Friday, December 27, 2013

Alfano on Nietzsche's "Doctrine of Types"

Mark Alfano (Oregon) has posted a draft conference paper that ostensibly takes issue with my account of the "Doctrine of Types" in NOM (Leiter 2002).  In the process, he raises a number of interesting issues.  I'm going to cite to the page numbers of the single-spaced version of the paper he sent me.

The paper starts with some familiar "Alfanoesque bravado":  "the Doctrine of Types, as formulated by Leiter, is manifestly unsupported both by Nietzsche's texts and as an empirical hypothesis" (1).  Oh goodness!  In his paper, Alfano doesn't actually discuss the empirical evidence (though Knobe and I do in "The Case for Nietzschean Moral Psychology").  He does discuss the textual evidence, yet by the end summarizes the view he accepts as follows:
Nietzsche thinks that beliefs and actions, including their moral beliefs and actions, are to be explained largely in terms of their psycho-physical types.  Psycho-physical types in turn are to be understood as constellations of largely stable but nevertheless mutable and interrelated drives.  (13)
I would have thought that was my view, and I'm certainly happy with Alfano's formulation.  So where is the disagreement?

My official formulation of the "Doctrine of Types" (NOM, 8) is as follows (Alfano quotes it):
Each person has a fixed psycho-physical constitution, which defines him as a particular type of person.
If I understand Alfano correctly, he has two primary, though perhaps not entirely consistent, objections:  first, he thinks that type-facts are not "fixed" (he raises this a half-dozen times throughout the paper); and second, he thinks some of the textual evidence that type-facts figure in the explanation of moral beliefs and actions only supports the claim that they figure in the explanation of the beliefs of "philosophers."

The tension in Alfano's criticism arises from the fact that if a "type-fact" (a psycho-physical fact about a person) does figure in the explanation of belief and action, then something must be "fixed" about it, i.e., whatever it is that makes it the type that it is.   (Types can't be types, after all, unless there is something that always makes it the case that some token is an instance of its kind.)  In the end (see above), he is explicit that type-facts are explanatory, and even in his second criticism, he seems to allow that type-facts are explanatory of the beliefs of philosophers, so it seems like he must agree that some kind of fixedness is key.

What I think Alfano's critique brings out is that there is an important ambiguity in talk of "fixed psycho-physical constitution."  Alfano seems to take "fixed" to mean atemporally fixed, since he contrasts it most often with "mutable,"and his examples of "mutability" seem to be temporally sensitive.  He is right to call attention to this, as has Janaway.

But think for a moment of Freud, whom Nietzsche influenced and who also holds a Doctrine of Types in my (and I think Alfano's) sense.  Freud believed persons had a fixed psycho-physical constitution:  putting aside Thanatos, every human being, on Freud's view, has a fundamental drive for oral, anal, and genital pleasure.  These drives are, on the Freudian story, obviously fixed in one sense:  we are supposed to be born with them, and they remain with us throughout our lives.  But they are highly mutable, that is, the psychodynamic story of any person's development is the story of how these drives are repressed, modified, and sublimated.  The sense in which Freud holds a Doctrine of Types--as I take it every interpretation of his thought acknowledges he does--clearly can not be a sense which rules out dramatic mutability.  As Alfano puts it regarding Nietzsche (though thinking, wrongly, that I am disagreeing):  "Drives survive, swell, and abate depending on their 'nutriment'" (3), a point I emphasize in NOM. 

On the second point (my textual evidence and "philosophers"):  Alfano quite fairly points out that some of the passages in support of the Doctrine of Types that I discuss in NOM (Alfano doesn't discuss them all) are primarily about "philosophers":  this is true of GS P:2; BGE 6; and BGE 187.  Since Alfano thinks the Doctrine of Types applies in these cases, he needs to explain why they do not apply more generally.  Alfano ends up admitting that there are two other passages in which Nietzsche, in fact, deploys the Doctrine of Types to explain the beliefs and actions of non-philosophers, but says this is "pretty weak evidence" (11).  That is a pretty feeble response!  Two passages from the published corpus that Alfano discusses (and other passages from the Nachlass that he doesn't mention, but that I cite, since they are of a piece with the published work) support the broader Doctrine of Types, and Alfano simply dismisses the evidence!

But the dialectical strategy is more problematic than that.  Alfano owes us an explanation of why Nietzsche would think philosophers are different in kind from the rest of humanity, such that the explanation of their beliefs and action would be different--and different in a surprising way, i.e., that the beliefs and actions of philosophers are explicable by the Doctrine of Types, but the beliefs and actions of ordinary 'herd animals' are not.  Alfano has no explanation, unsurprisingly.

