Thursday, February 13, 2020

Jonathan Mitchell on Stern's "New Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche"

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews has just published this illuminating, and wholly accurate, review by Jonathan Mitchell (Mahchester) of the New Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche we noted a few months ago.  As Dr. Mitchell aptly observes at the start:

Given that it is billed as a companion, one would expect a balanced approach to debates in Nietzsche studies, alongside informative overviews. Unfortunately, the volume suffers from two central faults which undercut its ability to achieve this. On the one hand, a number of the chapters lack philosophical substance, reading more like discursive intellectual histories. On the other hand, the more philosophically inclined essays include misrepresentative snipes at 'analytic interpreters' of Nietzsche (mostly those notably absent from the volume).

We mentoned in October why the so-called "analytic" (i.e., philosophical) interpreters are missing from the volume.   Nietzsche studies has made huge progress in the last thirty years in scholarly and philosophical sophistication.  With a couple of exceptions, all this is absent from this companion, which is something like a return to "the bad old days" when Nietzsche scholars didn't need to know much about philosophy or philosophical problems and could hide behind confused blather about "masks" and perspectivism-as-relativism/idealism (see, e.g., Mitchell's discerning discussion of Stern's introductory materials to the volume).

Mitchell is good on Stephen Mulhall's embarrassing hatchet job on my views (which I had planned on letting pass in silence, but I'm grateful to Mitchell for pointing out the obvious errors), and on the Straussian esotericism implicit in Robert Pippin's essay on Beyond Good and Evil; as Mitchell writes:  "there is also a price that comes with seeing Nietzsche as always, rather than just sometimes, engaged in an esoteric meta-project of not just stating (albeit in suggestive and non-commital ways) his philosophical views, but always saying things for some never explicitly stated 'effects' ('what he is trying to do by saying it' [quoting Pippin]).  It makes the interpretive project closer to that of trying to uncover Nietzsche's 'hidden intentions,' something which lends itself to a form of speculation unconstrained by textual evidence."   Being constrained by textual evidence is hard work, of course.

I have not yet read Sebastian Gardner's essay (though plan to), which Mitchell discusses at length, and which sounds interesting, though it (unsurprisingly) reflects Gardner's Kantian predilections in reading Nietzsche, such as supposing that Nietzsche thinks there is any "guarantor of normativity."  Gardner's work is always instructive, and as longtime readers will know, I've discussed it in detail here in the past.

I also agree with Mitchell's praise for Michael Forster's essay on Nietzsche on free will; although I have some disagreements with Forster on this issue, Mitchell is exactly right that it is "a fine example of the required form and standard of content for a contribution to a companion."   I expect it's the one essay in the volume that will definitely get uptake in the scholarly literature going forward.

The community of Nietzsche scholars owes Dr. Mitchell a debt of gratitude for his critical eye, good philosophical judgment, and judicious assessments. 

Sunday, February 2, 2020

ISNS Call for Papers: Oxford 2019 (June 30-July 1)

More information here:

Friday, October 18, 2019

The New Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche

I recently received a copy of The New Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche edited by Tom Stern.  The last Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche, edited by Bernd Magnus and Kathleen Higgins, appeared in 1996, and did not have much impact:   although it included many then-prominent Anglophone Nietzsche scholars, none of the essays played much role in subsequent scholarship.

The striking thing about this New Cambridge Companion, in contrast to the earlier one, is that all the currently prominent Anglophone Nietzsche scholars are noticeably absent:  there are no contributions from Maudemarie Clark, Ken Gemes, Christopher Janaway, Bernard Reginster, and so on.  This is not accidental, and this blog actually played a role.  For longtime readers may recall my excoriation of Tom Stern's idiotic and sneering non-review of The Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche back in 2014, which upset and offended many Nietzsche scholars.   After I published this, Hilary Gaskin, the Cambridge University Press philosophy editor, contacted meFrom her, I learned that Professor Stern had been commissioned to edit a New Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche, and that he had planned to invite me to contribute; Gaskin wanted to find out whether I would still be open to contributing in light of my response to Stern's review of The Oxford Handbook.  I informed her that I was not, and after corresponding with other senior Nietzsche scholars, I found out I was not alone in this regard.

