Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Katsafanas on "Nietzsche's Philosophical Psychology"

So our regular Nietzsche reading group here at U of C has been thinned out by summer, but those of us still around have decided to read some secondary literature, starting with the illuminating paper by Paul Katsafanas (BU) on "Nietzsche's Philosophical Psychology" that will appear in The Oxford Handbook, which I guess will be out in 2011. The comments that follow are mine, and should not be imputed to the other members of the group, though I do want to acknowledge them since I learned from the opportunity to discuss the paper with them: they are PhD students Nir-Ben Moshe, Jaime Edwards, Nic Koziolek, and Santiago Mejia. I will be flagging this post for them and Paul, in case they want to weigh in with additional thoughts or replies.

I've already sent Paul comments on some minor matters in the current version, so I won't dwell on those issues here (though may flag one or two in passing in case anyone wants to pursue them in the comments).

The key question is what exactly are "drives" for Nietzsche. Katsafanas (hereafter "K.") says (I think rightly) that Nietzsche uses Trieb and Instinkt interchangeably (K. does not comment, however, on where Affekt fits in, though it turns out to play an important role in his exposition). In Section 1.1, K. argues against interpreting drives as homunculi, i.e., as little agents within the human agent. This strikes me as correct, and so I will not dwell on it here.

In section 1.2, he considers dispositional views of drives. Bear in mind that K's own preferred reading is a kind of dispositional view: "Nietzschean drives are dispositions that induce affective orientations in the agent...[T]hese affective orientations can be understood as evaluative orientations" (p. 10, end of 1.2). This is closely related to the view Richardson defended originally in Nietzsche's System, though K's criticism of the view at p. 9 strike me as not wholly satisfactory. It is true that in later work Richardson tries to treat the dispositions of drives in selectionist terms (there are pertinent criticisms of that general interpretive strategy here and here). As I've already pointed out to Paul, there is no reason to think that natural selection will necessarily produce ascetics "disposed...to engage in sexual activity," but all he needs is the possibility of an ascetic who is both disposed towards having sex and disposed towards being an ascetic (natural selection is irrelevant). Thus K's objection: "There are cases in which values and selected dispositions appear to diverge [such as the ascetic in question]....Despite the fact that the agent is strongly disposed toward sexual activity, we would typically say that the agent does not value sexual activity" (p. 9). But all this requires us to say is that the drives (i.e., the dispositions in question) differ in strength, so that the ascetic disposition (and associated valuation) simply domiante the sexual disposition. Indeed, I take it such a solution is compatible with K's preferred view.

Section 1.3 takes up the question of how to interpret N's remarks expressing skepticism about what we know about our drives and their role in the genesis of action (K. scratches the surface of the kinds of remarks N. makes in this regard at p. 11, but the quotes he chooses are certainly representative). K. notes my view that N. thinks that "we do not have epistemic access to what the causally effective motives really are" (NOM, 104), but then glosses that as something else, namely, "the claim that we are often [emphasis added] mistaken about our motives" and says this "is just a platitude" (p. 13). But even the weaker claim is not a platitude, and the fact that Kant was ready to bite the bullett on the possibility that no one ever acts morally (because it might be that no one ever acts for the right kinds of reasons) hardly show this to be a platitude. The Cartesian picture of the self, of its essential transparency, reverberates throughout modern philosophy, all the way to the present, though since Freud's triumph, probably more thinkers would be prepared to sign on to the skeptical view.

Ultimately, K. wants to argue (in sections 2 & 3) for a particular reading of N's skepticism about what we know about our drives, according to which when a drive brings about an action A, we may know we are A'ing, but not know the aim (of the drive) that led us to A (p. 18). (I let pass in silence the strange discussion of what wolves and flies know about their actions at p. 17, since I don't think anything ultimately turns on these claims being correct--what matters is that the account works for humans.)

I accept this as a more precise way of stating the point I was making in NOM, i.e., that what we do not know when we do not know the "motive" for our action is the ultimate aim of the drive that is the causal genesis of the action. This may well be the right way to gloss N's skepticism about the sources of agency.

Section 3 ("The nature of Nietzschean drives") is the core of the paper, and quite illuminating, until p. 32 (in section 3.3), when the argument, it seems to me, goes off the rails.