He also breezes by a crucial passage (GM III:7), in which Nietzsche proposes that "[e]very animal--therefore la bête philosophe too" aims for a maximum feeling of power.  Here Nietzsche quite explicitly treats philosophers as instances of the human kind, which should hardly be surprising for a naturalist like Nietzsche.  Is there any evidence that Nietzsche thinks philosophers are different in kind from the rest of humanity?  I'm not aware of any, and Alfano cites none.  (Alfano quite correctly objects [8] that calling the desire for a maximum feeling of power a 'type-fact' is not illuminating, though I would put the point differently than he does:  it is a characteristic of the human type, but it does not illuminate the difference between human beings (the latter being Alfano's correct point.)

In conclusion, a few points about textual interpretation:

(1) Alfano claims that in GS:2, the claim about the Doctrine of Types is specific to "persons," which is an "honorific category" which rules out "those who fail to integrate, harmonize, or at least wall off their drives from one another" (5).  GS 2 by itself obviously does not support that interpretation:  one would need evidence that Nietzsche uses the term "Person" in this way.

(2)  Alfano claims that the notion of "necessity" in GM P:2 is that of "normative necessity" (namely "what would be fitting, worthy, or appropriate depends on one's psycho-physical type" [7]).   I do not see the grounds for that in the German, which reads:
Vielmehr mit der Nothwendigkeit, mit der ein Baum seine Früchte trägt, wachsen aus uns unsre Gedanken, unsre Werthe, unsre Ja’s und Nein’s und Wenn’s und Ob’s — verwandt und bezüglich allesamt unter einander und Zeugnisse Eines Willens, Einer Gesundheit, Eines Erdreichs, Einer Sonne.
Trees do not yield fruit in accord with a "normative" necessity.  (Alfano makes the same claim again at p. 10 in his MS, with respect to Twilight, "The Four Great Errors," section 2, but again the German does not support that reading.)

(3) Alfano makes a hash of the discussion of Cornaro in the "Four Great Errors" section of Twilight.  He claims:
[T]he physiological facts [about metabolism] are not determinative.  Nietzsche emphatically does not claim that Cornaro ate little because and only because his metabolism was slow.  Indeed, he even suggests that, at times, Cornaro ate a great deal. How else can we make sense of the assertion that "he got sick when he ate more?"  So, as before, type-facts do not determine behavior.  (9)
This gloss contradicts the passage Alfano quotes (9), where Nietzsche says that Cornaro "was not free to eat either a little or a lot, his frugality was not 'freely willed':  he got sick when he ate more."  In other words, a type-fact about Cornaro, namely his slow metabolism, explains why he always returned to a slender diet, namely, because he was made sick by trying to eat anything else.

I should say I particularly liked Alfano's gloss on the "enchanting abundance of types" (12) with which Nietzsche is concerned:
There are higher and lower men.  There are slaves, nobles, and priests.  Philosophers are often discussed as a type, as are free spirits, free thinkers, and good Europeans.  There is of course the overman [sic], and his blinking counterpart, the last man.  Nietzsche also discusses poets as a type, as well as saints and nihilists. The fourth book of Zarathustra is a veritable menagerie of types: the king, the leech, the magician, the retired pope, the ugliest human, the voluntary beggar and the shadow. (12)
As with everyone I bother to critique at any length on this blog, Alfano is worth reading, and not only on this topic.  But he has certainly helped me see some important ambiguities in my initial formulation of the Doctrine of Types that require clarification.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Silk on Katsafanas on "Nietzschean Constutivism"

An illuminating review of an impressively argued book.  I think it is doubtful that the view Katsafanas articulates is Nietzsche's view, but there is much to be learned about both ethical constitutivism and Nietzsche here.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

"Nieztsche and Virtue" at Guelph

This weekend!  Several papers I wish I were there to hear--hopefully they will be put on-line before long.

(Thanks to Mark Alfano for calling it to my attention.)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Shaw on Nietzsche, Weber, suffering, and the "Last Man" Problem

Tamsin Shaw (NYU) has written a profound and important paper on "The 'Last Man' Problem:  Nietzsche and Weber on Political Attitudes to Suffering," which is forthcoming in this volume.  She kindly gave me permission to discuss it here.  Page references will be to the typescript version she shared with me.  (Shaw originally presented the paper at the U of Chicago Political Theory Workshop a few years ago, which is how I learned of it.  It is to this paper that I alluded in the first footnote of this paper of mine ("The Truth is Terrible").)  I am no Weber scholar, but Shaw makes a prima facie very plausible case for Nietzsche's influence on Weber.  In what follows, I will take as correct those claims of hers.

