Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Sunday, May 5, 2013
C&D's reading pursues a certain interpretive modus operandi that, in principle, is not objectionable, but that in practice lends itself to considerable abuse. And the abuses stand as an indictment of the "esoteric" reading methodology that pervades the book I fear.
Here is how C&D frequently proceed: (1) they set out a "standard" or "obvious" or "natural" reading of a passage (hereafter the "exoteric" reading, as they call it); (2) they point out that this exoteric reading seems to commit Nietzsche to something absurd or mistaken; (3) they propose an "alternative" esoteric reading--one that focuses on "what is left unsaid" and what is allegedly "between the lines"--that avoids the problem in (1), but also, invariably, supports their anachronistic reading of N as a proto-Sellarsian/McDowellian invested in the distinction between the space of reasons and the space of causes.
The problem, invariably, in each case I've examined so far, is that either (2) is false (the exoteric reading does not entail anything absurd or mistaken) or that there are other alternatives, besides their (3). (1) and (2), in other words, largely serve to license "interpretations" that go so far beyond the text and the context as to seem sometimes incredible.
Three examples from Chapter 3.
First: C&D quote the famous passage (BGE 5) about the way in which great philosophers "all pose as if they had discovered and reached their real opinions through the self-development of a cold, pure, divinely unconcerned dialectic...while at bottom it is....a desire of the heart that has been filtered and made abstract...that they defend with reasons sought after the fact." To the exoteric reading, they object:
Why should it matter that these reasons are "sought after the fact" if they are good reasons? If Nietzsche is criticizing philosophers' views on the basis of their origins, then he confuses the order of discovery with the order of justification, thereby committing a version of the genetic fallacy. (67)
They use this argument to suggest an "alternative reading" (not an obviously wrong one, but one also not inconsistent with the exoteric reading, though we can put that to one side). The problem is that their argument against the exoteric reading of the passage is quite poor. It would obviously be fallacious to argue that the metaphysical claims of philosophers are false because their origin lies in antecedent evaluative commitments of philosophers. But that isn't N's claim, anywhere that I can find. On the other hand, it is not fallacious, and clearly correct, that if the metaphysical claims of philosophers arise from "desire[s] of the heart that [have] been filtered and made abstract," then quite obviously such claims are unreliable and unjustified, since "desires of the heart" are not epistemically reliable guides to the way the world is. But, in addition, most of Chapter 1 of BGE is given over to offering arguments against the very "reasons" the great philosophers give for their metaphysical conclusions: so, e.g., N argues that the "immediate certainties" of Descartes and Schopenhauer are nothing of the kind; that the Stoic metaphysics of nature is just a projection of their values on to nature; and that all kinds of metaphysical claims of philosophers are just cases of reifying aspect of syntax, treating them as reliably referential when there is no reason to do so. So N's point in BGE 5 is not fallacious, but epistemically sound; and, in any case, N offers independent arguments against the post-hoc "reasons" metaphysicians offer for their claims. (C&D have to downplay the latter point, because they claim in the prior chapter, that Vorurteil--as in von den Vururtheilen der Philosophen--can also mean "prejudgment," not simply "prejudice. That's true, but translating it is "prejudices" is quite natural, given that the whole chapter is given over to attacking the various prejudices: projecting values on to nature, reifying syntax, misreading the phenomenology of inner experience, and so on.) There is no need, in short, for an "alternative" reading of BGE 5, because the natural reading is quite correct.
Second: in their reading of BGE 10, C&D usefully and quite plausibly suggest that the passages involves two contemporary casts of philosophical characters: "skeptical anti-realists" like Lange, Spir and Teichmueller, NeoKantian philosophers who are naturalists about the phenomenal world (it is as the sciences present it), but "who insist that the empirical world is mere appearance, as opposed to the 'true world' of the thing in itself" (70); and "positivists" who endorse the naturalistic view of the world (it is as the sciences describe it), but reject the Kantian idealism (which is the source of the so-called "skepticism" of the other camp: i.e., we can never know what the world in-itself is really like). C&D then puzzle (71) about why N is so insulting to the "positivists," calling them "reality-philosophasters in whom there is nothing new or genuine" (BGE 10). C&D even acknowledge that N's view is closer to that of the "positivists" than the skeptical anti-realists (71). They then write:
Then why insult [the positivsts]....? Presumably because positivism says that there is no knowledge available to us except through the senses and the extension of the senses afforded by the sciences. (71)With that (undefended) claim (#2 in the modus operandi, above), they then proceed to their esoteric reading.
But the #2 move here is rather obviously false. Here is BGE 134: "All credibility, good conscience, and evidence of truth first come from the senses." This is hardly atypical rhetoric for Nietzsche. So the reason for objecting to the positivists that C&D give can't be Nietzsche's reason, since it's the same view he endorses, repeatedly. Moreover, there are alternative explanations for N's insulting the positivists that C&D do not consider. First, there is the thought that genuine philosophers, in N's honorific sense of that term, are legislators of values (BGE 211), and it is, of course, quite correct that positivists (like Ludwig Buchner, the "old doctor" N. derides in BGE 204) thought science would replace philosophy, not recognizing, as N does, the need for values to inform even scientific inquiry. (C&D also note the relevant of BGE 211 here, but its relevance does not depend at all on their implausible claim about N's objection to positivism in the quote from p. 71, above.) Second (and I owe this suggestion to Claire Kirwin), there is the objection just two sections later (BGE 12) protesting the way in which positivists like Buchner (who veer between type-type identity theories of the mind/brain relation to outright eliminativism about the mental) lose any idea of the "soul" and thus lose the possibility of doing psychology, which Chapter 1 concludes (sec. 23) is the path "to the fundamental problems." N has plenty of disputes with "positivists" like Buchner without attributing to him rejection of a view he shares with the positivists!
Third: C&D note (72-73) the "obvious and standard interpretation" of BGE 11: N. ridicules Kant's answer to the question "How are synthetic judgments a priori possible?" as parallel to Moliere's doctor who explains why opium puts people to sleep in terms of "a sleepy faculty [virtus dormitiva]." As C&D put it: "Kant explains the possibility of synthetic judgments a priori in the same way: "in virtue of a faculty" (Vermoege eines Vermoegens)" (73). On this standard reading (that Clark herself once endorsed, before being overcome with esotericism!), N. proposes dispensing with Kant's question in favor of a naturalistic question, namely, why do creatures like us need to treat such judgments as objectively valid in order to survive (74).
Now comes the standard move #2 in C&D's modus operandi:
But if this standard interpretation is correct, BGE 11 is open to a serious objection. To accuse Kant of an empty answer, N must interpret Kant's question concerning the "possibility" of synthetic a priori judgments as a request for an explanation of the fact that we make such judgments. But, in fact, Kant's question concerns what justifies us in taking synthetic a priori judgments to be true, not what explains why we make them. (74)
That would be a rather silly mistake, but the only reason for attributing it to N is an overly literal interpretation of the parallelism between Kant's mistake and that of Moliere's doctor. It is true that Moliere's doctor is giving a (poor) causal explanation for the effect of opium: but that is what the question demands. But Kant's question--correctly stated by N as "How are synthetic judgments a priori possible?"--is not a question that calls for a causal explanation, but a justificatory one, as C&D note (and as N surely realizes). That is, Kant's question is how can it be possible that there are judgments that combine both synthetic and a priori elements, such that the resulting judgment is objectively valid? And Kant's answer is, in simplified form, because of a faculty of the understanding that imposes certain categories on any possible experience--that faculty explains the possibility of the objective validity of such judgments. But that would only be a satisfying explanation if we had some independent evidence for the faculty (if we had independent evidence for a virtus dormitiva that would help the doctor too!)--otherwise, it seems just a gratuitous explanatory posit, just like the virtus dormitiva.
To be sure, N is ridiculing Kant rather than arguing with him--why bother to argue with the details of the transcendental deduction of the categories, after all, if you believe, as N does, that Kant's metaphysics and epistemology are just post-hoc rationalizations for his moral objectives? But there is no reason to think that N believes that Kant's question about the "possibility" of synthetic a priori judgments is a purely causal question. The parallelism with Moliere's doctor doesn't depend on such an assumption.
In further support of their esoteric reading, C&D ask (pointing to the start of BGE 11): "where does N find attention being diverted from Kant's idealist legacy?" (76). C&D suggest, on the basis of no other textual evidence, that N is referring to the "Back to Kant" philosophers who "shared a distaste for the excesses of the great systems of German idealism" (76) and liked Kant's "science-friendly" attitude instead (recall that Lange et al. thought that discoveries in physiology actually vindicated Kant). It is true that those philosophers were unsympathetic to Hegel, but it does seem strange to accuse them of neglecting Kant's idealist legacy! But C&D want to put the blame on the NeoKantians so that they can pose another challenge:
Why would N begin the aphorism by accusing those with naturalistic sympathies [i.e., the NeoKantians like Lange] of ignoring [Kant's] legacy and self-understanding if he believes [as the standard reading of the passage has it] that naturalizing the categories is the right way to carry out Kant's program? (76)
But all this, once again, ignores an obvious possibility: namely, that those who are ignoring Kant's idealist legacy are not the NeoKantians (which is bizarre on its face, they love the categories!) but positivists like Buchner who really do completely ignore Kant's idealism, i.e., they view science as describing the world as it is in-itself, and so they also have no reason to naturalize the Kantian categories of the understanding, since they don't even recognize them!
