Monday, July 5, 2010

Ridley on "Nietzsche and the Re-Evaluation of Values"

MOVING TO FRONT FROM NOV. 24, 2007, as I recently came across someone referencing this article without noticing the mistakes discussed here.

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 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.

1 comment:

david mc callum said...

I think that those arguing that Nietzsche's estimation of "higher types" could ever (even in principle) be shared, in any substantive sense, with the general population are simply kidding themselves, especially when the texts themselves repeatedly and explicitly argue the opposite.

As for the veridical issue, I don't see how such propositions can be maintained in the light of e.g. "Judgements, value judgements concerning life. . . can in the last resort never be true. . .- in themselves such judgements are stupidities. One must reach out and try to grasp this astonishing finesse, that the value of life cannot be estimated" "Socrates (2). Or, later in the same book (TI)- "For a condemnation of life by the living. . . ; the question whether the condemnation is just or unjust has not been raised at all. . . sufficient reason for understanding that this problem is
for us an inaccessible problem" -'Morality as Anti-Nature' (5).

Thus I would agree with you on both these points. The problem Nietzsche leaves for (some of) us who do not share his most elitist evaluations is that his critique of the "good man" remains (in my view) fundamentally sound. i.e. I can take no great comfort in the dominant values of the age, even when I reject some of Nietzsche's "cures".