Monday, December 21, 2015

Robert Holub's book on Nietzsche and anti-semitism

I review it at the New Rambler.  The book gets some remarkable endorsements on the dustjacket from historians, though historians, I fear, who didn't know much about Nietzsche and didn't read the book too carefully.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Call for papers for inaugural ISNS cnoference--new deadline, January 15, 2016

Details here.  We got about two dozen submissions right before the official deadline, but also several requests for more time.  Those who submitted may resubmit.  No refereeing will take place until after January 15.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Huddleston on "Nietzsche's Meta-Axiology: Against the Sceptical Readings"

This interesting paper appeared in British Journal for the History of Philosophy 22 (2014): 322-342.  The title is a play on my paper "Nietzsche's Metaethics:  Against the Privilege Readings," European Journal of Philosophy 8 (2000):  277-297 (hereafter my "EJP paper"), and Huddleston's main target are my different accounts of Nietzsche's anti-realism about value.  (My thinking about Huddleston's paper was helped by a useful discussion with faculty and graduate students in philosophy at UC Riverside last February.  I will cite to the second, 2015 edition of my Nietzsche on Morality [Routledge] as NOM, but by page number of the 2nd edition.)

Two preliminary terminological matters, one minor, the other less so.  On the minor:  Huddleston prefers the term "meta-axiology" rather than metaethics because N. is concerned broadly with the status of values, not just morality (Huddleston, 326-328, where he gives some other reasons).  Nothing turns on this.  Those discussing N's metaethics are discussing the same thing Huddleston is discussing, and are simply using the more common, contemporary term.   I'll follow Huddleston's usage here.

A slightly less minor terminological matter:  right at the start (322-323), Huddleston proposes a distinction between "values in the descriptive sense," meaning "the ideals and codes of conduct that people have...taken to be valuable" (322) and what he calls "genuine values," that is values that "are accurate to an evaluative fact-of-the-matter" (323) (which I take it means something like:  corresponding to "objective" value in some sense of "objective").  There's another relevant concept missing here, namely, "values in the normative sense," that is judgments that endorse (or recommend) values in the descriptive sense.   N. undoubtedly makes value judgments "in the normative sense."  The meta-axiological question is whether those judgments exemplify what Huddleston calls "genuine values."

Huddleston's official view is that he is "doubtful that" Nietzsche has a "sophisticated meta-axiological view" (323) and that the "texts seriously underdetermine where he stands on these important issues" (324).   Unfortunately, Huddleston here conflates (see esp. 323 and the scholarly papers cited in note 4) metaphysical and semantic questions that might be thought meta-ethical or meta-axiological (despite acknowledging at the end of the long footnote 6, p. 325, that he too is really concerned only with the metaphysical questions).  I, of course, argued in the EJP paper in 2000, in NOM in 2002, and every publication since, that the texts really do underdetermine ascription of any semantic theory of evaluative discourse to Nietzsche, a fact that should hardly be surprising given that prior to the 20th-century no one was really interested in that question.  Some sophisticated commentators on the semantic issues, including Nadeem Hussain (who earlier on defended a fictionalist reading) have since come around to this view (see his contribution to Gemes & Richardson [eds.], The Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche [2013]).   On the metaphysical question, however, two points are worth emphasizing:  (1) it is not clear there really are that many different views (in fact, in the secondary literature and the broader intellectual reception of Nietzsche [from Weber to Carnap to MacIntyre]], anti-realist readings dominate), and (2) it is not at all clear the texts really underdetermine the question of Nietzsche's view of the metaphysics of value.  (Everyone in the history of philosophy from the pre-Socratics to the present has defended views about the metaphysics of value, so this would not have been a foreign topic to N.)

Regarding (2):  the primary weakness of Huddleston's paper is that he doesn't actually consider most of the anti-realist passages from Nietzsche (I provide a catalogue of many of them in "Moral Skepticism and Moral Disagreement in Nietzsche," in Oxford Studies in Metaethics 9 [2014], which I'll refer to hereafter as my OSM paper).  His strategy, instead, is to criticize particular arguments (mostly mine) for ascribing anti-realism about value to Nietzsche, considering only a handful of anti-realist passages (331 ff.).