I confess I was initially astonished back in 2014 to learn that Stern--who had done relatively little work on Nietzsche and none of note--had been invited to edit The New Cambridge Companion, until I remembered that Gaskin is married to Raymond Geuss, who was Stern's dissertation adviser from Cambridge.  This is instructive about how academic corruption works, alas.

I have only begun perusing The New Cambridge Companion.   A number of the essays do seem to reflect Stern's view that Nietzsche was simply a sponge that soaked up whatever he happened to be reading, so that knowing what he read is somehow decisive for figuring out what his published work means.  Some of this detective work is interesting, but its philosophical import is less clear.   I may post more about particular essays that turn out to be of special note or interest.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Where to go to study Nietzsche, 2019 edition (REVISED 3 September 2019)

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 (top 10ish 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 (though only Gooding-Williams is really a specialist).  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 (though only Richardson seems to be actively working on Nietzsche these days).  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.  (I'm told Longuenesse may retire soon, something prospective students should investigate).  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.

Oxford University:  a very strong department (top 5 in the Anglophone world), with strong coverage of ancient philosophy and the history of philosophy, with one significant senior Nietzsche scholar (Peter Kail) and one younger Nietzsche specialist (Alexander Prescott-Couch).  Stephen Mulhall, Joseph Schear and Mark Wrathall offer good coverage of other aspects of the post-Kantian Continental traditions, especially Heidegger and phenomenology.

Princeton University:  a very strong department overall (top 5ish in the US), with one leading figure in Nietzsche studies, Alexander Nehamas, who has supervised a number of students working on Nietzsche in recent years (e.g., Huddleston at Birbeck, above).  Also very strong in ancient philosophy, with other faculty in Philosophy or cognate departments offering some coverage of Kant and post-Kantian German philosophy (mostly 19th-century).  Note:  Nehamas is now in his early 70s, prospective students should make sure he plans on continuing to accept and supervise students.

University of California, Riverside:  a solid department overall (top 30ish in the US) and one of the best places in the U.S. to study the Continental traditions in philosophy with Maudemarie Clark (a leading Nietzsche specialist) and Pierre Keller, as well as Georgia Warnke in Political Science.  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 Martha Nussbaum, Robert Pippin, David Wellbery, and (part-time still) James Conant and Michael Forster.  As with Riverside, there is a large group of students interested in Nietzsche (six of the eight PhD students I've worked closely with in the last half-dozen years have had serious Nietzsche interests, two have published on Nietzsche, and one is writing a dissertation with a significant Nietzsche component).  Note:  Most of Pippin's supervision has been of students working on Kant or Hegel.

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 (e.g., Quassim Cassam, Stephen Houlgate [who also is interested in Nietzsche]).

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 (BU recently added Sally Sedgwick from Illinois/Chicago).  One well-known Nietzsche specialist (Paul Katsafanas, 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).

Stanford University: a  very strong department (top 10ish 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 and 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.  Recently added at the junior level Monique Wonderly, primarily a moral philosopher, but who also has an interest in and has published on Nietzsche.

University College London:  a good department (top 10 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 am not a fan 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.  One well-known Nietzsche specialist on faculty:  Beatrice Han-Pile.

University of Southampton:  A solid but not top 15 UK department, with a particular strength in  Schopenhauer and Nietzsche--most notably Christopher Janaway, but others in philosophy or cognate units include David Owen, Aaron Ridley, and Tracy Strong.  Note that Strong is in his mid-70s.

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).

The best Nietzsche scholar on the European Continent is Mattia Riccardi, now at the University of Porto in Portugal.  Also in Portugal, The New University of Lisbon continues to have a lively philosophical community interested in Nietzsche led by Joao Constancio.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The decline of European Journal of Philosophy as a Nietzsche venue

In thinking about significant Nietzsche publications for my last post, I was struck that none of the papers in EJP in recent years was even on my list of tentative candidates.  In the 1990s and early-to-mid-2000s, many excellent Nietzsche-related papers appeared, but there's been a marked decline in quality lately; a couple should never have passed peer review at a mediocre journal.  I'm not entirely sure what happened; the EJP decision to expand the number of pages it publishes each volume may have led to a lower level of selectivity.  A more likely explanation is just bad choices in referees.  And it may be that the supply of good papers has been choked off by the revitalization of Journal of Nietzsche Studies, the rejuvenation of Inquiry, and thee large number of high quality edited volumes related to Nietzsche.   EJP should definitely remain on the radar as a place to publish Nietzsche papers, but hopefully they will be more selective going forward.

