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Reviewed by:
  • The Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche ed. by Ken Gemes, John Richardson
  • Jonathan Mitchell
Ken Gemes and John Richardson, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 783pp. ISBN 978-0-19-953464-7. Cloth, $140.

Comprising thirty-two chapters by thirty-four contributors, divided into six discrete sections, and ending with a subject and names index, The Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche makes a convincing claim to exhaustiveness. Even if the editors, Ken Gemes and John Richardson, admit that “no single volume can hope to cover all of Nietzsche’s extremely wide ranging-interests” (1), the Handbook covers most of the conceivable ground and, to this reader at least, successfully balances its central aims of providing a guide for students, a comprehensive summary of contemporary debates in the scholarship, and original contributions to or significant developments of those debates.

Considered as a whole, some general qualities can be noted. First, the editors must be praised both for the sheer vastness of the undertaking and for bringing into one volume so many of the most credible names in Nietzsche scholarship. The standard of writing is lucid throughout, ranging from more discursive chapters in the opening three sections to more rigorously argumentative and dialectically probing chapters in the later three, more philosophically substantial, sections. Moreover, for the most part, there is a welcome absence of technical jargon of either “analytic” or “continental” stripe, and where specific Nietzschean terms are used—such as “order of rank” and “eternal recurrence”—one often finds whole chapters, or sections within chapters, devoted to their explication.

Second, with the possible exception of the introductory biographical chapters, the structure of the Handbook exemplifies the three central approaches by which modern philosophical scholarship on Nietzsche now proceeds, namely, by comparing and contrasting Nietzsche with other major figures in the philosophical tradition (the “Historical Relations” section), close exegetical work with specific texts (“Principal Works”), and, most prominently, exploration of distinctive thematic concerns, usually with the aim of rational reconstruction (“Values,” “Epistemology and Metaphysics,” and “Developments of Will to Power”). While there is naturally significant crossover between sections and methodologies, in its structure and breadth the Handbook highlights the philosophical maturity that Nietzsche studies has achieved, exhibiting a level of hermeneutic sophistication paralleled only in philosophical scholarship on figures like Aristotle and Kant, and certainly not yet in evidence in work on any subsequent philosopher. This sophistication is born out in the fact that the majority of contributors are far from initiates on their respective topics and have been selected by the editors precisely because of their expertise and/or their distinctive, in some cases agenda-setting, interpretive stances, many having written monographs on their themes. To give just one example, Jessica Berry, the leading scholar on Nietzsche’s relation to the ancient tradition, contributes an excellent piece on “Nietzsche and the Greeks.”

Third, one of the most impressive features of the Handbook is that where a topic is especially difficult or Nietzsche’s own position is particularly ambiguous, a striking degree of care is taken by the contributors to lay out the various interpretative options in a clear-headed and nonpolemical fashion. Of particular note in this regard are R. Lanier Anderson’s “Nietzsche on Autonomy,” Nadeem Hussain’s “Nietzsche’s Metaethical Stance,” Ken Gemes’s “Life’s Perspectives,” and Paul Katsafanas’s “Nietzsche’s Philosophical Psychology.” Hussain’s own fictionalist reading of Nietzsche’s meta-ethics, which takes Nietzsche to be recommending the invention of make-believe values on the basis of a global error theory about evaluative claims (cf. Nadeem Hussain, “Honest Illusion: Valuing for Nietzsche’s Free Spirits,” in Nietzsche and Morality, ed. Brian Leiter and Neil Sinhababu [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007], 157–91), by no means dominates his discussion, but rather is presented as one among a number of competing interpretative options—indeed, readers familiar with Hussain’s previous position might even be surprised by his now agnostic [End Page 270] stance that “Nietzsche’s texts . . . lack the granularity that would really be needed to resolve the claims of competing meta-ethical interpretations” (412). Katsafanas’s contribution takes a similarly equanimous approach to Nietzsche’s “both tremendously important and terribly obscure...