Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Nachlass and "The Will to Power," once again

Mazzino Montinari, Bernd Magnus, and (maybe?) R.J. Hollingdale all raised important doubts about the canonical status of the Nachlass material in the 1970s and 1980s.  On the standard narrative,  it appears Nietzsche wanted much of this material destroyed, and it was only the intervention of others, independent of Nietzsche, that resulted in the material being saved for posterity.  More recently, Julian Young (in his 2010 biography:  539-542) confirmed and documented Nietzsche’s abandonment of a project organized under the rubric Will to Power in favor of one organized around the idea of a Revaluation of All Values.  

Unsurprisingly, commentators committed to the centrality of “will to power” to Nietzsche’s thought have tried to resist this evidence.  Paul Katsafanas, for example, admits in his 2013 book that “if Nietzsche consigned so many of his writings on will to power to the wastebasket, he can hardly have regarded those notes as important,” but then claimed, surprisingly, that this “story [the familiar narrative] is apocryphal” (2013:  248), relying only on Hollingdale, whom Katsafanas reports says Nietzsche was only discarding the “page proofs of Twilight of the Idols” (2013:  248). 

It appears, however, Katsafanas did not consult the original German source for the story, namely, Carl Albrecht Bernoulli’s Franz Overbeck und Friedrich Nietzsche:  Eine Freundschaft (1908).  The text is a bit hard to decipher, given the font, but it does appear that Bernoulli, a student of Overbeck’s, reported that when Nietzsche left his flat in Sils Maria in September of 1888, he instructed his landlord Herr Durisch to “burn” his papers and notebooks, though the landlord disregarded the instructions (1908:  301).  Nietzsche left for Turin a couple of weeks later, and suffered his final mental collapse in early January of 1889.   Bernoulli does not specify the exact contents of the voluminous material Nietzsche asked to be destroyed, but Young reports that “many” of the “693 fragments” that Nietzsche’s sister put into the posthumous Will to Power “had in fact been consigned to Nietzsche’s wastepaper basket in Sils, from which, for unknown reasons, Durisch retrieved them” (Young 2010:  628 n. 9).  Thus, it appears a version of the standard narrative is correct:   much of what we have in the book known as The Will to Power—including its famous concluding section about will to power (as Montinari specifically documented)—represent work Nietzsche had rejected.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Book sales

I just got a very detailed report from Routledge about sales of Nietzsche on Morality as of the end of 2016.   The first edition (2002) has sold not quite 6,500 copies in all formats (though over 6,000 were in paperback unsurprisingly, the rest hardback or e-books).  The second edition, which just came out in 2015, has sold almost 1,100 copies in all formats (with the most, about 730, in paperback).  As academic book sales go, this is pretty gratifying.  Many thanks to readers here who are probably among those who have bought the book over the years and to those who have also assigned the book in their classes!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Call for Papers for ISNS conference in London, March 2018

Details here.

Sorry for the dearth of posting as of late, I hope to have a bit more in the coming months.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Drochon in Nietzsche's politics

This informative review by Andrew Huddleston (Birkbeck, London) brings out the crucial ambiguity between "politics" and "political philosophy" in Drochon's recent book.  Nietzsche has a lot of views about political questions, he does not have, however, a political philosophy, and for philosophical reasons!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Most cited articles on Nietzsche in English (according to Google Scholar)

Corrections welcome in the comments; I'll update the list periodically.  The bottom line is that articles on Nietzsche don't get cited a lot, certainly not as much as books!

1.  Bernard Williams, "Nietzsche's Minimalist Moral Psychology" (1993), 99 citations

2.  Raymond Geuss, "Nietzsche and Genealogy" (1994), 80 citations

3.  Brian Leiter, "The Paradox of Fatalism and Self-Creation in Nietzsche" (1998), 66 citations

4.  Martha Nussbaum, "Pity and Mercy:  Nietzsche's Stoicism" (1994), 63 citations

5.  Brian Leiter, "Perspectivism in Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals" (1994), 61 citations

6.  Ken Gemes, "Nietzsche's Critique of Truth" (1992), 60 citations

7.  Brian Leiter, "Nietzsche and the Morality Critics" (1997), 58 citations

8.  Nadeem Hussain, "Nietzsche's Positivism" (2004), 55 citations

9.  Philippa Foot, "Nietzsche:  The Revaluation of Values" (1973), 52 citations [this seemed suspiciously low to me]

10.  Paul Katsafanas, "Nietzsche's Theory of Mind:  Consciousness and Conceptualization" (2005), 51 citations.

11.  Nadeem Hussain, "Honest Illusion:  Valuing for Nietzsche's Free Spirits" (2007), 49 citations.

11.  Bernard Reginster, "Nietzsche on Ressentiment and Valuation" (1997), 49 citations

11.  Robert C. Solomon, "Nietzsche ad hominem:  Perspectivism, Personality & Ressentiment" (1996), 49 citations

14.  Joshua Knobe & Brian Leiter, "The Case for Nietzschean Moral Psychology" (2007), 48 citations

15.  R. Lanier Anderson, "Truth and Objectivity in Perspectivism" (1998), 46 citations

16.  Alexander Nehamas, "The Eternal Return" (1980), 42 citations

17.  Alexander Nehamas, "How One Becomes What One Is" (1983), 41 citations

18.  Maudemarie Clark, "Nietzsche's Immoralism and the Concept of Morality" (1994), 40 citations.

18.  Ken Gemes, "Postmodernism's Use & Abuse of Nietzsche" (2001), 40 citations

18.  Brian Leiter, "Nietzsche's Theory of the Will" (2009), 40 citations

Monday, December 21, 2015

Robert Holub's book on Nietzsche and anti-semitism

I review it at the New Rambler.  The book gets some remarkable endorsements on the dustjacket from historians, though historians, I fear, who didn't know much about Nietzsche and didn't read the book too carefully.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Call for papers for inaugural ISNS cnoference--new deadline, January 15, 2016

Details here.  We got about two dozen submissions right before the official deadline, but also several requests for more time.  Those who submitted may resubmit.  No refereeing will take place until after January 15.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Huddleston on "Nietzsche's Meta-Axiology: Against the Sceptical Readings"

This interesting paper appeared in British Journal for the History of Philosophy 22 (2014): 322-342.  The title is a play on my paper "Nietzsche's Metaethics:  Against the Privilege Readings," European Journal of Philosophy 8 (2000):  277-297 (hereafter my "EJP paper"), and Huddleston's main target are my different accounts of Nietzsche's anti-realism about value.  (My thinking about Huddleston's paper was helped by a useful discussion with faculty and graduate students in philosophy at UC Riverside last February.  I will cite to the second, 2015 edition of my Nietzsche on Morality [Routledge] as NOM, but by page number of the 2nd edition.)

