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Nihilism Before Nietzsche (Phoenix Poets) Paperback – October 1, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0226293486 ISBN-10: 0226293483 Edition: Reprint
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Michael Allen Gillespie is professor of political science and philosophy at Duke University.

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Product Details

  • Series: Phoenix Poets
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; Reprint edition (October 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226293483
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226293486
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #799,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By New Age of Barbarism on January 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
In this work, Michael Gillespie attempts to find the roots of nihilism in European thought. Unlike Nietzsche who argues that nihilism arises from the death of God, Gillespie contends that nihilism in fact comes from a new understanding of God, as omnipotent will. Where does this new understanding come from? Gillespie contends that it originated in the middle ages in the realist versus nominalist debates. The medievals drew a distinction between God's power as "potentia absoluta" (absolute power) and "potentia ordinata" (ordered power). The scholastics on the side of the realists contended that God would not supersede his potentia ordinata; however those who sided with the nominalists, such as William of Ockham, contended that God was indeed omnipotent so He could do as he pleased. This debate came to a head, and was played out during the Reformation. Thus, the nominalists presented a new understanding of God, and it is precisely here where nihilism originated.
Gillespie argues that in the thought of Descartes (and in his near omnipotent "evil genius", deceiver God) modern philosophy began and nominalism triumphed. However, the omnipotent God of will was too frightening for Descartes so he created a bastion (based on "I think therefore I am") for reason and man's freedom. Gillespie traces this development through time as it arrives in the hands of Fichte and his absolute I. Fichte was attacked as a nihilist by Jacobi because his philosophy was one of appearances ("and therefore of nothing"). Nihilism then was developed by the German Romantics. Gillespie uses Blake's poem "Tyger" and the Romantic heroes Manfred and Faust to illustrate the rise of "the demonic", the omnipotent God of will.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 18, 1997
Format: Hardcover
In Nihilism Before Nietzsche Gillespie argues that Nietzsche's nihilism has a surprising and obscure origin. We are all aware that Russian
novelists spoke of nihilism before Nietzsche, but not that they got it from Fichte, who ultimately got it from a group of Scholastics, the nominalists! The nominalists were the anti-Thomist resistance to the Aristotlization of Christian Theology in the Middle Ages. Gillespie
shows us, brilliantly, how the nominalists successful attempt to exalt God above mere reason led to an absurdly high valuation of His
Will. He then shows us the migration of this Will into philosophy. This divine Will, beholden to absolutely nothing, would become man's inheritance after the 'death of God'. And this all to human will, which willingly stands on nothing, is what may yet destroy us.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Martin on June 30, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is an extremely impressive entry into the (seemingly) never-ending contest to come up with the most coherent 'story of modernity'. As such it should be read alongside not only the accounts of Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche and Heidegger but also those of philosophical historians of modernity like Hans Blumenberg, Karl Lowith, Alasdair MacIntyre and Bernard Yack.

The story that our author wants to tell begins with the rejection of the rationalism (i.e., Aristotelianism) of the falasifa (i.e., al-Farabi, Avicenna, Averroes), Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas by the Latin Theologians. Today, we tend to think of Latin Scholasticism as a monolithic structure with Aquinas somehow serving as both foundation and capstone. But this is only a confession that one hasn't read the medievals at all. Indeed, the (now infamous) Condemnation of 1277 was in fact aimed not only at exponents of 'radical Averroism' like Siger of Brabant and Boethius of Dacia but also Aquinas himself. In the wake of this ill-conceived condemnation the thought of (most of the) significant subsequent thinkers in the Latin West (i.e., Duns Scotus, Ockham) turned ever more decisively to the God of Absolute Will and His nominalistic World, i.e., the via moderna. Even thinkers who consciously thought of themselves as Thomists (Suarez, for instance) in fact turned away from crucial aspects of Thomistic thought. I should add that we do not even know if the Papacy had a hand in the Great Condemnation or if the Bishop of Paris, Tempier, acted on his own because much of the documentation seems to have been 'conveniently' lost.

But I have gotten ahead of myself! At first blush comparing the present study to those of Blumenberg, Lowith and MacIntyre might seem quite a stretch.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By John C. Landon on January 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
This work challenges Nietzsche's claim on the term and concept of 'nihilism'.
Hegel's notion of the history of philosophy in relation to a philosophy of history seems as obscure as the core of (his)philosophy itself, yet the history of philosophy is closely cousin to the dynamics of the modern, and we see Hegel's point better than he in the strange way the rise of modernity transforms a complex series of thoughts, streaming in from the medieval, evoked and tuned by Descartes, climaxing in the period of Kant,and his successors, the relation of Fichte to Kant being crucial, yet with an echo of Descartes. It is all too arcane, and proceeds in disguises. Like particles in an atom smasher the breakdown products stream across the nineteenth century and beyond. The point is that anything succeeding the period of early transformation has a poor chance of escaping the comprehensive nature of the 'history' as 'philosophy'.
Nietzsche cries out to be seen as entirely original, progressing beyond this peak,in some ways he is, yet we should wonder at his place in this sequence. Sure enough, as this work shows, the connection is direct. The relation to Schopenhauer is the obvious clue, but in this fascinating and quite compelling account Gillespie digs deeper to find the direct relationship to Fichte, and his response to the achievement of Kant. Fichte is the fall guy, forever excoriated, yet the man who is the key to what comes later. Here the words 'will', 'absolute I', and 'god' are the verbal chimeras of Fichte's entry into the noumenal realm, a venture denounced with his last breath by Kant. From there the explanation is suddenly clear, almost too clear perhaps, and proceeds through the Romantics, Hegel, the Left Hegelians, the Russian nihilists, and finally Nietzsche and his Dionysus.
Nietzscheans should tighten their seatbelts here, but the ride is worth it. Fascinating piece.
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