Monday, June 2, 2014
Monday, May 12, 2014
It's been almost a quarter-century since Nietzsche studies entered its philosophical maturity with Clark's Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy, and yet here we have a book published in 2010 declaring that,
If this were a once-off bit of carelessness, it could be forgiven, but it is a pervasive feature of the book which was obviously not refereed by anyone knowledgeable about philosophy or the philosophical secondary literature. I won't belabor examples of this kind, but they do make the book an annoying read for philosophers.For Nietzsche, ‘truth’ was merely a perspective and an exclusive aim to truth revealed in an inherently unstable will. (85)
Johnson thinks his book is an argument against "naturalistic" readings of Nietzsche. Yet he is, to his credit, self-conscious about how bizarre such a claim is:
Does not Nietzsche's style of argumentation, his use of biological tropes and metaphors, and many of his central positions in the text prove that he was a naturalist through and through? These are serious objections, to which I will need to respond....Nietzsche adopted the discourse of both the naturalists and the Darwinists, because it was the only means to subvert their framework and to challenge their mounting success. (8)There is no evidence in the book for the odd claim that the only way to reject naturalism was to act and argue like a naturalist. Perhaps an "internal critique" of naturalism could be mounted, but Johnson's claim is not, in the end, that Nietzsche's critique is an internal one (i.e., arguing that naturalism is self-refuting). To the contrary, Johnson ends up claiming that Nietzsche attacks naturalism from an entirely external, evaluative perspective (summarized at p. 212). According to Johnson,
Nietzsche's entire philosophy hinges on the value he places on the Dionysian--with its tragic awareness and affirmation of the eternal return....Certainly, Nietzsche recognized the explanatory power and suggestive force of the Darwinian worldview--but also the need to transcend it.... (p. 78)Of course, this is related to a point I made in NOM early on (see esp. 26-28), and I've recently taken up an attempt to understand the "Dionysian" element in Nietzsche. None of this, however, shows that Nietzsche is not a naturalist: as a critic of morality and religion, and as a diagnostician of individuals and philosophers, he operates as a methodological naturalist in the way I described in the 2002 book. Because Nietzsche doesn't think the domain of value is a cognitive one, and because he cares very much about questions of value, necessarily (as I argued years ago) he is not a naturalist in this domain, and he, of course, famously diagnoses the failure of modern science to question its own commitment to the overriding value of knowledge (see NOM at 264 ff. for a discussion).
Johnson, alas, doesn't understand any of this. He seems to have two main targets, primarily John Richardson's reading in Nietzsche's New Darwinism (2004), and, secondarily, my argument in NOM that Nietzsche is a philosophical naturalist. Richardson is an apt target (since Richardson really does try to make Darwin central to his reconstruction of Nietzsche's work), though his arguments against Richardson are generally weak. But Johnson's general ignorance of the history and philosophy of science can only explain his taking my reading as a target as well. Johnson writes:
Leiter's linkage of the empirical sciences with "naturalism" (as exemplfied by Darwin's theories) is precisely the understanding of "naturalism" that this study will question. (8, n. 14).Alas, NOM:3, which Johnson cites, does not link the sciences with Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, indeed, nothing in my book does. That is because, unlike Richardson, I do not think there is very good evidence that Nietzsche thought of a naturalistic worldview as a Darwinian one. The German Materialists were not Darwinians, and Nietzsche's main concern against those naturalists was to vindicate the role of psychological (causal) explanation of human phenomena against their mix of physicalist reductionism or eliminativism. Indeed, even Johnson has to acknowledge that Darwin "continued to receive scant treatment" in Niezsche's corpus (26). Notwithstanding that, Johnson ascribes Nietzsche's naturalism (allegedly only of his "middle period") to "Darwin's scientific materialism" (33).
Even putting that to one side, the problem remains that he consistently confuses an attack on the value of truth and knowledge with an attack on science and naturalism: so, e.g., he notices that Nietzsche is critical of the ascetic impulse underlying the modern scientific imperative to pursue truth at any cost (as I discuss at some length in NOM, as noted above), but nowhere seems to recognize that this is a dispute about the value of truth and knowledge, not about how one acquires truth and knowledge (namely, naturalistically). Against my extended discussion in NOM in defense of the claim that Nietzsche "endorses a scientific perspective as the correct and true one" (NOM: 21), and Clark's 1990 defense of a related view, Johnson responds, in a footnote, that "my study will show that...the modern scientific enterprise becomes one of Nietzsche's most significant polemical targets in the final period" (10 n. 10). All he actually shows--sophomoric confusions about truth and knowledge to one side--is what Clark and I acknowledge, namely, that Nietzsche repudiates overestimating the value of these epistemic achievements, not that he denies they are actual epistemic achievements.
There is much else that is wrong and misleading in this book. Johnson thinks Paul Ree is "the German Darwinian" (88), even though, as Maudemarie Clark has argued for years, Nietzsche's critique of Ree is precisely a Darwinian one, i.e., that Ree wrongly infers origins from current function. Johnson thinks Nietzsche was engaged in a decade-long "philosophical investigation into the moral suppositions behind the biological discourse of his time" (203), mainly based on his confusions about Nietzsche critical commentary on egoism and altruism. But in the concluding chapter, Johnson makes clear that he thinks his monograph contributes to a debate beyond how to read Nietzsche. There is, Johnson claims,
a stubborn skepticism that Nietzsche's philosophy could with any degree of credibility call into question modern science, particularly Darwinism. The implication is that a post-Darwinian philosophy cannot hope to compete with teh uncontestable truths of modern science but must to some degree work as the handmaiden of science. The current divide in contemporary philosophy reflects this dilemma: while analytic philosophy disregards any efforts at philosophical speculation that diverge from the principles and methods of scientific induction, Continental philosophers argue for the possibility of philosophical "truth" that can liberate itself from scientific expectations and methodology.... (205-206)Like most scholarly tourists, Johnson is apparently unaware that anything happened in "analytic" philosophy since logical positivism and Quine; so, too, he thinks there is something called "Continental philosophy." There is a sensible point to be made here--one I made in the 2002 book and, more recently, in "The Truth is Terrible" paper--namely, that Nietzsche thinks pursuit of the truth is not compatible with life-affirmation, but this point is not captured by putting the word truth in quotes, as though that somehow designates another kind of "truth."
There is an interesting puzzle about Nietzsche's naturalism and his attack on the ascetic ideal that I discuss near the end of NOM (279-283), and one often suspects that Johnson's confusion about this issue animates a lot of his book. The puzzle is that it looks like Nietzsche's polemic against the ascetic ideal is also a polemic against his own naturalism. The crucial point, however, to remember, as I note, is "that what makes the will to truth hostile to life is when the truths it uncovers are, in fact, dangerous to life" (280). But Nietzsche thinks the truths about morality he uncovers "are, in fact, advantageous for life, since, of course, he equates 'life' in this regard with the flourishing of the highest human beings" (280--this is argued in NOM at 125-126). In addition, one has to remember that Nietzsche "does not call...for us to abandon science--'there being so much useful work to be done' here (GM III:23)--but rather for science to be informed by a different, non-ascetic ideal" (282-283). Thus, as I conclude:
We have emphasized since the very first chapter that Nietzsche's naturalistic approach is merely an instrument in the service of the revaluation of values, i.e., the revaluation of the "ascetic" values that have come to predominate as morality. By lookoing at our ascetic morality as just another natural phenomenon, Nietzsche removes it from the realm of divine commandment or the eternal, unchanging order of things; he shows morality to be another phenomenon of nature, with a history and particular causes. Naturalization for Nietzsche is fundamentally non-ascetic, because it is ultimately in the service of an anti-ascetic end: to free nascent higher human beings from their false consciousness about [morality] (itself an expression of asceticism), and thus permit them to flourish. (283)Unfortunately, Johnson, although occasionally citing my book, appears not to have gotten this far. If he had, he might have realized that his book was based on a non-sequitur: that Nietzsche thinks there are things more important than knowledge of the truth, does not mean he doesn't think that knowledge of the truths there are is to be had naturalistically.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
CORRECTION: Although Loeb discusses panspychism, he denies that Nietzsche is a panpsychist!
