Academic journal article German Quarterly

Nietzsche's Naturalism: Philosophy and the Life Sciences in the Nineteenth Century

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Nietzsche's Naturalism: Philosophy and the Life Sciences in the Nineteenth Century

Article excerpt

Emden, Christian J. Nietzsche's Naturalism: Philosophy and the Life Sciences in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2014. 263 pp. $99.99 (hardcover).

Christian emden's informative book has a number of explicit aims. the first aim is to "reconstruct Nietzsche's philosophical naturalism" (1). the second is to show "that there are specific historical reasons why Nietzsche came to adopt a position best understood in terms of philosophical naturalism" (2). a third aim is to show "how Nietzsche's naturalism and his understanding of the life sciences tie in with genealogy" (3). in pursuit of these aims, emden divides the book into three parts, one entitled "Varieties of Philosophical Naturalism," the second "evolution and the limits of teleology," and the third, "Genealogy, Nature and Normativity." in this review i will concentrate mainly on emden's discussion of naturalism, and only briefly comment on the rest of the book.

As noted, Part one is entitled "Varieties of Naturalism." in the second chapter of the book (the first being the introduction), emden argues that the historical key to understanding Nietzsche's naturalism lies with what he calls the "first generation" neo-kantians (20), who include friedrich albert lange, afrikan spir, and otto liebmann. What is distinctive of these thinkers is a form of skepticism about unmediated access to the world, something obviously shared by kant, but the grounds of which lie in a posterioriconsiderations drawn from the cognitive sciences, physiology, and biology (e.g., 22-3). this discussion is coupled with important chapters on Nietzsche's attitude to Darwin, showing that Nietzsche's apparent anti-Darwinism was directed at popular conceptions of Darwinism and its implications, while he was in fact deeply impressed by Darwin, especially in relation to the issues of teleology and the philosophical implications of the life sciences.

As the title of the book suggests, emden claims to illuminate Nietzsche's philosophical naturalism. it is in the chapter entitled "three kinds of naturalism" that emden tries to explain what he thinks the correct account of Nietzsche's naturalism might be. of the three kinds of naturalism, two-"substantive" and "methodological"-are rejected as correct characterizations of Nietzsche's view. a third, which has no simple title, but is inspired by emden's reading of Joseph rouse, is thought to be a good fit. Unfortunately, the objections to the first two forms of naturalism, both philosophically and with respect to Nietzsche interpretation, only touch excessively inflexible versions of those forms of naturalism and the third option remains rather opaque. the positive view is characterized as follows:

If human beings are natural beings, any normative claims about reality that such beings make, and any norms that govern these claims themselves are necessarily embedded in the material as much as conceptual interaction with reality. it is through such interaction that normative claims ultimately acquire and sustain their force [...] our normative commitments are the result of [...] practical engagements (66).

There is much unclarity: emden talks here, and elsewhere, about normative claims about "reality"; but normative claims are claims about what ought, should, is required, etc. Very few "claims about reality" are of that sort: they are descriptive claims about what is and what is not the case. But charity suggests that this cannot be quite what emden is driving at. a little earlier emden talks instead of "explaining the emergence of normativity naturalistically" (66), suggesting he has something different in mind here. the normative-the realm of oughts and shoulds-that governs some aspects of our cognitive lives (and much less than we think, so Nietzsche suspects), cannot be thought to lie outside of nature unless one is prepared to make a very large withdrawal from the bank of metaphysics and pay for a realm of distinctive normative entities that have no intelligible connection with the rest of nature. …

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