This is a lightly revised version of a paper I gave last week at a very enjoyable conference on "Philosophy in the Public Sphere" at the Jindal Global University in Sonipat, India, near Delhi; the abstract:
The idea of “public philosophy”—that is, philosophy as contributing to questions of moral and political urgency in the community in which it is located—is paradoxical for two reasons. The first is that normative philosophy has no well-established substantive conclusions about the right and the good. Thus, philosophers enter into moral and political debate purporting to offer some kind of expertise, but the expertise they offer can not consist in any credible claim to know what is good, right, valuable, or any other substantive normative proposition that might be decisive in practical affairs. But philosophers—at least those in the broadly Socratic traditions--do bring to debate a method or way of thinking about contested normative questions: they are good at parsing arguments, clarifying the concepts at play in a debate, teasing out the dialectical entailments of suppositions and claims, and so on: Socratic philosophers are, in short, purveyors of what I call “discursive hygiene.” This brings us to the second paradox: although philosophers can contribute no substantive knowledge about the good and the right, they can contribute discursive hygiene. But discursive hygiene plays almost no role in public life, and an only erratic, and highly contingent, role in how people form beliefs about matters of moral and political urgency. I call attention to the role of two factors in moral judgment: non-rational emotional responses and “Tribalism,” the tendency to favor members of one “tribe” at the expense of others. The prevalence of emotional responses, especially tribalist ones, undermines the efficacy of discursive hygiene in public life.
I conclude that the role for public philosophy is quite circumscribed, though public philosophers should learn from their cousins, the lawyers, who appreciate the role that rhetoric, beyond discursive hygiene, plays in changing moral attitudes and affecting action. Along the way, I discuss Stevenson’s emotivism, what we can learn from Peter Singer’s schizophrenic role as a public philosopher (lauded for his defense of animal rights, pilloried for his defense of killing defective humans), evolutionary explanations of tribalism, the lessons of American Legal Realism for the possible relevance of discursive hygiene, and Marx and Nietzsche as "public" philosophers.
...by voting to ban a student group devoted to discussing Nietzsche. (Thanks to the many readers who sent this piece in the last few hours.) If the students are too stupid to undo the damage themselves, hopefully the Administration will step in. The idea that at a major English university one can't have a student group for the discussion of one of the two most important philosophers of the 19th-century is quite remarkable. The opponents are quite correct that Nietzsche is a real anti-egalitarian, but quite silly in thinking that means he is a "fascist."
UPDATE: The full motion suggests that they think the "Nietzsche Club" is really just a front group for some fascist/reactionary group. If so, it's a shame this has been presented by the media (perhaps aided and abetted by the students) as a smear of Nietzsche as a fascist.
A review of a quite good collection of new essays and a very interesting interview with my friend Ken Gemes (Birkbeck), mostly about Nietzsche (he says a couple of dubious things in this regard, though also some intriguing ones). I was particularly amused by his off-hand comment that, "I don’t doubt that Nietzsche was in some sense a naturalist," a claim that, when I first defended it systematically a dozen years ago, had lots of doubters and was a decidedly minority view. If I may (inaptly) borrow the famous line attributed to Gandhi (regarding a rather more serious matter), "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win."
D.A.S. stands for “ding an sich,” Immanuel Kant’s concept of the “thing in itself,” the object of philosophical consideration separate from human perceptions of it. The name and the restaurant concepts conjure a beer-hall-meets-lecture-hall philosophy—a Weltanschauung of Gemütlichkeit, with emphasis on Nietzsche’s concept of the Überschnitzel.
For the record the Überschnitzel is an even less important concept in Nietzsche's philosophy than the Übermensch!