Saturday, February 1, 2014
Friday, December 27, 2013
The paper starts with some familiar "Alfanoesque bravado": "the Doctrine of Types, as formulated by Leiter, is manifestly unsupported both by Nietzsche's texts and as an empirical hypothesis" (1). Oh goodness! In his paper, Alfano doesn't actually discuss the empirical evidence (though Knobe and I do in "The Case for Nietzschean Moral Psychology"). He does discuss the textual evidence, yet by the end summarizes the view he accepts as follows:
Nietzsche thinks that beliefs and actions, including their moral beliefs and actions, are to be explained largely in terms of their psycho-physical types. Psycho-physical types in turn are to be understood as constellations of largely stable but nevertheless mutable and interrelated drives. (13)I would have thought that was my view, and I'm certainly happy with Alfano's formulation. So where is the disagreement?
My official formulation of the "Doctrine of Types" (NOM, 8) is as follows (Alfano quotes it):
Each person has a fixed psycho-physical constitution, which defines him as a particular type of person.If I understand Alfano correctly, he has two primary, though perhaps not entirely consistent, objections: first, he thinks that type-facts are not "fixed" (he raises this a half-dozen times throughout the paper); and second, he thinks some of the textual evidence that type-facts figure in the explanation of moral beliefs and actions only supports the claim that they figure in the explanation of the beliefs of "philosophers."
The tension in Alfano's criticism arises from the fact that if a "type-fact" (a psycho-physical fact about a person) does figure in the explanation of belief and action, then something must be "fixed" about it, i.e., whatever it is that makes it the type that it is. (Types can't be types, after all, unless there is something that always makes it the case that some token is an instance of its kind.) In the end (see above), he is explicit that type-facts are explanatory, and even in his second criticism, he seems to allow that type-facts are explanatory of the beliefs of philosophers, so it seems like he must agree that some kind of fixedness is key.
What I think Alfano's critique brings out is that there is an important ambiguity in talk of "fixed psycho-physical constitution." Alfano seems to take "fixed" to mean atemporally fixed, since he contrasts it most often with "mutable,"and his examples of "mutability" seem to be temporally sensitive. He is right to call attention to this, as has Janaway.
But think for a moment of Freud, whom Nietzsche influenced and who also holds a Doctrine of Types in my (and I think Alfano's) sense. Freud believed persons had a fixed psycho-physical constitution: putting aside Thanatos, every human being, on Freud's view, has a fundamental drive for oral, anal, and genital pleasure. These drives are, on the Freudian story, obviously fixed in one sense: we are supposed to be born with them, and they remain with us throughout our lives. But they are highly mutable, that is, the psychodynamic story of any person's development is the story of how these drives are repressed, modified, and sublimated. The sense in which Freud holds a Doctrine of Types--as I take it every interpretation of his thought acknowledges he does--clearly can not be a sense which rules out dramatic mutability. As Alfano puts it regarding Nietzsche (though thinking, wrongly, that I am disagreeing): "Drives survive, swell, and abate depending on their 'nutriment'" (3), a point I emphasize in NOM.
On the second point (my textual evidence and "philosophers"): Alfano quite fairly points out that some of the passages in support of the Doctrine of Types that I discuss in NOM (Alfano doesn't discuss them all) are primarily about "philosophers": this is true of GS P:2; BGE 6; and BGE 187. Since Alfano thinks the Doctrine of Types applies in these cases, he needs to explain why they do not apply more generally. Alfano ends up admitting that there are two other passages in which Nietzsche, in fact, deploys the Doctrine of Types to explain the beliefs and actions of non-philosophers, but says this is "pretty weak evidence" (11). That is a pretty feeble response! Two passages from the published corpus that Alfano discusses (and other passages from the Nachlass that he doesn't mention, but that I cite, since they are of a piece with the published work) support the broader Doctrine of Types, and Alfano simply dismisses the evidence!
But the dialectical strategy is more problematic than that. Alfano owes us an explanation of why Nietzsche would think philosophers are different in kind from the rest of humanity, such that the explanation of their beliefs and action would be different--and different in a surprising way, i.e., that the beliefs and actions of philosophers are explicable by the Doctrine of Types, but the beliefs and actions of ordinary 'herd animals' are not. Alfano has no explanation, unsurprisingly.
He also breezes by a crucial passage (GM III:7), in which Nietzsche proposes that "[e]very animal--therefore la bête philosophe too" aims for a maximum feeling of power. Here Nietzsche quite explicitly treats philosophers as instances of the human kind, which should hardly be surprising for a naturalist like Nietzsche. Is there any evidence that Nietzsche thinks philosophers are different in kind from the rest of humanity? I'm not aware of any, and Alfano cites none. (Alfano quite correctly objects  that calling the desire for a maximum feeling of power a 'type-fact' is not illuminating, though I would put the point differently than he does: it is a characteristic of the human type, but it does not illuminate the difference between human beings (the latter being Alfano's correct point.)
In conclusion, a few points about textual interpretation:
(1) Alfano claims that in GS:2, the claim about the Doctrine of Types is specific to "persons," which is an "honorific category" which rules out "those who fail to integrate, harmonize, or at least wall off their drives from one another" (5). GS 2 by itself obviously does not support that interpretation: one would need evidence that Nietzsche uses the term "Person" in this way.
(2) Alfano claims that the notion of "necessity" in GM P:2 is that of "normative necessity" (namely "what would be fitting, worthy, or appropriate depends on one's psycho-physical type" ). I do not see the grounds for that in the German, which reads:
Vielmehr mit der Nothwendigkeit, mit der ein Baum seine Früchte trägt, wachsen aus uns unsre Gedanken, unsre Werthe, unsre Ja’s und Nein’s und Wenn’s und Ob’s — verwandt und bezüglich allesamt unter einander und Zeugnisse Eines Willens, Einer Gesundheit, Eines Erdreichs, Einer Sonne.Trees do not yield fruit in accord with a "normative" necessity. (Alfano makes the same claim again at p. 10 in his MS, with respect to Twilight, "The Four Great Errors," section 2, but again the German does not support that reading.)
(3) Alfano makes a hash of the discussion of Cornaro in the "Four Great Errors" section of Twilight. He claims:
[T]he physiological facts [about metabolism] are not determinative. Nietzsche emphatically does not claim that Cornaro ate little because and only because his metabolism was slow. Indeed, he even suggests that, at times, Cornaro ate a great deal. How else can we make sense of the assertion that "he got sick when he ate more?" So, as before, type-facts do not determine behavior. (9)This gloss contradicts the passage Alfano quotes (9), where Nietzsche says that Cornaro "was not free to eat either a little or a lot, his frugality was not 'freely willed': he got sick when he ate more." In other words, a type-fact about Cornaro, namely his slow metabolism, explains why he always returned to a slender diet, namely, because he was made sick by trying to eat anything else.
