Thursday, December 17, 2009
Best Philosophical Articles/Books of the Decade
Monday, November 30, 2009
More on "Nietzsche Source"
Monday, November 9, 2009
The Continental Traditions in Philosophy vs. "Party Line Continentalists"
This was an interesting talk, but I was saddned to hear Leiter take a snipe at the Postmodernists.
I did not take a "snipe" at postmodernism, I expressed a scholarly opinion, namely, that many postmodernist readers of Nietzsche (like Derrida and in a different way Foucault) misunderstand his views on truth and knowledge, in part because they rely too much on material Nietzsche did not publish, which expresses views it appears he rejected over time. This is, if anything, the consensus view in the scholarly community. But it is not a snipe. The anonymous author does not even address the scholarly issue. This is minor (though revealing), since the really good stuff is coming:
Like many Analytics, Leiter's attitude towards the Continentals (and especially towards the Postmodernists) is of barely concealed contempt. With few exceptions, Analytics tend to reduce the thought of their Continental/Postmodernist foes to easily dismissed, facile generalizations, instead of sincerely engaging in dialogue. Of course, the same could be said of many Continentals and Postmodernists, in regards to their attitude towards the Analytics. Much of the time the Analytics and Continentals really seem to be talking past one another.
I am not an "analytic." I do not even know what that means. I can certainly tell you the basics of Quine and Kripke, though I've read relatively little David Lewis; I think metaethics deals with important philosophical problems, but find most Anglophone normative theory embarrassing; I could give you a short lecture on the Gettier problem and the responses to it, but I think "analytic metaphysics" is a seriously wrong turn in the field and ignore it. I can also tell you the basics about Habermas, though I am not a fan and much prefer Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse; I think Derrida is a charlatan, and am sorry to see Foucault, whom I think is the most interesting diagnostician of the 'iron cage' of modernity since Weber, associated with him so often; I agree with Deleuze that phenomenology is our "modern scholasticism," but have a soft spot for Sartre. I enjoy Hume and Nietzsche, Spinoza and Marx, but haven't much affection for Leibniz or Hegel.
I am interested in philosophy and philosophical problems that crop up in various traditions, but often have an interest and existence that transcends them. But why is it so important to cabin me off as an "analytic" in contrast to the "Continentals" (who are then, wholly bizarrely, equated with Postmodernists by our commenter)? Who are these "Continentals"? If I have written extensively on Nietzsche, occasionally on Marx and Foucault; if I have taught Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Foucault, Adorno, and Horkheimer with some frequency; if I have co-edited The Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy, and I am not a "Continental," then who is?
As I have noted before--and as The Oxford Handbook, I think, reflects--we are living in a Golden Age for scholarship on European philosophy after Kant. Someone who thinks there is a lot of "talking past one another" going on can't, obviously, be talking about the current state of scholarship on figures like Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Husserl, and Merleau-Ponty--so what is the commenter talking about? Who are these mysterious "Continentals" since they are not me, Michael Rosen, Taylor Carman, Frederick Beiser, Peter Poellner, Sebastian Gardner, Julian Young, Raymond Geuss, Michael Forster, or any of the others working on and in various Continental traditions of philosophy?
As any actual scholar knows, there is no such thing as a "Continental tradition" in philosophy; rather, as Rosen and I noted in the introduction to The Oxford Handbook,
[P]hilosophy in Continental Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is best understood as a connected weave of traditions, some of which overlap, but no one of which dominates all the others. So, for example, German Idealism marks the immediate reception and criticism of Kant's philosophy in figures like Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, who use a comprehensive conception of reason to provide connected answers to a broad range of questions of metaphysics, epistemology, and the theory of value. The breakdown of the German Idealist view was, in turn, of central importance in motivating Marx, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, and, more indirectly, Nietzsche. The reactions against Hegel's Idealism in the decades after his death in 1831 were, in fact, manifold; they included: (1) the German Materialism of the 1850s and 1860s in writers like Buchner, Moleschott, Czolbe, and Vogt (though with resonances in better-known philosophical figures like Feuerbach, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche), who took seriously the development of modern physiology, and advocated...the replacement of philosophy by science; (2) Marx's own repuditation of the domain of philosophy as the attempt to establish doctrines in metaphysics and
epistemology in favor of a political, critical and scientistic conception of philosophical method; and (3) the emergence of neo-Kantian thought in the latter years of the nineteenth century (e.g., Lotze, Helmholtz, Fischer, Cohen, Windelband, and Rickert) as a response to the emergence of psychology as a scientific discipline ...