I have posted it here. This will be part of a wonderfully clever series that Topoi has run for a number of years, and which is explained here:
We take a classic of philosophy and ask an outstanding scholar in the same field to review it as if it had just been published. This implies that the classical work must be contrasted with both past and current literature and must be framed in the wider cultural context of the present day. The result is a litmus test for the work itself: Failure in accounting for relevant issues raised by contemporary literature reveals that, in those respects, our classic has indeed been outpaced by later works. On the other hand, any success in capturing core topics of current discussion, or even anticipating and clarifying issues not yet well brought into focus by contemporary scholars, is the strongest proof of the liveliness of the work, no matter how long ago it was written.
I have enjoyed reading some of the previous "Untimely Reviews," including for example Brandom on Hegel's Phenomenology (2008) and Leitgeb on Carnap's Aufbau (2009). Readers not familiar with the series should check it out.
(I should note that my "untimely review" will not include that many new ideas for those who have been reading some of my other Nietzsche essays of late--I've been working on, and writing about Twilight quite a bit over the last two years.)
I offer an interpretation of Nietzsche’s striking idea of “the innocence of becoming” (die Unschuld des Werdens), and offer a partial defense of its import, namely, that no one is ever morally responsible or guilty for what they do and that the so-called “reactive attitudes” are always misplaced. I focus primarily, though not exclusively, on the arguments as set out in Twilight of the Idols. First, there is Nietzsche’s hypothesis, partly psychological and partly historical or anthropological, that the ideas of “free” action or free will, and of responsibility for actions freely chosen or willed, were introduced primarily in order to justify punishment (“[m]en were considered ‘free’ so that they might be judged and punished”). Call this the Genetic Thesis about Free Will. Second, there is Nietzsche’s claim that the moral psychology, or “psychology of the will” as he calls it, that underlies this picture is, in fact, false—that, in fact, it is not true that every action is willed or that it reflects a purpose or that it originates in consciousness. Call these, in aggregate, the Descriptive Thesis about the Will. (Here I draw on earlier work.) Finally, there is articulation of a programmatic agenda, namely, to restore the “innocence of becoming” by getting rid of guilt and punishment based on guilt—not primarily because ascriptions of guilt and responsibility are false (though they are), but because a world understood as “innocent,” one understood in terms of “natural” cause and effect, is a better world in which to live. I thus try to explain and defend Zarathustra’s recommendation: “’Enemy’ you shall say, but not ‘villain’; ‘sick’ you shall say, but not ‘scoundrel’; ‘fool’ you shall say, but not ‘sinner.’” Nietzsche’s views are contrasted with those of important modern writers on these topics, including P.F. Strawson and Gary Watson.
Here, a bit past 30 seconds in. The paraphrase is fair, though the context is not one Nietzsche was thinking about! But for any Republican to be talking about telling the truth...well, another Nietzsche quote might be apt in this context as well, from The Antichrist, section 38:
Where has the last feeling of decency and self-respect gone when even our statesmen, an otherwise quite unembarrassed type of man, anti-Christians through and through in their deeds, still call themselves Christians today and attend communion?
A journal recently sent me an automated request to referee a manuscript, which, unfortunately, I could not do within the parameters offered. From the salutation, I learned how the editors keep track of me:
MOVING TO FRONT FROM YESTERDAY--SSRN SITE WAS DOWN FOR AWHILE, BUT IS NOW WORKING AGAIN
This is the revised (and penultimate, subject to copyediting) version of an essay which attempts in 11,000 words to give an overview of the main themes of Nietzsche's philosophical corpus. For those who have read my other work on Nietzsche (including what's on SSRN), there won't be much new here, but hopefully philosophers with a side-interest in Nietzsche will find this a useful resource, with a lot of pointers to other philosophically-minded secondary literature.
For those who might be interested, the submission deadline is May 31, 2013. All papers will be sent out for blind review, and they must also be submitted via the electronic submission process specified at the Inquiry homepage. (Lots of other special issues of Inquiry coming up too, though submission deadlines vary.)