I should say I particularly liked Alfano's gloss on the "enchanting abundance of types" (12) with which Nietzsche is concerned:
There are higher and lower men. There are slaves, nobles, and priests. Philosophers are often discussed as a type, as are free spirits, free thinkers, and good Europeans. There is of course the overman [sic], and his blinking counterpart, the last man. Nietzsche also discusses poets as a type, as well as saints and nihilists. The fourth book of Zarathustra is a veritable menagerie of types: the king, the leech, the magician, the retired pope, the ugliest human, the voluntary beggar and the shadow. (12)As with everyone I bother to critique at any length on this blog, Alfano is worth reading, and not only on this topic. But he has certainly helped me see some important ambiguities in my initial formulation of the Doctrine of Types that require clarification.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
The "Last Man" problem of her title is essentially this: the "last man" whom Nietzsche derisively describes in the Prologue to Thus Spoke Zarathustra is a hedonist who aspires only to "a comfortable life, entertainment, distraction, and an agreeable enough death" (2), and who thus "views suffering as something that should simply be eradicated, never as something meaningful" (3). Weber, who also sometimes uses the same phrase as Nietzsche is, on Shaw's reading, also referring to the "last man" in his famous line about our modern "specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart." Both Weber and Nietzsche find this hedonist contemptible; as Shaw aptly puts it:
[T]he threat to the dignity of humanity derives, for Nietzsche, from our unwillingness to suffer or to make others suffer for the sake of great human goals, even as we acknowledge such goals to be what makes the spectacle of human life on this planet something worthwhile and valuable. (4)
Weber, like Nietzsche, sees suffering as both an inescapable feature of the human situation; as necessary for "what makes the spectacle of human life on this planet something worthwhile and valuable"; and as only tolerable if meaningful. Inescapable suffering can never be meaningful in purely hedonic terms, and since it is, at the same time, part and parcel of what makes "the spectacle of human life...worthwhile," we are in a dilemma if the 'last man' prevails. (Weber, on her reading, is particularly interested in the political ramifications of this dilemma for secular political orders, since the exercise of political power necessarily imposes suffering on its subjects.)
Shaw, like a number of other writers (including Daniel Came and Simon May), takes the need for suffering to be meaningful to be a kind of "theodicy-demand," though for reasons that will become clear, I think that's not a helpful analogy, and beyond the simple fact that Nietzsche is obviously not interested in how to reconcile God's omniscience and omnipotence with human misery. But adopting the language of theodicy allows her to give a nice statement of the "'Last Man' Problem" later in the paper: "in the absence of a solution to the theodicy-demand our commitment to non-hedonistic ends will be endangered, for our suffering will already seem excessive and our primary aim will be to diminish it" (26). And, of course, if some of us can not remain committed to non-hedonic ends, then there will be nothing left of the "spectacle[s]" that make life worth living.
Shaw says that both Nietzsche and Weber accept that humans have a "psychological need for an overall justification of human suffering" (7) and that,
They both adopt...a holistic view of justifying suffering. It is a psychological, rather than a normative claim, and it concerns the amount of justification that will satisfy us sufficiently to support motivations of certain kinds, more specifically, our motivation to act in accordance with non-hedonistic values...
What Nietzsche seems to suggest is that acknowledgment of the truth [about the human situation] will lead to a sense of ultimate futility that is motivationally debilitating...Insofar as we must engage in action in the world, and this action is liable to entail suffering and sacrifice of various sorts, an overall theodicy has to be the necessary psychological anchor for all our motivations. I shall refer to this holistic requirement as the theodicy-demand. (7, 10)Shaw suggests that the "obliviousness" strategy of achieving states of Dionysian ecstasy (as suggested in The Birth of Tragedy) is of no real help, since "this kind of experience can only be available to humans as an extraordinary and transient state. It is not compatible with functioning in the world" (16). The alternative is to try to justify suffering, render it meaningful, by appeal to the purposes that justify it. (I will skip over a discussion of how the ascetic ideal supposedly does this; I was not persuaded by Shaw here, but interested readers can refer to my discussion in the relevant chapter of my Nietzsche on Morality.) Weber recognizes both possibilities (he associates the former with various forms of mysticism), but is primarily concerned with finding "substitute[s] for meaning-conferring supra-human purposes" (25), which are no longer plausible in the rationalized, modern world. On Shaw's account, Nietzsche "suggests that we posit super-human goals," adding that "the more inhumane aspects of his thought follow from this proposal" (32). My suspicion is this involves taking some of Zarathustra's rhetoric a bit too seriously; I propose a different account in "The Truth is Terrible," which I won't repeat here (I will be putting a revised version on-line soon, which incorporates some of Shaw's analysis). Weber, by contrast, sees the phenomenon of charisma as playing this role of a non-religious purpose that could justify suffering (Shaw's discussion is illuminating, but since Weber's view is not my immediate concern, I will not try to summarize her analysis).
Shaw concludes by taking issue with both Nietzsche and Weber--indeed, she suggests that Weber, given his account of rationalization and the disenchantment of the modern world, is wrong to think the theodicy-demand is "inevitable"(40-41). Shaw claims that not all suffering is "justification-apt," that only suffering that flows from someone's intention to inflict suffering demands justification. She writes:
Much of the suffering that we undergo (illnesses, the death of loved ones, the fear of one's own death etc. etc.) should not raise any demand for justification and although it will inevitably be burdensome to us, even unbearably so, it should not weigh on us as being unjustified. If it does, we are still operating with an essentially theistic view of the world [i.e., we are viewing all suffering as caused by a super-human agency]. (41, emphasis added)Here I worry that Shaw has forgotten her earlier observation that the demand for "justification" is not "normative" but "psychological." (I may not be understanding what she means by this.) Nietzsche claims it is a psychological fact (there is good evidence for it, by the way, as the revised version of "The Truth is Terrible" will discuss [thanks to some great help I received from Isaac Wiegman at Wash U/St. Louis]) that suffering gives rise to ressentiment, and that undischarged and undirected ressentiment is fatal to a person. Sure, it may not be rational to want a justification for a lot of suffering that people endure, but Nietzsche's hypothesis is that absent a sense of the suffering as "meaningful," people will lose their hold on life, whether that is reasonable or not. This is supposed to be a brute psychological fact about their affective lives, not about what it is reasonable to seek by way of a normative defense. Shaw's objection may stand against Weber, though it will depend on how much of Nietzsche's psychology Weber is taking on board: on this, I have no informed opinion.
Here I am reminded of an important point made by Ken Gemes in his illuminating review of Bernard Reginster's important book. Reginster’s account of nihilism (and ultimately of affirmation), Gemes objects, is “overly cognitive. Nihilism in its depest manifestation is for Nietzsche an affective rather than a cognitive disorder.” Gemes, “Nihilism and the Affirmation of Life,” European Journal of Philosophy 16 (2008), p. 461. Reginster treats nihilism as coming in two main forms: “disorientation” resulting from the realization that there are no ultimate, objective values; or “despair” resulting from the realization that one’s values can not be realized in the world as it is. Reginster, like Heidegger, presents a Nachlass-centric account of nihilism, though he does so much more skillfully and interestingly. But he misses, I fear, the more central worry about “nihilism” in Nietzsche’s corpus, namely, that people will experience life as not worth living—that is, after all, the “suicidal nihilism” that is central to Nietzsche in the Genealogy. That is the theme that runs from The Birth of Tragedy to the very end in Nietzsche’s corpus, and while it is closer to what Reginster calls the nihilism of “despair,” it is not, as Gemes notes, a matter primarily of belief as opposed to affective orientation towards life. In the end, I worry that Shaw has taken a similarly "overly cognitive" approach to what's at stake in the demand for justification. (A minor side-point about the Gemes essay, which is very much worth reading in conjunction with Reginster's book: he says at the start, completely falsely, that "nihilism" is a central theme in Nietzsche while "morality" is not.)
Some skepticism notwithstanding, I found Shaw's paper to be one of the most rich and stimulating papers on Nietzsche I have read in recent years, one that goes to absolutely core issues in his corpus. In the revised version of "The Truth is Terrible," I will try to do a better job defending a version of something like what Shaw calls the "obliviousness" response to the problem of suffering. But as I acknowledged in the first version of this paper to go on-line, Shaw's paper had a profound effect on my way of thinking about these issues. I encourage everyone to read it.
Monday, September 16, 2013
Monday, July 29, 2013
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Sunday, May 5, 2013
C&D's reading pursues a certain interpretive modus operandi that, in principle, is not objectionable, but that in practice lends itself to considerable abuse. And the abuses stand as an indictment of the "esoteric" reading methodology that pervades the book I fear.
Here is how C&D frequently proceed: (1) they set out a "standard" or "obvious" or "natural" reading of a passage (hereafter the "exoteric" reading, as they call it); (2) they point out that this exoteric reading seems to commit Nietzsche to something absurd or mistaken; (3) they propose an "alternative" esoteric reading--one that focuses on "what is left unsaid" and what is allegedly "between the lines"--that avoids the problem in (1), but also, invariably, supports their anachronistic reading of N as a proto-Sellarsian/McDowellian invested in the distinction between the space of reasons and the space of causes.
