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? 


Rob said...

Although I think the case for fictionalism has yet to fully contend with what Nietzsche has to say about value in GM, TI, AC and EH, and so should not be so reliant on material from “middle period” texts of GS, I suppose one response might be that the normative standard presupposed is: whatever expresses or fosters a “Dionysian”, “yes-saying”, “healthy”, “exuberant”, “overfull”, etc. type of life.

In EH (BT 2) he writes:

"This final, most joyful, effusive, high-spirited yes to life is not only the highest insight, it also the most *profound*, the most rigorously confirmed and supported by truth and study."

If this can't be dismissed as a rhetorical flourish, perhaps it could be read as anchoring global fictionalism in what Nietzsche takes to be the best understanding of the way of the world and our place in it -- so that global fictionalism would in some sense be ultimately responsive to necessity.

[There's a tension, I think, that Nietzsche is trying to resolve in EH between (1) his early/middle period preoccupation with the idea of art and values as distortive embellishments of the humanly intolerable truth of reality, and (2) his later critique of ressentiment/decadence morality (GM, AC, EH) as having distorted, perverted or 'denatured' natural values, which seems to depend on some notion of the 'right' kind of values as being those which stem in the right kind of way from natural human facts.

How else, I wonder, are the "reverse attempt" of GM 2.24, the 'translation' of BGE 230, and even the call to become "physicists" in GS 335 to be made sense of?]

Anonymous said...

One reply a fictionalist could give would be to refer to two standpoints - external and scientific vs. internal and moralising a la Blackburn. She could deny that we can adopt both at the same time. When we are immersed in the normative fiction we recognise the objective norms of how the world ought to be and their authority. From this perspective we deny the fictionality of the values. So when Shaw makes the claims she does she is making the from within the fiction. And, Nietzsche makes a lot of similar claims too.

But we can step back to the scientific, external standpoint to give a metaethical account of our moralising practice, we recognise its fictional nature.

Of course there are problems with this view as Dworkin has nicely argued. But defending any sort of expressivism in metaethics (which many people do) hangs on the very same issue and so many people do think that this reply is available.