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VI "The Eternal Recurrence"
He following excerpts from Nietzsche's notes relating to eternal recurrence are set down here merely as supplementary passages to "Thus Spake Zarathustra," in which book this doctrine of the eternally recurring irrationality of all things first made its appearance. Nietzsche's notations on this subject were undoubtedly written in the latter part of 1881, when the idea of Zarathustra first came to him. They were not published, however, until years later, and now form a section of Volume XVI of Nietzsche's complete works in English, along with "The Twilight of the Idols," "The Antichrist" and some explanatory notes on "Thus Spake Zarathustra." This is the only material in Nietzsche's writings which I have not put in chronological order, and my reason for placing these extracts here, and not between "The Dawn of Day" and "The Joyful Wisdom," is due to the fact that after conceiving this doctrine and making notes pertaining to it, Nietzsche put the idea aside and wrote "The Joyful Wisdom" in which this doctrine was not embodied. Not until "Thus Spake Zarathustra" appeared did he make use of this principle of recurrence, and inasmuch as this was the first published statement of it, I have placed that book first and have followed it with these explanatory notes.

Another section of Nietzsche's works also deals with eternal recurrence, namely: the last part of the second volume of "The Will to Power." But here too we find[Pg 168] but fragmentary jottings which contain no material not found in the present quotations. It is true that Nietzsche intended to elaborate these notes, but even had he done so I doubt if this doctrine would have assumed a different aspect from the one it at present possesses, or would have become more closely allied with the main structure of his thought; for, even though it is not fully elucidated in its present form, it at least is complete in its conclusions.

In my introduction to the quotations from "Thus Spake Zarathustra" in the preceding chapter will be found a statement relating to this doctrine, in which I have endeavoured to point out just what influence it had on Nietzsche's philosophy, and to offer an explanation for its appearance in his thought.

A reading of the following notes is not at all necessary for an understanding of the Nietzschean ethic, and I have placed these passages here solely for the student to whom every phase of Nietzsche's philosophy is of interest.


The extent of universal energy is limited; it is not "infinite": we should beware of such excesses in our concepts! Consequently the number of states, changes, combinations, and evolutions of this energy, although it may be enormous and practically incalculable, is at any rate definite and not unlimited. The time, however, in which this universal energy works its changes is infinite—that is to say, energy remains eternally the same and is eternally active:—at this moment an infinity has already elapsed, that is to say, every possible evolution must already have taken place. Consequently the[Pg 169] present process of evolution must be a repetition, as was also the one before it, as will also be the one which will follow. And so on forwards and backwards! Inasmuch as the entire state of all forces continually returns, everything has existed an infinite number of times. 237

Energy remains constant and does not require to be infinite. It is eternally active but it is no longer able eternally to create new forms, it must repeat itself: that is my conclusion. 238

The energy of the universe can only have a given number of possible qualities. 238

The assumption that the universe is an organism contradicts the very essence of the organic. 239

We are forced to conclude: (1) either that the universe began its activity at a given moment of time and will end in a similar fashion,—but the beginning of activity is absurd; if a state of equilibrium had been reached it: would have persisted to all eternity; (2) or there is no such thing as an endless number of them which continually recurs: activity is eternal, the number of the products and states of energy is limited. 239

The last physical state of energy which we can imagine must necessarily be the first also. The absorption of energy in latent energy must be the cause of the production of the most vital energy. For a highly positive state must follow a negative state. Space like matter is a subjective form, time is not. The notion of space first arose from the assumption that space could be empty. But there is no such thing as empty space. Everything is energy. 240

Anything like a static state of energy in general is impossible. If stability were possible it would already have been reached. 241

[Pg 170]

Physics supposes that energy may be divided up: but every one of its possibilities must first be adjusted to reality. There can therefore be no question of dividing energy into equal parts; in every one of its states it manifests a certain quality, and qualities cannot be subdivided: hence a state of equilibrium in energy is impossible. 241

If equilibrium were possible it would already have been reached.—And if this momentary state has already existed then that which bore it and the previous one also would likewise have existed and so on backwards,—and from this it follows that it has already existed not only twice but three times,—just as it will exist again not only twice but three times,—in fact an infinite number of times backwards and forwards. That is to say, the whole process of Becoming consists of a repetition of a definite number of precisely similar states. 242

Imaginic matter, even though in most cases it may once have been organic, can have stored up no experience as it is always without a past! If the reverse were the case a repetition would be impossible—for then matter would for ever be producing new qualities with new pasts. 247

Let us guard against believing that the universe has a tendency to attain to certain forms, or that it aims at becoming more beautiful, more perfect, more complicated! All that is anthropomorphism! 248

Our whole world consists of the ashes of an incalculable number of living creatures: and even if living matter is ever so little compared with the whole, everything has already been transformed into life once before and thus the process goes on. If we grant eternal time we must assume the eternal change of matter. 249

[Pg 171]

The world of energy suffers no diminution: otherwise with eternal time it would have grown weak and finally have perished altogether. The world of energy suffers no stationary state, otherwise this would already have been reached, and the clock of the universe would be at a standstill. The world of energy does not therefore reach a state of equilibrium; for no instant in its career has it had rest; its energy and its movement have been the same for all time. Whatever state this world could have reached must ere now have been attained, and not only once but an incalculable number of times. 249

My doctrine is: Live so that thou mayest desire to live again,—that is thy duty,—for in any case thou wilt live again! He unto whom striving is the greatest happiness, let him strive; he unto whom peace is the greatest happiness, let him rest; he unto whom subordination, following, obedience, is the greatest happiness, let him obey. 251

The mightiest of all thoughts absorbs a good deal, of energy which formerly stood at the disposal of other aspirations, and in this way it exercises a modifying influence; it creates new laws of motion in energy, though no new energy. 252

Ye fancy that ye will have a long rest ere your second birth takes place,—but do not deceive yourselves! 'Twixt your last moment of consciousness and the first ray of the dawn of your new life no time will elapse,—as a flash of lightning will the space go by, even though living creatures think it is millions of years.... 253

Are ye now prepared? Ye must have experienced every form of scepticism and ye must have wallowed with voluptuousness in ice-cold baths,—otherwise ye have no right to this thought; I wish to protect myself[Pg 172] against those who gush over anything! I would defend my doctrine in advance. It must be the religion of the freest, most cheerful and most sublime souls, a delightful pastureland somewhere between golden ice and a pure heaven! 256

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