Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Nietzsche and the Ancient Skeptical Tradition" by Jessica Berry

It's now out from OUP. Everyone working on Nietzsche will need to read it, though those primarily interested in ancient skepticism will also find it instructive. I'm far from persuaded, but the book lays down a robust, and often ingenious, interpretive challenge to any non-skeptical reading of Nietzsche.

Monday, September 13, 2010

"Nietzsche on Freedom and Autonomy" Reviewed... Mark Jenkins in Journal of Nietzsche Studies. He makes a number of interesting points, including about Clark & Dudrick's critique of my reading of BGE 19, though he generally has a more generous appraisal of more of the papers in the volume than I do. It's also an entertainingly written review, of which the world can always use more!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Gardner on "Nietzsche, the Self, and the Disunity of Philosophical Reason"

This paper by Sebastian Gardner (UCL) appears in Gemes & May (eds.), Nietzsche on Freedom and Autonomy (OUP, 2009). Gardner is best-known for important books on Freud and on Kant's 1st Critique, and is currently writing the volume on Fichte and Schelling for my Routledge Philosophers series. He is certainly one of the most learned and philosophically interesting scholars of Kant and post-Kantian European philosophy working in Britain today. I first had the pleasure and good fortune of discussing the issues in Sebastian's paper with him in joint intercollegiate seminars we gave at the University of London in May 2003 on the subject of "Nietzsche as Naturalist: For and Against." The version of the paper being discussed here is a distant descendant of the version of the materials he presented then. (Once again, I am indebted to discussion of the issues that follow with Jaime Edwards, Nic Koziolek, and Santiago Mejia, though they should not be held accountable for the content that follows. Nir-Ben Moshe, alas, was in Israel, so missed this discussion, even though we offered to tele-conference him in!)

I am not going to go through Sebastian's paper in the same level of detail as we did, recently, with Paul Katsfanas's piece on N's philosophical psychology. Sebastian's paper comes in three parts, and it is the third part that presents, to my mind, the most interesting and important challenge to the naturalist reading. I'll comment more briefly on the first two major sections of the paper. The paper as a whole aims to display a tension between naturalistic and transcendental themes in Nietzsche's work, arguing, in the end, that Nietzsche self-consciously wanted to display the "disunity of philosophical reason," i.e., the difficulty or impossibility of being fully naturalistic or fully transcendentalist.

Part I proposes to illustrate the tension between Nietzsche's "theoretical" conception of the self (or the "I"), which Gardner calls variously eliminativist or fictionalist, and his purportedly "practical" concept of the self, which, according to Gardner, has to be more robust than the fictionalist treatment allows in order to make sense of Nietzsche's claims about value and valuing. An eliminativist or fictionalist view of the self might seem to have some difficulty accounting for the phenomenon that Kant identifies under the rubric of the transcendental unity of apperception, but, if I understand Gardner rightly, he thinks the eliminativist/fictionalist about the self can make sense of the phenomenon (p. 7)--but this discussion, I'm afraid, was quite obscure. But Gardner's main point isn't that N's theoretical conception of the self falls prey to Kant's argument against Hume on apperception and the unity of self-consciousness; it's rather that it is in tension with the concept of the self he needs for his practical philosophy. The core argument is at pp. 8-9, and trades, in my view, on a mistaken (in any case unargued for) view of the role of values in "self-creation" and on ambiguities about what it means for N's higher-type to legislate values (Hussain's 'fictionalist' account may help here).

Section 2 concerns naturalistic and transcendentalist conceptions of the relationship between theoretical and practical reason. My reading is presented by Gardner (at p. 15), and presented quite fairly, as the representative naturalist reading. Gardner is quite correct that on this reading "the Nietzschean subject lacks any rational warrant for regarding his valuation as anything more than the expression of a natural force" (p. 16). Gardner objects that this kind of valuing would amount to "sheer inconceivability for subjects in whom the taste for justification is well established" (p. 16). I'm not entirely sure I understand this. Certainly those who think values are genuinely objective (who do not realize that the world is, as N. says, "value-less") will be unsettled by this model of valuation. But those who do not share the "taste for justification" in question, namely N's higher types or 'free spirits,' will surely have no problem understanding that "this is good" has no ground beyond their *deeming it to be good.* (There follows at 16-17 a somewhat opaque discussion of Nietzsche and Hume, which I shall pass over.)

The core of this section of the paper, however, is the argument that we can ascribe to N. a picture of the "unity of reason" (that we might associate with Kant and post-Kantians) on the basis of what N. says about the Presocratics. Gardner claims the "wisdom" of the Presocratics on the Nietzschean view involves "the standpoint of reflection which aims to unify the practical and theoretical perspectives" and "the idea of the primacy of practical reason and, connectedly, of a non-realistic, transcnedental or regulative warrant for norms" (p. 19). Here I think Gardner is guilty of a misreading of N's treatment of the Presocratics and of projecting a quasi-Kantian framework onto them (and N's reading of them). The "wisdom" of the Presocratics for N. (starting with Thales; I discuss this in NOM, 41-43) consists in their recognition that the "truth is terrible," and that, for the sake of life, one should sometimes put limits on the pursuit of knowledge. The Presocratics, in short, are not guilty of the error at issue in GM III, namely, treating truth as the highest value, which is just an analogue of the Socratic/rationalistic optimism critiqued in BT. I do not see "a buried transcendentalist dimension to Nietzsche" (p. 19) in these observations. Rather, it is the very simple thought that sometimes we should put limits on theoretical reason for the sake of other values. The question is what this view has to do with Kant?

Section 3 of the paper, "Naturalism and Transcendentalism in Nietzsche," was, to my mind, the most interesting. The focus here is on my naturalist reading of the argument in GM III, and Gardner's central claim, if I am reading him rightly, is that the naturalist is not entitled to help himself to something like "a psychological need for meaningfulness"--that such a posit is a gratuitous posit simply meant to square N's actual argument with naturalistic strictures. The human need for meaning, in other words, can not be assimilated to the naturalistic framework. In any case, I think that's the strongest point Gardner is arguing here, though he says some things along the way that strike me as wrong or off point. But the core challenge, if I have it right, is a serious one, to which I'll return at the end.

First, a recap of my argument (in NOM), which is Gardner's target and which he gives a pretty good statement of at p. 26 (though with some confusion about what exactly the explanans and the explanandum are supposed to be--more on that in a moment). The core puzzle of the Third Essay is this: why is it that ascetic religions have had such a profound grip on the human mind? What exactly is the source of their appeal and attraction? Why would people be drawn to religions that impose restrictions, often severe restrictions, on all kinds of desire-satisfaction (for sex, for cruelty, for power, for pleasure)?

Nietzsche's explanation for the power of ascetic ideals assumes two additional facts: first, that most people (the "vast majority" as he says) suffer (and suffering gives rise to ressentiment which would, if undischarged, ultimately lead to 'suicidal nihilism'); and second, that every creature strives for the "optimal conditions" for producing the "maximum feeling of power" (GM III:7). The question is why ascetic religions would triumph given these two facts.

Here is Gardner's (slightly incomplete) gloss (p. 26) on my argument:

Leiter claims that the ascetic ideal's solution to the 'curse of meaninglessness' referred to in section 28 is to be understood in terms of the following explanatory elements: first, the claim of the First Essay that suffering produces ressentiment; second, the later claim (GM III 15) that relief from ressentiment is achieved by blame, which facilitates discharge, the effect of which is anaesthetic; and third, the role of the ascetic priest in redirecting blame by designating a new culprit, namely
oneself. In this way the ascetic ideal allow suffering to be 'overcome.' What it is, then, for suffering to 'be meaningful,' on the naturalistic account, consists simply in a pattern of psychological causation described in a reductive, mechanistic and hedonistic psychology: it is straightforwardly equivalent to our having the means to achieve hedonic relief from suffering by means of an anaesthetsia-inducing discharge of affect directed at a fictional blame-object.