Huddleston's first target (327-228) is the argument from disagreement among philosophers developed in my OSM paper.   The argument in brief:  the best explanation for why moral philosophers do not agree on foundational moral questions includes the fact that there is no cognizable truth about fundamental moral questions.   Huddleston notes that I treat as central a Nachlass passage (WP 428), though he is silent on the other passages in the published corpus I also point to.  (He also notes, as I do, that the passage, WP 428, is about morality not values, but that's precisely why I treat it as suggesting an argument for moral anti-realism only.)  He is also silent on how best to reconstruct the argument in the Nachlass passage, claiming instead that "there is strong evidence that Nietzsche definitively rejects a (similar, though not identical) argument from disagreement" in his published work (329).  Huddleston writes:
In Book V of The Gay Science, Nietzsche derides as "childish" the argument made by those who "see the truth that among different nations moral valuations are necessarily different and then infer from this that no morality is at all binding [einen Schluss auf Unverbindlickheit aller Moral machen] (GS 345) 
This is certainly a significant passage to consider in this context, though its meaning is a bit more complex than this gloss suggests.  First, note that the argument criticized in GS 345 is different than the argument at stake in WP 428 as I reconstruct it:  for GS 345 involves appeal to differences in ordinary moral opinions "among different nations," while the whole interest of the WP 428 argument is that it depends on "expert" disagreement, that is, foundational disagreement about morality among major philosophers across the ages.  Someone who thought the WP 428 abductive argument for moral skepticism was correct could agree that moral differences "among different nations" is poor evidence for moral skepticism.

Second, and more importantly, the context of this passage suggests that its subject is not the subject of WP 428, namely, whether it is a "swindle to talk of 'truth'" when it comes to morality.  The topic of GS 345, by contrast, is about the failure of most thinkers to really consider the problem of the value of morality.  Nietzsche gives several examples of the failure to engage with this problem.  One is to draw inferences about whether a morality is or is not "binding" from the fact that there is "some consensus of the nations, at least of tame nations, concerning certain principles of morals" (which is taken as evidence that "these principles must be unconditionally binding also for you and me") or the converse inference, already quoted.  But a more "refined" mistake is to commit the genetic fallacy, to fail to realize that, "Even if a morality has grown out of an error, the realization of this fact would not as much as touch the problem of its value" (GS 345).   I take it, then, that whether or not a morality ought to be treated as binding is the same as the "problem of its value," not the problem of its truth.  It's clearly compatible with my reconstruction of the WP 428 argument that anti-realism about moral value has no bearing on the question which moralities are valuable.  Only on the unNietzschean assumption that a true morality is necessarily valuable (N's whole corpus repeatedly raises the question of the value of truth, of course), or the question-begging assumption that a morality N. judges to be valuable is therefore true, would we be able to assimilate the concern of GS 345 to that of WP 428 and the skeptical argument from disagreement I defend in the OSM paper.

Huddleston briefly considers a different argument:  namely, "N's frequent assimilation of value judgments to matters of taste" (329).  He does not adduce any textual evidence that N. thinks judgments of taste can be objectively true or false, noting only that "it is far from obvious that someone as elitist and snobbish as N. would think that there are no standards of correctness in matters of taste" (329).  One can agree it is not "obvious"--no one said it was, but the language about judgments of "taste" does occur within a rich web of anti-realist passages that invite the skeptical reading of "taste"--but Huddleston muddies the issue by asserting that the skeptical reading has to claim "that there is no genuine privilege that one person's taste can have over another's" (329).  If "genuine privilege" is interpreted to mean an epistemic privilege of the kind involved in Huddleston's "genuine values," then, yes, the skeptical reading does deny that.  But there are other kinds of privileges tastes can enjoy, such as being marks of nobility, being conducive to the flourishing of genius, and so on, that are compatible with the skeptical position.  (I also discuss some of N's "elitist and snobbish" rhetoric and how to interpret it in NOM, 125-126.)

