Monday, June 20, 2011

Dirk Johnson on Nietzsche's Anti-Darwinism

I haven't read this book, but I was just reading Ansell-Pearson's review, in which he writes:

The fundamental claim of this book is that we will not properly understand
Nietzsche until we understand the main polemical target of his philosophizing.
This target, the author wants to demonstrate, is the evolutionary naturalism of
Darwin: “Nietzsche’s philosophy in his final years was premised on a fundamental
anti-Darwinism” (p. 203)....According to Paul S. Loeb, who provides the puff on
the back cover, the balanced and careful examination the book offers of this
crucial test case, “results in a powerful critique of the prevalent naturalistic
approach to Nietzsche.” In short, instead of trying to co-opt Nietzsche for
fashionable projects we need to respect the independence of his philosophical

This is puzzling. Who, apart from Richardson in the 2004 book, reads Nietzsche as a systematically Darwinian naturalist? There are obvious Darwinian themes here and there in Nietzsche (as in his critique of Paul Ree, or his Lamarckianism), but I'm not aware of anyone other than Richardson reading Nietzsche as fundamentally a Darwinian naturalist. Ansell-Pearson suggests that this ambiguity infects the book: "There is, however, an ambiguity at the heart of Johnson’s book that is never satisfactorily resolved: is the suggestion that Nietzsche is not at all a naturalist, or is it that he needs to be liberated from his entanglement with a fashionable Darwinism?"

Thoughts from readers who have read the book? Is it confused as Ansell-Pearson implies? And is it worth reading? Signed comments, as usual, will be strongly preferred.