Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"Nietzsche's Naturalism Reconsidered"

A draft of this paper is here. This is slated for the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche, which will be edited by Gemes and Richardson. Comments would be most welcome. Here is the abstract:

According to one recent scholar, "Most commentators on Nietzsche would agree that he is in a broad sense a naturalist in his mature philosophy" (Janaway 2007: 34). This may come as a surprise to those who think of Heidegger, Kaufmann, DeMan, Kofman, Deleuze, and Nehamas, among others, as "commentators" on Nietzsche. And yet there are, indeed, clear signs that in the last twenty years, as Nietzsche studies has become more philosophically sophisticated, the naturalist reading of Nietzsche has come to the fore, certainly in Anglophone scholarship. In Nietzsche on Morality (2002), I set out a systematic reading of Nietzsche as a philosophical naturalist, one which has attracted considerable critical comment, including from some generally sympathetic to reading Nietzsche as a philosophical naturalist. In this paper, I revisit that reading and respond to various objections. Topics covered include the role of "speculation" in Nietzsche's naturalism; the difference between the Humean and Therapeutic Nietzsches; the role of culture in naturalistic explanations; the status of claims about causation in Nietzsche's naturalism; whether the apparent metaphysics of the will to power is compatible with naturalism; and how Nietzsche's speculative naturalism fares in light of subsequent work in empirical psychology.


Jussi Suikkanen said...

Thanks Brian for the very interesting paper.

There's one passage in GM that I would like to hear some comment on. I'm having difficulties in fitting it to Nietzsche's naturalism and I'm also worried about something like a circle.

I'm sure you know this passage, but it's in GM III: 24. It goes like this:

'Strictly speaking, there is absolutely no science 'without presuppositions' , the very idea is inconceivable, paradoxical: a philosophy, a 'belief' must always exist first in order for science to derive from it a direction, a meaning, a limit, a method, a right of existence. (Anyone who understands things the other way round, who is prepared, for example, to establish philosophy on a 'strictly scientific basis', must first turn not only philosophy but also truth itself on their heads: the worst possible insult to decency with the respect to two such venerable ladies!)"

I know that there is a way of trying to read this as philosophy being required as an assumption about the value of science and not its 'substance'. But, 'method' is mentioned on the list of things philosophy gives pre science. I also wonder how philosophical theories could be justified by scientific theories if scientific theories already assume philosophical views. That seems to be a circle.

Anyway, it would be nice to see something about how you take this passage to fit to Nietzsche naturalism.

Brian Leiter said...

Thanks for bringing up the GM III:24 passage; perhaps I should discuss it directly in the paper. I say something on this section in my book, esp. 279 ff. Briefly, I take it that in context, "presuppositions" refers to the values served by scientific inquiry--whether the overriding value of truth, or some other. Those who would establish philosophy "on a strictly scientific basis" are those who fail to recognize that all inquiry is in the service of some value or other. What distinguishes Nietzsche from the adherents of the ascetic ideal, is that his overriding value is not truth for the sake of truth, but rather the flourishing of human excellence, which requires enlisting the naturalistic picture of persons in the service of freeing higher human beings from their false consciousness about morality.

Rob Sica said...

Would Nietzsche's observation, in GS 357, that "the minds of Europe were preformed [by Hegel] for the last great scientific movement, Darwinism - for without Hegel there could be no Darwin" qualify as an instance of the relation between philosophical views and scientific theories asserted in GM 3.24?

Jussi Suikkanen said...

Thanks Brian again. That seems like a reasonable reading of the passage. It does seem like it might have interesting further implications.

The passage equates presuppositions of science with 'a philosophy'. Your reading is that presuppositions are values. This seems to entail that 'a philosophy' which grounds scientific research too is a set of values. I take it that this views would be close to Bas van Fraassen's view. If I remember this right, empiricism [close to methodological naturalism I take it] for him is a stance that consists of attitudes, commitments, values, and goals. Maybe van Fraassen is a Nietzschean in this respect or vice versa.

I'm slightly worried though that Nietzsche himself seems to be anti-realist and an anti-universalist about values. Thus, it's not clear why rationally speaking we should have one set of presuppositions for science and not another. Why care about the one's he has?