The problem, invariably, in each case I've examined so far, is that either (2) is false (the exoteric reading does not entail anything absurd or mistaken) or that there are other alternatives, besides their (3). (1) and (2), in other words, largely serve to license "interpretations" that go so far beyond the text and the context as to seem sometimes incredible.
Three examples from Chapter 3.
First: C&D quote the famous passage (BGE 5) about the way in which great philosophers "all pose as if they had discovered and reached their real opinions through the self-development of a cold, pure, divinely unconcerned dialectic...while at bottom it is....a desire of the heart that has been filtered and made abstract...that they defend with reasons sought after the fact." To the exoteric reading, they object:
Why should it matter that these reasons are "sought after the fact" if they are good reasons? If Nietzsche is criticizing philosophers' views on the basis of their origins, then he confuses the order of discovery with the order of justification, thereby committing a version of the genetic fallacy. (67)
They use this argument to suggest an "alternative reading" (not an obviously wrong one, but one also not inconsistent with the exoteric reading, though we can put that to one side). The problem is that their argument against the exoteric reading of the passage is quite poor. It would obviously be fallacious to argue that the metaphysical claims of philosophers are false because their origin lies in antecedent evaluative commitments of philosophers. But that isn't N's claim, anywhere that I can find. On the other hand, it is not fallacious, and clearly correct, that if the metaphysical claims of philosophers arise from "desire[s] of the heart that [have] been filtered and made abstract," then quite obviously such claims are unreliable and unjustified, since "desires of the heart" are not epistemically reliable guides to the way the world is. But, in addition, most of Chapter 1 of BGE is given over to offering arguments against the very "reasons" the great philosophers give for their metaphysical conclusions: so, e.g., N argues that the "immediate certainties" of Descartes and Schopenhauer are nothing of the kind; that the Stoic metaphysics of nature is just a projection of their values on to nature; and that all kinds of metaphysical claims of philosophers are just cases of reifying aspect of syntax, treating them as reliably referential when there is no reason to do so. So N's point in BGE 5 is not fallacious, but epistemically sound; and, in any case, N offers independent arguments against the post-hoc "reasons" metaphysicians offer for their claims. (C&D have to downplay the latter point, because they claim in the prior chapter, that Vorurteil--as in von den Vururtheilen der Philosophen--can also mean "prejudgment," not simply "prejudice. That's true, but translating it is "prejudices" is quite natural, given that the whole chapter is given over to attacking the various prejudices: projecting values on to nature, reifying syntax, misreading the phenomenology of inner experience, and so on.) There is no need, in short, for an "alternative" reading of BGE 5, because the natural reading is quite correct.
Second: in their reading of BGE 10, C&D usefully and quite plausibly suggest that the passages involves two contemporary casts of philosophical characters: "skeptical anti-realists" like Lange, Spir and Teichmueller, NeoKantian philosophers who are naturalists about the phenomenal world (it is as the sciences present it), but "who insist that the empirical world is mere appearance, as opposed to the 'true world' of the thing in itself" (70); and "positivists" who endorse the naturalistic view of the world (it is as the sciences describe it), but reject the Kantian idealism (which is the source of the so-called "skepticism" of the other camp: i.e., we can never know what the world in-itself is really like). C&D then puzzle (71) about why N is so insulting to the "positivists," calling them "reality-philosophasters in whom there is nothing new or genuine" (BGE 10). C&D even acknowledge that N's view is closer to that of the "positivists" than the skeptical anti-realists (71). They then write:
Then why insult [the positivsts]....? Presumably because positivism says that there is no knowledge available to us except through the senses and the extension of the senses afforded by the sciences. (71)With that (undefended) claim (#2 in the modus operandi, above), they then proceed to their esoteric reading.
But the #2 move here is rather obviously false. Here is BGE 134: "All credibility, good conscience, and evidence of truth first come from the senses." This is hardly atypical rhetoric for Nietzsche. So the reason for objecting to the positivists that C&D give can't be Nietzsche's reason, since it's the same view he endorses, repeatedly. Moreover, there are alternative explanations for N's insulting the positivists that C&D do not consider. First, there is the thought that genuine philosophers, in N's honorific sense of that term, are legislators of values (BGE 211), and it is, of course, quite correct that positivists (like Ludwig Buchner, the "old doctor" N. derides in BGE 204) thought science would replace philosophy, not recognizing, as N does, the need for values to inform even scientific inquiry. (C&D also note the relevant of BGE 211 here, but its relevance does not depend at all on their implausible claim about N's objection to positivism in the quote from p. 71, above.) Second (and I owe this suggestion to Claire Kirwin), there is the objection just two sections later (BGE 12) protesting the way in which positivists like Buchner (who veer between type-type identity theories of the mind/brain relation to outright eliminativism about the mental) lose any idea of the "soul" and thus lose the possibility of doing psychology, which Chapter 1 concludes (sec. 23) is the path "to the fundamental problems." N has plenty of disputes with "positivists" like Buchner without attributing to him rejection of a view he shares with the positivists!
Third: C&D note (72-73) the "obvious and standard interpretation" of BGE 11: N. ridicules Kant's answer to the question "How are synthetic judgments a priori possible?" as parallel to Moliere's doctor who explains why opium puts people to sleep in terms of "a sleepy faculty [virtus dormitiva]." As C&D put it: "Kant explains the possibility of synthetic judgments a priori in the same way: "in virtue of a faculty" (Vermoege eines Vermoegens)" (73). On this standard reading (that Clark herself once endorsed, before being overcome with esotericism!), N. proposes dispensing with Kant's question in favor of a naturalistic question, namely, why do creatures like us need to treat such judgments as objectively valid in order to survive (74).
Now comes the standard move #2 in C&D's modus operandi:
But if this standard interpretation is correct, BGE 11 is open to a serious objection. To accuse Kant of an empty answer, N must interpret Kant's question concerning the "possibility" of synthetic a priori judgments as a request for an explanation of the fact that we make such judgments. But, in fact, Kant's question concerns what justifies us in taking synthetic a priori judgments to be true, not what explains why we make them. (74)
That would be a rather silly mistake, but the only reason for attributing it to N is an overly literal interpretation of the parallelism between Kant's mistake and that of Moliere's doctor. It is true that Moliere's doctor is giving a (poor) causal explanation for the effect of opium: but that is what the question demands. But Kant's question--correctly stated by N as "How are synthetic judgments a priori possible?"--is not a question that calls for a causal explanation, but a justificatory one, as C&D note (and as N surely realizes). That is, Kant's question is how can it be possible that there are judgments that combine both synthetic and a priori elements, such that the resulting judgment is objectively valid? And Kant's answer is, in simplified form, because of a faculty of the understanding that imposes certain categories on any possible experience--that faculty explains the possibility of the objective validity of such judgments. But that would only be a satisfying explanation if we had some independent evidence for the faculty (if we had independent evidence for a virtus dormitiva that would help the doctor too!)--otherwise, it seems just a gratuitous explanatory posit, just like the virtus dormitiva.
To be sure, N is ridiculing Kant rather than arguing with him--why bother to argue with the details of the transcendental deduction of the categories, after all, if you believe, as N does, that Kant's metaphysics and epistemology are just post-hoc rationalizations for his moral objectives? But there is no reason to think that N believes that Kant's question about the "possibility" of synthetic a priori judgments is a purely causal question. The parallelism with Moliere's doctor doesn't depend on such an assumption.