Finally, Huddleston considers (329-331) the argument in NOM (121 ff.) that N. offers a best-explanation argument for moral anti-realism (Huddleston is right that this is not an argument for anti-realism about all value, but I did not claim it was).   Huddleston notes that "even stipulating that N. thinks one can explain all evaluative commitments by reference to wholly non-evaluative facts about the people with those commitments and their environments, it is contentious, on purely philosophical grounds, that the strong eliminativist conclusion [about moral values] should follow" (330).  This is true but trivial:  every philosophical claim is contentious, but I have offered arguments for that conclusion (cf. "Moral Facts and Best Explanations," Social Philosophy & Policy [2001], and reprinted in my Naturalizing Jurisprudence [OUP, 2007]), while Huddleston offers no arguments for the opposing view.  The only substantive objection Huddleston makes to the best-explanation reading of Nietzsche's moral anti-realism is to note that N's explanations "are far from being couched in wholly non-evaluative, cooly scientific terms," involving he says "thick concepts such as nobility and baseness, concepts in which an evaluative dimension arguably is already built in" (330).  Put aside that "nobility" is a matter of a cluster of descriptive psychological traits (e.g., self-reverence), none of the best explanation arguments I identify in Nietzsche require "nobility" to do explanatory work.  I have also argued (NOM, 122-123) that possibly evaluative concepts like "high" and "low" function as explicitly evaluative terms for N., on a par with "good and evil," and so warranting anti-realist interpretation.  Huddleston is silent on this.

In the second major part of his paper (331-334), Huddleston takes up a couple of apparently anti-realist passages about value and tries to offer different interpretations.   These includes GS 301 (nature lacks "value in itself" value "has been a present") and Z I ("On the Thousand and One Goals").  Huddleston aptly glosses these passages as suggesting that in value judgments "[t]here is simply the projection of our attitudes onto axiologically neutral reality" (332).

Huddleston suggests that it is not clear that GS 301, in particular, isn't only about "values in the descriptive sense" rather than all values (including what Huddleston calls "genuine values") (332).  That there is nothing in the passage that indicates it is limited to "values in the descriptive sense"  suggests to me that this is a somewhat desperate shifting of the burden of proof rather than a serious argument.

More interestingly, Huddleston notes that a projectivist view like that suggested in GS 301 could  be compatible with "the idea that the evaluative facts which ground genuine values are themselves not wholly mind-independent facts" (332).  He here refers, appropriately, to Alex Silk's important paper on "Nietzschean Constructivism," in the special issue of Inquiry I edited in 2015 (vol. 58, 244-280).  I hope to discuss Silk's paper in a future posting.  But given that Huddleston repeatedly urges caution about ascribing perhaps anachronistic views to Nietzsche, it is ironic, and not very convincing, to be told that N. may believe in "genuine values" in Huddleston's sense because the texts might admit of the latest in high-tech metaethical readings from Michigan!  (Even worse, Huddleston suggests [334], though doesn't really argue, that N's views might admit of interpretation along Razian lines!)

Huddleston devotes another section of his paper to Reginster's account of "perspectival value" in Nietzsche.  I found this to be one of the least compelling part of Reginster's book, and I don't have anything to add to Nadeem Hussain's criticisms of Reginster's views on this score (see Hussain,
"Metaethics and Nihilism in Reginster's The Affirmation of Life" Journal of Nietzsche Studies 43 (2012):  99-117).

In his conclusion, Huddleston describes his project in the paper as "historical and exegetical in character" (340), though that seems to me quite misleading given how few texts, let alone historical influences, Huddleston considers, and how much he relies on the more possibility of alternative readings of the texts he considers, readings that aren't argued for in any detail, and that often depend on contemporary resources quite foreign to N.   Huddleston also mentions the core argument of my 2002 EJP paper, namely, that no workable argument can be constructed for the most popular realist hypothesis, namely, that N. thinks will to power is objectively valuable.  Huddleston declares this "is a particularly implausible variant of value realism both textually and philosophically" (339).  Here we are in partial agreement (philosophically it is absurd, including in Katsafanas's version, which Huddleston has ablely critiqued in an as-of-yet unpublished paper), though there's no question it has been the kind of value realism most often attributed to Nietzsche over the last century. 