The "Last Man" problem of her title is essentially this:   the "last man" whom Nietzsche derisively describes in the Prologue to Thus Spoke Zarathustra is a hedonist who aspires only to "a comfortable life, entertainment, distraction, and an agreeable enough death" (2), and who thus "views suffering as something that should simply be eradicated, never as something meaningful" (3).   Weber, who also sometimes uses the same phrase as Nietzsche is, on Shaw's reading, also referring to the "last man" in his famous line about our modern "specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart."  Both Weber and Nietzsche find this hedonist contemptible; as Shaw aptly puts it:
[T]he threat to the dignity of humanity derives, for Nietzsche, from our unwillingness to suffer or to make others suffer for the sake of great human goals, even as we acknowledge such goals to be what makes the spectacle of human life on this planet something worthwhile and valuable.  (4)

Weber, like Nietzsche, sees suffering as both an inescapable feature of the human situation; as necessary for "what makes the spectacle of human life on this planet something worthwhile and valuable"; and as only tolerable if meaningful.  Inescapable suffering can never be meaningful in purely hedonic terms, and since it is, at the same time, part and parcel of what makes "the spectacle of human life...worthwhile," we are in a dilemma if the 'last man' prevails.  (Weber, on her reading, is particularly interested in the political ramifications of this dilemma for secular political orders, since the exercise of political power necessarily imposes suffering on its subjects.)

Shaw, like a number of other writers (including Daniel Came and Simon May), takes the need for suffering to be meaningful to be a kind of "theodicy-demand," though for reasons that will become clear, I think that's not a helpful analogy, and beyond the simple fact that Nietzsche is obviously not interested in how to reconcile God's omniscience and omnipotence with human misery.  But adopting the language of theodicy allows her to give a nice statement of the "'Last Man' Problem" later in the paper:  "in the absence of a solution to the theodicy-demand our commitment to non-hedonistic ends will be endangered, for our suffering will already seem excessive and our primary aim will be to diminish it" (26).  And, of course, if some of us can not remain committed to non-hedonic ends, then there will be nothing left of the "spectacle[s]" that make life worth living.

Shaw says that both Nietzsche and Weber accept that humans have a "psychological need for an overall justification of human suffering" (7) and that,
They both adopt...a holistic view of justifying suffering.  It is a psychological, rather than a normative claim, and it concerns the amount of justification that will satisfy us sufficiently to support motivations of certain kinds, more specifically, our motivation to act in accordance with non-hedonistic values...
What Nietzsche seems to suggest is that acknowledgment of the truth [about the human situation] will lead to a sense of ultimate futility that is motivationally debilitating...Insofar as we must engage in action in the world, and this action is liable to entail suffering and sacrifice of various sorts, an overall theodicy has to be the necessary psychological anchor for all our motivations.  I shall refer to this holistic requirement as the theodicy-demand.  (7, 10)
Shaw suggests that the "obliviousness" strategy of achieving states of Dionysian ecstasy (as suggested in The Birth of Tragedy) is of no real help, since "this kind of experience can only be available to humans as an extraordinary and transient state.  It is not compatible with functioning in the world" (16).  The alternative is to try to justify suffering, render it meaningful, by appeal to the purposes that justify it.  (I will skip over a discussion of how the ascetic ideal supposedly does this; I was not persuaded by Shaw here, but interested readers can refer to my discussion in the relevant chapter of my Nietzsche on Morality.)   Weber recognizes both possibilities (he associates the former with various forms of mysticism), but is primarily concerned with finding "substitute[s] for meaning-conferring supra-human purposes" (25), which are no longer plausible in the rationalized, modern world.  On Shaw's account, Nietzsche "suggests that we posit super-human goals," adding that "the more inhumane aspects of his thought follow from this proposal" (32).  My suspicion is this involves taking some of Zarathustra's rhetoric a bit too seriously; I propose a different account in "The Truth is Terrible," which I won't repeat here (I will be putting a revised version on-line soon, which incorporates some of Shaw's analysis).  Weber, by contrast, sees the phenomenon of charisma as playing this role of a non-religious purpose that could justify suffering (Shaw's discussion is illuminating, but since Weber's view is not my immediate concern, I will not try to summarize her analysis).