Two preliminary terminological matters, one minor, the other less so.  On the minor:  Huddleston prefers the term "meta-axiology" rather than metaethics because N. is concerned broadly with the status of values, not just morality (Huddleston, 326-328, where he gives some other reasons).  Nothing turns on this.  Those discussing N's metaethics are discussing the same thing Huddleston is discussing, and are simply using the more common, contemporary term.   I'll follow Huddleston's usage here.

A slightly less minor terminological matter:  right at the start (322-323), Huddleston proposes a distinction between "values in the descriptive sense," meaning "the ideals and codes of conduct that people have...taken to be valuable" (322) and what he calls "genuine values," that is values that "are accurate to an evaluative fact-of-the-matter" (323) (which I take it means something like:  corresponding to "objective" value in some sense of "objective").  There's another relevant concept missing here, namely, "values in the normative sense," that is judgments that endorse (or recommend) values in the descriptive sense.   N. undoubtedly makes value judgments "in the normative sense."  The meta-axiological question is whether those judgments exemplify what Huddleston calls "genuine values."

Huddleston's official view is that he is "doubtful that" Nietzsche has a "sophisticated meta-axiological view" (323) and that the "texts seriously underdetermine where he stands on these important issues" (324).   Unfortunately, Huddleston here conflates (see esp. 323 and the scholarly papers cited in note 4) metaphysical and semantic questions that might be thought meta-ethical or meta-axiological (despite acknowledging at the end of the long footnote 6, p. 325, that he too is really concerned only with the metaphysical questions).  I, of course, argued in the EJP paper in 2000, in NOM in 2002, and every publication since, that the texts really do underdetermine ascription of any semantic theory of evaluative discourse to Nietzsche, a fact that should hardly be surprising given that prior to the 20th-century no one was really interested in that question.  Some sophisticated commentators on the semantic issues, including Nadeem Hussain (who earlier on defended a fictionalist reading) have since come around to this view (see his contribution to Gemes & Richardson [eds.], The Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche [2013]).   On the metaphysical question, however, two points are worth emphasizing:  (1) it is not clear there really are that many different views (in fact, in the secondary literature and the broader intellectual reception of Nietzsche [from Weber to Carnap to MacIntyre]], anti-realist readings dominate), and (2) it is not at all clear the texts really underdetermine the question of Nietzsche's view of the metaphysics of value.  (Everyone in the history of philosophy from the pre-Socratics to the present has defended views about the metaphysics of value, so this would not have been a foreign topic to N.)

Regarding (2):  the primary weakness of Huddleston's paper is that he doesn't actually consider most of the anti-realist passages from Nietzsche (I provide a catalogue of many of them in "Moral Skepticism and Moral Disagreement in Nietzsche," in Oxford Studies in Metaethics 9 [2014], which I'll refer to hereafter as my OSM paper).  His strategy, instead, is to criticize particular arguments (mostly mine) for ascribing anti-realism about value to Nietzsche, considering only a handful of anti-realist passages (331 ff.).

Huddleston's first target (327-228) is the argument from disagreement among philosophers developed in my OSM paper.   The argument in brief:  the best explanation for why moral philosophers do not agree on foundational moral questions includes the fact that there is no cognizable truth about fundamental moral questions.   Huddleston notes that I treat as central a Nachlass passage (WP 428), though he is silent on the other passages in the published corpus I also point to.  (He also notes, as I do, that the passage, WP 428, is about morality not values, but that's precisely why I treat it as suggesting an argument for moral anti-realism only.)  He is also silent on how best to reconstruct the argument in the Nachlass passage, claiming instead that "there is strong evidence that Nietzsche definitively rejects a (similar, though not identical) argument from disagreement" in his published work (329).  Huddleston writes:
In Book V of The Gay Science, Nietzsche derides as "childish" the argument made by those who "see the truth that among different nations moral valuations are necessarily different and then infer from this that no morality is at all binding [einen Schluss auf Unverbindlickheit aller Moral machen] (GS 345) 
This is certainly a significant passage to consider in this context, though its meaning is a bit more complex than this gloss suggests.  First, note that the argument criticized in GS 345 is different than the argument at stake in WP 428 as I reconstruct it:  for GS 345 involves appeal to differences in ordinary moral opinions "among different nations," while the whole interest of the WP 428 argument is that it depends on "expert" disagreement, that is, foundational disagreement about morality among major philosophers across the ages.  Someone who thought the WP 428 abductive argument for moral skepticism was correct could agree that moral differences "among different nations" is poor evidence for moral skepticism.

Second, and more importantly, the context of this passage suggests that its subject is not the subject of WP 428, namely, whether it is a "swindle to talk of 'truth'" when it comes to morality.  The topic of GS 345, by contrast, is about the failure of most thinkers to really consider the problem of the value of morality.  Nietzsche gives several examples of the failure to engage with this problem.  One is to draw inferences about whether a morality is or is not "binding" from the fact that there is "some consensus of the nations, at least of tame nations, concerning certain principles of morals" (which is taken as evidence that "these principles must be unconditionally binding also for you and me") or the converse inference, already quoted.  But a more "refined" mistake is to commit the genetic fallacy, to fail to realize that, "Even if a morality has grown out of an error, the realization of this fact would not as much as touch the problem of its value" (GS 345).   I take it, then, that whether or not a morality ought to be treated as binding is the same as the "problem of its value," not the problem of its truth.  It's clearly compatible with my reconstruction of the WP 428 argument that anti-realism about moral value has no bearing on the question which moralities are valuable.  Only on the unNietzschean assumption that a true morality is necessarily valuable (N's whole corpus repeatedly raises the question of the value of truth, of course), or the question-begging assumption that a morality N. judges to be valuable is therefore true, would we be able to assimilate the concern of GS 345 to that of WP 428 and the skeptical argument from disagreement I defend in the OSM paper.

