Beyond Nietzsche and Heidegger's Responses to Nihilism

Summer 2009

Jonathon Atkinson : Philosophy, English

Mentor: Hubert Dreyfus, Philosophy

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that his was a nihilistic age, one in which the question “why,” in relation to issues of morality, ethics, and meaning, “finds no answer.” Using Nietzsche as well as Martin Heidegger’s writings as points of departure, I will consider the following questions, among others: In what sense might our age be understood as nihilistic? How did this come to be? What can or should be done to cope with this situation? In so doing, I will bear two considerations in mind: First, what it would mean to conceive of a mode of existence in which individuals no longer think in terms of values; and second, what the consequences of conceiving of nihilism as something problematic—as a ‘problem’ to be ‘solved’—might be.

This summer, I have been given the terrific opportunity to begin working through the many difficult issues that rise out of Nietzsche and Heidegger’s writings. I have benefited a great deal from the classes I have taken, but this is the first time in the course of my education that I have been given the opportunity to focus all of my attention and energy on a single project; and the fact that I am receiving such support to do so is pretty unbelievable. I look forward to spending a great deal of time reading, discussing, and generally working out my thoughts on these texts and the questions that animate them.