Philosophy ETDs

Publication Date

Summer 6-2-2017


This dissertation seeks to offer a comprehensive account of the problem of nihilism in Friedrich Nietzsche, both as a cognitive phenomenon involving a set of beliefs about one’s world (as “European nihilism”) and as a feeling-based phenomenon (as affective nihilism). After introducing these two varieties of nihilism, I look to potential resources in Nietzsche’s thought for overcoming them. First, I argue that the European nihilist can think truth, purpose, and value in new and life-affirming ways by coming to understand Nietzsche’s account of the drives — as wills to power with affective, and therefore evaluative, orientations — and by applying this account not only to human life, but to non-human life and the inorganic world (as Nietzsche intended). For this reason, I look to Nietzsche’s drive ontology as a resource for overcoming European nihilism, while acknowledging that Nietzsche did not necessarily intend it for this use. Next, I argue that personal narrative can serve as a Nietzschean resource for overcoming affective nihilism. Since affective nihilism is a psycho-physiological condition — consisting in a weakness of the will and a disruption of one’s end-directedness and engagement in the world — this is a particularly difficult problem to overcome. By attending to Nietzsche’s own practices and recommendations, however, the development of — and reflection upon — a personal narrative emerges as a promising treatment. As I go on to argue, this process of self-narration not only offers the potential for personal transformation; it also enables one to recognize the importance of an attitude of openness — or affirmative receptivity — for the authentic creation of new values. Although Nietzsche does not explicitly say that self-narration can be used to overcome nihilism as a feeling-based phenomenon, and although there could be no guarantee that this treatment would work for each individual nihilist, the transformative power of self-narration offers one a potential means to “feel differently” about oneself and about the world to which one belongs.

Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name


First Committee Member (Chair)

Iain Thomson

Second Committee Member

Ann V. Murphy

Third Committee Member

Brent Kalar

Fourth Committee Member

John Richardson


affect, affective nihilism, Nietzsche, nihilism, personal transformation, self-knowledge

Document Type


Included in

Philosophy Commons