Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Drives: Nietzsche’s Revision of The Soul


I. The Self is not an atomistic soul.

  1. What is soul atomism?
  2. Where does soul atomism come from?
  3. Why is soul atomism wrong?
  4. What does this tell us, initially, about Nietzsche’s own thoughts?

II. If not an atomistic soul, then what?

  1. Does he mean to reject the soul?
  2. What would a soul be if not atomistic?
  3. A non-atomistic soul is not unprecedented.

III. What is a drive?

  1. How are we to understand a drive?
  2. Deeper than desires.
  3. More than instincts.

IV. Why is this a better description of the soul than an atomistic account?

  1. The soul and values are preserved!
  2. An example: Nietzsche’s analysis of philosophers.
  3. Interpretive framework: micro- and macro-levels of analysis.

V. Problem of Homunculi?

  1. Is this a problem?
  2. Dennett’s resolution.

VI. How do the drives behave?

  1. Drives are selfishly motivated.
  2. They have a Will to Power.

VII. What sort of arrangement best describes the set of drives?

  1. Drives are politically ordered.
  2. How do they get to be like this?
  3. Wolf-pack analogy.

VIII. Philosophical upshot of understanding the drives as ordered politically?

  1. Interpretive strategy.
  2. Nietzsche’s criticisms of human society à criticism of drive behavior.
  3. A way for understanding Nietzsche’s ideal man.

Just as he does with so many themes across philosophy, Friedrich Nietzsche rejects the usual philosophical notion of the self. However, one must be very careful when understanding the nature of his rejection. Since the earliest days of philosophy, thinkers have discussed the soul, and Nietzsche’s calls it “one of the oldest and most venerable of hypotheses” (BGE 12). Despite the long history of this characterization of man, Nietzsche remains unsatisfied with the description. He raises this issue in BGE Part I, the title of which, “On the Prejudices of Philosophers” (BGE), immediately suggests that he feels the soul hypothesis to be a mere dogmatic prejudice that has hung around for too long. According to Nietzsche, the soul hypothesis now requires a critical reexamination. What does Nietzsche think is wrong with the soul hypothesis? What would be a better explanation of human psychology? How does this project fit in to his overall philosophy? This paper will seek to explore and explain the details of Nietzsche’s reevaluation of the soul hypothesis.

I. The self is not an Atomistic Soul
As always, Nietzsche does not do us the service of directly revealing his own views on the subject. Instead, he raises the issue by explaining what he thinks the soul is not: an atomistic soul. Before we can discuss the problems of this view, we must first precisely determine what Nietzsche means by soul atomism: “Let this expression [i.e. soul atomism] be allowed to designate that belief which regards the soul as being something indestructible, eternal, indivisible, as a monad, as an atomon: this belief ought to be ejected from science!” (BGE 12). Soul atomism is the idea that philosophers like Descartes, Leibniz, and others have maintained for centuries: the soul entity is the agential force that directs one’s actions according to rationally calculated values. Just as early and modern thinkers believed that the atom was the smallest indivisible particle, these philosophers believe that there is nothing at all more psychologically basic than the soul.[1]

The atomistic soul was posited as a way of explaining what distinguishes human beings from animals. What separates human beings from animals is that we do not act only according to our desires or instincts, but that we can also act according to values. Thus philosophers wondered how humans are capable of acting according to values. What unique human trait makes our normatively driven behavior possible? To explain how man is capable of acting in this special and peculiar way, philosophers came up with the atomistic soul. They explained our capacity for normative behavioral judgments by explaining that our soul rationally decides that certain actions are better than others. Our soul is what judges actions as good or bad, despite what our desires might tell us. Our soul is what directs our behavior according to rationally determined values.

Nietzsche criticizes this explanation of human values. He believes that this characterization of man only resulted from a human need for an atomistic description, and in fact does not really explain in any meaningful way why or how we actually do come to have values. Dudrick and Clark go on to describe an example of this atomistic need when they explain, “in the case of Descartes’ version of soul-atomism, Nietzsche does seem to take the atomistic need as the need for a substratum, an entity distinct from the thinking itself that does the thinking” (214). Descartes and others hoped to explain how our rational and normative behavior judgments were possible; they concluded simply that what explains our having and acting on values is some special, rational, supersensible entity within us: the soul. But this does not really explain anything at all! Positing some transcendent entity called the “soul” that simply decides those values is certainly an easy way of describing where values come from, but surely this easy explanation is unacceptably simplistic! Such a hypothesis really says nothing in answer to the foundational questions: how is it possible for us to develop values, why are we capable of acting on values!

Merely positing our possession of a soul will never satisfy a naturalist, who wants to know what unique psychological facts about human beings that enable us to have values, and who wants an explanation that is consistent with our being natural beings that are subject to and a product of biological, evolutionary, and cultural forces. If the atomist is going to posit a soul, he had better be ready to explain from where that soul came, otherwise he will have made no explanatory progress regarding the source of our values. What makes it possible for us to have a soul? And how is the soul able to “rationally decide” what actions are good, bad, and better than our desires? These are the questions the naturalist wants answered. The mere positing of a soul has no true explanatory power regarding our development and employment of values, and for this reason, Nietzsche recommends that we “declare war, a remorseless war of the knife, on the ‘atomistic need’” (BGE 12).

