Friedrich Nietzsche as Bridge from Nineteenth-Century Atomistic Science to Process Philosophy in Twentieth-Century Physics, Literature, and Ethics

Article excerpt

It is notoriously difficult to demonstrate causal relationships between the achievements of culture and the driving force of events in history, between the acquisitions of the mind and the commissions of material efforts, between developments of high-temperature thought and developments of often over-heated action. As we learn increasingly well with the advance of scientific research, the parts of us that contemplate and the segments of our selves that direct our actions are more dubiously and tenuously related and more distant than we often prefer to believe--believing ourselves the proudly self-willing creatures we like to think we are. Our thinking triggers further thoughts, but our behavior stems from some deeper part of our minds, some sector that does not speak to our conscious considerations. We are not what we are. And noting our essential psychological self-division is not yet to recognize the full range of difficulties in tying the products of thought to the outcomes of action. We must also reckon w ith the long history of errors in stipulating causal linkages, specifically in trying to lay out accurately the direction along which cause falls, and there is the perennial peril of committing the logical fallacy of "false cause."

Yet, it is well beyond doubt that the signal moments of culture--the notable and distinctive emergences of philosophy, art, literature, and science-are pertinent and revealing notations on the underlying systems of values from which they arise, values that lace through, inform, and make common commerce of not only our thoughts but the logics of our behavior. Even presumably objective scientific theories are barometric readings of our assumptions and implicit values. They are litmus tests of the cultural agar in which they grow--indicators of the fertility and of the active bases and acids of the ideological loam. Science wears as a skin the subtler aspects and instigations of our nature, or it arises from them as if from soil--and here again we confront the comprehensive problems in laying the grid of cause--to tell us, by the molecular codes in the arrangements of its active parts, who we are and for what we stand. We can read our natures clearly impressed into our sciences--as well as in the arts, writings, and philosophies we create--for in them, we reflect ourselves.

It is the position of this paper that the late nineteenth-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche established a philosophy rooted in science and succeeded in laying the foundation for a system of values capable of generating alternate forms of cultural expression--many of which have come to fruition in our own time, many of which have yet to be achieved. In particular, his philosophy, beginning in science, is capable of setting standards for and structuring radical formations in epistemology, ethics, and literature.

It is our claim that Nietzsche was primarily an ontologist -- a philosopher of the real, a delver and discloser of the hidden truth of the cosmos -- and that his ontology was rooted in and succeeded in achieving an intended advance upon the scientific principles of his time. His work constitutes a philosophical development by which he transformed the materialist and atomistic viewpoint of the physics of the late nineteenth century into what can be characterized as a process philosophy--aphilosophy of the world as a energeticist system, as what he called "a monster of energy,"(1) in which there are no discrete and persisting entities, in which there can be found no instance of reified substance, (2) no example of anything purely, singly, and integrally itself, in which everything is constantly in the process of becoming something else (WP, sect. 511). It is a philosophy that prefigures the world view of twentieth-century physics and, as will be seen, a world view that encompasses far more than merely science.

Nietzsche discovered in the scientific debates of his time, and particularly in the development of heat theory, a foundation for and a justification of his processual philosophy of the world, a philosophical view that valorized Becoming over Being. …