This is a revised version of the keynote address I gave at the Danish Philosophical Association last month; the abstract:
Nietzsche views the Western philosophical tradition as organized around a conception of philosophy deriving from Socrates. According to this (loosely) Socratic philosophical canon: (1) Philosophy, as the “love of wisdom,” aims for knowledge of timeless and non-empirical truths, including truths about the good and the right; (2) Knowledge of the truth is the overriding value in philosophy and is also essential for living well; and (3) Philosophical knowledge is acquired through the exercise of reason, understood as a faculty that can operate independently, in whole or in part, of a posteriori evidence. This paper explores Nietzsche's reasons for rejecting this conception of philosophy on each count, especially as developed in his book, Twilight of the Idols. Nietzsche's replacement of metaphysical speculation with psychological diagnosis is compared to Carnap's own critique of metaphysics, and helps explain Carnap's high appraisal of Nietzsche compared to other major figures in post-Kantian German philosophy. Nietzsche's rejection of the traditional philosophical canon is contrasted with that of other critics of the tradition, including Marx, Quine, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein. The reaction against naturalism in recent Anglophone philosophy is offered, finally, as a case study in support of Nietzsche's skepticism about the philosophical canon.
"What is the task of all higher schooling?--To turn people into machines.--"What method is used?"--The student must learn to be bored.--"How is this done?"--Through the concept of duty."Who is the model for this?"--the philologist: he teaches how to grind away at work.--"Who is the perfect human?"--The civil servant.--"What philosophy gives the highest formula for the civil servant?"--Kant's: the civil servant as thing-in-itself set to judge over the civil servant as phenomenon. (Twilight of the Idols, "Skirmises," sec. 29)
UPDATE: Two readers have pointed out a rather unfortunate ambiguity on the second page; the sentence about Nietzsche's sister's selective editing of his work should indicate that she cut material that reflected Nietzsche's hostility towards BOTH Germany and anti-semitism.
ANOTHER (9/17): I'm certainly gratified by the tremendous interest in this paper, which has generated over 500 downloads in the first 24 hours. Thanks! (I haven't gotten such a strong response since my polemic about Dworkin a good number of years back.) This is very much a draft, so I do welcome feedback, on substance, on clarity, and on ambiguities or sloppy writing, like the one noted already.
Rand’s inclusion of businessmen in the ranks of the Übermenschen helps to explain her appeal to free-marketeers — including Alan Greenspan — but it is not convincing. At bottom, her individualism owed much more to Nietzsche than to Adam Smith (though Rand, typically, denied any influence, saying only that Nietzsche “beat me to all my ideas”). But “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” never sold a quarter of a million copies a year.
Rand's "individualism"--if that is what one wants to call her juvenile fantasies about her industrialist heroes--owes as little to Nietzsche as to Smith. Nietzsche loathed capitalism and capitalists (and the cultural and aesthetic vulgarity he saw as their legacy) and also despised what he called "the selfishness of the sick" (Thus Spoke Zarathustra) and the "self-interested cattle and mob" (Will to Power). What he admired was "severe self-love," the kind "most profoundly necessary for growth" (Ecce Homo). "Virtue, art, music, dance, reason, spirituality"--all the things "for whose sake it is worthwhile to live on earth" (Beyond Good and Evil)--all demand such severe self-love, and for this reason, and this reason only, Nietzsche wanted to disabuse those capable of such excellences of their false consciousness about the morality of altruism. He certainly did not think everyone ought to be selfish, or that the pursuit of material goods had any value, or that indulgence of selfish desires was a virtue. What he did think is what is almost certainly true: namely, that if someone like Beethoven had taken Christian morality seriously, and lived a Christian life, he would not have accomplished what the actual Beethoven did (one need only read the famous Maynard Solomon biography to see that Beethoven was no moral saint). The "John Galts" of the world are just a more prosperous example of the "self-interested cattle and mob" Nietzsche always derided.
Needless to say, Nietzsche also did not share Rand's sophomoric views about rationality and objectivity, but that is not usually where superficial readers find the putative link. And as to the Übermenschen, I refer the interested reader to an earlier discussion. (UPDATE: The link is now fixed.)
