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TitleKeiji Nishitani - The Self Overcoming Nihilism
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Page 1

THE SELF~OVERCOMING
OF NIHILISM

NISHITANI Keiji ·.

Translated by Graham Parkes with Setsuko Aihara

"As a past reader of Nishitani in both "'the original J~panese and
English translation, I find this manuscript to be the most accessible
and clearly written of any book-length work I have read by him. It
shows Nishitani as a vital and vigorous thinker, and serves as an
introduction to his widely acclaimed Religion and Nothingness.

"The summaries of the relation to nihilism of Hegel,
Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Feuerbach, and Stirner, a nearly forgotten
figure in intellectual history, are all perspicacious. Even the chapters
on Nietzsche, about whom volume~ .t ft; 'written these days, provide
new insights. The brief section on the· problem of nihilism for Japan is
unprecedented in the English literature, and_ the sketches on karma
and historicity whet the appetite for the mor.e. ,extensive and difficult
expositions in Religion and Nothingness.

"It will be mandatory reading for an understanding of both Nishi~ ·
tani's thought and the problem of nihilism. Scholars and other persons
interested in nihilism, in Nietzsche, and/or in contemporary Buddhist
or Japanese philosophy, will greatly profit from a study of this book."

-John C. Maraldo,
Department of Philosophy, University of North Florida ..

"This is a fine translation of an imp<?rta~t .. work in the corpus of
Nishitani's early writings. The translation is timely both because of the
Western interest in Nishitani as a .P,r~~minent contemporary Japanese
philosopher and because of the contin'uing Western perplexity· about
the problems Nishitani addresses. Nishitani is one of the world's
greatest living philosophers and even in tP,is early work of his that'
brilliance shines through."

-Thomas P. Kasulis, Department of Philo~ophy, Northland College
'

NISHITANI Keiji was for ma'ny y~ars Professor of Religious
Philosophy at Kyoto l,[niversity, and since his retirement has been
Professor Emeritus at Otani Buddhist University in Kyoto. Graham
Parkes is Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of
Hawaii at Manoa. He is the editor of Heidegger and Asian Thought and
Nietzsche and Asian Thought. Setsuko Aihara teaches Japanese at the
University of Hawa~i at Manoa .. and is the author of Reading Japanese:
Strategies for Decoding Japanese Sentence Structure.

ISBN 0-7914-0437-4

A volume in the SUNY series in
Modern Japanese Philosophy

Peter J. McCormick, Editor
I
I
I

The Self-Overcoming

at N IHILISM

NISHITANI Keiji



..~;. .

,. ..
. ,~· ·

,.

,;

Translated by
Graham Parkes

·with Setsuko Aihara

Page 2

THE SELF-OVERCOMING OF

NIHILISM

Page 70

I Chapter Six I

Nihilism as Egoism: Max Stirner

1. Stirner's Context

While Dostoevsky and Nietzsche must be acknowledged as the
thinkers who plumbed the depths of nihilism most deeply, we can
see the outlines of nihilism-though not fully developed as such-
in an earlier work published by Max Stirner in 1844, The Ego and His
Own.1 Thanks to the revival of interest in Stirner's work by J. H.
Mackay (Max Stirner, Sein Leben und Sein Werk, 1897), attention has
been drawn to various similarities between Stirner's ideas and those
of Nietzsche. It is almost certain that Nietzsche did not read
Stirner's work. If he was acquainted with Stirner at all, it was prob-
ably indirectly through Lange's History of Materialism. 2 In the ab-
sence of direct and substantive influence, the presence of such
similarities raises a number of questions.

