Value, security and temporality in Nietzsche's critique of modernity

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Burgess, J. Peter (2012) Value, security and temporality in Nietzsche's critique of modernity, Sociological Review 60(4): 696–714.

​A certain pathos of temporality is at the core of Nietzsche's critique of reason, and it is this pathos that motivates his questioning of the Western discourse of values and of valuation. The well-rehearsed Nietzschean thesis about the decline of values in modernity – nihilism as a kind of character fault of the modern personality – builds in effect less upon the values themselves (whatever these might be specified as) than upon a certain evolution in the human subject. An evolution in the subjectivity that has turned humans around from what Giddens (perhaps misleadingly) called ontological security towards their evolving capacity to navigate an unknown future and negotiate the values that flow from it.

This article tries to demonstrate how Nietzsche's notion of modern subjectivity is in this sense inseparable from our negotiation of values over time; inseparable, in other words, from a certain axiology of time. Critically, it is not nihilism that is Nietzsche's primary concern – as so many read him – but rather his notion that values are inhabited by their own contingency: namely, the very possibility of their own exhaustion. For Nietzsche, the critique of morality is a particular case of his critique of values. All evaluation, all practices of conceptualizing, determining and applying values fits into the kind of genealogy Nietzsche carries out on morality. For Nietzsche there is an inseparable link between the supposed essence of value and the temporal field in which their rise or decline is experienced, and bemoaned.

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J. Peter Burgess

J. Peter Burgess

Research Professor & Editor of Security Dialogue