Friday, December 19, 2008

Nietzsche's Relationship to Political Philosophy

I've posted my review essay of Tamsin Shaw's book Nietzsche's Political Skepticism (Princeton, 2007), which will appear in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews in January. Most of the review is given over to a detailed critique of Professor Shaw's argument. Those who have read my work for awhile know that I don't waste time doing detailed critiques of insignificant work, so even though I am skeptical about Shaw's main theses, I think they are very much worth engaging.

Here are the introductory and concluding paragraphs of my review essay:

Nietzsche's Political Skepticism (hereafter NPS) is a serious, learned, and novel contribution to the literature on Nietzsche’s relevance to political theory. Against the two dominant strands in the secondary literature—one attributing to Nietzsche a kind of flat-footed commitment to aristocratic forms of social ordering, the other denying that Nietzsche has any political philosophy at all—Shaw stakes out a new and surprising position: namely, that Nietzsche was very much concerned with the familiar question of the moral or normative legitimacy of state power, but was skeptical that with the demise of religion, it would be possible to achieve a practically effective normative consensus about such legitimacy that was untainted by the exercise of state power itself. Although, as I will argue below, there are reasons to be quite skeptical that Nietzsche was interested in anything like these questions, Shaw has laid down a clear and invigorating challenge to existing scholarship on Nietzsche’s politics, and it is one worth meeting.


NPS is meticulously footnoted, and Shaw displays a wide and generally deep knowledge of all the pertinent secondary literature. I believe this is the first time I have read a work that cites to book reviews I have written, though in each case the citation was substantive: there was a point made in the review that really was relevant to the issues at hand. Professor Shaw is also quite generous in her treatment of other commentators, even when they are, like Leo Strauss, fairly irresponsible. Her discussions of Burckhardt, Lange, Rankean nationalists, and other contemporaneous intellectual developments were learned, lucid, and helpful. The book is almost always quite well-informed about philosophical issues that affect her reading, and Shaw is particularly good, I thought, in her critique of Nadeem Hussain’s important “fictionalist” reading of Nietzsche (see esp. 92-94). Most books by political theorists on Nietzsche are unreadable for philosophers; this book is the exception that proves the rule. I would not hesitate to say that it is the best book on Nietzsche’s political theory I have ever read, even though I find it unpersuasive. Philosophers interested in Nietzsche’s political thought will have to read this book, and it certainly deserves critical attention and response.

Monday, December 15, 2008

New Preface to the Forthcoming Greek Edition of My "Nietzsche on Morality" Book

Some readers might find this of interest. The publisher was keen for me to talk about how I became interested in Nietzsche, and also to address what he described as the still widespread perception in Greece of Nietzsche as a figure of "the right."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sorry for the Delay in Comments Appearing

I neglected to change my e-mail address from Texas to Chicago, and the Texas address had stopped forwarding, so there was a backlog. I've just now approved a whole bunch of comments, as well as changing my e-mail address to the current one for comment moderation. Thanks to all those who contributed, and my apologies for the mix up.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Moral Skepticism and Moral Disagreement in Nietzsche"

I've posted a revised version of the paper I gave at the annual NYU "History of Modern Philosophy" conference in November (which generated an excellent and very helpful discussion). I hope the paper may interest moral philosophers generally, as well as Nietzsche scholars. Here is the abstract for the paper:

This essay offers a new interpretation of Nietzsche's argument for moral
skepticism (i.e., the metaphysical thesis that there do not exist any objective
moral properties or facts), an argument that should be of independent
philosophical interest as well. On this account, Nietzsche offers a version of
the argument from moral disagreement, but, unlike familiar varieties, it does
not purport to exploit anthropological reports about the moral views of exotic
cultures, or even garden-variety conflicting moral intuitions about concrete
cases. Nietzsche, instead, calls attention to the single most important and
embarrassing fact about the history of moral theorizing by philosophers over two
millennia: namely, that no rational consensus has been secured on any
substantive, foundational proposition about morality. Persistent and apparently
intractable disagreement on foundational questions, of course, distinguishes
moral theory from inquiry in the sciences and mathematics (perhaps in kind,
certainly in degree). According to Nietzsche, the best explanation for this
disagreement is that, even though moral skepticism is true, philosophers can
still construct valid dialectical justifications for moral propositions because
the premises of different justifications will answer to the psychological needs
of at least some philosophers and thus be deemed true by some of them. The essay
concludes by considering various attempts to defuse this abductive argument for
skepticism based on moral disagreement and by addressing the question whether
the argument "proves too much," that is, whether it might entail an implausible
skepticism about a wide range of topics about which there is philosophical

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blogging about Nietzsche's Theory of Value

Michael Drake is a lawyer with a philosophy background who has been blogging quite a bit about aspects of Nietzsche's theory of value, touching on many issues and authors noted here in the past. There are also opportunities to comment on his postings at his site.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Call for Papers for Nietzsche Society Conference on "Nietzsche on Mind and Nature" at Oxford, September 2009

Nietzsche on Mind and Nature
11 – 13 September 2009
St Peter’s College, University of Oxford

The Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Oxford will host the 2009 International
Conference of Friedrich Nietzsche Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 11-13
September 2009, at St. Peter’s College, Oxford.

Keynote speakers include:

Prof. G√ľnter Abel, Faculty of Philosophy, TU Berlin, Germany.
Prof. Brian Leiter, Faculty of Law, University of Chicago, USA.
Prof. Graham Parkes, Faculty of Philosophy, Cork, Ireland.
Dr. Peter Poellner, Faculty of Philosophy, Warwick University, UK.
Prof. Bernard Reginster, Faculty of Philosophy, Brown University, USA.
Prof. John Richardson, Faculty of Philosophy, NYU, USA.
Prof. Galen Strawson, Department of Philosophy, Reading University, UK.

This conference seeks for the first time to consider Nietzsche’s philosophy of mind in
relation to his philosophical naturalism. We hope to consider papers by Nietzsche
experts with a background in analytical or continental philosophy as well as from those
working in the fields of philosophy of mind and naturalism with a strong interest in
Nietzsche. Potential topics include:

Nietzsche’s theory of subjectivity
Nietzsche and the body
Memory and self
Consciousness and self-consciousness
Nietzsche and biology
Nietzsche and psychology
Mind-body problem
Awareness, emotion, cognition
Perspectivism and the self
Self and otherness
Self-awareness and self-knowledge
Mind as emergent phenomenon
Nietzsche and neuroscience
Nietzsche’s naturalism
Agency and freedom
Mind, world, brain
Intersubjectivity and value

We invite submissions for 30-minute papers on the above or related topics. Please send
an abstract of a maximum of 400 words and a short CV (no longer than one page) via
email by 1 February 2009 to fnsox /at/ Notification of acceptance
will be sent no later than 1 March 2009.