At the same time, comparisons must not be allowed to obscure
the great difference in the foundations of their philosophies and in
the spirit that pervades the entirety of their thought. Although
Mackay regards Stirner far more highly than he does Nietzsche,
there is in Stirner nothing of the great metaphysical spirit excavat-
ing the subterranean depths we find in Nietzsche. Stirner's cri-
tiques do not display the anatomical thoroughness of Nietzsche's
painstaking engagement with all aspects of culture; nor does one
hear in Stirner the prophetic voice of a Zarathustra resounding from
the depths of the soul. The unique style of Stirner's thinking lay in
a combination of a razor-sharp logic that cuts through straight to
the consequences of things and an irony that radically inverts all
standpoints with a lightness approaching humor. In this regard his
work is not without its genius. Feuerbach, even though he was one
of the primary targets of Stirner' criticisms, admired The Ego and His

101

Page 71

102 The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism

Own greatly, referring to it in a letter addressed to his brother
shortly after the book appeared as "a work of genius, filled with
spirit." Feuerbach allowed that even though what Stirner had said
about him was not right, he was nevertheless "the most brilliant
and liberated writer I have ever known."

Stirner's book showed him at his best in his confrontation with
the turbulent Zeitgeist of the period, set in a highly charged political
atmosphere culminating in the outbreak of the February Revolution
of 1848. Among the intelligentsia the radical ideas of the "Hegelian
left" were in high fashion. As Nietzsche was to write later: "The
whole of human idealism up until now is about to turn into nihilism"
(WP 617); and indeed such a turn was already beginning to show
signs of emerging from the intellectual turmoil of the earlier period.
It was Stirner who grasped what Nietzsche was to call the "turn
into ruhilism" in its beginning stages, presenting it as egoism.

Around the beginning of the 1840s a group of people who
called themselves "Die Freien" used to gather in Hippel's tavern on
the Friedrichstrasse in Berlin. The central figure of the group was
Bruno Bauer, and such people as Marx and Engels occasionally at-
tended as well. Stirner was among these "Free Ones." The trend at
that time was a sharp turn away from idealism and romanticism in
favor of realism and political criticism. The criticism of the liberals
was focused on overthrowing the coalition of Christian theology,
Hegelian philosophy, and political conservatism. It was only natural
that Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity which appeared in 1841
would cause a great shock through its severe critique of religion.
The current of thought broke forth into a rushing torrent. In no
time Marx and others had developed Feuerbach's ideas into a mate-
rialism of praxis and history, while Bruno Bauer developed them in
the opposite direction of "consciousness of self." Stirner then took
the latter's ideas to the extreme to develop a standpoint of egoism.
It was only three years after Feuerbach' s The Essence of Christianity
that Stirner's The Ego and His Own was published, which shows how
rapidly ideas were changing at the time. His critique of Feuerbach is
directed at his basic principle of "anthropology," the standpoint
that "human being" is the supreme essence for human beings. In
this sense, Stirner and Marx exemplify two entirely opposite direc-
tions of transcending the standpoint of humanity in human beings.

As mentioned earlier, Feuerbach represented a reaction against
Hegel's philosophy of absolute Spirit, in much the same way as
Schopenhauer had, since both criticized the idealism of the specula-
tive thinking in Hegel and the Christian "religious nature of spirit"
at its foundation. But just as Nietzsche detected a residue of the

Nihilism as Egoism 103

Christian spirit in Schopenhauer's negative attitude towards "will
to life," Stirner recognized vestiges of the religious spirit and ideal-
ism in the theological negation of God and Hegelian idealism in
Feuerbach. Both Nietzsche and Stirner, by pushing the negation of
idealism and spiritualism to the extreme, ended up at the opposite
pole of their predecessors. This may account for some of the simi-
larities between them.

2. The Meaning of Egoism

At the beginning of his major work Stirner cites the motto "Ich hab'
Mein' Sach' auf Nichts gestellt." Translated literally, this means "I
have founded my affair on nothing." Here we have Stirner's basic
standpoint in nuce: the negation of any and all standpoints. Noth-
ing, whether God or morality, may be set up as a ground to support
the self and its activity. It is in effect a standpoint that rejects stand-
ing on anything other than the self itself, a standpoint based on
"nothing." The motto is ordinarily used to express the attitude of
indifference to everything, the feeling of "I don't care."3 It means a
lack of interest in anything, a loss of the passion to immerse oneself
in things, and a feeling of general apathy. But it also includes a kind
of negative positiveness, a nonchalant acceptance of things which
appropriates them as the life-content of the self and enjoys the life
of the self in all things. (There are affinities here to the idea of act-
ing in "empty non-attachment" in Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu.4) Its
positiveness negates any positiveness that makes something other
than the self the affair to which one devotes oneself. It is an attitude
of enjoying what one has rejected from the self as the content of
one's life, transforming everything into the self's own concern. It is,
in short, the "egoistic" posture.

