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

UPDATE:  If you are coming here via Jenny Saul's dishonest misrepresentation of my exchange with Lucy O'Brien, I will save you the trouble of reading through everything into the comments.  Tom Stern, O'Brien's colleague, wrote an irresponsible review of The Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche in the TLS, which I criticized below.   I've heard from many Nietzsche scholars now, all of whom had the same reaction.  O'Brien, who doesn't work on Nietzsche, tried to come to Stern's defense (in the comments); but she also announced that Stern's review, which mocked the work of Nietzsche scholars, was "highly entertaining" and then declared she was "embarrassed to belong to a profession" in which Stern could be severely criticized for his bad review.  I pointed out that there are other academic fields where bad work is not harshly criticized, so maybe she would be happier in those fields.  Here's an actual truth:  there is no reason to be embarrassed for calling out bad work, as I did here and as I will do many times in the future.

=========================

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).  This is 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.  

Monday, September 16, 2013

Nietzsche on the radio in Canada

CBC's "Ideas" program will be devoted to Nietzsche this evening, from 9:05 to 10 pm Eastern Standard Time.  One can listen live from the website.  (It will also air on WBEZ in Chicago at 11 pm Chicago time.)  Interviewed for the program were me, Christine Daigle (Brock University), and Rebecca Comay (Toronto).  I have not heard the final version of the show, but I thought Paul Kennedy and I had a good discussion, and that he asked the right questions.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Various videos/audios on religion, toleration, and Nietzsche

I was surprised how many exist on-line.  Some I have posted her in the past, but some I hadn't even seen before, so perhaps they will be of interest to some readers.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Another article on Nietzsche's pathetic sister and her anti-semitic husband

The New York Times does this periodically, but here is the most recent one.  Happily, they correctly note his distaste for her and her hsuband.  (Thanks to Ruchira Paul for the pointer.)

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Clark & Dudrick's Chapter 3: "Philosophy and the Will to Value"

I'm sorry not to have gotten up some comments on Chapter 2, but I may yet do so.  But while discussion of Chapter 3 is still fresh in my mind, let me set down some concerns about the reading here.

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

Thoughts on Clark & Dudrick's book on Nietzsche's BGE: Chapter 1 on Nietzsche's Preface

This is the first of a series of posts commenting on aspects of Clark & Dudrick's book (herafter C&D).  As I am quoted as saying on the dustjacket, the book is, indeed, "essential reading for Nietzsche scholars."  There is, however, much that seems to me wrong-headed, and while I'll also try to call attention to important insights and arguments C&D develop (and there are many), I will no doubt focus a bit disproportionately on where things seem to me to go wrong.  (I am reading the book in conjunction with some PhD students as part of an independent study/reading group, and while I have no doubt been helped by talking with Jaime Edwards, Claire Kirwin, and Dan Telech, they should not be thought to either agree with me or to be responsible for any mistaken claims I make!)

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

Secondary literature on Nietzsche on disgust?

Jason Clark, a post-doc at the Institute for Cognitive Science at the University of Osnabrueck, writes with a request which some readers may be able to helep with:

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

Meyer on Addis

Matthew Meyer (Scranton) has a smart and informative review of the unusual book on Nietzsche by Addis here.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Green on Hussain on Green on Spir and Nietzsche

The scholarly debate continues.  I once tried reading Spir, but gave up, finding it both tedious and strange.   As a result, I have no independent judgment on the merits of the competing readings.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Teaching Nietzsche to Undergraduates in an Existentialism Class

A young philospher elsewhere writes with a question on which readers may well have views and useful advice:

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

Schacht on Kaufmann's Translations

The Spring 2012 issue of Journal of Nietzsche Studies (vo. 43, no. 1) has an interesting, if somewhat curious, piece by Richard Schacht on "Translating Nietzsche:  The Case of Kaufmann," at pp. 68-86.  He spends part of the piece quibbling about certain decisions Kaufmann made about what works of Nietzsche's to translate and, in particular, about the translation of the titles of Zur Genealogie der Moral, Die froliche Wissenschaft [umlaut missing on the 'o', not sure how to do it in blogger], and Der Antichrist.  Most of this struck me as minor at best, dubious at worst, except for a nice point about the last of these.  Schacht writes (p. 70):
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" [82], 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

Podcast with Jessica Berry on Nietzsche's "On Truth and Lie"

Here; she discusses it with some former philosophy PhD students from UT Austin.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Where to go to study Nietzsche, 2012 Edition

These recommendations are premised on the thought that one needs a good education in philosophy in order to be able to do good philosophical scholarship related to Nietzsche.

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

Riccardi on "Nietzsche on the Superficiality of Consciousness"

This is one of the best papers on Nietzsche (probably the best paper) I've read in the last year.  The author is Mattia Riccardi, a young philosopher currently at Porto.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Nietzsche, Stirner, Dostoyevsky

Charles Pigden, a philosopher at the University of Otago, writes with questions, which I invite readers to address:

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

"Nietzsche and Community" conference at Wake Forest

It's coming up in April, and I'll be there. Also papers by Maude Clark, John Richardson, Ken Gemes, Julian Young (he's the organizer), Hans Sluga, Ivan Soll, Jessica Berry, and others.

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"

Here. No idea who put it on-line, but there it is.

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

"Five Books": Nietzsche edition

I'm on "The Browser" website recommending "five books," per their usual format. They wanted some primary, some secondary...and, of course, you can't recommend anything you've written yourself.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Rutherford on Nietzsche on Freedom

I was pleased to see that Donald Rutherford's important paper on Spinoza, the Stoics, Nietzsche and the idea of freedom has now appeared in Inquiry.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Two Useful Reviews

Himmelmann on Berry, Nietzsche and the Ancient Skeptical Tradition


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
occurrence....

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

Virtual Reading Group on Nietzsche

Carlos, a student at UC Berkeley, is devoting a new website to the discussion of Nietzsche's texts.

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