For further details, please visit the conference website at
or contact the organizers at

Dr. Manuel Dries and Dr. Peter Kail, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Gott ist tot!

But not at this small college in Texas. Pretty pathetic.

UPDATE: Temple College, to its credit, reversed itself.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Life is peachy...

...which, alas, will just encourage mispronunciations of "Nietzsche."

(Thanks to John Turri for this amusing link.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Nietzsche for your IPhone


(Thanks to Iain Thomson for the pointer.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Nietzsche Society Conference at Oxford, September 2009

Details here. I'm not certain yet what I will be talking about, but it will probably concern agency and freedom, in a (no doubt futile!) effort to put a stop to the moralizing misreadings of Nietzsche on this topic emanating from certain corners of Southern England!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Greek Translation of "Nietzsche on Morality" Due Out in 2009

On the off chance this might be of interest to some reader(s), I thought I'd mention that I was pleasantly surprised to learn not long ago that a Greek translation of Nietzsche on Morality (Routledge, 2002) will be published in 2009. The book will be published by Okto (Athens). I have been very impressed by the conscientious work of the translator, Yorgos Lamprakos, who has been checking the citations in the English version, and found a number of errors, which will be corrected in the Greek version (citation errors, e.g., citing to GM I:15 instead of GM III:15, that kind of thing).

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Comedian Gervais Offers His Rendition of Hitler Talking to Nietzsche

Here. Slightly amusing, though he, oddly, calls Nietzsche "a political philosopher."

(Thanks to Victor Caston for the pointer.)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Katsafanas Dissertation On-Line

Paul Katsafanas (New Mexico) has put his Harvard dissertation on-line here.  Quite apart from its general philosophical interest to those working in ethics and action theory, about half the dissertation will be of particular interest to Nietzsche scholars.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Shaw on Reading Nietzsche as a Fictionalist

Among the interesting discussions in Nietzsche's Political Skepticism by Tamsin Shaw (Princeton, Politics) is her critique of Nadeem Hussain's thesis that Nietzsche is a fictionalist about value, a subject we have discussed before.   She does not emphasize the anachronism problem, but instead calls attention, correctly I think, to the philosophical implausibility of the view of value at issue.  She proffers two pertinent critiques.   First, she notes that in many of the passages on which Hussain relies in which (as Shaw puts it) "art can be employed to generate knowingly an illusory view of the world" (p. 92), it seems clear that "norms for what would be valuable are already presupposed":  "Art can beautify the world.  But this project of beautification takes for granted existing norms for the way the world ought to be" (p. 93).  So, yes, artistic renderings of the 'terrible truth' about human existence involve a kind of fictionalism, but the fact that this fiction "justifies" existence (per the thesis, e.g., of The Birth of Tragedy, but not only there) presupposes a normative standard independent of the artistic fiction.

Second, Shaw raises doubts about the plausibility that a global fictionalism about value could really suffice for really valuing something.  Here she usefully invokes Frankfurt's idea that (as Shaw puts it) "although modern individuals value the freedom to choose their own ideals, the very espousal of ideals seems to involve a submission to necessity" (93-94).  To really care about what we take to be valuable we have to "believe [it] is worthy to be cared about," but how can we do that about values that we know to be fictions?

How can the fictionalist respond? 

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"Nietzsche's Naturalism Reconsidered"

A draft of this paper is here. This is slated for the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche, which will be edited by Gemes and Richardson. Comments would be most welcome. Here is the abstract:

According to one recent scholar, "Most commentators on Nietzsche would agree that he is in a broad sense a naturalist in his mature philosophy" (Janaway 2007: 34). This may come as a surprise to those who think of Heidegger, Kaufmann, DeMan, Kofman, Deleuze, and Nehamas, among others, as "commentators" on Nietzsche. And yet there are, indeed, clear signs that in the last twenty years, as Nietzsche studies has become more philosophically sophisticated, the naturalist reading of Nietzsche has come to the fore, certainly in Anglophone scholarship. In Nietzsche on Morality (2002), I set out a systematic reading of Nietzsche as a philosophical naturalist, one which has attracted considerable critical comment, including from some generally sympathetic to reading Nietzsche as a philosophical naturalist. In this paper, I revisit that reading and respond to various objections. Topics covered include the role of "speculation" in Nietzsche's naturalism; the difference between the Humean and Therapeutic Nietzsches; the role of culture in naturalistic explanations; the status of claims about causation in Nietzsche's naturalism; whether the apparent metaphysics of the will to power is compatible with naturalism; and how Nietzsche's speculative naturalism fares in light of subsequent work in empirical psychology.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My Teaching Next Year at Chicago

A couple of folks have asked, so here's what's on the agenda:

I'll be doing the "Law and Philosophy Workshop" all year on the topic "Toleration and Religious Liberty." This is cross-listed between the Law School and Philosophy Department, and is open to students in either unit, as well as others at the university; all students will need to submit a statement of interest and other information to be considered for admission (there are details at the link, above). Speakers at the workshop will include Joseph Raz, Simon Blackburn, Susan Mendus, Leslie Green, and Martha Nussbaum, as well as various legal scholars and legal theorists.

In the fall quarter, I'll be offering in the Law School the basic Jurisprudence I course (scroll down) covering the nature of law and the theory of adjudication. In the Spring quarter, I'll offer Jurisprudence II (again, scroll down), which will cover "topics in moral, political, and legal theory." I haven't fixed the precise topics yet, but Juris I won't be a prerequisite. JD students get priority for these, though MA and PhD students from other units can take them as cognates.

Michael Forster and I have also been talking about doing some kind of informal reading group on Nietzsche during 08-09; he's on leave a good bit of next year, but we will have sorted out details by fall. (We will probably offer a formal course/seminar for credit on some figures/topics in German philosophy in 2009-10.)

Please feel free to e-mail me with any questions.

Friday, July 4, 2008

"Nietzsche's Moral and Political Philosophy"

Some time in the next year, I mean to update my SEP essay on this topic.
I'd welcome suggestions from readers about topics/discussions that require revision or expansion, or additional topics that might be included. Thanks.

By the way, I have finally added a response to the interesting comments of Scott Jenkins from the Janaway thread from May. I appreciate those and the other comments there, and may have more to say on this.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Nietzsche Conference at Southampton Coming Up...

...I hope to see some readers there.

