrent failures in ever-renewed struggles for ascendency, human will to power lost its good cheer and creatively turned against itself. In the very act of being itself, it developed a malevolent spirit (TSZ 162). It took revenge upon itself and the temporal realm of becoming in the only way it could -- through world creation and world valuation. Creative, potent wills to power were subdued by their impotent brethren through the malicious, if creative fashioning of tables of values (goods and evils) which denigrated the virtues of the earthly will and the value of temporal life in general (TSZ 119, 162). Life soured by impotence created superterrestrial gods, theologies, and metaphysics of being which place the value of existence "elsewhere" and ideologically rob man of his sense of power, creativity, and worth (TSZ 59, 110). In short, the spirit of gravity developed and conquered the human world -- that spirit which would have the earth and life heavy, hard to bear (TSZ 211), and which preaches a world of compulsion, need, consequence, purpose, divine or moral will, and good and evil (TSZ 215).
However, this cultural development did not merely result from historical contingencies and man’s all-too-human, quirky finitude. There is a radical impotence and certain necessity behind its genesis -- namely, will to power’s impotence before the march of time.
Life as will to power lives in the present and looks forward to the future, that empty, open horizon which it can creatively fashion through its own overcomings (TSZ 160). Yet time’s counter dynamics, its moving everything into the past, deeply affects the creative will. The will cannot create the past; it can only create the present and the future. It is impotent before the past, the brute given, the stubbornly there (TSZ 161). Moreover, immediate acts of willing inexorably move into the past to confront new acts with their impotence. Because of time, the will is necessarily a sufferer.
Evil is spawned in this relation of will to power to the essential passage of time. The realm of becoming, Whitehead notwithstanding, is itself innocent; intransigence and impermanence are facts to be celebrated or merely pitied (TSZ 216). It is the will that radically creates evil. It develops a spirit of revenge. Because it is powerless against the past, cannot will backwards and break time’s desire to move everything into the past, it becomes angry (TSZ 162). The impotent will takes revenge on those who do not feel a similar wrath and ill-temper, but who by necessity are also sufferers -- i.e., on creative, innocent, but necessarily finite wills to power. It does so by spiritualizing its revenge, by valuing all suffering as evil and a punishment. Spiritualized revenge is the final secret behind the conception of a static realm of being, that conception whose disguised intention is to damn the realm of becoming and willing itself. Time’s essential passage is valued cosmic justice and punishment, and the necessary need of willing as an eternal, unredeemable curse. Thus the malevolent will creatively produces the spirit of gravity and a great disgust at life, the world, and willing. It counsels a world-weariness and the cessation of willing (TSZ 162). Yet behind this final, nihilistic despair ultimately lies only the will’s antipathy to time and time’s ‘It was’.
This is the problem, according to Nietzsche, that the protean will, not reason, refuses to accept as final. And the solution must come from the finite will itself. Since all theisms are for Nietzsche spiritualized revenge, the will must learn how to affirm time and becoming as given an worldly reality. There can be no "other," saving realm. The will must learn to will backwards, to affirm time, and to redeem the past from malevolent valuation -- to claim that "I wanted or willed it thus," just the way it is (TSZ 163). This is the only way to redeem the will from disgust and revenge and to regain a primordial, creative innocence. However, the will can honestly will the past only if the past, exactly the way it is, is in the future, if it will come again, and if the will can creatively prepare the way for its return. In short, the very logic of Nietzsche’s philosophy of will to power, coupled with his conception of time and evil, leads him to his fundamental doctrine of the eternal recurrence of all things.
However, this logical outcome amounts to a transformation of the character of time and of his philosophy as a whole. The nature of time and becoming is subtly but radically changed. Time and becoming are bent into a circle. Things not only move inexorably into the past, but by this very process, they also move into the future. Things no longer are finally intransigent and impermanent but come again and again eternally. Chance, in any final, meaningful sense, vanishes. Acts of will to power are, in the last analysis, a fate and a necessity. An extreme existential crisis seems to demand extreme philosophic measures.