Dudrick and Clark make Nietzsche’s point particularly clear with their unique interpretation of his “remorseless war of the knife” as a reference to Okham’s Razor: “we war on the atomistic need by… showing that one can do without certain unnecessary postulates, ones that are accepted despite their lack of empirical or explanatory value because they satisfy the “atomistic need”” (212). Nietzsche believes that the postulated “soul” as an atomistic entity is a hypothesis of mere convenience – a “superstition which has hitherto flourished around the soul-idea with almost tropical luxuriance” (BGE 12). He thinks that the atomistic soul is a dogmatic prejudice of philosophers that has for too long remained uncriticized. Nietzsche sides with the naturalist and thinks that there is still more that must be explained about our values: how can we act on values at all, and why did we act one way and not another? He offers an intuitive basis for his doubts over the explanatory completeness of the atomistic soul when he observes: “Willing[2] seems to me to be above all something complicated, something that is a unity only as a word – and it is precisely in this one word that the popular prejudice resides which has overborne the always inadequate caution of the philosophers… in al willing there is, first of all, a plurality of sensations… feelings… thought… affect” (BGE 11). It is from this platform that Nietzsche sets out to explain the soul accurately, once and for all.

This rejection of the atomistic soul theory suggests that Nietzsche thinks there is in fact something by which the soul can be further explained. Indeed, there must be something operating even deeper than this supposed “soul” that constitutes the normative behavioral decisions being made within human beings. Furthermore, these deeper psychological operations must be something that really do distinguish us from animals – they must be something that fully explain why human beings alone are in fact able to act according to values, and not merely according to desires as do animals.

II. If not an atomistic soul, then what?
Does Nietzsche mean to suggest that we ought to reject the soul entirely and start a new psychological explanation of man from scratch? Nietzsche does indeed think that the “atomistic soul” ought to be eliminated from our ontology and “ejected from science” (BGE 12). However, we must not be too hasty in our interpretation of his real intent, for in the end Nietzsche does end up wanting to retain some aspects of the soul hypothesis. Nietzsche’s task turns out to be that of refining the soul hypothesis, and not of rejecting it: “Between ourselves, it is not at all necessary by that same act to get rid of ‘the soul’ itself and thus forgo one of the oldest and most venerable of hypotheses: as is often the way with clumsy naturalists, who can hardly touch ‘the soul’ without losing it” (BGE 12). Nietzsche’s stated ambitions are significant because they reveal that he does not want to follow the “clumsy naturalist,” who denies the possibility of value-driven behavior by explaining that any values we may think ourselves to act upon, actually turn out to be mere desires.

Nietzsche does want to eliminate our “atomistic” understanding of the soul. But he does not want to eliminate the entire category of soul. He does want to eliminate the shallow atomistic explanation of human motivation, but he does not want to eliminate the realness and significance of our ability to act in accord with values. Nietzsche thinks that there is in fact an explanation of our values that is psychologically deeper than our soul and that still makes it possible to explain human behavior as normatively motivated according to values, and not merely determined by desires.

With this fuller understanding of Nietzsche’s project, we must now ask ourselves: what would a soul possibly be, if not atomistic? Nietzsche sees no inconsistency at all in rejecting an atomistic soul and maintaining some other version of a soul, precisely because he agrees that the soul is what makes values possible. To the extent that he thinks that we do in fact act in accord with values, and to the extent that our values are something significant that should not be reduced to mere desires, Nietzsche thinks we ought not to eliminate the entire soul category. Our task must now be to determine what psychological parts Nietzsche identifies that explain his non-atomistic version of the soul. In other words, we must now try to figure out how exactly Nietzsche sets reforms the idea of the soul. His project is to complete the task that his predecessors began but failed to finish.

What does Nietzsche’s non-atomistic soul look like? What is it made up of? He gives us some ways for understanding what a non-atomistic soul might be when he says, “the road to new forms and refinements to the soul hypothesis stands open: and such conceptions as ‘mortal soul’ and ‘soul as multiplicity of the subject’ and ‘soul as social structure of the drives and emotions’ want henceforth to possess civic rights in science” (BGE 12). This quotation directly parallels his characterization of soul atomism earlier on in the section as “something indestructible, eternal, indivisible, as a monad, as an atomon” (BGE 12). This quotation is worth unpacking a bit more, for it is our first insight into Nietzsche’s own account of the soul.

First of all, Nietzsche suggests the possibility of a “mortal soul” as potentially preferable to an “atomistic” understanding of the soul, which would be something “indestructible, eternal” (BGE 12). A common feature of the atomistic view of the soul is the soul’s immortality. Nietzsche here intends to introduce the possibility that the soul dies with our body, which is not so controversial at all, and indeed would go a long way in helping his cause with the naturalist critic.

