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Dr. George Leiner Gives Talk at Nietzsche Society

Public Relations
Posted: Wednesday Nov 2, 2011

Dr. George H. Leiner, associate professor of philosophy at Saint Vincent College, gave a talk at The Nietzsche Society on October 19 in conjunction with the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy in Philadelphia. The talk was entitled, “Nietzsche’s Nihilisms: Active and Passive.”

“In this talk I addressed a common and fundamental misunderstanding of Friedrich Nietzsche’s nihilism,” Dr. Leiner explained. “In opposition to the widely accepted impression, the upshot of Nietzsche’s nihilism is not that the human world of experience is in vain, that it is doomed to be devoid of all meaning, that it is a sentence to unavoidable and irremediable suffering. Quite to the contrary, what follows from a fuller understanding of nihilism is the possibility for affirming human life, even in its daunting finitude, joyfully embracing the conditions of life, taking up this opportunity to flourish. Properly engaged, they insight us, to take up the task of creating values which provide a framework of life within which humans may set goals worthy of celebration. This is the stance to which Nietzsche refers as ‘active of nihilism makes it possible to see a wide horizon of human possibility spread out before nihilism.’ In such a circumstance we are re-vitalized, steps are quickened, and we are prepared to take up life in all its fullness.”

“But, before we arrive at active nihilism, we must understand the general nihilistic insight,” Dr. Leiner continued. “The nihilistic insight is the realization that humanity does not possess the ability to provide for itself definitive answers to our most pressing existential questions. In Nietzsche’s view, this failure of some 90 millennia has not been because of our laziness, or lack of will or courage, or even because of any particular perversity, but rather is the consequence of our human finitude. We simply lack the tools to peer into the absolute. But, once the abyssal insight of nihilism has been made, what then?”

“To find an answer, I examined three passages from Nietzsche’s unpublished materials: the first, an early sketch of The Will to Power penned by Nietzsche in Sils-Maria in the summer of 1886, second, the Lenzerheide-Fragment of June 10, 1887, and third, a section entitled “Nihilism as a Normal Condition,” written in the fall of 1887. I show that we can trace the development of active nihilism from Nietzsche’s discussions of ‘practical’ and ‘theoretical nihilism,’ and his contrasting of active nihilism with “passive nihilism.” What emerges from this study is the conclusion that Nietzsche’s active nihilism is not something which must be feared or overcome, but rather that it may form the basis for an affirmative life of human fulfillment.”

“This project is the most recent upshot of my some 35 years of work with the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche,” Dr. Leiner concluded. “I am a founding member of the Nietzsche Society, begun in 1979. In the past I have served as a member of the Executive Committee of the Society. I continue my work as the Book Review Editor of the Society’s journal, New Nietzsche Studies. My current work in Nietzsche’s thought dovetails well with my participation in the Stanford University Press translation project of the Kritische Studienausgabe (Critical Study Edition) of Nietzsche’s work.”

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