Most of the major twentieth-century developments in "Continental" philosophy can, in turn, be seen as responses to one or more of the nineteenth-century philosophical currents. Inasmuch as there is a Marxist tradition in philosophy, for example, it is marked by a dissatisfication with Marx's professed ideal of a scientific, historical approach to the study of society from which all philosophical questions have been purged, a dissatisfaction expressed in figures like Lukacs, Gramsci, Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, and, finally, Habermas, who returns Kantian-style questions about justification to center stage. (The analytical Marxists in Anglophone philosophy end up, arguably, with a similar dissatisfaction.) Modern Phenomenology arose, like neo-Kantianism, in reaction to the development of modern psychology, in particular the attempt to reduce issues regarding the nature of thought, meaning, and logic to questions to be answered by an empirical scientific investigation of the facts of mental life....In the hands of Heidegger, however, the tradition is importantly transformed, with a new emphasis on the relationship between structures of meaning and the lived experience of particular individuals that inspired the French Existentialists (like Camus and Sartre) in their belief in the priority of 'existrence' over 'essence.'
Other important developments associated with Continental Europe in the twentieth-century do not map neatly on to the story sketched so far. The philosophical tradition we associate with 'Hermeneutics,' for example, which asserts the centrality and distinctiveness of interpretation for any understanding of language (and, hence, of human beings in whose lives language plays a constitutive role), intersects with both the German Idealist and the Phenomenological traditions and brings to them a distinctive set of issues regarding the relationship between language and thought, the nature of historical and social understanding, and the essential finitude of human
understanding, issues that are manifest in hermeneutically minded writers from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries, including, Herder, Schleiermacher, Dilthey, and Gadamer.
So, too, 'Structuralism' was a movement initially not in philosophy, but in linguistics and the social sciences--associated with figures like Saussure, Levi-Strauss, Barthes, Althusser, and others--which placed emphasis on the explanatory autonomy of systems in contrast to psychological, historical, or teleological explanations. But once this idea was imported into philosophy and psychology itself (for instance, by Lacan and Foucault) the consequence took the form of the so-called 'death of the subject' out of which in turn the tendencies known as 'post-structuralism' and 'post-modernism' emerged (in figures like Derrida, Deleuze, and Foucault again). In its most radical forms--informed by Heidegger and one (contentious) reading of Nietzsche--post-structurlism is best understood as a modern form of skepticism,
calling into question not just the possibility of objective truth but of determinate understanding.
This brief, introductory survey of positions, doctrines, and thinkers found on the European Continent after Kant should make clear that any unqualified talk of "Continental" as a kind of philosophy (a doctrine, a method, a set of problems) is ludicrous.
So what's really going on here when people, like the anonymous commenter (but many others, of course), speak of "Continental" or "Continentalists"? For sake of clarity and accuracy, we should really call this sociological phenomenon "Party Line Continentalism" since what it actually picks out is a political effort to enforce a certain philosophical orthodoxy, namely, that which arises from a conception of philosophy and its methods that is largely fixed by Heideggerian phenomenology and developments in mostly French philosophy that involve reactions to Heidegger (such as Derrida, but not only him). Since phenomenology, as it began with Husserl, has much in common with the origins of mid-20th-century analytic philosophy in Frege, there is, shall we say, a certain irony in demarcating the philosophical terrain this way, but it is especially ludicrous to denominate phenomenology-plus-poststructuralism "Continental" given that it effectively excludes the Frankfurt School, Marxism, German Idealism, and Nietzsche from the Continentalist camp. (Of course, that is not how the Party Line Continentalists understand what's going on here, but this is at least partly because their command of the history of European philosophy after Kant is often quite weak and idiosyncratic.)Party Line Continentalists are very exercised about the fact that there are philosophical scholars of the Continental traditions who treat the figures of post-Kantian European philosophy as philosophers, without reading them through the lens and the methods of Heidegger and/or post-structuralism. Heidegger and (most) of the post-structuralists (Deleuze is an exception) were not, however, very good scholars or philosophical expositors, so it is not surprising that those with real training in philosophy and its history would not read the great figures of the Continental traditions in accord with the Party Line.
Now back to our anonymous commenter, who clearly is in the grips of Party Line Continentalists:
It's good that some of the Analytics are finally starting to get exposed to and grapple with some of the early Continentals, like Neitzsche and Heidegger. But, unfortunately, I think many of those Analytics either completely miss the point that the early Continentals are trying to make, or (worse) try to co-opt them in to the Analytic fold. I think the former is the case with Leiter, when he dismisses Thus Spoke Zarathustra as a mere parody.
It is indicative of the intellectual level of too many Party Line Continentals that they are such careless readers and listeners. I did not, in the interview, dismiss Zarathustra as a parody; I pointed out, rather, that Zarathustra is a parody of the Christ-figure (how could this not be obvious?), and the book a parody of The New Testament, with Zarathustra "preaching" an anti-Christian doctrine. I then pointed out that any careful interpretation of Zarathustra has to be alert to the parodic form, and thus careful in attributing what Zarathustra says to Nietzsche--a hermeneutic consideration especially relevant to appraising the meaning and significance of the image of the Overman.
