This Independent Study Thesis is divided into five chapters, not including the introduction and conclusion. The first chapter, “The Historical Context of Western Investigations of Meaning and Affirmation,” examines the work of Aristotle and Kant to show how the Western philosophical tradition has addressed questions of the meaning and value of life. The chapter concludes that both thinkers exhibit a paradox regarding the value of life, with both seemingly affirming life’s intrinsic value while simultaneously grounding that value in something outside of life.

The second chapter, “Nietzsche’s Affirmation of Life,” posits that at the center of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy is a notion that life determines values, rather than being itself determined by external values. It then interprets Nietzsche’s account of life as will to power, and shows how Nietzsche affirms life while denying transcendent meaning.

The third chapter, “Two Truths, One Dharma,” examines the work of the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna, and interprets his doctrine of “two truths” as an epistemic doctrine, rather than a metaphysical or a semantic one. After demonstrating the strength of Nagarjuna’s position, it concludes that Nagarjuna’s uncompromising non-dualism results in a radically affirmative philosophy of life.

The fourth chapter, “Nietzschean Emptiness and Mahayana Affirmation,” examines first Nietzsche’s ambivalent appraisal of Buddhism, before demonstrating the faults in his interpretation. It then goes on to examine several parallels between Nietzsche and Mahayana, including a mutual emphasis on health, a shared ontology of becoming, an ethics of non-attachment, a non-dual understanding of values, and a life-affirming sense of gratitude.

The fifth and final chapter, “Affirmation Beyond the Will,” examines the philosophy of Keiji Nishitani, in particular how Nishitani uses Nietzsche’s philosophy to transcend itself, arriving at a vision of radical affirmation that does not involve the will, and as a result, is more genuinely affirmative.


Schiltz, Elizabeth




Comparative Philosophy | Continental Philosophy | Philosophy


Nietzsche, Nagarjuna, Nishitani, Mahayana Buddhism, comparative philosophy, axiology, meaning and value of life

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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