The theory of Eternal Recurrence, which is also referred as Eternal Return, states that the world has been returning or recurring. This implies that whatever realities our world has in this particular times would be repeated indefinitely yet unknown to all in the same manner that they are represented to the world at this moment (Lowith).
According to historical records, the concept or idea of eternal recurrence originated from the ancient Egypt and was later on adapted by the Stoics and Pythagoras. Nevertheless, this principle had been abandoned through the rise of Christianity (Lukacher). It was only when Friedrich Nietzsche reintroduce the thought the scholars began to evaluate its truthfulness or possibilities.
The fundamental argument of this theory is that the world is confined in scope and fixed, predetermined or restricted quantity of substances. While matter is considered limited, time exceeds it by being immeasurable and never-ending. The world does not possess staring point or end point whereas matter, that which comprise the world, is consistent in undergoing various changes in terms of its state (Lowith). Moreover, the theory suggests that the number of probable changes that the matter could have is limited and is fixed thus arriving at an assumption that sooner or later the similar state will happen again.
The concept of eternal recurrence is fundamental and imperative throughout the works of Nietzsche. According to another philosopher in the name of Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche, though advocating the theory of eternal recurrence, did not really argue that such phenomenon has existed or is existent. But what is true on Nietzsche’s philosophy is that he accepts and does not deny the idea of eternal recurrence or eternal return.
As Heidegger furthered, Nietzsche regarded the theory or the concept as merely a simple assumption just like how the Christian faith admits the idea of Hell and Angels. The idea of eternal recurrence is manifested through Nietzsche’s published works such as Thus Spoke Zarathustra and The Gay Science (Heidegger). But Nietzsche succeeded presenting his full conception on the thought of eternal recurrence on the foremost book.
In this writing, the protagonist Zarathustra discovers himself on a mountain and faces two opposite paths. Together with the dwarf they try to work out on the dilemma of the two opposite but eternal paths. Zarathustra asks the dwarf if is it possible that someone has already passed the path yet continues to pass through path in unfathomable times.
As he sees the gate, he concludes that it could be the case that everything that is happening in this world have already happened in the past, and is happening in the present time, and would eventually repeat to happen in the future since neither of the paths suggests a beginning nor an end (as both paths are eternal). This spectacle motivated Nietzsche to work on the possibility of eternal recurrence or eternal return.
Basically, Nietzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence is simply a hypothesis of what he introduced in his work. No one would really know or confirm if particular things or event shad already happened in the past and just recurring. Hence, it could not really produce or offer concrete or sufficient evidence to say that at some point or truly eternal recurrence exists.
In a way, eternal recurrence has some semblance or similarity with the idea of reincarnation (Lukacher). However, in reincarnation, it is not the matter that recurs but the only the soul. Thus, eternal recurrence could not be termed as equivalent of reincarnation.
Comparable to what Nietzsche argues about the eternal recurrence principle, Arthur Schopenhauer also has his own idea of eternal recurrence the same way as Nietzsche’s. However, in his idea, the only thing that recurs is the matter in such a way that entities return in their own bodies and not in other bodies as how the tradition of reincarnation suggests (Lowith). It is noteworthy that Schopenhauer does not include time but merely explaining eternal recurrence as a physical concept.
The same thing as Henry Poincare suggests in his proof to support the eternal recurrence through Mathematics (known as the Poincare’s Recurrence Theorem). It argues that if a system has a finite level of energy and remains at a finite spatial amount, after a considerable length of time, a system would return to its original state (Lowith).
As an analysis of Nietzsche’s theory or concept of eternal recurrence, it is obvious that Nietzsche did not demand absolute truth to his principle for the fact that he did not imply all throughout his discussions and philosophy on the concept of eternal recurrence that it really exists in reality. In effect, he maintained analyzing and reflecting on the concept as simple a hypothesis, a conjecture, a presupposition. Furthermore, it could be the case that Nietzsche understood that there is no way that he could prove his hypothesis for the reason that there would be no entity that would demonstrate the very principle of eternal recurrence. No person would claim that his life and his being recur the same way as they did before.
Heidegger, Martin. Nietzsche: The Eternal Recurrence of the Same. HarperCollins, 1985.
Lowith, Karl. Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same. First ed. University of California Press, 1997.
Lukacher, Ned. Time-Fetishes: The Secret History of Eternal Recurrence. Duke University Press, 1998.