Huddleston briefly considers a different argument:  namely, "N's frequent assimilation of value judgments to matters of taste" (329).  He does not adduce any textual evidence that N. thinks judgments of taste can be objectively true or false, noting only that "it is far from obvious that someone as elitist and snobbish as N. would think that there are no standards of correctness in matters of taste" (329).  One can agree it is not "obvious"--no one said it was, but the language about judgments of "taste" does occur within a rich web of anti-realist passages that invite the skeptical reading of "taste"--but Huddleston muddies the issue by asserting that the skeptical reading has to claim "that there is no genuine privilege that one person's taste can have over another's" (329).  If "genuine privilege" is interpreted to mean an epistemic privilege of the kind involved in Huddleston's "genuine values," then, yes, the skeptical reading does deny that.  But there are other kinds of privileges tastes can enjoy, such as being marks of nobility, being conducive to the flourishing of genius, and so on, that are compatible with the skeptical position.  (I also discuss some of N's "elitist and snobbish" rhetoric and how to interpret it in NOM, 125-126.)

Finally, Huddleston considers (329-331) the argument in NOM (121 ff.) that N. offers a best-explanation argument for moral anti-realism (Huddleston is right that this is not an argument for anti-realism about all value, but I did not claim it was).   Huddleston notes that "even stipulating that N. thinks one can explain all evaluative commitments by reference to wholly non-evaluative facts about the people with those commitments and their environments, it is contentious, on purely philosophical grounds, that the strong eliminativist conclusion [about moral values] should follow" (330).  This is true but trivial:  every philosophical claim is contentious, but I have offered arguments for that conclusion (cf. "Moral Facts and Best Explanations," Social Philosophy & Policy [2001], and reprinted in my Naturalizing Jurisprudence [OUP, 2007]), while Huddleston offers no arguments for the opposing view.  The only substantive objection Huddleston makes to the best-explanation reading of Nietzsche's moral anti-realism is to note that N's explanations "are far from being couched in wholly non-evaluative, cooly scientific terms," involving he says "thick concepts such as nobility and baseness, concepts in which an evaluative dimension arguably is already built in" (330).  Put aside that "nobility" is a matter of a cluster of descriptive psychological traits (e.g., self-reverence), none of the best explanation arguments I identify in Nietzsche require "nobility" to do explanatory work.  I have also argued (NOM, 122-123) that possibly evaluative concepts like "high" and "low" function as explicitly evaluative terms for N., on a par with "good and evil," and so warranting anti-realist interpretation.  Huddleston is silent on this.

In the second major part of his paper (331-334), Huddleston takes up a couple of apparently anti-realist passages about value and tries to offer different interpretations.   These includes GS 301 (nature lacks "value in itself" value "has been a present") and Z I ("On the Thousand and One Goals").  Huddleston aptly glosses these passages as suggesting that in value judgments "[t]here is simply the projection of our attitudes onto axiologically neutral reality" (332).

Huddleston suggests that it is not clear that GS 301, in particular, isn't only about "values in the descriptive sense" rather than all values (including what Huddleston calls "genuine values") (332).  That there is nothing in the passage that indicates it is limited to "values in the descriptive sense"  suggests to me that this is a somewhat desperate shifting of the burden of proof rather than a serious argument.

More interestingly, Huddleston notes that a projectivist view like that suggested in GS 301 could  be compatible with "the idea that the evaluative facts which ground genuine values are themselves not wholly mind-independent facts" (332).  He here refers, appropriately, to Alex Silk's important paper on "Nietzschean Constructivism," in the special issue of Inquiry I edited in 2015 (vol. 58, 244-280).  I hope to discuss Silk's paper in a future posting.  But given that Huddleston repeatedly urges caution about ascribing perhaps anachronistic views to Nietzsche, it is ironic, and not very convincing, to be told that N. may believe in "genuine values" in Huddleston's sense because the texts might admit of the latest in high-tech metaethical readings from Michigan!  (Even worse, Huddleston suggests [334], though doesn't really argue, that N's views might admit of interpretation along Razian lines!)

Huddleston devotes another section of his paper to Reginster's account of "perspectival value" in Nietzsche.  I found this to be one of the least compelling part of Reginster's book, and I don't have anything to add to Nadeem Hussain's criticisms of Reginster's views on this score (see Hussain,
"Metaethics and Nihilism in Reginster's The Affirmation of Life" Journal of Nietzsche Studies 43 (2012):  99-117).

In his conclusion, Huddleston describes his project in the paper as "historical and exegetical in character" (340), though that seems to me quite misleading given how few texts, let alone historical influences, Huddleston considers, and how much he relies on the more possibility of alternative readings of the texts he considers, readings that aren't argued for in any detail, and that often depend on contemporary resources quite foreign to N.   Huddleston also mentions the core argument of my 2002 EJP paper, namely, that no workable argument can be constructed for the most popular realist hypothesis, namely, that N. thinks will to power is objectively valuable.  Huddleston declares this "is a particularly implausible variant of value realism both textually and philosophically" (339).  Here we are in partial agreement (philosophically it is absurd, including in Katsafanas's version, which Huddleston has ablely critiqued in an as-of-yet unpublished paper), though there's no question it has been the kind of value realism most often attributed to Nietzsche over the last century. 

At the very end of his paper, Huddleston, considering the possibility that Nietzsche is "skeptical of the very idea that anything is really valuable," writes:
This has the surprising and, to my mind, unsatisfying result that N. thinks the great multitude laboring under a form of ideology are not mistaken in their outlook.  It could be that N. thinks this.  Yet at the risk of defanging N's impassioned critique of the ideological we have inherited, this seems to me a position of last resort.  (340)
But this conclusion is a really astonishing non-sequitur on my arguments, which have been his target throughout the paper.   Indeed, I myself use the metaphor of "false consciousness" to characterize N's project, since N. clearly thinks that higher human beings are clearly mistaken in thinking that "herd morality" (or MPS, as I call it) is good for them, and he clearly thinks that proponents of MPS are committed to all kinds of cognitive mistakes (about freedom of the will, about the motives for which they act, and so on).   As I also argue, N's fundamental objection to MPS is not that it involves cognitive errors (though the fact that it does will have considerable rhetorical force for some of its adherents), but that it is harmful to certain kinds of people, N's rightful readers (see NOM, 126-132 for a thorough discussion of this issue).  