At the very end of his paper, Huddleston, considering the possibility that Nietzsche is "skeptical of the very idea that anything is really valuable," writes:
This has the surprising and, to my mind, unsatisfying result that N. thinks the great multitude laboring under a form of ideology are not mistaken in their outlook.  It could be that N. thinks this.  Yet at the risk of defanging N's impassioned critique of the ideological we have inherited, this seems to me a position of last resort.  (340)
But this conclusion is a really astonishing non-sequitur on my arguments, which have been his target throughout the paper.   Indeed, I myself use the metaphor of "false consciousness" to characterize N's project, since N. clearly thinks that higher human beings are clearly mistaken in thinking that "herd morality" (or MPS, as I call it) is good for them, and he clearly thinks that proponents of MPS are committed to all kinds of cognitive mistakes (about freedom of the will, about the motives for which they act, and so on).   As I also argue, N's fundamental objection to MPS is not that it involves cognitive errors (though the fact that it does will have considerable rhetorical force for some of its adherents), but that it is harmful to certain kinds of people, N's rightful readers (see NOM, 126-132 for a thorough discussion of this issue).  

The real significance of Huddleston's conclusion, however, is what it betrays about the assumptions many readers of N. bring to the text:  namely, that they bring to bear the bias that cognitive error is really important, and that evaluative judgments can't be taken seriously unless they correspond to genuine values.   But both assumptions are utterly unNietzschean:  falsity is never N's basic objection to any belief, and evaluative judgments are none the worse because they do not have "reality" or "God" standing behind them.  These kinds of moralistic prejudices are a frequent impediment to readings of Nietzsche, I fear.

As with prior discussions on this blog, I only pick serious papers for extended critical discussion.  This is a serious paper that those interested in the meta-axiological issues should read.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Help sought: passages in which Nietzsche describes guilt as "useful" or "rational"

Ken Gemes (Birkbeck) writes:

I am trying to argue that while Nietzsche rejects what I call existential guilt/shame (that is guilt/shame that comes from experiencing one’s very nature as a violation of religious or other norms/ideals) he sometimes finds ordinary guilt to be rational and/or useful.  For instance in GM II 24 he seems to suggest it would be useful if we could have ordinary guilt about our unnatural inclinations, meaning something like our learned inclinations to moralistically repress our natural inclinations. Thus he calls for an attempt to “wed to bad conscience the unnatural inclinations, all those aspirations to beyond, to what is contrary to the senses, contrary to the instincts, contrary to nature, contrary to the animal”.  I would appreciate other examples that suggest Nietzsche sometimes finds ordinary guilt to be rational and/or useful.  Replies to would be appreciated.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

International Society for Nietzsche Studies

I'm very pleased to announce an exciting new scholarly initiative, the International Society for Nietzsche Studies.  The inaugural conference will be at the University of Bonn in late June 2016, and a Call for Papers will be issued soon; Bonn will be able to offer financial support to grad students or non-tenure-stream faculty whose papers are accepted.  All conference papers will appear in a special issue of Inquiry each year.

Nietzsche studies is at a particularly fertile moment, with an unusually strong cohort of talented younger philosophers around the world working on Nietzsche, in whole or in part.  The existing Nietzsche societies are, in my personal opinion, somewhere on the spectrum from moribund to uneven.  I am hopeful this new initiative will provide an attractive alternative.

Friday, June 5, 2015

BGE 37...and now updated with further thoughts on BGE 37

Once again, for my own benefit (and those of any readers), I'd like to record some interesting insights that emerged from the Nietzsche reading group over our last couple of meetings.  PhD students participating were Garrett Allen, Kate Andrews, Dusty Dallmann, Tes Davison, and Joshua Fox.  Mistakes and foolishnesss should be attributed to me, the insights came from the PhD students and my discussion with them.

Here is the short BGE 37: 
"Wie? Heisst das nicht, populär geredet: Gott ist widerlegt, der Teufel aber nicht -?" Im Gegentheil! Im Gegentheil, meine Freunde!  Und, zum Teufel auch, wer zwingt euch, populär zu reden! -

Roughly:  "'How is that?  Does that not mean, to use a popular idiom:  God is refuted, but the devil is not?'  On the contrary!  On the contrary, my friends!  And who the devil is forcing you to use popular idioms!"