I may post a draft of my paper on SSRN if I get a chance before my departure.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Reading Janaway Reading Nietzsche

I've posted on SSRN my review essay (forthcoming in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews) discussing Christopher Janaway's recent book Beyond Selflessness: Reading Nietzsche's Genealogy (OUP, 2007). Here is the abstract:

Particular attention is given to the question of Nietzsche's style, and the
relationship between his philosophical positions and his therapeutic objectives; to Janaway's critique of my account of Nietzsche's naturalism; and to Nietzsche's conception of agency and the meaning of the image (from GM II:2) of "the sovereign individual."

The essay contains a good deal of critical discussion of Janaway's claims, but I want to emphasize here something I write early on about his book:

Janaway’s book will, without doubt, prove instructive and essential reading
not just to readers sympathetic to the naturalistic reading of Nietzsche I
have defended, and not just to those interested in Nietzsche’s Genealogy, but to
all scholars of Nietzsche, regardless of their philosophical and interpretive
starting points.

I would welcome substantive discussion of the issues raised in the review here. Non-anonymous postings only.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

New "Philosophical Topics" Issue Devoted to Nietzsche

The fall 2005 Philosophical Topics (vol. 33, no. 2) devoted to Nietzsche (and edited by Randall Havas and Edward Minar) has finally appeared! My "Nietzsche's Theory of the Will" paper from Philosopher's Imprint is reprinted here, but all the other contributions are new. The other papers are:

"Nietzsche on Language: Before and After Wittgenstein" by Maria Alvarez and Aaron Ridley (both University of Southampton)

"Perspectivism as Ephexis in Interpretation" by Jessica N. Berry (Georgia State University) (this is an important challenge to the treatment of perspectivism favored in earlier work by Maudemarie Clark, myself, and others; Berry offers a new reading of perspectivism linking it to ancient skepticism)

"Nietzsche, the Greeks, and Happiness (with Special Reference to Aristotle and Epicurus)" by Richard Bett (Johns Hopkins University) (it is very nice to see Bett, who has also written a very good piece on Nietzsche and ancient skepticism, writing again on Nietzsche!)

"Our Virtues" by Robert Guay (State University of New York at Binghamton)

"Nietzschean Equality" by Randall Havas (Willamette University)

"On Failing to Be Agents: Freedom, Servitude, and the Concept of 'the Weak' in Nietzsche's Practical Philosophy" by David Owen (University of Southampton [Politics])

"Nietzsche on Pleasure and Power" by Bernard Reginster (Brown University)

"Nietzsche and the Perspectival" by Richard Schacht (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)

"Philosophy and the Politics of Cultural Revolution" by Tracy B. Strong (University of California, San Diego [Political Science])

I've only just perused the volume (apart from Berry's essay, which I've read before and recommend), but the essays by Bett and Reginster look to be especially interesting. A curiosity in the first essay, by Alvarez and Ridley, that caught my attention. They refer (p. 1) to work which "draw[s] connections between Nietzsche's work and issues and thinkers already established within the analytic tradition, in the hope or expectation that light might be shed thereby in one direction or the other." The footnote accompanying this sentence then reads:

A prominent example is Brian Leiter's recent attempt to understand
Nietzsche along the lines suggested by contemporary analytic naturalism.
See Leiter, Nietzsche on Morality (London: Routledge, 2002).

But the first chapter of my book situates Nietzsche's naturalism by reference to Hume, and compares it also to the sense in which Stroud identified Hume, Marx, and Freud as "naturalists." I would not have thought of those thinkers as "contemporary analytic naturalists"!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Katsafanas on Nietzsche on Consciousness

References are to Paul Katsafanas, “Nietzsche’s Theory of Mind: Consciousness and Conceptualization,” European Journal of Philosophy 13 (2005): 1-31. Some other references are to David Rosenthal, “Consciousness and Its Function,” forthcoming in Neuropsychologia (I cite to the MS version).

Katsafanas, as I’ve acknowledged in my “Nietzsche’s Theory of the Will,” Philosophers’ Imprint 7 (2007), is plainly correct to criticize me (and Deleuze) for claiming that Nietzsche views consciousness simpliciter as epiphenomenal. That is not consistent, as Katsafanas shows, with a variety of claims Nietzsche makes, and in retrospect this strikes me as the most serious mistake in my 2002 book Nietzsche on Morality. (There are other interpretive points I would put differently now, but the treatment of epiphenomenalism is the one issue that I now think in error.) Yet it is clear that Nietzsche thinks some aspects of consciousness (e.g., our conscious experience of will) are epiphenomenal: the challenge is to specify the parameters of the epiphenomenalism, and give some principled theoretical account for those parameters. That is not my concern here, though Katsafanas’s paper has interesting suggestions on that score that deserve attention.

Instead, I want to consider critically Katsafanas’s own proposal regarding how Nietzsche demarcates the “conscious” and the “unconscious.” It is an intriguing and subtle discussion, but having taught it recently in my seminar, it strikes me as problematic, both textually and philosophically.

Early on, Katsafanas dismisses the view that the hallmark of consciousness is that it involves “awareness” (2-3). This can’t be right, he says, since there are “unconscious perceptions” (3), and since “a perception is a type of awareness of the world” (3), it follow that unconscious states can involve awareness. That seems right as far as it goes, but it elides a more pertinent proposal (that travels under the general heading of the Higher-Order-Thoughts [“HOTs”] account of consciousness) according to which the hallmark of consciousness is not awareness simpliciter, but rather awareness of being in a particular psychological state, i.e., the one that ergo is conscious. Here is Rosenthal, a leading proponent of the view: “A psychological state is conscious…if one has a thought, distinct from the state itself, to the effect that one is in that state” (15). The HOT need not itself be conscious, indeed, most often it probably is not—unless there is another even higher-order HOT about the original HOT. The details of the view may not matter for our purposes. The point here is that Katsafanas has dealt far too quickly with the intuitive idea that consciousness has something to do with “awareness”: it’s not, contra Katsafanas, awareness of the world that’s at issue, but rather awareness of the state of perceiving or thinking or desiring that we count as conscious. We’ll return to this, below.

Katsafanas dismisses the “awareness” account without citing Nietzsche. But when he turns to claims about Nietzsche’s own view he, quite correctly, assumes a textual burden, as well as a philosophical one. The key passage on which he relies is GS 354, and the key bit (cited at his p. 3) is this (I follow the translation Katsafanas uses, which seems fine for our purposes):

Man, like every living being, thinks continually without knowing it; the thinking that rises to consciousness is only the smallest part of all this—the most superficial and worst part—for only this conscious thinking occurs in words, which is to say signs of communication, and this fact uncovers the origin of consciousness. In brief, the development of language and the development of consciousness…go hand in hand.