3.1 wants to explain how "the affective orientation induced by a drive can be understood as an evaluative orientation (p. 21). (This is the point at which I wonder about the connection between drives and affects.) The discussion is highly illuminating, emphasizing the way in which drives/affects influence "perceptual salience" (p. 22), not only the features of a situation that come to the fore for the agent (because the drive focuses attention on them), but by influencing "the content of experience itself" (p. 22) by affecting the interpretation of the sensory stimuli themselves. (K's discussion resonates with recent work by a former student, Neil Sinhababu, on the Humean theory of motivation, which emphasizes the role of desire in affecting salience: vide his recent Phil Review paper. Neil, as readers of the blog will know, is also interested in the similarities between the Nietzschean and Humean views.) Here is K's summary statement at the end of 3.1: "Drives manifest themselves by coloring our view of the world, by generating perceptual saliences, by influencing our emotions and other attiitudes, by fostering desires" (p. 26).

3.3 appeals to Freud's account of drives, arguing, plausibly to my mind, that it illuminates N's view (Freud may well have gotten the view from N., of course). There are two important features of drives on the Freudian view. First, drives have a kind of constancy that other desires do not--"they arise, with some regularity throughout the individual's life" (p. 30). The music you desired to listen to in your 20s may no longer appeal in your 40s; but the hunger drive keeps coming back whether you are 20 or 40. Second, drives do not depend on an external stimulus to be aroused. "Drives arise independently of external stimuli and once they have become active, they will seek discharge" (p. 31). External stimuli can give rise to a desire to eat or to have sex, to be sure, but those same deires can simply arise in the absence of any stimuli. (Sometimes K. overstates the point, e.g., at p.31, where he says that "drives...do not arise in response to external stimuli." But that can't be right: surely they can be triggered by external stimuli. What allegedly distinguishes them is that they can arise on their own, without any externl provocation.) It is useful to distinguish, as Freud does, between the Ziel (aim) of the drive (e.g., sex, eating) and the Objekt of the drive (e.g., this woman, this bit of food). Insofar as a drive is aroused not by an external stimulus, it will then seek out an object for its realization--and in so doing (I assume this is K's point) impose a "valuation" on the object.

Now we come to the point where the argument and exposition seem to me to go off the rails. At p. 32, K. claims that "drives operate by influencing the agent's perception and reflective thought, so that the agent sees a certain activity as warranted" (emphases added). K. made a good case for how drives might influence perception, but where did talk about "reflective thought" come from and what does it mean? Nothing in the argument so far, or in N's texts, invites interjecting this mechanism. The crux of what K. is getting at, I think, is his claim that "drives affect the agent's perceptions of reasons" (p. 32). Here is K's example:
The aggressive drive does not just produce a blind urge that causes the agent to act aggressively. Rather, the aggressive drive manifests itself by producing desires, affects, and perceptual saliences that jointly inclidne the agent to see aggression as warranted by the circumstances. (p. 32)
But the "reasons" here are simply causal product of the drive, and the fact that the aggression seems "warranted" is itself just an artifact of the causal umph of the drive. Where is the "reflective thought" coming in? What is reflection doing?

Perhaps K. means to concede this latter point? He writes: "being moved by a drive and being moved by reflective thought are not distinct processes. Drives move us by directing and influencing our reflective thought" (p. 33). But is "directing and influencing" the same as "determining"? This is the crucial ambiguity. The only claim justified by the argument so far would be that what we take to be reflective thought is, in fact, determined by our drives. But talk of "directing" and "influencing" might suggest that there is still some causal work for "reflective thought" to do.

In 3.4, K. acknowledges the obvious (or what, by now, I've forced everyone to admit is really obvious!), namely, that "N. is notoriously skeptical of reflective agency" (p. 33). But what does this skepticism amount to? In 4.1, K. claims that "it is by now a commonplace that N. rejects the libertarian concept of choice" or free will, another 'commonplace' I am happy to take credit for making common. (Joking aside, I do think it is a mark of the maturity of Nietzsche studies over the last decade that one can now make arguments--demonstrating, e.g., N's skepticism about reflective agency or his rejection of libertarian conceptions of free will--and other scholars actually register the arguments and their conclusions, and then development their own interpretive views based on these 'results'. Anyone reading the Nietzsche literature twenty years ago knows how utterly rare this used to be.)