Whether heeding rational life or the creative will, both Whitehead and Nietzsche feel called upon to transform the worldly character of time and becoming in order to overcome the evil of time and to explain the finally good life. Further, Nietzsche, by the very logic of his thinking, is led into a philosophic concern for permanence and being whose issue has curious parallels to Whitehead’s thought. For both, a finally permanent, significant realm is required for the culmination of the good life. Yet the required transformations and final solutions strictly revolve upon the respective understandings of time and becoming. The solution of the eternal recurrence depends essentially on Nietzsche’s conception of the external, independent relation of time to becoming and willing, coupled with his notion of time as infinite and the becoming universe as finite (TSZ 178). The doctrine would be logically impossible in Whitehead’s scheme where time is cumulative, and becoming depends on the basic situation of novel actualities and the temporally deep world essentially conjoined. This basic divergence re the character of time importantly finds its way into their final visions of the goodness of human life.
3. The Divine Actuality and the Eternal Recubrence: Overcoming Evil and Transforming Time
In this final section, we examine more closely the Whiteheadian and Nietzschean solutions to the problem of ultimate evil: Whitehead’s God and his essential relation to the temporal world, and Nietzsche’s doctrine of the eternal recurrence. In particular, we wish to grasp the significance of these solutions for temporal human subjects. The solutions concretely reveal the final understanding of what is essential to the fulfillment and ultimate goodness of human life. Finally, we wish to question the adequacy of these solutions and ultimate visions.
Like any Whiteheadian actuality, the divine actuality prehensively objectifies the concrete entities of the world and gathers them into its own concrete, immediate experience. God’s experience of the world is essentially determined by efficient causation, by the conformal repetition of finite emotional experiences in subjective form (PR 345/523). The integration of this experience is essentially determined by God’s all-embracing, permanent subjective aim (his aim for his ongoing self), which is to realize all possible forms of definiteness and thus to achieve an absolute intensity of experience (PR 345/ 523). In short, relative to any stage of the advancing world and to any novel actuality, God is an instance of final and efficient causation, achieving his own novel experience of the world. However, this instance is not epochal. This is decisive. God’s immediate conformal experience of worldly actualities never fades and is forever woven anew into his final experiential harmony, which advances along with his experience of the advancing universe (PR 345/ 524). Considered in his full concreteness, God is temporal -- but not epochal. Epochal time vanishes in the divine actuality. This is the crucial step in overcoming the evil of time.
A grand, everlasting, ever-growing cosmos is experientially realized in and by God. Worldly actualities and the significant enduring societies they fashion objectively take their place as essential constituents within this final designing. Their individual characters, emotionally felt and woven together, form the vital harmony, which is God in his immediate concreteness (PR 345/524). The world of finite value achievement, which is absolutely essential to God, receives a final, everlasting harmonization impossible in the world (PR 348/529). God saves what he can. Objectification involves no elimination (PR 346/525). Further, a mutual immediacy among actualities -- actualities as felt by God’s liveliness -- is retained. Time is cumulative, without being epochal; it is transformed into everlastingness. This is the double solution to the evil of time -- no loss of immediacy, no loss of character, permanence and fluency standing in a final mutual requirement.
We now may appreciate the significance of this divinely wrought cosmos for a temporal human subject. The past of the subject, those reigning actualities of the human organism which together constitute the enduring self, have already been objectively incorporated into the everlasting, ever-growing harmony. God’s immediate feelings have realized the past self’s ultimate worth and significance as an enduring individual which essentially contributes to the divine experiential cosmos (PR 349/ 530). This sense of significance returns to the temporal experience of the immediate human subject, who is objectifying its world, which includes God (PR 350/ 532). The subject feels the never-fading importance of its immediate actions, that they essentially contribute to a finally harmonious realm of life which has a permanent significance built upon creative, finite achievements, including its own (PR 350/ 532). The subject feels a judge (his divinely transformed self) spontaneously arising from the very nature of things, embracing significant worldly achievements, damning aesthetic and moral evil, calling for finer worldly issues. Sorrow and pain are redeemed and become an element of triumph (PR 331/ 533). A final sense of vital peace is felt -- an ultimate trust in the everlasting efficacy of beauty, of finer worldly achievement and efforts (AI 367ff:). The "kingdom of heaven is with us today" -- a kingdom to which the enduring subject has made and is making an essential contribution (PR 350/ 532). This is the subject immediately enjoying and actively living the finally good life.