This passage comes fairly late in GS 354, and thus obscures the fact that the primary thesis of the section is that, as Nietzsche puts it, “consciousness in general has developed under the pressure of the need to communicate,” which arose for basic evolutionary reasons, i.e., at some point the human animal “needed help and protection.” We will return to this point shortly. Let’s focus, instead, on the passage that Katsafanas makes central to his reading.

What Katsafanas wants to take from GS 354 is the following argument: (1) there is no conscious thinking without language; (2) to think in language is to think conceptually; (3) therefore, conscious thinking is necessarily conceptual or “conceptually articulated.” Here is Katsafanas:

for Nietzsche words and concepts go hand in hand; to think in words is to think by means of concepts. Accordingly, in writing [in GS 354] that conscious thinking occurs in words, Nietzsche is claiming that conscious thinking is conceptually articulated…[I]t follows that unconscious mental states do not have conceptually articulated content; unconscious state must have a type of nonconceptual content (3).

It is one thing to say that “words and concepts go hand in hand,” it is another thing to claim that words are essential to conceptual articulation, which is what Katsafanas needs to support his strong concluding claims, namely, that “It follows that unconscious mental states do not have conceptually articulated content.” Does he have any evidence? Certainly not GS 354. BGE 268, which he cites, tells us that words express concepts, but that is not enough, since it may be that conceptual content can be expressed in other ways (e.g., through images). More on point is a Nachlass passage, WP 506, in which Nietzsche says, in passing that “concepts, possible only when there are words,” though the rest of the passage is silent on that idea and its import. Strikingly, the prior section (WP 505) says, “Consciousness is present only to the extent that consciousness is useful,” which is more in line with GS 354. At the same time, WP 505 makes no claim about consciousness requiring conceptualization or words.

In short, the textual basis for the view Katsafanas ascribes to Nietzsche is exceedingly thin, consisting of a sentence fragment from the Nachlass, which has no analogue I am aware of (Katsafanas cites none) in the published corpus. The absence of real textual support is significant, however, primarly because the view about consciousness Katsafanas wants to ascribe to Nietzsche is extremely implausible on the merits. Since this implausible view is not required by the texts, one should probably not ascribe it to Nietzsche.

Let us now review the details of the view of consciousness that Katsafanas attributes to Nietzsche.

According to Katsafanas, a state has conceptual content when “first, the content is composed of simpler parts, namely, concepts; second, these concepts are structured or composed in a certain way in order to constitute the content” (4). The belief “the cat is white” is “conceptually articulated; the content appears to be composed of two concepts, CAT and WHITE, which are structured in a certain way, namely in a subject—predicate fashion, in order to form the belief” (4). But one could perceive a white cat without having the belief that the cat is white. But to have the belief, you must have the concepts of CAT and WHITE, as well as a grasp of the syntactic form.

Conceptual content is not, however, the only way for a mental state to have determinate content on Katsafanas’s view. Once again, he uses perceptions as the example. “Perceptual content would be conceptualized if the perceived object were represented as an instance of some concept, that is, as a token of some type.” Nonconceptual, but determinate perceptions “represent their objects in a definite way, but do not represent them as instantiating concepts” (7). (To my knowledge, those who think perceptions can involve nonconceptual content do not think this has anything to do with whether or not they are conscious.)

Katsafanas also emphasizes, plausibly, that while both perceptions and concepts require discriminatory abilities, having a concept requires more than this (8). “For Nietzsche, concepts are classificatory abilities; possessing a concept involves the ability to classify various objects as falling under the concept” (8). Thus “concepts are systematically related to other concepts, and concepts can be employed in non-perceptual contexts” (9).

Two points here.

First, the textual evidence proferred for saying this is Nietzsche’s view is misleading in the extreme: footnote #16 (accompanying the last quote) cites BGE 20 as saying that “concepts…grow up in connection and relationship with each other” and involve an “innate systematic structure and relationship” to other concepts. But Nietzsche is not discussing concepts per se—a subject on which, unsurprisingly, he has no views at all as far as I can tell—but rather “philosophical concepts” (philosophischen Begriffe), Katsafanas simply having dropped “philosophical.” In context, it is quite clear that he is making claims about distinctively philosophical concepts—the Cartesian “I think” and the Schopenhauerian “I will”—and not any point at all about Begriffe, at least as philosophers today would understand that idea. So Katsafanas has described a reasonable view of concepts, but there is no reason to say it is Nietzsche’s view.

Second, the fact that “concepts are systematically related to other concepts” has nothing to do with whether they are conscious. Rosenthal has effectively made this point against the view that consciousness is essential for both rationality and intentional action. For the rationality or intentionality of mental states is a matter of their intentional contents, not whether they are conscious; so, too, we might suppose with “systematic relations.” Here is Rosenthal on rationality:

Thoughts and desires are rational in virtue of their having causal connections that reflect rational connections among intentional contents….[S]ince the intentional content of thoughts and desires occur independently of whether those states are conscious, rational connections among them will tend to occur independently of whether they are conscious (9).

And here is Rosenthal on intentional actions:

Actions are intentional when they are initiated by volitions to do those things. And volitions tend to cause the particular actions they do in virtue of the intentional content of those volitions. As with cognitive states, volitions can occur without being conscious; so the property of a volition’s being conscious is independent of its intentional content….So even though we are aware of our own actions as being intentional only when the relevant volitions are conscious, the consciousness of the volitions is not necessary for an action to be intentional (10).
This gets us to the very heart of the difficulty with Katsafanas’s account of consciousness. It may be true, as Katsafanas writes, that “conscious perceptions involve a classifying awareness, whereas unconscious perceptions involve only a discriminatory ability” (9); to be clear, I am not sure it is correct either philosophically or empirically. But even if it is, that does not get us very far in the case of Nietzsche. For Nietzsche, like Freud after him, surely thinks there are unconscious beliefs and desires which figure in the best explanation of observable behavior. But unconscious beliefs and desires must surely have determinate intentional contents! Yet how can they have such contents without their being conceptually articulate contents? How can, per Freud, my unconscious wish to sleep with my mother be anything other than a mental state that deploys the concepts of SLEEP and MOTHER together with some syntactic connectors? The issue of conceptually articulate content seems entirely orthogonal to whether or not the mental state is conscious or unconscious.

Katsafanas, I fear, has obscured the implausibility of the account of consciousness he has ascribed to Nietzsche (an account that no one, as far as I can tell, defends in trying to explain consciousness) by concentrating on the perceptual case—though even here, I don’t take it that those who think perceptions can involve nonconceptual contents think this has anything to do with whether they are conscious or not. But at least in the case of perception, the idea of determinate but non-conceptual content makes some sense. But does it make any sense at all in the case of intentional content that is unconscious? Either Katsafanas has to explain unconscious intentional content without reference to conceptual articulateness or he must claim (how could he claim this?) that there is no such thing as unconscious intentional content.