As K. admits, rejecting the libertarian conception of free will leaves a lot open. I have also argued (in both NOM and in "Nietzsche's Theory of the Will") that Nietzsche can not be a compatibilist about "choice" or free will either, though K. does not consider those arguments (to be fair, his immediate concern is not responsibility but the causal contribution of reflective thought, so perhaps the omission doesn't matter). K. concentrates instead on my claim that "Nietzsche argues that choice is epiphenomenal: 'there is no causal link between the experience of willing and the resulting action' (Leiter, 2007, 13)" (p. 34).

Two quick points about this gloss on my argument in the "Nietzsche's Theory of the Will" paper. First, the argument there concerned the causal status of the experience of willing, not everything that might be denominated a choice. When I went to the refrigerator, I chose a diet pepsi, rather than a diet coke: was my "choice" epiphenomenal? It seems a tad odd to think it is, and one might hope nothing in N. committed him to thinking so. But it seems equally clear that what I will call "mundane choices" do not often involve the experience of willing, that is, of choosing to make something happen: these are mostly automatic, unrefelctive behaviors, that are casually characterized as choices post-hoc.

Now this may not matter--perhaps we should just stipulate that "choice" for K's purpose just means any action that is preceded by the "experience of willing" that is the focus of N's analysis and my reconstruction in the 2007 paper. But a second complication may warrant notice. In the 2007 paper, I noted that there are two kinds of passages in N.: one kind invites the epiphenomenalist interpretation that K. calls attention to and that seems to be the favored interpretation of the experience of free will in some of the psychological literature (notably Wegner); but the other kind of passage (think the Cornaro case) is different. It suggests that the experience of willing is part of the causal chain that results in the action, but it is not an "ultimate" or "primary" cause: that is, an explanation of the action that stopped with the experience of willing would be like an explanation of the invasion of Iraq that stopped with Bush's decision to send in the troops--that decision was causally important, but it does not really explain the Iraq War. In the 2007 paper, and in my recent work generally on Nietzsche, I have taken the view that if the text support two different readings of his position, we should opt for the one that seems the most promising as a matter of empirical psychology. Right now, this seems to favor the epiphenomealist reading, but perhaps the empirical tide will turn in favor of the second reading--what I called "the Will as Secondary Cause" reading.

Now back to K. He doesn't, by his own admission, argue against the epiphenomenalist reading, he just (1) notes that the reading has critics, citing in n. 31, Clark & Dudrick and papers by Gemes and Janaway that argue against my interpretation of N. on free will (Janaway's adds nothing, except a head count, so we can ignore it here); and (2) claims that this interpretation "has textual costs" (p. 35). I understand how limitations of space go, but given what seems to be the centrality of the issue to K's argument, this hand-waving seems quite unsatisfactory. I've dealt with the problematic arguments by Clark & Dudrick and Gemes elsewhere, though even Gemes concedes a lot to my position.

As to (2), K. cites (p. 35) some passages I've deflated elsewhere (like the GM passage on the 'sovereign individual') or passages from Twilight about those who resist immediate stimuli and those who do not. But a well-trained dog has the characteristics at issue here, and the question then is whether that is enough for K's real thesis, namely, that "N. claims that some individuals have the capacity to control their behavior." A well-trained dog can "control" its behavior, e.g., it can resist mounting the nearest female, or chasing after another dog, or running from its master. Is this the "capacity to control" behavior that's at issue for K.? If so, then we have no quarrel. But the faint odor of Kant and Korsgaard is in the air, so I'm not sure.

Let's be clear about what is at stake. On my reading of N., drives causally determine action, perhaps via the mechanism of conscious mental states (per the Will as Secondary Cause reading) and perhaps not (per the Epiphenomealist reading). K., as I read him, thinks that N. thinks that there is something left over for the "will" or the "self" to do, but his only evidence, noted in the preceding paragraph, is inapposite.

Section 4.2 introduces K.'s preferred resolution to these issues. He opts, I think, for my Will as Secondary Cause reading, though he does nto put it quite that way. On K's picture, choice causes action, but "N's drive psychology problematizes the connection [the causal connection?] between the agent and choice" (p. 36). When he sums up his view at the end, he puts it in terms that sound like the Will as Secondary Cause reading from my 2007 paper: "choice may control action, but agents do not control choice." Or put a bit differently: the will may cause an action, but the will is not within the causal control of the person (the self), it is, itself, causally determined by something else (e.g., type-facts, something unconscious, etc.).

