- Die Funken des freien Geistes: Neuere Aufsätze zu Nietzsches Philosophie der Zukunft by Volker Gerhardt
This volume presents a collection of papers on Nietzsche written by Volker Gerhardt over the past twenty-five years. The trait d’union among them is the idea that, more than a hundred years after Nietzsche’s death, the sparks of his thought—the Funken of Gerhardt’s title—can still ignite fires in contemporary readers, even to the extent that for no other nineteenth-century thinker is the definition of “arsonist” more appropriate.
The range of subjects that Gerhardt tackles is wide: from the relations among the body, the self, and the “I” in Zarathustra’s speech, “On the Despisers of the Body” to Nietzsche’s perspectivism, immoralism, and moral individualism; and from Nietzsche’s and Kant’s conceptions of “life” to Nietzsche’s conception of society and politics. With rare insight and critical spirit, Gerhardt tests Nietzsche’s philosophy, showing its flaws and contradictions, while at the same time highlighting its strengths and intuitions. To my mind, there are three main topics in the collection that will particularly interest scholars familiar with contemporary Anglo-American debates on Nietzsche. These three topics are Nietzsche’s philosophy of mind as it is presented in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, his perspectivism, and his immoralism. In what follows, I consider each of these topics in turn.
The first topic, Nietzsche’s philosophy of mind, is tackled in the papers “Monadologie des Leibes. Leib, Selbst und Ich in Nietzsches Zarathustra” (an original essay) and “Die ‘grosse Vernunft’ des Leibes. Ein Versuch über Zarathustras vierte Rede” (2000; also published in English in Keith Ansell Pearson, ed., A Companion to Nietzsche [Oxford: Blackwell, 2009], 273–96). Gerhardt considers the speech “On the Despisers of the Body” to manifest a philosophical innovation comparable in significance to Descartes’s cogito, Kant’s transcendental deduction, and Hegel’s anthropology in the Encyclopedia (7). The innovative character of Nietzsche’s thesis consists in the fact that man is conceived of as a “bodily being” (7; translations are my own) and “nothing besides” (Z I: “Despisers”). Yet, according to Gerhardt, precisely the use of the word Leib, rather than Körper, indicates that, contrary to what some believe, Nietzsche’s naturalism cannot be understood as a form of monistic or mechanistic reductionism.
Gerhardt is particularly concerned with the interrelations among the body, the self, and the “I.” While the body and the self are conceived of as a unity by Nietzsche, Gerhardt nonetheless holds that they can be distinguished, since the self is the “expression of the body’s reference to itself—and this as a consequence of the perception of this body through another body!” (8). This emphasis on the importance of the social aspect of self-reference plays a pivotal role in Gerhardt’s critique of Nietzsche’s understanding of the “I.” More precisely, Gerhardt’s charge is that Nietzsche fails to recognize “the socio-morphological constitution of human consciousness and . . . the social reality of the I” (26). According to Gerhardt, Nietzsche “isolates the I from its original social sphere” and turns “the personal unity of the I” into a “physiological-biological quantity” (25). For this reason, Gerhardt defines Nietzsche’s understanding of the “I” as “monadological.” This emphasis on Nietzsche’s marginalization of the social horizon of the “I” in Zarathustra is illuminating, but it is perhaps regrettable that Gerhardt does not develop a comparison with section 354 of The Gay Science, precisely the section in which Nietzsche links the origin of consciousness to a social, interpersonal phenomenon, that of the need to communicate.
The other aspect of Gerhardt’s analysis that deserves particular attention is his critique of Nietzsche’s underestimation of the importance of “small reason” in Zarathustra, and thus his rejection of Nietzsche’s epiphenomenalism (an issue much debated in recent years, among Nietzsche scholars as well as others). Gerhardt insists that “if the...