Now Gardner talks (e.g., 26) as if the explanandum were the need for suffering to have a meaning, whereas the real explanandum is the triumph of the ascetic ideal. To explain that triumph we need to assume that meaningless suffering is unbearable and would lead to suicidal nihilism, and so thwart the feeling of power that comes with self-preservation. The meaning for suffering is supplied by the ascetic ideal (the ascetic priest teaches that people suffer because of their immoral desire: for power, sex, cruelty etc.--so they themselves are to blame for their suffering), which also permits the discharge of ressentiment in blame, thus alleviating some of the pain that leads to suicidal nihilism (though continuing, perversely, the cycle of suffering because of the pain associated with guilt etc.). Suffering is not, contrary to Gardner's presentation, "overcome": it is rather rendered bearable enough that the sufferer does not give up on life altogether--the only "feeling of power" available to the vast majority of mortals on N's picture. And this realization of the "feeling of power" is only possible if sufferers can interpret their condition in light of the ascetic ideal--or so claims Nietzsche. (So Gardner is wrong that on my account the "final explanans is the painfulnes of pain; N's is the threat of its meaninglessness" [p. 27]. The ultimate explanas is the instinctive need for creatures, even those who suffer, to achieve some feeling of power, which for most mortals means maintaing a will to live, not giving up on life--and they can only thward suicidal nihilism if their suffering, the basic fact of their life, is meaningful.)

So the key assumption is that creatures like us can not endure suffering that makes no sense: we can endure (and thus preserve ourselves, and a get a small feeling of power) if our suffering "makes sense," but not otherwise. Why can't the naturalist help himself to such an assumption about human needs? That's the key question.

Here is one comment by Gardner that might be taken as responding to the key question:

My suggestion would be that N. regards suffering in its primary, hedonic sense as occasioning the formation of the need for Sinn, indeed as necessary for its crystallization, but that he regards the need for Sinn as then assuming a life of its own, such that, if per impossible we ceased to suffer in the hedonic-Schopenhauerian sense, we would continue to stand in need of Sinn. (p. 27 note 40)

We might well stand in need of meaning, but the need for meaning simpliciter plays no role in the argument of GM III. What is at issue (contrary to Gardner's somewhat misleading over-emphasis on the final section of the essay) is the need for suffering to be meaningful. If most mortals didn't suffer (which, as Gardner acknowledges, isn't a possibility), then they wouldn't be threatened by suicidal nihilism, and so they would be able to achieve their maximal feelings of power without the need of ascetic ideals. But this simply isn't our world, or N's concern.

Now I think Gardner's core objection is really this one (p. 28):

If N. were to be a consistent naturalist, then he would have to agree that the need for Sinn can be explained as some kind of evolutionary or whatever Nebenwirkung [side-effect], to be resolved back into a naturalized, mechanistic, hedonistic psychology. But--if naturalization of the need for Sinn were to have the meaning for N. that it has for the consistent naturalist--N. would then have to take Freud's line, that the need for Sinn cannot be taken with philosophical seriousness, and his practical philosophy would crumble. Because N. instead holds fast to the internal, practical perspective from which the question of Sinn is genuine and ineluctable, he cannot regard the question fo whether the need for Sinn is 'really' nothing but another natural drive or accidental by-product of such is not a real possibility; the need cannot be de-validated through an exercise of theoretical reason.
This passage seems to me to confuse a number of issues: (1) N. does not aim (and my account does not require him to aim) for a naturalistic explanation of "the need for meaning" in terms of other naturalistic forces (evolutionary or otherwise); (2) N. does not claim (and my reading does not require him to claim) that the "need for meaning" might be "de-validated" in virtue of being a naturalistic phenomenon; (3) N's account (and my interpretation of his account) is entirely third-personal, without any import for the first-personal character of experience for agents in the grips of the ascetic ideal, who are suffering, etc.

The "need for meaning"--more precisely, on my account, the need for suffering to have a meaning--is a kind of psychological primitive for N. Of course, it's not wholly primitive: for the reason we need suffering to be meaningful is because suffering generates ressentiment, and undischarged ressentiment will cause a kind of pscyhological explostion or melt-down--and the latter would be inconsistent with the drive for the maximal feelings of power (so the fundamental psychology is not hedonic, but oriented around need for the feeling of power). None of this is meant to "de-validate" the first-person experience of the sufferer--to the contrary, the whole point of the argument is to explain the puzzling phenomenon that ascetic moralities and religions should be so dominant among creatures like us, i.e., creatures with ravenous appetites for power, for sex, for cruelty, etc.

So the right way, I think, to frame something like Gardner's challenge is in terms of explanatory parsimony. Is the naturalist, in order to make his psychological story about the triumph of ascetic ideals work, entitled to posit as a kind of primitive psychological need the need for suffering to be meaningful? What kind of natural fact would that be? And the answer to that question, I think, turns on whether N's explanatory framework is one that can justify its ontology of psychological needs, not only for meaningful suffering, but for feelings of power, as well as the operations of ressentiment. Now that is a hard question, and its answer turns on what the competing accounts for the triumph of asceticism look like. At least as things stand now, though, no one, as far as I can see, has a competing account for the triumph of asceticism. If there is one that can dispense with psychological primitives like "the need for meaningful suffering," then the Nietzschean naturalist loses. But that's how it should go for naturalists, Nietzschean or otherwise.

Friday, July 30, 2010

More on Katsafanas on Nietzsche, Consciousness, and Agency

My thanks again to Paul for a helpful and lucid set of replies (scroll into the comments for Paul's replies), which usefully focus the issues in dispute. I’ll organize my sur-replies around Paul’s 3 questions. I’ll re-state them slightly, but I hope fairly, for purposes of my reply. (I will try to say something about the other comments, some of which are relevant to what I say below, subsequently. But one thing at a time!)

First, is Paul’s account of drives compatible with my interpretation (in the 2007 paper) of the Will as Secondary Cause? The short answer is ‘yes,’ it is, strictly speaking, compatible. But Paul intends a stronger claim which is brought out by the answer to the second question.

Second, is there textual evidence of a stronger role for the Will than that as Secondary Cause? Paul claims there is, and I’ll return to those passages below.

Third, do drives “determine” or “merely influence” conscious thought. Paul opts for the latter.

Paul thinks that N. accepts a view of the will that is “more robust” than the Will as Secondary Cause reading would allow. The crucial issue is that Paul thinks “Nietzsche views conscious thoughts as exerting causal influence on non-conscious states.” Paul references his important EJP paper from 2005, and I’ve conceded previously that he is correct to object to me (in NOM) and Deleuze that consciousness, per se, can not be epiphenomenal for N. But there’s more than that at issue here.

Let’s try to make this as explicit as possible, since these issues are hard and under-treated in the secondary literature. Recall Freud’s patient Anna O (nothing turns on whether Freud is right, we are just trying to individuate possible causal roles). Anna O ‘freaks out’ when she sees a glass of water on the dining room table. What *causes* her to freak out? Most basically, it is her repressed feelings of disgust upon seeing, in the past, a dog drinking from a glass of water on a table. More precisely, the *idea* (the memory) of the dog drinking from the glass on the table is repressed, but the *feelings* (the affect) are still floating around her psyche, and are triggered whenever she sees a glass of water on a table.