Shaw concludes by taking issue with both Nietzsche and Weber--indeed, she suggests that Weber, given his account of rationalization and the disenchantment of the modern world, is wrong to think the theodicy-demand is "inevitable"(40-41).  Shaw claims that not all suffering is "justification-apt," that only suffering that flows from someone's intention to inflict suffering demands justification.  She writes:
Much of the suffering that we undergo (illnesses, the death of loved ones, the fear of one's own death etc. etc.) should not raise any demand for justification and although it will inevitably be burdensome to us, even unbearably so, it should not weigh on us as being unjustified.  If it does, we are still operating with an essentially theistic view of the world [i.e., we are viewing all suffering as caused by a super-human agency].  (41, emphasis added)
Here I worry that Shaw has forgotten her earlier observation that the demand for "justification" is not "normative" but "psychological."  (I may not be understanding what she means by this.)   Nietzsche claims it is a psychological fact (there is good evidence for it, by the way, as the revised version of "The Truth is Terrible" will discuss [thanks to some great help I received from Isaac Wiegman at Wash U/St. Louis])  that suffering gives rise to ressentiment, and that undischarged and undirected ressentiment is fatal to a person.   Sure, it may not be rational to want a justification for a lot of suffering that people endure, but Nietzsche's hypothesis is that absent a sense of the suffering as "meaningful," people will lose their hold on life, whether that is reasonable or not.  This is supposed to be a brute psychological fact about their affective lives, not about what it is reasonable to seek by way of a normative defense.   Shaw's objection may stand against Weber, though it will depend on how much of Nietzsche's psychology Weber is taking on board:  on this, I have no informed opinion.

Here I am reminded of an important point made by Ken Gemes in his illuminating review of Bernard Reginster's important book.   Reginster’s account of nihilism (and ultimately of affirmation), Gemes objects, is “overly cognitive.  Nihilism in its depest manifestation is for Nietzsche an affective rather than a cognitive disorder.”  Gemes, “Nihilism and the Affirmation of Life,” European Journal of Philosophy 16 (2008), p. 461.   Reginster treats nihilism as coming in two main forms:  “disorientation” resulting from the realization that there are no ultimate, objective values; or “despair” resulting from the realization that one’s values can not be realized in the world as it is.   Reginster, like Heidegger, presents a Nachlass-centric account of nihilism, though he does so much more skillfully and interestingly.   But he misses, I fear, the more central worry about “nihilism” in Nietzsche’s corpus, namely, that people will experience life as not worth living—that is, after all, the “suicidal nihilism” that is central to Nietzsche in the Genealogy.  That is the theme that runs from The Birth of Tragedy to the very end in Nietzsche’s corpus, and while it is closer to what Reginster calls the nihilism of “despair,” it is not, as Gemes notes, a matter primarily of belief as opposed to affective orientation towards life.  In the end, I worry that Shaw has taken a similarly "overly cognitive" approach to what's at stake in the demand for justification.  (A minor side-point about the Gemes essay, which is very much worth reading in conjunction with Reginster's book:  he says at the start, completely falsely, that "nihilism" is a central theme in Nietzsche while "morality" is not.)

Some skepticism notwithstanding, I found Shaw's paper to be one of the most rich and stimulating papers on Nietzsche I have read in recent years, one that goes to absolutely core issues in his corpus.  In the revised version of "The Truth is Terrible," I will try to do a better job defending a version of something like what Shaw calls the "obliviousness" response to the problem of suffering.  But as I acknowledged in the first version of this paper to go on-line, Shaw's paper had a profound effect on my way of thinking about these issues.  I encourage everyone to read it.  

Monday, September 16, 2013

Nietzsche on the radio in Canada

CBC's "Ideas" program will be devoted to Nietzsche this evening, from 9:05 to 10 pm Eastern Standard Time.  One can listen live from the website.  (It will also air on WBEZ in Chicago at 11 pm Chicago time.)  Interviewed for the program were me, Christine Daigle (Brock University), and Rebecca Comay (Toronto).  I have not heard the final version of the show, but I thought Paul Kennedy and I had a good discussion, and that he asked the right questions.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Various videos/audios on religion, toleration, and Nietzsche

I was surprised how many exist on-line.  Some I have posted her in the past, but some I hadn't even seen before, so perhaps they will be of interest to some readers.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Another article on Nietzsche's pathetic sister and her anti-semitic husband

The New York Times does this periodically, but here is the most recent one.  Happily, they correctly note his distaste for her and her hsuband.  (Thanks to Ruchira Paul for the pointer.)

