Saturday, June 20, 2009

Two New Books on Nietzsche: One Introductory, One for Scholars and Advanced Students

The introductory volume is Charlie Huenemann's Nietzsche: Genius of the Heart, which he kindly sent me. I've been dipping in and out of different parts of it, and it is written in an inviting way for the novice but at the same time is clearly better-informed about recent scholarly literature than most introductions to Nietzsche. Signed comments from readers who have read more of the book are welcome.

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.


Rob said...

Among several interconnected drafts available on his web page, Katsafanas provides a compelling account of Nietzschean drives (as dispositions affecting or generating an agent's perspective toward drives' ends) which seems to tally with your notion (in "Nietzsche's Theory of the Will", p. 13) of the "the Will as Secondary Cause" ("the will is, indeed, causal, but it is not the ultimate cause of an action: something causes the experience of willing and then the will causes the action").

So I wonder: if Katsafanas' account of Nietzschean drives is correct, and it lends itself more to Type than to Token Epiphenomenalism, then it would seem that Nietzsche (of the texts intended for publication) is not so ambiguous, as you suggest, "as to which view of the will he decisively embraces" (ibid.) and he might prove to be in conflict with empirical science if the latter were to vindicate the Will as Epiphenomenal.

Huenemann's book was for me an invigorating delight to read, invoking Nietzsche's biography in ways that enrich rather than reduce, addressing familiar themes in refreshing ways (such as a one-act play), and raising critical concerns in the right places (politics, the role of love in Nietzsche's ideal). And the book radiates with good humor.

Timothy McWhirter said...

I have not had a chance to read Gemes essay in Nietzsche on Freedom and Autonomy yet so I am not sure what approach he takes to this "moralizing reading" you mention. But I was suprised to hear that he opposes your view on the causality of the will because he clearly describes a similar position in his "Postmodernism's Use and Abuse of Nietzsche"(2001).

There in section 3 he writes that "the creation of a self should not be viewed as a conscious purposive acitivity--indeed consciousness is typically viewed by Nietzsche as a weak, irrelevant force,..." (2001: 344). "The Subject is not one who affects this concerted expression, rather he is the result of this expression" (2001: 345). The section goes on to say more on this same theme.

I look forward to learning more about this issue in September.

Gemes, K. (2001) "Postmodernism's Use and Abuse of Nietzsche," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 62:2.

Paul Katsafanas said...

Hi Rob,

Thanks for your note on my work. I agree that my proposed interpretation of Nietzsche is compatible with Brian’s will-as-secondary-cause reading, and incompatible with the will-as-epiphenomenal reading. However, I just thought I should point out that my interpretation doesn’t require that the will be only a secondary cause; it is, I think, compatible with more robust notions of the will. I read Nietzsche as claiming that conscious thoughts and episodes of choice (I take it that this is what is meant by “the will”) have causal impacts both on action and on drives. So the causal influence runs both ways: drives pervasively influence choice, but choice (and conscious thought in general) also influences drives. I’m not sure whether Brian intends the will-as-secondary-cause reading to be compatible with that latter claim.

Actually, I think this touches on a more general philosophical problem. I have some work in progress (“Activity and Passivity in Reflective Agency”) arguing that these three claims are distinct: (1) that reflective or self-conscious episodes of choice cause action, (2) that motives do not determine choice, and (3) that reflective deliberation suspends the effects of motives. These claims are often conflated, but I argue that they’re distinct. I also argue that while there are precisifications of (1) and (2) that render them true, there are philosophical arguments and results from empirical psychology indicating that (3) is false. Though I don’t mention Nietzsche in this paper, and though establishing this would take a substantial argument, I think Nietzsche accepts certain interpretations of (1), is neutral on (2), and rejects (3). I believe the will-as-secondary-cause interpretation denies (2), though.

Paul Katsafanas

Rob said...

Paul, thanks for your reply. I’m eager to read your paper when it becomes available.

I’ve been puzzling for a while over the issue of (2) in Nietzsche. There are moments in which he seems to be implying not only that drives prompt reflective or self-conscious episodes of choice, or influence/generate perceptual saliences in terms of which they (the episodes) operate, but that drives somehow inhere in episodes of choice. (Richardson may be getting at something like this in his intriguing account – “agency is indeed a kind of drive itself” -- in the Autonomy collection, also available here.)

For instance, at the end of BGE 229, cruelty is characterized as (simultaneous or alternately?) a motivator and instrument of “the knower”. The next section seems to develop a point about “wanting-to-hurt” inhering in “wanting-to-know”.

And in GS 333:
“...we suppose that intelligere must be something conciliatory, just and good, something essentially opposed to the instincts, when in fact it is only a certain behavior of the drives towards one another.”

And in GM 3.9 there’s that “list of individual drives and virtues of the philosopher” which seems to imply that the operation of the components of reflective deliberation is itself somehow structured by drives.

Brian Leiter said...

Paul is correct, the Will as Secondary Cause reading, does deny his #2 (and I take it Nietzsche denies it too, indeed, it is one of the import of the D 107 passage on self-mastery).

Rob said...

I wonder if this reflection by Doris and Prinz near the end of their review of Appiah's ex-phil book might not be marshaled in support of the plausibility of Gardner's reading:

The focus of Western moral philosophy has been on questions like "How should I act?" or "What sort of person should I be?" From a first person perspective, these questions are affected by psychological phenomena that make them difficult to address in a satisfactory way. One possible implication of this is that there is no way to assimilate adequately the third and first personal perspectives, because the "third personal" lesson of the human sciences is tantamount to a radical critique of the integrity of the "first personal" subjective point of view. This may be taken to indicate that individual deliberative agents are not sustainable "units of moral analysis."