Monday, July 6, 2009

Nietzsche's Philosophy of Action

This is the penultimate draft of an essay for The Blackwell Companion to the Philosophy of Action being edited by Timothy O'Connor and Constantine Sandis, that should be out in 2010. I am still working on the issues here (and have worked on them previously, as some readers will recognize), and welcome comments--especially since there were significant space constraints in this piece, which will be less of a factor in the work-in-progress on these themes.


Rob Sica said...

If "the will must be causal (even if not causa sui), in order for agents to have free will and be morally responsible for their actions" (page 9), it seems pretty obvious why Token Epiphenomenalism fails to meet this requirement, but (to me) less so why Type Epiphenomenalism is also supposed to fail it.

I've always thought that a chief point of Nietzsche's invocations of Type Epiphenomenalism (D 115 and 129, if not also GS 335, particularly come to mind, and I think it's present in "Pale Criminal") is to raise awareness of how the idea of causa sui is central to moral (in the pejorative sense) evaluation, as part of his endeavor to show how morality (in the pejorative sense) is at odds with the facts of moral (in a non-pejorative sense) psychology sketched in the context of those invocations.

So don't you either need to drop the parenthetical ("even if not causa sui"), indicating that you're referring to Morality in the Pejorative Sense, or include the qualification that it's only the Token Epiphenomalism reading of the Doctrine of Types that is at odds with "any account of free will and moral responsibility"?

Or, more likely, am I just confused?

Brian Leiter said...

This is a fair question. My thought was this: if conscious mental states are type-epiphenomenal, then they are not causal in virtue of their being conscious, but rather in virtue of their falling under a causally efficacious type. Since willing is to be identified with certain conscious experiences, it follows that the experience of willing is not causal in virtue of being the experience of willing.

I am typing in haste right now, so maybe this isn't right (or not clear--or both!). Actually, I'm worried about the characterization of Type-Epipehomenalism in the book, and maybe this point is trading on an ambiguity about that. I will have to think more about it.

Rob Sica said...

The first footnote in your "Nietzsche's Theory of the Will" includes:

I am concerned with the notion of “will” familiar from general philosophy of action, both contemporary and historical, namely, the idea of a human faculty, whatever its precise character, that stands in some kind of necessary relationship with action. Such a faculty may itself be causally determined, or it may be autonomous of the antecedent causal order; its status may implicate questions of moral responsibility; and such a faculty may not exist at all.

Seems like Nietzsche's Type-Epiphenomenalism could be construed as applying to volitional occasions when willing (1) is causally determined by Type Facts (among which, of course, he highlights drives), yet nevertheless (2) stands in a necessary relation to some class of actions (namely, those which aren't accounted for by some mechanism of Token Epiphenomenalism), and (3) has a status which can implicate questions of moral (in the non-pejorative sense) responsibility.

Then Nietzsche could be read as claiming that though in many (if not most) instances -- the Token-Epiphenomenal ones -- the phenomenology of willing does not, as you put it, track an actual causal relationship to the action sufficient to underwrite ascriptions of moral responsibility of any kind, there are nevertheless some instances in which the phenomenology tracks enough of a causal relationship to underwrite such ascriptions in a non-MPS sense (it just doesn’t track that in virtue of which -- drives -- willing is effective). Not sure, though, how this would sit with the entirety of your reading of BGE 19.

If that’s right, it might help elucidate BGE 18, which has long puzzled me. Maybe he’s mocking philosophers – compatibilists – who feel strong enough to refute “free will” as causa sui only because they don’t adequately appreciate its centrality to their commitment to MPS.

R said...

Great piece. It's rare that you find something written about Nietzsche that's interesting AND readable! As I read, I couldn't help but think of Derrida's The Gift of Death, and how much of that book D owes to Nietzsche's work on the error of free will.

One editing note: I think there's a redundant "no" on page 11.

Again, I really enjoyed this.

Narziss said...

Also, there is a "y" missing on "self-master[y]" in that same line where there are two "no"'s in a row (page 11).

I just read your article today and was inspired into many thoughts about it.

I was wondering, even though the bird of prey may not be accountable and, hence, that MPS may not have a rational justification, doesn't that nevertheless mean that MPS can act cruel toward higher men on the basis of an irrational justification? In other words, though MPS is wrong in its justification, that doesn't mean that it isn't able to be cruel. So, is Nietzsche just showing MPS to be irrational?-wrong in their justification but not necessarily wrong in their actions (because that would require a separate argument for showing how they are wrong in their actions, the N-Realist privilege reading).

Without this N-Realist argument, it seems like Nietzsche would reply that it is fine to have "enemies" but not deduced "sinners," because morality is unjustified.

On page 10 you write, "Although the intelect can 'take sides' (Partei nehmen) this does not mean that the intellect determines which side prevails: to the contrary, the intellect is a mere spectator upon the struggle." This made me ask, what is the role of the intellect? What I can conceive, for the moment, is that consciousness has a role in that it allows one of the drives to appropriate, temporarily, the perceptual throne of the body (consciousness), and hence, to gain even further control over the rival drive.