What drives the tortured hermeneutics in C&D's treatment of BGE 11 is, as they candidly admit, that "it would completely undermine our interpretation if N thought that Kant's program should simply be transformed into a naturalistic one" (75) and thus defeat their extravagant claim that N thinks of himself as "the one who proposes to carry out Kant's normative project" (75). It seems to me more plausible to adopt a different interpretive conclusion.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
Chapter 1, on Nietzsche's Preface, makes two helpful and plausible claims: first, that N's preface is, in part, a parody of Kant's preface to the 1st Critique; and second, that to understand what N. means by dogmatism and by metaphysics, it is important to realize that he was concurrently engaged with Spir's Denken und Wirklichkeit. It is certainly true that "dogmatists" must include "metapahysician[s]...a priori system builder[s] in the pre-Kantian mode" (C&D, 18), but it has to include more than that, given, among other things, that N. plainly thinks Kant is a dogmatist. Here is where N's reading of Spir is key, since Spir equates dogmatism with metaphysics simpliciter, that is, with any doctrines that go beyond the empirical evidence (indeed, as C&D notes, Spir even describes "the metaphysical approach to philosophy to be a kind of mental illness, which is not to be set aside through arguments" [C&D, 19], which certainly must have resonated with N!). Thus, Spir, like Nietzsche "rejects Kant's claim concerning the possibility of a critical metaphysics" (C&D, 21)--i.e., one that first examines the limits of pure reason--and thus view the Kantian kind of metaphysics as dogmatism as well. Of course, Plato's philosophy, with its commitment to the existence of timeless, universal, and non-empirical truths, would also be a prime example of a dogmatic philosophy.
C&D are less convincing, to my mind, on the passage's prognostications about philosophy's future. The key passage from N's Preface is this one:
But the fight against Plato, or, to speak more clearly and "for the people," the fight against the Christian-ecclesiastical pressure of millenia--since Christianity is Platonism "for the people"--has created a magnificent tension of the spirit in Europe the like of which had never yet existed on earth: with so tense a bow we can now shoot for the most distant goals.For C&D, this "magnificent tension" is a struggle between what they call "the will to truth" ("believing only what corresponds to the way the world actually is" [C&D, 37]) and the "will to value" ("the will to see the world in a way that accords with [one's] values" [C&D, 44], around which their interpretation is organized. (We will return in later postings to what they say about these two wills.) The Preface continues:
The European feels this tension as a state of distress, to be sure; and there have already been two grand attempts to relax the bow, once by means of Jesuitism, the second time by means of the democratic Enlightnement...But we, who are neither Jesuits nor democrats, nor even sufficiently German, we good Europeans and free, very free spirits--we have it still, the whole need of the spirit and the whole tension of its bow! And perhaps also the arrow, the task, and who knows, the goal.
C&D gloss the first bit of this as follows: "The suggestion here is that the democratic Enlightenment and Jesuitism each tried to collapse the tension of the bow by doing away with one of the directions or forces creating it" (28). But this just seems to mangle the tense bow metaphor: if you do away with one of the "forces creating it" you either shoot the arrow (you release the taut string) or the arrow falls to the ground (you release the bow). To unbend a bow is, of course, to reduce both opposed forces simultaneously--to reconcile them, as it were, or bring them together, so that the arrow neither shoots nor falls to the ground. (In general, I think C&D are far too invested in the metaphor of the bow, but allowing that we should take it so seriously, it seems to me we should get the metaphor right in terms of how a bow actually works!)
Unexplained in all this (at least here) is how exactly Jesuitism and the democratic Enlightenment tried to unbend the bow, once we understand that metaphor correctly: that is, what kind of reconciliation did they try to affect?
It seems to me that C&D have neglected a rather more natural reading, one that has the virtue of connecting the preface to the book's title, Beyond Good and Evil, and to familiar Nietzschean themes, such as the death of God and the defeat not simply of the Church, but of its poison (to paraphrase the famous line from GM I).
Nietzsche says the manificent tension of the bow was created by the struggle against Platonism/Christianity. But who is it that is involved in this fight? Obviously Nietzsche himself, but also, to some extent, German Materialists, and other empiricists and naturalists of all stripes. The struggle, however, has always proceeded on two fronts: against, roughly, Platonic/Christian metaphysics or cosmology, and against Platonic/Christian morality (Nietzsche, Machiavelli, some figures of the Rennaisance have mostly been involved in the struggle against the latter). The attempts to "unbend" the bow have been the attempts to preserve the Platonic/Christian morality, while bracketting or disowning or turning over to the merely "private sphere" the metaphysics or cosmology. So, e.g., Jesuits famously cultivated the method of casuistic reasoning as a way of defending Christian morals, without recourse to claims about God's will, Biblical authority, and so on. So, too, the democratic Enlightenment tried to put reason's imprint on Christian morality (think of Kant or Bentham), while either expressing open skepticism about Christian cosmology or relegating it to the sphere of private faith, not public dogma. The tension, of course, results from the attempt to salvage the morality without its traditional metaphysical foundations--although Jesuits and the Enlightenment try to unbend the bow, they have actually brought about "the death of God," though most do not realize that has happened or its frightening ramifications.
Nietzsche, of course, rejects Platonic and Christian metaphysics and cosmology, but, as the book's title and much of its content makes clear, he also wants to repudiate the Platonic/Christian morality that went hand-in-hand with it, indeed, that was the motivation for the metaphysics (as we learn in the first chapter of BGE). So Nietzsche will have nothing to do with the efforts of Jesuits and Enlightenment democrats to unbend the bow, by trying to reconcile a naturalistic world view, which is incompatible with Platonic/Christian metaphysics, with Platonic/Christian morality. Nietzsche, instead, intends to shoot the arrow by fulling repudiating the Platonic/Christian view, both its metaphysics and its morality--he needs the tension of the bow, but he is going to resolve it by shooting the arrow into a future "beyond good and evil," in which the struggle against Platonism and Christianity is won on all fronts, metaphysical and moral.
I think this understanding of the metaphor will do greater justice to the central themes of the book, but it will be for future postings to see whether that claim can be made good, or whether C&D's framework can do better.
Monday, February 4, 2013
I'm wondering if you know of anything in the Nietzsche literature that focuses on his theory of disgust? With the exception of Menninghaus, my numerous searches have turned up little that specifically focuses on disgust, and nothing that tries to offer a comprehensive overview. Any advice on where to look would be appreciated.
Monday, January 21, 2013
Monday, October 22, 2012
Friday, October 19, 2012
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
My problem is that my students have, as you might imagine, deep-seated atheist and relativist proclivities. They are happy to embrace the most superficial reading of N's perspectivism and 'valuation,' according to which willing whatever you choose to be valuable and meaningful for your life and definitive of your agency settles the question right then and there, and each person is free to choose his or her own values and aims in life. They seem to find his emphasis on the possibility of unconscious motivation to be simply self-contradictory, given their commitment to believing in their own ability to act for reasons and lead a life that is 'their own' in the ordinary sense. And none of them really seems to care about what it could mean to say that God is dead. So I have been having a lot of trouble bringing the importance of N's claims to life for them.It's been a long time since I've taught Nietzsche to undergraduates, so I expect others will have better ideas than I do, especially if they've confronted similar issues. Certainly one thing to point out is that Nietzsche quite plainly has very strong views about who are higher and lower human beings, and even though (on my reading) he doesn't think that evaluative judgment is epistemically privileged, it's quite plain that he has no sympathy for the idea that "whatever you choose to be valuable" is necessarily valuable from his perspective. (Of course, readings that emphasize power as a criterion of value will have an easier time wiht this issue.)
Thoughts from readers?
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Kaufmann...knew perfectly well that Nietzsche's actual target in the book is not Jesus and the values he is presented in the Gospels as espousing but rather the Christianity of St. Paul and his kindred spirits, and even though he also knew that, in German, the word "Christ" means "Christian" rather than (Jesus as) "the Christ" (which is "Christus" in German).The title, in other words, should have been The Anti-Christian. That's an interesting point, though I suspect Schacht overstates its significance for Enlish-language readers.
About the translations themselves, Schacht concurs with a point I've made here and elsewhere before, namley that while Kaufmann "had a good feeling for Nietzsche's style and a knack for capturing it" such that "in his translations, he makes Nietzsche come alive for the English-speaking reader, in a way that seems to me to be generally quite faithful to and reflective of the spirit and thrust of Nietzsche's own writing and thinking" (77-78), Kaufmann "also seems very frequently to have been motivated more by considerations of rhetorical effectiveness in English than by careful faithfulness to Nietzsche's texts" (78). That still seems to me a quite fair assessment.
More worrisome are the cases where Kaufmann "engag[es] in some tendentious shading and even some covert bowlderizing" (78). Schacht has three examples, not all equally convincing. With regard to BGE 36--the alleged "proof" of the doctrine of will to power (Schacht also makes hay out of translating "Lehre" as "doctrine" , though this seems to be much ado about nothing)--Schacht thinks Kaufmann tried "to soften its force" with some of his translation choices. Schacht is certainly right that the choices Kaufmann made are dubious or at least arguable, but it doesn't seem to me the meaning of the passage is affected, and that none of the translation points affect, for example, Clark's well-known argument that the argument in the passage can't be one Nietzsche actually accepts, since it depends on a premise he rejects. About GM III:12, Schacht makes the somewhat more interesting point that "auslegen" "literally means 'lay out' ('aus-legen')," and that the English "interpret" lends itself too readily to Nehamas-style misreadings. (He doesn't mention Nehamas, but he seems to be the target here.)