I would be happy if that is what K. means, but I am not sure. Also on p. 38 he summarizes his point as follow:
The reflective agent is, in one sense, different from the unreflective
agent: after all, the reflective agent deliberates, thinks about reasons
for acting, and examines her motives, whereas the unreflective agent does none
of this. But in another sense, the reflective agent is not so different
from the unreflective agent: while the reflective agent supposes that she
is escaping the influence of her drives, she is mistaken. The
influence of the drive has simply become more covert
. (emphasis added)

Everything turns on what that last line means, and on the ambiguity that attaches to "influence." If "influence" means "causally determines," then K.'s account is a version of the Will as Secondary Cause reading. But the footnote attached to this paragraph suggests this is not what he means. In n. 35, K. says that "N. maintains that reflection and self-understanding enable an agent to counteract the effects of particular drives." This, of course, seems in tension with D 109 (which K. discusses earlier), unless "reflection and self-understanding" are just themselves the causal product of countervailing drives. But that doesn't seem to be what K. means, for he continues (in the footnote): "this seems to be one reason why N. emphasizes the importance of self-understanding: self-understanding enables one to counteract the effects of certain drives, and thereby renders the agent increasingly in control of her action." No text is cited, and the reference back to n. 28 seems to be a mistake, since n. 28 does not appear pertinent. It is unfortunate that these absolutely crucial (and, to my mind, quite implausible) claims are buried in a footnote.

That K. really wants to save autonomous agency is suggested by some additional remarks in the conclusion. He says: "the deliberating agent's thoughts and actions are guided, sometimes decisively, by her drives" (p. 39). I take it "decisive" guiding is equivalent to my "causally determined," in which case it is clear that K. wants to carve out a space where non-drive-determined thoughts and actions make a causal contribution. (But "a thought comes when 'it' wants, not when 'I' want"!) So too: "there is some sense in which the agent acting under the influence of drives may be a passive conduit for the drives; however, N. also suggests that there is some way of acting that avoids this problem" (p. 40). As far as I can tell--I hope Paul or other readers will correct me--not a single text from N. has been adduced to support this claim. In the preceding paragraph, K. refers to a few snippets and phrases that are, I guess, supposed to suggest that N. believes in "genuine agency" (p. 40, K.'s term, not N.'s), but considered in context, as I have argued at length elsewhere (see esp. pp. 15 ff.), they simply do not support anything like K's claims.

So to sum up: K's account of drives, and the ways in which they structure perception and evaluation, is illuminating and plausible, as is his incorporation of the Freudian aim/object distinction to make sense of N's skepticism about what we know about why we act. But the entire picture is then compatible with what I had called the Will as Secondary Cause reading in the 2007 paper (though not the epiphenomenalist reading). But K. wants more than that, it seems, he wants some autonomous causal role for conscious reflection and deliberation in agency. Might this be satisfied simply by instrumental reasoning, the supplying of information about means to drive-given ends? I sense K. wants more, but it is both unclear whether he does and implausible that N's texts would support such a reading in any case (or, in any case, K. would really need to make the textual case).

UPDATE: The discussion of K's paper continues here.


david mc callum said...

While I think that the Will as Secondary Cause reading is a perfectly legitimate reading, like yourself, i'm aware of no serious arguments at all in Nietzsche which suggest he - "does have some conception of genuine agency", as Katsafanas claims; nor , revealingly, is K able to cite any (i.e. Nietzschean arguments, as opposed to figurative language). His final line somewhat implies that only limited "space" prevents him from offering the supporting text, but I suspect the noticeable absence of such text is his real difficulty here.

I also find K's evaluative language here rather odd for a Nietzschean: why should only autonomous agency be regarded as "genuine"? And why should all non-autonomous agency be regarded as "degenerate"? Why this self-belittlement of what is, in all likelihood, actuality? This moralised (non-"technical") language seems to run counter to Nietzsche's whole naturalistic, anti-metaphysical enterprise; and an instance of what Daniel Dennett called the "yearning for skyhooks".

Paul Katsafanas said...

First, I want to thank Brian for this extremely perceptive and thought-provoking discussion of my paper. Below, I’ll offer some responses to his critiques.

