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.