Now “seeing a half-empty glass of water on a table” is a conscious thought she has. And it seems to stand in a causal relationship with her ‘freaking out.’ So here’s one causal role for consciousness in action: conscious perceptions can be part of the causal chain leading to action (‘freaking out’!)—they can “trigger” a free-floating affect (and triggering is presumably some kind of causal relation).

Quite generally, conscious perceptions, in the presence of antecedent desires, can play a causal role in action, and it would seem mad to deny it: if I *desire something to quench my thirst* and I consciously perceive water, and form the conscious belief that water is in front of me, then surely that conscious mental state plays a causal role in explaining my action (drinking the water).

So let’s take for granted that N. had better not be denying any of these causal roles for conscious mental states. That’s why it was a mistake in NOM to suggest that conscious mental states were epiphenomenal *tout court.* They can’t be, without giving up the causal influence of conscious perception on action and without giving up the causal influence of conscious beliefs about effective means to ends on action.

But that isn’t what’s really at issue here. None of these conscious beliefs or perceptions involve *the conscious experience of will.* In the preceding cases, sensory experience gives rise to beliefs which, given *antecedent* desires (or drives) yield action.

Perhaps the issue is whether (as Paul puts it) “drives are altered by conscious judgments.” Now if the phrase “conscious judgments” includes the conscious perceptions and beliefs just noted, then of course such conscious judgments can alter drives: not their *aims*, to use Paul’s useful distinction, but their *objects*.

Paul, however, cites the interesting and clearly pertinent passage D 38 titled “Drives transformed by moral judgments.” But what precisely is the transformation at issue? N’s claim is that drives in themselves have no moral character, “nor even a definite attendant sensation of pleasure or displeasure: it acquires all this, as its second nature, only when it enters into relations with drives already baptized good or evil or is noted as a quality of beings the people has already evaluated and determined in a moral sense.” His example is “envy,” which the Greeks viewed more positively than we do. So on this picture there is some underlying drive—let us say, “to wish one had what others have”—but whether it is *experienced* as good or evil, pleasant or unpleasant, is affected by, we shall say, the “cultural climate,” where that climate is internalized by the agent. I do not see that anything in D 38 requires that the internalization be conscious, but nor do I see a problem if it is: just as the *object* of my hunger drive changes with the conscious perception of different foods (even though the aim is unaffected), so too the *object* (or even the manifestation) of my envy drive may change with the conscious perception of the cultural climate. In none of this is the experience of free will at issue.

Something similar can be said of Paul’s other two examples: that the thought of eternal recurrence “is centered on the conscious reaction one has to a thought experiment” and that N’s critique of religion and morality “rest[s] on the idea that consciously embracing these modes of life and these values is damaging.” Quite clearly, N. thinks the thought of eternal recurrence and MPS values (in my terms) are or can be causally efficacious. We must be cautious, though, about the talk of consciousness in all this. To be sure, it seems reasonable to think that an agent in a culture dominated by MPS consciously experiences MPS values (e.g., feels good about his altruistic deeds, feels guilty about his egoism, and so on). But this is no different than a conscious perception of a piece of cake fixing the *object* of the hunger drive. And an agent may consciously think about eternal return—say, after reading Nietzsche—but whether it is causally efficacious may depend entirely on whether it excites a particular unconscious drive (much as perceiving the piece of cake might excite the hunger drive).

I addressed a version of this problem in NOM, so let me just reprint here my comments there (157-158):

[W]hen N. affirms the explanatory *primacy* of type-facts about agents, he is
only ruling out causal efficacy that is not ultimately traceable to causal
efficacy in virtue of type-facts. Thus, N can, as we saw, admist the plausible
view that the values an agent is exposed to can affect the agent—but only in
virtue of type-facts about that agent [e.g., exciting, or inhibiting, certain
pre-existing drives]. Thus, if MPS hinders the flourishing of higher types, it
is only because there are type-facts about higher types that make them
susceptible to the influence of these values. So, too, agents can come to accept
values that are, overall, harmful to that type of agent only in virtue of
type-facts about agents that would lead them to do so—this, in fact, is the very
essence of ‘decadence’ for Nietzsche.

So notice that on this picture, we get a causal role for conscious mental states (though not those associated with the feeling of free will), in the sense that consciousness is the medium for representation contents that excite, inhibit, or otherwise affect non-conscious drives. None of this, though, seems enough for “genuine agency” in the moralistic sense with which the tradition is usually concerned.

To sum up, so far, Paul has pressed the point (which I conceded in the 2007 paper) that conscious mental states can be causally efficacious. But that is no longer in dispute.

So do drives determine conscious thoughts? Certainly what Paul calls the “weak reading” of the relation must be right, given that everyone admits that environmental factors, including values, are causally effective on the person (I suppose they could only affect non-conscious characteristics of the person, but there is no reason to think that is so). But what prompted my challenge on this score was somewhat different. It was Paul’s claim that N. thinks “reflective thought” plays a causal role or, to quote Paul, that “reflection and self-understanding enable an agent to counteract the effects of particular drives." But none of the passages cited, and none of the argument so far, establishes these claims, as far as I can see.

Paul is explicit in his reply that he wants to defend the claim that the agent is sometimes “in control of [his] action.” But nothing in Paul’s reply establishes that. Paul notes that N’s view of agency is “quite subtle,” but no one was disputing that, and invocations of subtlety are not enough to vindicate moralistic misreadings of N. (though talk of “subtlety” seems to be a favorite rhetorical flourish of misreaders—vide Ridley’s confusions).

What we need to see is actual textual evidence that conscious “reflective thought” and “self-understanding” plays a causal role in action that can then be attributed to the “control” of the agent. Paul alludes to an argument in his paper “The Concept of Unified Agency,” which I look forward to reading. But the mere unity of agency isn’t necessarily enough for control or responsibility. And that’s what is at issue, not whether conscious mental states *tout court* are causal.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Katsafanas on "Nietzsche's Philosophical Psychology"

So our regular Nietzsche reading group here at U of C has been thinned out by summer, but those of us still around have decided to read some secondary literature, starting with the illuminating paper by Paul Katsafanas (BU) on "Nietzsche's Philosophical Psychology" that will appear in The Oxford Handbook, which I guess will be out in 2011. The comments that follow are mine, and should not be imputed to the other members of the group, though I do want to acknowledge them since I learned from the opportunity to discuss the paper with them: they are PhD students Nir-Ben Moshe, Jaime Edwards, Nic Koziolek, and Santiago Mejia. I will be flagging this post for them and Paul, in case they want to weigh in with additional thoughts or replies.

I've already sent Paul comments on some minor matters in the current version, so I won't dwell on those issues here (though may flag one or two in passing in case anyone wants to pursue them in the comments).

The key question is what exactly are "drives" for Nietzsche. Katsafanas (hereafter "K.") says (I think rightly) that Nietzsche uses Trieb and Instinkt interchangeably (K. does not comment, however, on where Affekt fits in, though it turns out to play an important role in his exposition). In Section 1.1, K. argues against interpreting drives as homunculi, i.e., as little agents within the human agent. This strikes me as correct, and so I will not dwell on it here.