One normally considers the higher things to be those that re-
late to a universal apart from the self. One devotes oneself to such
matters and makes them the concerns of the self. The religious per-
son serves God, the socialist serves society, patriots their country,
the housewife her home, as the concern (Sache) of the self. Each
sees the meaning of life in this concern and finds his or her mission
in it. To efface the self and devote oneself to one's concern is re-
garded as a superior way of life. By making God, country, human-
ity, society, and so forth one's own concern, one forgets the self and
invests one's interest in something outside the self which then be-
comes one's own affair. This is one's Sache, the focus of ideals or
values regarded as sacred. The foundation of such concern could be

Page 139

238 Index

Phenomenology, 158
Philosophy, 7, 11, 70, 111-112, 133,

137, 141-142, 152, 147-163, 173;
contemporary, 189; critical, 159;
for Dostoevsky, 152; existential,
3, 126, 162; experimental, 31, 64;
Greek, 77, 175, 187; Hegelian,
9-11, 13-14, 16-17, 19, 22-24,
102; Heideggerian, 157-163; his-
tory of, 10, 13, 181, 184; of his-
tory, 3-6, 10, 30-31; Kant's
practical, 147; as love of wisdom,
16; Nietzsche's, 30-31, 39, 46, 49,
51, 64, 94, 118; nihilistic, 39, 157;
Stirner's, 102, 104-105, 118, 120,
123, 125; scientific, 125-126, 134,
158

Pity (Mitleid), 15, 39, 41, 52, 56-57,
73-74, 129, 132

Plato, 63, 70, 81, 87, 154, 158-159,
181

Platonism, 12-13, 35, 70
Play, 19, 49, 54, 61-62, 67, 80, 94,

120
Positivism, 9, 24, 37, 63, 87, 147-

148, 189
Possessed, The, 132, 143, 148, 153
Possibility, 13, 19-20, 47, 90, 157,

164-168, 171, 179
Praxis, 25-26, 34, 37, 39, 74, 102,

189
Predestination, 92, 186, 190
Present, the, 2, 15, 31-35, 49, 57-

58, 78, 82-83, 87, 98, 104, 116,
175, 178-179, 181, 184

Progress, 27, 47, 49, 92, 99, 176, 184
Projection, 11-12, 15, 23, 71, 73-75,

144, 164-172
Property, 113-118, 121, 174
Prophecy, 30-31, 178, 181
Psychology, 28, 32, 34-36, 42-44,

71, 73, 77, 104, 131

Raskolnikov, 132, 143, 156
Realism, 9, 11-13, 16-17, 22, 25-26,

28, 63, 102, 106-107, 134-135,
138, 152

Reality, 6, 9, 10-17, 20, 22-26, 30,
36, 38, 41-43, 46-48, 61, 63, 73,
87, 90, 129, 132, 134, 139, 141,
144, 147, 150, 174

Reason, 49, 95, 98, 116, 137, 150-
151, 153, 160, 171, categories of,
46; control of, 147; divine, 10, 46;
Dostoevsky's understanding of,
152; Hegel, 9; human, 46, 77;
Nietzsche, the body as a great
reason, 96, 125; unity with sensa-
tion, 24

Recurrence, eternal, 44-45, 53-55,
57, 59-65, 67, 94, 120, 174

Redemption, 21, 38-39, 73-75, 110,
132, 148

Reflection, 21-22, 32, 53, 73, 108,
131

Religion, 10-11, 13, 18, 20-27, 34,
38-39, 48, 64-67, 71-78, 81-85,
87, 94, 97-98, 102-105, 110-112,
114, 116, 127, 129, 131, 133-134,
137, 139, 147-148, 173, 183-185,
188