Monday, January 15, 2018

10 books and/or articles related to Nietzsche you should have read in the last ten years

Since it's early 2018, I will treat the benchmark as 2007, but here are the books and/or articles I got the most from, and that anyone doing work on Nietzsche should have read and thought about seriously during the last decade.  These are in alphabetical order.

Jessica Berry, Nietzsche and the Ancient Skeptical Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2011).  I was not ultimately persuaded by Berry's ambitious thesis, but the book is a model of how to think about Nietzsche in relationship to ancient Greek philosophy, and displays a masterful command of both.

Maudemarie Clark & David Dudrick, The Soul of Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil (Cambridge University Press, 2012).   Another book I have many disagreements with (I discuss some of them here), and even if you share my worries, there's still a huge amount to learn from the detailed analysis of the preface and first chapter of BGE and the many philosophical issues raised.

Christopher Janaway, Beyond Selflessness:  Reading Nietzsche's Genealogy (Oxford University Press, 2007).  I am sympathetic to many of the arguments here, though was somewhat mystified by his mischaracterization of my treatment of Nietzsche's naturalism; our views are in fact rather close, once the confusions are cleared up.   Almost every chapter has something to teach the reader, including the specialist.  (I reviewed the book here.)

Nadeem Hussain, "Honest Illusions:  Valuing for Nietzsche's Free Spirits," in B. Leiter & N. Sinhababu (eds.), Nietzsche and Morality (Oxford University Press, 2007).  Beautifully done exploration of "fictionalism" in Nietzsche's metaethics, though one should also see Hussain's later view ("Nietzsche's Metaethical Stance," in K. Gemes & J. Richardson (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche [2013]), which is more skeptical about whether the textual evidence demands supports ascribing a particular semantic view to Nietzsche.

Paul Katsafanas, "Nietzsche's Philosophical Psychology," also in Gemes & Richardson (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche (2013).  This deservedly influential paper has become the standard point of reference for thinking about Nietzsche's "drive psychology," and needs to be read by everyone interested in issues of moral psychology in Nietzsche.

Mattia Riccardi, "Inner Opacity:  Nietzsche on Introspection and Agency," Inquiry 58 (2015):  221-243 and "Nietzsche on the Superficiality of Consciousness," in M. Dries (ed.), Nietzsche on Consciousness and the Embodied Mind (de Gruyter, 2018).  Both of these brilliant papers, which combine scholarly care and erudition with philosophical sophistication, have shed new light on Nietzsche's arguments for epiphenomenalism about consciousness.   I eagerly await the book manuscript on Nietzsche's philosophical psychology that Riccardi is presently completing and which will surely become a classic in the secondary literature.

Donald Rutherford, "Freedom as a Philosophical Ideal:   Nietzsche and His Antecedents," Inquiry 54 (2011):  512-540.  This is the best paper on the vexed question of Nietzsche's understanding of "freedom," tying it convincingly to the kind of view one also finds in Spinoza, one in which determinism or fatalism is reconciled with a rather different notion of "freedom" than one finds in the Humean or Kantian traditions in the modern era.

Tamsin Shaw,"The 'Last Man' Problem:  Nietzsche and Weber on Political Attitudes Towards Suffering," in M. Knoll & B. Stocker (eds.), Nietzsche as Political Philosopher (de Gruyter, 2014).  This extremely suggestive paper elucidates part of what Weber found so significant about Nietzsche, and in the process sheds light on a central Nietzschean concern, the affirmation of life not in spite of, but because, it involves suffering.  (This paper was the original stimulus for my own take on these issues in Nietzsche.)
Now that's only 9, not 10, books/articles, and I'm not sure I could single out a 10th as helpful and important as these papers have been for my own work.   Readers are invited to suggest their own; include your full name or your comment will not appear, and please state the reasons you found the book or article especially illuminating.  Anything with a publication date of 2007 or after is eligible.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Introduction to my forthcoming book, MORAL PSYCHOLOGY WITH NIETZSCHE

I hope the book will be out with OUP in fall 2018.  Here's the introduction, "Nietzsche's Naturalistic Moral Psychology," which gives an overview of the scope and aims of the volume.

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.)