In further support of their esoteric reading, C&D ask (pointing to the start of BGE 11): "where does N find attention being diverted from Kant's idealist legacy?" (76). C&D suggest, on the basis of no other textual evidence, that N is referring to the "Back to Kant" philosophers who "shared a distaste for the excesses of the great systems of German idealism" (76) and liked Kant's "science-friendly" attitude instead (recall that Lange et al. thought that discoveries in physiology actually vindicated Kant). It is true that those philosophers were unsympathetic to Hegel, but it does seem strange to accuse them of neglecting Kant's idealist legacy! But C&D want to put the blame on the NeoKantians so that they can pose another challenge:
Why would N begin the aphorism by accusing those with naturalistic sympathies [i.e., the NeoKantians like Lange] of ignoring [Kant's] legacy and self-understanding if he believes [as the standard reading of the passage has it] that naturalizing the categories is the right way to carry out Kant's program? (76)
But all this, once again, ignores an obvious possibility: namely, that those who are ignoring Kant's idealist legacy are not the NeoKantians (which is bizarre on its face, they love the categories!) but positivists like Buchner who really do completely ignore Kant's idealism, i.e., they view science as describing the world as it is in-itself, and so they also have no reason to naturalize the Kantian categories of the understanding, since they don't even recognize them!
What drives the tortured hermeneutics in C&D's treatment of BGE 11 is, as they candidly admit, that "it would completely undermine our interpretation if N thought that Kant's program should simply be transformed into a naturalistic one" (75) and thus defeat their extravagant claim that N thinks of himself as "the one who proposes to carry out Kant's normative project" (75). It seems to me more plausible to adopt a different interpretive conclusion.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
Chapter 1, on Nietzsche's Preface, makes two helpful and plausible claims: first, that N's preface is, in part, a parody of Kant's preface to the 1st Critique; and second, that to understand what N. means by dogmatism and by metaphysics, it is important to realize that he was concurrently engaged with Spir's Denken und Wirklichkeit. It is certainly true that "dogmatists" must include "metapahysician[s]...a priori system builder[s] in the pre-Kantian mode" (C&D, 18), but it has to include more than that, given, among other things, that N. plainly thinks Kant is a dogmatist. Here is where N's reading of Spir is key, since Spir equates dogmatism with metaphysics simpliciter, that is, with any doctrines that go beyond the empirical evidence (indeed, as C&D notes, Spir even describes "the metaphysical approach to philosophy to be a kind of mental illness, which is not to be set aside through arguments" [C&D, 19], which certainly must have resonated with N!). Thus, Spir, like Nietzsche "rejects Kant's claim concerning the possibility of a critical metaphysics" (C&D, 21)--i.e., one that first examines the limits of pure reason--and thus view the Kantian kind of metaphysics as dogmatism as well. Of course, Plato's philosophy, with its commitment to the existence of timeless, universal, and non-empirical truths, would also be a prime example of a dogmatic philosophy.
C&D are less convincing, to my mind, on the passage's prognostications about philosophy's future. The key passage from N's Preface is this one:
But the fight against Plato, or, to speak more clearly and "for the people," the fight against the Christian-ecclesiastical pressure of millenia--since Christianity is Platonism "for the people"--has created a magnificent tension of the spirit in Europe the like of which had never yet existed on earth: with so tense a bow we can now shoot for the most distant goals.For C&D, this "magnificent tension" is a struggle between what they call "the will to truth" ("believing only what corresponds to the way the world actually is" [C&D, 37]) and the "will to value" ("the will to see the world in a way that accords with [one's] values" [C&D, 44], around which their interpretation is organized. (We will return in later postings to what they say about these two wills.) The Preface continues:
The European feels this tension as a state of distress, to be sure; and there have already been two grand attempts to relax the bow, once by means of Jesuitism, the second time by means of the democratic Enlightnement...But we, who are neither Jesuits nor democrats, nor even sufficiently German, we good Europeans and free, very free spirits--we have it still, the whole need of the spirit and the whole tension of its bow! And perhaps also the arrow, the task, and who knows, the goal.
C&D gloss the first bit of this as follows: "The suggestion here is that the democratic Enlightenment and Jesuitism each tried to collapse the tension of the bow by doing away with one of the directions or forces creating it" (28). But this just seems to mangle the tense bow metaphor: if you do away with one of the "forces creating it" you either shoot the arrow (you release the taut string) or the arrow falls to the ground (you release the bow). To unbend a bow is, of course, to reduce both opposed forces simultaneously--to reconcile them, as it were, or bring them together, so that the arrow neither shoots nor falls to the ground. (In general, I think C&D are far too invested in the metaphor of the bow, but allowing that we should take it so seriously, it seems to me we should get the metaphor right in terms of how a bow actually works!)
Unexplained in all this (at least here) is how exactly Jesuitism and the democratic Enlightenment tried to unbend the bow, once we understand that metaphor correctly: that is, what kind of reconciliation did they try to affect?
It seems to me that C&D have neglected a rather more natural reading, one that has the virtue of connecting the preface to the book's title, Beyond Good and Evil, and to familiar Nietzschean themes, such as the death of God and the defeat not simply of the Church, but of its poison (to paraphrase the famous line from GM I).
Nietzsche says the manificent tension of the bow was created by the struggle against Platonism/Christianity. But who is it that is involved in this fight? Obviously Nietzsche himself, but also, to some extent, German Materialists, and other empiricists and naturalists of all stripes. The struggle, however, has always proceeded on two fronts: against, roughly, Platonic/Christian metaphysics or cosmology, and against Platonic/Christian morality (Nietzsche, Machiavelli, some figures of the Rennaisance have mostly been involved in the struggle against the latter). The attempts to "unbend" the bow have been the attempts to preserve the Platonic/Christian morality, while bracketting or disowning or turning over to the merely "private sphere" the metaphysics or cosmology. So, e.g., Jesuits famously cultivated the method of casuistic reasoning as a way of defending Christian morals, without recourse to claims about God's will, Biblical authority, and so on. So, too, the democratic Enlightenment tried to put reason's imprint on Christian morality (think of Kant or Bentham), while either expressing open skepticism about Christian cosmology or relegating it to the sphere of private faith, not public dogma. The tension, of course, results from the attempt to salvage the morality without its traditional metaphysical foundations--although Jesuits and the Enlightenment try to unbend the bow, they have actually brought about "the death of God," though most do not realize that has happened or its frightening ramifications.
Nietzsche, of course, rejects Platonic and Christian metaphysics and cosmology, but, as the book's title and much of its content makes clear, he also wants to repudiate the Platonic/Christian morality that went hand-in-hand with it, indeed, that was the motivation for the metaphysics (as we learn in the first chapter of BGE). So Nietzsche will have nothing to do with the efforts of Jesuits and Enlightenment democrats to unbend the bow, by trying to reconcile a naturalistic world view, which is incompatible with Platonic/Christian metaphysics, with Platonic/Christian morality. Nietzsche, instead, intends to shoot the arrow by fulling repudiating the Platonic/Christian view, both its metaphysics and its morality--he needs the tension of the bow, but he is going to resolve it by shooting the arrow into a future "beyond good and evil," in which the struggle against Platonism and Christianity is won on all fronts, metaphysical and moral.
I think this understanding of the metaphor will do greater justice to the central themes of the book, but it will be for future postings to see whether that claim can be made good, or whether C&D's framework can do better.
Monday, February 4, 2013
I'm wondering if you know of anything in the Nietzsche literature that focuses on his theory of disgust? With the exception of Menninghaus, my numerous searches have turned up little that specifically focuses on disgust, and nothing that tries to offer a comprehensive overview. Any advice on where to look would be appreciated.
Monday, January 21, 2013
Monday, October 22, 2012
Friday, October 19, 2012
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
My problem is that my students have, as you might imagine, deep-seated atheist and relativist proclivities. They are happy to embrace the most superficial reading of N's perspectivism and 'valuation,' according to which willing whatever you choose to be valuable and meaningful for your life and definitive of your agency settles the question right then and there, and each person is free to choose his or her own values and aims in life. They seem to find his emphasis on the possibility of unconscious motivation to be simply self-contradictory, given their commitment to believing in their own ability to act for reasons and lead a life that is 'their own' in the ordinary sense. And none of them really seems to care about what it could mean to say that God is dead. So I have been having a lot of trouble bringing the importance of N's claims to life for them.It's been a long time since I've taught Nietzsche to undergraduates, so I expect others will have better ideas than I do, especially if they've confronted similar issues. Certainly one thing to point out is that Nietzsche quite plainly has very strong views about who are higher and lower human beings, and even though (on my reading) he doesn't think that evaluative judgment is epistemically privileged, it's quite plain that he has no sympathy for the idea that "whatever you choose to be valuable" is necessarily valuable from his perspective. (Of course, readings that emphasize power as a criterion of value will have an easier time wiht this issue.)