BGE 37 follows on the notorious argument in BGE 36, the conditional "proof" of the doctrine of will to power, one that involves premises Nietzsche plainly rejects.  36 concludes with the claim that the world is "just this 'will to power' and nothing else."  Hence the start of 37, which basically means, "Are you serious, so what does this mean?"  And one interpretation, the one Nietzsche wants to reject, is that if the world is will to power, then that means the world is not governed by a benevolent God but is instead hostage to the malevolence of the Devil.  But, and this is Nietzsche's point, this misunderstands the nature of the "doctrine" of will to power:  will to power is neither benevolent, nor malevolent.   Insofar as things are "simply" will to power they are without any normative significance:  they just are.   So the popular idioms misunderstand the thesis from BGE 36.

This, of course, is consistent with a recurring theme in Nietzsche and in BGE, namely, that what happens is "beyond good and evil," that is, beyond assessment in terms of what ought or ought not to happen.  There is no space for "ought," there just is what happens.

UPDATE:  Dinner and  family obligations led to a somewhat rushed conclusion to yesterday's post, and prevented me from addressing some additional, related sections of BGE.

But first, to return to BGE 37:  bear in mind that on the Clark-inspired reading of BGE 36, N. does not really believe that the world is "'will to power' and nothing else."  So why, then, is it important for him to disabuse the reader of the idea that if the world were will to power and nothing else, this would have no normative implications? 

The immediately following section, BGE 38, talks about the various reactions to the French Revolution, introducing the important idea "that the text has finally disappeared under the interpretation [Interpretation]."  The "text" in this context represents the actual event, the "interpretation" an evaluatively interested rendering and distortion of the actual event.  In BGE 22, we encountered the first suggestion that someone "with an opposite intention and mode of interpretation" might read the text of the world not as exemplifying "conformity to law" but as exemplifying " a tyrannically ruthless and pitiless execution of power claims."    But "this is interpretation, not text" in both cases.  (BGE 22 ends with the famous, or infamous, concession by Nietzsche that if this doctrine of will to power "is only an interpretation...well then, so much the better.")  So BGE 22 lends support to the Clark-inspired reading of BGE 36:  in both cases, the doctrine of will to power is an interpretation, but not a case of "the art of reading well," of "being able to read facts without falsifying them through interpretation" (A 52).  What BGE 37 then does is clarify that this particular "interpretation" is not meant to vindicate either God or the Devil:  whatever the intention underlying this interpretation, it is not an intention to show that the world is really benevolently organized or malevolently organized.  What then is Nietzsche's intention, what evaluative aim motivates this interpretation?  We might say, borrowing a later phrase from Twilight of the Idols, that the intention of this interpretation is to illustrate the "innocence of becoming," of all that happens--the moral innocence, that is. 

We have to be careful here, though, since I take it Nietzsche does think that the text of becoming really is innocent.  Of course, Nietzsche can believe that without believing that the explanation for its being innocent is the "doctrine of the will to power."  Rather, the "doctrine of the will to power" is an interpretation of the text that can be used to highlight or emphasize the innocence of becoming, at least as long as a reader doesn't make the mistake he wants to guard against in BGE 37.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

BGE 9, 12 and 13: the Stoic mistake, and the doctrine that life is will to power

I want to record some interesting insights that emerged from a fruitful discussion at our Nietzsche reading group on Friday; participating in the discussion were, besides me, PhD students Kate Andrews, Dusty Dallmann, Tes Davison, and Joshua Fox. 

Let's start with section 9, which mocks the Stoic claim to live "according to nature," accusing the Stoics of, in effect, projecting their values onto nature:

Your pride wants to dictate and incorporate your morals and ideals into nature--yes, you want to make all existence exist in your own image alone--as a huge eternal glorification and universalization of Stoicism!  For all your love of truth, you have forced yourselves so long, so persistently, and with such hypnotic ridigity to have a false, namely, Stoic, view of nature, that you can no longer see it any other way....But this is an old, eternal story:  what happened back then with the Stoics, still happens today, just as soon as a philosophy begins believing in itself.  It always creates the world in its own image, it cannot do otherwise; philosophy is this tyrannical drive itself, the most spiritual will to power, to the "creation of the world," to the causa prima.

Maudemarie Clark argued powerfully in her 1990 book that in reading what Nietzsche says about will to power, we must remember the charge he leveled against the Stoics, and that should make us hesitant to interpret Nietzsche as really intending the will to power as a metaphysics of nature, lest he simply be replicating, unselfconsciously, the Stoic mistake.

