Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What is "the Kantian ethics/epistemology/metaphysics/aesthetics grid"?

Dana Villa is a political theorist in the Political Science Department at the University of Notre Dame. In a review essay of some recent books on Nietzsche, he concludes with the following statement:

Nietzsche’s critique [of Christian-bourgeois civilization], however, fails to fit the Kantian ethics/epistemology/metaphysics/aesthetics grid—the very grid that
guides the analytic re-constructor. The result is that even the best analytic
Nietzsche literature (and Reginster’s book certainly falls into that category)
will tend to leave out the essential.

"Analytic" is, of course, a code word for a commentator who knows some philosophy and treats Nietzsche as a philosopher who has arguments and evidence. But put that to one side: what sense can be given to "the Kantian ethics/epistemology/metaphysics/aesthetics grid" such that it is true that, for example, Reginster or me is committed to it, and that in virtue of that, are missing something "essential"? The answer may be (as I suspect) no sense at all, and that like talk of "analytic" this is really just code for something else. But what?

Signed comments only.


Michael Pereira said...

There are two possibilites:

1. The likely and superficial interpretation:

Kant's metaphysics/epistemology/aesthetics/ethics may be seen by this Nietzsche scholar as forming the agenda of analytic philosophy, such as that today we think in 'Kantian' subject matters (which doesn't entail we are Kantian).

2. Kant's philosophy is said to be systematic. Kant divides up his system (or scholars do) in terms of distinct areas of philosophy like Metaphysics, Epistemology, Aesthetics, Ethics (but also his political and social writings).

In the scholarship, one way in which this is divided, yet kept in continuum is by means of Kant's conception of Reason. This sort of issue is addressed in the Introduction of the Third Critique and also in some of the work that Guyer has done on the 'unity of philosophy' or the overall project of the third critique.

my likely guess is that this person has weaselled words without defining them in true continental fashion.

Dana Villa said...

To defuse this debate (such as it is) as quickly as possible:

My concluding comment indicates a judgment as to what I think is essential in Nietzsche--viz., his critique of bourgeois-Christian civilization. While addressed by Danto (and, indeed, my friend Bernard Reginster), this topic is sufficiently fuzzy and "un-philosophical" by today's technical standards that it tends to receive short shrift. I'm happy to be corrected on this, but please don't employ the last sentence of a long-ish book review (on Reginster, Young, and another volume) as an excuse to demonstrate, yet again, superior "rigor." Good work--on Nietzsche, Kant, Hegel, Marx or whomever else you have in mind--can be done via a number of different approaches, as can mediocre and weak work. "Methodology" matters much less that interpretative insight and suppleness.

Greetings, by the way, to Brian Leiter, whom I haven't seen since I was his preceptor at Princeton.

Michael Drake said...

I think it's a small Prussian city, about 3,231 km beyond the axis of evil.

Brian Leiter said...

Thanks to Dana Villa for commenting. I agree the issue is not about 'rigor,' and I agree, with some caveats, that there are different methodological approaches to Nietzsche that have value. I'm still unclear on what the worry is about "analytic" approaches when it comes to N's critique of "Christian-bourgeois civilization."

I must say, though, that I'm most impressed that Dana Villa remembers a not very memorable undergraduate whom he had in class for 1 hour per week more than 25 years ago! Now that IS really impressive.

Timothy McWhirter said...

Modernism, Postmodernism, and Naturalism

I believe Nietzsche’s naturalism provides a philosophical approach that is distinct from modern and postmodern projects. I was wondering whether Villa’s comments might be touching on this important point.

Joseph Margolis writes that one characteristic that is shared by the philosophies of late modernism is that they all seek to both acknowledge the "subjectivity of the human condition" and to describe a “model of human rationality;” they strive for,

"The recovery…of a realistic canon or rational strategy dialectically defended against alternative options… a model of human rationality or rational legitimation." (Margolis 1989: 16-19)

This is the theme that, in Margolis’s view, connects the work of Jurgen Habermas, Karl-otto Apel; Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur, Charles Taylor, Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, John Dewey, Van Orman Quine, Donald Davidson, Hilary Putnam, Karl
Popper and Fredric Jameson.

While Modernism is based on overcoming human subjectivity and recovering a model of human rationality, postmodernism is focused on the deconstruction of modernist projects. Nietzsche’s naturalism steps beyond both these approaches. It leads him to conclude that human beings are not capable of achieving a modern model of rationality; and nihilistic attempts to deconstruct these projects undermine the growth of life and power (GM II 12; A 57).

Instead of the modern or postmodern approach, Nietzsche emphasizes our connection to nature and other animals. His naturalism is based on conceiving knowledge, language and thought instrumentally, as tools that have evolved for the growth of life and power. He does not view them as tools to attain or justify objective truth. Life is justified as an aesthetic phenomenon. Knowledge, language and thought are tools used to live it. It is from this naturalistic perspective that Nietzsche criticizes nihilism (GM II 12; A 57).

Nietzsche’s naturalism takes us beyond postmodernism without retreating into another form of modernism. In this sense, we could agree that “Nietzsche’s critique [of Christian-bourgeois civilization],…, fails to fit the Kantian ethics/epistemology/metaphysics/aesthetics grid—the very grid that guides the analytic re-constructor.” This is what makes Nietzsche’s critique unique and worth exploring. Traditional analytic approaches can “leave out the essential” if they are narrowly focused on conceptual analysis. Nietzsche's naturalism is the product of empirical investigations. As you note, He models his theories on the sciences. If these empirical investigations are left out of our analysis of Nietzsche, we do seem to “leave out the essential.”

Of course, your work on empirical psychology with Knobe is an example of the central role of this empirical work in understanding Nietzsche. The connections I have developed between the will to power and the contemporary scientific concept of selforganization and the maximum power principle would serve as another example (McWhirter 1999). The connection between Nietzsche’s criticism of the tropical and prestissimo tempos of revaluation (BGE 262; WP 71). and the tempo of punctuated equilibria outlined in evolutionary biology and the philosophy of science is another parallel that I have been developing in my work (Eldridge and Gould 1972; Kuhn 1962). Rather than the work of rational reconctructors, perhaps it would be more accurate to describe this work as an effort at empirical reconstruction.

Eldridge, N. and Gould, S.
(1972), “Punctuated Equilibria: an Alternative to Phyletic Gradualism,” in Schopf (ed.) Models in Paleobiology. San Francisco: TJM Freeman, Cooper & Co.

Kuhn, T. (1962), The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Margolis, J. (1989), “Postscript on Modernism and Postmodernism.” Theory, Culture, and Society, 6.

McWhirter, T. (1999), “Nietzsche's Physics,” International Studies in Philosophy, XXXI, 3: 5-17.