To begin, I should note that there are really two parts to the paper. The bulk of my paper is devoted to explaining what a drive is. The final sections of the paper – the material on page 32 and following – attempts to sketch some ways in which this concept of drive figures into Nietzsche’s account of agency. Brian’s objections focus on the account of agency in the final sections of my paper. I’ll address these objections below, but I want to start with a concession: I don’t pretend that I’ve offered a full-fledged defense of this reading of Nietzsche on agency. I certainly haven’t addressed all of the complications that Brian mentions. The primary goal of this paper was to explicate the notion of drive. However, I also wanted to give some indication of how the notion of drive bears on broader concerns about the nature of agency, so I included this sketch at the end of the paper. It is meant merely as a sketch, not as a comprehensive argument.

Accordingly, it may be helpful to say how I view the argument in this section of my paper. On pp. 32 and following, I argue for two primary points:
(i) The Nietzschean conception of drives undermines the Lockean/Kantian conception of conscious agency.
(ii) In undermining the Lockean/Kantian conception of conscious agency, the Nietzschean need not deny that conscious thought is causally efficacious.

I also suggest (on page 35):
(iii) Nietzsche believes that conscious thought is causally efficacious.

Finally, I’ve closed with a bit of a teaser, by suggesting in the concluding paragraphs that:
(iv) Nietzsche has a distinction between genuine action and mere behavior, and his drive psychology illuminates this distinction.

I don’t take myself to have offered a full-fledged, knockdown argument for points (iii) and (iv). I’ve argued for (iii) in “Nietzsche’s Theory of Mind” (European Journal of Philosophy, April 2005), and I argue for a version of (iv) in “The Concept of Unified Agency in Nietzsche, Plato, and Schiller,” forthcoming in the Journal of the History of Philosophy. Links to these papers are available here: http://sites.google.com/site/paulkatsafanas/home/publications

That said, let me turn to Brian’s objections. As I see it, his major objections and questions are as follows:

(1) Is my account of drives compatible with Brian’s interpretation of the will as a secondary cause?
(2) If so, don’t I illegitimately attribute a role to conscious thought when there’s no such role for it to play?
(3) More generally, do I view drives as determining or merely influencing conscious thought?

In response to (1): my account of drives is indeed compatible with the will-as-secondary-cause interpretation. So my account of drives doesn’t necessitate a new reading of Nietzsche’s theory of agency. Put differently, one could accept both my reading of drives and Brian’s reading of Nietzsche on the will.

However, my reading of drives is also compatible with a more robust conception of the will. I think Nietzsche adopts this more robust conception. Let me explain.

The will-as-secondary-cause interpretation claims that there is a unidirectional causal path from non-conscious states to action: non-conscious states determine conscious states, which then determine actions. In other words, if arrows represent direction of causation, we have:

Non-conscious states → conscious states → action

I read Nietzsche differently. While I agree that non-conscious states causally impact conscious states, I’ve also argued that Nietzsche views conscious thoughts as exerting causal influence on non-conscious states (see my paper “Nietzsche’s Theory of Mind,” in the April 2005 issue of European Journal of Philosophy). So, on my reading, the causal path is bidirectional. In other words, it looks more like this:

Non-conscious states ←→ conscious states → action

Paul Katsafanas said...


Although this difference might appear minor, I think it’s crucial. For consider point (2). Brian objects that I think “there is something left over for the "will" or the "self" to do…”. I do, indeed, think that, provided that “will” or “self” just means “conscious thought.” The agent’s conscious thoughts causally influence her drives (and other non-conscious states/processes). (Brian asks whether I read Nietzsche as giving an “autonomous causal role” to conscious thought. I don’t read him as giving it an autonomous role, just a causal role.)

What sorts of passages seem to me to support this reading? Well, consider a few examples. First, there are passages that explicitly state that drives are altered by conscious judgments. One example is Daybreak 38, which bears the title “Drives transformed by moral judgments.” Second, Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal recurrence is centered on the conscious reaction one has to a thought experiment that is posed in highly reflective terms (i.e, one is supposed to reflectively entertain the thought of reliving one’s life endlessly). Third, Nietzsche’s critiques of religion and traditional morality rest on the idea that consciously embracing these modes of life and these values is damaging. No doubt we can read some of these passages in ways that render them consistent with the claim that conscious thought doesn’t impact drives. However, they seem to fit far more naturally with the claim that conscious thoughts do indeed impact drives.