"Analytic" philosophy as a substantive research program has been moribund for forty years or more, yet Party Line Continentalists know so little about the history of even recent philosophy, that they continue to think that there must be Party Line Analytics lined up against them. In fact, it is the entire history of philosophy and almost every major philosophical tradition prior to that launched by Heideggerian phenomenology that is lined up "against them," which is no doubt why Party Line Continentalists are so intent on misappropriating the term "Continental" for their sect and excluding other philosophers and scholars engaged with the Continental traditions from the Party.
Like most philosophers engaged with the Continental traditions in this Golden Age of philosophical scholarship, I am happy to be excluded from the Party. But I am not happy to see the Party Line discredit the philosophical figures I care about by associating them with their sectarian Party Line. But Party Line Continentalism has no business appropriating the name of a place that is the home to such a rich and philosophically interesting array of thinkers, most of whom do not have the all-too-common vices of the Party Line, such as obscurantism, careless reading, dialectical feebleness, and often ignornance of the history of philosophy.
The good news here is that Party Line Continentalism is, ironically enough, increasingly just an Anglophone phenomenon, confined to a handful of departments in the U.S. (e.g., Penn State, Stony Brook, DePaul, Memphis, Vanderbilt, the New School, Dusquesne), the U.K. (e.g., Middlesex and Dundee), and Australia (e.g., New South Wales). (Even these Party Line Continentalist departments are increasingly diverse, which is a welcome development!) On the European Continent itself, Party Line Continentalism is in retreat almost everywhere, as rigorous historical scholarship, that transcends national boundaries, and Anglophone-style philosophical work is increasingly dominant.
I am genuinely hopeful that over the next generation Party Line Continentalists will be exiled entirely to literature departments, where lack of real depth in philosophy and its history does not matter. If, in addition, some of the unfortunate "fads" in Anglophone philosophy--and the trivial intellectual parochialism that often accompanies them--do not intervene, then we may really enter a period of philosophical scholarship in the Anglophone world in which "analytic" and "Continental" as terms of partisan battle are largely uintelligible to those drawn to the problems of philosophy.
UPDATE: Needless to say, comments are more likely to appear if signed.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Nietzsche on Wikipedia
Monday, October 5, 2009
Revised and Penultimate Draft of "Who is the 'Sovereign Individual?' Nietzsche on Freedom" Now On-Line
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Clark and Dudrick on BGE 19
Clark & Dudrick (2009) challenge my reading of BGE 19, and so I should say something briefly about why I find their alternative unpersuasive. The crux of their argument is to deem Nietzsche’s “phenomenology [of willing] simply implausible” (251), which then opens the door for them to re-read the passage as limited to “actions performed in opposition to temptation,” and thus as implicating “one’s commitments or values” (251). This reading, alas, finds no support in the text at all, and is motivated entirely by the claim that as a phenomenology of willing simpliciter, Nietzsche’s account is implausible, and so must be read otherwise. I do not find the account implausible (phenomenology does require careful introspection!), but even if one concurred with Clark & Dudrick about this, it would not follow that the passage has a meaning not to be found in the text: perhaps it is just bad phenomenology. But the evidence that Nietzsche holds the view of the will I attribute to him (Leiter 2007) is overwhelming, and BGE 19 as I read it fits nicely with the view that Nietzsche articulate elsewhere in his work (Clark and Dudrick confine their attention to this BGE passage). Curiously, Clark & Dudrick make an
issue (251 n. 3) out of my translation of “ich bin frei, ‘er’ muss gehorchen” as “I am free, ‘it’ must obey” instead of “he” must obey. While Kaufmann follows Clark & Dudrick on this point, Judith Norman (in the Cambridge edition) translates it as I do (“it”), and she is surely right to do so, for contrary to Clark & Dudrick’s claim that there is “no masculine noun in the passage for which the masculine pronoun substitutes,” it is, I would have thought, obvious in context that the “er” that obeys is the body (der Körper), which of course is a masculine noun.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
"Nietzsche on Mind and Nature" Conference Sept. 11-13
It was very nice to meet in person a number of Nietzsche scholars, including some who regularly contribute comments here, like Charlie Huenemann and Timothy McWhirter. Because the quality of the papers was unusually high for an FNS event, there were, alas, a lot of conflicts. So while moderating a session which included Rex Welshon's illuminating discussion of Nietzsche and the neurosciences of consciousness and Peter Kail's (as always) masterful explication of Nietzsche's naturalism, I had to miss several papers I would have liked to hear in other sessions. So it goes. I did get to hear later Mario Brandhorst's paper on "Naturalism, Genealogy, and the Value of Morality," and due to some confusion about whether the other speakers for that session were there, we managed to have enough time to have a fruitful dialogue about it in Q&A. I caught some, but not all, of Gabriel Zamosc's very provocative argument about autonomy, sovereignty, and guilt. Galen Strawson gave a tour de force keynote on "Nietzsche's Metaphysics," though one that left a number of us wondering what this metaphysical Nietzsche has to do with Nietzsche the brilliant moral psychologist. My own plenary session led to a number of useful questions (and some naughty behavior by my dear friend Ken Gemes, with whom I've quarrelled about this topic for years now), though I am most indebted to Peter Kail for pointing out to me the need to tackle Spinoza--which led me, in turn, to this very good paper by Donald Rutherford, which I hope to discuss before long. (Rutherford, it seems to me, makes a stronger case for N's positive view of freedom, and its philosophical pedigree, than any of the recent contributors to the Gemes & May volume, so I hope he will publish it before too long. He did kindly give me permission to cite it in the final version of my own "sovereign individual" paper, which I'll have on-line before too long.)