Thoughts from readers?
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Kaufmann...knew perfectly well that Nietzsche's actual target in the book is not Jesus and the values he is presented in the Gospels as espousing but rather the Christianity of St. Paul and his kindred spirits, and even though he also knew that, in German, the word "Christ" means "Christian" rather than (Jesus as) "the Christ" (which is "Christus" in German).The title, in other words, should have been The Anti-Christian. That's an interesting point, though I suspect Schacht overstates its significance for Enlish-language readers.
About the translations themselves, Schacht concurs with a point I've made here and elsewhere before, namley that while Kaufmann "had a good feeling for Nietzsche's style and a knack for capturing it" such that "in his translations, he makes Nietzsche come alive for the English-speaking reader, in a way that seems to me to be generally quite faithful to and reflective of the spirit and thrust of Nietzsche's own writing and thinking" (77-78), Kaufmann "also seems very frequently to have been motivated more by considerations of rhetorical effectiveness in English than by careful faithfulness to Nietzsche's texts" (78). That still seems to me a quite fair assessment.
More worrisome are the cases where Kaufmann "engag[es] in some tendentious shading and even some covert bowlderizing" (78). Schacht has three examples, not all equally convincing. With regard to BGE 36--the alleged "proof" of the doctrine of will to power (Schacht also makes hay out of translating "Lehre" as "doctrine" , though this seems to be much ado about nothing)--Schacht thinks Kaufmann tried "to soften its force" with some of his translation choices. Schacht is certainly right that the choices Kaufmann made are dubious or at least arguable, but it doesn't seem to me the meaning of the passage is affected, and that none of the translation points affect, for example, Clark's well-known argument that the argument in the passage can't be one Nietzsche actually accepts, since it depends on a premise he rejects. About GM III:12, Schacht makes the somewhat more interesting point that "auslegen" "literally means 'lay out' ('aus-legen')," and that the English "interpret" lends itself too readily to Nehamas-style misreadings. (He doesn't mention Nehamas, but he seems to be the target here.)
But the most striking example Schacht adduces (84) is BGE 230, in which Kaufmann rendered der schreckliche Grundtext homo natura" as simply "the eternal basic text of homo natura," omitting the adjective "terrible"! Schacht's explanation, which seems plausible, is that Kaufmann "no doubt was afraid that, if Nietzsche's English-speaking readers knew that he thought of this 'basic text' of our primordial 'natural' nature in that way, they would be too likely to suppose that he was endorsing the 'terribleness' and its unleashing" (84). Schacht, of course, agrees that would involve a misinterpretation of Nietzsche's meaning, but he's still right to complain that just dropping the word altogether (whose English meaning is quite clear) is really pretty bad translation practice. The question is how often Kaufmann does this. I can't think of a similarly dramatic case I've come across, but maybe readers can.
Saturday, September 8, 2012
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Among the very top PhD programs in the Anglophone world, there are four viable choices for a student wanting to work on Nietzsche: New York University (with John Richardson and Tamsin Shaw), Oxford University (with Daniel Came and Peter Kail), Princeton University (with Alexander Nehamas) and Stanford University (with Lanier Anderson and Nadeem Hussain). I am not sure how hospitable these places are for students primarily interested in Nietzsche, given the dominant interests of the faculty and most of the students, but they deserve serious attention from prospective students: you will get an excellent philosophical education and you have good philosophers who can serve as advisors with respect to Nietzsche work. Each of these faculties also includes philosophers interested in other aspects of Kant and post-Kantian Continental philosophy, including Beatrice Longuenesse at NYU, Alan Patten in Politics at Princeton, Michael Friedman at Stanford, and Stephen Mulhall at Oxford.
Among strong, but not very top, PhD programs there are several additional choices I would recommend: Birkbeck College and University College in the University of London system; Brown University; University of California, Riverside; University of Chicago; and University of Warwick.
In terms of sheer numbers, and diversity of approaches to Nietzsche, Chicago has the most faculty to offer across various units, and for a student also interested in ancient philosophy and/or wanting wide coverage of 19th- and 20th-century European philosophy, Chicago has a great deal to offer. (Faculty interested in Nietzsche, and supervising students, include James Conant, Michael Forster, Robert Gooding-Williams, Brian Leiter, Martha Nussbaum, Robert Pippin, and David Wellbery.) Brown is stronger in most contemporary areas of philosophy (with a particularly good group in moral and political philosophy) than Chicago, but has less depth and breadth in post-Kantian philosophy of the 19th- and 20th-centuries. (The key faculty are Bernard Reginster and Charles Larmore; they will be joined this year by Paul Guyer, making Brown a major destination for Kant students, and also adding coverage to aspects of German Idealism.) University of California, Riverside also has a strong group in post-Kantian European philosophy, including Maudemarie Clark (a leading Nietzsche scholar, of course), Pierre Keller, Georgia Warnke, and Mark Wrathall, and UCR also offers solid, sometimes outstanding, coverage, across a range of contemporary areas of philosophical research. University of Warwick has been a major up-and-coming department in the U.K. over the last decade, and is now solidly among the top ten U.K. programs. Keith Ansell-Pearson and Peter Poellner are the two main faculty interested in Nietzsche (their approaches are quite different, Poellner's being more likely to appeal to students with philosophy backgrounds), but other faculty do important work in Kant and post-Kantian philosophy (Quassim Cassam, Stephen Houlgate, A.D. Smith).
Birkbeck has my good friend Ken Gemes, a very talented philosopher who has supervised a number of students working on Nietzsche, and the Nietzsche scholar Simon May is also around and available to students, though not teaching regularly. Birkbeck's main strengths, however, tend to be in contemporary areas of Anglophone philosophy--like philosophy of language, mind and action--so as with Princeton et al., students should investigate what it is like for students. (Gemes is also now only half-time at Birkbeck.) At UCL, Sebastian Gardner, Mark Kalderon, and Thomas Stern are all interested in Nietzsche, and Garder and Stern are currently writing on him.
A few other programs worth considering:
Boston University, a top 50 department which also has strong coverage of 19th-century philosophy, has Paul Katsafanas (whose Nietzsche work is known to readers of this blog), who will surely get tenure before long. BU thus deserves to be on the map for students thinking about graduate work on Nietzsche. University of Southampton, though not a very good department overall, is attractive for a student interested in Nietzsche, with Christopher Janaway, David Owen, and Aaron Ridley. Raymond Geuss at Cambridge University has worked with some students interested in Nietzsche, but he will be coming up against mandatory retirement shortly, and has been dissuading students from coming to the philosophy faculty, alas. Among the top M.A. programs, the hands-down best choice is Georgia State University, which includes two Nietzsche specialists (my former student Jessica Berry, as well as Gregory Moore), and a specialist in German Idealism (Sebastian Rand).
Things are looking up on the European Continent for philosophically-minded Nietzsche scholars. I have been impressed by Joao Constancio's group at the New University of Lisbon, and by other younger scholars I have met (either in print or in person!) in recent years. But I am not well-informed enough about the overall programs there to offer meaningful guidance to my non-Anglophone readers.