His second proposed characteristic of a non-atomistic soul, “soul as multiplicity of the subject,” makes explicit the fact that a non-atomistic soul will not be a “monad.” In other words, there will be many smaller pieces or parts that comprise the soul. The soul is not a single, whole, indivisible entity. It is not an irreducible, completely basic unit. To make an analogy, Nietzsche seems to postulate that just as there are subatomic particles that make up the atom, there are sub-agential forces that make up our soul. This is simply a definition of non-atomism. Dudrick and Clark make this point when they observe: “Plato’s tripartite soul lacks the feature of indivisibility, which Nietzsche presents as one of the central features of the atomistic soul” (218). Thus, the aspect of the “ancient and venerable hypothesis” which Nietzsche hopes to maintain is Plato’s claim that there is no contradiction in the idea of a soul being composed of smaller functioning parts. It is possible both to maintain the soul, and also simultaneously explain that soul as composed of many smaller constitutive forces.

The key to Nietzsche’s account of the soul and of values will be to describe what these various parts are that make up the soul, in a way that succeeds where Plato’s original attempt failed. Dudrick and Clark summarize the same point when they say, “Nietzsche accepts Plato’s hypothesis that human behavior is to be explained in terms of an internal or unobservable structure the causal properties of which are specified in terms of the interrelations of its elements. However, he takes these elements to be simply the drives and affects” (221-222). What will these constitutive parts of the soul be for Nietzsche? He introduces his alternative theory of the real makeup of the soul when he describes the “soul as social structure of the drives and emotions.” With this definition, Nietzsche emphasizes two key properties of the soul, which we must now examine further: the drives, and their social structure. We will begin by determining what a drive is, and then we will return later on to the question of how they operate in a social structure.

II. What is a drive?
According to Nietzsche, the drives are a set of behavioral dispositions that motivate our behavior, and that operate beneath the surface of our own consciousness. Dudrick and Clark enter their discussion of the drives by using Plato’s parts of the soul as an initial way of understanding them: “drives are obviously similar to [Plato’s] appetites, and “drive” may be even a better word than “appetite” for the kind of motivation Plato attributes to the lower parts of the soul” (222).

Drives are deeper than mere desires. Desires are the feeling of wanting particular goals or objects in a given situation. Drives, on the other hand, are better understood as enduring psychological and behavioral dispositions that continually seek to affect a certain pattern or habit of behavior. Paul Katsafanas spends considerable time discussing this relationship between drives and desires in his essay, “Grounding Ethics in Philosophical Psychology”. He makes an important distinction when he says, “many desires aim solely at the achievement of states of affairs: I desire that I finish my taxes, or that I take an aspirin” (Katsafanas 16). After the desired state of affairs is achieved, the desire itself disappears, having been satisfied. Katsafanas contrasts the disappearance of desires with the continuance of the drives when he says, “drives aim [instead] at expression, in the sense that they aren’t satisfied by the attainment of any one determinate object; rather, they want continuous attainment of objects, continuous overcoming of resistances. We can mark this feature of drives by saying that drives are process-directed, rather than goal-directed” (Katsafanas 16, my emphasis).

As opposed to desires, drives do not disappear once a particular action has been accomplished for the accomplishment of goals is not their motivation. Instead, Katsafanas explains, “the drive is satisfied only when being expressed, when the process that it motivates is in progress” (Katsafanas 16). Drives are thus best understood as permanent advocates of a particular habit or consistent sort of behavior. For example, one has the drive to procreate and one has the desire for sex. The drive to procreate is a continuous advocate of a person acting sexually, no matter how sexually active that person ends up being. The desire for sex though will be felt very keenly by the person and will likely disappear as soon as he has satisfied his desire. Katsafanas summarizes this distinction when he says: “Drives don’t aim at the achievement of some determinate state of affairs; rather, drives aim at the process of expression” (Katsafanas 16). Thus, drives are best understood as operating at a deeper level than desires.

A key feature of the drives is that they operate below the conscious or rational level, as opposed to desires, of which we are usually aware. The immediate and most accessible analogy that comes to mind with this description is that they are similar to instincts. However, the drives are not all biologically rooted (though certainly some are), and therefore cannot be limited to instincts. Instead, the drives can be shaped or developed by “experience, education and culture” (223). We do share many of the instinctual drives that animals have (like the drive to nourishment and procreation), but human beings also have other drives whose ends are not merely survival: for example, Nietzsche often discusses the drive to knowledge.

Dudrick and Clark suggest that an analogy to instincts is at least initially helpful when they say, “motivation by drives is a kind of motivation that humans share with other animals, and drives have their own ends or objects, so that they can motivate behavior in independence of any judgment concerning the goodness of these objects” (222). A key point is raised at the end of this quotation: the drives are not rationally operating entities, nor do they determine what actions ought to be undertaken based on some normative value judgment. This is precisely that status that Plato ended up attributing to the “reason” part of the soul… but Dudrick and Clark note that this is precisely where Plato himself becomes guilty of soul atomism (228). By promoting this one part of the soul to the role of primary decision-maker, Plato ends up falling back into soul atomism, by simply replacing “the soul” with “the rational part of the soul.” No longer is his soul constituted by many interacting parts; instead, reason ends up functioning as the sole arbiter of values and actions. Such an account has no explanatory difference from a regular old atomistic soul. Nietzsche’s account is better than Plato’s because none of his drives operate rationally; they are each blind proponents of their own behavioral patterns, like instincts. This is a key distinction for Nietzsche to make, for if the drives did operate according to values, then his explanation of how humans value would be guilty of a circular argument: he would be explaining how the soul makes normative decisions about behavior, by positing drives that make normative decisions about behavior.

