The Routledge Companion to Nineteenth Century Philosophy

By Dean Moyar | Go to book overview

13
NIETZSCHE

Ken Gemes and Chris Sykes


Introduction

Placing Nietzsche in the context of nineteenth-century philosophy is difficult for several major and interrelated reasons. First, Nietzsche was not a conventional philosopher. Not only was he not trained as a philosopher – his doctorate and his first and only academic position, at the University of Basel, were in philology. More importantly, he had little time for philosophy as an academic discipline; he eschewed many of its principal concerns such as metaphysics and epistemology. Even moral philosophy, especially as practised in the Anglo-American context, is far from Nietzsche’s central concerns – after all, how many moral philosophers are concerned with nihilism and the affirmation of life, arguably Nietzsche’s central concerns? Nietzsche was more inclined to diagnose why one would take metaphysics and epistemology seriously than to actually seek answers to the questions typically raised by metaphysicians and epistemologists. Thus he often characterized himself first and foremost as a psychologist rather than a philosopher; in Ecce Homo Nietzsche says “[t] hat a psychologist without equal speaks from my writings is perhaps the first insight reached by a good reader” (Ecce Homo, EH: “Why I Write Such Good Books,” 5). Second, against the trend of nineteenth-century optimism Nietzsche rejected many of the central tenets of Enlightenment thought (the value of reason, the value of science, the value of truth, the inevitability of progress). Indeed, to a certain extent (which we shall examine later), Nietzsche belonged to an esoteric, and now largely lost, line of nineteenth-century thought which might be labelled degenerationist. Third, for a long time Nietzsche’s influence was primarily felt outside of philosophy, by psychoanalysts, for instance Adler and, arguably, Freud, and by writers, for instance, Rilke and Mann; and then mostly in the twentieth rather than the nineteenth century – as Nietzsche presciently said of himself “some are born posthumously.” Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Nietzsche is what might be called a local rather than a global thinker. Traditionally philosophers have sought final answers to so-called perennial questions, “What is truth?,” “What is knowledge?,” “What is the good life?,” and the like. The answers, once achieved, are meant to have scope over all time and all situations. Nietzsche’s thought tends to be much more local, addressing such questions as “What is the value of truth for this kind of person?,” “What is the meaning of the ascetic

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