Friday, July 20, 2012
Sunday, June 24, 2012
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
What is the scholarly state of play with respect to Stirner's influence on
Nietzsche? There are obvious though perhaps superficial affinities which suggest such an influence and it seems odd to suppose that a voracious reader like Nietzsche would not have known about Stirner and would have passed him by if he had known about him. But as an argument this strikes me as a touch too much like those speculative biographies which enlarge at length on what Shakespeare 'must' have felt or thought. I understand from Safranski's biography that Nietzsche never mentions Mad Max in his extant works or correspondence but that there is evidence from the
memoirs' of Ida Overbeck that Nietzsche not only read Stirner but admired him. Safranski takes the case for influence to be proven, and embarks on a summary of Stirner views in order to clarify what he takes that influence to have been. But is he perhaps being premature? Could Frau Overbeck have been confabulating to back up a thesis she believed for other reasons? Has anything been discovered since Safranski's book which sheds any light on the issue? And what do you think? I note that the issue is left to one side in Nietzsche on Morality and that nobody so much as
mentions Stirner in your OUP anthology (which surprised me a little).
A related question: Do we know which of Dostoevsky's books Nietzsche read apart from Notes from the Underground (which is mentioned in a letter in Kaufman's The Portable Nietzsche)? The question is relevant since I am inclined to think that Dostoevsky's character Stavrogin, the hero of The Devils/Demons/the Possessed is meant to be a sort of immanent critique of Stirner's ideals. Was The Devils translated into a language that Nietzsche understood during his sane and productive lifetime?
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
UPDATE: A reader points out that the calendar has the dates wrong--the dates of the conference are Sunday, April 15 through Tuesday, April 17.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Video of my 2010 lecture at the Oxford FNS Meeting: "Who is the 'Sovereign Individual'? Nietzsche on Freedom"
UPDATE (JANUARY 11): Manuel Dries tells me videos of all the talks from the Oxford conference, including mine, are available via I-Tunes here.
Monday, September 19, 2011
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Reginster on Gemes & May (eds.), Nietzsche on Freedom and Autonomy.
ADDENDUM: We discussed Gardner's paper from the Gemes & May volume previously. Contra my analysis of the experience of willing, Reginster writes:
One problem with this proposal is that it conflates willing with successful
willing. But it seems as though I can have an experience of willing even when my
body fails to respond, and I precisely do not feel "as if the bodily qualia are
obeying the thought." When I will to move my paralyzed body, for example, I have
an experience of willing, which means that I identify with a "commandeering
thought" even though it does not elicit obedience. But then this identification
cannot be motivated by the "feeling of power" that is supposed to explain its
This depends on whether it is a correct account of what it feels like to will the movement of a paralyzed part of the body: I would have thought this feels like an attemp at willing, not willing. I actually address this in note 6 of the paper; it is a difficult case that turns on having more information about the phenomenology of paralysis.
Friday, July 15, 2011
The website will be conducted as a virtual reading group, where they will work through each of Nietzsche's books at a rate of approximately one aphorism per day (or four shorter maxims a day).
Carlos has begun with the text of Twilight of the Idols and invites other interested readers to comment on the reading by visiting the comment box at the bottom of each aphorism's page (which can be visited by clicking "read more" or by clicking on the title of the relevant aphorism).
The website for the reading group is: http://verhexung.com
Monday, June 20, 2011
The fundamental claim of this book is that we will not properly understand
Nietzsche until we understand the main polemical target of his philosophizing.
This target, the author wants to demonstrate, is the evolutionary naturalism of
Darwin: “Nietzsche’s philosophy in his final years was premised on a fundamental
anti-Darwinism” (p. 203)....According to Paul S. Loeb, who provides the puff on
the back cover, the balanced and careful examination the book offers of this
crucial test case, “results in a powerful critique of the prevalent naturalistic
approach to Nietzsche.” In short, instead of trying to co-opt Nietzsche for
fashionable projects we need to respect the independence of his philosophical
This is puzzling. Who, apart from Richardson in the 2004 book, reads Nietzsche as a systematically Darwinian naturalist? There are obvious Darwinian themes here and there in Nietzsche (as in his critique of Paul Ree, or his Lamarckianism), but I'm not aware of anyone other than Richardson reading Nietzsche as fundamentally a Darwinian naturalist. Ansell-Pearson suggests that this ambiguity infects the book: "There is, however, an ambiguity at the heart of Johnson’s book that is never satisfactorily resolved: is the suggestion that Nietzsche is not at all a naturalist, or is it that he needs to be liberated from his entanglement with a fashionable Darwinism?"
Thoughts from readers who have read the book? Is it confused as Ansell-Pearson implies? And is it worth reading? Signed comments, as usual, will be strongly preferred.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Monday, March 21, 2011
Friday, February 25, 2011
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
(My Routledge Nietzsche on Morality has sold around 5,000 copies since 2002, though I haven't seen recent sales data on it. So that's a regular "best-seller"!)
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Friday, September 17, 2010
Monday, September 13, 2010
Sunday, August 1, 2010
I am not going to go through Sebastian's paper in the same level of detail as we did, recently, with Paul Katsfanas's piece on N's philosophical psychology. Sebastian's paper comes in three parts, and it is the third part that presents, to my mind, the most interesting and important challenge to the naturalist reading. I'll comment more briefly on the first two major sections of the paper. The paper as a whole aims to display a tension between naturalistic and transcendental themes in Nietzsche's work, arguing, in the end, that Nietzsche self-consciously wanted to display the "disunity of philosophical reason," i.e., the difficulty or impossibility of being fully naturalistic or fully transcendentalist.
Part I proposes to illustrate the tension between Nietzsche's "theoretical" conception of the self (or the "I"), which Gardner calls variously eliminativist or fictionalist, and his purportedly "practical" concept of the self, which, according to Gardner, has to be more robust than the fictionalist treatment allows in order to make sense of Nietzsche's claims about value and valuing. An eliminativist or fictionalist view of the self might seem to have some difficulty accounting for the phenomenon that Kant identifies under the rubric of the transcendental unity of apperception, but, if I understand Gardner rightly, he thinks the eliminativist/fictionalist about the self can make sense of the phenomenon (p. 7)--but this discussion, I'm afraid, was quite obscure. But Gardner's main point isn't that N's theoretical conception of the self falls prey to Kant's argument against Hume on apperception and the unity of self-consciousness; it's rather that it is in tension with the concept of the self he needs for his practical philosophy. The core argument is at pp. 8-9, and trades, in my view, on a mistaken (in any case unargued for) view of the role of values in "self-creation" and on ambiguities about what it means for N's higher-type to legislate values (Hussain's 'fictionalist' account may help here).
Section 2 concerns naturalistic and transcendentalist conceptions of the relationship between theoretical and practical reason. My reading is presented by Gardner (at p. 15), and presented quite fairly, as the representative naturalist reading. Gardner is quite correct that on this reading "the Nietzschean subject lacks any rational warrant for regarding his valuation as anything more than the expression of a natural force" (p. 16). Gardner objects that this kind of valuing would amount to "sheer inconceivability for subjects in whom the taste for justification is well established" (p. 16). I'm not entirely sure I understand this. Certainly those who think values are genuinely objective (who do not realize that the world is, as N. says, "value-less") will be unsettled by this model of valuation. But those who do not share the "taste for justification" in question, namely N's higher types or 'free spirits,' will surely have no problem understanding that "this is good" has no ground beyond their *deeming it to be good.* (There follows at 16-17 a somewhat opaque discussion of Nietzsche and Hume, which I shall pass over.)
The core of this section of the paper, however, is the argument that we can ascribe to N. a picture of the "unity of reason" (that we might associate with Kant and post-Kantians) on the basis of what N. says about the Presocratics. Gardner claims the "wisdom" of the Presocratics on the Nietzschean view involves "the standpoint of reflection which aims to unify the practical and theoretical perspectives" and "the idea of the primacy of practical reason and, connectedly, of a non-realistic, transcnedental or regulative warrant for norms" (p. 19). Here I think Gardner is guilty of a misreading of N's treatment of the Presocratics and of projecting a quasi-Kantian framework onto them (and N's reading of them). The "wisdom" of the Presocratics for N. (starting with Thales; I discuss this in NOM, 41-43) consists in their recognition that the "truth is terrible," and that, for the sake of life, one should sometimes put limits on the pursuit of knowledge. The Presocratics, in short, are not guilty of the error at issue in GM III, namely, treating truth as the highest value, which is just an analogue of the Socratic/rationalistic optimism critiqued in BT. I do not see "a buried transcendentalist dimension to Nietzsche" (p. 19) in these observations. Rather, it is the very simple thought that sometimes we should put limits on theoretical reason for the sake of other values. The question is what this view has to do with Kant?
