- Handbuch Nietzsche und die Wissenschaften: Natur-, geistes- und sozialwissenschaftliche Kontexte ed. by Helmut Heit, Lisa Heller
Scholars have given increased attention to Nietzsche’s attitude toward science in recent years. This attention concerns not only Nietzsche’s understanding and critique of science in general but also his creative appropriation and criticism of ideas from particular sciences, such as classical philology and biology. The still widespread image of him as a solitary and self-sufficient thinker, closer to an inspired poet than to a methodical researcher and philosopher, has thus been increasingly questioned. Helmut Heit’s and Lisa Heller’s Handbuch Nietzsche und die Wissenschaften is one of the best collections of research of this particular kind.
Two general aims of the book are worth highlighting, as Heit and Heller do in their introduction. First, as the subtitle indicates, the editors chose not to limit their topic to Nietzsche’s reflections on the natural sciences. For they rightly warn against focusing too exclusively on the Naturwissenschaften, at the risk of not doing justice to Nietzsche’s wider understanding of science (4). Indeed, it should not be forgotten that Nietzsche was strongly influenced by his academic training in philology, what Wilhelm Dilthey would call a Geisteswissenschaft. By extending attention to the human and social sciences, then, the Handbuch is a welcome complement to the collection Nietzsche and Science, edited by Gregory Moore and Thomas Brobjer (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004). Second, Heit and Heller rightly emphasize the limits of reading Nietzsche in terms of “influences,” a metaphor that tends to overlook the fact that “what Nietzsche reads, what Nietzsche thinks, and what Nietzsche writes are three different things, which do not necessarily stand in a linear causal relation” (3; all translations are my own). Rather than mere influences, then, identifying the scientific contexts of Nietzsche’s philosophy allows one to reveal processes of selective and creative appropriation that have real philosophical significance.
In light of these aims, however, the organization of the book according to contemporary disciplinary divisions is surprising. The editors are surely right to observe that any disciplinary division will be debatable, insofar as Nietzsche raises and treats interdisciplinary problems. But one might nonetheless ask how far the distinction between Geisteswissenschaften and Sozialwissenschaften is applicable to the sciences of the second half of the nineteenth century. One may also be surprised to see political philosophy classified as a science, and regret the absence of a contribution on ethnology, given its importance both for Nietzsche and for his time. Finally, one might wish for a more thorough [End Page 362] reflection on the scientific divisions that Nietzsche himself admitted or rejected. Beyond Good and Evil 23, for instance, calls for “a genuine physiopsychology” and seems to blur the traditional dividing line between physiology as a natural science and psychology as a science of the soul—as Nietzsche’s contemporaries did in undertaking to reestablish psychology as a natural science (see Martin Liebscher’s chapter, “Nietzsche and Psychology”). Still, at least the first part of the book is not vulnerable to such criticisms, insofar as it is dedicated to more transversal approaches of the scientific context of Nietzsche’s thinking.
I cannot summarize all seventeen chapters (six in English) in this short review, and Heller provides a useful Inhaltsübersicht at the beginning of the volume. I therefore limit myself to listing the contributions and making a few observations on some essays in each of the four parts of the book.
The first part of the book contains Helmut Heit’s and Gregor Schiemann’s essays on Nietzsche’s scientific age viewed as a whole. Heit rightly reminds us in his excellent introductory essay, “Nietzsche’s Philosophy and the ‘Age of Science’”, that “a context is something other than the sum of all the positively demonstrable textual links” (42). This parti pris for a philosophical interpretation of Nietzsche’s scientific contexts seems to be shared by Schiemann, who argues that the advent of fallibilism and experimentalism in nineteenth...