Thursday, December 27, 2007
I hope to post some thoughts on Nadeem Hussain's interesting work on Nietzsche before too long.
Happy New Year to all readers!
Saturday, December 15, 2007
NIETZSCHE, NATURALISM, AND MORAL PSYCHOLOGY
3.119D Townes Hall
Class Time: M,
Enrollment is limited to Philosophy Ph.D. students or J.D. candidates with an undergraduate major or graduate degree (M.A., Ph.D., B.Phil., M.Phil, or D.Phil.) in philosophy. J.D. candidates without a graduate degree in philosophy who want to be considered for enrollment must submit an undergraduate transcript, a law school transcript, and a philosophical writing sample, not later than the first week of class. Ph.D. students from other departments should submit the same materials to the instructor.
The course has two interlocking aims: (1) to introduce students to Nietzsche’s philosophical naturalism and its role in his moral philosophy; and (2) to critically evaluate some of the philosophical issues about moral psychology that Nietzsche raises—about, e.g., moral motivation, the will, the role of conscious and unconscious mental states in agency, our self-understanding qua agents, the nature and causal import of “character”—in light of recent work in both philosophy and empirical psychology. We shall spend the first few weeks on a careful study of On the Genealogy of Morality (read in conjunction with my Nietzsche on Morality), before turning, first, to critiques of my naturalist reading of Nietzsche and then, second, to a topical study of the issues in moral psychology just noted. Each session will be based on readings from elsewhere in Nietzsche’s corpus and/or work by contemporary philosophers and empirical psychologists.
The grade will be based primarily on a term paper, which involves either philosophical exegesis of Nietzsche, or exploration of a problem in moral psychology raised by the readings. Excellent class participation (quantity and quality) will raise the grade one notch (e.g., B+ to A-; A- to A, etc.).
Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality (Hackett, ed. & trans. Clark & Swensen) (cited as GM).
Brian Leiter, Nietzsche on Morality (
Course reader (CR), including texts by Nietzche, Haidt, Greene, Wilson, Janaway, Wegner, Prinz, Doris, Gemes, Rosenthal, Holton, Katsafanas, Knobe, Nichols, Leiter.
1. January 14: Introduction to Nietzsche’s Critique of Morality. Chapters 1-4 of NOM.
2. January 28: GM, Preface and Essay I; Chapters 5-6 of NOM.
3. February 4: GM, Essay II; Chapter 7 of NOM.
4. February 11: GM, Essay III; Chapter 8 of NOM.
5. February 18: Nietzsche’s Naturalism. Janaway, “Naturalism and Genealogy” in CR; Gemes & Janaway, “Naturalism and Value in Nietzsche,” in CR.
6. February 25: Nietzschean Moral Psychology and the Question of Heritability. Knobe & Leiter, “The Case for Nietzschean Moral Psychology” in CR; perhaps one other reading TBA. [Joshua Knobe (
7. March 3: Character, Types, and Fatalism. Excerpts from
8. March 17: The Will. Leiter, “Nietzsche’s Theory of the Will,” Philosophers’ Imprint (2007), downloadable for free here: http://www.philosophersimprint.org/007007/; excerpts from Wegner, The Illusion of Conscious Will, pp. 3-11, 49-78, 317-342, in CR; Holton’s review of Wegner from Mind, in CR; Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, section 19 and Twilight of the Idols, “The Four Great Errors,” sections 1-8, in CR.
9. March 24: Compatibilism, Incompatibilism, and Moral Responsibility. Gemes, “Nietzsche on Free Will, Autonomy, and the Sovereign Individual,” in CR; G. Strawson, “The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility,” in CR; Nichols & Knobe, “Moral Responsibility and Determinism: The Cognitive Science of Folk Intuitions.” [Ken Gemes (Birkbeck & Southampton) will participate in this class.]
