Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Riverside and 1st Annual Magnus Lecture by Maudemarie Clark

Last Saturday's event was quite instructive and rewarding, at least for me, though I think others too. Maudemarie Clark offered a new, close reading of section 21 of Beyond Good and Evil, rejecting her earlier claim from Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy that the skepticism about causation in that passage manifests his continued acceptance of the NeoKantian view that "cause" is a concept we impose upon our experience, and so not a feature of the world as it is in-itself. Instead, Clark argued, the passage manifests an essentially Humean view of causation, which is central to making sense of the reasons he gives for rejecting the idea of "unfree will" in the second half of the passage.

The reading was quite ingenious and provocative, but both Lanier Anderson and I were not convinced (though Anderson agreed with Clark that Nietzsche is something like a compatibilist about free will). We argued, in slightly different ways, that Clark had it right in the 1990 book, that the inescapably Kantian language--"'cause' and 'effect' are pure concepts," "in the 'in-itself' there is nothing of 'causal connections'"--does indeed reflect a NeoKantian (Langean) skepticism about the status of claims about cause and effect. Against the Humean reading, Anderson made I thought the particularly telling point that even in BGE 21 Nietzsche identifies the concept of "sequence" as one we impose upon experience, rather than part of the noumenal world. But "sequence" of course is precisely what Humeans claim is delivered by experience, so allegedly the opposite of a conceptual imposition that structures experience!

At this point, Clark's paper is not slated for publication, though I expect some of these arguments will make their way into hers and David Dudrick's forthcoming book on Beyond Good and Evil. I will probably make use of some of the material from my comments on Clark, and my comments on Gemes and Poellner from last year's Pacific APA session on Nietzsche on freedom, in two essays I'm working on currently: the entry on Nietzsche for the forthcoming Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Action and my essay for the September "Nietzsche and Mind" conference of the Friedrich Nietzsche Society at Oxford, which will be on the topic, "Who is Nietzsche's 'Sovereign Individual'? Nietzsche on Freedom and Agency," which will eventually end up in the CUP volume on the Genealogy that Simon May is preparing. One or both of these will make it on to SSRN in draft, at which point I'll solicit feedback here.

Bottom line, though, on Riverside was that it was a real treat to participate in such a serious and high-level discussion of Nietzsche. I learned a lot.


Eliot said...

Are there reasons for rejecting the idea of the unfree will in the second half of the passage? It seems to me that he rejects it in the first half along with the idea of the "free will in the superlative metaphysical sense": since free will in this sense is absurd in that it relies on the self-contradictory idea of a causa sui, "unfree will", as its negation or opposite, is equally so. The second half seems to deal only with what concern over "unfreedom of the will" betrays about the person who feels it; I'd be curious to know how Clark made the case that a Humean view of causation is necessary to understand these personal psychological speculations.

I know that she and Dudrick promised to explain away more of Nietzsche's apparently skeptical or anti-realist leanings in BGE in their response to Hussain's "Nietzsche's Post-Positivism", in which he pointed out that they speak against Clark's interpretation of BGE 15 as providing evidence that Nietzsche permanently gives up his early anti-realism. Do you think that, assuming that the Humean view of causation can be considered less skeptical than the neo-Kantian one, this recent interpretation of BGE 21 is a part of that larger project of their book?

amrhima said...

I'm just a beginner, but I think the passage means that causality is an interpretation and not text (which is, I think, what Kant said too about causality) and that free will is much like causa sui (since both involve an outcome coming from nothing) are both are contradictions. And un-freewill is also a false belief (perhaps because Nietzsche thinks it's not a life enhancing belief...not sure)

But I think while Nietzsche agrees with Kant that we impose causality on reality, he disagrees where Kant says that there's a thing in itself. I think if I understand Nietzsche rightly then Nietzsche thinks such a thing in itself does not exist.

Excuse me If sound ignorant, I'm not a professor, I am applying to become a philosophy student so I'm not even a student yet.

I blog about Nietzsche too and I would love if someone who lectures about Nietzsche would tell me whether my blog interprets Nietzsche well for beginners.

Rob Sica said...

See pages 9-10 of P. J. E. Kail's "Nietzsche and Hume:
Naturalism and Explanation", Journal of Nietzsche Studies, Issue 37, Spring 2009:

"Now, it is quite true that in earlier works [such as BGE 21] Nietzsche appears to reject the idea that there are any causal relations. [...] But, it seems to me, where Nietzsche does seem skeptical in the later works, we should understand him as skeptical of our grasp of causation, and of attempts to articulate the metaphysics of causation, rather than skeptical about the existence of causation per se."

Michael Drake said...

Really enjoyed your talk, Brian. Just wish I'd been able to remain for the reception.

I found the whole premise of Clark's argument a little strange (and I set aside the issue of whether the passage has Humean as opposed to Kantian overtones). On its face, BGE 21 rejects both determinism and free will, whereas compatibilism seeks a rapprochement between rather than a rejection of the two concepts. I know Clark flagged the possibility that Nietzsche might have reserved space for a non-"superlative metaphysical sense" form of free will, but this reading seems strained even within the four corners of this short section - particular given Nietzsche's subsequent that "in real life it is only a matter of strong and weak wills." And of course while there is a reconstructible sense in which "compatibilism" could just denote the view that determinism is compatible with desert, I wouldn't have thought one could take that construction so for granted.

Eliot said...

To Michael Drake: What do you mean by "is compatible with desert"? It must be an idiom I'm not familiar with.