Resolution, 62, 77-78, 167, 170, 176
Revaluation, 29, 78, 84, 92
Revelation, 21, 32, 164-165, 168-169
Revolution, 104, 119
Ring (of recurrence), 57-60
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 40, 71, 149
Russia, 28, 127-130, 138-139, 148

Sacrifice, 40, 122, 143
Salvation, 40, 74
Sartre, Jean-Paul, 1, 185-190
Schelling, F. W. J., 11, 14, 16, 18,

147
Schopenhauer, Arthur, 9, 11-18, 22,

27-28, 36, 41, 48, 56, 102-103,
1201 125, 180

Science, 13, 30, 62-64, 70-71, 76,
84-94, 98, 125-126, 129, 133-137,
140-141, 147-151, 155, 157-161,
171; science= Existence, 92, 94-95

Sein und Zeit, 164-167
Self-affirmation, 98
Self-alienation, 25, 183-85

l Index 239
Self-consciousness, 7, 9, 25-26, 41,

46-47, 72-73, 77, 87, 96-98, lQ9,
136-137, 140-146, 152, 154-155,
183

Self-contradiction, 20, 25, 61, 187
Self-criticism, 83, 98-99, 115, 176,

179
Self-deception, 41, 43, 46, 49, 71,

78, 82, 99, 145, 148, 158
Self-love, 16, 23, 56, 187
Self-negation, 11, 98-99
Self-overcoming, 47, 62, 64, 68, 84-

85, 98, 118
Self-overlapping, 59
Self-power (jiriki), 185-187, 190
Self-preservation, 34, 39, 46, 96
Self-reflection, 30-31, 33, 76
Self-splitting, 25, 75, 139, 176
Self-transformation, 52
Sensuousness (Sinnlichkeit), 20, 24-

25
Sin, 17, 21, 38, 66, 117, 148, 185, 189
Sincerity, 6-7, 16, 42-44, 47, 109,

132, 180
Skepticism, 13, 108-109, 158
Socialism, 27-28, 37, 40-41, 90,

103, 114, 120, 128, 131, 134-139,
147-152, 155, 185

Socrates, 81, 107-109
Solitude, 31, 52, 55-56, 142
Soul, 38, 40, 52-53, 59-60, 65-68,

92-96, 101, 125, 127, 129-132,
137-138, 147-149, 152, 189-190

Species, 26, 39-40, 121, 124
Speculation, 14, 142, 157
Spirit, 1, 3, 6-13, 16, 19, 23-24, 28,

30-31, 37-38, 41, 51, 55-56, 59,
67, 72-73, 79-98, 101-115, 119,
124, 127, 130-131, 133-140, 147-
148, 155, 160, 174, 177, 181; of
gravity, 55, 57, 59, 67; spiritual
core, 175-176; spiritual depth,
178, 181; spiritual nobility, 177;
spiritual void, 175

Stavrogin, 132, 143, 153
State, the, 7, 84, 111-116, 120-122,

132, 141, 145

Stirner, Max, 7, 9, 26, 28, 36, 75,
101-125, 172, 174, 179

Striving, 15, 23, 61-62, 153
Subjectivity, 2, 5, 10-11, 13, 20, 23-

26, 30, 47, 71-73, 78, 110, 129,
142, 148, 157-159, 174, 176, 186-
187, 189-190

Suffering (Leiden), 14-15, 17, 23,
33-34, 38-39, 50-60, 65-66, 73-
77, 82, 96, 99, 132, 138-140, 154,
180, 184-185

Temporality, 5-6, 9-10, 17, 20, 21,
59, 160, 162-163, 167-168, 186,
188

Theism, 14, 36, 65
Theology, 13, 23-24, 75, 102-103,

109, 112, 133, 149, 161, 185
Theory, 15, 26, 34-39, 53, 58, 76,

128-130, 134, 164
Theses on Feuerbach, 25
Theoria, 141-142
Thing-in-itself, 14, 37, 48, 73
Thrownness (Geworfenheit), 164-166,

