Nietzsche’s vision of what philosophy is, has been, and might become is indebted to the figure of Anaximander, the first Greek philosopher said to have put his thoughts into writing. As I hope to show, such talk of indebtedness is highly problematic, an insight that Nietzsche achieved in part by meditating on this enigmatic figure “at the boundary stone of Greek philosophy.” While beginning with a deep fascination, he eventually makes it his task to overcome both the metaphysical and moral philosophy (to employ much later terms) that Anaximander inscribed in the Western tradition. Beginning with his lectures on the pre-Platonic philosophers, reaching a point of intensity in Zarathustra’s account of philosophy as a form of madness, and presupposed in the Genealogy ’s argument that thinking in terms of credit and debt is the oldest stratum of human thought, the Milesian philosopher haunts Nietzsche’s writing and thinking. This essay explores these three crucial moments of his engagement with an emblematic thinker of Greece’s tragic age. As a preliminary, in order to get a sense of the importance of Anaximander for Nietzsche’s project of thinking “the innocence of becoming [ die Unschuld des Werdens ],” let us consider Nietzsche’s articulation of this last phrase, which he employs at least twelve times in his writings. Perhaps the fullest development of this idea is in Twilight of the Idols , so I quote at length:
Today . . . when we immoralists especially are trying with all our might to remove the concept of guilt ( Schuld ) and punishment from the world and to purge psychology, history, nature, the social institutions and sanctions of them, there is no more radical opposition than the theologians, who continue to infect the innocence of becoming with “punishment” and “guilt” [ Schuld ] by means of the concept “moral world order.” Christianity is a hangman’s metaphysics . . . .