I don't suppose this would help Clark's compatibilist reading, but doesn't BGE 19 provide a pretty good idea of what Nietzsche could mean by "freedom of the will" in the non-"superlative metaphysical" sense? He says there that will is "above all affect...[and] that which is termed 'freedom of the will' is essentially the affect of superiority in relation to him who must obey." Isn't this consistent with the claim that there are no 'free' or 'unfree' wills, just strong and weak ones? 'Freedom of the will' is the name for the affect of command, which (along with sensations, other affects, and a ruling thought) partly constitutes the will. This can be true whether the will is a strong or weak one. This also explains how the error of 'free will' as causa sui could come about: we tend to subsume both the commanding and executing aspects we experience when willing under the concept "I", so when we have this commanding affect termed 'freedom of the will', we're prone to the error of thinking of the will, as both the commanding (the 'cause') and the action itself (the 'effect').

(Incidentally, I made an error in my earlier comment: the Hussain article I mentioned earlier is actually called 'Nietzsche's Positivism', not 'Nietzsche's Post-Positivism', which is C & D's response. Oops.)

Maudemarie said...

Hi Brian,
Thanks for your comments on the event and for your participation in it. I agree that it was a very serious and high-level discussion of Nietzsche, and I certainly learned a lot from it as well. The most important point that came out of it for me is the one you stress, that I had not taken account of N’s claim that sequence itself does not exist in the in itself. I think I can accommodate that, however, without giving up the essentials of my interpretation. My claim was not that Nietzsche’s claims about causation are more Humean than Kantian. Indeed, David Dudrick and I are claiming in our soon-to be-finished book that Nietzsche considers himself Kant’s true successor. As I said in my paper, N agrees with Kant in denying Hume’s claim that all of our concepts are derived from experience (but not with Kant’s claim that experience could never give us reason to reject the corresponding principle (“every event has a cause” in the case of causality). BGE 21 shows that N considers cause one of those a priori concepts. The reference to “sequence” as not part of the “in itself” is, as Lanier argued, a reference to the Kantian argument against Hume’s account of causation as an empirical concept, namely, that we have no way of fixing objective sequence (from which Hume thinks we get the idea of causation) without the concept of causality. This fits perfectly well with the rest of my account, including my denial that “in itself” is being used in BGE 21 as short for the Kantian thing in itself.

Much more to say on this, but not now, because I want to get to the real issue, which is N’s take on responsibility. That, after all, is N’s reason for discussing causality in BGE 21: to explain what is wrong with concluding from the denial of free will (in the superlative metaphysical sense) that the will is unfree. Contrary to what Eliot says, Nietzsche does not suggest that his denial of free will immediately gives grounds for his denial of unfree will. His grounds for the latter are given in the middle section of the passage: that “unfree will” involves an abuse of cause and effect (this is before the last section that offers psychological speculations concerning those who make the mistake Nietzsche diagnoses in the second part of the passage). How we should understand “unfree will” depends in large part on our being able to give an account of why Nietzsche would think that belief in it involves an abuse of cause and effect. I think it is difficult to do that if one thinks, as Brian and Michael Drake do, that by denying unfree will Nietzsche is simply denying determinism. The major claim of my paper was that N accepts Hume’s argument on this issue. Hume thinks that we believe that freedom in the sense required for responsibility requires absence of causal determinism because we mistakenly think that causality involves constraint. To put it too quickly, that is exactly N’s point about “unfree will,” which should therefore be understood as equivalent to (or a variation on, more likely) hard determinism: incompatibilism plus determinism. I argued that it is the incompatibilism part that Nietzsche rejects.

Well there is more to say on that too (much), and now I see why I usually do not post comments. But I wanted to say that I pretty much agree with Rob Sica’s point: that Nietzsche is rejecting only a certain understanding of causation in 21 (that understanding, one that involves “reification,” is what Nietzsche calls a fiction, not causality itself. I also sympathize with Eliot’s attempt to find a Nietzschean idea of free will in BGE 19 (btw, the Clark/Dudrick paper on this just came out in an Oxford volume edited by Gemes and May), and I think that is relevant to the comment on strong and weak wills in the passage. But it is not going to give us the sense of freedom that connects up with responsibility, which is what I was concerned with, for one will be responsible, if at all, also is one is exhibiting weakness of will. – Well, I hope some of that helps. All for now. Thanks again, Brian.


Michael Drake said...

Eliot, I was referring to 'this type of 'desert'.

Speaking of errors, I'd like to correct one of my own: "the view that determinism is compatible with desert" should have read "the view that the lack of free will is compatible with desert."

Eliot said...

Thanks, Michael. I guess I'd only heard the phrase "he got his just deserts" and seeing the word itself, that definition of it didn't occur to me.

Looking back over the posts, I wonder if amrhima was onto something when he pointed out that Nietzsche doesn't believe in a thing-in-itself. This is pretty accepted in the secondary literature (Leiter and Clark have both recognized this in published works) and it does make it harder to get at what Nietzsche means when he says that there's nothing of such-and-such in the "in itself" if he doesn't believe in the "in itself" in the first place. Looking back over the passage, I notice he is careful to always distance himself from that phrase by keeping it in quotations.

And I'm grateful to Professor Clark's comment. It explained a lot to me, especially some of the context I missed from not actually seeing her talk or either response.

Charlie H said...

I look forward to reading the paper eventually. But, meanwhile, I'll confess I have a hard time thinking of Nz as considering himself as Kant's true successor. There's just too much in the way -- especially, the claim that we have apriori synthetic knowledge. When Nz claims we impose our causal notions on experience, it is not so that we can preserve the universal validity of those notions; it's to make us more self-conscious about how traditions, language, and psychology shape the interpretations we place on the world. It's much more skeptical than anything Kant would suggest.

Eliot said...

! I really like the abbreviation of Nietzsche to Nz. It makes him seem like an element on the periodic table. :)

Charlie H said...

One of those unstable elements, no doubt!