In section 1.2, he considers dispositional views of drives. Bear in mind that K's own preferred reading is a kind of dispositional view: "Nietzschean drives are dispositions that induce affective orientations in the agent...[T]hese affective orientations can be understood as evaluative orientations" (p. 10, end of 1.2). This is closely related to the view Richardson defended originally in Nietzsche's System, though K's criticism of the view at p. 9 strike me as not wholly satisfactory. It is true that in later work Richardson tries to treat the dispositions of drives in selectionist terms (there are pertinent criticisms of that general interpretive strategy here and here). As I've already pointed out to Paul, there is no reason to think that natural selection will necessarily produce ascetics " engage in sexual activity," but all he needs is the possibility of an ascetic who is both disposed towards having sex and disposed towards being an ascetic (natural selection is irrelevant). Thus K's objection: "There are cases in which values and selected dispositions appear to diverge [such as the ascetic in question]....Despite the fact that the agent is strongly disposed toward sexual activity, we would typically say that the agent does not value sexual activity" (p. 9). But all this requires us to say is that the drives (i.e., the dispositions in question) differ in strength, so that the ascetic disposition (and associated valuation) simply domiante the sexual disposition. Indeed, I take it such a solution is compatible with K's preferred view.

Section 1.3 takes up the question of how to interpret N's remarks expressing skepticism about what we know about our drives and their role in the genesis of action (K. scratches the surface of the kinds of remarks N. makes in this regard at p. 11, but the quotes he chooses are certainly representative). K. notes my view that N. thinks that "we do not have epistemic access to what the causally effective motives really are" (NOM, 104), but then glosses that as something else, namely, "the claim that we are often [emphasis added] mistaken about our motives" and says this "is just a platitude" (p. 13). But even the weaker claim is not a platitude, and the fact that Kant was ready to bite the bullett on the possibility that no one ever acts morally (because it might be that no one ever acts for the right kinds of reasons) hardly show this to be a platitude. The Cartesian picture of the self, of its essential transparency, reverberates throughout modern philosophy, all the way to the present, though since Freud's triumph, probably more thinkers would be prepared to sign on to the skeptical view.

Ultimately, K. wants to argue (in sections 2 & 3) for a particular reading of N's skepticism about what we know about our drives, according to which when a drive brings about an action A, we may know we are A'ing, but not know the aim (of the drive) that led us to A (p. 18). (I let pass in silence the strange discussion of what wolves and flies know about their actions at p. 17, since I don't think anything ultimately turns on these claims being correct--what matters is that the account works for humans.)

I accept this as a more precise way of stating the point I was making in NOM, i.e., that what we do not know when we do not know the "motive" for our action is the ultimate aim of the drive that is the causal genesis of the action. This may well be the right way to gloss N's skepticism about the sources of agency.

Section 3 ("The nature of Nietzschean drives") is the core of the paper, and quite illuminating, until p. 32 (in section 3.3), when the argument, it seems to me, goes off the rails.

3.1 wants to explain how "the affective orientation induced by a drive can be understood as an evaluative orientation (p. 21). (This is the point at which I wonder about the connection between drives and affects.) The discussion is highly illuminating, emphasizing the way in which drives/affects influence "perceptual salience" (p. 22), not only the features of a situation that come to the fore for the agent (because the drive focuses attention on them), but by influencing "the content of experience itself" (p. 22) by affecting the interpretation of the sensory stimuli themselves. (K's discussion resonates with recent work by a former student, Neil Sinhababu, on the Humean theory of motivation, which emphasizes the role of desire in affecting salience: vide his recent Phil Review paper. Neil, as readers of the blog will know, is also interested in the similarities between the Nietzschean and Humean views.) Here is K's summary statement at the end of 3.1: "Drives manifest themselves by coloring our view of the world, by generating perceptual saliences, by influencing our emotions and other attiitudes, by fostering desires" (p. 26).

3.3 appeals to Freud's account of drives, arguing, plausibly to my mind, that it illuminates N's view (Freud may well have gotten the view from N., of course). There are two important features of drives on the Freudian view. First, drives have a kind of constancy that other desires do not--"they arise, with some regularity throughout the individual's life" (p. 30). The music you desired to listen to in your 20s may no longer appeal in your 40s; but the hunger drive keeps coming back whether you are 20 or 40. Second, drives do not depend on an external stimulus to be aroused. "Drives arise independently of external stimuli and once they have become active, they will seek discharge" (p. 31). External stimuli can give rise to a desire to eat or to have sex, to be sure, but those same deires can simply arise in the absence of any stimuli. (Sometimes K. overstates the point, e.g., at p.31, where he says that " not arise in response to external stimuli." But that can't be right: surely they can be triggered by external stimuli. What allegedly distinguishes them is that they can arise on their own, without any externl provocation.) It is useful to distinguish, as Freud does, between the Ziel (aim) of the drive (e.g., sex, eating) and the Objekt of the drive (e.g., this woman, this bit of food). Insofar as a drive is aroused not by an external stimulus, it will then seek out an object for its realization--and in so doing (I assume this is K's point) impose a "valuation" on the object.

Now we come to the point where the argument and exposition seem to me to go off the rails. At p. 32, K. claims that "drives operate by influencing the agent's perception and reflective thought, so that the agent sees a certain activity as warranted" (emphases added). K. made a good case for how drives might influence perception, but where did talk about "reflective thought" come from and what does it mean? Nothing in the argument so far, or in N's texts, invites interjecting this mechanism. The crux of what K. is getting at, I think, is his claim that "drives affect the agent's perceptions of reasons" (p. 32). Here is K's example:
The aggressive drive does not just produce a blind urge that causes the agent to act aggressively. Rather, the aggressive drive manifests itself by producing desires, affects, and perceptual saliences that jointly inclidne the agent to see aggression as warranted by the circumstances. (p. 32)
But the "reasons" here are simply causal product of the drive, and the fact that the aggression seems "warranted" is itself just an artifact of the causal umph of the drive. Where is the "reflective thought" coming in? What is reflection doing?

Perhaps K. means to concede this latter point? He writes: "being moved by a drive and being moved by reflective thought are not distinct processes. Drives move us by directing and influencing our reflective thought" (p. 33). But is "directing and influencing" the same as "determining"? This is the crucial ambiguity. The only claim justified by the argument so far would be that what we take to be reflective thought is, in fact, determined by our drives. But talk of "directing" and "influencing" might suggest that there is still some causal work for "reflective thought" to do.

In 3.4, K. acknowledges the obvious (or what, by now, I've forced everyone to admit is really obvious!), namely, that "N. is notoriously skeptical of reflective agency" (p. 33). But what does this skepticism amount to? In 4.1, K. claims that "it is by now a commonplace that N. rejects the libertarian concept of choice" or free will, another 'commonplace' I am happy to take credit for making common. (Joking aside, I do think it is a mark of the maturity of Nietzsche studies over the last decade that one can now make arguments--demonstrating, e.g., N's skepticism about reflective agency or his rejection of libertarian conceptions of free will--and other scholars actually register the arguments and their conclusions, and then development their own interpretive views based on these 'results'. Anyone reading the Nietzsche literature twenty years ago knows how utterly rare this used to be.)

As K. admits, rejecting the libertarian conception of free will leaves a lot open. I have also argued (in both NOM and in "Nietzsche's Theory of the Will") that Nietzsche can not be a compatibilist about "choice" or free will either, though K. does not consider those arguments (to be fair, his immediate concern is not responsibility but the causal contribution of reflective thought, so perhaps the omission doesn't matter). K. concentrates instead on my claim that "Nietzsche argues that choice is epiphenomenal: 'there is no causal link between the experience of willing and the resulting action' (Leiter, 2007, 13)" (p. 34).

Two quick points about this gloss on my argument in the "Nietzsche's Theory of the Will" paper. First, the argument there concerned the causal status of the experience of willing, not everything that might be denominated a choice. When I went to the refrigerator, I chose a diet pepsi, rather than a diet coke: was my "choice" epiphenomenal? It seems a tad odd to think it is, and one might hope nothing in N. committed him to thinking so. But it seems equally clear that what I will call "mundane choices" do not often involve the experience of willing, that is, of choosing to make something happen: these are mostly automatic, unrefelctive behaviors, that are casually characterized as choices post-hoc.

