First, is Paul’s account of drives compatible with my interpretation (in the 2007 paper) of the Will as Secondary Cause? The short answer is ‘yes,’ it is, strictly speaking, compatible. But Paul intends a stronger claim which is brought out by the answer to the second question.
Second, is there textual evidence of a stronger role for the Will than that as Secondary Cause? Paul claims there is, and I’ll return to those passages below.
Third, do drives “determine” or “merely influence” conscious thought. Paul opts for the latter.
Paul thinks that N. accepts a view of the will that is “more robust” than the Will as Secondary Cause reading would allow. The crucial issue is that Paul thinks “Nietzsche views conscious thoughts as exerting causal influence on non-conscious states.” Paul references his important EJP paper from 2005, and I’ve conceded previously that he is correct to object to me (in NOM) and Deleuze that consciousness, per se, can not be epiphenomenal for N. But there’s more than that at issue here.
Let’s try to make this as explicit as possible, since these issues are hard and under-treated in the secondary literature. Recall Freud’s patient Anna O (nothing turns on whether Freud is right, we are just trying to individuate possible causal roles). Anna O ‘freaks out’ when she sees a glass of water on the dining room table. What *causes* her to freak out? Most basically, it is her repressed feelings of disgust upon seeing, in the past, a dog drinking from a glass of water on a table. More precisely, the *idea* (the memory) of the dog drinking from the glass on the table is repressed, but the *feelings* (the affect) are still floating around her psyche, and are triggered whenever she sees a glass of water on a table.
Now “seeing a half-empty glass of water on a table” is a conscious thought she has. And it seems to stand in a causal relationship with her ‘freaking out.’ So here’s one causal role for consciousness in action: conscious perceptions can be part of the causal chain leading to action (‘freaking out’!)—they can “trigger” a free-floating affect (and triggering is presumably some kind of causal relation).
Quite generally, conscious perceptions, in the presence of antecedent desires, can play a causal role in action, and it would seem mad to deny it: if I *desire something to quench my thirst* and I consciously perceive water, and form the conscious belief that water is in front of me, then surely that conscious mental state plays a causal role in explaining my action (drinking the water).
So let’s take for granted that N. had better not be denying any of these causal roles for conscious mental states. That’s why it was a mistake in NOM to suggest that conscious mental states were epiphenomenal *tout court.* They can’t be, without giving up the causal influence of conscious perception on action and without giving up the causal influence of conscious beliefs about effective means to ends on action.
But that isn’t what’s really at issue here. None of these conscious beliefs or perceptions involve *the conscious experience of will.* In the preceding cases, sensory experience gives rise to beliefs which, given *antecedent* desires (or drives) yield action.
Perhaps the issue is whether (as Paul puts it) “drives are altered by conscious judgments.” Now if the phrase “conscious judgments” includes the conscious perceptions and beliefs just noted, then of course such conscious judgments can alter drives: not their *aims*, to use Paul’s useful distinction, but their *objects*.
Paul, however, cites the interesting and clearly pertinent passage D 38 titled “Drives transformed by moral judgments.” But what precisely is the transformation at issue? N’s claim is that drives in themselves have no moral character, “nor even a definite attendant sensation of pleasure or displeasure: it acquires all this, as its second nature, only when it enters into relations with drives already baptized good or evil or is noted as a quality of beings the people has already evaluated and determined in a moral sense.” His example is “envy,” which the Greeks viewed more positively than we do. So on this picture there is some underlying drive—let us say, “to wish one had what others have”—but whether it is *experienced* as good or evil, pleasant or unpleasant, is affected by, we shall say, the “cultural climate,” where that climate is internalized by the agent. I do not see that anything in D 38 requires that the internalization be conscious, but nor do I see a problem if it is: just as the *object* of my hunger drive changes with the conscious perception of different foods (even though the aim is unaffected), so too the *object* (or even the manifestation) of my envy drive may change with the conscious perception of the cultural climate. In none of this is the experience of free will at issue.
Something similar can be said of Paul’s other two examples: that the thought of eternal recurrence “is centered on the conscious reaction one has to a thought experiment” and that N’s critique of religion and morality “rest[s] on the idea that consciously embracing these modes of life and these values is damaging.” Quite clearly, N. thinks the thought of eternal recurrence and MPS values (in my terms) are or can be causally efficacious. We must be cautious, though, about the talk of consciousness in all this. To be sure, it seems reasonable to think that an agent in a culture dominated by MPS consciously experiences MPS values (e.g., feels good about his altruistic deeds, feels guilty about his egoism, and so on). But this is no different than a conscious perception of a piece of cake fixing the *object* of the hunger drive. And an agent may consciously think about eternal return—say, after reading Nietzsche—but whether it is causally efficacious may depend entirely on whether it excites a particular unconscious drive (much as perceiving the piece of cake might excite the hunger drive).
I addressed a version of this problem in NOM, so let me just reprint here my comments there (157-158):
[W]hen N. affirms the explanatory *primacy* of type-facts about agents, he is
only ruling out causal efficacy that is not ultimately traceable to causal
efficacy in virtue of type-facts. Thus, N can, as we saw, admist the plausible
view that the values an agent is exposed to can affect the agent—but only in
virtue of type-facts about that agent [e.g., exciting, or inhibiting, certain
pre-existing drives]. Thus, if MPS hinders the flourishing of higher types, it
is only because there are type-facts about higher types that make them
susceptible to the influence of these values. So, too, agents can come to accept
values that are, overall, harmful to that type of agent only in virtue of
type-facts about agents that would lead them to do so—this, in fact, is the very
essence of ‘decadence’ for Nietzsche.
So notice that on this picture, we get a causal role for conscious mental states (though not those associated with the feeling of free will), in the sense that consciousness is the medium for representation contents that excite, inhibit, or otherwise affect non-conscious drives. None of this, though, seems enough for “genuine agency” in the moralistic sense with which the tradition is usually concerned.
To sum up, so far, Paul has pressed the point (which I conceded in the 2007 paper) that conscious mental states can be causally efficacious. But that is no longer in dispute.
So do drives determine conscious thoughts? Certainly what Paul calls the “weak reading” of the relation must be right, given that everyone admits that environmental factors, including values, are causally effective on the person (I suppose they could only affect non-conscious characteristics of the person, but there is no reason to think that is so). But what prompted my challenge on this score was somewhat different. It was Paul’s claim that N. thinks “reflective thought” plays a causal role or, to quote Paul, that “reflection and self-understanding enable an agent to counteract the effects of particular drives." But none of the passages cited, and none of the argument so far, establishes these claims, as far as I can see.
Paul is explicit in his reply that he wants to defend the claim that the agent is sometimes “in control of [his] action.” But nothing in Paul’s reply establishes that. Paul notes that N’s view of agency is “quite subtle,” but no one was disputing that, and invocations of subtlety are not enough to vindicate moralistic misreadings of N. (though talk of “subtlety” seems to be a favorite rhetorical flourish of misreaders—vide Ridley’s confusions).
What we need to see is actual textual evidence that conscious “reflective thought” and “self-understanding” plays a causal role in action that can then be attributed to the “control” of the agent. Paul alludes to an argument in his paper “The Concept of Unified Agency,” which I look forward to reading. But the mere unity of agency isn’t necessarily enough for control or responsibility. And that’s what is at issue, not whether conscious mental states *tout court* are causal.