Nietzsche’s natzschuralism

Looking for comments. I will be presenting it at U South Carolina next week. [UPDATED: it has an end now.]

Nietzsche’s natzschuralism

About Huenemann

Curious about the ways humans use their minds and hearts to distract themselves from the meaninglessness of life.
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16 Responses to Nietzsche’s natzschuralism

  1. Rob says:

    Looking forward to reading it soon, when I have an opportunity to print it out. I see, though, within the first several pages, that you’ve quoted from two (BGE 14 and 21) of the several passages which caused me to rank BGE beneath GM and TSZ at Leiter’s blog, and which I’m uneasy about pinning to Nietzsche’s fully, most charitably construed, mature, published thought. He doesn’t seem to have fully worked out a tenable neo-Kantianism found, I think, in GM (my gold standard for mature Nietzsche — where his explanatory practice is not, as I think it is in BGE, at odds with epistemological meta-stuff)… Anyhow, hope to have something useful to say when I’ve actually read your paper!


  2. ganselmi says:


    I enjoyed reading the paper. One thought…

    Nietzsche’s relationship with science: if Nietzsche was a “naturalist,” then he was a very peculiar one indeed! As you point out, Nietzsche seems to embrace science as a source of demystification (“physics!”) — and yet he’s also a critic of — if you’ll permit me to use philosophical shorthand — “scientism.”

    It seems like for Nietzsche, there is both profound science which evokes what is most meaningful (if also dangerous) in human experience as well as its opposite: a science distorted by the same human all too human biases that taint traditional morality (by crudely imposing causality, etc.). I think you’ve accurately captured the tension at play between these two.

    Psychology (at least as Nietzsche conceived it) seems to stand out as the mode of scientific inquiry that manages to traverse an acceptable path between Nietzsche’s demands from “good science”: it’s simultaneously objective (i.e. seeks to point out the bias in every possible perspective) and yet affirms the subjective depth that bourgeois scientism misses.

    Throughout the paper, you’ve described Nietzsche’s unique psychology as the “psychoanalysis of culture,” whereby he works to uncover the will to power at work in the discursive expressions of various cultures, archetypes, even entire generations. I would only suggest that “psychoanalysis” needs to be fleshed out here, especially since psychoanalysis proper was the source of psychological insight for the 19th century. It would be worthwhile to flesh out, in other words, how Nietzsche’s psychoanalysis of culture differs from Freudian psychoanalysis. Not that there aren’t similarities as well…


  3. I think it’s actually Natzschüralism. Anyway, look forward to reading the paper, notwithstanding this deplorable orthographic misstep.


  4. Huenemann says:

    No, Michael, you’re thinking of the rock band.


  5. Stan Verdult says:

    Your speech is anounced as:
    Nietzsche’s Natzschuralism: The Role of Critical Psychology in Philosophy

    The top of your paper and the link has: NIETZSCHE’S NATSZCHURALISM

    S and Z exchanged


  6. Huenemann says:

    Thanks! Fixed now. That’s the second time I’ve misspelled that nonword!


  7. robsica says:

    I’ve little time and a crappy computer right now, so this will be sloppy and rushed…
    The main criticism I have is that you’ve saddled Nietzsche with the Lange-inspired neo-Kantianism about science and causation that indeed infects BGE, but which I think he abandoned during what is for me the most interesting period of his intellectual trajectory: namely, the period between the completion of BGE and the start of GM, during which I think he abandoned the bad epistemology, took stock of his trajectory with the new prefaces, and organized and refined his grasp of “the human moral past” (GM P.7). (I also follow Clark/Dudrick’s reading of the GS Book 5 passages, which I think shows an advance over the Langian stuff in the first two BGE chapters.) Hence, why, among all the translated volumes of the Complete Works I’m most dying to read, are the unpublished materials from this period; and why I was so disappointed with how unenlightening Brobjer’s book is on this score: no mention, for instance, of the Post or Kohler material drawn upon in GM 2.
    Basically, I think if you saddle Nietzsche with the Langian stuff, then his ‘social criticism of scientific knowledge, instead of being a call for consciousness-raising about how scientific knowledge is pursued, winds up sounding like a proto-pomo, constructivist Feyerabend/Foucault/Rortyian-type susceptible to the kind of criticisms made by, say, Nagel (in ‘The Last Word’) and Boghossian (in ‘Fear of Knowledge’). So, I think there are both textual and interpretive-charity grounds on which to ditch invoking the BGE and pre-book-5-GS material (though 335 seems okay).
    On the other hand, I think the critique of “immediate certainties” in BGE chapters 1 and 2, and his preoccupation during this time (in the nachlass stuff I’ve read) with the “feeling, thinking, willing” trinity is interesting (and connected, somehow, with that beguiling section 36) and should be salvaged from the Langian stuff.