Section 3 of the paper, "Naturalism and Transcendentalism in Nietzsche," was, to my mind, the most interesting. The focus here is on my naturalist reading of the argument in GM III, and Gardner's central claim, if I am reading him rightly, is that the naturalist is not entitled to help himself to something like "a psychological need for meaningfulness"--that such a posit is a gratuitous posit simply meant to square N's actual argument with naturalistic strictures. The human need for meaning, in other words, can not be assimilated to the naturalistic framework. In any case, I think that's the strongest point Gardner is arguing here, though he says some things along the way that strike me as wrong or off point. But the core challenge, if I have it right, is a serious one, to which I'll return at the end.
First, a recap of my argument (in NOM), which is Gardner's target and which he gives a pretty good statement of at p. 26 (though with some confusion about what exactly the explanans and the explanandum are supposed to be--more on that in a moment). The core puzzle of the Third Essay is this: why is it that ascetic religions have had such a profound grip on the human mind? What exactly is the source of their appeal and attraction? Why would people be drawn to religions that impose restrictions, often severe restrictions, on all kinds of desire-satisfaction (for sex, for cruelty, for power, for pleasure)?
Nietzsche's explanation for the power of ascetic ideals assumes two additional facts: first, that most people (the "vast majority" as he says) suffer (and suffering gives rise to ressentiment which would, if undischarged, ultimately lead to 'suicidal nihilism'); and second, that every creature strives for the "optimal conditions" for producing the "maximum feeling of power" (GM III:7). The question is why ascetic religions would triumph given these two facts.
Here is Gardner's (slightly incomplete) gloss (p. 26) on my argument:
Leiter claims that the ascetic ideal's solution to the 'curse of meaninglessness' referred to in section 28 is to be understood in terms of the following explanatory elements: first, the claim of the First Essay that suffering produces ressentiment; second, the later claim (GM III 15) that relief from ressentiment is achieved by blame, which facilitates discharge, the effect of which is anaesthetic; and third, the role of the ascetic priest in redirecting blame by designating a new culprit, namely
oneself. In this way the ascetic ideal allow suffering to be 'overcome.' What it is, then, for suffering to 'be meaningful,' on the naturalistic account, consists simply in a pattern of psychological causation described in a reductive, mechanistic and hedonistic psychology: it is straightforwardly equivalent to our having the means to achieve hedonic relief from suffering by means of an anaesthetsia-inducing discharge of affect directed at a fictional blame-object.
Now Gardner talks (e.g., 26) as if the explanandum were the need for suffering to have a meaning, whereas the real explanandum is the triumph of the ascetic ideal. To explain that triumph we need to assume that meaningless suffering is unbearable and would lead to suicidal nihilism, and so thwart the feeling of power that comes with self-preservation. The meaning for suffering is supplied by the ascetic ideal (the ascetic priest teaches that people suffer because of their immoral desire: for power, sex, cruelty etc.--so they themselves are to blame for their suffering), which also permits the discharge of ressentiment in blame, thus alleviating some of the pain that leads to suicidal nihilism (though continuing, perversely, the cycle of suffering because of the pain associated with guilt etc.). Suffering is not, contrary to Gardner's presentation, "overcome": it is rather rendered bearable enough that the sufferer does not give up on life altogether--the only "feeling of power" available to the vast majority of mortals on N's picture. And this realization of the "feeling of power" is only possible if sufferers can interpret their condition in light of the ascetic ideal--or so claims Nietzsche. (So Gardner is wrong that on my account the "final explanans is the painfulnes of pain; N's is the threat of its meaninglessness" [p. 27]. The ultimate explanas is the instinctive need for creatures, even those who suffer, to achieve some feeling of power, which for most mortals means maintaing a will to live, not giving up on life--and they can only thward suicidal nihilism if their suffering, the basic fact of their life, is meaningful.)
So the key assumption is that creatures like us can not endure suffering that makes no sense: we can endure (and thus preserve ourselves, and a get a small feeling of power) if our suffering "makes sense," but not otherwise. Why can't the naturalist help himself to such an assumption about human needs? That's the key question.
Here is one comment by Gardner that might be taken as responding to the key question:
My suggestion would be that N. regards suffering in its primary, hedonic sense as occasioning the formation of the need for Sinn, indeed as necessary for its crystallization, but that he regards the need for Sinn as then assuming a life of its own, such that, if per impossible we ceased to suffer in the hedonic-Schopenhauerian sense, we would continue to stand in need of Sinn. (p. 27 note 40)
We might well stand in need of meaning, but the need for meaning simpliciter plays no role in the argument of GM III. What is at issue (contrary to Gardner's somewhat misleading over-emphasis on the final section of the essay) is the need for suffering to be meaningful. If most mortals didn't suffer (which, as Gardner acknowledges, isn't a possibility), then they wouldn't be threatened by suicidal nihilism, and so they would be able to achieve their maximal feelings of power without the need of ascetic ideals. But this simply isn't our world, or N's concern.
Now I think Gardner's core objection is really this one (p. 28):
If N. were to be a consistent naturalist, then he would have to agree that the need for Sinn can be explained as some kind of evolutionary or whatever Nebenwirkung [side-effect], to be resolved back into a naturalized, mechanistic, hedonistic psychology. But--if naturalization of the need for Sinn were to have the meaning for N. that it has for the consistent naturalist--N. would then have to take Freud's line, that the need for Sinn cannot be taken with philosophical seriousness, and his practical philosophy would crumble. Because N. instead holds fast to the internal, practical perspective from which the question of Sinn is genuine and ineluctable, he cannot regard the question fo whether the need for Sinn is 'really' nothing but another natural drive or accidental by-product of such is not a real possibility; the need cannot be de-validated through an exercise of theoretical reason.This passage seems to me to confuse a number of issues: (1) N. does not aim (and my account does not require him to aim) for a naturalistic explanation of "the need for meaning" in terms of other naturalistic forces (evolutionary or otherwise); (2) N. does not claim (and my reading does not require him to claim) that the "need for meaning" might be "de-validated" in virtue of being a naturalistic phenomenon; (3) N's account (and my interpretation of his account) is entirely third-personal, without any import for the first-personal character of experience for agents in the grips of the ascetic ideal, who are suffering, etc.
The "need for meaning"--more precisely, on my account, the need for suffering to have a meaning--is a kind of psychological primitive for N. Of course, it's not wholly primitive: for the reason we need suffering to be meaningful is because suffering generates ressentiment, and undischarged ressentiment will cause a kind of pscyhological explostion or melt-down--and the latter would be inconsistent with the drive for the maximal feelings of power (so the fundamental psychology is not hedonic, but oriented around need for the feeling of power). None of this is meant to "de-validate" the first-person experience of the sufferer--to the contrary, the whole point of the argument is to explain the puzzling phenomenon that ascetic moralities and religions should be so dominant among creatures like us, i.e., creatures with ravenous appetites for power, for sex, for cruelty, etc.
So the right way, I think, to frame something like Gardner's challenge is in terms of explanatory parsimony. Is the naturalist, in order to make his psychological story about the triumph of ascetic ideals work, entitled to posit as a kind of primitive psychological need the need for suffering to be meaningful? What kind of natural fact would that be? And the answer to that question, I think, turns on whether N's explanatory framework is one that can justify its ontology of psychological needs, not only for meaningful suffering, but for feelings of power, as well as the operations of ressentiment. Now that is a hard question, and its answer turns on what the competing accounts for the triumph of asceticism look like. At least as things stand now, though, no one, as far as I can see, has a competing account for the triumph of asceticism. If there is one that can dispense with psychological primitives like "the need for meaningful suffering," then the Nietzschean naturalist loses. But that's how it should go for naturalists, Nietzschean or otherwise.