What is the vocabular meaning of "Will to power"?



What exactly is the vocabular meaning of "Will to power", as Nietzsche meant it?

I think it means:

Will: Noun, meaning desire, drive, desire, wish, determination.

To: infinitive marker, indicating verb is in the infinitive form

To Power: verb, meaning to impel, to force, to direct, to command or control

Is that right? Alternatives meanings might be:

To: Preposition, meaning towards, approaching

Power: Noun meaning domination or ascendancy


Posted 2016-11-03T08:02:39.483

Reputation: 265


See Will to power (German: der Wille zur Macht). It is a "generalization" of the or Wille zum Leben ("Will to Live") of Arthur Schopenhauer. "There is will to power where there is life and even the strongest living things will risk their lives for more power. This suggests that the will to power is stronger than the will to survive."

– Mauro ALLEGRANZA – 2016-11-03T08:10:40.703

Thus, if "Will to live" means "a drive, a force, a desire aimed at surviving", we may read "Will to power" as "a drive, a force, a desire aimed at command, at owerpower (?)". – Mauro ALLEGRANZA – 2016-11-03T11:04:08.277

I am not sure "vocabulary meaning" is on-topic on PSE. And in any case, that is obscure since the expression is not colloquial. Neitzsche, who came up with the expression, certainly meant a lot more than the "literal" meaning by it.

– Conifold – 2016-11-03T17:32:18.807

@Conifold yes it is on topic because the term "will to power" per se is ambiguous but the precise meaning Nietzsche intended is clarified by his wider writings, so this is really an inquiry into what Nietzsche meant - not an inquiry into English language or translation. – samerivertwice – 2016-11-04T15:07:43.547

Another problem is that: 1) this is translated, 2) the translation is less literal than usual as it is influenced by existing terms and their overtones (Wille zum Leben) and 3) Nietzsche often chooses his wording with excessive attention to overtones in German, which disappear or create ambiguity in English. The ambiguities in English don't exist in German, so it is hard to consider the resulting grammatical considerations philosophical, except for the usual problems all subtle thinking has in translation. – None – 2016-11-04T17:52:43.023

what you seem to be asking is how to parse the phrase. you might try linguistics or English SE. – None – 2016-11-04T20:56:03.310

@mobileink I know how to parse the phrase, my English is second to none. There are several ways to parse it. What I want to know, is which of those parsings best corresponds with the meaning Nietzsche intended. I am inquiring into what he meant, which is a question of philosophy. – samerivertwice – 2016-11-06T19:59:45.680

@Robert Frost: didn't mean to impugn you English skills, just thought you might get useful help on the other fora. – None – 2016-11-06T20:02:00.643

@Robert Frost : fwiw I have always taken "to" as a proposition but I guess you'd have to find somebody who understands German to get at the original sense. – None – 2016-11-06T20:05:18.820

@mobileink Sorry, I didn't mean to criticise. I don't think language students would be as knowledgeable about his work as a philosopher to say which meaning he intended. See Jobermark's comment below... it seems you are right it's the preposition and "Power" is a noun... The "will for power" or "will towards power"; which wasn't how I originally interpreted it. – samerivertwice – 2016-11-06T20:07:19.960

@Robert Frost : and it has never occurred to me to take "to power" as a verbal phrase, but why not? What would Derrida do? ;) – None – 2016-11-06T20:12:23.933



The original German is 'der Wille zur Macht'

Re 'Wille':

I think the original interpretation is correct.

Re 'Macht':

Neitsche includes domination in his view of power, but he also includes influence and all other ways of affecting the world. Power, is at root, 'potesse' -- being able, and not necessarily oppression. In fact, he notes that oppression is too much directed at others to really be absolute power. In caring that you dominate, you give power to those dominated, whose responses actually determine your happiness.

His less didactic books, like 'The Gay Science' and even 'All too Human' have a focus on art as an aspect of life that makes no sense if one thinks of power as domination alone. Artists do not dominate, they influence.

And in fact, in his critiques of Wagner, he points out how, when art dominates, it actually has less power, because it loses the ability to influence on a more detailed level. Power aims to make the world exactly as one wishes it. This cannot be accomplished any better with a maul than with a paintbrush if the essence of your vision has a great deal of detail.

Nietzsche also has a vision of the unity of opposites that strongly foretells psychoanalysis (thus the need for a focus that questions values, as captured in Beyond Good and Evil). For instance, in The Gay Science, he admires the motive of domination so strong that it can be adequately served by forgiveness, being 'Drunk off' in imagination so deeply that it leaves one overly full, and calls for its opposite. He points out that doing good for others is also a way of controlling their lives. If you are powerful in a way that suits your nature, then, you might be magnanimous, or endlessly motherly, rather than dominant.

Re 'zur':

Here 'to' means 'for', 'toward' or 'unto'. Although 'zu' is also used with infinitives, like the English 'to', given the article marker and the capitalization 'Macht' here is a noun and not an infinitive. It is more often translated 'for' in such cases, to remove an ambiguity that exists in English and not in German. However, Schopenhauer's 'Wille zum Leben' had already consistenty been translated "Will to Live' rather than "Will for Life", and this naturally followed that compromised construction.


Posted 2016-11-03T08:02:39.483


1Just pointing out a fact most English readers of Nietzsche are not familiar with: The Will to Power is not authorised by Nietzsche. It is a book published by Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche together with Heinrich Köselitz. There are sentences altered, added and put together in a way never intended by Nietzsche himself. E.g. in German and Italian there are critical editions accounting for that. – Philip Klöcking – 2017-06-01T23:46:15.803

So "to" is the infinitive marker then? – samerivertwice – 2016-11-04T15:10:00.773

2No, here 'to' means 'for', 'toward' or 'unto'. The original German is 'der Wille zur Macht', (and not der Wille zu machen) so Macht here is a noun and not an infinitive. It is more often translated 'for' in such cases, to remove an ambiguity that exists in English and not in German. However, Schopenhauer's 'Wille zum Leben' had already consistenty been translated "Will to Live' rather than "Will for Life", and this naturally followed that compromised construction. – None – 2016-11-04T16:10:19.330

Brilliant, thanks @jobermark. I'm sure that must be a fact frequently missed by English language readers. If you add that to your answer I can accept it. – samerivertwice – 2016-11-06T20:07:49.447