I am not, needless to say, a philosopher of mind (even though, once upon a time, I published two peer-refereed papers on mental causation!), so it’s possible I’ve made some obvious error in construing the issues about content. I hope Paul Katsafanas or some philosopher of mind with a side interest in Nietzsche (the only kind likely to be reading this!) will set me straight accordingly! I also want to be clear that the only reason I have bothered to write about Katsafanas’s paper is because it is of significantly higher quality than is the norm in Nietzsche studies. I do think one of his central theses is mistaken, but it is interestingly mistaken, and it reflects a degree of scholarly and philosophical seriousness that is far too rare in Nietzsche studies.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Newly Reconstituted "Journal of Nietzsche Studies"

Christa Davis Acampora at Hunter College has taken over as editor of The Journal of Nietzsche Studies, and is making an effort to turn it into a serious scholarly journal. To that end, I accepted her kind invitation to serve on the journal's new editorial board. (The gushing bios of the members of the editorial board are slightly ridiculous, I'm afraid.) Some readers will know that I am rather skeptical about the "Nietzsche specialist" journals, but Professor Acampora has indicated that her ambition is to do better, and certainly there are enough able people on the editorial board that one may hope this will be possible. We'll revisit things in a year or so to see how JNS has been doing.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Nietzsche's Naturalism Redux: Thoughts on Janaway

Sorry for the dearth of postings, it's been incredibly hectic lately. These are very much thoughts in progress. The main references are to Janaway's Beyond Selflessness: Reading Nietzsche's Genealogy (OUP, 2007) and to my Nietzsche on Morality (Routledge, 2002).


Christopher Janaway claims that most Nietzsche scholars now accept that Nietzsche is a naturalist in what Janaway calls the “broad sense”:

He opposes transcendental metaphysics, whether that of Plato or Christianity or Schopenhauer. He rejects notions of the immaterial soul, the absolutely free controlling will, or the self-transparent pure intellect, instead emphasizing the body, talking of the animal nature of human beings, and attempting to explain numerous phenomena by invoking drives, instincts, and affects which he locates in our physical, bodily existence. Human beings are to be “translated back into nature,” since otherwise we falsify their history, their psychology, and the nature of their values—concerning all of which we must know truths, as a means to the all-important revaluation of values. This is Nietzsche’s naturalism in the broad sense, which will not be contested here. (Janway 2007: 34)
This is less a “broad sense” of naturalism, however, than it is “Laundry List Naturalism.” Janaway seems oddly indifferent to the question why these are a set of views a philosophical naturalist ought to hold, or what it is that makes them the views of a philosophical naturalist at all.

My aim, in earlier work, was to make some philosophical sense of why Janaway’s Laundry List Naturalism, in fact, seems descriptively adequate to many things Nietzsche says. I suggested that underlying this Laundry List Naturalism was, in fact, a kind of familiar “Methodological Naturalism” (hereafter “M-Naturalism”), according to which “philosophical inquiry…should be continuous with empirical inquiry in the sciences” (2002: 3). Many philosophers are and have been Methodological Naturalists, but to understand Nietzsche, everything turns on the precise kind of M-Naturalism at issue. I emphasized two commitments of Nietzsche’s M-Naturalism. First, I claimed that Nietzsche is what I called a Speculative M-Naturalist, that is, a philosopher, like Hume, who wants to “construct theories that are ‘modeled’ on the sciences…in that they take over from science the idea that natural phenomena have deterministic causes” (Leiter 2002: 5). Speculative M-Naturalists do not, of course, appeal to actual causal mechanisms that have been well-confirmed by the sciences: if they did, they would not need to speculate! Rather, the idea is that their speculative theories of human nature are informed by the sciences and a scientific picture of how things work. Here, for example, is Stroud’s influential formulation of Hume’s Speculative M-Naturalism:

[Hume] wants to do for the human realm what he thinks natural philosophy, especially in the person of Newton, had done for the rest of nature.

Newtonian theory provided a completely general explanation of why things in the world happen as they do. It explains various and complicated physical happenings in terms of relatively few extremely general, perhaps universal, principles. Similarly, Hume wants a completely general theory of human nature to explain why human beings act, think, perceive and feel in all the ways they do….

[T]he key to understanding Hume’s philosophy is to see him as putting forward a general theory of human nature in just the way that, say, Freud or Marx did. They all seek a general kind of explanation of the various ways in which men think, act, feel and live….The aim of all three is completely general—they try to provide a basis for explaining everything in human affairs. And the theories they advance are all, roughly, deterministic. (Stroud 1977: 3, 4)

So Hume models his theory of human nature on Newtonian science by aiming to identify a few basic, general principles that will provide a broadly deterministic explanation of human phenomena, much as Newtonian mechanics did for physical phenomena. Yet the Humean theory if still speculative, because its claims about human nature are not confirmed in anything resembling a scientific manner, nor do they even win support from any contemporaneous science of Hume’s day.

Nietzsche’s Speculative M-Naturalism obviously differs from Hume’s in some respects: Nietzsche, for example, appears to be a skeptic about determinism based on his professed (if not entirely cogent) skepticism about laws of nature. Yet Nietzsche, like Hume, has a sustained interest in explaining why “human beings act, think, perceive and feel” as they do, especially in the broadly ethical domain. Like Hume, Nietzsche proffers a speculative psychology, though as I have argued elsewhere (Leiter 2007; Knobe & Leiter 2007), Nietzschean speculations seem to fare rather well in light of subsequent research in scientific psychology. And this speculative psychology (as well as the occasional physiological explanations he offers in passing) appear to give us causal explanations for various human phenomena, which, even if not law-governed, seem to have a deterministic character (cf. Leiter 2002: 5).

But I also emphasized a second aspect of Nietzsche’s M-Naturalism. As I noted, some M-Naturalists demand a kind of “results continuity” with existing science: “philosophical theories,” should they believe, “be supported or justified by the results of the sciences” (Leiter 2002: 4). I argued, however, there is only one kind of “results continuity” at work in Nietzsche, namely, the result that the German Materialists of his day thought followed from advances in physiology, namely, “that man is not of a ‘higher…[or] different origin’ than the rest of nature” (Leiter 2002: 7).[1] Arguably, Nietzsche’s one bit of Substantive (in contrast to Methodological) Naturalism--meaning “the (ontological) view that the only things that exist are natural” [Leiter 2002: 5]--is a consequence of this “results continuity. Here, of course, Nietzsche had in mind the developments in 19th-century physiology which appeared to support the view that all kinds of conscious experiences and attitudes had physiological explanations. (I discuss this at greater length in my book.)