This brings me to point (3): do I read Nietzsche as claiming that drives determine or merely influence conscious thought? In response, let me clarify what I take to be at issue here. There are two ways of reading Nietzsche on drives:

Weak reading = drives influence conscious thoughts; two agents’ drives could be identical, and yet their conscious thoughts could be different

Strong reading = drives determine conscious thoughts; if two agents’ drives are identical, then their conscious thoughts must be identical

I accept the weak reading, for a very simple reason: I don’t see any passages in Nietzsche that necessitate the strong reading, while I do see many passages that seem to me to make more sense if we adopt the weak reading. Again, while I haven’t argued for this point in the present paper, I do argue for it in the EJP paper cited above.

It’s worth noting, though, that even if we adopt the strong reading, we could still accept the idea that conscious thoughts causally influence drives. (Rough analogy: waves and wind causally determine the shape of sand on a beach, but the shape of the sand on a beach also causally influences the waves and wind.)

Paul Katsafanas said...

(continued -- comment 3 of 3)

Let me conclude with another thought. Brian writes that he would be happy if I meant the following: “the will may cause an action, but the will is not within the causal control of the person (the self), it is, itself, causally determined by something else (e.g., type-facts, something unconscious, etc.).” I would accept a version of this: the agent’s conscious decisions about what to do (i.e., “the will”) may be determined by the agent’s conscious thoughts, but the agent’s conscious thoughts are pervasively influenced by the agent’s drives. This pervasive influence can undermine the agent’s claim to being in control of the action. However, I don’t think it always undermines that claim.

In fact, I think Nietzsche’s picture of agency is quite subtle. In “The Concept of Unified Agency,” I argue that Nietzsche cashes out the metaphors of agent’s being in control of their actions in terms of whether there is a certain kind of unity between the agent’s conscious thoughts, on the one hand, and their drives and affects, on the other. Put differently, whether an agent is in control of his action doesn’t depend on whether the action is causally determined by the agent’s drives; it depends, instead, on the relationship between these drives and the conscious thoughts. (Nietzsche calls the relationship “unity”, but he understands agential unity in a non-traditional way—see the article for the details.) Most agents fail to exhibit the requisite relationship between drives and conscious thought, and consequently fail to exhibit genuine agency.

Brian Leiter said...

Thanks very much to Paul for an excellent set of replies, that advnace the discussion. I'll post some more thoughts of my own in the next few days. Just a reminder for readers new to the discussion that we talked about Paul's 2005 paper, to which he alludes, in this thread:


Oscar Santos said...

Well, reading the paper and all the further discussion, came to me a passage of Daybreak where Nietzsche discuss what he called Alleged conflict of motives (§129). In this passage, Nietzsche distinguishes between a calculation of consequences of the possible actions and the conflict of motives that happens in the backstage as really determinant in the agency. Besides the difficulty to perform the calculation (imagining the whole consequences, considering their different qualities and then the hard weighting of they all), and taking it as an activity of the reflective consciousness, Nietzsche affirms that the result of such an activity will be something like a picture of the consequences, but not the motive of the action. The result of the conflict of all possible consequences of all my possible acts – the picture of consequences – is not the real conflict that determines the action; the real conflict of motives is something else, “something quite invisible”, “quite unconscious”. Nevertheless, the picture of consequences, as the result of an activity of the reflective consciousness, is not something idle, nor the only determinant factor. My point is that this result is just another motive that has to take place in the conflict. “I have calculated the consequences and the outcomes and in doing so have set one very essential motive in the battle-line – but I have not set up this battle-line itself, nor can I even see it: the struggle itself is hidden from me, and likewise the victory as victory” (D §129). In this sense, we can also understand what Nietzsche says in Daybreak §109, that when we act “a struggle is in prospect in which our intellect is going to have to take sides.”

In this perspective, I’d like to suggest two possibilities of readings where the choice – as determined by the reflective consciousness – can be determinant in agency: 1) if we understand choice as the prevailing motive of the conflict of motives; even if the agent is unaware about the real conflict of motives (or drives), her calculation of consequences can coincide with the practical position taken if it, as one motive against others, prevails (to me, this looks like something near to the position of Dr. Katsafanas about agreement or unity between what the agent choose and her drives-in-act). 2) if we consider reflective attitude itself as a kind of drive’s product; I think there’re many text evidences to make us at least consider intellectual activity as a product of drives described sometimes as a “desire for certainty” (GS §2) or as a “passion for knowledge” (GS §123) or even as a “will to truth” (GS – P, §4 and other many passages) – this not to say about the Nietzschean thesis that our knowledge capacities came from animal basic instincts (cf. D §27, 212).