But the most striking example Schacht adduces (84) is BGE 230, in which Kaufmann rendered der schreckliche Grundtext homo natura" as simply "the eternal basic text of homo natura," omitting the adjective "terrible"! Schacht's explanation, which seems plausible, is that Kaufmann "no doubt was afraid that, if Nietzsche's English-speaking readers knew that he thought of this 'basic text' of our primordial 'natural' nature in that way, they would be too likely to suppose that he was endorsing the 'terribleness' and its unleashing" (84). Schacht, of course, agrees that would involve a misinterpretation of Nietzsche's meaning, but he's still right to complain that just dropping the word altogether (whose English meaning is quite clear) is really pretty bad translation practice. The question is how often Kaufmann does this. I can't think of a similarly dramatic case I've come across, but maybe readers can.
Saturday, September 8, 2012
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Among the very top PhD programs in the Anglophone world, there are four viable choices for a student wanting to work on Nietzsche: New York University (with John Richardson and Tamsin Shaw), Oxford University (with Daniel Came and Peter Kail), Princeton University (with Alexander Nehamas) and Stanford University (with Lanier Anderson and Nadeem Hussain). I am not sure how hospitable these places are for students primarily interested in Nietzsche, given the dominant interests of the faculty and most of the students, but they deserve serious attention from prospective students: you will get an excellent philosophical education and you have good philosophers who can serve as advisors with respect to Nietzsche work. Each of these faculties also includes philosophers interested in other aspects of Kant and post-Kantian Continental philosophy, including Beatrice Longuenesse at NYU, Alan Patten in Politics at Princeton, Michael Friedman at Stanford, and Stephen Mulhall at Oxford.
Among strong, but not very top, PhD programs there are several additional choices I would recommend: Birkbeck College and University College in the University of London system; Brown University; University of California, Riverside; University of Chicago; and University of Warwick.
In terms of sheer numbers, and diversity of approaches to Nietzsche, Chicago has the most faculty to offer across various units, and for a student also interested in ancient philosophy and/or wanting wide coverage of 19th- and 20th-century European philosophy, Chicago has a great deal to offer. (Faculty interested in Nietzsche, and supervising students, include James Conant, Michael Forster, Robert Gooding-Williams, Brian Leiter, Martha Nussbaum, Robert Pippin, and David Wellbery.) Brown is stronger in most contemporary areas of philosophy (with a particularly good group in moral and political philosophy) than Chicago, but has less depth and breadth in post-Kantian philosophy of the 19th- and 20th-centuries. (The key faculty are Bernard Reginster and Charles Larmore; they will be joined this year by Paul Guyer, making Brown a major destination for Kant students, and also adding coverage to aspects of German Idealism.) University of California, Riverside also has a strong group in post-Kantian European philosophy, including Maudemarie Clark (a leading Nietzsche scholar, of course), Pierre Keller, Georgia Warnke, and Mark Wrathall, and UCR also offers solid, sometimes outstanding, coverage, across a range of contemporary areas of philosophical research. University of Warwick has been a major up-and-coming department in the U.K. over the last decade, and is now solidly among the top ten U.K. programs. Keith Ansell-Pearson and Peter Poellner are the two main faculty interested in Nietzsche (their approaches are quite different, Poellner's being more likely to appeal to students with philosophy backgrounds), but other faculty do important work in Kant and post-Kantian philosophy (Quassim Cassam, Stephen Houlgate, A.D. Smith).
Birkbeck has my good friend Ken Gemes, a very talented philosopher who has supervised a number of students working on Nietzsche, and the Nietzsche scholar Simon May is also around and available to students, though not teaching regularly. Birkbeck's main strengths, however, tend to be in contemporary areas of Anglophone philosophy--like philosophy of language, mind and action--so as with Princeton et al., students should investigate what it is like for students. (Gemes is also now only half-time at Birkbeck.) At UCL, Sebastian Gardner, Mark Kalderon, and Thomas Stern are all interested in Nietzsche, and Garder and Stern are currently writing on him.
A few other programs worth considering:
Boston University, a top 50 department which also has strong coverage of 19th-century philosophy, has Paul Katsafanas (whose Nietzsche work is known to readers of this blog), who will surely get tenure before long. BU thus deserves to be on the map for students thinking about graduate work on Nietzsche. University of Southampton, though not a very good department overall, is attractive for a student interested in Nietzsche, with Christopher Janaway, David Owen, and Aaron Ridley. Raymond Geuss at Cambridge University has worked with some students interested in Nietzsche, but he will be coming up against mandatory retirement shortly, and has been dissuading students from coming to the philosophy faculty, alas. Among the top M.A. programs, the hands-down best choice is Georgia State University, which includes two Nietzsche specialists (my former student Jessica Berry, as well as Gregory Moore), and a specialist in German Idealism (Sebastian Rand).
Things are looking up on the European Continent for philosophically-minded Nietzsche scholars. I have been impressed by Joao Constancio's group at the New University of Lisbon, and by other younger scholars I have met (either in print or in person!) in recent years. But I am not well-informed enough about the overall programs there to offer meaningful guidance to my non-Anglophone readers.
Friday, July 20, 2012
Sunday, June 24, 2012
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
What is the scholarly state of play with respect to Stirner's influence on
Nietzsche? There are obvious though perhaps superficial affinities which suggest such an influence and it seems odd to suppose that a voracious reader like Nietzsche would not have known about Stirner and would have passed him by if he had known about him. But as an argument this strikes me as a touch too much like those speculative biographies which enlarge at length on what Shakespeare 'must' have felt or thought. I understand from Safranski's biography that Nietzsche never mentions Mad Max in his extant works or correspondence but that there is evidence from the
memoirs' of Ida Overbeck that Nietzsche not only read Stirner but admired him. Safranski takes the case for influence to be proven, and embarks on a summary of Stirner views in order to clarify what he takes that influence to have been. But is he perhaps being premature? Could Frau Overbeck have been confabulating to back up a thesis she believed for other reasons? Has anything been discovered since Safranski's book which sheds any light on the issue? And what do you think? I note that the issue is left to one side in Nietzsche on Morality and that nobody so much as
mentions Stirner in your OUP anthology (which surprised me a little).
A related question: Do we know which of Dostoevsky's books Nietzsche read apart from Notes from the Underground (which is mentioned in a letter in Kaufman's The Portable Nietzsche)? The question is relevant since I am inclined to think that Dostoevsky's character Stavrogin, the hero of The Devils/Demons/the Possessed is meant to be a sort of immanent critique of Stirner's ideals. Was The Devils translated into a language that Nietzsche understood during his sane and productive lifetime?
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
UPDATE: A reader points out that the calendar has the dates wrong--the dates of the conference are Sunday, April 15 through Tuesday, April 17.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Video of my 2010 lecture at the Oxford FNS Meeting: "Who is the 'Sovereign Individual'? Nietzsche on Freedom"
UPDATE (JANUARY 11): Manuel Dries tells me videos of all the talks from the Oxford conference, including mine, are available via I-Tunes here.
Monday, September 19, 2011
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Reginster on Gemes & May (eds.), Nietzsche on Freedom and Autonomy.
ADDENDUM: We discussed Gardner's paper from the Gemes & May volume previously. Contra my analysis of the experience of willing, Reginster writes:
One problem with this proposal is that it conflates willing with successful
willing. But it seems as though I can have an experience of willing even when my
body fails to respond, and I precisely do not feel "as if the bodily qualia are
obeying the thought." When I will to move my paralyzed body, for example, I have
an experience of willing, which means that I identify with a "commandeering
thought" even though it does not elicit obedience. But then this identification
cannot be motivated by the "feeling of power" that is supposed to explain its
This depends on whether it is a correct account of what it feels like to will the movement of a paralyzed part of the body: I would have thought this feels like an attemp at willing, not willing. I actually address this in note 6 of the paper; it is a difficult case that turns on having more information about the phenomenology of paralysis.
Friday, July 15, 2011
The website will be conducted as a virtual reading group, where they will work through each of Nietzsche's books at a rate of approximately one aphorism per day (or four shorter maxims a day).
Carlos has begun with the text of Twilight of the Idols and invites other interested readers to comment on the reading by visiting the comment box at the bottom of each aphorism's page (which can be visited by clicking "read more" or by clicking on the title of the relevant aphorism).
The website for the reading group is: http://verhexung.com
Monday, June 20, 2011
The fundamental claim of this book is that we will not properly understand
Nietzsche until we understand the main polemical target of his philosophizing.
