The Journal of Nietzsche Studies 25 (2003) 100-102
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Christoph Cox. Nietzsche: Naturalism and Interpretation. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999. 270 pp. ISBN 0-520-21553-2. $45.00.
As the prospects of naturalism have risen, and fallen, and risen again throughout the course of the last century, numerous attempts have been made to situate Nietzsche's thought within this tenacious philosophical lineage. Richard Schacht and Laurence Lampert in particular have written extensively on Nietzsche's peculiarly thoroughgoing naturalism; however, Christoph Cox's Nietzsche: Naturalism and Interpretation constitutes the first book-length study devoted exclusively to this subject. Clearly and elegantly written, carefully considered, and judicious in its critical assessment of the secondary literature, this book is a substantial and timely contribution to Nietzsche studies. Cox focuses primarily on the epistemological and ontological dimensions of Nietzsche's naturalism, putting forth a systematic interpretation of his thought as not only [End Page 100] antimetaphysical, antitheological, and antidualist (traditional characteristics of modern naturalism in general), but more important, as antirealist and antifoundationalist. Accordingly he reads Nietzsche's naturalism as an antecedent of philosophical postmodernism, forging an unlikely but promising link between these two philosophical positions.
Although modern philosophical naturalism has in general been marked by a penchant for reductionism and scientism, Cox's Nietzsche works through, and moves beyond, such dogmas to formulate a more hermeneutically sophisticated naturalism, which recognizes the primacy and irreducibility of interpretation. Yet like all varieties of philosophical postmodernism, it faces "the problem of how an antifoundationalist philosophy can avoid vicious relativism and legitimate its claim to provide a platform for the critique of arguments, practices, and institutions" (3). In Nietzsche's case, this problem plays itself out in terms of the conceptual tension between the genealogical and perspectivist elements of his thought (which would seem to throw into question the very notion of a uniquely correct interpretation of the world), and his ontological doctrines of becoming and will to power (which seem to provide the kind of definitive account that his own perspectivism prohibits). The first threatens to push him into a kind of self-delegitimating relativism, while the second suggests a kind of crypto-dogmatism. However, on Cox's reading, Nietzsche manages to tread a narrow path between these two extremes: "The apparent relativism of perspectivism is held in check by Nietzsche's naturalism, which offers the doctrines of will to power and becoming in place of all theological interpretations; the apparent dogmatism of will to power and becoming is mitigated by perspectivism, which grants that will to power and becoming are themselves interpretations, yet ones that are better by naturalistic standards" (105-6). Nietzsche thus offers us, in Cox's estimation, "a viable, indeed, exemplary, postmetaphysical epistemological and ontological position" (3).
The first half of the study situates Nietzsche within his own genealogy of European thought, a genealogy that culminates in the self-overcoming of metaphysics and theology, or what Nietzsche calls the "death of God." Nietzsche's contribution to this development is to think through its ultimate consequences, "de-deifying" nature and "naturalizing" the human being. According to Cox, two residual "shadows of God" that Nietzsche is particularly concerned with overcoming are the traditional epistemological ideal of a "God's-eye view," and its ontological corollary, the idea that there must be some one, true way that the world is. Accordingly, in the second half of the book, Cox undertakes a careful examination of Nietzsche's epistemological and ontological doctrines—perspectivism, becoming/chaos, and will to power, respectively—and offers a vigorous, critical response to realist and skeptical neo-Kantian readings that take Nietzsche's perspectivism as presupposing the existence of a pre-given world that his doctrines of becoming, chaos, and will to power are then supposed to describe (or declare indescribable). In general, he is concerned with showing that when Nietzsche roots out the vestigial theological posit of a God's eye-view (which might somehow capture the way the world really is) and replaces it with his perspectivist doctrine of the primacy and irreducibility of interpretation, he does not thereby...