Given this understanding of the drives as motivational forces that are deeper than desires and more than instincts, and that comprise a person’s self and organize a person’s values, we are now ready to understand what Nietzsche means when he says that human action is motivated by drives. Dudrick and Clark explain how we ought best to interpret behavior as motivated by the drives:

“To say that a piece or kind of behavior is to be explained in terms of a drive is to say that the organism is set up in such a way that, given the presence of certain internal and external cues or stimuli, it is caused to behave in ways that tend to have certain results, precisely the results that are the drives’ objects or ends (such as ingesting food in the case of the drive to eat), and that no judgment concerning the goodness of these ends need enter into the process that leads to the behavior” (222).

IV. Why is this a better description of the soul than an atomistic account?
Having described the drives, one might wonder whether Nietzsche has really succeeded in his task of maintaining the soul while modifying our understanding of it. Does not the posit of drives, as forces that constitute the self, ultimately reduce the soul to nothing more than mere drives? And therefore, do we not seem to have lost values – the very thing that Nietzsche wanted to preserve in his reforms of the soul hypothesis? It seems that Nietzsche has merely presented a theory of a so-called clumsy naturalist! This is precisely the reading that Dudrick and Clark intend to deny. They maintain that describing the soul as being comprised of these drives does not mean that the soul can or ought to be reduced to these drives or somehow eliminated because of their existence.

Consider a helpful example to illuminate the difference between these interpretations. You have a table. No one but a complete skeptic would deny that the table is there, and that it is in fact a table. Now consider the challenge that what that table is really made out of is a collection of atoms. Does the fact of these atoms’ existence deny the existence of the table? Certainly not! We say that it is still a table; and we say, when pressed on the issue of atoms, that that table is simply constituted by or composed of the collection of its atoms. Surely, without the atoms, the table would not exist; and surely if these atoms were organized in some different way, we would not have the table. But certainly, given the way these atoms are organized, a table does too exist. It is the same with the soul and its drives. Does Nietzsche intend the existence of the drives to negate the existence of the soul? No! Instead, the soul is simply constituted by the drives. The soul is real, and the drives are real; both are two aspects of the same thing. By preserving the soul, Nietzsche maintains the possibility for humans to act in accord with values. And by positing the drives, Nietzsche sets the stage for an explanation of how human beings are capable of determining those values in the first place.

In order to better understand the relationship between the drives and the values, let us consider an example. Nietzsche frequently discusses philosophers. Because Nietzsche thinks that every great philosophy is an expression of the philosopher’s values (BGE 6), Nietzsche’s analysis of philosophy will be a helpful place to look for insight as to how we ought to understand the drives and human values to be related. In BGE 6, Nietzsche says that he does “not believe a ‘drive to knowledge’ to be the father of philosophy,” but instead explains that “anyone who looks at the basic drives of mankind to see to what extent they may in precisely this connection have come into play as inspirational spirits… will discover that they have all at some time or other practiced philosophy” (BGE 6). With this observation, Nietzsche reminds us that the drives are fundamentally motivational forces acting within us. He further suggests that the interplay and conflict between these many different motivations is what ultimately determines the values a person holds. In the following quotation, he makes explicit an important feature of the relationship between one’s drives and one’s values: “It has gradually become clear to me what every great philosophy has hitherto been: a confession on the part of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir” (BGE 6). Philosophy is thus understood by Nietzsche to be the conscious and observable representation (in the form of values) of a set of unconscious, unobservable drives.

In BGE 9, Nietzsche considers a specific type of philosophy: Stoicism. It is important to note that in this analysis of a philosophy or set of values, Nietzsche never once discusses the drives. He criticizes the Stoic philosophy, when he says, “Stoicism is self-tyranny… this is an old and never-ending story: what formerly happened with the Stoics still happens today as soon as a philosophy begins to believe in itself” (BGE 9). But at no point does Nietzsche enter into a discussion of the Stoic’s drives. He seems perfectly content to criticize only the values that Stoicism means to represent, without ever discussing the source of those values. What could this mean? Isn’t it surprising, given his explanation in BGE 6 that values come from a person’s set of drives, that Nietzsche never mentions the Stoics’ drives here in his criticism of their philosophy?