This target, the author wants to demonstrate, is the evolutionary naturalism of
Darwin: “Nietzsche’s philosophy in his final years was premised on a fundamental
anti-Darwinism” (p. 203)....According to Paul S. Loeb, who provides the puff on
the back cover, the balanced and careful examination the book offers of this
crucial test case, “results in a powerful critique of the prevalent naturalistic
approach to Nietzsche.” In short, instead of trying to co-opt Nietzsche for
fashionable projects we need to respect the independence of his philosophical
This is puzzling. Who, apart from Richardson in the 2004 book, reads Nietzsche as a systematically Darwinian naturalist? There are obvious Darwinian themes here and there in Nietzsche (as in his critique of Paul Ree, or his Lamarckianism), but I'm not aware of anyone other than Richardson reading Nietzsche as fundamentally a Darwinian naturalist. Ansell-Pearson suggests that this ambiguity infects the book: "There is, however, an ambiguity at the heart of Johnson’s book that is never satisfactorily resolved: is the suggestion that Nietzsche is not at all a naturalist, or is it that he needs to be liberated from his entanglement with a fashionable Darwinism?"
Thoughts from readers who have read the book? Is it confused as Ansell-Pearson implies? And is it worth reading? Signed comments, as usual, will be strongly preferred.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Monday, March 21, 2011
Friday, February 25, 2011
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
(My Routledge Nietzsche on Morality has sold around 5,000 copies since 2002, though I haven't seen recent sales data on it. So that's a regular "best-seller"!)
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Friday, September 17, 2010
Monday, September 13, 2010
Sunday, August 1, 2010
I am not going to go through Sebastian's paper in the same level of detail as we did, recently, with Paul Katsfanas's piece on N's philosophical psychology. Sebastian's paper comes in three parts, and it is the third part that presents, to my mind, the most interesting and important challenge to the naturalist reading. I'll comment more briefly on the first two major sections of the paper. The paper as a whole aims to display a tension between naturalistic and transcendental themes in Nietzsche's work, arguing, in the end, that Nietzsche self-consciously wanted to display the "disunity of philosophical reason," i.e., the difficulty or impossibility of being fully naturalistic or fully transcendentalist.
Part I proposes to illustrate the tension between Nietzsche's "theoretical" conception of the self (or the "I"), which Gardner calls variously eliminativist or fictionalist, and his purportedly "practical" concept of the self, which, according to Gardner, has to be more robust than the fictionalist treatment allows in order to make sense of Nietzsche's claims about value and valuing. An eliminativist or fictionalist view of the self might seem to have some difficulty accounting for the phenomenon that Kant identifies under the rubric of the transcendental unity of apperception, but, if I understand Gardner rightly, he thinks the eliminativist/fictionalist about the self can make sense of the phenomenon (p. 7)--but this discussion, I'm afraid, was quite obscure. But Gardner's main point isn't that N's theoretical conception of the self falls prey to Kant's argument against Hume on apperception and the unity of self-consciousness; it's rather that it is in tension with the concept of the self he needs for his practical philosophy. The core argument is at pp. 8-9, and trades, in my view, on a mistaken (in any case unargued for) view of the role of values in "self-creation" and on ambiguities about what it means for N's higher-type to legislate values (Hussain's 'fictionalist' account may help here).
Section 2 concerns naturalistic and transcendentalist conceptions of the relationship between theoretical and practical reason. My reading is presented by Gardner (at p. 15), and presented quite fairly, as the representative naturalist reading. Gardner is quite correct that on this reading "the Nietzschean subject lacks any rational warrant for regarding his valuation as anything more than the expression of a natural force" (p. 16). Gardner objects that this kind of valuing would amount to "sheer inconceivability for subjects in whom the taste for justification is well established" (p. 16). I'm not entirely sure I understand this. Certainly those who think values are genuinely objective (who do not realize that the world is, as N. says, "value-less") will be unsettled by this model of valuation. But those who do not share the "taste for justification" in question, namely N's higher types or 'free spirits,' will surely have no problem understanding that "this is good" has no ground beyond their *deeming it to be good.* (There follows at 16-17 a somewhat opaque discussion of Nietzsche and Hume, which I shall pass over.)
The core of this section of the paper, however, is the argument that we can ascribe to N. a picture of the "unity of reason" (that we might associate with Kant and post-Kantians) on the basis of what N. says about the Presocratics. Gardner claims the "wisdom" of the Presocratics on the Nietzschean view involves "the standpoint of reflection which aims to unify the practical and theoretical perspectives" and "the idea of the primacy of practical reason and, connectedly, of a non-realistic, transcnedental or regulative warrant for norms" (p. 19). Here I think Gardner is guilty of a misreading of N's treatment of the Presocratics and of projecting a quasi-Kantian framework onto them (and N's reading of them). The "wisdom" of the Presocratics for N. (starting with Thales; I discuss this in NOM, 41-43) consists in their recognition that the "truth is terrible," and that, for the sake of life, one should sometimes put limits on the pursuit of knowledge. The Presocratics, in short, are not guilty of the error at issue in GM III, namely, treating truth as the highest value, which is just an analogue of the Socratic/rationalistic optimism critiqued in BT. I do not see "a buried transcendentalist dimension to Nietzsche" (p. 19) in these observations. Rather, it is the very simple thought that sometimes we should put limits on theoretical reason for the sake of other values. The question is what this view has to do with Kant?
Section 3 of the paper, "Naturalism and Transcendentalism in Nietzsche," was, to my mind, the most interesting. The focus here is on my naturalist reading of the argument in GM III, and Gardner's central claim, if I am reading him rightly, is that the naturalist is not entitled to help himself to something like "a psychological need for meaningfulness"--that such a posit is a gratuitous posit simply meant to square N's actual argument with naturalistic strictures. The human need for meaning, in other words, can not be assimilated to the naturalistic framework. In any case, I think that's the strongest point Gardner is arguing here, though he says some things along the way that strike me as wrong or off point. But the core challenge, if I have it right, is a serious one, to which I'll return at the end.
First, a recap of my argument (in NOM), which is Gardner's target and which he gives a pretty good statement of at p. 26 (though with some confusion about what exactly the explanans and the explanandum are supposed to be--more on that in a moment). The core puzzle of the Third Essay is this: why is it that ascetic religions have had such a profound grip on the human mind? What exactly is the source of their appeal and attraction? Why would people be drawn to religions that impose restrictions, often severe restrictions, on all kinds of desire-satisfaction (for sex, for cruelty, for power, for pleasure)?
Nietzsche's explanation for the power of ascetic ideals assumes two additional facts: first, that most people (the "vast majority" as he says) suffer (and suffering gives rise to ressentiment which would, if undischarged, ultimately lead to 'suicidal nihilism'); and second, that every creature strives for the "optimal conditions" for producing the "maximum feeling of power" (GM III:7). The question is why ascetic religions would triumph given these two facts.
Here is Gardner's (slightly incomplete) gloss (p. 26) on my argument:
Leiter claims that the ascetic ideal's solution to the 'curse of meaninglessness' referred to in section 28 is to be understood in terms of the following explanatory elements: first, the claim of the First Essay that suffering produces ressentiment; second, the later claim (GM III 15) that relief from ressentiment is achieved by blame, which facilitates discharge, the effect of which is anaesthetic; and third, the role of the ascetic priest in redirecting blame by designating a new culprit, namely
oneself. In this way the ascetic ideal allow suffering to be 'overcome.' What it is, then, for suffering to 'be meaningful,' on the naturalistic account, consists simply in a pattern of psychological causation described in a reductive, mechanistic and hedonistic psychology: it is straightforwardly equivalent to our having the means to achieve hedonic relief from suffering by means of an anaesthetsia-inducing discharge of affect directed at a fictional blame-object.
Now Gardner talks (e.g., 26) as if the explanandum were the need for suffering to have a meaning, whereas the real explanandum is the triumph of the ascetic ideal. To explain that triumph we need to assume that meaningless suffering is unbearable and would lead to suicidal nihilism, and so thwart the feeling of power that comes with self-preservation. The meaning for suffering is supplied by the ascetic ideal (the ascetic priest teaches that people suffer because of their immoral desire: for power, sex, cruelty etc.--so they themselves are to blame for their suffering), which also permits the discharge of ressentiment in blame, thus alleviating some of the pain that leads to suicidal nihilism (though continuing, perversely, the cycle of suffering because of the pain associated with guilt etc.). Suffering is not, contrary to Gardner's presentation, "overcome": it is rather rendered bearable enough that the sufferer does not give up on life altogether--the only "feeling of power" available to the vast majority of mortals on N's picture. And this realization of the "feeling of power" is only possible if sufferers can interpret their condition in light of the ascetic ideal--or so claims Nietzsche. (So Gardner is wrong that on my account the "final explanans is the painfulnes of pain; N's is the threat of its meaninglessness" [p. 27]. The ultimate explanas is the instinctive need for creatures, even those who suffer, to achieve some feeling of power, which for most mortals means maintaing a will to live, not giving up on life--and they can only thward suicidal nihilism if their suffering, the basic fact of their life, is meaningful.)
So the key assumption is that creatures like us can not endure suffering that makes no sense: we can endure (and thus preserve ourselves, and a get a small feeling of power) if our suffering "makes sense," but not otherwise. Why can't the naturalist help himself to such an assumption about human needs? That's the key question.
Here is one comment by Gardner that might be taken as responding to the key question:
My suggestion would be that N. regards suffering in its primary, hedonic sense as occasioning the formation of the need for Sinn, indeed as necessary for its crystallization, but that he regards the need for Sinn as then assuming a life of its own, such that, if per impossible we ceased to suffer in the hedonic-Schopenhauerian sense, we would continue to stand in need of Sinn. (p. 27 note 40)
We might well stand in need of meaning, but the need for meaning simpliciter plays no role in the argument of GM III. What is at issue (contrary to Gardner's somewhat misleading over-emphasis on the final section of the essay) is the need for suffering to be meaningful. If most mortals didn't suffer (which, as Gardner acknowledges, isn't a possibility), then they wouldn't be threatened by suicidal nihilism, and so they would be able to achieve their maximal feelings of power without the need of ascetic ideals. But this simply isn't our world, or N's concern.