10. March 31: The Illusion of Practical Reason? Haidt, “The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail,” in CR; Greene & Haidt, “How (and where) does moral judgment work?” in CR; Greene, “The Secret Joke of Kant’s Soul,” in CR; Nietzsche, The Gay Science, sections 39, 359-360; Beyond Good and Evil, sections 3-6, 187, in CR.
11. April 7: The Unconscious and Self-Knowledge about Agency. Excerpts from T. Wilson, Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, Chapters 2, 3 and 5, in CR; Nietzsche, Daybreak, sections 115-116, 119, 129-130; The Gay Science, sections 333, 335 (and review 359-360 from last week as well); Ecce Homo, “Why I Am So Clever,” section 9, in CR.
12. April 14: Consciousness and Its Nature. Katsafanas, “Nietzsche’s Theory of Mind,” in CR; Rosenthal, “Consciousness and Its Function,” in CR; Nietzsche, The Gay Science, sections 11, 354; The Antichrist, section 14, in CR.
13. April 21: open for now (in case we fall behind from earlier weeks).
14. April 28: Updating the Nietzschean Project. Excerpt from Prinz, The Emotional Construction of Morals, Chs. 6 & 7 (“The Genealogy of Morals” and “The Limits of Evolutionary Ethics”). [Jesse Prinz (
Recommended Secondary Literature
M. Clark, Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy (
B. Leiter & N. Sinhababu (eds.), Nietzsche and Morality (
P. Poellner, Nietzsche and Metaphysics (
B. Reginster, The Affirmation of Life: Nietzsche on Overcoming Nihilism (Harvard, 2007). An intriguing systematic account of Nietzsche’s philosophy as a whole, linking two “global” themes, the problem of nihilism and the doctrine of will to power. Elegant and esp. illuminating on Nietzsche’s debt to Schopenhauer; not as sensitive, though, as one might like to the philosophical or psychological plausibility of the theses ascribed to Nietzsche.
J. Richardson, Nietzsche’s System (
J. Richardson & B. Leiter (eds.), Nietzsche (
R. Schacht, Nietzsche (Routledge, 1983). Comprehensive and attentive to the texts, but does not tell as tightly constructed a systematic narrative about Nietzsche’s philosophy as a whole as Reginster or Richardson--also not as philosophically sophisticated or dialectically probing. Still, Schacht’s book is a valuable check on any interpretive hypothesis given Schacht’s scrupulous attention to all parts of the corpus.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Thursday, December 6, 2007
But when Nietzsche mocks the "free thinkers" who "oppose the Church but not its poison" (GM I:9) is he not thinking precisely of those who reject the false cognitive proposition but still accept that "most revolutionary political proposition," precisely the one discovered by those Nietzsche calls the "slaves" at the birth of Christianity?
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Let's start with translations. The Walter Kaufmann and Kaufmann/R.J. Hollingdale translations are still the most widely available, and they are generally fine. Kaufmann tends to sacrifice literalism in order to capture the "feel" of the German prose, and he does so well and better than most translators. (This makes his translations a bit problematic for scholars, but preferable for those new to Nietzsche.) Hollingdale's solo translations tend to be rather flat-footed, or so it seems to me. Cambridge University Press has been releasing new translations of many of Nietzsche's works, and these are generally pretty good, though I see no reason to prefer them to the Kaufmann translations. There are other translations around, of which the Clark and Swensen translation of On the Genealogy of Morality is probably most notable.
I am a college student out in California and I found your name among many Nietzsche blogs and thought you would be a good source for insight. Many of
my friends have got me very interested in reading Nietzsche but I feel overwhelmed
when deciding where to begin. Could you possibly give me your insight to what I
should read first and who offers the best translations? Thanks so much.
What to read first? The very first thing I read by Nietzsche was the excerpt from "On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense" in Kaufmann's edition of The Portable Nietzsche. I was hooked, though as it turns out that little excerpt is not especially representative of Nietzsche's philosophy. A better place to start might be with Beyond Good and Evil, especially the Preface, and Chapters 1 ("On the Prejudices of Philosophers"), 5 ("Natural History of Morals") and 9 ("What is Noble?") (though the whole book is worth reading). That might be followed by Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morality, which could be read in conjunction with the chapters of my Nietzsche on Morality discussing each essay.