How then should we understand the claim in BGE 13 that, "a living thing wants to discharge its strength--life itself is will to power--self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent consequences of this."  Does this involve Nietzsche in the Stoic mistake?  I had been inclined to think so, but was convinced otherwise by the discussion in the reading group.  Notice, first, and crucially, that BGE 13 concerns Leben, while BGE 9 is quite clearly mocking the Stoic's claims about Natur.  Indeed, even BGE 9 offers its own account of Leben:

[I]sn't that [Leben] wanting specifically to be something other than this nature [where nature is said to be "profligate without measure, indifferent without measure, without purpose and regard, without mercy and justice" etc.]?  Isn't living assessing, preferring, being unfair, being limited, wanting to be different?

One might think, of course, that the latter are attributes consistent with life also being will to power.  The crucial point, then, is that BGE 13's claim is not about nature, but about living things (esp. humans), and its epistemic status differs from that of the Stoic projection of its morality onto nature precisely in that it is proferred as part of an inference to the best explanation of observable life, in particular, namely, that it is justified by Ockham's Razor as superior to the claim that life is essentially about self-preservation.

This way of taking BGE 13, and distinguishing it from BGE 9, also fits nicely with the main point of the preceding section 12.  That section attacks the "atomistic need," particularly in psychology, in which, following Christianity, one takes "the soul" to be "something indestructible, eternal, indivisible...a monad" (BGE 12).  Against this, Nietzsche wants to make room "in the realm of science" for more sophisticated hypotheses, such as "the soul as subject-multiplicity" or the "soul as a society constructed out of drives and affects," the latter being a recognizable Nietzschean hypothesis and not only in BGE. 

If Christian simplicity about the soul was a mistake, so too is its opposite:  "there is absolutely no need to give up 'the soul' itself, and relinquish one of the oldest and most venerable hypotheses--as often happens with naturalists:  given their clumsiness, they barely need to touch 'the soul' to lose it."  Clumsy readers of the naturalistic reading of Nietzsche sometimes quote this out of context thinking it an objection to my view, but not realizing what it means:  for it is quite clearly poking fun at one very particular naturalist, Ludwig Buchner, whose Kraft und Stoff advances a kind of eliminative materialism about the "soul," equating it with the neurophysiology of the brain.  (This isn't the only place in the book he chastises Buchner--in sec. 204, he dismisses the "old doctors" who think physiology can replace philosophy for failing to recognize the crucial role of legislating values that philosophers perform.)  Section 12, in short, is a defense of the autonomy of psychological explanation, against religious simplifications and eliminative materialism--hardly surprising, of course, in a Chapter that concludes by affirming that "psychology is again the path to the fundamental problems (BGE 23).  And, of course, on my naturalistic reading, the autonomy of psychological explanation is crucial.

Section 13, then, follows this defense of the autonomy of explanation in a psychological idiom by offering a very general hypothesis:  contrary to those who think the primary psychological motive is self-preservation, it is really will to power.  This is not moral projection masquaering as metaphysics of nature; this is psychology, freed of Christian and eliminative materialist prejudices, asserting itself.

Notice that this way of reading things allows us to save Nietzsche from what I have called "the crackpot metaphysics" of the will to power in the Nachlass and still acknowledge the correctness of Clark's original hypothesis that a metaphysical reading of the will to power would be in tension with Nietzsche's criticism of the Stoics.

(I'll have more to say about Nietzsche and Buchner, especially with respect to a surprising debt to Buchner uncovered by Galen Strawson.  But as readers of Nietzsche know, his vitriol is often a case study in the narcissism of small differences--think of his at times schizophrenic attitude towards Socrates, towards Spinoza, and towards Schopenhauer.)

(Note to readers:  The "u" in Buchner should have an umlaut, but I can't insert it in this software.)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Nietzsche in the Blackwell Companion to Experimental Philosophy (forthcoming)

I was very pleased that the editors chose to include a piece on Nietzsche in the forthcoming Blackwell Companion to Experimental Philosophy.  The piece was written by Daniel Telech, a PhD student here, with some help from me; we're hopeful it will help to make Nietzsche an even more central part of these discussions.