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Clark & Dudrick's Chapter 3: "Philosophy and the Will to Value"

I'm sorry not to have gotten up some comments on Chapter 2, but I may yet do so.  But while discussion of Chapter 3 is still fresh in my mind, let me set down some concerns about the reading here.

C&D's reading pursues a certain interpretive modus operandi that, in principle, is not objectionable, but that in practice lends itself to considerable abuse.   And the abuses stand as an indictment of the "esoteric" reading methodology that pervades the book I fear.

Here is how C&D frequently proceed:  (1) they set out a "standard" or "obvious" or "natural" reading of a passage (hereafter the "exoteric" reading, as they call it); (2) they point out that this exoteric reading seems to commit Nietzsche to something absurd or mistaken; (3) they propose an "alternative" esoteric reading--one that focuses on "what is left unsaid" and what is allegedly "between the lines"--that avoids the problem in (1), but also, invariably, supports their anachronistic reading of N as a proto-Sellarsian/McDowellian invested in the distinction between the space of reasons and the space of causes.

The problem, invariably, in each case I've examined so far, is that either (2) is false (the exoteric reading does not entail anything absurd or mistaken) or that there are other alternatives, besides their (3).  (1) and (2), in other words, largely serve to license "interpretations" that go so far beyond the text and the context as to seem sometimes incredible.

Three examples from Chapter 3.

First:  C&D quote the famous passage (BGE 5) about the way in which great philosophers "all pose as if they had discovered and reached their real opinions through the self-development of a cold, pure, divinely unconcerned dialectic...while at bottom it is....a desire of the heart that has been filtered and made abstract...that they defend with reasons sought after the fact."  To the exoteric reading, they object:
Why should it matter that these reasons are "sought after the fact" if they are good reasons?  If Nietzsche is criticizing philosophers' views on the basis of their origins, then he confuses the order of discovery with the order of justification, thereby committing a version of the genetic fallacy.  (67)

They use this argument to suggest an "alternative reading" (not an obviously wrong one, but one also not inconsistent with the exoteric reading, though we can put that to one side).  The problem is that their argument against the exoteric reading of the passage is quite poor.  It would obviously be fallacious to argue that the metaphysical claims of philosophers are false because their origin lies in antecedent evaluative commitments of philosophers.  But that isn't N's claim, anywhere that I can find.  On the other hand, it is not fallacious, and clearly correct, that if the metaphysical claims of philosophers arise from "desire[s] of the heart that [have] been filtered and made abstract," then quite obviously such claims are unreliable and unjustified, since "desires of the heart" are not epistemically reliable guides to the way the world is.    But, in addition, most of Chapter 1 of BGE is given over to offering arguments against the very "reasons" the great philosophers give for their metaphysical conclusions:  so, e.g., N argues that the "immediate certainties" of Descartes and Schopenhauer are nothing of the kind; that the Stoic metaphysics of nature is just a projection of their values on to nature; and that all kinds of metaphysical claims of philosophers are just cases of reifying aspect of syntax, treating them as reliably referential when there is no reason to do so.  So N's point in BGE 5 is not fallacious, but epistemically sound; and, in any case, N offers independent arguments against the post-hoc "reasons" metaphysicians offer for their claims.  (C&D have to downplay the latter point, because they claim in the prior chapter, that Vorurteil--as in von den Vururtheilen der Philosophen--can also mean "prejudgment," not simply "prejudice.  That's true, but translating it is "prejudices" is quite natural, given that the whole chapter is given over to attacking the various prejudices:  projecting values on to nature, reifying syntax, misreading the phenomenology of inner experience, and so on.)    There is no need, in short, for an "alternative" reading of BGE 5, because the natural reading is quite correct.