So concluding, like Dr. Katsafanas, I think that drives can influence conscious thoughts as well as conscious thoughts can influence drives, but it’s important to say that even the conscious thoughts can be understood as resulting from drives – or at least as one more motive that sometimes prevails in the battle of drives.

david mc callum said...


I think your introduction of GS.333 here obscures rather than illuminates things. You say-

"The intellect [i.e. consciousness]is not an autonomous faculty of conciliation, rather, it is the flagbearer of the victor of this unconscious battle, and this victorious flagwaving seems to be the mechanism in which objects in the perceptual field are assigned priority".

I think Nietzsche's mature texts typically see any meaningful, substantive workings of the conscious intellect, anything deserving the name "heightened consciousness" as a clear symptom that the organism is in distress (it's not a sign of "victory"), and, along with Dostoevsky, he seems to consider it as "disease". (see also 'The Problem of Socrates' in TI).

Of course, this does not apply to weak versions of consciousness (i.e. relatively self-satisfied forms of post hoc rationalisations), if that's what you mean. But I doubt that's what's at issue here.

Generally, I think more attention should be paid to GS.360, especially when we see Nietzsche himself here articulating (though all too briefly) "one of his most essential steps and advances". There is a structural (non-arbitrary)relationship between "match" and "gunpowder" that Nietzsche rather downplays here.

If, I would suggest, the 'Will as Secondary Cause' reading is to be advanced (i.e. consciousness in the strong sense), it is in the context of facilitating and educating the drives in identifying and pursuing the most relevant "matches" whereby the optimal release of WP is to be achieved.

Narziss said...

I tried to post some comments yesterday, but they seemed to come out in duplicate and some parts were missing. This website had been giving me some errors with the length, though the parts appeared nevertheless. Thus, in order to present the comments coherently, I decided to delete the fragments and duplicates and upload them as a pdf here.

Sorry for the inconvenience, thanks for the great discussion!

Narziss said...

David Mc Callum,

You make an interesting point in emphasizing the problem of seeing consciousness as a beneficial instrument versus seeing it as a sign of degeneration.

However, when I mentioned that consciousness does the flagwaving of the victor of the unconscious battle, I never said that consciousness is “a sign of victory” as you restated me, but rather, that what rises to consciousness is merely the dominating influence of the triumphant drive(s). What rises to consciousness is the influence of the drive(s) that were victorious in the unconscious battle, and the victorious drives enact their influence through distorting perception and producing perceptual saliences that guide the individual toward the object of their aim. My choice in metaphoric language is probably to blame for the misunderstanding.

I think the passage you suggested, GS 360, is excellent for showing that Nietzsche is trying to emphasize that consciousness is miniscule in comparison to non-conscious influences. Perhaps what consciousness does is not what we expect it to do. In this passage Nietzsche plays with the possibility of consciousness being (1) a directing force but not the driving force or (2) a post hoc rationalization of behavior, as you mention. The way he words it, it seems that both (1) & (2) occur.

If consciousness wasn’t causally effective (toward actions and toward non-conscious states), then why would Nietzsche aim at making sure he kept his consciousness 'free of all great imperatives’?---as he mentions in EH II: 9.

No, I think Nietzsche has a role for consciousness. Examine GS 11; in this aphorism Nietzsche talks about how consciousness has not yet been fully developed...

david said...


While the strictly "philosophical" enquiry into the nature and status of consciousness is important to Nietzsche, his principal concern is its nature in regard to what Brian terms "morally significant actions", and, even more importantly I would argue, its relation to Nietzschean conceptions of "health".

Regarding GS.360, I agree that it's certainly not to be considered the "driving force". But "directing force" still leaves rather a lot unexplained by Nietzsche in this passage. Why this direction rather than that?

Much depends on how we read this sentence: "They [so called purposes etc] are relatively random, arbitrary, almost indifferent in relation to the tremendous quantum of energy. . .".(GS.360).

Well, "relatively" means, NOT absolutely, and "almost" means, NOT quite (as the tone of the passage may falsely lead us to believe), "random" and "arbitrary".

The "gunpowder" simply won't be activated/discharged/released in most contexts. Only "match-like" things will do, and this is were I fear Nietzsche rather characteristically (rhetorically at least) downplays the crucial, though not ultimately determining, influence of external factors in the later ship analogy - though as he noted in UM.11.7. "the most wretched little animal can prevent the mightiest oak-tree from coming into existence by eating the acorn". The "beautifying pretext" and "self-deception" (GS.360)in that case would not only be the role accorded to consciousness by the agent, but the ignorance of the agent regarding the driving force of the (psychological) will to power.

