Thursday, October 14, 2021

Paul Katsafanas' misrepresentations in a recent review essay discussing my "Moral Psychology with Nietzsche"

Having written a quite critical review of Paul Kastafanas's book on The Nietzschean Self (2016), and knowing that Paul and I have significant differences about how to read Nietzsche, I wasn't expecting him to like my Moral Psychology with Nietzsche (hereafter Leiter 2019). However, I was surprised by his superficial engagement with the arguments, and the wholly inaccurate and irresponsible allegations about my misrepresenting texts. To put this in some context: Paul is a smart philosopher, and has done some very good work on Nietzsche, but The Nietzschean Self in particular played fast and loose with Nietzsche's texts, a point I called attention to in my review. This isn't controversial; Paul has earned something of a reputation for not being a reliable guide to the texts.

I suppose Paul's recent discussion of my book in a review essay in Nietzsche-Studien is an attempt to try to turn the tables in that regard. (I give page references to the published version in volume 50 of N-S, 2021, pages 361-381.) Ironically (but perhaps predictably), almost all of his claims that I "misrepresented" an argument or text actually involve Paul misrepresenting them. Paul, in short, is still playing "fast and loose" not just with Nietzsche's texts, but that of other scholars. 

The real trouble starts at p. 371 of his essay, where he claims that "many of the [foot]notes on recent literature [in Leiter's book] are either disappointingly imprecise or factually inaccurate." 

The first example PK gives is my criticism that his argument "trade[s] extensively on conflating" the claim that Nietzsche employs power as an evaluate standard with the claim that he thinks it is the uniquely justified evaluative standard. PK points out that he acknowledged these two possibilities in his first book, Agency and the Foundations of Ethics, at pp. 153-156.  He did indeed, and I didn't deny that: the problem is that, despite acknowledging the difference, PK proceeds to conflate the evidence that Nietzsche thinks we should use power as an evaluate standard with the claim that he thinks doing so enjoys some special justification.  Indeed, PK's review essay actually offers an example:  a couple of pages earlier when (at page 369) he is objecting to my view that Nietzsche is an anti-realist about value, PK asserts that "Nietzsche just straightforwardly asserts that power, health, and/or life are the criteria of evaluation that we should employ" (369). But this is exactly the conflation at issue! The evidence shows only that Nietzsche employs, e.g., "power" as a criterion of evaluation, not that he thinks we "should" because it is objectively justified.

To support the misleading claim that this is the "literal" reading of what Nietzsche says, PK writes,

[I]f John Stuart Mill says that you should asses actions in terms of utility, most people would read Mill as stating just that:  we should assess actions in terms of utility.  Or, if Kant says we should assess actions via the Categorical Imperative, most of us would read Kant as meaning just that:  we should assess actions in terms of the Categorical Imperative.  But Leiter wants to read Nietzsche a different way. (369) 

Unmentioned (remarkably) by PK is that Mill and Kant give actual arguments for why actions should be evaluated in the ways they endorse:  Mill appeals to psychological hedonism and an internalist assumption about what could be good for someone, and Kant appeals to the constraints on a principle for action that a rational agent would recognize.  No reader need appeal to the supposed "literal" reading, since these philosophers explicitly try to justify their criteria of evaluation as the correct ones.  The only comparable argument in Nietzsche requires appealing to texts he did not publish; and even there, the only argument in the offing, as I discuss in detail (2019:   52-62), is a variation on Mill's (swapping out Mill's psychological hedonism for Nietzsche's psychology of the will to power), and it is a bad argument, so kudos to Nietzsche for not publishing it!

PK is presumably aware of my actual point since in a footnote of his review essay [p. 371 n. 15], he writes:  "Perhaps Leiter thinks that although I discuss the distinction at length [BL:  3 pages], I somehow fail to keep track of it [BL: correct!].  If so, we need more than bare assertion:  we would need some indication of where my argument [for conflating the two claims] is supposed to go astray."  Devastating critiques of PK's preferred reading of Nietzsche by Andrew Huddleston and Simon Robertson are, in fact, referenced in my book on precisely these points (Leiter 2019:  50 n. 3; 56 n. 16).  PK's real complaint is that I did not spend more time discussing his views that others had already refuted.  

Thus, PK complains (369) that I failed to "consider[] the careful, analytically precise work on this topic that has emerged int he past decade or so" (that description picks out PK's work!) and faults me for discussing "a fifty-year old paper by Philippa Foot and an offhand, forty-year old remark by Richard Schacht" (369).  Clearly Nietzsche-Studien employs no editors for the commissioned review essays, or else this display of vanity would not have appeared in print.  Foot, one of the major moral philosophers of the second half of the 20th-century, wrote an important and influential paper on Nietzsche; why its age matters is mysterious.  And the passage from Schacht I quote and discuss was not "offhand," it was central to a sustained argument he develops in a chapter of his well-known 1983 book.  The shorter version of PK's complaint would have been:  "Leiter consigned my [implausible] views to footnotes, rather than giving them pride of place in the text."

So PK's first example of a putative misrepresentation is nothing of the kind.  But he then claims that this "misrepresentation [sic] is characteristic" (371).  In one way it is: it reveals how unreliable PK is.

The next example offered by PK is that, "Leiter chastises me for not citing a book by Bernoulli...[when] in fact, there is a citation of Bernoulli's book on the very page that Leiter is complaining about" (371). In fact, there is no citation of Bernoulli on p. 248 of Katsafanas's Agency and the Foundations of Ethics, there is instead a citation to Bernd Magnus (n. 8) speculating that R.J. Hollingdale may have been influenced by Bernoulli's book--in other words, there is no evidence Paul actually looked at Bernoulli's text. This is rather important, since my whole point (Leiter 2019: 60-61) is that Bernoulli's text (not Hollingdale's or Magnus's) gives important details about Nietzsche's disposal of unpublished material that later became The Will to Power.   Once again, I was wholly correct:  PK did not cite Bernoulli's book, he cited someone else speculating that another scholar might have been influence by Bernoulli's book.  