The fact that Nietzsche does not immediately enter a discussion of the drives when he rants against a philosopher’s values suggests that he thinks it is important for us not to conflate the values and the drives. To do so would be analogous to confusing a broken table with broken atoms. With this example, we see clear evidence for the description I have laid out above: just because one’s drives are what constitute one’s soul and one’s values, does not mean that we can reduce that soul merely to drives. Dudrick and Clark systematize this method of interpreting drives and behavior in their chapter on the soul: “Our claim, then, is that Nietzsche’s claims about philosophy in BGE 6 and 9 operate at two different levels: the micro-level, that of the drives, and the macro-level, that of the person. BGE 6 mainly concerns the drives that operate in and are expressed by a philosophy, but BGE 9 addresses itself to “o you noble Stoics” and is mainly concerned with the person” (195). With this interpretive framework, we can once and for all understand how Nietzsche takes himself to be justified in claiming at the end of his discussion of the philosophers that, “above all, his morality [i.e. philosophy] bears decided and decisive testimony to who he is – that is to say, to the order of rank the innermost drives of his nature stand relative to one another” (BGE 6).

With this way of interpreting Nietzsche we can now see how he takes himself to have successfully modified the soul hypothesis without falling into the category of a clumsy naturalist: he explains both how human beings are capable of acting according to values, and how those values are determined. You can describe a table by simply describing its appearance or its function; but certainly a more complete description would involve a description of its appearance, its function, and its most basic physical makeup. Just so, Nietzsche takes his explanation of the drives to be a more complete picture of the soul. The soul is still there and it still can be understood as making value-guided behavior possible (at the macro-level); but how those values are determined results from the ordered set of motivational forces that Nietzsche calls the drives (operating at the micro-level). Thus the naturalist is satisfied, as is the original soul atomist who needed us to be able to act according to values. These are the reasons why Nietzsche’s account of the soul is superior to the atomistic account. Insofar as we have a soul, humans are able to act according to values; what makes it possible for us to have a soul in the first place is that we have a set of drives.

Given our understanding of what drives are and how Nietzsche uses them to reform the soul hypothesis, we will now begin to discuss the social structure of the drives. Nietzsche believes that the many drives we have are all interacting with each other. All of the drives compete for the ability to satisfy their own behavioral goals. Only one action can be undertaken in any given situation, so each drive struggles to be the sole motivator of the final behavioral decision.

V. The Problem of Homunculi
Before we can discuss the details of this competitive social relationship, it is important for us to resolve a pressing issue that arises when we begin to think about the drives as acting in this more complex way. Does not the idea of drives acting intentionally seem problematic in some way? Does not the description of their behavior as socially competitive seem to stretch the explanation beyond naturalistic plausibility? Does it not seem that Nietzsche seems to be explaining the self simply by positing a number of little mini-selves, and therefore does he not fail really to explain anything at all about what a “self” is? Dudrick and Clark note the very same challenge for their own drive interpretations: “first, doesn’t our reading have Nietzsche regarding the drives as homunculi? And second, doesn’t this render the view it attributes to Nietzsche ridiculous?” (D/C 264). The problem of homunculi turns out to be a resolvable one, as Dudrick and Clark conclude in their article “Nietzsche on the Will: An Analysis of BGE 19): “the answer to the first question is a qualified Yes, the answer to the second is No.” (D/C 264).

Dudrick and Clark seek refuge in the philosophy of Daniel Dennett. Dennett explains that there are two strategies for psychological explanation. Firstly, there is “Bottom-Up” psychological explanation, which “starts with some basic and well-defined unit or theoretical atom for psychology, and builds these atoms into molecules and larger aggregates that can account for the complex phenomena we all observe” (D/C 264). Secondly, there is “Top-Down” psychological explanation, which “begins with a more abstract decomposition of the highest levels of psychological organization, and hopes to analyze these into more and more detailed smaller systems or processes” (D/C 264). Nietzsche’s treatment of the drives is clearly a top-down psychological approach.

Why does Dennett take top-down psychological explanations not only to make sense, but also to make explanatory progress? He explains his support when he says, “Homunculi are bogeymen only if they duplicate entire the talents they are rung in to explain. If one can get a team or committee of relatively ignorant, narrow-minded, blind homunculi to produce the intelligent behavior of the whole, this is progress” (D/C 266). In other words, since the drives act only according to a will to power, and since they do not carry any other psychological characteristics that human persons exhibit (like rationality or emotions), then we do turn out to have a better explanation of human persons by positing these homunculi. This is precisely what Nietzsche was hoping to achieve! With the drives, these subconscious motivating forces that compete with each other for behavioral expression, Nietzsche is able to explain how it is that we have a soul capable of determining actions by normative value standards.

VI. How do the drives behave?
The drives are selfishly motivated. As mentioned above, each drive is solely motivated toward its own particular end. For example, the drive to procreation is continuously urging a person to act in ways that will benefit procreation: flirting, hooking up, and having sex. Nietzsche thinks that we have a large and varied set of drives, for he often refers to them as part of a “social structure” (BGE 12, 19). Because there are many drives, each with its own unique purpose, it is an inevitable result that in any given situation different drives will be motivating a person to act in different ways.