Now I think Gardner's core objection is really this one (p. 28):
If N. were to be a consistent naturalist, then he would have to agree that the need for Sinn can be explained as some kind of evolutionary or whatever Nebenwirkung [side-effect], to be resolved back into a naturalized, mechanistic, hedonistic psychology. But--if naturalization of the need for Sinn were to have the meaning for N. that it has for the consistent naturalist--N. would then have to take Freud's line, that the need for Sinn cannot be taken with philosophical seriousness, and his practical philosophy would crumble. Because N. instead holds fast to the internal, practical perspective from which the question of Sinn is genuine and ineluctable, he cannot regard the question fo whether the need for Sinn is 'really' nothing but another natural drive or accidental by-product of such is not a real possibility; the need cannot be de-validated through an exercise of theoretical reason.This passage seems to me to confuse a number of issues: (1) N. does not aim (and my account does not require him to aim) for a naturalistic explanation of "the need for meaning" in terms of other naturalistic forces (evolutionary or otherwise); (2) N. does not claim (and my reading does not require him to claim) that the "need for meaning" might be "de-validated" in virtue of being a naturalistic phenomenon; (3) N's account (and my interpretation of his account) is entirely third-personal, without any import for the first-personal character of experience for agents in the grips of the ascetic ideal, who are suffering, etc.
The "need for meaning"--more precisely, on my account, the need for suffering to have a meaning--is a kind of psychological primitive for N. Of course, it's not wholly primitive: for the reason we need suffering to be meaningful is because suffering generates ressentiment, and undischarged ressentiment will cause a kind of pscyhological explostion or melt-down--and the latter would be inconsistent with the drive for the maximal feelings of power (so the fundamental psychology is not hedonic, but oriented around need for the feeling of power). None of this is meant to "de-validate" the first-person experience of the sufferer--to the contrary, the whole point of the argument is to explain the puzzling phenomenon that ascetic moralities and religions should be so dominant among creatures like us, i.e., creatures with ravenous appetites for power, for sex, for cruelty, etc.
So the right way, I think, to frame something like Gardner's challenge is in terms of explanatory parsimony. Is the naturalist, in order to make his psychological story about the triumph of ascetic ideals work, entitled to posit as a kind of primitive psychological need the need for suffering to be meaningful? What kind of natural fact would that be? And the answer to that question, I think, turns on whether N's explanatory framework is one that can justify its ontology of psychological needs, not only for meaningful suffering, but for feelings of power, as well as the operations of ressentiment. Now that is a hard question, and its answer turns on what the competing accounts for the triumph of asceticism look like. At least as things stand now, though, no one, as far as I can see, has a competing account for the triumph of asceticism. If there is one that can dispense with psychological primitives like "the need for meaningful suffering," then the Nietzschean naturalist loses. But that's how it should go for naturalists, Nietzschean or otherwise.
Friday, July 30, 2010
First, is Paul’s account of drives compatible with my interpretation (in the 2007 paper) of the Will as Secondary Cause? The short answer is ‘yes,’ it is, strictly speaking, compatible. But Paul intends a stronger claim which is brought out by the answer to the second question.
Second, is there textual evidence of a stronger role for the Will than that as Secondary Cause? Paul claims there is, and I’ll return to those passages below.
Third, do drives “determine” or “merely influence” conscious thought. Paul opts for the latter.
Paul thinks that N. accepts a view of the will that is “more robust” than the Will as Secondary Cause reading would allow. The crucial issue is that Paul thinks “Nietzsche views conscious thoughts as exerting causal influence on non-conscious states.” Paul references his important EJP paper from 2005, and I’ve conceded previously that he is correct to object to me (in NOM) and Deleuze that consciousness, per se, can not be epiphenomenal for N. But there’s more than that at issue here.
Let’s try to make this as explicit as possible, since these issues are hard and under-treated in the secondary literature. Recall Freud’s patient Anna O (nothing turns on whether Freud is right, we are just trying to individuate possible causal roles). Anna O ‘freaks out’ when she sees a glass of water on the dining room table. What *causes* her to freak out? Most basically, it is her repressed feelings of disgust upon seeing, in the past, a dog drinking from a glass of water on a table. More precisely, the *idea* (the memory) of the dog drinking from the glass on the table is repressed, but the *feelings* (the affect) are still floating around her psyche, and are triggered whenever she sees a glass of water on a table.
Now “seeing a half-empty glass of water on a table” is a conscious thought she has. And it seems to stand in a causal relationship with her ‘freaking out.’ So here’s one causal role for consciousness in action: conscious perceptions can be part of the causal chain leading to action (‘freaking out’!)—they can “trigger” a free-floating affect (and triggering is presumably some kind of causal relation).
Quite generally, conscious perceptions, in the presence of antecedent desires, can play a causal role in action, and it would seem mad to deny it: if I *desire something to quench my thirst* and I consciously perceive water, and form the conscious belief that water is in front of me, then surely that conscious mental state plays a causal role in explaining my action (drinking the water).
So let’s take for granted that N. had better not be denying any of these causal roles for conscious mental states. That’s why it was a mistake in NOM to suggest that conscious mental states were epiphenomenal *tout court.* They can’t be, without giving up the causal influence of conscious perception on action and without giving up the causal influence of conscious beliefs about effective means to ends on action.
But that isn’t what’s really at issue here. None of these conscious beliefs or perceptions involve *the conscious experience of will.* In the preceding cases, sensory experience gives rise to beliefs which, given *antecedent* desires (or drives) yield action.
Perhaps the issue is whether (as Paul puts it) “drives are altered by conscious judgments.” Now if the phrase “conscious judgments” includes the conscious perceptions and beliefs just noted, then of course such conscious judgments can alter drives: not their *aims*, to use Paul’s useful distinction, but their *objects*.
Paul, however, cites the interesting and clearly pertinent passage D 38 titled “Drives transformed by moral judgments.” But what precisely is the transformation at issue? N’s claim is that drives in themselves have no moral character, “nor even a definite attendant sensation of pleasure or displeasure: it acquires all this, as its second nature, only when it enters into relations with drives already baptized good or evil or is noted as a quality of beings the people has already evaluated and determined in a moral sense.” His example is “envy,” which the Greeks viewed more positively than we do. So on this picture there is some underlying drive—let us say, “to wish one had what others have”—but whether it is *experienced* as good or evil, pleasant or unpleasant, is affected by, we shall say, the “cultural climate,” where that climate is internalized by the agent. I do not see that anything in D 38 requires that the internalization be conscious, but nor do I see a problem if it is: just as the *object* of my hunger drive changes with the conscious perception of different foods (even though the aim is unaffected), so too the *object* (or even the manifestation) of my envy drive may change with the conscious perception of the cultural climate. In none of this is the experience of free will at issue.
Something similar can be said of Paul’s other two examples: that the thought of eternal recurrence “is centered on the conscious reaction one has to a thought experiment” and that N’s critique of religion and morality “rest[s] on the idea that consciously embracing these modes of life and these values is damaging.” Quite clearly, N. thinks the thought of eternal recurrence and MPS values (in my terms) are or can be causally efficacious. We must be cautious, though, about the talk of consciousness in all this. To be sure, it seems reasonable to think that an agent in a culture dominated by MPS consciously experiences MPS values (e.g., feels good about his altruistic deeds, feels guilty about his egoism, and so on). But this is no different than a conscious perception of a piece of cake fixing the *object* of the hunger drive. And an agent may consciously think about eternal return—say, after reading Nietzsche—but whether it is causally efficacious may depend entirely on whether it excites a particular unconscious drive (much as perceiving the piece of cake might excite the hunger drive).
I addressed a version of this problem in NOM, so let me just reprint here my comments there (157-158):
[W]hen N. affirms the explanatory *primacy* of type-facts about agents, he is
only ruling out causal efficacy that is not ultimately traceable to causal
efficacy in virtue of type-facts. Thus, N can, as we saw, admist the plausible
view that the values an agent is exposed to can affect the agent—but only in
virtue of type-facts about that agent [e.g., exciting, or inhibiting, certain
pre-existing drives]. Thus, if MPS hinders the flourishing of higher types, it
is only because there are type-facts about higher types that make them
susceptible to the influence of these values. So, too, agents can come to accept
values that are, overall, harmful to that type of agent only in virtue of
type-facts about agents that would lead them to do so—this, in fact, is the very
essence of ‘decadence’ for Nietzsche.
So notice that on this picture, we get a causal role for conscious mental states (though not those associated with the feeling of free will), in the sense that consciousness is the medium for representation contents that excite, inhibit, or otherwise affect non-conscious drives. None of this, though, seems enough for “genuine agency” in the moralistic sense with which the tradition is usually concerned.
To sum up, so far, Paul has pressed the point (which I conceded in the 2007 paper) that conscious mental states can be causally efficacious. But that is no longer in dispute.
