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Reviewed by:
  • Nietzsche on Ethics and Politics by Maudemarie Clark
  • Jonathan Mitchell
Maudemarie Clark, Nietzsche on Ethics and Politics Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. 328 pp. isbn: 978-0199371846. Cloth, $65.00.

Maudemarie Clark is best known among Nietzsche scholars for two monographs, Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) and The Soul of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), the second coauthored with David Dudrick. The focus of these works was metaphysical-cum-epistemological, in the first instance distinguishing Nietzsche’s views on truth from the (at the time) popular association with postmodernism, in the second providing an “esoteric” rereading of book 1 of BGE in an attempt to rebuff central aspects of naturalistic readings like that of Brian Leiter (Nietzsche on Morality, 2nd ed., London: Routledge, 2015). The present collection of fourteen essays surveys Clark’s views on a different range of topics under the heading of “Ethics and Politics.” While there is [End Page 492] something of interest in each chapter, this review considers three of the most thought-provoking contributions.

Chapter 3, “Nietzsche’s Contribution to Ethics” (originally published in 2010), begins by examining how we should understand Nietzsche’s self-characterization as an “immoralist” in a way that can make sense of the fact that his writings provide ethical recommendations. It is now fairly commonplace that if we are to resolve the issue of the “scope” of Nietzsche’s critical project, a distinction has to be made between the morality he is opposed to and some alternative ethical outlook he is in favor of. However, something that remains problematic is how to define morality in the sense that Nietzsche is opposed to it. Here Clark engages with Leiter’s influential reading that specifies the critical object as “morality in the pejorative sense” (MPS), a piecemeal tapestry of substantive normative commitments such as the promotion of happiness and the avoidance of suffering, and argues that Nietzsche’s fundamental objection to MPS is the way in which the norms characteristic of it are inimical to the flourishing of nascent higher-types (cf. Leiter, Nietzsche on Morality, 58–61, 91–110). Clark suggests that there is the potential for a gap to emerge between some of the norms characteristic of MPS for Leiter and certain prima facie features of morality as traditionally understood. For example, MPS is said to promote the norms of avoiding suffering and promoting happiness, yet this is not obviously true of the ascetic morality Nietzsche describes in On the Genealogy of Morality.

Clark’s alternative is to provide a “historical account of morality” (65), which finds some of the components of the phenomena Nietzsche is opposed to in the three essays of the Genealogy: the evaluative framework of slave morality, a moralized form of bad conscience involving guilt, and the ascetic ideal. However, one worry is that this approach might exclude from Nietzsche’s “critique of morality” ethical standpoints not obviously involving these features (and certainly not the conjunction of them all). For example, one might think of utilitarianism or Aristotelianism, which are lambasted as instances of “Morality as Timidity” in section 198 of Beyond Good and Evil. Presumably it is the sheer variety of ideas that Nietzsche brings under the umbrella of his critique of morality that motivates a heuristic definition like Leiter’s.

Finally, Clark’s own suggestion concerning Nietzsche’s objection to morality is that he considers it “not adequate medicine for the sickness it was meant to cure” (5). The “sickness” Clark is referring to is that of socialized [End Page 493] human beings no longer able to freely express aggressive instincts—that is, the “bad conscience” of GM II. Morality, under the direction of the ascetic priests, offers a solution to this, redirecting those aggressive instincts against the self, and using the notions of guilt and responsibility to provide such activity with meaning. However, once the notion of a divine being is introduced, and as a consequence one’s nature is interpreted as inexpiably guilty, any lasting resolution to this “sickness” is rendered impossible; one is “sick” by nature. Now, this might be Nietzsche’s view about the way in which...


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