‘The question in each and every thing’: Nietzsche and Weil on affirmation

Stuart Jesson read

Abstract: This paper identifies and offers commentary upon a previously un-remarked consonance between Nietzsche and Weil when it comes to the idea of a universal love of the world (‘affirmation’ in Nietzsche’s terms, or ‘consent to necessity’ in Weil’s). The discussion focuses on five features of the Nietzschean account of affirmation, which are as follows: 1) that the possibility of affirmation has the form of a fundamental question at the heart of human life, which (2) has an all-or-nothing character (it is universal in scope and pervasive in influence); that (3) genuine affirmation is rare, difficult or traumatic in an existentially revealing way, primarily because (4) affirmation means facing up to the lack of finality in the world and in particular the problem of meaningless suffering, which means that (5) affirmation is tied up with a fundamental revaluation. The first half of the paper outlines the parallels between Nietzschean affirmation and Weilian ‘consent to necessity’ in relation to the first three of these, which are also the most general. The second half of the paper explores the fourth and fifth, so as to suggest a way of reading the underlying similarity between these two projects: both are attempts to rediscover the possibility of an all-embracing affirmation of reality in the absence of any existential teleology, and when eschatology has been presumed to be impossible. In other words, both Nietzsche and Weil are compelled to find a way of achieving a transfigured perspective on ‘the whole’ in the absence of any transformation of ‘the whole’.

International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, vol. 86, no.2 (2019) pp. 131-155.