restricted access Nietzsche, Psychology, and First Philosophy (review)
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Reviewed by
Robert Pippin. Nietzsche, Psychology, and First Philosophy. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2010. 152 pp.

Robert Pippin has been writing about Nietzsche for the past thirty years, but Nietzsche, Psychology, and First Philosophy is the first unified book-length study of Nietzsche to appear from one of his most incisive, subtle, and important readers. Originally presented as a series of lectures in 2004 at the Collège de France, Nietzsche, Psychology, and First Philosophy systematically gathers Pippin’s reflections on one central question that animates and informs his thinking about Nietzsche, modernity, subjectivity, and philosophy over the past decades: why does Nietzsche claim “psychology” is so essential and fundamental to doing what is called “philosophy,” or perhaps to bringing what is called philosophy to an end? The book is organized as an answer to that question in the mode of an attention to four major tropes or literary images or “alternative psychological pictures” (46) that figure consistently throughout Nietzsche’s works: the idea that truth is a woman; the idea of a specifically gay science; the death of God; and the image of lightning being coincident with its flash, or the doer with the deed. Pippin begins, furthermore, not simply by citing these tropes as central points of interest but by asking why it should be at all that Nietzsche would relay or disclose ideas so pivotal to his thinking in the form of literary images and metaphors.

At the heart of Nietzsche, Psychology, and First Philosophy is a total reorientation of the way of thinking about Nietzsche’s project in philosophy or, perhaps more appropriately put, Nietzsche’s project in thinking and writing—his doing, what he’s “up to.” Pippin’s thesis is novel: “Nietzsche is much better understood not as a great German metaphysician, or as the last metaphysician of the West, or as the destroyer or culminator of metaphysics, or as very interested in metaphysics or a new theory of nature at all, but as one of the great ‘French moralists’” (9). As particularly relevant for Nietzsche, Pippin singles out among the moralists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Montaigne, La Rouchefoucauld, and Pascal. He also claims that Montaigne, with his combination of deep and consequential skepticism yet cheerful, magnanimous free spirit, acts as a kind of ideal for Nietzsche (one whose peace of mind Nietzsche—with his rantings and shrieks and periodic hysterics—was never quite able to emulate). The “Montaigne problem”—how to remain brave and proud in the face of dismal realities and discoveries, how to live free of the taint of various moralisms, how to undertake a truly “gay science”—thus haunts Nietzsche throughout his career, becomes determinate in his thinking, and internally and necessarily leads him to the specific problems that occupy him in his works.

The most rewarding and penetrating aspects of Pippin’s arguments about Nietzsche’s new psychology have to do with the interrelation he identifies and carefully traces between Nietzschean psychology and the project of genealogy, or between the psyche and historical consciousness. For Nietzsche’s understanding of the psyche’s realities throughout his works, as Pippin points out, is epochal and never simply typological or a matter of some [End Page 400] kind of fixed natural instincts. This means that our prereflective horizons of cares, desires, and commitments—our very psyches or souls—for Nietzsche “must be folded into some sort of historical story” (31). Pippin’s account of Nietzsche’s model of psychological dynamics thus has the effect of severing Nietzsche’s thinking almost wholly from ideas about inherent internal drives or from naturalistic accounts of human behavior and motivation. Following Pippin’s suggestive claim, therefore, to call Nietzsche a psychologist is ultimately to call him a historian, a historian and social diagnostician primarily of the spiritually vacant culture and world “we moderns” inhabit.

Pippin’s various close analyses (and much of the reward of this book lies in its newly illuminating rereadings and reinterpretations of very well-known images and passages) thus focus on this problem of spiritual and cultural death or collapse, or of nihilism, a phenomenon that Pippin interprets not as a failure of knowledge, courage, or strength...