From there one might go in two directions: backwards to The Gay Science, one of Nietzsche's earlier works, or forward to The Twilight of the Idols. I'd probably recommend the latter: this is a late work, not as overwrought as The Antichrist or Ecce Homo, but philosophically substantial, covering most of Nietzsche's main concerns.
There are two fine biographies of Nietzsche in English: Ronald Hayman's Nietzsche and Rudiger Safranski's Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography. The latter has the virtue of giving capsule summaries of the themes of each of Nietzsche's books. The summaries aren't bad, though Safranski's philosophical understanding and competence is clearly very limited. But as a place to begin, it is useful, and the narration of Nietzsche's life is interesting.
I don't think there is a reliable and genuinely introductory book on Nietzsche in English. Michael Tanner's Nietzsche, which some people I respect do like, always struck me as neither accurate nor philosophically competent. Kaufmann's old Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist is extremely unreliable, and should be avoided. George Morgan's old What Nietzsche Means may, in some ways, be the best single volume introduction--though perhaps with too much quotation and paraphrase, compared to exposition. If you have some background in philosophy, Chapters 1-4 of my Nietzsche on Morality will introduce you to Nietzsche's moral philosophy.
I'd be curious to hear from readers where they started with Nietzsche, and what they would recommend to someone new to his work.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
More precisely, Nietzsche simply "did not enter into a discussion of the differences between ancient and modern philosophical writers on ethics" because he took them to be similar at least in the respects that mattered to Nietzsche. As White puts it: "He believed that Socrates marked the beginning of the decadence that was accelerated by Christianity and brought to a contemptible nadir by the anaemic eglitarianism of modern Europe...[T]he mainstream of Greek ethics reprsented the morality of the herd, bent on suppressing the gifts of splendid individuals" (p. 43).
That seems to me roughly right (though I have not taken the time to look back carefully at his lectures on the Greek philosophers), though it perhaps bears emphasizing that this is not so much a denial of the more prevalent view among German philosophers about the ideal of harmony represented by Greek ethics, but a lack of interest in the topic: even if there were such a difference, it would not affect the Nietzschean worry about ancient and modern ethics which White articulates.
White goes on to note, correctly, that Nietzsche's nostalgia for the Greeks was for the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers and poets (p. 44), but then makes the unusual suggestion that Nietzsche celebrates a different ideal of harmony that he finds, in all of places, in Heraclitus (p. 45). White offers the following quote from Nietzsche's early essay Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks:
White concedes that "this is not a harmony that enters into human affairs" (45). It is also not, as far as I can see, an ideal of harmony for Nietzsche, as opposed to a tendency he notes in Heraclitus. Put aside the question whether Nietzsche has gotten Heraclitus right; is there any evidence that Nietzsche endorses this notion of harmony? Perhaps when the doctrine of will to power is taken systematically, as John Richardson does in Nietzsche's System (Oxford, 1996), we get a similar notion? Is that the thought?
Everything that happens, happens in accordance with this strife of [opposites], and it is just in the strife that eternal justice is revealed....
Do guilt, injustice, contradiction and suffering exist in this world? They do, proclaims Heraclitus, but only for the limited human mind, which sees things apart but not connected, which sees things apart but not connected, not for the con-tuitive god. For him all contradictions run into harmony.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Christopher Janaway, Beyond Selflessness: Reading Nietzsche's Genealogy(Oxford University Press, 2007)
Tamsin Shaw, Nietzsche's Political Skepticism (Princeton University Press, 2007)
Julian Young, Nietzsche's Philosophy of Religion (Cambridge University Press, 2006)
Young's book is the one I am likely to write about in the near future.