Perhaps the philosophical highlight of the conference, though, wasn't on the official program: disputing at 4 in the morning in the St. Peter's College faculty lounge, with obligatory amounts of 'beverage,' whether or not David Wiggins had a good objection to projectivism with Peter Kail, Allison Merrick, and Christopher Sykes.
My congratulations to Peter Kail and Manuel Dries for organizing one of the best FNS events by everyone's appraisal. Others in attendance are welcome to add their comments on particularly notable papers, discussions, etc.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Myths about Nietzsche
I'm sure various Nietzsche scholars will disagree that these are all myths, but such is life in Nietzsche studies!
Monday, September 14, 2009
Who is the "Soverign Individual"? Nietzsche on Freedom
In the discussion session, John Richardson (NYU) suggested that one familiar sense of freedom--not being subjected to the will of another--is in fact important for Nietzsche. I agreed that that sense of freedom is not a revisionary one, but I don't see the textual evidence that when Nietzsche writes about "freedom" it is this that he has in mind. Reader thoughts on this issue are also especially welcome.
I was sorry not to have been able to attend more of the FNS conference, which was an unusually good one, for which thanks and credit go to Peter Kail and Manuel Dries. I'll try to write a bit more about the conference by the weekend.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Abstracts for Papers at FNS Meeting at Oxford Next Week are Now Available
Friday, August 14, 2009
Announcing "Nietzsche Grid"
Saturday, August 1, 2009
David Rosenthal on Consciousness
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
What is "the Kantian ethics/epistemology/metaphysics/aesthetics grid"?
Nietzsche’s critique [of Christian-bourgeois civilization], however, fails to fit the Kantian ethics/epistemology/metaphysics/aesthetics grid—the very grid that
guides the analytic re-constructor. The result is that even the best analytic
Nietzsche literature (and Reginster’s book certainly falls into that category)
will tend to leave out the essential.
"Analytic" is, of course, a code word for a commentator who knows some philosophy and treats Nietzsche as a philosopher who has arguments and evidence. But put that to one side: what sense can be given to "the Kantian ethics/epistemology/metaphysics/aesthetics grid" such that it is true that, for example, Reginster or me is committed to it, and that in virtue of that, are missing something "essential"? The answer may be (as I suspect) no sense at all, and that like talk of "analytic" this is really just code for something else. But what?
Signed comments only.
Monday, July 6, 2009
Nietzsche's Philosophy of Action
Monday, June 29, 2009
Draft Program for "Nietzsche on Mind and Nature" at Oxford This September Now Available
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Two New Books on Nietzsche: One Introductory, One for Scholars and Advanced Students
The other is the edited volume by Ken Gemes and Simon May on Nietzsche on Freedom and Autonomy. All the essays are, I believe, new, except my "Nietzsche's Theory of the Will," which has appeared elsewhere. My contribution is unique in another way too in this volume, since it is, I believe, the only one to defend the view that Nietzsche denies the causality of the will, thus denies the autonomy or freedom of the will, and thus denies that people are in any meaningful sense free or morally responsible. The other contributors are Sebastian Gardner, Ken Gemes, Christopher Janaway, Robert Pippin, Simon May, John Richardson, Peter Poellner, Aaron Ridley, David Owen, Mathias Risse, and Maudemarie Clark & David Dudrick. The "Birkbeck-Southampton" axis and its fascination with the "sovereign individual" looms large here; Gemes's paper is probably the best representative of this moralized reading of Nietzsche in the volume, and I will have more to say about it in papers I'm working on. But Clark & Dudrick offer a detailed response to my "Nietzsche's Theory of the Will" paper, Poellner's paper develops a very different (from the Birkbeck-Southampton axis) line about Nietzsche's idea of freedom, Gardner develops his "transcendental" reading of Nietzsche on the self (which is both hugely stimulating and suggestive and yet hugely implausible to my mind), while Risse examines the idea of eternal recurrence through a Freudian lens (Risse's paper is most removed from the main themes of the volume). I will probably write more about the Clark & Dudrick and Poellner papers later this summer as well. Only Katsafanas, of important writers on this topic, is absent from the volume, though his work is much discussed by contributors. In sum, I'm hopeful that this volume, together with the forthcoming Oxford FNS conference on related themes, will lead to some real philosophical progress on these issues in the next few years. (Of course, my hope is that the moralizing readings of Nietzsche will be decisively defeated, but we'll see!)
