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  • How Nietzsche Explains and Why
  • Daniel Touey

It is very much a matter of debate whether we are experiencing the end of philosophy or, as others would rather say, simply enduring an aberrant period during which such extravagant claims are being inexplicably tolerated. This debate has been going on for some time now. It will generate additional inconclusive discourse as long as there are differing notions of what “philosophy” consists of, what it means to be doing it, and what it means not to be doing it. But I think that it is quite plausible that philosophy is changing its nature and that a whole group of philosophical questions has at least shifted in emphasis for our time.

I would like to examine, in a speculative way, what seems to me to be a fundamental reorientation in how we ask philosophical questions and what sort of answers we expect to be able to give them. I will be mainly concerned with what may be roughly called the philosophy of explanation—with what, in our ongoing inquiries, we take to be shifting, problematic, obscure, and in need of explanation and what, in turn, we take to be stable, foundational, and known, which acts as the means through which we account for the former. But I would like also to touch upon a second aspect of this reorientation—the implications of our philosophy of explanation for an ongoing interpretive and critical assessment of society. In both of these exercises I will be relying on the philosophy of Nietzsche, who is one of those figures who announced the shift that I am claiming has overtaken philosophy and who continues to be a useful exemplar for our attempt to conceptualize it.

The Structure of Explanation

Aristotle makes a basic point about the structure of explanation or demonstration (apodeixis) in the Metaphysics while arguing for the priority of the principle of noncontradiction.

Some thinkers demand a demonstration even of this principle, but they do so because they lack education; for it is a lack of education [End Page 485] [apaideusia] not to know of what things one should seek a demonstration and of what he should not. For, as a whole, a demonstration of everything is impossible, for the process would go on to infinity, so that even in this manner there would be no demonstration. 1

I take Aristotle’s meaning to be that in any demonstration, or explanation, we must take something as primary, as given and self-evident, before it can proceed. Elsewhere he says that the starting-point (arché) of an inquiry is “to hoti “—“the that” or the simple fact. Seeing its inherent validity is necessary for the inquiry to go on. 2 Aristotle believed that these primary assumptions which guided inquiry were not arbitrary, that they were rooted in the nature of things. But we do not have to hold that the metaphysical commitments which determine the basic structure of our inquiries are supported in such a way. Wittgenstein, who makes the same basic point about the need for privileging some things in order to make successful explanations, does not think that we have any absolute means for legitimating those choices.

Can’t an assertoric sentence, which was capable of functioning as an hypothesis, also be used as a foundation for research and action? I.e. can’t it simply be isolated from doubt, though not according to any explicit rule? It simply gets assumed as a truism, never called in question, perhaps not even ever formulated. 3

Both Wittgenstein and Aristotle describe how the validity of those fundamental, operative assumptions, which cannot be demonstrated because they are means by which everything else is demonstrated, is established in practice. Aristotle says that the foundations of thought and discourse, like the principle of noncontradiction, can be doubted only in speech. Someone can make the pretense of denying them, but if we push hard enough we can show him that he is continually making use of those principles which he believes he is rejecting. 4 Of a fundamental truth Wittgenstein says that “everything speaks in its favor, nothing against it.” 5 Both suggest that we discover how deeply entrenched and indispensable...

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pp. 485-498
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