Friday, December 19, 2008

Nietzsche's Relationship to Political Philosophy

I've posted my review essay of Tamsin Shaw's book Nietzsche's Political Skepticism (Princeton, 2007), which will appear in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews in January. Most of the review is given over to a detailed critique of Professor Shaw's argument. Those who have read my work for awhile know that I don't waste time doing detailed critiques of insignificant work, so even though I am skeptical about Shaw's main theses, I think they are very much worth engaging.

Here are the introductory and concluding paragraphs of my review essay:

Nietzsche's Political Skepticism (hereafter NPS) is a serious, learned, and novel contribution to the literature on Nietzsche’s relevance to political theory. Against the two dominant strands in the secondary literature—one attributing to Nietzsche a kind of flat-footed commitment to aristocratic forms of social ordering, the other denying that Nietzsche has any political philosophy at all—Shaw stakes out a new and surprising position: namely, that Nietzsche was very much concerned with the familiar question of the moral or normative legitimacy of state power, but was skeptical that with the demise of religion, it would be possible to achieve a practically effective normative consensus about such legitimacy that was untainted by the exercise of state power itself. Although, as I will argue below, there are reasons to be quite skeptical that Nietzsche was interested in anything like these questions, Shaw has laid down a clear and invigorating challenge to existing scholarship on Nietzsche’s politics, and it is one worth meeting.


NPS is meticulously footnoted, and Shaw displays a wide and generally deep knowledge of all the pertinent secondary literature. I believe this is the first time I have read a work that cites to book reviews I have written, though in each case the citation was substantive: there was a point made in the review that really was relevant to the issues at hand. Professor Shaw is also quite generous in her treatment of other commentators, even when they are, like Leo Strauss, fairly irresponsible. Her discussions of Burckhardt, Lange, Rankean nationalists, and other contemporaneous intellectual developments were learned, lucid, and helpful. The book is almost always quite well-informed about philosophical issues that affect her reading, and Shaw is particularly good, I thought, in her critique of Nadeem Hussain’s important “fictionalist” reading of Nietzsche (see esp. 92-94). Most books by political theorists on Nietzsche are unreadable for philosophers; this book is the exception that proves the rule. I would not hesitate to say that it is the best book on Nietzsche’s political theory I have ever read, even though I find it unpersuasive. Philosophers interested in Nietzsche’s political thought will have to read this book, and it certainly deserves critical attention and response.

Monday, December 15, 2008

New Preface to the Forthcoming Greek Edition of My "Nietzsche on Morality" Book

Some readers might find this of interest. The publisher was keen for me to talk about how I became interested in Nietzsche, and also to address what he described as the still widespread perception in Greece of Nietzsche as a figure of "the right."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sorry for the Delay in Comments Appearing

I neglected to change my e-mail address from Texas to Chicago, and the Texas address had stopped forwarding, so there was a backlog. I've just now approved a whole bunch of comments, as well as changing my e-mail address to the current one for comment moderation. Thanks to all those who contributed, and my apologies for the mix up.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Moral Skepticism and Moral Disagreement in Nietzsche"

I've posted a revised version of the paper I gave at the annual NYU "History of Modern Philosophy" conference in November (which generated an excellent and very helpful discussion). I hope the paper may interest moral philosophers generally, as well as Nietzsche scholars. Here is the abstract for the paper:

This essay offers a new interpretation of Nietzsche's argument for moral
skepticism (i.e., the metaphysical thesis that there do not exist any objective
moral properties or facts), an argument that should be of independent
philosophical interest as well. On this account, Nietzsche offers a version of
the argument from moral disagreement, but, unlike familiar varieties, it does
not purport to exploit anthropological reports about the moral views of exotic
cultures, or even garden-variety conflicting moral intuitions about concrete
cases. Nietzsche, instead, calls attention to the single most important and
embarrassing fact about the history of moral theorizing by philosophers over two
millennia: namely, that no rational consensus has been secured on any
substantive, foundational proposition about morality. Persistent and apparently
intractable disagreement on foundational questions, of course, distinguishes
moral theory from inquiry in the sciences and mathematics (perhaps in kind,
certainly in degree). According to Nietzsche, the best explanation for this
disagreement is that, even though moral skepticism is true, philosophers can
still construct valid dialectical justifications for moral propositions because
the premises of different justifications will answer to the psychological needs
of at least some philosophers and thus be deemed true by some of them. The essay
concludes by considering various attempts to defuse this abductive argument for
skepticism based on moral disagreement and by addressing the question whether
the argument "proves too much," that is, whether it might entail an implausible
skepticism about a wide range of topics about which there is philosophical

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blogging about Nietzsche's Theory of Value

Michael Drake is a lawyer with a philosophy background who has been blogging quite a bit about aspects of Nietzsche's theory of value, touching on many issues and authors noted here in the past. There are also opportunities to comment on his postings at his site.