By introducing Nietzsche’s naturalism within a broader typology of kinds of naturalism, I appear to have sowed confusion among some scholars. Janaway’s recent critique of my naturalist reading is illustrative. He complains, for example, that:

[N]o scientific support or justification is given—or readily imaginable—for the central explanatory hypotheses that Nietzsche gives for the origins of our moral beliefs and attitudes. For a prominent test case, take Nietzsche’s hypothesis in the Genealogy’s First Treatise that the labeling of non-egoistic inaction, humility, and compassion as “good” began because there were socially inferior classes of individuals in whom feelings of ressentiment against their masters motivated the creation of new value distinctions. This hypothesis explains moral phenomena in terms of their causes, but it is not clear how it is justified or supported by any kind of science, nor indeed what such a justification or support might be. (2007: 37)

This challenge, of course, simply ignores my claim that Nietzsche, like Hume, was a Speculative M-Naturalist, as, of course, Nietzsche had to be given the primitive state of psychology in the 19th-century! A Speculative M-Naturalist simply does not claim that the explanatory mechanisms essential to his theory of why humans think and act as they do are supported by existing scientific results. To be sure, what Nietzsche does do is appeal to psychological mechanisms—such as the seething hatred characteristic of ressentiment—for which there seems to be ample evidence in both ordinary and historical experience, and weave a narrative showing how that simple mechanism could give rise to particular human beliefs and attitudes. It is, moreover, quite easy to see what empirical evidence would bear on this. To start, is there a reason to individuate a psychological like ressentiment for either diagnostic or predictive purposes? And if so, what is the symptomology of those suffering from that emotion? Even in the First Essay of the Genealogy, Nietzsche elicits a variety of kinds of evidence in support of the existence of this psychological mechanism: for example, the facts about the etmology of the terms “good” and “bad”; the general historical fact that Christianity took root among the oppressed classes in the Roman empire; and the rhetoric of the early Church Fathers. Here we see Nietzsche arguing for a characteristically scientific kind of inference: namely, to believe in the causal role of a particular psychological mechanism, for which there is ample independent evidence, on the basis of its wide explanatory scope, i.e., its ability to make sense of a variety of different data points.

Janaway, it bears noting, in fact endorses a weaker version of my reading of Nietzsche as an M-Naturalist, though the weakening seems to derive from his misunderstanding of the role of “results continuity” in my interpretation of Nietzsche’s M-Naturalism. He writes that “Nietzsche is a naturalist to the extent that he is committed to a species of theorizing that explains X by locating Y and Z as its causes, where Y and Z’s being causes of X is not falsified by our best science” (2007: 38). Janaway prefers this account, because of his doubts about whether there are actual scientific results supporting Nietzsche’s actual causal explanations. Since my reading of Nietzsche’s naturalism emphasized its speculative character, Janaway’s formulation serves as a useful way of stating a pertinent constraint on speculative explanations: namely, that they not invoke entities or mechanisms that science has ruled out of bounds. But even so, it may seem an unnecessarily weak a criterion: why not expect, instead, that a good speculative naturalist will rely on explanatory mechanisms that enjoy some evidential support, or that enjoy a wide explanatory scope, of the kind we expect genuine explanations in the sciences to exemplify? I do not think there is text in Nietzsche that settles this matter, and so this is more a matter of giving the most philosophically appealing reconstruction of his actual argumentative and explanatory practice.

[1] Janaway (2007: 37) says: “the status of this as a ‘result’ is perhaps debatable: it is hard to say whether the exclusively empirical nature of humanity was a conclusion or an assumption of scientific investigation in the nineteenth century or at any time.”. This I find extraordinary. If one discovers that conscious experiences have a neurophysiological explanation, or an explanation in terms of the biochemistry of the brain, hasn’t one adduced some evidence that bears on whether man is of a “higher or different origin” than the rest of nature? Our consciousness and our capacity for self-reflection, for spirituality, for “inwardness” are all among the typical phenomena appealed to as evidence of our “higher” or “different” nature, perhaps as glimpses of our immaterial “soul” even. If, in fact, they are explicable through processes and mechanisms that are operative in other parts of the natural world, is that not evidence that we are not of “a higher or different origin” than other natural things?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Is Nietzsche a Fictionalist?

References, below, are to Nadeem Hussain’s paper “Honest Illusion: Valuing for Nietzsche’s Free Spirits,” in Nietzsche and Morality, ed. Leiter & Sinhababu (Oxford: 2007) (cited as HI) and the “Postscript” to the same paper in the same volume (cited as HIP).

Given Nietzsche’s explicit “anti-realism” about value—nothing has value “in itself” Nietzsche tells us—what exactly do those Nietzsche calls on to “create” values understand themselves to be doing? Nadeem’s interesting answer: they are engaged in a kind of make-believe—“regarding X as valuable in itself while knowing that in fact X is not valuable in itself” (HI, 166)—similar to what we find when we become engaged with an artistic work, or when children engage in play. “Nietzsche’s free spirits pretend to value something by regarding it as valuable in itself while knowing that in fact it is not valuable in itself” (HI, 170).

Crucial to the question Nadeem sets is his claim that Nietzsche thinks “all claims of the form ‘X is valuable’ are false’” (HI, 159) and thus Nietzsche is committed to “an error theory about moral claims”: “the beliefs expressed by moral judgments are false because they involve believing in moral facts when in fact there are none” (HI, 159).

But does Nietzsche think such judgments express beliefs, i.e., truth-apt propositional attitudes? That is the key question. Nadeem notes in a long footnote my view that “there are inadequate textual resources for ascribing to [Nietzsche] a satisfying answer” to questions about the semantics of moral claims and thus no “adequate grounds for ‘assigning’ Nietzsche a view on such subtle matters as whether ethical language is primarily cognitive or non-cognitive” (HI, 160 n. 6). Yet to motivate his version of the interpretive question, Nadeem needs the claim that evaluative judgments are to be treated as truth-apt: it is because they are truth-apt, and also all false, that those who create values seem to be in a peculiar situation of making evaluative judgments that they know to be false. (Nadeem’s commitment to this assumption also comes out in the fact that the only alternative readings he considers are cognitivist realisms: the “subjective realism” discussed early on, and the Will-to-Power Interpretation discussed at the end. The criticisms of both are apt, but beside the point, for reasons I’ll suggest, below.) This, in turn, generates the relevance of “the examples of art and imaginative play” which “are, according to Nietzsche, supposed us the psychological possibility of regarding things as valuable even when we know that they are not” (HI, 175).