    Apropos BGE 21: I would love to see the nachlass material from which this was drawn. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a preliminary draft devoid of the section you quote on pages 4-5; and I think the section would be better without that stuff. (I think I recall Leiter devoting a footnote to this in his paper on N’s theory of the will.)

    [page 5] >> This certainly sounds as if Nietzsche is a “fictionalist” with regard to any science of causality – which hardly makes him a happy companion of philosophical naturalism. And in the very same work in which we found Nietzsche’s praise of physics, we find this haughty dismissal of any quantitative, mechanistic science…<<

    But is there support for the ‘fictionalist’ attribution in GM? Or in TI, in which Nietzsche critiques and explains “false” causation and “the error of confusing cause and effect”, or imaginary causes? How else can this make sense except against the background of accepting that there’s true, non-confused, and real causation? Same, I would think, with claims about epiphenomenalism of the will or consciousness, however difficult or variable we should take the their scope, it’s still against a background of assuming an alternative and true causation at work, no? Similar things might be adduced from EH and AC, about how he is offering explanations of false causal attributions that must rely on assuming true alternative causal explanation.

    [page 6] >> but he also criticized science as merely an interpretation, which wrongly
    reifies its objects, and is incapable of understanding the most meaningful portions of
    human experience. <> Leiter’s taxonomy is not perfectly crisp. In particular, it is unclear how to
    separate substantive naturalism from a methodological naturalism which aims at results
    > we can simplify matters a bit and see naturalism as a single spectrum
    ranging from “frame your theory so that it and science are working in the same general
    direction” at one end to “do not only that, but also build the actual empirical findings into
    your theory” at the other end, with most naturalists falling somewhere in the middle. <<

    I think the research agenda called for in the ‘Note’ appended to GM 1cries out for attention in your paper.

    No sure it bears on your point in the paper, but I think you cut the quotation (of GM 2.21) at the bottom of page 10 at the point precisely
    before the first great detonation of the essay: namely, the turning of the concepts “guilt” and “duty” against the creditor, which I take to be the fundamental perversity of Christianity, its having morphed the creditor-debtor relation – which it was the basic labor of the essay up to that point to show is the bedrock humanity, structuring our most basic means of social co-existence, punition, our internalization of aggression, the birth of the soul, beauty, the development from ancestor worship to polytheism to monotheism, and all the rest.

    [page 12] >>Now the results of Nietzsche’s peculiar psychoanalysis of cultures certainly can be made continuous with empirical inquiry. That is to say, cultural anthropology, history, and evolutionary psychology may uncover surprising origins of our moral sentiments, and these origins may well resemble the ones Nietzsche describes.5 But even as they do so, the approach taken by these fields will depart significantly from Nietzsche’s own approach. Their work will be tentative, carefully documented, and (in some cases) based upon clinical experiment. It will lack the daring goals, revolutionary temperament, and scorching rhetoric Nietzsche commanded. To what extent, then, will they really be continuous with the project he had in mind?<> But we still need to see how Nietzsche’s psychological naturalism, fueled as it is by a dramatic philosophical agenda, squares with his various claims that certainly sound critical of the validity of physics, atomism, materialism, and even logic. What sort of naturalist trusts his psychology but not necessarily logic and physics? <<

    Again, I think this proto-pomo-resembling problem – of being critical of the validity — fades away if you abandon the Langian stuff in BGE (and GS) which creates it as a part of his mature postion.

    [page 15] >> Even Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, and Natural
    Religion, are in some measure dependent on the science of MAN; since they lie
    under the cognizance of men, and are judged of by their powers and faculties. […] We in effect propose a compleat system of the sciences, built on a foundation almost entirely new, and the only one upon which they can stand with any security. <>Anyone proposing a theory or a claim to knowledge
    which is inaccessible to human beings, given their psychology, is producing only a wind
    egg – whether that person is a theologian, a dogmatic metaphysician, or Isaac Newton
    himself.<>“bridge-builders”<> his approach gave a privileged place to psychology, which he used as a platform for criticism of the other “harder” sciences <<

    If you mean by this ‘criticism of the effects of nonrational pressures’ on the practice of science, or at its more speculative outer reaches (e.g. “doctrine of life”, later part of GM 2.12) on particular tentative results or methodology, then I think this stands; but if you mean ‘criticism of the validity of the other “harder” sciences’, then I think you’re relying unjustifiably on the Langian stuff from BGE and GS (if not earlier, too).