I'm also still reading around in various essays in The Blackwell Companion to Nietzsche (2006), edited by Keith Ansell-Pearson. This isn't, I have to say, a very good collection, and it is extremely uneven, but (1) there are some worthwhile essays (of the ones I've read, Clark and Dudrick's on naturalism in Beyond Good and Evil is certainly the best, but I hold out hope for some of those I haven't yet gotten to, such as Peter Poellner's, among others), and (2) I'm discussed and criticized more than any other Nietzsche scholar, so that at least makes the volume interesting to me!
What are you folks reading?
Sunday, October 21, 2007
In the essay on "Liberalism and Its Discontents," in the context of considering the liberal ideal of "consensus," Geuss invokes Nietzsche as follows:
Nietzsche sees human society as a field of potential and actual conflict, although the conflict in question may not always be a matter of fisticuffs but may involve only the exchange of arguments and witticisms. In the realw orld, Nietzsche argues, any existing "consensus" can be no more than a momentary truce entered into for pragmatic reasons with and with no moral implications, and to expect anything more is a utopian hope. (p. 19)Strangely, not a single text of Nietzsche is cited in support of these claims, not even in a footnote. This is Geuss at his Rortyesque worst: attributing views to important thinkers without even the pretense of scholarly apparatus. In some sense, these might indeed be views that could be ascribed to Nietzsche, but it is not obvious to me what texts Geuss has in mind. Maybe readers can supply the pertinent references?
Far more satisfying (at least for the reader interested in Nietzsche) is the essay on "Thucydides, Nietzsche, and Williams," in which, among other things, Geuss gives an excellent account of the "optimism" of philosophers (since Socrates) that Nietzsche rejects:
First of all, traditional philosophers assumed that the world could be made cognitively accessible to us without remainder....Second, they assumed that when the world was correctly understood, it would make moral sense to us. Third, the kind of "moral sense" which the world made tous would be one that woudl show it to have some orientation toward the satisfaction of some basic, rational human desires or interests, that is, the world was not sheerly indifferent to or perversely frustrating of human happiness. Fourth, the world is set up so that for us to accumulate knowledge and use our reason as vigorously as possible will be good for us, and will contribute to making us happy. Finally, it was assumed that there was a natural fit between the excericse of reason, the conditions of healthy individual human development, the demands of individuals for satisfaction of their needs, interests, and basic desires, and human sociability. Nature, reason, and all human goods, including human virtues, formed a potentially harmonious whole. (p. 223)Geuss suggests that "the basic structure of a philosophy centered around the claim of a harmonious fit between what is rational, what is good for us, and what is good for our society has been very widely retained" in philosophy (p. 224), and that Nietzsche's rejection of this structure figures in why he prefers Thucydides to Plato. This account strikes me as both right and illuminating. (I touched on these themes as well in my Nietzsche on Morality (pp. 47-53).)
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
When I last wrote about Nietzsche studies, it was to grouse about some unhappy developments; here I want to write more constructively.
Last week, I was talking with one of the University of London graduate students participating in the Gemes/Leiter "intercollegiate" seminar on Nietzsche about what kind of work was worth doing in Nietzsche studies. Nietzsche studies in English-speaking philosophy have really flourished over the last 15 years (Clark's book, below, probably marks the turning point), and while there (alas!) continues to be an enormous amount of sophomoric garbage written about Nietzsche, there has emerged, for the first time, a secondary literature on Nietzsche that compares favorably in scholarly seriousness and philosophical quality, with the best work on Kant or Hegel or Marx. While the complete "professionalization" of the discipline of philosophy means that there is now some demand for specialist work on just about any figure in the history of philosophy, quite independent of his merits, in the case of Nietzsche there is an increasing recognition, both inside and outside the realm of specialists in post-Kantian German philosophy, that Nietzsche may really be the philosophical thinker of significance after Kant, and certainly one with at least as much resonance to themes in English-speaking philosophy as Hegel or Heidegger.
So, to return to my discussion with the postgraduate student mentioned above, the question arises what should someone thinking of doing doctoral research on Nietzsche pursue? Where, today, is the "action" in Nietzsche studies: what needs to be done? (A somewhat dated discussion of this topic is here.)