169-170, 172
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 49, 52, 75,

79, 95, 125
Totality, 18, 25-27, 35, 157, 163,

168-169, 171-172, 189
Tradition, 3, 82, 126, 129-130, 158,

175, 177-181, 189-190
Transcendence, 4, 7, 18, 21, 23-24,

28, 36, 54, 78, 106, 109, 140, 157,
163-164, 166, 168, 171-172, 174,
180, 186

Transhistoricality, 5-7, 9
Transtemporality, 6, 9-10
Treatise on the Essence of Human Free-

dom, 147
Truth, 10, 16, 22-23, 36, 42-43, 45-

47, 61, 74, 79, 82-87, 96, 98-99,
105-109, 118-120, 129-131, 149,
157, 167, 171

Turgenev, Ivan, 129, 133, 135, 137-
139, 155

Turn. See Need, turn of
Twilight of the Idols, 63, 72

Page 140

240 Index

Two times two is four, 145-146,
148, 150-151, 154

Tyranny, 112, 127

Ubermensch (overman), 56, 68, 98,
143

Uncanniness (Unheimlichkeit), 110,
166-167, 171

Unconscious, 41, 49, 78, 82, 87,
116, 136

Understanding, 1-2, 4-5, 15, 23,
32, 43, 48-49, 72, 75, 85, 89, 95,
105, 107, 109, 120, 123, 125, 137,
139, 149, 158-165, 167-170

Unity, 13, 24, 35, 46-47, 61, 123-
125, 133-134, 154, 172, 174, 176,
180

Untruth, 96, 107, 109, 118

Value(s), 3, 29-49, 52, 55, 63-64,
73-74, 78, 80-82, 84, 86, 88-90,
92, 103-104, 109, 146, 158, 189

Value-interpretation, 33, 45, 63
Void, the, 4, 14-15, 18-19, 28, 36-

37, 78, 83-84, 106, 110, 125, 135,
175, 178, 183, 190

West, the, 128-131, 140
Westernization, 176-178, 179
What is Metaphysics?, 161, 164, 167-

171
Will, 16, 20, 40, 70, 72-77, 80, 86,

112, 115, 127, 151, 176-177; escape
from, 16; God's, 186; metaphysics
of, 13, 22; negation of, 15, 73,
180. See also Free will

Will to death, 87
Will to deception, 46-47, 99
Will to evil, 139
Will to illusion, 41-44, 47
Will to life, 11, 14-15, 41, 98, 103,

152-153, 155
Will to nothing, 73-74, 76-77
Will to power, 8, 29, 31-33, 38-39,

41, 43, 45-52, 56, 61, 63, 72, 76,
84, 89, 94-99, 104, 117-118, 172

Will to truth, 47, 86-87, 89, 96,
118, 158

Will to veneration, 89
Will to Power, The, 8, 31, 34, 36, 39,

40, 41, 42, 44, 45, 46, 49, 50, 54,
61, 62, 63, 65, 66, 76, 84, 90, 94,
99, 102, 180

Wisdom, 16, 34, 62, 81-82, 112, 178
World (Welt), 163, 166, 172; world

beyond (jenseits, Hinterwelt), 38-
39, 73-75, 78, 83; inverted world,
141-142, 161; other world, 36,
47-48, 54, 74-78, 83, 86, 89-90,
106, 109-110, 157, 163, 183; this
world, 35-37, 41, 47-48, 50, 54-
55, 59, 61, 66, 78, 81, 83-84, 86,
90, 94, 105-109, 117, 136, 140

Worldview, 6, 13, 35, 76, 81, 85-86,
89, 107, 109, 127, 140, 147, 150-
151, 155, 160-161

Writer's Diary, A, 130, 134

Zarathustra, 31, 49, 52-60, 64, 66-
68, 74-75, 80-81, 94, 96-97, 101,
142

Zen, 48, 59, 66-67, 92, 191

' k

I,

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