It would be hard to reflect on philosophical questions about human interaction without encountering foundational questions, questions that lead into areas such as meta-ethics, but also towards the sort of reflection on agency and morality that Nietzsche offers. It is through an engagement with Nietzsche’s thought that I think about many foundational questions about morality. My work focuses on Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality and other late writings. The importance of these writings for moral philosophy, when read in the way I propose, is still underappreciated. Generally, I take Nietzsche to be a philosopher deeply influenced by the emerging biological sciences of his day, in particular evolutionary biology and physiology, and who applied physiological approaches to traditional philosophical problems (including questions about morality).
My first publication on Nietzsche, “The Second Treatise in On the Genealogy of Morality: Nietzsche on the Origin of the Bad Conscience” (European Journal of Philosophy, 2001), offers a reading of the second treatise in the Genealogy by way of interpreting the accounts of guilt and the bad conscience Nietzsche offers in that piece. Against other interpreters, I argue that his comments sum up to a coherent view of the emergence of guilt as the Christian tradition understands it (which at the same time is a coherent view of the emergence of the “inner life”). Nietzsche thought Kantian ethics and utilitarianism were feeble attempts to reproduce parts of the Christian world-view – especially a commitment to moral equality of sorts -- without endorsing its argumentative keystone, the notion of God. My paper also explores what Nietzsche’s critique entails for such theories. I have also developed a reading of Nietzsche notorious notion of ressentiment, mostly discussed in the first treatise of the Genealogy, which stays in the physiological paradigm. Nietzsche’s notion of ressentiment is often taken as unproblematic: it seems obvious why those individuals to whom Nietzsche ascribes ressentiment would be in that emotional state. However, while this may be obvious to us at this stage of the history of moral emotions, Nietzsche cannot take it for granted and must account for it. I make a proposal for how to do so in “Origins of Ressentiment and Sources of Normativity” (Nietzsche Studien, 2003). Nietzsche offers an account of the person whom he thinks will replace the person of guilt and ressentiment. This person occasionally appears in this writings as the Wohlgeratene, a person who turned out well. I develop an account of this person in “Nietzsche’s ‘Joyous and Trusting Fatalism’,” International Studies in Philosophy, 2003.
This physiology-guided approach to Nietzsche needs clarification vis-à-vis Kant. This is so in particular because Christine Korsgaard, in her Kant-interpretation, classifies Kant as naturalistic in some sense and appeals to Nietzsche for support of her Kantian views. Moreover, there have been a series of attempts of reading Nietzsche in a manner that would render his views dependent on Kant’s. I argue against such a reading in “Nietzschean ‘Animal Psychology’ versus Kantian Ethics,” in a 2007 volume on Nietzsche and Morality. Nietzsche questions in particular ideas about moral equality (for instance also through the development of an ideal of personhood as sketched in the preceding paragraph) to such an extent that little commonality remains with Kant. This approach also needs clarification in a rather different direction, namely, vis-à-vis the work of Sigmund Freud. Freud saw much of his work as following in Nietzsche’s footsteps, but at the same time, he had no use for Nietzsche’s cherished idea of the “Eternal Recurrence.” In light of that, one wonders whether that idea in fact is coherent with those parts of Nietzsche’s work that inspired Freud. I investigate that question in “The Eternal Recurrence: A Freudian Look at What Nietzsche Took to be His Greatest Insight,” in a 2009 volume on Nietzsche on Freedom and Autonomy. A final piece on Nietzsche that I would like to mention is “Nietzsche on Selfishness, Justice, and the Duties of the Uebermensch,” in a 2008 volume on Morality and Self-Interest. The main goal of that article is to explore Nietzsche’s complex views on justice, and it is here where the connection between my work on Nietzsche and the rest of my philosophical research should become clearest.
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