Now this may not matter--perhaps we should just stipulate that "choice" for K's purpose just means any action that is preceded by the "experience of willing" that is the focus of N's analysis and my reconstruction in the 2007 paper. But a second complication may warrant notice. In the 2007 paper, I noted that there are two kinds of passages in N.: one kind invites the epiphenomenalist interpretation that K. calls attention to and that seems to be the favored interpretation of the experience of free will in some of the psychological literature (notably Wegner); but the other kind of passage (think the Cornaro case) is different. It suggests that the experience of willing is part of the causal chain that results in the action, but it is not an "ultimate" or "primary" cause: that is, an explanation of the action that stopped with the experience of willing would be like an explanation of the invasion of Iraq that stopped with Bush's decision to send in the troops--that decision was causally important, but it does not really explain the Iraq War. In the 2007 paper, and in my recent work generally on Nietzsche, I have taken the view that if the text support two different readings of his position, we should opt for the one that seems the most promising as a matter of empirical psychology. Right now, this seems to favor the epiphenomealist reading, but perhaps the empirical tide will turn in favor of the second reading--what I called "the Will as Secondary Cause" reading.

Now back to K. He doesn't, by his own admission, argue against the epiphenomenalist reading, he just (1) notes that the reading has critics, citing in n. 31, Clark & Dudrick and papers by Gemes and Janaway that argue against my interpretation of N. on free will (Janaway's adds nothing, except a head count, so we can ignore it here); and (2) claims that this interpretation "has textual costs" (p. 35). I understand how limitations of space go, but given what seems to be the centrality of the issue to K's argument, this hand-waving seems quite unsatisfactory. I've dealt with the problematic arguments by Clark & Dudrick and Gemes elsewhere, though even Gemes concedes a lot to my position.

As to (2), K. cites (p. 35) some passages I've deflated elsewhere (like the GM passage on the 'sovereign individual') or passages from Twilight about those who resist immediate stimuli and those who do not. But a well-trained dog has the characteristics at issue here, and the question then is whether that is enough for K's real thesis, namely, that "N. claims that some individuals have the capacity to control their behavior." A well-trained dog can "control" its behavior, e.g., it can resist mounting the nearest female, or chasing after another dog, or running from its master. Is this the "capacity to control" behavior that's at issue for K.? If so, then we have no quarrel. But the faint odor of Kant and Korsgaard is in the air, so I'm not sure.

Let's be clear about what is at stake. On my reading of N., drives causally determine action, perhaps via the mechanism of conscious mental states (per the Will as Secondary Cause reading) and perhaps not (per the Epiphenomealist reading). K., as I read him, thinks that N. thinks that there is something left over for the "will" or the "self" to do, but his only evidence, noted in the preceding paragraph, is inapposite.

Section 4.2 introduces K.'s preferred resolution to these issues. He opts, I think, for my Will as Secondary Cause reading, though he does nto put it quite that way. On K's picture, choice causes action, but "N's drive psychology problematizes the connection [the causal connection?] between the agent and choice" (p. 36). When he sums up his view at the end, he puts it in terms that sound like the Will as Secondary Cause reading from my 2007 paper: "choice may control action, but agents do not control choice." Or put a bit differently: the will may cause an action, but the will is not within the causal control of the person (the self), it is, itself, causally determined by something else (e.g., type-facts, something unconscious, etc.).

I would be happy if that is what K. means, but I am not sure. Also on p. 38 he summarizes his point as follow:
The reflective agent is, in one sense, different from the unreflective
agent: after all, the reflective agent deliberates, thinks about reasons
for acting, and examines her motives, whereas the unreflective agent does none
of this. But in another sense, the reflective agent is not so different
from the unreflective agent: while the reflective agent supposes that she
is escaping the influence of her drives, she is mistaken. The
influence of the drive has simply become more covert
. (emphasis added)

Everything turns on what that last line means, and on the ambiguity that attaches to "influence." If "influence" means "causally determines," then K.'s account is a version of the Will as Secondary Cause reading. But the footnote attached to this paragraph suggests this is not what he means. In n. 35, K. says that "N. maintains that reflection and self-understanding enable an agent to counteract the effects of particular drives." This, of course, seems in tension with D 109 (which K. discusses earlier), unless "reflection and self-understanding" are just themselves the causal product of countervailing drives. But that doesn't seem to be what K. means, for he continues (in the footnote): "this seems to be one reason why N. emphasizes the importance of self-understanding: self-understanding enables one to counteract the effects of certain drives, and thereby renders the agent increasingly in control of her action." No text is cited, and the reference back to n. 28 seems to be a mistake, since n. 28 does not appear pertinent. It is unfortunate that these absolutely crucial (and, to my mind, quite implausible) claims are buried in a footnote.

That K. really wants to save autonomous agency is suggested by some additional remarks in the conclusion. He says: "the deliberating agent's thoughts and actions are guided, sometimes decisively, by her drives" (p. 39). I take it "decisive" guiding is equivalent to my "causally determined," in which case it is clear that K. wants to carve out a space where non-drive-determined thoughts and actions make a causal contribution. (But "a thought comes when 'it' wants, not when 'I' want"!) So too: "there is some sense in which the agent acting under the influence of drives may be a passive conduit for the drives; however, N. also suggests that there is some way of acting that avoids this problem" (p. 40). As far as I can tell--I hope Paul or other readers will correct me--not a single text from N. has been adduced to support this claim. In the preceding paragraph, K. refers to a few snippets and phrases that are, I guess, supposed to suggest that N. believes in "genuine agency" (p. 40, K.'s term, not N.'s), but considered in context, as I have argued at length elsewhere (see esp. pp. 15 ff.), they simply do not support anything like K's claims.

So to sum up: K's account of drives, and the ways in which they structure perception and evaluation, is illuminating and plausible, as is his incorporation of the Freudian aim/object distinction to make sense of N's skepticism about what we know about why we act. But the entire picture is then compatible with what I had called the Will as Secondary Cause reading in the 2007 paper (though not the epiphenomenalist reading). But K. wants more than that, it seems, he wants some autonomous causal role for conscious reflection and deliberation in agency. Might this be satisfied simply by instrumental reasoning, the supplying of information about means to drive-given ends? I sense K. wants more, but it is both unclear whether he does and implausible that N's texts would support such a reading in any case (or, in any case, K. would really need to make the textual case).

UPDATE: The discussion of K's paper continues here.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Monday, July 5, 2010

Ridley on "Nietzsche and the Re-Evaluation of Values"

MOVING TO FRONT FROM NOV. 24, 2007, as I recently came across someone referencing this article without noticing the mistakes discussed here.

The article by Aaron Ridley (Southampton) appeared in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 105 (December 2005): 155-175 (all citations, unless otherwise noted, are to this article).

The paper tackles the problem I dealt with in "Nietzsche's Metaethics: Against the Privilege Readings," European Journal of Philosophy 8 (2000): 277-297 and, in revised and expanded form, in Nietzsche on Morality (London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 136-161 (cited hereafter as NOM). Ridley chooses to call it "the authority problem" (172), the problem that "Nietzsche's evaluative standpoint, and the re-evaluation that he undertakes from it, need have no authority for us" to the extent that "we are comfortable with our existing values, and with our existing evaluations of them" (172). Here is how I put it:

[I]n offering a revaluation of morality is Nietzsche doing anything more than giving his idiosyncratic opinion from his idiosyncratic evaluative perspective? Is there, in short, anything about Nietzsche's evaluation of morality that ought to command our attention and assent? (NOM, 137)
I am content to follow Ridley in calling this "the authority problem," since it strikes me as an apt name.