Because of the centrality to the argument of saddling Nietzsche with a semantics of judgments of value, Nadeem added an interesting “Postscript” to the published version of his article responding to my charge of anachronism (in particular, as formulated in my Stanford Encyclopedia entry on Nietzsche, which discusses Nadeem’s work). Nadeem proposes to adduce evidence of “kinds of fictionalism that were present in the nineteenth century” and also evidence that it is reasonable to ascribe fictionalism, meaning “a denial of non-cognitivism,” to Nietzsche (HIP, 179). It is the second kind of evidence that will be decisive in reply to my objection, since no one, to my knowledge, denies that there were views dubbed “fictionalist” in circulation in the nineteenth-century; the worry (as I put it) is that there are not “adequate grounds for ‘assigning’ Nietzsche a view on such subtle matters as whether ethical language is primarily cognitive or non-cognitive.” To put this in contemporary terms suggested by Matti Eklund, the worry is not about “ontological fictionalism” but about “linguistic fictionalism”: Nietzsche (certainly on my account, and most other ones) has views about the metaphysical status of moral properties, and one intelligible possibility is that he views them as having the same ontological status as fictional entities; the question is whether there is any reason to think Nietzsche has a view about the correct or preferred semantics of linguistic or mental content. Nadeem recognizes, correctly, that his interpretation depends on having adequate grounds for ascribing the latter.

Now Nadeem allows (again, at 179) that he has no evidence that Nietzsche was thinking explicitly about the cognitive versus non-cognitive character of moral discourse, but he claims “the historical evidence does suggest precisely what we need for fictionalism, in the sense that needs to be ascribed to Nietzsche, namely an attitude other than belief [e.g., “make-believe” belief] towards the same content—an attitude such that whether the content is false is no longer relevant” (179). I do not find Nadeem’s historical evidence about competing views about “attitude[s]…towards…content[s]” persuasive in the case of Nietzsche. He adduces strikingly good evidence that Bentham held a linguistic fictionalist view, but none that Nietzsche knew anything about this. When Nadeem turns to the authors Nietzsche did know about, it seems apparent that their views are, at best, versions of ontological fictionalism.

The quotes from Bentham (HIP, 180) are so striking precisely because Bentham distinguishes explicitly “the grammatical form of the discourse employed” from the ontological question of what actually exists, and he endorses, again explicitly, the idea of treating the syntactic entites—e.g., “the noun-substantive”—as genuinely referring expressions, but referring to “fictitious” entities. Here is a kind of self-consciousness about distinguishing the meaning and nature of linguistic items (e.g., are they genuinely referential? If so, to what do they refer?) from metaphysical questions about what really exists. Unfortunately for Nadeem’s argument, there is no evidence—Nadeem does not claim otherwise--that Nietzsche had any familiarity with Bentham’s prescience on this score. More problematically, when Nadeem turns to the 19th-century authors Nietzsche did know something about, they display none of the Benthamite prescience that would warrant ascribing to them linguistic fictionalism.

For example, in the case of David Strauss, Nadeem has good grounds (HIP: 181-183) for saying that Strauss believed religion should be treated as a “myth,” since its claims were false but had some significance when construed metaphorically or mythically. But that view is clearly compatible with differing semantics for religious discourse. One could, for example, think religious discourse is non-cognitive, but that it admits of a metaphorical construal which admits of a cognitive interpretation that does not entail error theory. Or one could think that religious discourse is cognitive, and thus systematically false, but that its metaphorical content is not systematically false. There is nothing in the texts of Strauss to decide between these two subtly different options.

Nadeem’s evidence about Feuerbach and Lange is no better—indeed, some of his evidence creates problems for his preferred view. For example, Nadeem quotes (HIP: 186) Nietzsche reading Lange as follows: “Art is free also in the domain of concepts. Who would refute a phrase by Beethoven and who would find an error in Raphael’s Madonna?” But surely the implication of this comment is that we should treat music and art non-cognitively, as expressing attitudes or feelings of some kind, and thus not susceptible to refutation or error, as they would be if cognitive. When Nadeem turns, finally, to Vaihinger, he effectively acknowledges that Vaihinger has no coherent view about the semantics, when he mentions all the various (and inconsistent) locutions Vaihinger employs (HIP: 187). Nadeem tries to elide this by saying that all the locutions reflect a “concern…to ensure that by changing our attitude we avoid having a false belief.” But that is far too weak for linguistic fictionalism, since there are two ways to avoid having a “false belief” on offer: first, by having a belief that is true (e.g., because it picks out a metaphorical meaning); and second, by not having a belief at all. Vaihinger says things consistent with both possibilities, not surprisingly.

Would it suffice if Nadeem can establish Nietzsche’s commitment to ontological fictionalism? I do not see that it will, since Nadeem consistently casts his interpretive thesis in a semantic idiom and, moreover, he describes his account as attributing revolutionary fictionalism to Nietzsche. But revolutionary fictionalism recommends a revolution in how we conceive of the discourse, i.e., the semantics of the discourse, in order to save it from error theory, and thus ward off the prospect of eliminativism. (If the discourse is cognitive and systematically false, why not just get rid of it altogether?) Given that there is no real evidence that Nietzsche has a clear view about the semantics, it seems extraordinary to think he was recommending a revolution in how we conceive of it.

Nietzsche’s lack of clarity about the semantic content of our judgments about value is reflected in Nietzsche’s texts too, and to an extent that is not really acknowledged by Nadeem. This comes out perhaps most clearly in Nadeem’s critical discussion of Reginster’s book (“Metaethics and Nihilism in Reginster’s The Affirmation of Life”, hereafter, M&N, available on his homepage:

HussainReginsterv17.pdf). Nadeem thinks that Reginster’s “nihilism of disorientation”—the disorientation that flows from realizing there are no objective values—involves committing Nietzsche to an error theory, which (as Nadeem candidly admits at p. 7) “is a combination of a semantic claim about what evaluative language purports to be about, namely, objective value facts, and an ontological claim that denies such facts.” Reginster does not frame the nihilism of disorientation this way, and I think he is right not to do so (whatever his unclarities about the notions of “objective” and “subjective” value, with which Nadeem correctly takes some issue). Indeed, Nadeem can adduce no clear textual evidence for ascribing the error theory, and, as in HI, he is silent on the textual evidence in tension with this reading.