The real significance of Huddleston's conclusion, however, is what it betrays about the assumptions many readers of N. bring to the text:  namely, that they bring to bear the bias that cognitive error is really important, and that evaluative judgments can't be taken seriously unless they correspond to genuine values.   But both assumptions are utterly unNietzschean:  falsity is never N's basic objection to any belief, and evaluative judgments are none the worse because they do not have "reality" or "God" standing behind them.  These kinds of moralistic prejudices are a frequent impediment to readings of Nietzsche, I fear.

As with prior discussions on this blog, I only pick serious papers for extended critical discussion.  This is a serious paper that those interested in the meta-axiological issues should read.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Help sought: passages in which Nietzsche describes guilt as "useful" or "rational"

Ken Gemes (Birkbeck) writes:

I am trying to argue that while Nietzsche rejects what I call existential guilt/shame (that is guilt/shame that comes from experiencing one’s very nature as a violation of religious or other norms/ideals) he sometimes finds ordinary guilt to be rational and/or useful.  For instance in GM II 24 he seems to suggest it would be useful if we could have ordinary guilt about our unnatural inclinations, meaning something like our learned inclinations to moralistically repress our natural inclinations. Thus he calls for an attempt to “wed to bad conscience the unnatural inclinations, all those aspirations to beyond, to what is contrary to the senses, contrary to the instincts, contrary to nature, contrary to the animal”.  I would appreciate other examples that suggest Nietzsche sometimes finds ordinary guilt to be rational and/or useful.  Replies to would be appreciated.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

International Society for Nietzsche Studies

I'm very pleased to announce an exciting new scholarly initiative, the International Society for Nietzsche Studies.  The inaugural conference will be at the University of Bonn in late June 2016, and a Call for Papers will be issued soon; Bonn will be able to offer financial support to grad students or non-tenure-stream faculty whose papers are accepted.  All conference papers will appear in a special issue of Inquiry each year.

Nietzsche studies is at a particularly fertile moment, with an unusually strong cohort of talented younger philosophers around the world working on Nietzsche, in whole or in part.  The existing Nietzsche societies are, in my personal opinion, somewhere on the spectrum from moribund to uneven.  I am hopeful this new initiative will provide an attractive alternative.

Friday, June 5, 2015

BGE 37...and now updated with further thoughts on BGE 37

Once again, for my own benefit (and those of any readers), I'd like to record some interesting insights that emerged from the Nietzsche reading group over our last couple of meetings.  PhD students participating were Garrett Allen, Kate Andrews, Dusty Dallmann, Tes Davison, and Joshua Fox.  Mistakes and foolishnesss should be attributed to me, the insights came from the PhD students and my discussion with them.

Here is the short BGE 37: 
"Wie? Heisst das nicht, populär geredet: Gott ist widerlegt, der Teufel aber nicht -?" Im Gegentheil! Im Gegentheil, meine Freunde!  Und, zum Teufel auch, wer zwingt euch, populär zu reden! -

Roughly:  "'How is that?  Does that not mean, to use a popular idiom:  God is refuted, but the devil is not?'  On the contrary!  On the contrary, my friends!  And who the devil is forcing you to use popular idioms!"

BGE 37 follows on the notorious argument in BGE 36, the conditional "proof" of the doctrine of will to power, one that involves premises Nietzsche plainly rejects.  36 concludes with the claim that the world is "just this 'will to power' and nothing else."  Hence the start of 37, which basically means, "Are you serious, so what does this mean?"  And one interpretation, the one Nietzsche wants to reject, is that if the world is will to power, then that means the world is not governed by a benevolent God but is instead hostage to the malevolence of the Devil.  But, and this is Nietzsche's point, this misunderstands the nature of the "doctrine" of will to power:  will to power is neither benevolent, nor malevolent.   Insofar as things are "simply" will to power they are without any normative significance:  they just are.   So the popular idioms misunderstand the thesis from BGE 36.

This, of course, is consistent with a recurring theme in Nietzsche and in BGE, namely, that what happens is "beyond good and evil," that is, beyond assessment in terms of what ought or ought not to happen.  There is no space for "ought," there just is what happens.

UPDATE:  Dinner and  family obligations led to a somewhat rushed conclusion to yesterday's post, and prevented me from addressing some additional, related sections of BGE.

But first, to return to BGE 37:  bear in mind that on the Clark-inspired reading of BGE 36, N. does not really believe that the world is "'will to power' and nothing else."  So why, then, is it important for him to disabuse the reader of the idea that if the world were will to power and nothing else, this would have no normative implications? 

The immediately following section, BGE 38, talks about the various reactions to the French Revolution, introducing the important idea "that the text has finally disappeared under the interpretation [Interpretation]."  The "text" in this context represents the actual event, the "interpretation" an evaluatively interested rendering and distortion of the actual event.  In BGE 22, we encountered the first suggestion that someone "with an opposite intention and mode of interpretation" might read the text of the world not as exemplifying "conformity to law" but as exemplifying " a tyrannically ruthless and pitiless execution of power claims."    But "this is interpretation, not text" in both cases.  (BGE 22 ends with the famous, or infamous, concession by Nietzsche that if this doctrine of will to power "is only an interpretation...well then, so much the better.")  So BGE 22 lends support to the Clark-inspired reading of BGE 36:  in both cases, the doctrine of will to power is an interpretation, but not a case of "the art of reading well," of "being able to read facts without falsifying them through interpretation" (A 52).  What BGE 37 then does is clarify that this particular "interpretation" is not meant to vindicate either God or the Devil:  whatever the intention underlying this interpretation, it is not an intention to show that the world is really benevolently organized or malevolently organized.  What then is Nietzsche's intention, what evaluative aim motivates this interpretation?  We might say, borrowing a later phrase from Twilight of the Idols, that the intention of this interpretation is to illustrate the "innocence of becoming," of all that happens--the moral innocence, that is. 