Second:  in their reading of BGE 10, C&D usefully and quite plausibly suggest that the passages involves two contemporary casts of philosophical characters:  "skeptical anti-realists" like Lange, Spir and Teichmueller, NeoKantian philosophers who are naturalists about the phenomenal world (it is as the sciences present it), but "who insist that the empirical world is mere appearance, as opposed to the 'true world' of the thing in itself" (70); and "positivists" who endorse the naturalistic view of the world (it is as the sciences describe it), but reject the Kantian idealism (which is the source of the so-called "skepticism" of the other camp:  i.e., we can never know what the world in-itself is really like).  C&D then puzzle (71) about why N is so insulting to the "positivists," calling them "reality-philosophasters in whom there is nothing new or genuine" (BGE 10).      C&D even acknowledge that N's view is closer to that of the "positivists" than the skeptical anti-realists (71).  They then write:
Then why insult [the positivsts]....?  Presumably because positivism says that there is no knowledge available to us except through the senses and the extension of the senses afforded by the sciences.  (71)
With that (undefended) claim (#2 in the modus operandi, above), they then proceed to their esoteric reading.

But the #2 move here is rather obviously false.  Here is BGE 134:  "All credibility, good conscience, and evidence of truth first come from the senses."  This is hardly atypical rhetoric for Nietzsche.  So the reason for objecting to the positivists that C&D give can't be Nietzsche's reason, since it's the same view he endorses, repeatedly.  Moreover, there are alternative explanations for N's insulting the positivists that C&D do not consider.  First, there is the thought that genuine philosophers, in N's honorific sense of that term, are legislators of values (BGE 211), and it is, of course, quite correct that positivists (like Ludwig Buchner, the "old doctor" N. derides in BGE 204) thought science would replace philosophy, not recognizing, as N does, the need for values to inform even scientific inquiry.  (C&D also note the relevant of BGE 211 here, but its relevance does not depend at all on their implausible claim about N's objection to positivism in the quote from p. 71, above.)  Second (and I owe this suggestion to Claire Kirwin), there is the objection just two sections later (BGE 12) protesting the way in which positivists like Buchner (who veer between type-type identity theories of the mind/brain relation to outright eliminativism about the mental) lose any idea of the "soul" and thus lose the possibility of doing psychology, which Chapter 1 concludes (sec. 23) is the path "to the fundamental problems."   N has plenty of disputes with "positivists" like Buchner without attributing to him rejection of a view he shares with the positivists!

Third:  C&D note (72-73) the "obvious and standard interpretation" of BGE 11:  N. ridicules Kant's answer to the question "How are synthetic judgments a priori possible?" as parallel to Moliere's doctor who explains why opium puts people to sleep in terms of "a sleepy faculty [virtus dormitiva]."  As C&D put it:  "Kant explains the possibility of synthetic judgments a priori in the same way:  "in virtue of a faculty" (Vermoege eines Vermoegens)" (73).  On this standard reading (that Clark herself once endorsed, before being overcome with esotericism!), N. proposes dispensing with Kant's question in favor of a naturalistic question, namely, why do creatures like us need to treat such judgments as objectively valid in order to survive (74). 

Now comes the standard move #2 in C&D's modus operandi:
But if this standard interpretation is correct, BGE 11 is open to a serious objection.  To accuse Kant of an empty answer, N must interpret Kant's question concerning the "possibility" of synthetic a priori judgments as a request for an explanation of the fact that we make such judgments.  But, in fact, Kant's question concerns what justifies us in taking synthetic a priori judgments to be true, not what explains why we make them.  (74)

That would be a rather silly mistake, but the only reason for attributing it to N is an overly literal interpretation of the parallelism between Kant's mistake and that of Moliere's doctor.  It is true that Moliere's doctor is giving a (poor) causal explanation for the effect of opium:  but that is what the question demands.  But Kant's question--correctly stated by N as "How are synthetic judgments a priori possible?"--is not a question that calls for a causal explanation, but a justificatory one, as C&D note (and as N surely realizes).  That is, Kant's question is how can it be possible that there are judgments that combine both synthetic and a priori elements, such that the resulting judgment is objectively valid?   And Kant's answer is, in simplified form, because of a faculty of the understanding that imposes certain categories on any possible experience--that faculty explains the possibility of the objective validity of such judgments.  But that would only be a satisfying explanation if we had some independent evidence for the faculty (if we had independent evidence for a virtus dormitiva that would help the doctor too!)--otherwise, it seems just a gratuitous explanatory posit, just like the virtus dormitiva.   

To be sure, N is ridiculing Kant rather than arguing with him--why bother to argue with the details of the transcendental deduction of the categories, after all, if you believe, as N does, that Kant's metaphysics and epistemology are just post-hoc rationalizations for his moral objectives?  But there is no reason to think that N believes that Kant's question about the "possibility" of synthetic a priori judgments is a purely causal question.  The parallelism with Moliere's doctor doesn't depend on such an assumption.