Zarathustra, Nietzsche’s prophetic spokesman, likewise feels his creative implication in a finally significant, permanent realm of life. This realm is the godless, closed circle of becoming, the great year in which all things are entwined together and which eternally recurs. Yet to grasp the full significance of the eternal recurrence, we must first recall Nietzsche’s basic intentions: namely, to accord an ultimate value to the realm of becoming and temporal life; to redeem and to unleash the creative potentials of earthly will to power; and to help create a humanly significant future.
Zarathustra’s art and aim is to be the creative poet of the world, to save the temporal world through reconceiving and revaluing life and the world, "to compose into one and bring together what is fragment, riddle, and dreadful chance" (TSZ 161, 216). In his own curious fashion, he abrogates crucial functions of Whitehead’s God, who also is poet and savior of the world (PR 346ff./ 525ff.). However, he is animated by a decidedly different vision. Zarathustra looks forward to the time when men themselves will be godlike, blissfully innocent in the creative sport of becoming existence, freely marching to their own individual wills, seeking a community based on individual differences, and enjoying the vicissitudes and machinations of human life, including the spirit of gravity, in good cheer (TSZ 215). These are Nietzsche’s infamous overmen. Zarathustra’s aim is to be a bridge and a bridge-builder to such a future.
However, the way to this future necessarily leads through the path of the past (TSZ 216). The doctrine of the eternal recurrence is the keystone of Zarathustra’s edifice. The doctrine presses the will into an ultimate crisis. It forces the will to accept without qualification the realm of becoming. The past and the present will come again and again. There is no final escape from worldly life (TSZ 179, 236). For a will dominated by the spirit of revenge and gravity, this is ultimate despair. Its suffering at the hands of the all-too-human past and present will eternally recur. The sole escape from overbearing despair is revaluation of the past and the correlative transformation of the spirit of revenge into a spirit of affirmation (TSZ 216, 236). This is the preparation necessary for a truly human life. The crisis is overcome by changing nothing and yet everything, by a peculiar, willful amor fati.
To transform the human spirit, Nietzsche crucially transforms time and becoming. To bend time and becoming into a circle is to engender a final, ironclad realm of permanence or being. It is in the nature of becoming and life to constitute this realm of being, which is none other than the great year of becoming itself. In his own fashion, Nietzsche resolves the problem of permanence and fluency and finds a permanence in fluency and a fluency in permanence. Yet this is a problematic resolution. This realm of life is neither a living actuality, with an ever-growing experience, nor is it a creative advance into novel becoming. From great year to great year, there is no novelty at all. Everything is repeated again and again, and all things are bound fast together in such a way that they draw one another around the circle (TSZ 179). Whether or not this be efficient causation and mechanistic determinism (TSZ 237), Lord Chance has been dealt a severe blow. Dancing feet merely perform old steps. This is a becoming finally void of free choice or novel, agent-initiated achievement.
Nevertheless, Nietzsche considers this realm of necessity or determined becoming a radical voluntarism. The instances of will to power, acting out their own necessity or destiny, creatively constitute the circle of becoming and actively keep the ball rolling. Spinoza’s conception of freedom is pressed into new metaphysical service. Further, the transformation effected by the conception of eternal recurrence discloses new experiential horizons.
Becoming is no longer creatively hurrying into an uncreated future. The future is already determined. Time is no longer hastening inexorably into the past. The immediate past is the distant future. The backs of the ruthless dynamisms of becoming and time are broken. Insistent, pressing concern with the past and the future fades. The immediate present emerges with a new, ultimate significance, tinged with a curious eternity (TSZ 234,238). Correlatively, immediate acts of creation, the self-constitutions of wills to power, are no longer radically contingent preparations for the new world. There is no new world. The determined future is merely called forth by the very fact of present existential exercise. Such exercises are the individual causes of the circle’s revolution (TSZ 237). Yet immediate creation, existence "again" beginning anew in every instant, gains a new and final significance.