UPDATE: Robert Hockett (Cornell) writes:
I thought that this passage in the Rand book review was the most accurate of all:
"Rand's particular intellectual contribution, the thing that makes her so popular and so American, is the way she managed to mass market elitism -- to convince so many people, especially young people, that they could be geniuses without being in any concrete way distinguished." (Fourth full para. at page 8.)
In short, she is the Lumpen-"philosopher" par excellence. My better half was asking me, just as I began to read this review aloud, what could possibly account for the popularity of this ridiculous woman. I hypothesized that it was the way in which she afforded a sort of vicarious self-flattery to narcissistic imbeciles. Then I began reading, and upon finding the just-quoted sentence, smiled with Randian self-satisfaction!
Just what the world was waiting for! The author, Krista Wilson, now teaches at Soka University in California (it's her son in the photos!). Both Professor Wilson and Micah Lewin, who sent me the link, tell me kids enjoy it. Here, courtesy of Mr. Lewin, is another photo from the board book:
When Nietzsche says, as he frequently does, that "the truth is terrible" he has in mind three kinds of terrible truths: (1) the terrible "existential" truths about the human situation (the inevitability of death and suffering); (2) the terrible "moral" truth that "life is essentially something amoral"; and (3) the terrible "epistemic" truth that most of what we think we know about the world around us is illusory. These terrible truths raise Schopenhauer's question: why continue living at all? nietzsche's answer, from early in his career to the very end, is that only viewed in terms of aesthetic values can life itself be "justified" (where "justification" really means restoring an affective attachment to life). Something can have aesthetic value even if it has no epistemic value--indeed, Nietzsche takes it to be a hallmark of art that "the lie hallows itself" and "the willl to deception has good conscience on its side." Similarly, something can have aesthetic value even when it lacks moral value, something well-exemplified, he thinks, by the Homeric sagas. But how could the fact that life exemplifies aesthetic value restore our attachment to life in the face of the terrible existential truths about our situation? I suggest that there are two keys to understanding Nietzsche's answer: first, his assimilation of aesthetic pleasure to a kind of sublimated sexual pleasure; and second, his psychological thesis, central to the Genealogy, that powerful affects neutralize pain, and thus can "seduce" the sufferer back to life. Finally, life can only supply the requisite kind of aesthetic pleasure if it features what I call the "spectacle of genius," the spectacle represented by the likes of Beethoven, Goethe, and Napoleon. Since such geniuses are not possible in a culture dominated by "morality" (in Nietzsche's pejorative sense), the critique of morality is essential to the restoration of an affective attachment to life, since only by defeating morality will the spectacle of genius continue to be possible.
Comments are welcome.
ADDENDUM: There appears to be a technical problem downloading the paper at the moment, sorry about that. I am hoping the SSRN site will fix this soon (I've notified them). If you were able to successfully download it, please let me know. Thanks. It's now fixed, thanks for your patience and sorry for the inconvenience.
The essay offers an interpretation and defense of Nietzsche's claim that moral judgments are "symptoms" or "sign-languages" of the affects. I argue that (1) Nietzsche has a non-cognitivist view of "basic" affective or emotional responses of inclination and aversion (which are the products of "drives"), but that he recognizes the role that culture plays in how the non-cognitive responses are experienced by agents; (2) the role of culture in explaining moral judgment is compatible with what I have called Nietzsche's Doctrine of Types, and that while Nietzsche thought about this in Lamarckian terms, the plausibility of the view can survive the demise of Lamarckianism; (3) Nietzsche's view of moral judgments wins support from the connection between moral judgment and motivation; anti-realism about value; and recent work in empirical psychology.
