I'm having a hard time grasping Nietzsche's idea of eternal recurrence, as I do not understand the relationship between the idea of eternal recurrence and the rest of his philosophy. (e.g. the concept of the Superhuman, the Will to power, etc.) If eternal recurrence is driving this world's action, this contradicts the progressive view of the world. How can eternal recurrence be consistent with his metaphor that humans are a bridge between insects and Superhumans? If the Will to Power is the driving force of the world, how does this driving force lead to eternal recurrence? (e.g. Like Wagner's Ring Cycle?)

  • Although I don't think Nietzsche would ever phrase your last sentence in reverse (that eternal recurrence gives rise to the will to power), he might be read that way -- then returned to order with the will to power leading toward eternal recurrence. This has been compared with an Eastern conception of enlightenment (although I think Nietzsche himself draws and rejects this parallel somewhere?). He's very stylistic method wise; everything serves a purpose. This includes seeming contrary at times. He's not rambling. He's turning things on their head. Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 12:48

2 Answers 2


This is quite a broad question, of course. To give you one interpretation:

The concept of will to power is mainly to designate the 'essence' of life, rather than a physics concept. It is an adaptation of Schopenhauer's 'will to life'. According to Nietzsche, life wants to expand, grow, overpower, multiply. He differentiates between a strong will to power and a weak will to power. The strong will affirms life, the weak will is the will to power turned against life itself, for example by preferring an other, ideal world or by ascetic practices. Due to the spread of christianity, the weak will to power has become prevalent. Now that science has discovered the imagined other world is false, this weak will to power is no longer legimatized. This is nihilism. (See for example the famous 'Lenzer Heide'-fragment, German: http://www.nietzschesource.org/#eKGWB/NF-1886,5[71])

The Übermensch is a new purpose to fill this void, but it is to promote the strong rather than weak will to power. Here the eternal recurrence comes in. Although Nietzsche also considers this a cosmological concept, he primarily uses it as a 'ethical' touchstone. How do you know if you will to power is strong? If you affirm the idea that your life may occur again in the exactly the same way for all enternity, than you affirm life as it is, including its suffering. If you don't affirm it, your will to power is not strong enough.

What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more' ... Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.' (The Gay Science 341)

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    Another illustrative Gay Science quote is the "My formula for human greatness is amor fati.." one. If you look around for stuff about Nietzsche and amor fati, there and in "Nietzsche Contra Wangner" (about the value of illness) you'll get how eternal recurrence and the will to power do not conflicted even when taken very literally -- in fact the former is sort of the ground for the latter. Commented Nov 17, 2015 at 12:32

In my book, The Illusion of Will, Self, and Time, I cite Nietzsche's calling out "will" "self" and "causality" as "phantoms" of the "inner world." And phantoms they would all indeed need to be if Eternal Recurrence is real. Scholars keep trying to limit Nietzsche's engagement with Eternal Recurrence to a thought experiment. But it was clearly far more than that for him, as I set forth in my book:

--begin quotation from The Illusion of Will, Self, and Time

Nietzsche’s passionate promotion of eternal recurrence as a reality, rather than merely a doctrine he had been familiar with and written about as a Greek scholar, came to him suddenly during a walk in the woods, as he approached “a powerful pyramidal rock” (Nietzsche, 1908, 295). The original mystical insight of this ecstatic vision supersedes the implausible physics he later tried to supplement it with: finite matter rearranging itself in infinite time into perpetually recurring exact replicas (see Nehamas, 1985, 144–145); see also, Kaufmann: Nietzsche’s “reasons for not publishing a proof [based on physics] presumably included his own sense that his efforts were inadequate” (1950, 327). For such added-on physics were not “presuppositions that would have to be true if it were true” (Nietzsche, 1901, 545; emphasis added). The only presupposition of physics “that would have to be true” is what Bohm identified as physics’ real fact: an “order of succession.” (Bohm, 1992, 233). The physics that does support eternal recurrence, special relativity, emerged five years after Nietzsche’s death [see Frassen (1962) contra Capek (1960)]. Attempts to construe Nietzsche’s “highest formula of affirmation” as a “thought-experiment” (Arendt), a “pretend” game (Sartre) (Lukacher, 1998, for both, 117), or, most recently, a “grand fiction” (Panaïoti, 2013, 128) run counter to “the strong emotion of the discovery” that left him “bathed in tears” for a long time (Halevy, 1911, 231). His beloved companion Lou Andreas-Salomé’s account of how he experienced it confirms as much: “To me the hours are unforgettable in which he first confided it to me, as a secret, as something he unspeakably dreaded to see verified . . . : only with a soft voice and with all signs of the deepest horror did he speak of it. And in fact he suffered so deeply from life that the certainty of the eternal recurrence of life had to entail something ghastly for him” (Lou Andreas-Salomé in Löwith, 1997, 197–198). These are not the expressions of experiment, pretend, or fiction.

Bohm, David. (1992/1994). Thought as System. New York: Routledge.

Capek, Milic. (1960). “The Theory of Eternal Recurrence in Modern Philosophy of Science, with Special Reference to C.S. Peirce,” The Journal of Philosophy, 57 (9), 289–296.

Halevy, Daniel. (1911). The Life of Nietzsche. Translated by J. M. Hone. London: T. Fisher Unwin.

Löwith Karl. (1997). Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same. Translated by J. Harvey Lomax. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Lukacher, Ned. (1998). Time Fetishes: The Secret History of Eternal Recurrence. Durham: Duke University Press.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. (1901/1967). The Will to Power. Translated by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Random House.

  • Good references. It seems the mistake with understanding Nietzsche's is to see it as a logical elaboration on other eternal recurrence models, and subject to his later grappling with the physics. Whereas, it was more like a vision, a direct intuition, which reshaped his whole perspective. However: outside of physics people tend to think a gedankenexperiment is somehow lighter or cheaper or a toy, compared to a 'real' experiment. Quite the opposite though - they can be deeper. Special relativity derives from Einstein grappling with the idea of riding on a light beam. Many many examples.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 10:25

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