Ridley proceeds into a discussion of "types of value" that is a bit unusual. Although he employs the familiar language of "instrumental" and "intrinsic" value, he defines the latter not as "having value as an end in-itself" (or some similar formulation) but rather in terms of a value's capacity to motivate action. So, he says, a value "is intrinstically valuable with respect to a given way of living if, other things being equal, it can, by itself, motivate." We can allow Ridley this stipulative usage of what might ordinarily have been called some kind of "internalism." I'm not sure this will much matter, but we need to bear in mind his non-standard usage lest the subsequent discussion be confusing.

Ridley emphasizes (176) the point made by Clark and myself in our introduction to the 1997 CUP edition of Daybreak, namely, that in this work he became interested in those cases where morality (or MPS--"morality in the pejorative sense"--in my standard terminology) operated as a genuine motive of action. That means, of course, that in Ridley's terms the revaluation of MPS is the revaluation of an "instrinsic" value.

Ridley then distinguishes five different ways of engaging in a revaluation of an intrinsic value (what he refers to as "V"). The first one he puts as follows (177):

Showing that V, although an intrinsic value, is indirectly instrumental in realising ends said to be bad, although not ends that coudl be acknowledged as bad from the standpoint of the relevant way of living.
This is an unlovely formulation, but I think he is correct in arguing (178-181) that this is the conception of revaluation that I ascribe to Nietzsche. Here is one of the ways I put it:

Nietzsche wants to effect a revaluation of values, that is, a new assessment of the value of our "moral" values. He holds that MPS is not conducive to the flourishing of human excellence and it is by reference to this fact that he proposes to assess the value of MPS. This kind of critical project naturally invites the question: what exactly is the value of the flourishing of human excellence, and why does it trump the values served by MPS (e.g., the preservation of the herd)? (NOM, 136)

Ridley quotes (at 178) a similar passage from pp. 128-129 of NOM. As I document in NOM, there is, of course, a massive amount of textual evidence that versions of this charge--that MPS is an obstacle to the flourishing of human excellence--constitute Nietzsche's central and oft-repeated criticism of the value of MPS (see NOM, 113-114, and n. 1 on 114).

Ridley thinks this construal of revaluation won't do, though not (oddly) because he actually considers any of the textual evidence I cite. (His failure to consider any texts should be the first indication that he is not entitled to claim that my account "is certainly not the main plank of [Nietzsche's] approach [to the revaluation], and it is certainly not the key to understanding Nietzsche's critical project as a whole" [180-181].) Rather, he seems dissatisfied with the resolution to "the authority problem" that I defend. Here is Ridley describing (correctly) my reading of Nietzsche:

The point of Nietzsche's simply to "alert 'higher' types to the fact" that traditional morality "is not, in fact, conducive to their flourishing," so that they can wean themselves away from its values and realise their potential for human excellence. The authority problem is thus removed by restricting Nietzsche's audience to those for whom his re-evaluations do have some authority. (180)
Again, Ridley does not feel the need to consider any textual evidence. His argumentive posture appears to be this: since the position I have ascribed to Nietzsche is unappealing and also unstable, it could not be Nietzsche's. It does not occur to him that this wouldn't, actually, be an argument against the interpretation, but we can put that issue to one side in any case, since his objection that the position is "unstable"--that it "collapses at once"--fails.

On my interpretation, Nietzsche thinks that nascent higher human being suffer from a certain kind of false consciousness: they accept as binding on (and good for) them a set of values, namely MPS, that are, in fact, inhospitable to their own flourishing. Nietzsche writes with such rhetorical ferocity, and employs various rhetorical tricks (e.g., inviting his readers to commit the genetic fallacy [cf. NOM 176]), precisely in order to overcome the false consciousness that afflicts the nascent higher human beings.

Ridley's response to this interpretive hypothesis strikes me, I must confess, as bizarre. After quoting my observation "that Nietzsche writes with passion and force [because] he must shake higher types out of their intuitive commitment to the moral traditions of two millenia" (NOM 155), Ridley adds "which rather indicates that the members of Nietzsche's 'proper' audience are not 'predisposed' to accept the authority of his evaluative standpoint after all" (180). But it obviously indicates no such thing: indeed, it is fully consistent with the hypothesis that nascent higher men suffer from false consciousness, which is an impediment to their correctly appreciating what is in their interests. One can obviously be "predisposed" to something, without being well-disposed to it occurrently because of cognitive or other defects. After all a disposition is a tendency to, say, act in a certain way under the right kinds of conditions; the disposition may or may not be activated depending on the conditions. False consciousness is one possible obstacle to realizing the disposition. (There is actually a deeper, but related, puzzle about Nietzsche's naturalism and the thesis that higher types suffer from false consciousness insofar as they embrace MPS that I discuss at 156 ff., but about which Ridley, not surprisingly, is totally silent.)

After his initial non-sequitur (quoted above), Ridley continues:

The fact is that, even on Leiter's reading, Nietzsche needs somehow to reach inside traditional morality, and to address those who, whether through some sort of misunderstanding or not, are intuitively committed to its values; and this is hardly likely to be achieved by merely insisting, against those intuitions, that the values in question are indirectly instrumental in realising ends said (by Nietzsche) to be bad, however heatedly he says it. (180)

This is barely recognizable as a paraphrase of my interpretation, which is all the more surprising given that Ridley had been reasonably good at stating my views up until this point. To start, it conflates the question how Nietzsche proposes to overcome the false consciousness of nascent higher human beings with the question why Nietzsche judges MPS to lack a certain kind of value. To use Ridley's somewhat unlovely formulation: "that the values in question are indirectly instrumental in realising ends said (by Nietzsche) to be bad" is first of all an answer to the latter question, not the former.

And yet it is reasonable to suppose that if nascent higher human beings become convinced that MPS is an obstacle to their own flourishing that they will be motivated by that fact to rethink the value of MPS. This is because the thesis that the flourishing of great human beings has value is different from the thesis that "my flourishing has value," which is what is at issue when a nascent higher man discovers that MPS is, in fact, an obstacle to the flourishing of human excellence. The latter is a judgment of prudential value, and those judgments are, on the account I develop in some detail, necessarily objective judgments (see esp. NOM 106-112). They are also, in Ridley's language, "intrinsic" value judgments or, in my more standard usage, internalist judgments, that is, judgments about value that necessarily have motivational force for persons. (That "X is good" for me means that I care or am capable of caring about realizing X.)

But to overcome the "false consciousness" of nascent higher human beings, Nietzsche will employ a variety of other argumentative and rhetorical moves: for example, he will, fundamentally, exploit the "will to truth" of his readers by exposing the falsity of the metaphysics of agency on which morality depends; and he will encourage them to commit the genetic fallacy, by rejecting a morality whose origin is contemptible by their own lights.

All these points are in NOM, and judging from other critical reaction, rather clear themes in my reconstruction of Nietzsche's critique. Given Ridley's failure to either engage or understand the dialectical structure of Nietzsche's argument as I reconstruct it, it is rather remarkable that he concludes by announcing that Nietzsche's revaluation "is a considerably subtler affair than Leiter acknowledges" (181)! I am here reminded of the comments by Ken Gemes (Birkbeck/Southampton) and Christopher Janaway (Southampton) in their review essay about my book in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (Nov. 2005):

Leiter presents his argument with a high standard of rigour, clarity and scholarship....Nietzsche specialists will disagree with Leiter on various issues; in which case they will need to attend carefully to Leiter's often subtle formulations, and hone their positions against what he actually says rather than easy caricatures of his position. If they do so, they will be surprised by the resilience of his interpretation.
It is a shame that Ridley did not heed this advice of his colleagues.