So, for example, in M&N (p. 9), Nadeem points to a line from Twilight of the Idols in which Nietzsche declares “there are altogether no moral facts.” Yet, in context, it is clear that Nietzsche is not denying the objectivity of value per se, but rather denying certain descriptive presuppositions about human agency that he takes certain kinds of moral judgments to require. There are “no moral facts” means, e.g., that there is no such thing as a will that is causal, which there would have to be, he thinks, for ascriptions of moral responsibility to be justified. Even if we give that claim a semantic gloss, it would not give us a general error theory about judgments of value.

Nadeem goes on to quote another part of the same passage—in which Nietzsche says “Moral judgments are therefore never to be taken literally: so understood they always contain mere absurdities”—and then says (M&N, 9) these represent “the typical semantic claims of the error theorist.” Yet the claim that “moral judgments are therefore never to be taken literally” could just as well serve as the slogan for the non-cognitivist as the cognitivist error theorist. That Nietzsche is clearly not thinking of the semantic issues seems apparent when we notice that the sentence in question is followed by the claim (not quoted by Nadeem) that the “semiotic” value of moral judgments is as symptoms of “cultures and interiorities.” Indeed, in the very first chapter (“The Problem of Socrates,” section 2) of the same book, Nietzsche tells us that, “Judgments of value…can, in the end, never be true: they have value only as symptoms,” which suggests, to my ear, not error theory, but non-cognitivism.

Consider, too, that in the same and surrounding sections of Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche repeatedly compares morality to religion, on the grounds that both are committed to the existence of “imaginary causes.” Even if we want to gloss that as an error theory about moral and religious discourse, it would be incredible to think that fictionalism is Nietzsche’s response in the religious case, as opposed to eliminativism. Yet why would the two cases come apart like this? It is more plausible to my mind that Nietzsche simply had not thought, and so had no clear view, about the semantic implications of his thesis.

We may come at the textual problem confronting Nadeem’s ascription of fictionalism to Nietzsche a different way. Nietzsche’s texts, including many that Nadeem quotes, also suggest that the “free spirits” don’t think “having value” means “having value in itself.” The Nietzschean discovery, in other words, is that nothing has value in itself (as he puts it in both The Gay Science [sec. 301] and in Dawn [sec. 3]), but that things do have value, namely, whatever value we project upon them. So evaluative judgments might be cognitive, but they are not false, because they do not involve a commitment to believing that things have value in-themselves. In the Nietzschean world, every evaluative judgment contains within it recognition of what value actually is: namely, a projection.

But we might press this alternative reading in a different direction, one also suggested by the texts. Perhaps the relevant semantics for evaluative judgments in a projectivist world really should be non-cognitivist: moral judgments express our attitudes towards things, and those who “create values” are those who succeed in “projecting” their attitudes on to things (the way, e.g., the slaves in the Genealogy succeeded in projecting their estimation of the masters to the point that even the masters accepted it [to be sure, neither the slaves, nor the masters, recognize the projective nature of value in this story--but unlike “free spirits,” they presumably also don’t recognize that the world in-itself is valueless]). This story certainly resonates with one of Nietzsche’s favorite metaphors for value creators, namely, that they are legislators (Gesetzgeber):

[T]rue philosophers are commanders and legislators: they say “That is how it

should be!”…Their “knowing” is creating, their creating is a legislating, their will

to truth is—will to power. (BGE 211)

Legislators, those who say “this is how it should be,” presumably are not systematically in error: they do not have a false belief that the world conforms to their legislation, but rather express the desire that it should conform to their legislative act—their legislative act expresses their will to power, their will to make the world be as they command it. So legislation might give us a simple, non-cognitivist model of “value creation.”

As far as I can see, the textual evidence adduced by Nadeem is equally well-suited to this reading of the metaethical framework in Nietzsche; indeed, this alternative reading may have the advantage of fitting the “legislation” metaphor more successfully. Because Nadeem is committed, without convincing evidence, to the claim that Nietzsche believes evaluative judgments express beliefs, however, the only alternatives to his reading he considers are cognitivist realisms (such as the “subjective realism” discussed early on in HI). But the real challenges, the one he needs to take up, will come from readings which reject the assumption that Nietzsche is committed to an error theory, either because he is not a cognitivist or because evaluative judgments don’t involve erroneous realistic assumptions about value.

So I am not persuaded, obviously, that Nietzsche is a fictionalist in Nadeem’s sense, but he has posed a powerful challenge to anyone who wants to resist that reading and he has focused scholarly attention on an important interpretive issue that had been relatively neglected in previous work. For all these reasons, HI is one of the most important papers in Nietzsche studies over the last decade.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Obama and Nietzsche

A New York Times article reports that as a college student, Barack Obama, one of the two leading contenders for the Democratic nomination for President, was interested in Nietzsche, Freud, and Sartre. A hopeful sign! I would have been worried if as an undergraduate he had been enamored of Kant or Hegel!

(Thanks to Joe Paxton for the pointer.)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Most Significant Nietzsche Articles in 2007?

So, as I noted on my philosophy blog, The Philosopher's Annual is coming back to life, and now I've been asked to serve as a Nominating Editor. I would be curious to hear from readers whether there were any Nietzsche articles that appeared in 2007 that they thought were really first-rate? I think there are some that might be in contention, but I may also have missed good pieces. Since I'd also like to make sure that excellent articles in post-Kantian Continental philosophy more generally are represented, please feel free to post recommendations there as well. All comments on this thread must be signed. Thanks.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Was Nietzsche Left-Handed?

Charles Huenemann, a philosopher at Utah State University, writes:
I'm wondering whether you could ask, on your Nietzsche blog, if anyone knows whether Nietzsche was left-handed (and what source their knowledge is based upon). I'm asking because I'm working on an article on his illness, and a neurologist I'm consulting thinks it's relevant.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Jenkins Reviews "Nietzsche and Morality"

Scott Jenkins, a philosopher at the University of Kansas, has written a generous review of the book of new essays edited by Neil Sinhababu and myself, Nietzsche and Morality. The review is also quite informative, offering nice capsule summaries of the arguments of each essay, as well as astute questions and criticisms. I plan to take up in subsequent work the question Professor Jenkins poses about my essay with Joshua Knobe. The puzzle, in a nutshell, is this. If, as Knobe and I argue, Nietzschean moral psychology presupposes a more credible psychology than other important philosophical theories (such as Aristotle's and Kant's), what explains this fact, given that Nietzsche's primary methods of psychological investigation--namely, introspection and non-systematic observation (both his own and that of other astute observers of human behavior, from Thucydides to La Rochefoucauld)--are not one that would be considered epistemically robust these days.?Did Nietzsche just get lucky? Or does his success tell us something important about knowledge and truth in the human sciences?