So do drives determine conscious thoughts? Certainly what Paul calls the “weak reading” of the relation must be right, given that everyone admits that environmental factors, including values, are causally effective on the person (I suppose they could only affect non-conscious characteristics of the person, but there is no reason to think that is so). But what prompted my challenge on this score was somewhat different. It was Paul’s claim that N. thinks “reflective thought” plays a causal role or, to quote Paul, that “reflection and self-understanding enable an agent to counteract the effects of particular drives." But none of the passages cited, and none of the argument so far, establishes these claims, as far as I can see.
Paul is explicit in his reply that he wants to defend the claim that the agent is sometimes “in control of [his] action.” But nothing in Paul’s reply establishes that. Paul notes that N’s view of agency is “quite subtle,” but no one was disputing that, and invocations of subtlety are not enough to vindicate moralistic misreadings of N. (though talk of “subtlety” seems to be a favorite rhetorical flourish of misreaders—vide Ridley’s confusions).
What we need to see is actual textual evidence that conscious “reflective thought” and “self-understanding” plays a causal role in action that can then be attributed to the “control” of the agent. Paul alludes to an argument in his paper “The Concept of Unified Agency,” which I look forward to reading. But the mere unity of agency isn’t necessarily enough for control or responsibility. And that’s what is at issue, not whether conscious mental states *tout court* are causal.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
I've already sent Paul comments on some minor matters in the current version, so I won't dwell on those issues here (though may flag one or two in passing in case anyone wants to pursue them in the comments).
The key question is what exactly are "drives" for Nietzsche. Katsafanas (hereafter "K.") says (I think rightly) that Nietzsche uses Trieb and Instinkt interchangeably (K. does not comment, however, on where Affekt fits in, though it turns out to play an important role in his exposition). In Section 1.1, K. argues against interpreting drives as homunculi, i.e., as little agents within the human agent. This strikes me as correct, and so I will not dwell on it here.
In section 1.2, he considers dispositional views of drives. Bear in mind that K's own preferred reading is a kind of dispositional view: "Nietzschean drives are dispositions that induce affective orientations in the agent...[T]hese affective orientations can be understood as evaluative orientations" (p. 10, end of 1.2). This is closely related to the view Richardson defended originally in Nietzsche's System, though K's criticism of the view at p. 9 strike me as not wholly satisfactory. It is true that in later work Richardson tries to treat the dispositions of drives in selectionist terms (there are pertinent criticisms of that general interpretive strategy here and here). As I've already pointed out to Paul, there is no reason to think that natural selection will necessarily produce ascetics "disposed...to engage in sexual activity," but all he needs is the possibility of an ascetic who is both disposed towards having sex and disposed towards being an ascetic (natural selection is irrelevant). Thus K's objection: "There are cases in which values and selected dispositions appear to diverge [such as the ascetic in question]....Despite the fact that the agent is strongly disposed toward sexual activity, we would typically say that the agent does not value sexual activity" (p. 9). But all this requires us to say is that the drives (i.e., the dispositions in question) differ in strength, so that the ascetic disposition (and associated valuation) simply domiante the sexual disposition. Indeed, I take it such a solution is compatible with K's preferred view.
Section 1.3 takes up the question of how to interpret N's remarks expressing skepticism about what we know about our drives and their role in the genesis of action (K. scratches the surface of the kinds of remarks N. makes in this regard at p. 11, but the quotes he chooses are certainly representative). K. notes my view that N. thinks that "we do not have epistemic access to what the causally effective motives really are" (NOM, 104), but then glosses that as something else, namely, "the claim that we are often [emphasis added] mistaken about our motives" and says this "is just a platitude" (p. 13). But even the weaker claim is not a platitude, and the fact that Kant was ready to bite the bullett on the possibility that no one ever acts morally (because it might be that no one ever acts for the right kinds of reasons) hardly show this to be a platitude. The Cartesian picture of the self, of its essential transparency, reverberates throughout modern philosophy, all the way to the present, though since Freud's triumph, probably more thinkers would be prepared to sign on to the skeptical view.
Ultimately, K. wants to argue (in sections 2 & 3) for a particular reading of N's skepticism about what we know about our drives, according to which when a drive brings about an action A, we may know we are A'ing, but not know the aim (of the drive) that led us to A (p. 18). (I let pass in silence the strange discussion of what wolves and flies know about their actions at p. 17, since I don't think anything ultimately turns on these claims being correct--what matters is that the account works for humans.)
I accept this as a more precise way of stating the point I was making in NOM, i.e., that what we do not know when we do not know the "motive" for our action is the ultimate aim of the drive that is the causal genesis of the action. This may well be the right way to gloss N's skepticism about the sources of agency.
Section 3 ("The nature of Nietzschean drives") is the core of the paper, and quite illuminating, until p. 32 (in section 3.3), when the argument, it seems to me, goes off the rails.
3.1 wants to explain how "the affective orientation induced by a drive can be understood as an evaluative orientation (p. 21). (This is the point at which I wonder about the connection between drives and affects.) The discussion is highly illuminating, emphasizing the way in which drives/affects influence "perceptual salience" (p. 22), not only the features of a situation that come to the fore for the agent (because the drive focuses attention on them), but by influencing "the content of experience itself" (p. 22) by affecting the interpretation of the sensory stimuli themselves. (K's discussion resonates with recent work by a former student, Neil Sinhababu, on the Humean theory of motivation, which emphasizes the role of desire in affecting salience: vide his recent Phil Review paper. Neil, as readers of the blog will know, is also interested in the similarities between the Nietzschean and Humean views.) Here is K's summary statement at the end of 3.1: "Drives manifest themselves by coloring our view of the world, by generating perceptual saliences, by influencing our emotions and other attiitudes, by fostering desires" (p. 26).
3.3 appeals to Freud's account of drives, arguing, plausibly to my mind, that it illuminates N's view (Freud may well have gotten the view from N., of course). There are two important features of drives on the Freudian view. First, drives have a kind of constancy that other desires do not--"they arise, with some regularity throughout the individual's life" (p. 30). The music you desired to listen to in your 20s may no longer appeal in your 40s; but the hunger drive keeps coming back whether you are 20 or 40. Second, drives do not depend on an external stimulus to be aroused. "Drives arise independently of external stimuli and once they have become active, they will seek discharge" (p. 31). External stimuli can give rise to a desire to eat or to have sex, to be sure, but those same deires can simply arise in the absence of any stimuli. (Sometimes K. overstates the point, e.g., at p.31, where he says that "drives...do not arise in response to external stimuli." But that can't be right: surely they can be triggered by external stimuli. What allegedly distinguishes them is that they can arise on their own, without any externl provocation.) It is useful to distinguish, as Freud does, between the Ziel (aim) of the drive (e.g., sex, eating) and the Objekt of the drive (e.g., this woman, this bit of food). Insofar as a drive is aroused not by an external stimulus, it will then seek out an object for its realization--and in so doing (I assume this is K's point) impose a "valuation" on the object.
Now we come to the point where the argument and exposition seem to me to go off the rails. At p. 32, K. claims that "drives operate by influencing the agent's perception and reflective thought, so that the agent sees a certain activity as warranted" (emphases added). K. made a good case for how drives might influence perception, but where did talk about "reflective thought" come from and what does it mean? Nothing in the argument so far, or in N's texts, invites interjecting this mechanism. The crux of what K. is getting at, I think, is his claim that "drives affect the agent's perceptions of reasons" (p. 32). Here is K's example:
But the "reasons" here are simply causal product of the drive, and the fact that the aggression seems "warranted" is itself just an artifact of the causal umph of the drive. Where is the "reflective thought" coming in? What is reflection doing?The aggressive drive does not just produce a blind urge that causes the agent to act aggressively. Rather, the aggressive drive manifests itself by producing desires, affects, and perceptual saliences that jointly inclidne the agent to see aggression as warranted by the circumstances. (p. 32)
Perhaps K. means to concede this latter point? He writes: "being moved by a drive and being moved by reflective thought are not distinct processes. Drives move us by directing and influencing our reflective thought" (p. 33). But is "directing and influencing" the same as "determining"? This is the crucial ambiguity. The only claim justified by the argument so far would be that what we take to be reflective thought is, in fact, determined by our drives. But talk of "directing" and "influencing" might suggest that there is still some causal work for "reflective thought" to do.
In 3.4, K. acknowledges the obvious (or what, by now, I've forced everyone to admit is really obvious!), namely, that "N. is notoriously skeptical of reflective agency" (p. 33). But what does this skepticism amount to? In 4.1, K. claims that "it is by now a commonplace that N. rejects the libertarian concept of choice" or free will, another 'commonplace' I am happy to take credit for making common. (Joking aside, I do think it is a mark of the maturity of Nietzsche studies over the last decade that one can now make arguments--demonstrating, e.g., N's skepticism about reflective agency or his rejection of libertarian conceptions of free will--and other scholars actually register the arguments and their conclusions, and then development their own interpretive views based on these 'results'. Anyone reading the Nietzsche literature twenty years ago knows how utterly rare this used to be.)
As K. admits, rejecting the libertarian conception of free will leaves a lot open. I have also argued (in both NOM and in "Nietzsche's Theory of the Will") that Nietzsche can not be a compatibilist about "choice" or free will either, though K. does not consider those arguments (to be fair, his immediate concern is not responsibility but the causal contribution of reflective thought, so perhaps the omission doesn't matter). K. concentrates instead on my claim that "Nietzsche argues that choice is epiphenomenal: 'there is no causal link between the experience of willing and the resulting action' (Leiter, 2007, 13)" (p. 34).