So what is Ridley's "subtler" version of the revaluation? He identifies (at 177) four other possibilities that certainly occupy logically possible space, though with respect to his possibilities two through four (which he flies through at 181-184), there is not much textual evidence, let alone evidence that they are central to Nietzsche's revaluation of values--so Ridley is appropriately brief with them. It is the fifth formulation to which Ridley is really committed, though its similarity to the first kind of revaluation--the one I treated as central and which Ridley rejected--is striking (Ridley concedes as much at 189). Here they are side-by-side (from 177-178):

1. Showing that V, although an intrinsic value, is indirectly instrumental in
realising ends said to be bad, although not ends that could be acknowledged as
bad from the standpoint of the relevant way of living.

5. Showing that V, although an intrinsic value, or a set of intrinsic values, is indirectly
instrumental in realising ends that can, in principle, be grasped as bad from
the standpoint of the relevant way of living.

So it might seem, now, that the entire difference between the reading I argue for in NOM and Ridley's reading comes down to the question whether or not everyone "in principle" might agree that the "end" that MPS brings about is a "bad" one.

But Ridley does have a different view about what the "bad end" in question is: he thinks it is that the values in question (MPS in my terminology) "mak[es] us obscure to ourselves" and thus "has the effect of inhibiting our capacity to experience ourselves, fully, as agents" (185). The idea that Nietzsche is worried about our capacity to "experience ourselves, fully, as agents" strikes me as not a promising interpretive line, and especially since Nietzsche is clear about the need we have to be obscure to ourselves in order to carry on at all! In any case, I leave to the interested reader to consult 185-189 of Ridley's article to assess for him- or herself the textual evidence. (At 188, GM's "sovereign individual" even makes a brief appearance; it will be a subject for a different day to discuss how a group of very able Nietzsche scholars--at Birkbeck and Southampton--convinced themselves to elevate a contentious reading of one minor passage to the center of Nietzsche's corpus--even good Nietzsche scholars, it seems, have trouble reading him "moraline-free"!)

But let's bracket the question about "bad ends": as Ridley eventually acknowledges, his embrace of the fifth version of revaluation puts him with Schacht and Foot as proponents of what I called the "privileged readings" of Nietzsche's metaethics (and which I critiqued in the EJP article and the book). Ridley offers a fair statement of the similarities and differences between his view and that of the earlier writers:

So the account proposed here has in common with Schacht's and Foot's the highlighting of an evaluative standpoint which is in principle accessible to those who are committed to the values [e.g., MPS] whose value is under scrutiny, and who might therefore come to regard the re-evaluation of those values as authoritative. It differs from Schacht's and Foot's, however, in highlighting a standpoint structured by the values of self-understanding and autonomy.... (191).

That means, of course, that my earlier critique of Schacht and Foot is inapposite against Ridley, since that critique turned on the "standpoint" they defended as privileged. The textual implausibility of Ridley's alternative, however, combined with the superficiality of his purported critique of my construal of revaluation, leaves me unpersuaded.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Young's Biography of Nietzsche Reviewed in the NY Times

Several readers have sent along this review; as usual, the Times chooses someone without any relevant competence to review a book related to Nietzsche. But given what a trite intellectual lightweight Fukuyama is, this could have been worse! As a Straussian, Fukuyama hasn't much interest in the actual philosophical details of Nietzsche's moral psychology; he is much keener to talk about the possible "political" implications of Nietzsche's views. Here, alas, he can take advantage of Young's utterly idioscyncratic and implausible view that Nietzsche is a religious communitarian. Thoughts from readers on the review?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"Nietzsche's Moral and Political Philosophy"--New Version on SEP

Here. Changes mainly in the section on Nietzsche's political philosophy, including mention of Shaw.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Help Sought: Looking for a Nietzsche Quote

Nietzsche holds the typical naturalist's view that the correct explanation of the purportedly binding force of norms--epistemic, ethical, even logical--is to be given in entirely psychological terms: it is just that creatures like us "feel" that it would be wrong to believe what is unwarranted, or violate a logical canon. He has a particularly striking comment in this vein psychologizing logic. Might anyone have an idea where? I had thought in Nachlass material, but haven't found it, so perhaps elsewhere.

Many thanks.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

New Nietzsche Biography by Julian Young

CUP has just published a new "philosophical biography" of Nietzsche by Julian Young (Wake Forest). It doesn't go quite to the Curt Janz level of mind-numbing detail, but it is certainly a comprehensive biography, like Safranski. Unlike Safranski, Young knows some philosophy and so his interpretive comments are more interesting. Young is the author, of course, of the contrarian but extremely interesting Nietzsche's Philosophy of Art and, more recently, of the less successful and plausible Nietzsche's Philosophy of Religion. It is very nice to have a philosopher with interesting ideas about Nietzsche write a biography. I think this will displace the Safranski volume for those interested in philosophy who want to learn about Nietzsche's life.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Where should a student wanting to work on Nietzsche go for a PhD in Philosophy?

Our earlier poll provides some ideas, but I want to supplement that with some narrative advice, of the kind I would give (and do give) to students.

Among the very top PhD programs in the Anglophone world, there are three viable choices for a student wanting to work on Nietzsche: New York University (with John Richardson and Tamsin Shaw), Princeton University (with Alexander Nehamas) and Stanford University (with Lanier Anderson and Nadeem Hussain). I am not sure how hospitable these places are for students primarily interested in Nietzsche, given the dominant interests of the faculty and most of the students, but they deserve serious attention from prospective students: you will get an excellent philosophical education and you have good philosophers who can serve as advisors with respect to Nietzsche work. NYU, with Beatrice Longuenesse, and Stanford, with Dagfinn Follesdal (part-time), Michael Friedman and Allen Wood, also offer good breadth of coverage in post-Kantian philosophy. Oxford University, another outstanding philosophy faculty, is also worth a look these days: Peter Kail, a leading Hume scholar, is working quite a bit now on Nietzsche. Again, there is the question about how hospitable the environment would be, but there are other Oxford faculty with sympathetic interests related to Nietzsche or other figures in post-Kantian German and French philosophy, like Michael Inwood, Stephen Mulhall, and Katherine Morris.

Among strong, but not very top, PhD programs there are several additional choices I would recommend: Birkbeck College and University College in the University of London system; Brown University; University of California, Riverside; University of Chicago; and University of Warwick. In terms of sheer numbers, and diversity of approaches to Nietzsche, Chicago has the most faculty to offer across various units, and for a student also interested in ancient philosophy and/or wanting wide coverage of 19th- and 20th-century European philosophy, Chicago has a great deal to offer. (Faculty interested in Nietzsche include James Conant and Michael Forster [Philosophy], Robert Gooding-Williams [Political Science], Brian Leiter and Martha Nussbaum [Law], Robert Pippin [Social Thought], and David Wellbery [German].)

Brown is stronger in most contemporary areas of philosophy (with a particularly good group in moral and political philosophy) than Chicago, but has less depth and breadth in post-Kantian philosophy of the 19th- and 20th-centuries. (The key faculty are Charles Larmore and Bernard Reginster.) University of California, Riverside also has a strong group in post-Kantian European philosophy, including Maudemarie Clark (a leading Nietzsche scholar, of course), Pierre Keller, Georgia Warnke, and Mark Wrathall, and UCR also offers solid, sometimes outstanding, coverage, across a range of contemporary areas of philosophical research, as well as in modern philosophy. University of Warwick has been a major up-and-coming department in the U.K. over the last decade, and is now solidly among the top ten U.K. programs. Keith Ansell-Pearson and Peter Poellner are the two main faculty interested in Nietzsche (their approaches are quite different, Poellner's being more likely to appeal to students with philosophy backgrounds), but other faculty do importnat work in Kant and post-Kantian philosophy (Quassim Cassam, Stephen Houlgate, A.D. Smith).