This significance centrally determines the ultimate goodness and fulfillment of life. It is the final secret behind Nietzsche’s conception and affirmation of the eternal recurrence. Without reservation, Zarathustra affirms his necessary will, his particular, eternally recurring destiny as the prophet of the eternal recurrence and the bridge to the overman. Without qualification, he affirms the great year and his causal role within it, and this is his final salvation from the evil of revenge. Why? Because now life is finally deemed not radical production, poesis, but sheer ontological performance, praxis, novel or no. The final quality of life as sheer performance makes everything finally significant and acceptable. This final quality is immediate joy. All good things spring for joy into existence (TSZ 193). How could they want or will this only once? Joy wants eternity, to recur eternally (TSZ 244). Since episodes of joy are bound fast with everything else, the joyful creator wills the eternal recurrence of all things. Further, everything else gains its significance by its connection with such innocent, superabundant activity. It is joy that finally moves everything "beyond good and evil" and makes the permanent realm of becoming significant and intrinsically valuable, a true home for human creators.
From the perspective of joy, the world is transformed, i.e., reconceived and revalued, into a garden of delight (TSZ 234). In so far as Zarathustra promotes joy in earthly existence, he becomes an actor of final significance in this fluently permanent realm. He both actively realizes the ultimate good and effectively, if repetitively, lends his goodness to the universe. Conscious recognition of this culminates the goodness of human life and lends Zarathustra his final peace (TSZ 244ff.).
This is Nietzsche’s final, essentially religious vision, which parallels Whitehead’s vision of God and the world. Both find an ultimate significance in temporal life, becoming, and process. It is here that reality is constituted and that actualities realize their goodness, whether this be a joyful creare or intense, novel harmonies of world experience and creative implication in the advancing universe. Both find a required realm of vital permanence which secures everlastingly the individual significance and goodness of worldly actors and which adds an immediate, culminating dimension to human life. But how adequate are these visions?
Whitehead envisions a permanent, growing realm of life to which human actors make essential, lasting, creative contributions. However, though essentially connected to our temporal world, this final realm is a nonworldly actuality, God. It is "elsewhere." Nietzsche envisions a permanent realm of life within the boundaries of the temporal universe, but only by relinquishing freedom of choice, any novel temporal advance, and any creative, individual influence. Worldly or no, this does not seem a realm of life at all, not as we recognize it.
The divine actuality and the eternal recurrence are philosophically required to transform the basic character of time, to overcome its evil, and to win a humanly important realm of vital being. These seem extreme philosophic measures for securing such a welcomed end. Are such measures really required, or do they appear to be brilliant acts of conceptual juggling, an indication of inadequate philosophies? Is the required realm of being so far from our native grasp? Is time really an ultimate evil or an incitement to malevolent revenge?
These questions challenge Whitehead and Nietzsche on phenomenological grounds, on the basic evidence of their philosophies. Phenomenological enterprises essentially depend on human interests. We only find or discover what we look for. Whitehead finds time epochal, cumulative, and perpetually perishing. But his gaze seems dominatively informed by "microorganic" and cosmological interests, by concern with the creative advance of the universe and its atomic building blocks, actual occasions. Nietzsche finds time as essential passage, as rushing everything into the past despite the efforts of creative becoming. However, Newton or no, Nietzsche is mainly concerned with the worldly vicissitudes of the spirit of revenge and its possible overcoming and is thus essentially animated by historical interests. Whitehead discovers the crooked time of the evolving cosmos, and Nietzsche, the more or less linear march of human history.
But has something important been relatively neglected, a crucial dimension of our lives which logically must be central to both philosophers? This is the time of biological organisms, animal and human, and of the earthly realm of organic life. From this interesting perspective, does time appear microscopically epochal, perpetually perishing, or linearly flowing into a stubborn, or utterly irretrievable, past? Rather, the time of organisms and the organic realm seems marked by recurrence and cycles, by epochs which complexly overlap one another. There are the yearly and daily rhythms, the cycles of lives, the rhythms fostered by metabolism, sexuality, and needs of vital psychic and spiritual integrity. We experience at first hand and take for granted deep recurrences of types of things. The crucial, dynamic features of organic and human life are never irretrievably lost. They begin again and again -- for individuals, while they last, and for the realm as a whole. The organic and humanly organic realms have permanent characteristics which play themselves out endlessly, cyclically, "everlastingly."