We have to be careful here, though, since I take it Nietzsche does think that the text of becoming really is innocent.  Of course, Nietzsche can believe that without believing that the explanation for its being innocent is the "doctrine of the will to power."  Rather, the "doctrine of the will to power" is an interpretation of the text that can be used to highlight or emphasize the innocence of becoming, at least as long as a reader doesn't make the mistake he wants to guard against in BGE 37.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

BGE 9, 12 and 13: the Stoic mistake, and the doctrine that life is will to power

I want to record some interesting insights that emerged from a fruitful discussion at our Nietzsche reading group on Friday; participating in the discussion were, besides me, PhD students Kate Andrews, Dusty Dallmann, Tes Davison, and Joshua Fox. 

Let's start with section 9, which mocks the Stoic claim to live "according to nature," accusing the Stoics of, in effect, projecting their values onto nature:

Your pride wants to dictate and incorporate your morals and ideals into nature--yes, you want to make all existence exist in your own image alone--as a huge eternal glorification and universalization of Stoicism!  For all your love of truth, you have forced yourselves so long, so persistently, and with such hypnotic ridigity to have a false, namely, Stoic, view of nature, that you can no longer see it any other way....But this is an old, eternal story:  what happened back then with the Stoics, still happens today, just as soon as a philosophy begins believing in itself.  It always creates the world in its own image, it cannot do otherwise; philosophy is this tyrannical drive itself, the most spiritual will to power, to the "creation of the world," to the causa prima.

Maudemarie Clark argued powerfully in her 1990 book that in reading what Nietzsche says about will to power, we must remember the charge he leveled against the Stoics, and that should make us hesitant to interpret Nietzsche as really intending the will to power as a metaphysics of nature, lest he simply be replicating, unselfconsciously, the Stoic mistake.

How then should we understand the claim in BGE 13 that, "a living thing wants to discharge its strength--life itself is will to power--self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent consequences of this."  Does this involve Nietzsche in the Stoic mistake?  I had been inclined to think so, but was convinced otherwise by the discussion in the reading group.  Notice, first, and crucially, that BGE 13 concerns Leben, while BGE 9 is quite clearly mocking the Stoic's claims about Natur.  Indeed, even BGE 9 offers its own account of Leben:

[I]sn't that [Leben] wanting specifically to be something other than this nature [where nature is said to be "profligate without measure, indifferent without measure, without purpose and regard, without mercy and justice" etc.]?  Isn't living assessing, preferring, being unfair, being limited, wanting to be different?

One might think, of course, that the latter are attributes consistent with life also being will to power.  The crucial point, then, is that BGE 13's claim is not about nature, but about living things (esp. humans), and its epistemic status differs from that of the Stoic projection of its morality onto nature precisely in that it is proferred as part of an inference to the best explanation of observable life, in particular, namely, that it is justified by Ockham's Razor as superior to the claim that life is essentially about self-preservation.

This way of taking BGE 13, and distinguishing it from BGE 9, also fits nicely with the main point of the preceding section 12.  That section attacks the "atomistic need," particularly in psychology, in which, following Christianity, one takes "the soul" to be "something indestructible, eternal, indivisible...a monad" (BGE 12).  Against this, Nietzsche wants to make room "in the realm of science" for more sophisticated hypotheses, such as "the soul as subject-multiplicity" or the "soul as a society constructed out of drives and affects," the latter being a recognizable Nietzschean hypothesis and not only in BGE. 

If Christian simplicity about the soul was a mistake, so too is its opposite:  "there is absolutely no need to give up 'the soul' itself, and relinquish one of the oldest and most venerable hypotheses--as often happens with naturalists:  given their clumsiness, they barely need to touch 'the soul' to lose it."  Clumsy readers of the naturalistic reading of Nietzsche sometimes quote this out of context thinking it an objection to my view, but not realizing what it means:  for it is quite clearly poking fun at one very particular naturalist, Ludwig Buchner, whose Kraft und Stoff advances a kind of eliminative materialism about the "soul," equating it with the neurophysiology of the brain.  (This isn't the only place in the book he chastises Buchner--in sec. 204, he dismisses the "old doctors" who think physiology can replace philosophy for failing to recognize the crucial role of legislating values that philosophers perform.)  Section 12, in short, is a defense of the autonomy of psychological explanation, against religious simplifications and eliminative materialism--hardly surprising, of course, in a Chapter that concludes by affirming that "psychology is again the path to the fundamental problems (BGE 23).  And, of course, on my naturalistic reading, the autonomy of psychological explanation is crucial.

Section 13, then, follows this defense of the autonomy of explanation in a psychological idiom by offering a very general hypothesis:  contrary to those who think the primary psychological motive is self-preservation, it is really will to power.  This is not moral projection masquaering as metaphysics of nature; this is psychology, freed of Christian and eliminative materialist prejudices, asserting itself.

Notice that this way of reading things allows us to save Nietzsche from what I have called "the crackpot metaphysics" of the will to power in the Nachlass and still acknowledge the correctness of Clark's original hypothesis that a metaphysical reading of the will to power would be in tension with Nietzsche's criticism of the Stoics.

(I'll have more to say about Nietzsche and Buchner, especially with respect to a surprising debt to Buchner uncovered by Galen Strawson.  But as readers of Nietzsche know, his vitriol is often a case study in the narcissism of small differences--think of his at times schizophrenic attitude towards Socrates, towards Spinoza, and towards Schopenhauer.)

(Note to readers:  The "u" in Buchner should have an umlaut, but I can't insert it in this software.)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Nietzsche in the Blackwell Companion to Experimental Philosophy (forthcoming)

I was very pleased that the editors chose to include a piece on Nietzsche in the forthcoming Blackwell Companion to Experimental Philosophy.  The piece was written by Daniel Telech, a PhD student here, with some help from me; we're hopeful it will help to make Nietzsche an even more central part of these discussions.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

More on Tom Stern's sneering review of The Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche

