Nietzche's "will to power" ... I don't understand it (the phrase, that is)

I came across a reference to Nietzche’s concept of “the will to power” again today, and it made me realize that I just absolutely do not understand the construction of the phrase itself.

Now, I looked through the wikipedia entry and I understand the concept itself, but the phrase “the will to power” just seems to make no sense to me. I understand that it’s a translation of “Wille zur Macht”, and so maybe it was poorly translated and then caught on and never corrected. Should it be something more like “the will to create”? Or “the will to exert/gain power”? It’s meant to be a parallel construction to other common biological/philosophical concepts, like the “will to survive,” isn’t it? What’s going on here? Is “macht” here a noun or a verb?

That phrase is translated quite accurately. It is also translated literally. It is not all that common for translations to work that way - a literal translation won’t often convey the same meaning as the original phrase.

“Macht” in this cas is a noun, just as in English.

I don’t think I want to get into the philosophy behind this, though.

No offense to Nietzche, then, but I just can’t understand how this could make sense. “the Will to power?” That’s like saying “the will to success” or “the will to procreation” or “the will to refrigerator.” How can there be a noun there, and not a verb? Now, the will to LIVE, to PROCREATE, to SUCCEED, to EXERCISE POWER … those make sense. “The will to power” just doesn’t, by my lights. “The desire for power”, maybe.

Nietzsche’s will to power is the fundamental drive and causal agent of nature. He believed that every dynamic and every power could be reduced to it. He thought that it explained the metaphysical nature of everything from the whole universe to the smallest unit of energy — behavior, essence, ontology, the whole ball of wax. Basically, it was his universal theory of everything. Everything that happens and everything that exists does so and is the way it is because of the will to power.

Looking at the OP again, it occurs to me that this is more of a linguistics question than one of general metaphysics. Sorry for the intrusion.

Maybe it sounds better in German. My German isn’t good enough to be able to tell, but Mort Furd is correct that “will to power” is a direct translation of “Wille zur Macht”. I can’t guess at Nietzsche’s reasons for preferring this phrase over some other one, but it may help to think of “will to power” as something like “train to Weimar”. Power is what we’re moving towards, and our will is what we are using to get there.

It’s not at all hard to imagine a writer in English using a phrase like “will to success.” It might be ungrammatical, but it carries a bit more oomph than “will to succeed.”

Maybe my grammatical sensibilities have been corrupted by Madison Avenue, Anthony Robbins, and the all-pervasive American business culture.

I think I can speak to that somewhat, by providing the context in which he conceived the phrase. Nietzsche was heavily influenced by the famously pessimistic philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, and took his “will to power” directly from Schopenhauer’s “will to live”. Many consider Nietzche’s reading of Schopenhauer to be a misinterpretation — namely, that he advocated denial of the will over affirmation of it. But Schopenhauer’s claim was an aescetic one, not an epistemic one.

I think the bottom line to the concept of Will to Power is: What is the driving force that motivates and influences all actions?

To Nietzsche, it was power - we all want more power within the context of our lives.

To others, I have seen:

Will to Meaning - we want to have a sense of meaning in our lives
Will to Love - we want love
Will to Procreate - a “selfish gene” few - we want to live long enough to ensure the survival of the gene pool
Will to F**k - a variant on Will to Procreate, this take the biological basis for procreation but says that we are so suffused with the need to “do it” that it informs all our actions…
There are plenty of others…

To me, a better philosophical question might be - can an individual’s/group’s/species’ motivation be reduced to single factor across all situations and actions? IANAPhilosopher, but that seems simplistic and only of value from a “thought experiment” basis…

Again, this is really a grammar question. I just don’t see how you can have a noun following “Will to” and have it make sense. You need a verb. Else we have:

The will to refrigerator.
The will to puppy.
The will to gambling.
The will to donuts.

It should be the Will to EXERT power, or ACQUIRE power, etc. Or better, the DESIRE FOR POWER.

No, Will to Meaning makes no sense. DESIRE FOR MEANING makes sense.
Will to Love makes sense if you mean “will to love [object].” if you WANT love, then it’s DESIRE for love.
Will to procreate: Now this works. But following the ridiculous construction of Will to Power, this phrase should be rendered “Will to Procreation.” Dumb.
Will to FK–again, good. In will to [noun] form, though, we wind up with "the will to fking", which is patently stupid.

I have no problem with Nietzche’s idea that Power, and the desire to acquire and exert it (esp. for mastery of oneself) is a valid concept. But the grammatical construction “Will + to + power” is just plain wrong.

Power can be a verb.

Batteries power my laptop.

I power my way to victory.

I guess I don’t see a problem here.

If I remember my high school German correctly, isn’t “zur” a contraction of “zu der,” which means “to the” (preposition + definite article, in the dative case)? Not sure if this helps—different languages use definite articles differently.

And maybe you should think of the word “will” here as in “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”?

That’s exactly the classical philosophical meaning of the term — a fixed and persistent intent or purpose. It is not a decision or choice, but the faculty for deciding and choosing.

Oh, go verb yourself! :cool:

It’s more like a chapter header for the rest of his philosophy… otherwise, instead of just saying “Oh, Nietzche’s Will to Power philosophy states blah blah blah” you have to explain the entire philosophy.

Basically: We have a will to exert power and dominance over others. It is the evolutionary drive to pass on our genetics expressed through strength (as opposed to, say, love). Using one’s power over another to guarantee one will triumph over another.


Actually, I don’t think that’s what Nietzsche’s philosophy is about. Not that you couldn’t make a case for it. N. was not the clearest writer in the history of philosophy. From the Wikipedia –

His ethics, likewise, are not as harsh as people often assume:

Public perception of Nietzsche’s thought has been somewhat distorted by the meddling of his sister, who outlived him and revised some of the works he left behind before publishing them:

But, for all of that . . . yeah, dude was one sick fuck, no shit.

No, it is *not *translated correctly. ‘Will to’ is never used before a noun in English. Wille zur Macht means ‘desire for power’. ‘Will to’ in English is used only before verbs.