Again, signed reader comments on the essays in the Gemes & May volume are also welcome.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Riverside and 1st Annual Magnus Lecture by Maudemarie Clark
The reading was quite ingenious and provocative, but both Lanier Anderson and I were not convinced (though Anderson agreed with Clark that Nietzsche is something like a compatibilist about free will). We argued, in slightly different ways, that Clark had it right in the 1990 book, that the inescapably Kantian language--"'cause' and 'effect' are pure concepts," "in the 'in-itself' there is nothing of 'causal connections'"--does indeed reflect a NeoKantian (Langean) skepticism about the status of claims about cause and effect. Against the Humean reading, Anderson made I thought the particularly telling point that even in BGE 21 Nietzsche identifies the concept of "sequence" as one we impose upon experience, rather than part of the noumenal world. But "sequence" of course is precisely what Humeans claim is delivered by experience, so allegedly the opposite of a conceptual imposition that structures experience!
At this point, Clark's paper is not slated for publication, though I expect some of these arguments will make their way into hers and David Dudrick's forthcoming book on Beyond Good and Evil. I will probably make use of some of the material from my comments on Clark, and my comments on Gemes and Poellner from last year's Pacific APA session on Nietzsche on freedom, in two essays I'm working on currently: the entry on Nietzsche for the forthcoming Blackwell Companion to Philosophy of Action and my essay for the September "Nietzsche and Mind" conference of the Friedrich Nietzsche Society at Oxford, which will be on the topic, "Who is Nietzsche's 'Sovereign Individual'? Nietzsche on Freedom and Agency," which will eventually end up in the CUP volume on the Genealogy that Simon May is preparing. One or both of these will make it on to SSRN in draft, at which point I'll solicit feedback here.
Bottom line, though, on Riverside was that it was a real treat to participate in such a serious and high-level discussion of Nietzsche. I learned a lot.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
"Bernd Magnus Lecture" at UC Riverside by Maudemarie Clark, May 30th
The First Annual Lecture in
The Bernd Magnus Lecture Series
Saturday, May 30th
Featured Speakers and Commentators:
The inaugural lecture will be given by Maudemarie Clark (UC Riverside) with commentary from Brian Leiter (University of Chicago) and Lanier Anderson (Stanford University)
University of California, Riverside——HMNSS 1500
· 1:00: Welcome by John Fischer
· 1:30: Maudemarie Clark: ‘Nietzsche on Causality and Responsibility’
· 2:30: Break
· 2:45: Brian Leiter
· 3:15: Lanier Anderson’
· 3:45: Break
· 4:00: Q&A Session
For more information, please contact Mark Wrathall (email@example.com)
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
"Nietzsche and Morality" Now Out in Paperback
From the reviews on the dustjacket:
"Nietzsche has a tendency to throw out themes and leave us the task of seeing how they cohere. Many of the essays in this book try to tie up apparent loose ends, and make him say what he should have said if he had followed his insights through. We are entering a new era of Nietzsche studies." Roger Caldwell, Philosophy Now
"This collection of essays contains some of the best recent work on Nietzsche and moral philosophy. The editors state that their aim is to present work that advances the understanding of Nietzsche's ethical views and demonstrates the relevance of those views to contemporary debates in normative ethics, metaethics, and moral psychology. In relation to these two ends, the collection is clearly a success. It presents very good historical scholarship as well as some first-rate work in moral philosophy that engages with the issues that concerned Nietzsche. The collection will certainly be of interest to moral philosophers and to those interested in the history of modern philosophy, and many of the essays should be regarded as essential reading for anyone interested in Nietzsche's engagement with morality."--Scott Jenkins, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
"This volume constitutes a significant advance in the Nietzsche literature. It is among a handful of volumes that anyone with a serious interest in Nietzsche simply must read. It will also be rewarding for anyone who is interested in the way in which moral psychology and action theory bear on ethics." Paul Katsafanas, Mind
Monday, May 11, 2009
Another Friend of the Naturalist Reading of Nietzsche
Saturday, May 9, 2009
The Last "Most Important" Philosopher Poll
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Another Poll: Vote for Nietzsche!