Tim Crane (Cambridge), the TLS philosophy editor, has put my original letter about the review and the reply by Stern's colleague Sebastian Gardner on-line here.   I sent a follow-up letter, I'm not sure if TLS has published it, but here it is for those following the back-and-forth:
To the editors:
Sebastian Gardner’s defense (Sept. 18) of his colleague  Tom Stern’s sneering review of The Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche makes one point with which I strongly agree, namely, that “the possibility that we interpret texts in congenial and inspiring, but historically inaccurate ways is perfectly genuine and especially salient in the case of Nietzsche.”  Many essays in the Oxford Handbook  are sensitive to that issue (though one would never know that from Stern’s review), and my own work on Nietzsche has been animated by the need to recapture the actual philosophical context in which Nietzsche wrote.   Gardner notes that  more than halfway into the review, Stern does briefly praises the clarity of the “Analytic Nietzsche” allegedly represented by the Handbook, but only after ridiculing analytic philosophers for writing in “cold, unlovely, jargoned prose” and “kneel[ing] before the Dread God of Consistency.”  Stern quickly returns to his real theme, reminding readers that, unlike say the Nazi Nietzsche, the “Analytic Nietzsche “finds himself on the periphery” (a charming comparison, but one that also says more about Stern’s ignorance of Nietzsche’s place in contemporary philosophy), and that “the analytic Nietzsche muffles him” and “suck[s] life from his living words.”
Only collegial loyalty can explain Gardner’s blindness to what is obvious to other readers:  Stern does not like “the Analytic Nietzsche,” so much so it is not clear he even read the 800-page book he putatively reviews but whose actual content he barely mentions.
Brian Leiter
University of Chicago

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Where to go to study Nietzsche, 2014 edition

The last version was 2012, so it warrants some updating given changes in the interim (and also some of the useful comments on the last version).  The recommendations are premised on three assumptions about what is needed to do good PhD work on Nietzsche:  (1) a strong, general philosophical education; (2) good Nietzsche scholars to supervise the work; and (3) a philosophical environment in which one can get a solid grounding in the history of philosophy, especially ancient philosophy, Kant, and post-Kantian German philosophy.

With that in mind, here's the eight programs I'd strongly recommend for someone certain they plan to focus on Nietzsche:

Birkbeck College, University of London:  a solid department overall, albeit a bit narrow (certainly top 10 in the UK), unusual in having two very substantial Nietzsche scholars on faculty, Ken Gemes and Andrew Huddleston.  If one reaches out to faculty at other London colleges, one can also get the necessary historical education in other figures.

Brown University:  a strong department overall (top 20 in the US), with one leading Nietzsche specialist, Bernard Reginster, and two other senior faculty with sympathetic interests in Nietzsche (Paul Guyer and Charles Larmore).  Guyer and Larmore, as well as Mary Louise Gill, provide strong coverage of other important periods and figures for purposes of studying Nietzsche.

Columbia University:  a very strong department overall (top 10ish in the US), with three senior faculty interested in Nietzsche:  Taylor Carman, Robert Gooding-Williams, and Frederick Neuhouser.  With these three, as well as Lydia Goehr and (part-time) Axel Honneth, also one of the best places in the U.S. to study the Continental traditions in philosophy.  Also offers strong coverage of ancient philosophy and Kant.

New York University:  the best department in the Anglophone world, now with three senior faculty with serious interests in Nietzsche:  Robert Hopkins, John Richardson, and Tamsin Shaw.  The department now also has strong coverage of ancient philosophy and through Richardson, Anja Jauernig and Beatrice Longuenesse, has strong coverage of Kant and the post-Kantian Continental traditions.  Given the department's dominant strengths in other areas to date (e.g., metaphysics, philosophy of mind), so far there have been few students there working on Nietzsche or other post-Kantian figures--something a prospective student should investigate.

Princeton University:  a very strong department overall (top 5ish in the US), with one leading figure in Nietzsche studies, Alexander Nehamas, who has returned in recent years to working on Nietzsche and supervising students (e.g., Huddleston at Birbeck, above).  Also very strong in ancient philosophy, with other faculty in Philosophy or cognate departments offering coverage of Kant and post-Kantian German philosophy (mostly 19th-century).

University of California, Riverside:  a solid department overall (top 30ish in the US) and one of the best places in the U.S. (perhaps the best) to study the Continental traditions in philosophy with Maudemarie Clark (a leading Nietzsche specialist), Pierre Keller, and Mark Wrathall, as well as Georgia Warnke in Political Science and a new junior faculty member in Philosophy, Andreja Novakovic,.  The department is especially notable for the way in which the study of the Continental traditions is closely integrated with the study of the rest of philosophy, to the enrichment of both.   (It's also a very collegial place, one of my favorite departments to visit in the country.)  There is also a large and impressive group of graduate students working on the post-Kantian traditions and/or interested in Nietzsche.

University of Chicago:  a strong, if somewhat idiosyncratic, department (top 20ish in the US), with particular strengths in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and in Kant and post-Kantian German and French philosophy.  Chicago has to have more scholars interested in Nietzsche from more divergent points of view than anywhere else:  besides me, also James Conant, Robert Pippin, David Wellbery, and (part-time still) Michael Forster.  As with Riverside, there is a large group of students interested in Nietzsche (four of the six PhD students I'm currently working fairly closely with have substantial interests in Nietzsche, though most are not writing dissertations in German philosophy).

University of Warwick:  a solid department overall (top 10 in the UK), with two senior scholars interested in Nietzsche (Keith Ansell-Pearson, Peter Poellner) from different perspectives, and strong coverage generally of Kant and the post-Kantian Continental traditions (Quassim Cassam, Stephen Houlgate [who also is interested in Nietzsche], and A.D. Smith, among others).

Here are some other departments a student interested in Nietzsche should certainly consider as well:

Boston University:  a solid department (top 50 in the US), with a strong commitment to the history of philosophy, including Kant and the post-Kantian Continental traditions.  The Nietzsche scholar Paul Katsafanas was recently tenured there (though he is pushing a rather distinctive, and to my mind, implausible line about Nietzsche these days, though I still highly commend several of his earlier papers that we've discussed on this blog in the past--but students sympatico to his approach would no doubt find him an excellent person with whom to work).

Oxford University:  a very strong department (top 5 in the Anglophone world), with strong coverage of ancient philosophy and the history of philosophy, but only one significant Nietzsche scholar on faculty, Peter Kail.  Stephen Mulhall and Joseph Schear offer good coverage of other aspects of the post-Kantian Continental traditions.

Stanford University: a  very strong department (top 10 in the US), with two senior faculty who have done important work on Nietzsche:  Lanier Anderson and Nadeem Hussain.   In the past, I would have put Stanford in the top group, but Nadeem tells me he's not really working much on Nietzsche anymore.  Also strong in ancient philosophy and, with  Anderson and Michael Friedman, also very good for Kant.  The department's center of gravity, judging from its PhD graduates, does appear to be more in logic, language, mind, metaphysics & epistemology.