Let us consider an example: a person might have, in addition to their drive to procreate, a drive to maintain friendships. In a given situation – talking to a female friend at a party – this drive to friendship would motivate a person not to flirt because it could potentially ruin the friendship. But at the very same time, the drive to procreate will likely be motivating the same person to try to transform that friendship into a friendship with benefits. Clearly both of these drives cannot be satisfied. The person must either flirt, or not flirt; one drive will get satisfaction in this instance, one will not. This conflict characterizes the social relationship among the drives: they are in a state of competition with one another, each interested achieving only its own pattern of behavior. All of them selfishly advocate their own causes, but they cannot all gain satisfaction. Nietzsche emphasizes this sort of relationship among the drives with his micro-level analysis of practicing philosophy: “each one of [the drives] would be only too glad to present itself as the ultimate goal of existence and as the legitimate master of all the other drives. For every drive is tyrannical: and it is as such that it tries to philosophize” (BGE 6).

How does Nietzsche understand the precise nature of each drives’ motivation? For Nietzsche, each drive is motivated for its own cause by the “will to power.” Each drive is “tyrannical” insofar as it wants to win out over all the other drives in any given situation so that its own motivation will be acted upon and satisfied. He reiterates this idea of fierce competition among the drives when he says that, “In all willing it is absolutely a question of commanding and obeying, on the basis, as I have said already, of a social structure composed of many ‘souls’ [i.e. drives]: on which account a philosopher should claim the right to include willing as such within the field of morality: that is, of morality understood as the theory of relations of dominance under which the phenomenon ‘life’ arises” (BGE 19). Dudrick and Clark identify this competitiveness among the drives when they explain that, “each drive tries to seize hold of the person’s cognitive capacities and monopolize them as much as is both possible and practical for seeing the world from its point of view” (193).

As the drives battle amongst each other, trying to achieve continual satisfaction through gaining power over all of the other drives, a final “order of rank the innermost drives of his nature stand in relative to one another” is ultimately established. It is precisely this rank order that constitutes “who he is” and what that person’s values are (BGE 6). It is important to note, however, that just because these drives are what constitute or make up the set of values that a soul promotes, does not mean that that person’s values will be identical to those drives. In other words, no single drive corresponds to any single value; instead it is the whole and unique set of drives that yields a whole and unique set of values.

We have now established a basic understanding of how Nietzsche views the self. He rejects soul atomism, but does not reject the soul. Instead he takes up the original task of explaining how humans are able to act according to values and not merely according to desires, by reforming Plato’s original soul hypothesis: the tri-partite soul. Nietzsche’s soul must not be atomistic, for the atomistic soul does not really explain how values come to be; an atomistic soul cannot explain how it is that our soul is able to determine and enforce normatively decided behavior. Instead, Nietzsche posits the drives as subconscious psychological motivations, competing among each other for the power to assert their own particular behavioral demands. This competition among the drives results in a specific and unique set of drives, which make up the person’s unique set of values. Given the basics of Nietzsche’s psychological analysis of humans, we can now begin to investigate the details of his theory of the drives to find out some of the riches that his philosophy has to offer.

VII. What sort of arrangement best describes the social ordering of our drives?
Nietzsche describes our drives as being ordered politically.[3] This is perhaps a surprising analogy, but it is certainly one to which Nietzsche continually refers. What evidence is there that supports this interpretation? In BGE 19, one of the richest discussions Nietzsche offers of the self, the will, and the drives, Nietzsche explains that, “what happens here [in the soul] is what happens in every well-constructed and happy commonwealth: the ruling class identifies itself with the successes of the commonwealth” (BGE 19). Nietzsche explicitly refers to a ruling class which would represent the politically elite drives – those who have established their right to determine both a person’s values and his behavior. He continues with this political thread when he says, “He who wills adds in this way the sensations of pleasure of the successful executive agents [i.e. ruling drives], the serviceable ‘under-wills’ or under-souls – for our body is only a social structure composed of many souls – to his sensations of pleasure as commander” (BGE 19). All of these significant words carry political implications: Nietzsche is identifying the feeling of power and triumph that every politically dominant drive feels at the successful implementation of his executive command over his inferiors and the achievement of its own behavioral motivations.

In BGE 6, Nietzsche again alludes to the political nature of the drives when he describes that, “every drive is tyrannical” (BGE 6). Nietzsche chooses the word “tyranny” purposefully, for it implies that each and every drive craves an absolute and authoritarian political power over all others. Much later, in BGE Part IX, Nietzsche continues to use words with distinct political connotations. He talks of “corruption” and “anarchy” as threatening the instincts (BGE 258); he mentions “exploitation” and “corrupt or imperfect or primitive society” (BGE 259). He explicitly regards the drives as political when he points to “higher and mixed cultures… even within the same man, within one soul” (BGE 260). Later on, in describing different types of souls, he parallels “foreign lands” with “undangerous spirits,” where spirit, as we know, is defined as a collection of drives (BGE 295).