Sunday, April 19, 2009
More Polling Amusement: Rank Order Your Favorite Books About Nietzsche
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
A Useful Review of a New Collection of Essays on Zarathustra
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Where Have Readers Had Good Experiences with Language Study?
Saturday, March 21, 2009
More Thoughts on the Argument from "Moral Disagreement," Part II
1. First, JCD points out that philosophers have had significant disagreements about a range of issues, from common-sense claims about the reality of midsize physical objects, to claims about the structure of spacetime, to meta-philosophical claims about philosophy itself. Should we infer skepticism about the subjects in question from these facts about disagreement? Of course, the argument I am concerned with holds that the best explanation of persistent and intractable disagreement is skepticism that there is any fact of the matter about the subject of disagreement. JCD's examples warrant different treatments depending on the facts of each case.
For example, there was not persistent and intractable disagreement about the non-Euclidean character of spacetime: Kant thought it obviously false, and now everyone realizes that Kant was wrong. Disagreement about (as JCD calls them) "first-order intuitively metaphysical claims" (e.g., the existence of properties or possible worlds) probably does warrant the skeptical inference, so there I am happy to "bite the bullett" (and to do so in Nietzschean terms, e.g., I assume philosophers' metaphysical sympathies track underlying moral commitments, which are themselves explicable psychologically). Disagreement about "intuitively common-sense claims" (e.g., about the existence of table and chairs) does not strike me as either persistent or intractable: skepticism about tables and chairs is now a decidely minority viewpoint (I think I can count the philosophical skeptics on one hand!), and the minority's existence seems more easily explicable sociologically (e.g., there are professional rewards for staking out crackpot positions) than by genuine epistemic uncertainties.
Now JCD acknowledges that there are differing degrees of disagreements about his examples (I have not mentioned all of them, just what I hope is a representative sample). But he makes two points that deserve response. First, JCD notes that "the mere possibility that philosophers have held conflicting views with respect to a given claim in the absence of a cognitive shortcoming seems to me to be just as worrisome as the actuality of this." But this can't be right, since it is central to the argument for moral skepticism that disgareements be persistent and intractable, characteristics that are highly probative of as to what explains the disagreement (e.g., a cognitive shortcoming or the absence of any fact of the matter). Second, JCD notes, fairly enough, that "there has been less disagreement among philosophers with respect to some moral claims" than some of the issues noted above (e.g., the metaphysical and common-sense claims); he gives, though, as an example of a moral claim which has generated less disagreement the following: "the claim that one ought not cause needless harm." This, it seems to me, just obscures the fact that the disagreement here concerns the notion of which harms are "needless," a disagreement which is surely a moral one.
JCD raises a second general issue: namely, whether disagreement among philosophers is really relevant to an explanatory argument for skepticism. As he notes, one might think the "virtual unamity among *physicists* with respect to the claim that spacetime is non-Euclidean" is far more important than disagreement among philosophers about the same subject-matter. Of course, it was precisely developments in physics that put an end to the disagreement among philosophers. But putting that to one side, one might worry that philosophical disagreements about subject-matter X are particularly amenable to non-realist explanations, even when X itself is the object of considerable agreement among non-philosophers. (In any case, that is how I understand JCD's interesting challenge.) As JCD notes, even I concede that philosophical disagreements about morality "often fail to translate into disagreements over what is right or wrong in concrete cases" which might suggest that the philosophical disagreement is "at far remove from the day to day moral discussion." If the "folk" (or the scientific folk) can agree about X, why think philosophical disagreement counts against realism about X? That, I take it, is JCD's worry.
So framed, I think JCD's point is correct: it is part of the reason I do not think skepticism about the non-Euclidean structure of spacetime is warranted. Kant's intuitions about spacetime yielded before work in mathematical physics, as it should. (Mathematical physics has more cognitive content than philosophy, one might suppose.) But does the same general point tell against moral skepticism? Here, I think, the matter is more complex. First, it is not like the 'folk' have the kind of convergence in moral opinion that the physicists have in opinion about the non-Euclidean structure of spacetime. Second, the existence of diagreement among the 'folk' about moral matters is precisely what pushes the issues back one level, to the philosophical realm: the philosophical disagreement tracks, at a more abstract level to be sure, the folk disagreement. And yet the philosophers, despite all their 'advantages' (of time, education, insulation from external pressure etc. etc.), still fail to resolve the foundational issues. To be sure, if there were a "moral physics" converging around certain propositions, then the skeptical argument would face a problem: but the only candidate for the "moral physics" is the work of the moral philosophers, and that is precisely the data on which the skeptical argument from disagreement relies!
