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"value for Life" and Nietzsche

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What is so significant about the concept of a "value for life?" Are our concepts and commitments only valid in regards to their usefulness?

In "The Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life" Nietzsche makes the comment that persons should " serve history only to the extent that history serves life", or perhaps in others words humanity should perceive, comprehend and interpret history only to the point of its utility. Further, he advocates what he calls the "active forgetting" of events, the letting go of them, for he argues that "when it [history] attains a certain degree of excess, life crumbles and degenerates, and through this degeneration history itself finally degenerates also." On face value such a concept may not seem very insightful, but a closer analysis raises some important questions and these will be the focus of this paper.

One of the most important issues that arises when introducing the reader with the concept of a "value for life" is precisely what is meant by such a term, for its significance is crucial to assessing Nietzsche's comments on history. If history is to be subservient to life, as he suggests, then what does life mean? Given the content of the text it appears that he uses the term to refer to the seemingly never-ending process of "becoming", the constant flux that creates the future. Thus as long as history assists this process then history of useful. But then we come to another important line of enquiry. Whose process of becoming is he referring to? The individual's or the collective's? As I see it, the text on this point is not entirely clear. He seems to move between the individual and society at will, leaving one with the nagging sensation of the Aristotelian concept of the common good. However regardless of whether he refers to one or the other the most pressing question is who gets to define for both the individual or society or both what is good for life and what is not? It is on this point that the weakness of Nietzsche's concept begins to show.

To put it simply, Nietzsche's construction is incomplete because of a failure to appreciate that a "value for life" is an abstract term that can mean vastly different things for vastly different reasons. Given that history is a means by which we are "becoming", then it is understandably a powerful tool and Nietzsche recognised it, because as he saw it "[history] stands in the service of an unhistorical power." . But in his attempt to address and discuss what he believed to be the incorrect scientific study of history in favour of unhistorical living, he leaves the door open for all sorts of problems. For example, if the State were to decide what concepts and ideas from the past were useful, then one immediate thinks of the harrowing images of Nineteen Eighty-Four, where all facets of the past are manipulated and presented to the masses in a way that serves the needs of the powerful, a place where inconvenient truths are easily forgotten. Alternatively if the individual is left to determine what history is useful to them, then this too would leave gaping holes, for individuals are rarely able to look in the mirror to ugly reflections.

Therefore Nietzsche's comments, perhaps with good intentions, can nevertheless be fatal to criticism and alternative thinking. One can easily interpret them in such a way that a status quo in maintained or dissent is quashed in the

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