How could the drives come to be ordered politically? With this description of the drives, has Nietzsche lost track of his original task of describing human psychology naturalistically? Has Nietzsche strayed unacceptably far from a biological, cultural, and evolutionary explanation of values when he starts to assert this complex society at the micro-level? Nietzsche has in fact not abandoned his attempt to describe the human self and process of valuation naturalistically. As it turns out, Nietzsche presents a fully naturalistic account of how the drives came to have this political ordering in his Genealogy of Morality. Whereas in BGE Nietzsche merely explains what the condition of the drives is in man today (i.e. normatively and politically ordered), in his GM Nietzsche adds to his naturalistic psychological account: he explains how the drives came to be politically ordered by tracking the historical, natural development of man’s psychology.

The key point in human history that Nietzsche analyzes is the change from man as perfectly free and autonomous animal, to man as a member of a human society. Nietzsche describes this profound change that occurred in human behavior when he refers to “the deep sickness into which man had to fall under the pressure of that most fundamental of all changes he ever experienced – the change of finding himself enclosed once and for all within the sway of society and peace” (GM II 16). What was the impact of this cultural transformation on man? At the macro-level, man was no longer a completely instinctual creature; he was no longer merely an animal. Nietzsche himself analyzes the micro-level implications of this change in man’s status: “for this new, unfamiliar world they no longer had their old leaders, the regulating drives that unconsciously guided them safely” (GM II 16). Man now found himself subject to social behavioral norms; no longer could his drives operate simply according to pure causal strength. Certain social behaviors were punished, like violence among peers; thus, certain drives were denied satisfaction, like the drive to aggression. Nietzsche describes the significance of this change when he says, the drives’ “instinct for freedom [was] forcibly made latent… driven back, suppressed, imprisoned within, and finally discharging and venting itself only on itself [and not outward]: this, only this, is bad conscience in its beginnings” (GM II 17).

Nietzsche importantly notes that despite this foreign condition in which man found himself, where his behavior was constrained by social pressure and certain drives were denied satisfaction – despite this condition, his drives still wanted to exert their influence: “those old instincts had not all at once ceased to make their demands! It is just that it was difficult and seldom possible to yield to them” (GM II 16). Because many of the drives were now denied external expression, they had to seek satisfaction elsewhere. But where could they turn? Nietzsche answers that “for the most part [the drives] had to seek new and as it were subterranean [i.e. micro-level] gratifications. All instincts that do not discharge themselves outwardly turn themselves inwards – this is what I call the internalizing of man: thus first grows in man that which he later calls his “soul”” (GM II 16). Here is where the drives first found themselves in competition with each other for expression; thus developed the will to power which characterizes the drives’ political social arrangement.

What Nietzsche sets out to describe in this part of GM are the changes that happened to men, and the changes that subsequently resulted within man. Nietzsche tracks the biological, evolutionary, and especially cultural changes man endured throughout his history, and he explains how those changes ultimately resulted in the drives’ political arrangement. By addressing both of these levels of change, Nietzsche confirms that the political ordering of his drives is in fact an eligible and significant component of a complete naturalistic account of human psychology. Of course there is more to be said here about what happened to man and how this development went, but the full details of this process are beyond the scope of this paper.

The political ordering implies that there are certain drives that distinguish themselves as ranked above other drives. These are the drives that usually gain expression. There are a few elite drives that have secured power for themselves and have thereby earned the frequent satisfaction of their own personal behavioral demands. With this understanding, it becomes even clearer how Nietzsche means to identify “who [a person] is” with “the order of rank the innermost drives of his nature stand in relative to one another” (BGE 6). The powerful, politically elite drives are the ones who, as a set, ultimately constitute the set of values a person will hold.

One might still remain skeptical about the idea of a social order of rank. Why would the drives that end up at the bottom obey, or settle for that lower position? What differentiates the powerful drives from the powerless? Furthermore, how is this rank established in the first place? Does not this description seem to fall into the problem of homunculi again? It is important to note that we need not entirely personify the drives in order for this sort of language to make sense. Consider a helpful analogy: the wolf pack. Wolves are self-interested, non-rational, and non value-judging animals, and yet they form a social hierarchy within their pack. There is a dominant male who leads the pack, and there is a fairly rigid order of rank that continues on down through all of the wolves. Every wolf knows its place. Why are some wolves at the bottom? Simply because they are not worthy of being in charge. Why is the leader of the pack in power? Simply because the other wolves accept that he is most powerful and worthy of the position. The wolves typically do not feel angry or bitter over their rank; each wolf just has its own place. The only way the pack will function is for each wolf to adhere, at least to a certain extent, the social order.

The drives find themselves ordered in a similar way. It is not that the drives sit around a table and elect officials and all discuss where their place in the rank order will be. Instead, the ranking occurs naturally. Some drives are simply best for power, and the rest end up with lower in the power rankings. The drives that obey see that obeying will be good for them in the long run, insofar as obeying will enable social functioning and competition at all.