Friday, March 20, 2009
Some Old Reviews: of Safranski, Kohler, Conway, among others
In any case, readers may be pleased to learn of this searchable archive. It has already allowed me to catch up on some reviews I missed since my TLS subscription lapsed several years ago.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Which Anglophone school would you recommend for PhD studies focusing on Nietzsche?
CORRECTION: The CUNY listing should also include N. Pappas, who works on Plato and on Nietzsche.
UPDATE: So with a mere 22 votes cast, here are the "top seven," which are pretty tightly clustered. No surprises here, I think, though perhaps with more votes things will spread out a bit.
1. University of Chicago (J. Conant, M. Forster, R. Gooding-Williams, B. Leiter, M. Nussbaum, R. Pippin) (Condorcet winner: wins contests with all other choices)
2. University of California, Riverside (M. Clark, P. Keller, M. Wrathall) loses to University of Chicago (J. Conant, M. Forster, R. Gooding-Williams, B. Leiter, M. Nussbaum, R. Pippin) by 11–6
3. University of Southampton (K. Gemes, C. Janaway, D. Owen, A. Ridley) loses to University of Chicago (J. Conant, M. Forster, R. Gooding-Williams, B. Leiter, M. Nussbaum, R. Pippin) by 12–3, loses to University of California, Riverside (M. Clark, P. Keller, M. Wrathall) by 9–8
4. University of Warwick (K. Ansell-Pearson, S. Houlgate, P. Poellner) loses to University of Chicago (J. Conant, M. Forster, R. Gooding-Williams, B. Leiter, M. Nussbaum, R. Pippin) by 10–6, loses to University of Southampton (K. Gemes, C. Janaway, D. Owen, A. Ridley) by 8–6
5. Stanford University (L. Anderson, N. Hussain) loses to University of Chicago (J. Conant, M. Forster, R. Gooding-Williams, B. Leiter, M. Nussbaum, R. Pippin) by 15–3, loses to University of Warwick (K. Ansell-Pearson, S. Houlgate, P. Poellner) by 8–7
6. Brown University (C. Larmore, B. Reginster) loses to University of Chicago (J. Conant, M. Forster, R. Gooding-Williams, B. Leiter, M. Nussbaum, R. Pippin) by 15–1, loses to Stanford University (L. Anderson, N. Hussain) by 7–5
7. New York University (M. Evans, B. Longuenesse, J. Richardson) loses to University of Chicago (J. Conant, M. Forster, R. Gooding-Williams, B. Leiter, M. Nussbaum, R. Pippin) by 14–3, loses to Brown University (C. Larmore, B. Reginster) by 7–5
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Best Journals for Nietzsche Scholarship?
Which journals, in your experience, publish the best quality philosophical scholarship on Nietzsche? (I list only journals that publish articles on Nietzsche with some regularity, so exclude those journals which, on occasion, publish something related to Nietzsche [e.g., Ethics, Philosophical Review, Philosophers' Imprint etc.].)
The poll is here. My own view is that European Journal of Philosophy is generally best, though even EJP publishes work below the standard of the best Nietzsche work that makes it into other mainstream journals like the ones that are not part of this poll. But I will be interested to see whether readers agree.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
What are your favorite books by Nietzsche?
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Now Your Votes Are Needed More than Ever...
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Who was the greatest philosopher of the 19th-Century?
Friday, February 27, 2009
A Note about the Blog
Monday, February 23, 2009
Nietzsche and Lamarck
My own view, which I offered in discussion, is something of a middle ground between Schacht and Clark (though perhaps closer to Schacht's view of the matter). Schacht is right to emphasize that it really would be astonishing if Nietzsche--self-educated, as he was, in matters scientific--dissented from the familiar Lamarckian orthodoxy of the era. So we should expect to find some passages in his corpus that just presuppose, as uncontroversial, Lamarckian assumptions.
On the other hand, it did seem to me that Schacht swept far too many passages, including large parts of the Genealogy, into the Lamarckian framework, without adequate evidence. As Clark pointed out, many passages Schacht invoked seemed equally compatible with the idea of cultural (rather than biological) transmission of acquired characteristics. Some of the passages (BGE 264 most strikingly) were ambiguous as between the claim that personality traits are heritable (which we know now to be true: cf. discussion in Knobe & Leiter ) and the distinctively Lamarckian claim that acquired characteristics can be inherited. (There is, to be sure, no reason to think Nietzsche was sensitive to this distinction [between heritability and inheritance], but here at least there's a way to interpret what Nietzsche says in a way that does not make it dependent on a manifestly false view, i.e., the Lamarckian one.) Finally, many of the phenomenona in question--such as the acquisition of bad conscience--seem clearly explicable on the assumption not that acquired characteristics were inherited, but rather that certain kinds of recurrent social stimuli reproduce the same kind of effect across generations. So, e.g., if bad conscience represents the internalization of cruelty in response to the constraints that civilization place on human beings, then we should expect bad consicence to be a recurrent attribute of creatures like us brought up within those contraints. The only 'biological' assumption here is that humans all have some degree of instrinctive cruelty; but insofar as other aspects of their biology drive them towards civilized forms of social intercourse with their fellows, we should expect 'bad conscience' to arise across generations.