Mike Z said...

Professor Leiter:

I noticed that in your draft you did not address the notion of the eternal recurrence. Should I assume that you view it in the same way as you view the will to power, i.e, as "an attempt to utilize metaphysical claims for rhetorical ends?"

Brian Leiter said...

Jussi, the issue you raise is also one I take up in my book, but it's packed at the moment, so I can't give you the pages. But it's in the section discussing his metaethical views.

Mike Z: I take the doctrine of eternal return to be an ethical doctrine, and so part of the "creating values" project which, as I note, has only a tangential connection to naturalism. I do not consider the doctrine of eternal return to be a metaphysical doctrine like the versions of will to power I describe as 'crackpot.'

audun said...

off topic but interesting/disturbing report from guardian journalist:

he writes: "if you spot an intense-looking teenage boy brooding over a copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra or Beyond Good and Evil (for obvious reasons he's unlikely to have been tempted by The Gay Science), tear it from his hand and throw it out of the window."

i'd appreciate to hear your opinion on this one brian.

transtive said...

Dear Brian, sorry this an anonynmous comment, I don't plan to get a blogger account anytime soon - I'm just a philosophy student from London.

I'm slightly worried about that list in your opening paragraph for the Oxford book in so far as it includes Deleuze. Deleuze, if not a 'naturalist' in the normal sense of the word, was indeed a thorough-going 'materialist' (his word) who saw Nietzsche's engagement and fidelity to science as being of great merit. His interpretation of certain parts of Nietzsche are indeed rather quirky (especially the eternal return!) but he certainly doesn't belong on a list of philosophers exemplifying an existentialist, or non-naturalist intepration of Nietzsche...

Justin said...

Hi Professor Leiter

I had some comments on your views on a metaphysical interpretation of the will to power but they got too long, so I turned them into a blog post. In it I conclude that I think a strong case can be made that a metaphysical interpretation of the Will to Power is consistent with the methodological naturalism of Nietzsche, was tentatively endorsed by him and is of contemporary relevance.

Timothy McWhirter said...

I have been doing work that supports your interpretation of Nietzsche. I am glad I found your blog. Since you moderate postings, I thought you might notice this addition even though the conversation subsided long ago.

In “Nietzsche's Physics," International Studies in Philosophy XXXI, 3: 5-17, 1999, I demonstrate that Nietzsche’s concerns about scientists analyzing nature in terms of equilibrium states (e.g., WP, 1064) came to be shared by scientists in the twentieth century who were critical of the science of thermodynamics for the same reason and started the science of non-equilibrium thermodynamics. This example should help you make your case that Nietzsche does not need to be committed to a ‟continuity of results with the sciences” in his day in order to be understood as a speculative methodological naturalist (Janaway 2007: 52). In fact, it provides an example of how a gifted speculative naturalist can see beyond the science of his day.

On top of this, when Nietzsche’s thought is viewed within the context of the general direction of energy transformations outlined by the second law of thermodynamics, concerns about the metaphysical nature of the will to power drift away. It is easily understood in a physical manner in terms of the scientific concept of self-organization, which outlines the transformative processes that enable natural systems to develop over time in a manner consistent with the second law of thermodynamics. I outline an argument in the paper to the effect that—a) the existence of natural systems and b) the second law of thermodynamics c) implies the existence of the will to power or self-organization. I presented it at a spring APA in 1997 and published it but have not received any feedback. From the time I defended the argument in my dissertation (Being and Entropy FSU 1997) until now, no one has been able to identify a problem with it.

I have written a paper for the upcoming Oxford conference entitled ““Nietzsche’s Naturalism out of Equilibrium” that further develops this interpretation of Nietzsche as a speculative methodological naturalist by focusing on two components of his thought that distinguish it from postmodern or poststructural readings: the fundamental importance he gives to the body and his criticism of nihilism. I trace parallels between these aspects of his thought and developments in economics, non-equilibrium thermodynamics, evolutionary biology, cosmology, and the philosophy of science. Among other things, this paper provides a new way to look at GM, II, 12 that enables the passage to be interpreted as evidence for your interpretation of Nietzsche.