VIII. Philosophical upshot of understanding the drives as ordered politically?
Having defended Nietzsche’s use of the political analogy, let us now consider the significance of this explanation of the drives’ ordering. Throughout much of BGE, Nietzsche uses the metaphor of human society or politics to help describe what is really going on at the level of the drives. In fact, the connection is so explicitly and so consistently drawn, that one begins to wonder if Nietzsche has some sort of ulterior motive in stretching the analogy so far. So many of the same words and ideas that we use in observing human political society are used by Nietzsche in conjunction with the drives and their behaviors, that it almost begins to seem that we have a strong basis for believing that any time he uses such words and descriptors, even if there is no explicit mention of the drives, he might in fact be talking about the drives.

Such a hypothesis is not at all without precedent: Plato, the very philosopher whose version of the soul Nietzsche sets out to reform, makes the same connection between human society and the soul! Why did Plato make this analogy? In order to draw out, identify, and explain the virtues (namely, justice) by which individuals ought to live their life. Does it not seem plausible that Nietzsche might go on to use the same analogy as Plato to explain his own sort of ideal for individuals? Could it not be that Nietzsche’s extended use of political analogy is a strategy for drawing out, identifying, and explaining his own professed ideals?

Let us consider an example to test our hypothesis. Nietzsche begins his BGE Part IX by saying, “Every elevation of the type ‘man’ [i.e. person] has hitherto been the work of an aristocratic society – and so it will always be: a society which believes in a long scale of orders of rank and differences of worth between man and man and needs slavery in some sense or other” (BGE 257). In this quotation, Nietzsche never mentions the drives, but he does opt to put the word “man” between apostrophes; furthermore, Nietzsche uses the phrase “orders of rank” which he has so commonly used in conjunction with his discussions of the drives, and he offers a number of political allusions. What could these observations imply? Perhaps we might test the hypothesis I have just raised, and try substituting “man” with “drives.” What is the result? We end up not only with a perfectly intelligible sentence describing what goes on within the drives, but also we seem to gain some insight into what Nietzsche thinks amounts to or contributes to an “elevation” of man! Our new sentence would read: “Every elevation of the type ‘man’ has hitherto been the work of an aristocratic society [i.e. at the micro-level] – and so it will always be: a [drive] society which believes in a long scale of orders of rank and differences of worth between drive and drive and needs slavery in some sense or other.”

I propose that whenever we find Nietzsche discussing politics or human society, we must consider such a discussion to be a potential reference the drives, even when the drives are nowhere mentioned. By analyzing these passages, and determining what Nietzsche thinks is right in a society, and wrong with modern society, we will gain a better understanding of what Nietzsche thinks is right and wrong within the society of our drives! As we know, the drives are what constitute a person, so when Nietzsche offers insight into these drives, we suddenly find ourselves with evidence as to what Nietzsche’s ideal man will look like. By sharing his thoughts and opinions on the drives, we will come closer and closer to understanding his ever-elusive and unclear thoughts about his ideal man. Leave it to Nietzsche to make his ideal so hard to find.

[1] One might wonder what the relationship between the soul and the self is for the soul atomists. Human beings are selves. What makes this selfhood possible? The soul atomist explains that each of us is a self precisely because we each also have a soul. The self and the soul are not identical. Instead, the soul is an independent essence we have that makes it possible for each of us to think of ourselves as a self. Here we can see another way that the soul distinguishes humans from animals, for animals certainly do not have self-consciousness in the way that human beings do. We do have selves, but what makes that self-identity possible is that we have souls.

[2] By “willing” Nietzsche means simply to refer to the Self or the Soul insofar as it is involved in a person’s behavior. Certainly the term “willing” brings up other issues of “willpower” and “phenomenology of willing,” but those are neither relevant not problematic here.

[3] This might make one wonder whether we ought to reassess our resolution of the problem of homunculi, for a political order seems like a quite sophisticated human relationship that might too closely resemble full human persons for the drives still to qualify as much simpler proto-persons. Here we must note that Nietzsche only means to describe an analogy for how we ought best to understand the drives’ organizationgiven their basic psychological makeup: a will to the power to enforce their own behavioral patterns. With this analogy, nothing ought to change in the way we understand each individual drives; only our image of their resultant social order is now more developed.

Works Cited

Clark, Maudemarie, and David Dudrick. "Nietzsche on the Will: An Analysis of BGE 19." Nietzsche on Freedom and Autonomy. Comp. Ken Gemes and Simon May. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. 247-69. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. Trans. R. J. Hollingdale. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. On the Genealogy of Morality. Trans. Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub. Co, 1998. Print.


Clark, Maudemarie and David Dudrick. Nietzsche's Magnificent Tension of the Spirit: An Introduction to Beyond Good and Evil. Cambridge University Press.

Katsafanas, Paul. “Grounding Ethics in Philosophical Psychology.” From his article: “Deriving Ethics from Action: A Nietzschean Version of Constitutivism.” forthcoming in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research and available at:


Unknown said...

Thanks was awesdome

Unknown said...

Your reference should be (BGE 19) not 11 in this passage... "Willing[2] seems to me to be above all something complicated, something that is a unity only as a word – and it is precisely in this one word that the popular prejudice resides which has overborne the always inadequate caution of the philosophers… in al willing there is, first of all, a plurality of sensations… feelings… thought… affect” (BGE 11). "