Friday, February 13, 2009
"Nietzsche on Mind and Nature" at Oxford in September 2009--Update
Friday, January 30, 2009
Katsafanas Reviews Leiter & Sinhababu (eds.), "Nietzsche and Morality"...
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
More Thoughts on the Argument from "Moral Disagreement," Part I
In my paper, I had argued from the fact of "persistent and apparently intractable disaggrement on foundational questions" in moral theory to the conclusion that we ought to be skeptical about the existence of moral facts or properties. JCD claims that we find the same kind of disagreement in mathematics. This might, of course, lead us to skepticism about mathematical facts or it might lead us to worry about this strategy of argument. JCD doesn't take a position on that issue here. He wants, in his first set of comments, to make the case that the situation, when it comes to disagreement, is the same in math as I claim it is in ethics. (His second set of comments raise a different set of issues, to which I'll turn in a second post.)
As an example of "persistent" disagreement in mathematics, JCD notes that, "There has been disagreement over the axioms for set-theory since their formulation."
As evidence that this disagreement is "apparently intractable," JCD notes that "there is not merely disaggrement over the truth-values of mathematical sentences, but also disagreement over what would count as evidence for those sentences' truth or falsity." JCD gives the examples of disagreement over the Choice and Replacement axioms.
As evidence that this disagreement has a "foundational character," JCD notes that disagreement over the axioms for set-theory is "epistemically foundational" for mathematics, since these are "the only serious candidates which might be thought to justify axioms which imply them." Such disagreement is also "metaphysically foundational" since "the axioms of our 'explanatorily' fundamental theory, set theory" are the metaphysical foundation of mathematics.
JCD has the significant advantage here of knowing a lot more mathematics than I do, though I hope to hear from readers also conversant in the underlying mathematical debates. I don't want to take issue with the question of whether the putative disagreements in questions are "foundational" (other readers are welcome to do so); I do want to pose some questions about whether they are "persistent" and "apparently intractable."
Set theory dates from the late 19th-century, so has been subject to about 140 years of development and dispute by mathematicians. How does the state of disagreement today compare to 100 years ago? To 50 years ago? To 25 years ago? Reading the SEP entry on set theory , one is left with the impression of a progressive discipline with gradual agreement on many basic ideas. Why is this? Could any entry on the foundations of morality read like the SEP entry on set theory?
The latter, purely sociological, observations bear on the question of intractability. It appears that many foundational issues in set theory have been resolved since the 1870s. (Is there any foundational issue about the criteria of right action that has been resolved since the 1870s? Or since the 1670s?) Evidence of 'intractability' has partly to do with persistence, but partly to do with the terms in which disagreement is carried out. Foundational debates in ethics devolve into clashing intuitions and accusations of moral corruption and obtuseness rather quickly! What are the terms on which apparently 'intractable' debates about set theory are carried out?
JCD makes the interesting sociological point that "the correlation between relevant mathematicians' views and thsoe of their mentor is impossible to miss." How long does that pattern last? Over multiple generations? Or do we find that the student of X often comes to reject the views of his teacher's teacher?
I don't presuppose answers to these questions. But their answers might well suggest which horn of JCD's dilemma we should embrace (i.e., mathematical skepticism or skepticiam about the argument from disagreement).
I should note that I don't quite understand JCD's reference, near the end of his first set of remarks, to the fact that fictionalists in philosophy of mathematics deny simple arithmetical truths. The argument from moral disagreement appeals to first-order disagreement in ethical theory about the criteria of right action, the nature of moral goodnes, and the relative priority of rightnes and goodness in the evaluatoin of actions and persons, among other considerations. It does not depend on claims about the metaphysics, epistemology, or semantics of these judgments. JCD is obviously skeptical about drawing the line between the meta- and first-order disagreements in mathematics. I would like some further explanation of why, and whether there is any reason for that skepticism to carry over to the meta-ethical case.
Monday, January 26, 2009
My Review of Shaw on "Nietzsche's Political Skepticism"
Thursday, January 22, 2009
"Nietzsche and Morality" (OUP, 2007) to be Released in Paperback Later This Year
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Penultimate (essentially final) version of "Nietzsche's Naturalism Reconsidered" Now On-Line
Additional comments are, of course, welcome, since these are topics and issues I'm still working on.