    Anyhow, hope something in this mess will be of use.


  8. Huenemann says:

    Wow! Rob, you’ve outdone yourself. Thanks for all the time you put into this. Your comments are very helpful. I will need to chew them for a couple of days, at least, but here are some initial reactions.

    Let me first respond to the big general point, about the proto-pomo reading of Nz. I’m not sure I understand the reading, but I think at its conclusion it has Nz saying, “So forget about truth, and understanding; there is only playing among perspectives.” I take that as a reductio, since no one can say it and at the same time mean it. I see Nz as saying, instead: “There is a truth, and it can be understood (maybe, probably; let’s not prejudice the matter), but to gain any real understanding you have to be self-reflective as hell, because your mind is constantly playing tricks on you.” An understanding of human psychology must precede signing on to anything delivered by any other science. He’s a naturalist on the whole, but he’s unusual in setting psychology in such a prominent place.

    Now on to particulars, in no particular order. I’m still not sure that (what you call) his “Langian” attitude toward causality is only a phase. Check out WP 551 (1888). Now perhaps causality is not rejected entirely; it’s just that Nz thinks any judgment about it is bound to be infected with a lot of subjective biases, and so (perhaps) most of our actual causal judgments are “mythological,” but possibly others would be ok. If that’s so, the four great errors in TI is still ok with my reading, to the extent that Nz thinks he is diagnosing what often goes wrong when we assign causes. (I resist calling his view “Langian,” as I think early on he saw the essential incoherence of Lange’s view, which was also Schopenhauer’s: you can’t make causality merely phenomenal on the basis of a study of physiology!) In fact, I’m not sure what Nz wants to do with “the phenomena we are prone to regard as causal”. I lean toward thinking his view is “reductive eliminativist” — meaning, he wants to dispense with the notion of “cause” as being too infected by previous associations and try to supplant causal talk with a radically different sort of approach and ontology.

    On interpretive charity: I’ve been meaning to blog more at length about this, where I would say that there’s a lot of horseradish in modern applications of interpretive charity. “If Old Dead Man means X, then he’s open to objections from Kripke and Lewis; therefore, let’s assume ODM didn’t mean X” is anachronistic at best and stupid at worst. ODM probably didn’t envision such objections, and probably would need ten years of grad school even to understand them. (ooh! I’m dissing an ODM!) That’s the gist of my general harrumph. I’m not accusing you of it here, since perhaps the objections raised by Nagel and Boghossian were within Nz’s cognitive reach (I will go check them out). But there is too much of this bad thing going around.

    On the research agenda at end of GM: I should probably discuss that in the paper as well — you are right that it is very relevant to the view I’m trying to promote. (I’ve left out several discussions in the paper for now, with a view toward how long my talk is supposed to go!)

    On the validity of science: it’s not just the effect of nonrational pressures on the practice of science. The underlying theories themselves can get skewed by social/psych forces. I didn’t (but probably should) discuss Nz’s take on atomism: basically, atomism results from reifying the subj/pred structure of language. That’s an attack on theory if there ever was one.


  9. Huenemann says:

    OK, I’ve now had the chance to at least look into Nagel’s and Boghossian’s arguments, and Rob is certainly right to raise them. The basic problem is for Nz to keep his perspectivism and his psychologism from undermining themselves. So far as my paper goes, the specific objection might be, “Why should we think that Nz has found some way to escape the distortions of his own psychology, if he’s right that human thought is so typically distorted in this way?”

    I think this is what BGE 22 is about. He tells the physicists that their belief that nature follows inviolate laws is only an interpretation of nature, stemming from their own liberal inclinations; they love the idea of the law-governed state, and so project that template onto nature. He suggests that another equally-good template would be to see nature as a tyrannical flux of powerful forces. He imagines the physicists [interruption — I was just visited by the FBI!] — anyway, he imagines the physicists accusing him of providing just another interpretation and he says, “Well, so much the better.” A cryptic response, but I think he is saying, “Good, you accept my main point.” It seems to me Nz would very much like for someone to step forward and skewer him with his own psychology, in the same way he tries to skewer everyone else.