University of California, San Diego:  a strong department (top 20ish in the US), with two senior faculty interested in Nietzsche (Michael Hardimon and Donald Rutherford), and extensive coverage of ancient philosophy and Kant.

University College London:  a good department (top 5 in the UK), with three faculty with interests in Nietzsche:  Sebastian Gardner, Mark Kalderon, and Tom Stern--though for none does it appear to be a primary interest, except perhaps Stern (though I have mixed views of his work).  Gardner is also a major scholar of Kant and German Idealism.

University of Essex:  a narrow department, but strongly focused on Kant and the post-Kantian Continental traditions.  Two faculty do notable work on Nietzsche:   Beatrice Han-Pile and David McNeill.

University of Southampton:  another narrow department, but with a particular focus on Schopenhauer and Nietzsche--notable faculty include Christopher Janaway,  David Owen, and Aaron Ridley.

For a student looking to do a terminal M.A. first, s/he might consider any of the UK departments (where students first do a master's degree or B.Phil. before doing the PhD), or, in the U.S., Georgia State University remains far and away the best choice:  in addition to solid coverage of moral, political and legal philosophy, ancient philosophy, and philosophy of mind and cognitive science, the department has two well-known scholars who work on Nietzsche (Jessica Berry and Gregory Moore), and two other faculty who work on Kant and post-Kantian German philosophy (Sebastian Rand and Eric Wilson).

On the European Continent, the place to be for someone interested in Nietzsche now is the University of Bonn, with Michael Forster, a preeminent scholar of German philosophy of the 18th- and 19th-centuries, as well as ancient philosophy, and Mattia Riccardi, the best younger Nietzsche scholar in Europe in my experience (he also works on Kant and philosophy of mind and cognitive science).  The New University of Lisbon continues to have a lively philosophical community interested in Nietzsche led by Joao Constancio.

Tom Stern's silly review of the Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche in the September 3 TLS

London has long been a lively place for Nietzsche studies (with Ken Gemes and now Andrew Huddleston at Birkbeck, Sebastian Gardner and Mark Kalderon at UCL, as well as Daniel Came and Peter Kail not far away to the north, and Christopher Janaway and others not far away to the south), so it's a bit surprising that Tom Stern, who also teaches at UCL and professes a scholarly interest in Nietzsche, should have penned a rather silly "review" of The Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche edited by Ken Gemes and John Richardson.  Unfortunately, it's behind a paywall, though you are not missing anything if you can't access it.  I sent the TLS a brief letter about this sophomoric "review":

To the editors:
As one of 34 contributors to The Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche, and one of the minority in the volume actually conversant with what remains of “analytic” philosophy, I was astonished to learn from Tom Stern (review, Sept. 3) that the Handbook represents “The Analytic Nietzsche.”  “Analytic philosophy is broadly ahistorical in outlook,” Stern notes, but much of my own work has been devoted to showing how ignorance of the intellectual history of 19th-century Germany, in particular the rise of German materialism, has distorted readings of Nietzsche.  Other contributors examine in detail the influence of Greek philosophy and culture, the German Romantics, and Kant and NeoKantians.  Stern asserts that Nietzsche was “heart and soul, a brilliant nineteenth-century German,” for whom Wagner and Bismarck were very important.  There are six dozen references to Wagner in The Oxford Handbook, many extended discussions, though fewer of Bismarck.   Nietzsche himself would have stoutly denied Stern’s cramped characterization of him, and the content of the actual essays in the volume (which are hardly discussed) belies it rather decisively, as does the wide resonance Nietzsche has had across time and cultures.
Stern continues:  “Analytic philosophy favours clear definition. Nietzsche once wrote that only that which has no history can be defined.”  Good philosophy, like good scholarship, generally favors clarity in exposition, but not necessarily definitions (as Nietzsche himself quipped:  “Those who know that they are profound strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem profound strive for obscurity”).  Nietzsche’s point from the Genealogy that the meaning of concepts (like “punishment”) varies across historical and cultural epochs (and thus can not be defined) has no relevance to whether or not that claim can be clearly stated and evaluated.  Finally, Stern declares that, “analytic philosophers kneel before the Dread God of Consistency: if you hold ‘P’ you cannot also hold ‘not-P’.”  Actually, Socrates, Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz, Kant, Husserl and Habermas, among others, all accept the law of non-contradiction, though I assume they are not “analytic” philosophers, despite their kneeling.  Indeed, it’s a bit hard to see what philosophical exposition of Nietzsche would look like if it were as cavalier about non-contradiction as Stern appears to be.
I have a different hypothesis about Stern’s invention of the bogeyman of “the Analytic Nietzsche.”  Anglophone Nietzsche studies has improved dramatically in the last two decades in terms of historical scholarship, sensitivity to textual evidence and nuance, and philosophical sophistication.   All this has been rather jarring to the lazy and superficial readers and sophomoric enthusiasts Nietzsche’s brilliant writing sometimes attracts.  They want to cabin off serious historical and philosophical scholarship as “analytic,” so they can ignore it.  But they have lost that philosophical battle in the Anglophone world, and are gradually losing it on the European Continent.  Nietzsche, who lauded the “art of reading well,” would have been pleased.
The review is actually worse than this letter lets on--Stern discusses almost none of the actual content of the volume, and uses what space he has mostly for sneering and misstatements both of the topics covered by the actual essays and the particular positions defended.  What an embarrassment for both TLS and UCL.

ADDENDUM (9/15):  The review is here (though I can't get it to download, but others say they can).  Since several of Tom Stern's colleagues (in comments below), none of whom work on Nietzsche or are familiar with the book under review, have denied that the review is at all mocking or sneering, permit me to try to explain how the review reads if you know something both about Nietzsche and the book:
Stern begins with a few paragraphs suggesting that one “can order whichever Nietzsche you want” (even though some of those offered as examples were manifest travesties of misinterpretation), and then we learn the Oxford Handbook is just the latest in this litany, “the Analytic Nietzsche.”  What’s an “Analytic Nietzsche”:  well, analytic philosophers write in “cold, unlovely, jargoned prose,” are “ahistorical,” and “kneel before the Dread God of Consistency.”  We are reminded how unlike Nietzsche this all allegedly is—Nietzsche after all is just a brilliant 19th-century German mainly concerned with Wagner and Bismarck, plus he contradicts himself a lot.  (The last two claims, for Nietzsche scholars, are at best contentious, at worst false.)