Birkbeck has my good friend Ken Gemes, a very talented philosopher who has supervised a number of students working on Nietzsche, and the Nietzsche scholar Simon May is also around and available to students. Birkbeck's main strength tend to be in contemporary areas of Anglophone philosophy--like philosophy of language, mind and action--but bear in mind that within the U of London system one can also draw on scholars like Sebastian Gardner, Mark Kalderon, and Thomas Stern, who are all interested in Nietzsche, making UCL another good choice.

Boston University, which has strong coverage of 19th-century philosophy, has just appointed Paul Katsfanas (whose Nietzsche work is known to readers of this blog) to a tenure-track position. BU thus deserves to be on the map for students thinking about graduate work on Nietzsche. Finally, University of Southampton, though not a strong department overall, is attractive for a student interested in Nietzsche, with Christopher Janaway and Aaron Ridley in Philosophy, and David Owen in Politics.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Clarence Darrow on Nietzsche

This is from his famous summation by defense attorney Clarence Darrow, arguing against the death penalty for Nathaniel Leopold and Richard Loeb, two precocious teenagers who murdered another boy to show that they could do it. Leopold claimed inspiration from Nietzsche. Here is Darrow on Leopold:

He became enamored of the philosophy of Nietzsche. Your Honor, I have read almost everything that Nietzsche ever wrote. He was a man of a wonderful intellect; the most original philosopher of the last century. Nietzsche believed that some time the superman would be born, that evolution was working toward the superman. He wrote one book, Beyond Good and Evil, which was a criticism of all moral codes as the world understands them; a treatise holding that the intelligent man is beyond good and evil, that the laws for good and the laws for evil do not apply to those who approach the superman. He wrote on the will to power. Nathan Leopold is not the only boy who has read Nietzsche. He may be the only one who was influenced in the way that he was influenced.

At seventeen, at sixteen, at eighteen, while healthy boys were playing baseball or working on the farm, or doing odd jobs, Babe [Leopold's nickname] was reading Nietzsche, a boy who never should have seen it, at that early age.

Nietzsche held a contemptuous, scornful attitude to all those things which the young are taught as important in life; a fixing of new values which are not the values by which any normal child has ever yet been reared. Nietzsche's attitude is but a philosophical dream, containing more or less truth, that was not meant by anyone to be applied to life.

Nietzsche says, "The morality of the master class is irritating to the taste of the present day because of its fundamental principle that a man has obligation only to his equals; that he may act to all of lower rank and to all that are foreign, as he pleases."

In other words, man has no obligations; he may do with all other men and all other boys, and all society, as he pleases. The superman was a creation of Nietzsche.

The supermanlike qualities lie not in their genius, but in their freedom from scruple. They rightly felt themselves to be above the law. What they thought was right, not because sanctioned by any law, beyond themselves, but because they did it. So the superman will be a law unto himself What he does will come from the will and superabundant power within him.

Here is a boy at sixteen or seventeen becoming obsessed with these doctrines. There isn't any question about the facts. Their own witnesses tell it and every one of our witnesses tell it. It was not a casual bit of philosophy with him; it was his life. He believed in a superman. He and Dickie Loeb were the supermen. There might have been others, but they were two, and two chums. The ordinary commands of society were not for him.

Many of us read this philosophy but know that it has no actual application to life; but not he. It became a part of his being. It was his philosophy. He lived it and practiced it; he thought it applied to him, and he could not have believed it excepting that it either caused a diseased mind or was the result of a diseased mind.

Here is a boy who by day and by night, in season and out, was talking of the superman, owing no obligations to anyone; whatever gave him pleasure he should do, believing it just as another man might believe a religion or any philosophical theory.

You remember that I asked Dr. Church about these religious cases and he said, "Yes, many people go to the insane asylum on account of them," that "they place a literal meaning on parables and believe them thoroughly"? I asked Dr. Church, whom again I say I believe to be an honest man, and an intelligent man, I asked him whether the same thing might be done or might come from a philosophical belie£ and he said, "If one believed it strongly enough."

And I asked him about Nietzsche. He said he knew something of Nietzsche, something of his responsibility for the war, for which he perhaps was not responsible. He said he knew something about his doctrines. I asked him what became of him, and he said he was insane for fifteen years just before the time of his death. His very doctrine is a species of insanity.

Here is a man, a wise man, perhaps not wise, but a brilliant, thoughtful man who has made his impress upon the world. Every student of philosophy knows him. His own doctrines made him a maniac. And here is a young boy, in the adolescent age, harassed by everything that harasses children, who takes this philosophy and believes it literally. It is a part of his life. It is his life. Do you suppose this mad act could have been done by him in any other way? What could he have to win from this homicide?

A boy with a beautiful home, with automobiles, a graduate of college, going to Europe, and then to study law at Harvard; as brilliant in intellect as any boy that you could find; a boy with every prospect that life might hold out to him; and yet he goes out and commits this weird, strange, wild, mad act, that he may die on the gallows or live in a prison cell until he dies of old age or disease.

He did it, obsessed of an idea, perhaps to some extent influenced by what has not been developed publicly in this case-perversions this case were present in the boy. Both signs of insanity, both, together with this act, proving a diseased mind..

Is there any question about what was responsible for him?

What else could be? A boy in his youth, with every promise that the world could hold. out before him, wealth and position and intellect, yes, genius, scholarship, nothing that he could not obtain, and he throws it away, and mounts the gallows or goes into a cell for life. It is too foolish to talk about. Can Your Honor imagine a sane brain doing it? Can you imagine it coming from anything but a diseased mind? Can you imagine it is any part of normality? And yet, Your Honor, you are asked to hang a boy of his age, abnormal, obsessed of dreams and visions, a philosophy that destroyed his life,
when there is no sort of question in the world as to what caused his downfall. I know, Your Honor, that every atom of life in all this universe is bound up
together. I know that a pebble cannot be thrown into the ocean without disturbing every drop of water in the sea. I know that every life is inextricably mixed and woven with every other life. I know that every influence, conscious and unconscious, acts and reacts on every living organism, and that no one can fix the blame. I know that all life is a series of infinite chances, which sometimes result one way and sometimes another. I have not the infinite wisdom that can fathom it, neither has any other human brain. But I do know that if back of it is a power that made it, that power alone can tell, and if there is no power then it is an infinite chance which man cannot solve.

Why should this boy's life be bound up with Frederick Nietzsche, who died thirty years ago, insane, in Germany? I don't know. I only know it is. I know that no man who ever wrote a line that I read failed to influence me to some extent. I know that every life I ever touched influenced me, and I influenced it; and that it is not given to me to unravel the infinite causes and say, "This is I, and this is you." I am responsible for so much; and you are responsible for so much. I know that in the infinite universe everything has its place and that the smallest particle is a part of all. Tell me that you can visit the wrath of fate and chance and life and eternity upon a nineteen-year-old boy! If you could, justice would be a travesty and mercy a fraud.

Leopold was not, obviously, a good reader of Nietzsche, and Darrow is, of course, not engaged in Nietzsche scholarship, but trying to make the case for sparing the boys from the death penalty on account of psychological disturbance. Still, as popular readings of Nietzsche go, this one may have had more influence than most. Thoughts from readers?