It seems to me there are now three lively and fruitful areas of philosophical research and writing about Nietzsche: (1) studies of the historical context in which Nietzsche was writing attending, in particular, to the historical influences operative on him--work that demands both command of Nietzsche and command of the relevant portions of the history of philosophy; (2) close, philosophically-minded readings of particulars books by Nietzsche; and (3) philosophical studies of particular topics or themes of significance in Nietzsche: his moral philosophy, his theory of mind or action, his metaphysics or epistemology. What has fallen very much out of favor, it seems to me, are the "global" studies of Nietzsche, which attempt to canvass all his famous (if not most important) themes, like will to power, the overman, and eternal recurrence--though, to be sure, there are honorable, and important, exceptions that discharge this ambitious task admirably (if not convincingly!), such as John Richardon's Nietzsche's System (Oxford, 1996) and Bernard Reginster's The Affirmation of Life: Nietzsche on Overcoming Nihilism (Harvard, 2007).
Historical studies aim to illuminate Nietzsche's ideas and arguments by shedding light on the historical context in which he wrote: the intellectual currents of his time, the particular authors he was reading, the philosophers who mattered most to him. Examples of such studies in recent years include: Christopher Janaway's edited collection on Willing and Nothingness: Schopenhauer as Nietzsche's Educator (Oxford, 1998); Gregory Moore's Nietzsche, Biology and Metaphor (Cambridge, 2002); Michael Green's Nietzsche and the Transcendental Tradition (Illinois, 2002); in some respects, John Richardson's Nietzsche's New Darwinism (Oxford, 2004) (though this also develops the ambitious, systematic account of Nietzsche's philosophy from his earlier book [UPDATE: see Jessica Berry's illuminating review of the Richardson book]); Robin Small's Nietzsche and Ree: A Start Friendship (Oxford, 2005); Lanier Anderson's and Nadeem Hussain's articles on the influence of NeoKantianism and positivism on Nietzsche; Jessica Berry's and Richard Bett's articles on Nietzsche and ancient skepticism (Berry's forthcoming OUP book on this topic will, I expect, bring this topic center stage in Nietzsche studies); and, in more modest forms, the portions dealing with Schopenhauer of Reginster's The Affirmation of Life (Harvard, 2007); the portions dealing with Plato in Richardson's Nietzsche's System (Oxford, 1996); and Chapter 2 of my Nietzsche on Morality (Routledge, 2002) surveying the impact of the Presocratics, Schopenhauer, and German Materialism on Nietzsche. This work, to be sure, varies a bit in its philosophical sophistication and competence, but even where this is obviously lacking (as in Moore's book), the historical erudition still provides rich material for the philosophically-minded reader of Nietzsche.
Textual studies aim to elucidate the philosophical structure and arguments of the books Nietzsche actually published. These kinds of projects are probably least suitable for doctoral students, though they increasingly attract the attention of accomplished scholars, and some of the best studies of this kind are still to appear, such as Maudemarie Clark and David Dudrick's forthcoming CUP book on Beyond Good and Evil and Christopher Janaway's recently published book on On the Genealogy of Morality (Oxford, 2007). Earlier examples tend to focus mainly on the Genealogy, such as Mathias Risse's articles, and the relevant sections of my Nietzsche on Morality (Routledge, 2002) and Simon May's Nietzsche's Ethics and his 'War on Morality' (Oxford, 1999).
