- Either Kierkegaard/Or Nietzsche: Moral Philosophy in a New Key
In the new Intersections series, Ashgate seeks to represent a 'new generation of philosophers' whose work has the aim of 'rendering the traditional continental-analytic divide irrelevant.' Angier's work is, in this light, a model text. Clearly an analytic philosopher in method, presentation, and goals, Angier yet demonstrates significant capacity for more typically continental qualities: extensive primary text research, awareness of non-English scholarship, historical and linguistic context, also noteworthy respect for his figures' oeuvres above and beyond their argumentative positions. And this is not to mention the obvious contribution Angier makes to cross-traditional scholarship in that Either Kierkegaard/Or Nietzsche is a serious and knowledgeable study [End Page 299] of two major continental figures, and one that places the onus on analytic philosophy to argue whether their exclusion along traditional lines should be encouraged.
Angier's stated goal is nothing less than a 'major reassessment' of continental authors as a source for contemporary analytic moral philosophy. He seeks to accomplish this goal by encouraging interest in Kierkegaard's moral philosophy, specifically as a natural critic of Nietzsche, the latter having already received significant treatment within analytic circles. Angier effectively (and perhaps rightfully) criticizes major analytic readings of both authors, notably any broad-based rejection of existential moral theory as inescapably subjectivist, Leiter's reduction of Nietzsche's value theory to biologism, and MacIntyre's reduction of Kierkegaard's moral philosophy to irrationalism. Even more valuable than these critical moments, however, is Angier's remarkable capacity for bridging the gap between the philosophical idioms of his figures and those of his reader, e.g., his in-depth case study 'Truth,' which makes up the fourth chapter. In all, one gets a good sense for the philosophical depth of what Angier's envisioned 'reassessment' could accomplish, as well as the sympathetic and considered way in which it could be brought about.
Angier's argument, in its most ambitious moments, advances that Kierkegaard not only comprehended the core (essentially aesthetic) intuitions behind Nietzsche's moral project but also successfully criticized and produced (essentially ethical and religious) alternatives to them. One could say the approach is as strong as it is strategic. Those with natural sympathy for Nietzsche may note that Angier's argument functions by casting Nietzsche's moral philosophy largely as an isometry of Kierkegaard's 'aesthetic' stage, characterized in part by an obscured and misconstrued approach to religious life. While a formidable argument in Angier's hands, a consequence of this apposition is the exclusion of a Nietzschean criticism of Christian life per se, even while specific elements of Nietzsche's anti-Christianity are subsumed under Angier's charge of aestheticism. A related difficulty arises in our picture of Kierkegaard's moral project: one receives perhaps too little of what constitutes the ethical and religious 'stages' relative to each other, and too much of how both are opposed to the aesthetic. Yet Kierkegaard's transition, for example, between 'existential' religiousness and fully revealed Christianity must have ethical implications. Complicating this interpretive issue is Angier's own applause for such values as community, humility and disinterested love as having obvious moral worth – at least insofar as they avoid Nietzsche's autarchy and solipsism. Given that such values (while perhaps not inherently so) have an undeniable intimacy with Christianity in Angier's source texts, even a sympathetic reader could raise caution of a latent bleed [End Page 300] between ethical, religious, and Christian moral categories that his argumentative tack seems to facilitate.
While these criticisms are potentially serious, they do not reveal insurmountable flaws to Angier's position. Yet it is perhaps noteworthy that this study is most successful, as the author himself declares to hope, insofar as it encourages 'the kind of probing treatment that Analytic philosophy can give' to Nietzsche and Kierkegaard in the future, rather than functioning to convince an informed reader out of a natural sympathy for the former, or a natural aversion for the latter. Despite, or perhaps because of, navigating...