I'm reading Nietzsche and he had this interesting idea that all lives tend to expand their influence on the world as much as possible. And for human beings, that means seeking to start a family, or to get a promotion, etc.. But it also appears that most people do not abide by this rule. Some people just lie on their bed all day doing nothing. And the truth is that most people don't work nearly as hard as they can.
Does this mean this "will to power" idea is total nonsense, or is people "slacking off" consistent with Nietzsche's framework?

  • some people have more sense than to want more than they need. Or to try and compete with sociopaths for the throne. If the sociopath on the throne makes things too difficult for those sensible people... they'll work harder.. but you wouldnt want that.
    – Richard
    Feb 10, 2019 at 2:49
  • 1
    Well, maybe because Nietzsche is not god and the universe does not act under his instructions. But your examples are not good ones. Nietzsche, for example, did not seek family or promotion. But I think that Nietzsche's will to power is oversimplifying things, like will to live or will to meaning do. Human have drives and intelligence. Intelligence studies drives and the world and produces principles. Principles cause motives.
    – rus9384
    Feb 10, 2019 at 9:11
  • @rus9384 And let's not forget emotions. They can mess with drives, principles, and motives.
    – Joachim
    Feb 10, 2019 at 13:27
  • @Joachim Pretty much they do not affect principles themselves. Only drives and drives often are higher than principles and motives.
    – rus9384
    Feb 10, 2019 at 13:35
  • @rus9384 Hence emotions can indirectly influence principles and motives. <br>But I think they can even do so directly: just imagine what people will do to still their hunger or save their friends or family. Many principles are cast aside when our primal urges and needs take over. After all, all is fair in love and war.
    – Joachim
    Feb 10, 2019 at 13:42

3 Answers 3


Answering this is difficult, because Nietzsche's concept of Will To Power was most thoroughly elaborated (1885-1888) and then seemingly abandoned (as a central concept) (1888) all in his notebooks.

Nietzsche did not agree that only life-enhancing things are a result of Will To Power: everything you do is the result of Will To Power. Understand that it's an outgrowth of Schopenhauer's Will To Live -- and it becomes easier to interpret it if you think of it as Nietzsche modifying the idea that "everything living things do support their interest to live" to "everything people do support their interest to feel in control." Nietzsche realized sometimes people kill themselves, or let themselves die, or run into burning buildings to save old documents, or eat cupcakes when they are severely (type-2) diabetic. In fact, his first allusion to the concept is in a Gay Science aphorism called 'On the doctrine of the feeling of power.'

There were at least two primary stages he worked the concept through:

  1. (1882-1883, cf. Gay Science): The Will-To-Power is the primary instinct driving all humans. It is not prescriptive, but rather an interpretation of human behavior that fits all use cases. He seemingly returned to this view after giving up on the view below.

  2. (1885-188?, cf. Zarathustra, Beyond Good & Evil, his notebooks): Will To Power is the irreducible metaphysical essence of the universe. 'The world is Will To Power, and nothing besides.' There are basically a near infinite amount of somehow-independent "wills to power" (which are not 'wills' in any human or intelligent sense) that absorb eachother to 'overcome' eachother. I think he eventually realized this was basically an interpretation from which, whether accurate or not, nothing could be deduced as it was effectively a tautology.

The second is by far the most controversial to talk about because even though he elaborated it extensively in manuscripts for his unfinished Will To Power book, he never published anything advocating it. For example, his reference to will to power (quoted in a different answer) in Der Antichrist does not seem to support it. Twilight of the Idols and Der Antichrist were both rewritten/polished excerpts from his Will To Power manuscripts and notes originally intended (post-WTP, in mid-1888) to be released as one excerpt book. He did in fact abandon The Will To Power in dismay for reasons we can only speculate, stating in a letter that perhaps he would do better in ten years.

The popular idea (from those less familiar with his books/notebooks) that Will To Power was Nietzsche's prescription for 'ruthlessness as morality' (a la Ayn Rand's interpretation of Nietzsche) are mislead by the confusing inclusion of the word Will; reading baggage into the word Power; and Nietzsche's polemics against 'weakness,' 'herd morality,' 'liberalism,' 'altruism,' and other things we Westerners associate with "goodness." Doubtless though, Nietzsche himself deliberately confused the issue sometimes in order to argue against nihilistic religions as being somehow 'unnatural.' Nietzsche's ideas went through constant formation, reformation, and transformation; as a result, reading all his works to find one version of a concept is a wild goose chase.


Sort of just in passing but it seems important. Nietzsche said that the most important problem for psychology is exactly this: laziness, what he terms “idleness”. He connects it up with what he calls “hope” which he inveighs against fiercely: he is very critical of the idea that you should wait patiently in calm anticipation of your deliverance. Hope is a religious attitude: the religious “promise” weakens the power of human beings precisely by inspiring hope, by redirecting their resentment inwards as guilt and projecting it outward “beyond time” as salvation. Transcendence is also exhaustion, expended powers, a kind of falling back onto the easy explanations: what of laziness precisely here, that is, with regard to intellectual honesty?


all lives tend to expand their influence on the world as much as possible

I'd be interested to see specific quotes where you see Nietzsche putting forth this view. My understanding has been that Nietzsche's concept of the will to power was more prescriptive than descriptive, that is, more about what we should be than what we are. For example, in The Antichrist Nietzsche writes:

What is good? — All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man. What is bad? — All that proceeds from weakness. What is happiness? — The feeling that power increases — that a resistance is overcome.

So clearly, power is good for Nietzsche, and it produces happiness. But it doesn't follow that every individual actively and effectively peruses these ends.

In The Gay Science Nietzsche frames happiness (and by implication then, also the will to power) as a choice:

You have the choice: either as little displeasure as possible, painlessness in brief … or as much displeasure as possible as the price for the growth of an abundance of subtle pleasures and joys that have rarely been relished yet? If you decide for the former and desire to diminish and lower the level of human pain, you also have to diminish and lower the level of their capacity for joy.

So for Nietzsche a more passive and lazy approach to life is a trade-off, easily understandable if ultimately unwise.

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