Philosophical/thematic studies treat Nietzsche as the philosopher he really is, and explore, and evaluate, his views with respect to particular issues in moral philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of mind and action. Such studies demand both knowledge of Nietzsche and knowledge of the relevant philosophy, and thus mark the most important respect in which Nietzsche has now joined the canon of important historical figures in the history of philosophy. The watershed work was probably Maudemarie Clark's Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy (Cambridge, 1990), which was followed by Lester Hunt's Nietzsche and the Origin of Virtues (Routledge, 1991), Peter Poellner's Nietzsche and Metaphysics (Oxford, 1995); my own Nietzsche on Morality (Routledge, 2002); and many articles by Mathias Risse, Nadeem Hussain, Bernard Williams, Ken Gemes, Raymond Geuss, Paul Katsafanas, and others (European Journal of Philosophy has published many of these papers). Neil Sinhababu and I have tried to collect a set of new papers of this kind in Nietzsche and Morality (Oxford, 2007) (with contributions by myself and Sinhababu, as well as Clark & Dudrick, Janaway, Risse, Hussain, Reginster, Poellner, Thomas Hurka, Simon Blackburn, Joshua Knobe, and Jay Wallace). Some of the most lively, recent philosophical debates have concerned, on the one hand, Nietzsche's moral psychology, and, on the other, his philosophy of mind and action (his critique of free will, his account of agency, his understanding of consciousness). My "Nietzsche's Theory of the Will" is a contribution to this literature, and it will also appear in a forthcoming OUP volume (edited by Gemes and May) collecting other essays on the general topic of freedom and autonomy in Nietzsche. (Gemes, Poellner, and Reginster will be presenting papers on this topic at the Pacific APA in March 2008, to which I will be responding, and since I tend to resist the moralized readings favored by most of these other folks, this should be an interesting session.)
I'd be interested to hear how specialists and doctoral students perceive the field. Comments are open; no anonymous postings and bear in mind that comments may take awhile to appear, so post only once!
Friday, September 28, 2007
The course has two interlocking aims: (1) to introduce students to Nietzsche’s philosophical naturalism and its role in his moral philosophy; and (2) to critically evaluate some of the philosophical issues about moral psychology that Nietzsche raises—about moral motivation, the will, the nature of conscious and unconscious experience, the role of consciousness in agency, the nature and causal import of “character”—in light of recent work in both philosophy and empirical psychology. We shall spend the first few weeks on a careful study of On the Genealogy of Morality (read in conjunction with my Nietzsche on Morality), before turning, first, to critiques of my naturalist reading of Nietzsche (e.g., many of the essays in the recent Blackwell Companion to Nietzsche), and then, second, to a topical study of the issues in moral psychology just noted. Each session will be based on readings from elsewhere in Nietzsche’s corpus, together with work by contemporary philosophers (e.g., Doris, Pereboom, G. Strawson, P. Strawson, Velleman) and empirical psychologists (e.g., Haggard, Haidt, Libet, Nisbett, Wegner, Wilson).
I'd especially welcome advice about the literature in empirical psychology.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Here is the abstract:
The essay offers a philosophical reconstruction of Nietzsche’s theory of the will, focusing on (1) Nietzsche’s account of the phenomenology of “willing” an action, the experience we have which leads us (causally) to conceive of ourselves as exercising our will; (2) Nietzsche’s arguments that the experiences picked out by the phenomenology are not causally connected to the resulting action (at least not in a way sufficient to underwrite ascriptions of moral responsibility); and (3) Nietzsche’s account of the actual causal genesis of action. Particular attention is given to passages from Daybreak, Beyond Good and Evil and Twilight of the Idols and a revised version of my earlier account of Nietzsche’s epiphenomenalism is defended. Finally, recent work in empirical psychology (Libet, Wegner) is shown to support Nietzsche’s skepticism that our “feeling” of will is a reliable guide to the causation of action.
In addition to Nietzsche scholars (who have been discussing these issues quite a bit lately), I hope the essay will be of interest to philosophers interested in action theory who might not otherwise be interested in Nietzsche.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Wednesday, October 17 at 7:00 pm
Leo Baeck Institute / Center for Jewish History
15 West 16th Street
New York City
Admission: $ 15 - $ 10
Tickets can be bought at the box office of the Center for Jewish
History or by calling (917) 606 8200
Sunday, September 2, 2007
William M. Salter
The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods, Vol. 12, No. 16 (Aug. 5, 1915), pp. 421-438
Do any readers have other information/references?