Paul follows this with the next supposed example of a misrepresentation:

And then there is this claim about Sharon Street:  "unlike some recent Anglophone philosophers (e.g., Street 2006:  130-1), Nietzsche recognizes that evolutionary forces affecting human cognition do not necessarily prefer true to false belief--even in the case of ordinary knowledge about the empirical world [Leiter 2019:  87].  As someone familiar with Street's work, this claim struck me as fairly surprising.  So I checked.  And sure enough, in the very article and on the very page that Leiter cites, Streets makes the opposite claim from the one that Leiter attributes to her.  She writes:  "Sure, one might think, an organism who is aware of the truth in a given area, whether evaluative or otherwise, will do better than one who isn't.  But this line of thought falls apart upon closer examination."  (371)

This one really took my breath away for its brazen dishonesty:  the quote from Street, in context (130-131 of her article, as I cited!), is obviously about evaluative truths, and of course her whole thesis is that evolutionary speculation provides no reason for thinking evaluative judgments are truth-tracking.  But she then goes on to say--in the very next sentence on p. 131, which Paul omits--the following:

First consider truths about a creature’s manifest surroundings for example, that there is a fire raging in front of it, or a predator rushing toward it. It is perfectly clear why it tends to promote reproductive success for a creature to grasp such truths: the fire might burn it to a crisp; the predator might eat it up.

In other words, she explicitly endorses the view that "evolutionary forces affecting human cognition do...prefer true to false belief" when it comes to "ordinary knowledge about the empirical world," exactly as I said (and as Stephen Stich argues against in the paper I then cite, and which I take Nietzsche also to deny in the passage from The Gay Science I was discussing).  Precisely because this is Street's view, she has to go on and spend several pages (135-141 of her article) showing how her argument reaches naturalistic moral realists (those who think moral properties are empirical properties), who might claim that evolutionary considerations don't undermine their kind of moral realism.  PK misses all this.

After these three examples, PK actually has the audacity to say that these examples "do not inspire confidence that Leiter is an accurate reader of scholarship with which he believes he disagrees" (371).  Substitute Katsafanas for Leiter, and this sentence would be quite apt.

I should mention one other alleged misrepresentation  PK attributes to me, that precedes the above discussion of the alleged pattern.  This is worth, again, quoting at length to show how consistently unreliable PK is.  On p. 370, he writes:

Leiter considers whether Nietzsche might hold that "power is the only thing that is, in fact, desired" (2019:  56).  Leiter claims "many, of course, have thought that Nietzsche held precisely this view," although he does not cite a single person who actually thinks this.  He does claim, a few pages later, that I believe that will to power is "the exclusive motivation for all human behavior" (59 n. 16).  That is false:  in Agency and the Foundations, I defend the view that power is  ubiquitous human motivation, not that it is the only human motivation.... (370).

The view that I claimed "many...have thought that Nietzsche held" is not the first view quoted by PK:  it is, instead, the view (2019:  56) that "only power is valuable," and I in fact quote several passages in which Nietzsche suggests it (2019:  56 n. 10), and which Schacht, my main target in this chapter, clearly holds.  In the text, I go on to critique "a view that will to power is the exclusive explanation for all human behavior," and in a footnote I point out that PK "bites that bullett" on the implausible implications of this kind of view.  My text continues (unnoted by PK, of course):

Do I manifest the will to power by showing up to teach my classes?  By holding my office hours?  Do I express a desire for power when I shop for groceries?  Buy furniture?  Cook dinner?  Surely the list of ordinary activities and actions that do not seem helpfully explained by reference to a fundamental drive for (or tendency towards) power could go on and on.  (2019:  59)

PK's objection is that he claims will to power was a "ubiquitous" not "exclusive" motivation.  But as my actual objection makes clear, that is a difference that literally makes no difference given the objection at issue.  PK's view that will to power is "ubiquitous" is implausible, as Huddleston and Robertson demonstrated, and as I suggest in the quoted passage, above.

There are other rather feeble responses to arguments in my book in PK's review essay; they don't involve blatant misrepresentations, like the preceding, so much as a failure to engage seriously with competing views.   I will give just one example.  PK complains that, "Leiter spends a fair amount of time arguing against a detail [sic] of my reading of Nietzsche on consciousness," namely, his conflation of conceptual with linguistic articulation (368); of course, PK doesn't acknowledge it as a mistaken conflation, and hardly a "detail," since it is a mistake that vitiates many of his subsequent claims. He then says, falsely, that there is "no direct textual evidence for" thinking Nietzsche employed this distinction (even though the textual evidence is discussed explicitly in my book at 2019:  135-136), and says I only attribute it to Nietzsche to "avoid certain philosophical problems that Nietzsche never mentions" (368). Of course, since Nietzsche did not make PK's mistake, it's hardly surprising he did not mention the problems involved in making it!  As I noted in my review of the book, Katsafanas's mistake vitiates many, but certainly not all, of the arguments in his book. I realize it's hard to admit a mistake that fundamental, but I would expect better of an intelligent scholar. Mattia Riccardi's recent Nietzsche's Philosophical Psychology--which pointedly does not suffer from this conflation of linguistic and conceptual content--demonstrates quite clearly the significance of getting Nietzsche's view of consciousness right. 

Weak arguments like the preceding would not have been worth commenting on at all:  reviews often make feeble arguments, although good reviews offer interesting counter-arguments.  But to accuse another scholar of serial "misrepresentations," when in fact the reviewer is the one serially misrepresenting the texts and arguments is disgraceful.