I usually don't write on the blog about my speaking engagements, but I did want to say a word about the wonderful and collegial philosophical community at UC Riverside, where I gave the 4th annual Bernd Magnus Lecture last week, as well as spending several hours in formal and informal discussions with faculty and students about Nietzsche and related topics. Riverside really is one of the very best places in the U.S. if you're interested in Kant and the post-Kantian Continental traditions in philosophy and you're interested in philosophy. Theirs is a pluralistic department in the best sense of that term--meaning first-rate people working on many different topics, figures, and periods in philosophy, both Anglophone and Continental, and in a climate of mutual respect and engagement--and not simply as a code word for "we're Party-Line Continentals" or simply "we don't know much philosophy." So kudos to the faculty and students at UC Riverside (and the Administration that wisely supports an outstanding department) and many thanks for their excellent questions and discussion and warm hospitality.
Several readers sent this review, asking for comment. I've not read the historical work (about Nietzsche's reception in America) under review, but the review gives a competent summary of some main themes in Nietzsche, and thus marks a happy improvement over the irresponsible piece by William Vollmann a few years back. On the other hand, a book that concludes its survey of Nietzsche's reception in America with the Nietzsche promoted by Cavell and Rorty is clearly not a work by someone who has any idea of the main developments in philosophical scholarship on and appropraitions of Nietzsche in the past generation in the U.S.. But that's not the reviewer's fault, though it would have been nice if he had noticed.
This is the text for a public lecture I will give at the end of the month at the University of Alabama, that deals with some familiar meta-ethical issues in, I hope, a non-technical way, and without getting bogged down in the unfortunate tendency of much recent philosophical work, in which the semantic tail wags the metaphysical dog. The abstract:
Over the last 250 years both moral philosophy and ordinary moral opinion have witnessed a remarkable expansion of their conception of the “moral” community, that is, the community of creatures that are thought entitled to basic moral (and ultimately legal) consideration--whatever the precise details of what such consideration requires. "Being human" is what matters now in terms of membership in the moral community, not race, gender, religion, or, increasingly, sexual orientation. (Species membership—hence the “being human”—remains a barrier to entry, however.) How to explain these developments? According to “Whig Histories,” this is really a story of expanding moral knowledge. Just as we discovered that the movement of mid-size physical objects is governed by the laws of Newtonian mechanics, and that those same laws do not describe the behavior of quantum particles, so too we have discovered that chattel slavery is a grave moral wrong and that women have as much moral claim on the electoral vote as men. I argue against the Whig Histories in favor of non-Whig Histories that explain the expanding moral community in terms of biological, psychological, and economic developments, not increased moral knowledge. If the non-Whig Histories are correct, should we expect the “species barrier” to membership in the moral community to fall? I argue for a skeptical answer.
Story here. I haven't yet seen this book, though the description does call to mind Nietzsche's quip that, "It is the church, and not its poison, that repels us.--Apart from the church, we, too, love the poison" (GM I:9).
The draft syllabus for the seminar Michael Forster and I are doing this Spring is now on-line here. Apologies for the delay. E-mail me (bleiter at uchicago-dot-edu) with any questions. (Note that philosophy PhD students do not need instructor permission to enroll; JD students and PhD students in other fields, as well as MAPH students, do need to contact the instructors [touch base with me, as I'm on e-mail more]. Thanks.)
Whenever I read the tortured "philosophical" defenses of traditional marriage and attacks on gay marriage, I am always reminded of this remark of Nietzsche's:
[T]he reasons and purposes for habits are always lies that are added only after some people begin to attack these habits and to ask for reasons and purposes. At this point the conservatives of all ages are thoroughly dishonest: they add lies. (The Gay Science, sec. 29)
This one leaves a great deal to be desired. As a guide to his philosophical work, it is worse than useless, and full of bromides that make Nietzsche out to be a proto-existentialist or self-help pop psychologist, and it even resurrects various myths about Nietzsche. The problem results primarily from the fact that the film-makers appear to have relied almost entirely on non-philosophers, and even on non-scholars (the writer Leslie Chamberlain is pleasantly trite and uncomprehending, and the novelist Will Self, who is featured quite a bit, is criminally stupid [really, there should be a law against him ever speaking about Nietzsche in public again!]). There is some nice footage of important places in Nietzsche's life, so this film is perhaps best watched with the sound off.
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)