Two quick points about this gloss on my argument in the "Nietzsche's Theory of the Will" paper. First, the argument there concerned the causal status of the experience of willing, not everything that might be denominated a choice. When I went to the refrigerator, I chose a diet pepsi, rather than a diet coke: was my "choice" epiphenomenal? It seems a tad odd to think it is, and one might hope nothing in N. committed him to thinking so. But it seems equally clear that what I will call "mundane choices" do not often involve the experience of willing, that is, of choosing to make something happen: these are mostly automatic, unrefelctive behaviors, that are casually characterized as choices post-hoc.
Now this may not matter--perhaps we should just stipulate that "choice" for K's purpose just means any action that is preceded by the "experience of willing" that is the focus of N's analysis and my reconstruction in the 2007 paper. But a second complication may warrant notice. In the 2007 paper, I noted that there are two kinds of passages in N.: one kind invites the epiphenomenalist interpretation that K. calls attention to and that seems to be the favored interpretation of the experience of free will in some of the psychological literature (notably Wegner); but the other kind of passage (think the Cornaro case) is different. It suggests that the experience of willing is part of the causal chain that results in the action, but it is not an "ultimate" or "primary" cause: that is, an explanation of the action that stopped with the experience of willing would be like an explanation of the invasion of Iraq that stopped with Bush's decision to send in the troops--that decision was causally important, but it does not really explain the Iraq War. In the 2007 paper, and in my recent work generally on Nietzsche, I have taken the view that if the text support two different readings of his position, we should opt for the one that seems the most promising as a matter of empirical psychology. Right now, this seems to favor the epiphenomealist reading, but perhaps the empirical tide will turn in favor of the second reading--what I called "the Will as Secondary Cause" reading.
Now back to K. He doesn't, by his own admission, argue against the epiphenomenalist reading, he just (1) notes that the reading has critics, citing in n. 31, Clark & Dudrick and papers by Gemes and Janaway that argue against my interpretation of N. on free will (Janaway's adds nothing, except a head count, so we can ignore it here); and (2) claims that this interpretation "has textual costs" (p. 35). I understand how limitations of space go, but given what seems to be the centrality of the issue to K's argument, this hand-waving seems quite unsatisfactory. I've dealt with the problematic arguments by Clark & Dudrick and Gemes elsewhere, though even Gemes concedes a lot to my position.
As to (2), K. cites (p. 35) some passages I've deflated elsewhere (like the GM passage on the 'sovereign individual') or passages from Twilight about those who resist immediate stimuli and those who do not. But a well-trained dog has the characteristics at issue here, and the question then is whether that is enough for K's real thesis, namely, that "N. claims that some individuals have the capacity to control their behavior." A well-trained dog can "control" its behavior, e.g., it can resist mounting the nearest female, or chasing after another dog, or running from its master. Is this the "capacity to control" behavior that's at issue for K.? If so, then we have no quarrel. But the faint odor of Kant and Korsgaard is in the air, so I'm not sure.
Let's be clear about what is at stake. On my reading of N., drives causally determine action, perhaps via the mechanism of conscious mental states (per the Will as Secondary Cause reading) and perhaps not (per the Epiphenomealist reading). K., as I read him, thinks that N. thinks that there is something left over for the "will" or the "self" to do, but his only evidence, noted in the preceding paragraph, is inapposite.
Section 4.2 introduces K.'s preferred resolution to these issues. He opts, I think, for my Will as Secondary Cause reading, though he does nto put it quite that way. On K's picture, choice causes action, but "N's drive psychology problematizes the connection [the causal connection?] between the agent and choice" (p. 36). When he sums up his view at the end, he puts it in terms that sound like the Will as Secondary Cause reading from my 2007 paper: "choice may control action, but agents do not control choice." Or put a bit differently: the will may cause an action, but the will is not within the causal control of the person (the self), it is, itself, causally determined by something else (e.g., type-facts, something unconscious, etc.).
I would be happy if that is what K. means, but I am not sure. Also on p. 38 he summarizes his point as follow:
The reflective agent is, in one sense, different from the unreflective
agent: after all, the reflective agent deliberates, thinks about reasons
for acting, and examines her motives, whereas the unreflective agent does none
of this. But in another sense, the reflective agent is not so different
from the unreflective agent: while the reflective agent supposes that she
is escaping the influence of her drives, she is mistaken. The
influence of the drive has simply become more covert. (emphasis added)
Everything turns on what that last line means, and on the ambiguity that attaches to "influence." If "influence" means "causally determines," then K.'s account is a version of the Will as Secondary Cause reading. But the footnote attached to this paragraph suggests this is not what he means. In n. 35, K. says that "N. maintains that reflection and self-understanding enable an agent to counteract the effects of particular drives." This, of course, seems in tension with D 109 (which K. discusses earlier), unless "reflection and self-understanding" are just themselves the causal product of countervailing drives. But that doesn't seem to be what K. means, for he continues (in the footnote): "this seems to be one reason why N. emphasizes the importance of self-understanding: self-understanding enables one to counteract the effects of certain drives, and thereby renders the agent increasingly in control of her action." No text is cited, and the reference back to n. 28 seems to be a mistake, since n. 28 does not appear pertinent. It is unfortunate that these absolutely crucial (and, to my mind, quite implausible) claims are buried in a footnote.
That K. really wants to save autonomous agency is suggested by some additional remarks in the conclusion. He says: "the deliberating agent's thoughts and actions are guided, sometimes decisively, by her drives" (p. 39). I take it "decisive" guiding is equivalent to my "causally determined," in which case it is clear that K. wants to carve out a space where non-drive-determined thoughts and actions make a causal contribution. (But "a thought comes when 'it' wants, not when 'I' want"!) So too: "there is some sense in which the agent acting under the influence of drives may be a passive conduit for the drives; however, N. also suggests that there is some way of acting that avoids this problem" (p. 40). As far as I can tell--I hope Paul or other readers will correct me--not a single text from N. has been adduced to support this claim. In the preceding paragraph, K. refers to a few snippets and phrases that are, I guess, supposed to suggest that N. believes in "genuine agency" (p. 40, K.'s term, not N.'s), but considered in context, as I have argued at length elsewhere (see esp. pp. 15 ff.), they simply do not support anything like K's claims.
So to sum up: K's account of drives, and the ways in which they structure perception and evaluation, is illuminating and plausible, as is his incorporation of the Freudian aim/object distinction to make sense of N's skepticism about what we know about why we act. But the entire picture is then compatible with what I had called the Will as Secondary Cause reading in the 2007 paper (though not the epiphenomenalist reading). But K. wants more than that, it seems, he wants some autonomous causal role for conscious reflection and deliberation in agency. Might this be satisfied simply by instrumental reasoning, the supplying of information about means to drive-given ends? I sense K. wants more, but it is both unclear whether he does and implausible that N's texts would support such a reading in any case (or, in any case, K. would really need to make the textual case).
UPDATE: The discussion of K's paper continues here.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Monday, July 5, 2010
The article by Aaron Ridley (Southampton) appeared in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 105 (December 2005): 155-175 (all citations, unless otherwise noted, are to this article).
The paper tackles the problem I dealt with in "Nietzsche's Metaethics: Against the Privilege Readings," European Journal of Philosophy 8 (2000): 277-297 and, in revised and expanded form, in Nietzsche on Morality (London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 136-161 (cited hereafter as NOM). Ridley chooses to call it "the authority problem" (172), the problem that "Nietzsche's evaluative standpoint, and the re-evaluation that he undertakes from it, need have no authority for us" to the extent that "we are comfortable with our existing values, and with our existing evaluations of them" (172). Here is how I put it:
[I]n offering a revaluation of morality is Nietzsche doing anything more than giving his idiosyncratic opinion from his idiosyncratic evaluative perspective? Is there, in short, anything about Nietzsche's evaluation of morality that ought to command our attention and assent? (NOM, 137)I am content to follow Ridley in calling this "the authority problem," since it strikes me as an apt name.
Ridley proceeds into a discussion of "types of value" that is a bit unusual. Although he employs the familiar language of "instrumental" and "intrinsic" value, he defines the latter not as "having value as an end in-itself" (or some similar formulation) but rather in terms of a value's capacity to motivate action. So, he says, a value "is intrinstically valuable with respect to a given way of living if, other things being equal, it can, by itself, motivate." We can allow Ridley this stipulative usage of what might ordinarily have been called some kind of "internalism." I'm not sure this will much matter, but we need to bear in mind his non-standard usage lest the subsequent discussion be confusing.
Ridley emphasizes (176) the point made by Clark and myself in our introduction to the 1997 CUP edition of Daybreak, namely, that in this work he became interested in those cases where morality (or MPS--"morality in the pejorative sense"--in my standard terminology) operated as a genuine motive of action. That means, of course, that in Ridley's terms the revaluation of MPS is the revaluation of an "instrinsic" value.
