Amor fati, amor mundi : Nietzsche and Arendt on overcoming modernity

Roodt, Vasti (2005-03)

Thesis (DPhil (Philosophy))--University of Stellenbosch, 2005.


The purpose of this thesis twofold: first, to develop an account of modernity as a “loss of the world” which also entails the “death” of the human as a meaningful philosophical, political or moral category, and second, to explore the possibility of recovering a sense of the world in us and with it, a sense of what it means to be human. This argument is developed by way of a sustained engagement with the work of Friedrich Nietzsche and Hannah Arendt, whose analogous critiques of modernity centre on the problem of the connection between humanity and worldliness. My argument consists of three parts, each of which spans two chapters. Part one of the thesis sets out the most important aspects of Nietzsche’s and Arendt’s respective critiques of modernity. Chapter one focuses on modernity as a rupture of a philosophical, political and religious tradition within which existence in the world could be experienced as unquestionably meaningful. Following arguments developed by Nietzsche and Arendt, chapter two establishes that the loss of this tradition results in a general crisis of meaning, evaluation and authority that can be designated as “modern nihilism”. The second part of the thesis deals with what may be called the “anthropological grounds” of the critique of modernity developed in part one. To this end, chapter three focuses on Nietzsche’s portrayal of the human as “the as-yet undetermined animal” who is neither the manifestation of a subjective essence nor the product of his own hands, but who only exists in the unresolved tension between indeterminacy and determination. This is followed in chapter four by an inquiry into Arendt’s conception of “the human condition”, which in turn points to the conditionality of being human. What is clearly demonstrated in both cases is that, in so far as the predicament of modernity is incarnate in modern human beings themselves, any attempt at overcoming this predicament would somehow have to involve re-thinking or transcending our present-day humanity. The third part of the thesis examines the way in which the reconceptualisation of the human as advocated by Nietzsche and Arendt transforms our understanding of “world”. The more specific aim here is to demonstrate that both thinkers conceive of a reconciliation between self and world as a form of redemption. In chapter five I explore their respective attempts to resurrect the capacity for judgement in the aftermath of the death of God as the first step in this redemptive project, before turning to a more in-depth inquiry into the “soteriology” at work in Nietzsche’s and Arendt’s thinking in chapter six. This inquiry ultimately makes clear that there is a conflict between the Nietzschean conception of redemption as amor fati (love of fate) and Arendt’s notion of redemption as amor mundi (love of the world). I conclude the thesis by arguing that what is at stake here are two conflicting notions of reconciliation: a worldly – or political – notion of reconciliation (Arendt), and a much more radical, philosophical notion of reconciliation (Nietzsche), which ultimately does away with any boundary between self and world. However, my final conclusion is not that we face an inevitable choice between these two alternatives, but rather that the struggle between these two dispositions is necessary for an understanding of what it means to be human as well as for the world in which our humanity is formed.

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