Interestingly, Whitehead and Nietzsche do give central recognition to features of organic time in their transformations of time and their final visions. Whitehead’s divine, enduring actuality is recurrently revising his ongoing experience of the world in response to the demand for personal, vital, concrete integrity. We recognize our own individual struggles to attain ongoing integrity.2 But, unlike ourselves, God forgets nothing. He experientially keeps everything alive. Central organic concerns are muddied by cosmically historical concerns. No individual act of achievement must be allowed to pass into night. There must be a certain individual, everlastingly effective immortality for all.
Nietzsche’s ultimate vision is directly inspired by the nature of organic time. Zarathustra’s animals sing to him the refreshing songs of the cycles of the great seasons, the comic version of the eternal recurrence (TSZ 234). Nietzsche’s imagined overman quits the history of the spirit of revenge for the more cheerful play of a protean natural organism. Life dances over history, which is its playground. Yet Nietzsche will not allow a final end to history. Organic time is stripped from its native context, to be stretched and frozen into a great year. Is this only to cure will to power of its revenge, or is it also, again, to ensure a certain vital, individual immortality?
But what if we should find that individual immortality, in whatever fashion, is not what we finally require? The compelling need to distort organic time or to resort to philosophic extremity may vanish. We could then reask our questions. Is organic time, exactly the way it appears, an ultimate evil; does it provoke malevolence? Everything we hold dear, life’s rich possibilities, cyclically recur. Perhaps concrete things, and living individuals, must pass into the night so that life may begin again, with renewed possibilities. Further, is the worldly realm of organic life not that realm of vital being we require for the final goodness of human life?
From our human, everyday perspective, which no doubt is our concrete perspective (all others being more or less stretched or "abstract"), the richly diversified realm of life appears permanent, with abiding character. It is a vital realm of becoming being which transcends us and yet includes us. Its ongoing goodness both is actively achieved by ourselves, among organic others, and importantly depends on our creative efforts. Organic liveliness is our most intimate participation in being and the goodness of being. Its welfare is our final responsibility.
From this perspective, the evolving cosmos appears as the necessary supporting stage of organic life. History and changing cultural configurations appear as the essential, recurrent performances of intelligent organisms fighting for a vital individual and collective integrity under the spur of organic necessities, physical, psychic, and spiritual. In brief, history and cultures are expressions of life, not realms radically apart from human biological existence. The cosmos, history, and cultures provoke genuine, intrinsic interest. Yet this interest flows out of, and back into, those lively actors whose being and well-being so essentially depend on these dimensions of worldly reality.
Our ultimate joy and final peace may be the ontologically significant performance of life’s excellence, with others and within the world, and creatively laying the foundation for further organic exercises. This may be the finally good life, in which everlasting individual immortality, objective or otherwise, has no place. If this is so, it is a challenge for a novel process philosophy which, whether theistic or atheistic, is even more a philosophy of organism than Whitehead’s or Nietzsche’s.
1The exposition of Nietzsche’s thoughts is based upon Thus Spoke Zarathustra ("TSZ," translated by R. J. Hollingdale, Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1969) because of the central attention given to the spirit of revenge and the eternal recurrence, as well as to life as will to power and valuation. Moreover, since the nature of Nietzsche’s thinking is essentially colored by thought experiment, often leading him to results which contradict or subtly differ from earlier or later formulations, it seems wise and convenient to stay within the confines of Zarathustra.
2This seems more adequate and convincing than Whitehead’s theory of a biological organism’s being a society of epochal subjects, where ongoing integrity, physical or personal, is the task of many actualities, not of an enduring, self-constituting subject. See my "Whitehead and Jonas: On Biological Organisms and Real Individuals," Organism, Medicine, and Metaphysics (a Festschrift for Hans Jonas), Stuart F. Spicker, editor; Philosophy and Medicine, Volume 7 (Dordrect and Boston: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1978).