    I think there’s a deeper discussion to be had here about naturalism, perspectivism, and pluralism. I’ll try to post something about this soon.


  10. Rob says:

    Nietzsche, it seems to me, is saying in BGE 22 something perhaps akin to what he’s getting at in GM 2.12: that the vocabularies through which the causal/predictive accounts of science (or at least in the domains of science with which he’s concerned) are articulated are under-determined, such that ambient political/philosophical prejudices find expression in them. In BGE 22, Nietzsche seems to be inviting the idea that there’s no truth of the matter to which what distinguishes these vocabularies corresponds, though they both serve the scientific function of depicting the world as necessary and calculable.

    But it’s that ‘deeper discussion’ that really concerns me. As Nagel puts it (on page 20 of ‘Word’), “one can’t criticize the more fundamental with the less fundamental”, and one finds Nietzsche doing precisely this a lot in the Nachlass material (even, disturbingly to me, in stuff from his last sane year). It’s as if he had a constant struggle with the “temptation” Nagel repeatedly refers to of wanting to make global challenges to reasoning, to give naturalism the last word. I think BGE books 1 and 2 reveal he hadn’t yet mastered it enough to keep it in the notebooks (though I’m impressed by how much he suppressed there, especially when perusing the first 125 pages or so of ‘Writings from the Late Notebooks’; see, for instance, 6[23], pp 126-7).

    What’s great for me about GM is how little it appears to be infected with these problems. He’s engaged in a multi-faceted speculative explanatory project (in the service, of course, of a polemical end that itself doesn’t follow by necessity from that project) which relies on anthropology, psychology, history, philology, etc. That is, it’s a speculative extrapolation of what are assumed to be truths or approximations to the truth.


  11. Rob says:

    Back again… In BGE 22, I think you’re right that Nietzsche “would very much like for someone to step forward and skewer him with his own psychology, in the same way he tries to skewer everyone else”, — but because it would be confirmatory of his (Nietzsche’s) drive-oriented, power-willing psychology articulated up to that point and throughout the book (and, of course, before and after it). But BGE 22, it seems to me, is consistent with the view that science is explanation, and not merely interpretation, as he likes to put it in those (to my mind) not-fully-matured neo-Kantianism passages.

    It reminds me a bit of his shrewd preface, in section 231, to his extended treatment of women with which book 8 concludes, where he’s basically saying, I think, ‘I leave it to you, reader, to determine what of all this stuff on women I’m asserting can be dismissed as parochial rubbish I’ve absorbed from the zeitgiest, and what of it might have some value as truth; I obviously wish a lot more of it were true, and not a mere expression of culturally and personally contingent prejudices; but there you have it, I’m rich enough and honest enough to reveal myself in these matters — especially since that what we’re largely condemned to do; but I exult in being strong enough to admit it.’ And then the final section of BGE, too.


  12. Rob says:

    Oh, and I meant to ask, first thing, if you’re permitted and inclined: what was the FBI visit for?


  13. Huenemann says:

    Nothing. They’ll never have enough to prosecute.

    Just kidding. Every so often, an agent shows up to do a background check on some former student who wants to join the Bureau. In this case, it was a student who did very well in two of my classes, but I could not remember a single thing about him. I suppose that might get him in to the FBI for sure.


  14. Rob says:

    I hope you’ll consider sharing any interesting responses your paper produced in SC.


  15. Rob says:

    Nice flier:

    Click to access 090320Huenemann.pdf

    Damn, I totally forgot to apprise Jim Edwards of your talk. When I was a student/drop-out in Greenville, I’d make sorts to area schools, like Clemson (Dennett), Davidson (Rorty), and USC (can’t remember for whom). Even visited nearby Bob Jones once for its religious art museum.


  16. Rob says:

    FYI: There are three worthwhile papers in the latest JNS by Kail, Robertson, and Welshon… Kail provides a lucid articulation of what I was trying to get at (in my bumbling manner above) with the distinction between Nietzsche’s causal explanatory practice and his meta-views on causation which underwent maturation. Interestingly, in an endnote, Kail mentions that at a recent talk Clark has “moved away” from her reading of the problematic Lange-inspired neo-Kantian passages in BGE 21. I guess we’ll find out where in her upcoming book on BGE.


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