Ridley then distinguishes five different ways of engaging in a revaluation of an intrinsic value (what he refers to as "V"). The first one he puts as follows (177):
Showing that V, although an intrinsic value, is indirectly instrumental in realising ends said to be bad, although not ends that coudl be acknowledged as bad from the standpoint of the relevant way of living.This is an unlovely formulation, but I think he is correct in arguing (178-181) that this is the conception of revaluation that I ascribe to Nietzsche. Here is one of the ways I put it:
Nietzsche wants to effect a revaluation of values, that is, a new assessment of the value of our "moral" values. He holds that MPS is not conducive to the flourishing of human excellence and it is by reference to this fact that he proposes to assess the value of MPS. This kind of critical project naturally invites the question: what exactly is the value of the flourishing of human excellence, and why does it trump the values served by MPS (e.g., the preservation of the herd)? (NOM, 136)
Ridley quotes (at 178) a similar passage from pp. 128-129 of NOM. As I document in NOM, there is, of course, a massive amount of textual evidence that versions of this charge--that MPS is an obstacle to the flourishing of human excellence--constitute Nietzsche's central and oft-repeated criticism of the value of MPS (see NOM, 113-114, and n. 1 on 114).
Ridley thinks this construal of revaluation won't do, though not (oddly) because he actually considers any of the textual evidence I cite. (His failure to consider any texts should be the first indication that he is not entitled to claim that my account "is certainly not the main plank of [Nietzsche's] approach [to the revaluation], and it is certainly not the key to understanding Nietzsche's critical project as a whole" [180-181].) Rather, he seems dissatisfied with the resolution to "the authority problem" that I defend. Here is Ridley describing (correctly) my reading of Nietzsche:
The point of Nietzsche's re-evaluation...is simply to "alert 'higher' types to the fact" that traditional morality "is not, in fact, conducive to their flourishing," so that they can wean themselves away from its values and realise their potential for human excellence. The authority problem is thus removed by restricting Nietzsche's audience to those for whom his re-evaluations do have some authority. (180)Again, Ridley does not feel the need to consider any textual evidence. His argumentive posture appears to be this: since the position I have ascribed to Nietzsche is unappealing and also unstable, it could not be Nietzsche's. It does not occur to him that this wouldn't, actually, be an argument against the interpretation, but we can put that issue to one side in any case, since his objection that the position is "unstable"--that it "collapses at once"--fails.
On my interpretation, Nietzsche thinks that nascent higher human being suffer from a certain kind of false consciousness: they accept as binding on (and good for) them a set of values, namely MPS, that are, in fact, inhospitable to their own flourishing. Nietzsche writes with such rhetorical ferocity, and employs various rhetorical tricks (e.g., inviting his readers to commit the genetic fallacy [cf. NOM 176]), precisely in order to overcome the false consciousness that afflicts the nascent higher human beings.
Ridley's response to this interpretive hypothesis strikes me, I must confess, as bizarre. After quoting my observation "that Nietzsche writes with passion and force [because] he must shake higher types out of their intuitive commitment to the moral traditions of two millenia" (NOM 155), Ridley adds "which rather indicates that the members of Nietzsche's 'proper' audience are not 'predisposed' to accept the authority of his evaluative standpoint after all" (180). But it obviously indicates no such thing: indeed, it is fully consistent with the hypothesis that nascent higher men suffer from false consciousness, which is an impediment to their correctly appreciating what is in their interests. One can obviously be "predisposed" to something, without being well-disposed to it occurrently because of cognitive or other defects. After all a disposition is a tendency to, say, act in a certain way under the right kinds of conditions; the disposition may or may not be activated depending on the conditions. False consciousness is one possible obstacle to realizing the disposition. (There is actually a deeper, but related, puzzle about Nietzsche's naturalism and the thesis that higher types suffer from false consciousness insofar as they embrace MPS that I discuss at 156 ff., but about which Ridley, not surprisingly, is totally silent.)
After his initial non-sequitur (quoted above), Ridley continues:
The fact is that, even on Leiter's reading, Nietzsche needs somehow to reach inside traditional morality, and to address those who, whether through some sort of misunderstanding or not, are intuitively committed to its values; and this is hardly likely to be achieved by merely insisting, against those intuitions, that the values in question are indirectly instrumental in realising ends said (by Nietzsche) to be bad, however heatedly he says it. (180)
This is barely recognizable as a paraphrase of my interpretation, which is all the more surprising given that Ridley had been reasonably good at stating my views up until this point. To start, it conflates the question how Nietzsche proposes to overcome the false consciousness of nascent higher human beings with the question why Nietzsche judges MPS to lack a certain kind of value. To use Ridley's somewhat unlovely formulation: "that the values in question are indirectly instrumental in realising ends said (by Nietzsche) to be bad" is first of all an answer to the latter question, not the former.
And yet it is reasonable to suppose that if nascent higher human beings become convinced that MPS is an obstacle to their own flourishing that they will be motivated by that fact to rethink the value of MPS. This is because the thesis that the flourishing of great human beings has value is different from the thesis that "my flourishing has value," which is what is at issue when a nascent higher man discovers that MPS is, in fact, an obstacle to the flourishing of human excellence. The latter is a judgment of prudential value, and those judgments are, on the account I develop in some detail, necessarily objective judgments (see esp. NOM 106-112). They are also, in Ridley's language, "intrinsic" value judgments or, in my more standard usage, internalist judgments, that is, judgments about value that necessarily have motivational force for persons. (That "X is good" for me means that I care or am capable of caring about realizing X.)
But to overcome the "false consciousness" of nascent higher human beings, Nietzsche will employ a variety of other argumentative and rhetorical moves: for example, he will, fundamentally, exploit the "will to truth" of his readers by exposing the falsity of the metaphysics of agency on which morality depends; and he will encourage them to commit the genetic fallacy, by rejecting a morality whose origin is contemptible by their own lights.
All these points are in NOM, and judging from other critical reaction, rather clear themes in my reconstruction of Nietzsche's critique. Given Ridley's failure to either engage or understand the dialectical structure of Nietzsche's argument as I reconstruct it, it is rather remarkable that he concludes by announcing that Nietzsche's revaluation "is a considerably subtler affair than Leiter acknowledges" (181)! I am here reminded of the comments by Ken Gemes (Birkbeck/Southampton) and Christopher Janaway (Southampton) in their review essay about my book in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (Nov. 2005):
Leiter presents his argument with a high standard of rigour, clarity and scholarship....Nietzsche specialists will disagree with Leiter on various issues; in which case they will need to attend carefully to Leiter's often subtle formulations, and hone their positions against what he actually says rather than easy caricatures of his position. If they do so, they will be surprised by the resilience of his interpretation.It is a shame that Ridley did not heed this advice of his colleagues.
So what is Ridley's "subtler" version of the revaluation? He identifies (at 177) four other possibilities that certainly occupy logically possible space, though with respect to his possibilities two through four (which he flies through at 181-184), there is not much textual evidence, let alone evidence that they are central to Nietzsche's revaluation of values--so Ridley is appropriately brief with them. It is the fifth formulation to which Ridley is really committed, though its similarity to the first kind of revaluation--the one I treated as central and which Ridley rejected--is striking (Ridley concedes as much at 189). Here they are side-by-side (from 177-178):
1. Showing that V, although an intrinsic value, is indirectly instrumental in
realising ends said to be bad, although not ends that could be acknowledged as
bad from the standpoint of the relevant way of living.
5. Showing that V, although an intrinsic value, or a set of intrinsic values, is indirectly
instrumental in realising ends that can, in principle, be grasped as bad from
the standpoint of the relevant way of living.
So it might seem, now, that the entire difference between the reading I argue for in NOM and Ridley's reading comes down to the question whether or not everyone "in principle" might agree that the "end" that MPS brings about is a "bad" one.
But Ridley does have a different view about what the "bad end" in question is: he thinks it is that the values in question (MPS in my terminology) "mak[es] us obscure to ourselves" and thus "has the effect of inhibiting our capacity to experience ourselves, fully, as agents" (185). The idea that Nietzsche is worried about our capacity to "experience ourselves, fully, as agents" strikes me as not a promising interpretive line, and especially since Nietzsche is clear about the need we have to be obscure to ourselves in order to carry on at all! In any case, I leave to the interested reader to consult 185-189 of Ridley's article to assess for him- or herself the textual evidence. (At 188, GM's "sovereign individual" even makes a brief appearance; it will be a subject for a different day to discuss how a group of very able Nietzsche scholars--at Birkbeck and Southampton--convinced themselves to elevate a contentious reading of one minor passage to the center of Nietzsche's corpus--even good Nietzsche scholars, it seems, have trouble reading him "moraline-free"!)
But let's bracket the question about "bad ends": as Ridley eventually acknowledges, his embrace of the fifth version of revaluation puts him with Schacht and Foot as proponents of what I called the "privileged readings" of Nietzsche's metaethics (and which I critiqued in the EJP article and the book). Ridley offers a fair statement of the similarities and differences between his view and that of the earlier writers:
So the account proposed here has in common with Schacht's and Foot's the highlighting of an evaluative standpoint which is in principle accessible to those who are committed to the values [e.g., MPS] whose value is under scrutiny, and who might therefore come to regard the re-evaluation of those values as authoritative. It differs from Schacht's and Foot's, however, in highlighting a standpoint structured by the values of self-understanding and autonomy.... (191).
That means, of course, that my earlier critique of Schacht and Foot is inapposite against Ridley, since that critique turned on the "standpoint" they defended as privileged. The textual implausibility of Ridley's alternative, however, combined with the superficiality of his purported critique of my construal of revaluation, leaves me unpersuaded.