In further support of their esoteric reading, C&D ask (pointing to the start of BGE 11):  "where does N find attention being diverted from Kant's idealist legacy?" (76).  C&D suggest, on the basis of no other textual evidence, that N is referring to the "Back to Kant" philosophers who "shared a distaste for the excesses of the great systems of German idealism" (76) and liked Kant's "science-friendly" attitude instead (recall that Lange et al. thought that discoveries in physiology actually vindicated Kant).  It is true that those philosophers were unsympathetic to Hegel, but it does seem strange to accuse them of neglecting Kant's idealist legacy!  But C&D want to put the blame on the NeoKantians so that they can pose another challenge:
Why would N begin the aphorism by accusing those with naturalistic sympathies [i.e., the NeoKantians like Lange] of ignoring [Kant's]  legacy and self-understanding if he believes [as the standard reading of the passage has it] that naturalizing the categories is the right way to carry out Kant's program?  (76)

But all this, once again, ignores an obvious possibility:  namely, that those who are ignoring Kant's idealist legacy are not the NeoKantians (which is bizarre on its face, they love the categories!) but positivists like Buchner who really do completely ignore Kant's idealism, i.e., they view science as describing the world as it is in-itself, and so they also have no reason to naturalize the Kantian categories of the understanding, since they don't even recognize them! 

What drives the tortured hermeneutics in C&D's treatment of BGE 11 is, as they candidly admit, that "it would completely undermine our interpretation if N thought that Kant's program should simply be transformed into a naturalistic one" (75) and thus defeat their extravagant claim that N thinks of himself as "the one who proposes to carry out Kant's normative project" (75).   It seems to me more plausible to adopt a different interpretive conclusion.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Thoughts on Clark & Dudrick's book on Nietzsche's BGE: Chapter 1 on Nietzsche's Preface

This is the first of a series of posts commenting on aspects of Clark & Dudrick's book (herafter C&D).  As I am quoted as saying on the dustjacket, the book is, indeed, "essential reading for Nietzsche scholars."  There is, however, much that seems to me wrong-headed, and while I'll also try to call attention to important insights and arguments C&D develop (and there are many), I will no doubt focus a bit disproportionately on where things seem to me to go wrong.  (I am reading the book in conjunction with some PhD students as part of an independent study/reading group, and while I have no doubt been helped by talking with Jaime Edwards, Claire Kirwin, and Dan Telech, they should not be thought to either agree with me or to be responsible for any mistaken claims I make!)

Chapter 1, on Nietzsche's Preface, makes two helpful and plausible claims:  first, that N's preface is, in part, a parody of Kant's preface to the 1st Critique; and second, that to understand what N. means by dogmatism and by metaphysics, it is important to realize that he was concurrently engaged with Spir's Denken und Wirklichkeit.  It is certainly true that "dogmatists" must include "metapahysician[s]...a priori system builder[s] in the pre-Kantian mode" (C&D, 18), but it has to include more than that, given, among other things, that N. plainly thinks Kant is a dogmatist.  Here is where N's reading of Spir is key, since Spir equates dogmatism with metaphysics simpliciter, that is, with any doctrines that go beyond the empirical evidence (indeed, as C&D notes, Spir even describes "the metaphysical approach to philosophy to be a kind of mental illness, which is not to be set aside through arguments" [C&D, 19], which certainly must have resonated with N!).   Thus, Spir, like Nietzsche "rejects Kant's claim concerning the possibility of a critical metaphysics" (C&D, 21)--i.e., one that first examines the limits of pure reason--and thus view the Kantian kind of metaphysics as dogmatism as well.  Of course, Plato's philosophy, with its commitment to the existence of timeless, universal, and non-empirical truths, would also be a prime example of a dogmatic philosophy.

C&D are less convincing, to my mind, on the passage's prognostications about philosophy's future.  The key passage from N's Preface is this one:
But the fight against Plato, or, to speak more clearly and "for the people," the fight against the Christian-ecclesiastical pressure of millenia--since Christianity is Platonism "for the people"--has created a magnificent tension of the spirit in Europe the like of which had never yet existed on earth:  with so tense a bow we can now shoot for the most distant goals.
For C&D, this "magnificent tension" is a struggle between what they call "the will to truth" ("believing only what corresponds to the way the world actually is" [C&D, 37]) and the "will to value" ("the will to see the world in a way that accords with [one's] values" [C&D, 44], around which their interpretation is organized.  (We will return in later postings to what they say about these two wills.)  The Preface continues:
The European feels this tension as a state of distress, to be sure; and there have already been two grand attempts to relax the bow, once by means of Jesuitism, the second time by means of the democratic Enlightnement...But we, who are neither Jesuits nor democrats, nor even sufficiently German, we good Europeans and free, very free spirits--we have it still, the whole need of the spirit and the whole tension of its bow!  And perhaps also the arrow, the task, and who knows, the goal.