In case you didn’t yet get the point how strange the Analytic Nietzsche’s approach is, Stern reports that Nietzsche’s “analytic lieutenants” (one might have called them scholars) “inform their readers that either Nietzsche held such-and-such a very complicated, exegetically speculative ‘theory”’or he was simply inconsistent. Fear of the second option is meant to compel the reader into the awkward embrace of the first: your money or your life.”  Ha, ha, these “analytic lieutenants” are so silly.

Stern declares the Oxford Handbook is a “victory monument” to “the Analytic Nietzsche” (although only a minority of the contributions are engaged with analytic philosophy, many write on historical topics, many in fact deal with Wagner, one of the two editors is best-known for offering a brilliant defense of Heidegger’s and Deleuze’s famous reading of Nietzsche, etc.).  Stern then shifts gear to discuss another book for several paragraphs, until finally, he allows (well past the midway point of the review, and after the preceding mockery) that “to call the analytic Nietzsche a mode of interpretation is not to deny its considerable virtues….It wins, hands down, on clarity of expression and conceptual complexity.”  He then quotes something suitably obscure from the bad book by Sloterdijk by way of contrast, and declares:  “the Handbook is an excellent collection, for Nietzsche scholars working in this tradition,” i.e., the “Analytic Nietzsche” tradition that, until now, most of the review had been poking fun at.  The implication, as I note in my letter to the TLS, is that everyone else can just ignore it.

After a few lines of generic praise for unnamed articles (almost none of the content of the book, remarkably, is actually discussed), Stern return to his attack on “the Analytic Nietzsche,” to “what is left out, what is magnified and what, occasionally, gets distorted.”  One essay (I’m not sure which one, actually) that attempts to understand Nietzsche’s views on truth is mocked for allegedly “simply rid[ding] itself of” a “troublesome sentence.”  (Many Nietzsche scholars take the view that his Nachlass material is misleading, and I suspect that’s what is really at issue here.)

We conclude where we left off, with ridicule:  “Unlike many previous Nietzsche incarnations,s” the Analytic Nietzsche “finds himself on the periphery,” unlike, say, the Nazi Nietzsche.  (That’s a charming comparison, but one that also reflects Stern’s ignorance of the many surprising places Nietzsche is turning up in Anglophone philosophy [e.g., recent work by Knobe, Prinz], beyond the two or three authors he seems to be familiar with.)  Indeed, Stern reminds us, Williams thought “that Nietzsche was not a source of philosophical theories,” so yet another reason for “doubt” about the Analytic Nietzsche.  And, let’s not forget the apparently just charge (Stern does not rebut it) that “the analytic Nietzsche muffles him or suck the life from his living words.” 

Very "entertaining", sure, but also unfair and belittling toward the Handbook and its contributors and to philosophical scholarship on Nietzsche.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Nietzsche on Morality, 2nd edition

The proofs have been fully corrected (twice), and the new index delivered (thanks to excellent work by Daniel Telech, one of the wonderful PhD students here).  I hope the 2nd edition will be available in October or November.

Up next:  some comments on an interesting paper by Andrew Huddleston (Birkbeck) in BJHP.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Dirk Johnson on Nietzsche's alleged anti-Darwinism

Several years ago, prompted by a review by Paul Loeb, I took a look at Dirk Johnson's book Nietzsche's Anti-Darwinism (Cambridge University Press, 2010).  Johnson is a Germanic studies scholar at Hampden-Sydney College, and the book is generally quite disappointing from a philosophical point of view.   In any case, I never got around to writing up my thoughts about the book, but prompted by a recall notice from the library for the book, I went back to it in the last couple of days, and thought I would try to set out my reservations, before returning it, in the hope of sparing some readers from wasting their time with a book that really should not have been published.

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,
For Nietzsche, ‘truth’ was merely a perspective and an exclusive aim to truth revealed in an inherently unstable will. (85)
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.

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

Paul Loeb on will to power and Nietzsche's "panpsychism" (!)

This looks interesting, and I will try to have more to say about it in the summer.

CORRECTION:  Although Loeb discusses panspychism, he denies that Nietzsche is a panpsychist!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Some delay in posting comments

I only just discovered that Blogger was not sending me new comments, including on the last post, so a bunch have now appeared.  Off-topic comments will not appear, of course, and comments with names attached are always more likely to appear.  Unfortunately, there continues to be a lot of spam, but that should not appear either.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Alfano on Nietzsche's "Doctrine of Types"

Mark Alfano (Oregon) has posted a draft conference paper that ostensibly takes issue with my account of the "Doctrine of Types" in NOM (Leiter 2002).  In the process, he raises a number of interesting issues.  I'm going to cite to the page numbers of the single-spaced version of the paper he sent me.

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 [8] 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" [7]).   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.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Silk on Katsafanas on "Nietzschean Constutivism"

An illuminating review of an impressively argued book.  I think it is doubtful that the view Katsafanas articulates is Nietzsche's view, but there is much to be learned about both ethical constitutivism and Nietzsche here.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

"Nieztsche and Virtue" at Guelph

This weekend!  Several papers I wish I were there to hear--hopefully they will be put on-line before long.

(Thanks to Mark Alfano for calling it to my attention.)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Shaw on Nietzsche, Weber, suffering, and the "Last Man" Problem

Tamsin Shaw (NYU) has written a profound and important paper on "The 'Last Man' Problem:  Nietzsche and Weber on Political Attitudes to Suffering," which is forthcoming in this volume.  She kindly gave me permission to discuss it here.  Page references will be to the typescript version she shared with me.  (Shaw originally presented the paper at the U of Chicago Political Theory Workshop a few years ago, which is how I learned of it.  It is to this paper that I alluded in the first footnote of this paper of mine ("The Truth is Terrible").)  I am no Weber scholar, but Shaw makes a prima facie very plausible case for Nietzsche's influence on Weber.  In what follows, I will take as correct those claims of hers.

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.