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?

1 comment:

Dyami Hayes said...

In a class aimed as an introduction to existentialism, when it came to Nietzsche, a helpful exercise was getting the class to engage in a discussion as to who today (or whenever) might come close to qualifying as an Ubermensch. A number of suggestions were made, from Gandhi, to Thomas Jefferson, to Christopher Hitchens, to Julian Assange...