C&D gloss the first bit of this as follows:  "The suggestion here is that the democratic Enlightenment and Jesuitism each tried to collapse the tension of the bow by doing away with one of the directions or forces creating it" (28).  But this just seems to mangle the tense bow metaphor:  if you do away with one of the "forces creating it" you either shoot the arrow (you release the taut string) or the arrow falls to the ground (you release the bow).   To unbend a bow is, of course, to reduce both opposed forces simultaneously--to reconcile them, as it were, or bring them together, so that the arrow neither shoots nor falls to the ground.  (In general, I think C&D are far too invested in the metaphor of the bow, but allowing that we should take it so seriously, it seems to me we should get the metaphor right in terms of how a bow actually works!)

Unexplained in all this (at least here) is how exactly Jesuitism and the democratic Enlightenment tried to unbend the bow, once we understand that metaphor correctly:  that is, what kind of reconciliation did they try to affect?

It seems to me that C&D have neglected a rather more natural reading, one that has the virtue of connecting the preface to the book's title, Beyond Good and Evil, and to familiar Nietzschean themes, such as the death of God and the defeat not simply of the Church, but of its poison (to paraphrase the famous line from GM I). 

Nietzsche says the manificent tension of the bow was created by the struggle against Platonism/Christianity.  But who is it that is involved in this fight?  Obviously Nietzsche himself, but also, to some extent, German Materialists, and other empiricists and naturalists of all stripes.  The struggle, however, has always proceeded on two fronts:  against, roughly, Platonic/Christian metaphysics or cosmology, and against Platonic/Christian morality (Nietzsche, Machiavelli, some figures of the Rennaisance have mostly been involved in the struggle against the latter).  The attempts to "unbend" the bow have been the attempts to preserve the Platonic/Christian morality, while bracketting or disowning or turning over to the merely "private sphere" the metaphysics or cosmology.  So, e.g., Jesuits famously cultivated the method of casuistic reasoning as a way of defending Christian morals, without recourse to claims about God's will, Biblical authority, and so on.  So, too, the democratic Enlightenment tried to put reason's imprint on Christian morality (think of Kant or Bentham), while either expressing open skepticism about Christian cosmology or relegating it to the sphere of private faith, not public dogma.   The tension, of course, results from the attempt to salvage the morality without its traditional metaphysical foundations--although Jesuits and the Enlightenment try to unbend the bow, they have actually brought about "the death of God," though most do not realize that has happened or its frightening ramifications.

Nietzsche, of course, rejects Platonic and Christian metaphysics and cosmology, but, as the book's title and much of its content makes clear, he also wants to repudiate the Platonic/Christian morality that went hand-in-hand with it, indeed, that was the motivation for the metaphysics (as we learn in the first chapter of BGE).   So Nietzsche will have nothing to do with the efforts of Jesuits and Enlightenment democrats to unbend the bow, by trying to reconcile a naturalistic world view, which is incompatible with Platonic/Christian metaphysics, with Platonic/Christian morality.  Nietzsche, instead, intends to shoot the arrow by fulling repudiating the Platonic/Christian view, both its metaphysics and its morality--he needs the tension of the bow, but he is going to resolve it by shooting the arrow into a future "beyond good and evil," in which the struggle against Platonism and Christianity is won on all fronts, metaphysical and moral.

I think this understanding of the metaphor will do greater justice to the central themes of the book, but it will be for future postings to see whether that claim can be made good, or whether C&D's framework can do better.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Secondary literature on Nietzsche on disgust?

Jason Clark, a post-doc at the Institute for Cognitive Science at the University of Osnabrueck, writes with a request which some readers may be able to helep with:

I'm wondering if you know of anything in the Nietzsche literature that focuses on his theory of disgust?  With the exception of Menninghaus, my numerous searches have turned up little that specifically focuses on disgust, and nothing that tries to offer a comprehensive overview.  Any advice on where to look would be appreciated.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Meyer on Addis

Matthew Meyer (Scranton) has a smart and informative review of the unusual book on Nietzsche by Addis here.