The "gunpowder" or "oak-tree"(sorry for the mixed metaphors)won't just self-activate randomly and spontaneously, they needs "matches". Perhaps consciousness, if it is to have any significant causal capacity, relates to identifying these contingent "matches"?

P.S. It's also perhaps worth noting Nietzsche's analysis of Hamlet (BT.7), regarding the relationship between a type of "heightened consciousness" and the incapacity for action, in relation to much of the later, more explicit and rigorous treatment of this problem.

Anonymous said...

I’m in near agreement with David here,

Nietzsche tends to go back in forth between describing the physiological process determining our consciousness (even if that means admitting we cannot currently know what instincts or drives currently shape our conscious experience…Though N. certainly feels he knows some of the factors…eg. ressentment.) and describing the experiential feeling that one of his “free spirits” will encounter as they go through life. The key to this process I believe must be grounded in Nietzsche’s desire to help encourage the development of “future Nietzsche’s”….Hence the importance N places on describing mental states, like that of the criminal, or that of “willing” while also downplaying the existence of “the will” (metaphysically) in, say, Twilight. The negative effect of this tactic is that it often gives the illusion that N. is at times endorsing that “we” can influence our own lives.

Those who follow in N.’s footsteps will likely know the “experience” of feeling like a “criminal” or of the pleasure in having “control” over themselves even if…in actuality, it is not “I” who is really in command of this process. Without offering such experiential descriptions how would the “philosophers of the future” know they are on the right track? I should also note that I’m not endorsing a view that would claim N. wants a bunch of “Nietzsche clones”, but rather that N. feels that the experience of becoming a “higher human being” has certain characteristics that are somewhat in common.

First time poster, I apologize for the sloppiness that is no doubt inherent in this post. I am training to be a historian and only have a minor background in Philosophy.


Josh Johnston
University of Victoria graduate student.

Narziss said...
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Narziss said...

I am not claiming that consciousness is in control of actions in a transcendental or causa sui way. Nevertheless, consciousness does influence actions, although consciousness is a helpless instrument (cf. D 109).

The point is that, as Katsafanas says in his essay, "choice may control action, but agents do not control choice" (38).

At this point, it seems you could take one of two routes: you can attribute to Nietzsche either,

1. (1a) Consciousness is an illusion or post hoc rationalization and doesn’t really exist, or (1b) consciousness does exist but it is causally ineffective and epiphenomenal; or,

2. Consciousness does exist but it is only a secondary cause of actions (i.e. the etiology of an action does not ‘begin’ in consciousness but rather, the etiology occasionally travels through consciousness, which influences how it is manifest).

A minor note, when Nietzsche claims that ‘consciousness lacks causal efficacy’, he does not mean that it does not influence actions (nor that it is epiphenomenal). First of all, he criticizes ‘causality’ in general and says that our belief in ‘causality’ stems from our belief in the will having causal efficacy.

He says, "whether we believe in the causality of the will [...] this belief is really just our belief in causality itself" (BGE 36).

But in these cases, I think Nietzsche criticizes ‘causality’ when ‘causality’ means that an uncaused cause just arises and follows with an effect. Restating: he criticizes the idea that by dissecting a linear sequence of events (in order to tell a story from event A to event D), that we have told the complete causal story. His point in this regard is that the concept of ‘cause’ is just that, a pure concept (BGE 21), because in reality there can never be an independent cause, since it would have been dependent on antecedent events.

Nevertheless, in a different sense, Nietzsche is entirely okay with ‘causality’ when it merely means that prior events influence consequent events and that there is natural explanation for why things are the way they are. In this much weaker sense of causality, I believe Nietzsche would be okay with attributing it to consciousness (i.e. consciousness can influence in the etiology of an action).

I think understanding the role of consciousness is crucial for Nietzsche, and the importance of its role is not a mere misunderstanding generated from the way he writes.. There are cases where I agree that Nietzsche uses persuasive language and brings in certain concepts that he doesn’t ‘believe in’ (e.g. freedom). But when he talks about consciousness, it is very explicit that it plays an actual, significant role, although this role may not be as grand or of the type we may expect it to be.