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  • The Nietzschean Self: Moral Psychology, Agency, and the Unconscious by Paul Katsafanas
  • Mattia Riccardi
Paul Katsafanas, The Nietzschean Self: Moral Psychology, Agency, and the Unconscious.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. xi + 292 pp. isbn: 9780198737100.

Although Nietzsche famously declares that "psychology is again the path to the fundamental problems" (BGE 23), scholars have traditionally paid only marginal attention to his philosophical psychology. With a series of articles published over the past ten years or so, Paul Katsafanas has contributed to a welcome refocus. The Nietzschean Self presents systematically, and sometimes supplements, the claims put forward in these earlier pieces. The result is an important book that all scholars interested in Nietzsche's views on mind and agency will need to study carefully. Here I summarize its main interpretive points and raise some worries about a few of them.

Katsafanas starts by considering Nietzsche's distinction between conscious and unconscious mental states. In chapter 2 he argues that Nietzsche [End Page 449] aligns the distinction between conscious and unconscious states with the distinction between conceptual and nonconceptual states. To put it differently, conceptualization is the process that turns unconscious states into conscious ones. Call this the "Alignment Claim." In chapter 3 Katsafanas addresses Nietzsche's prima facie puzzling claim that consciousness necessarily falsifies. Katsafanas's proposed reading of this claim, which derives directly from the Alignment Claim, is as follows: (i) consciousness necessarily involves conceptualization of unconscious states; (ii) concepts necessarily distort the nonconceptual content of unconscious states; therefore, (iii) consciousness necessarily falsifies. As (i) is entailed by the Alignment Claim, the key premise is (ii). Why accept it? According to Katsafanas, Nietzsche provides two main reasons. First, concepts are general and thus cannot capture all of the fine-grained details of unconscious mental life. They necessarily oversimplify its complexity. Second, conceptual systems change over time and, although some may be better than others, it is impossible to say which one is best. Katsafanas then focuses on Nietzsche's description of how bad conscience becomes guilt in GM II, which Katsafanas considers the paradigmatic example of how conceptualization distorts the content of unconscious states. According to his reading, bad conscience, originally "an unconscious state of suffering," is conceptualized as guilt. Thus, "the unconscious bad conscience gives rise to the conscious emotion of guilt" (59). Katsafanas takes this to show that—Nietzsche's repeated remarks about its superficiality and superfluity notwithstanding—consciousness can have a dramatic impact on mind and agency. For all the "profound consequences" due to the fact that people start to feel guilty "result merely from coming to conceptualize an unconscious feeling in a new way" (59).

The following two chapters explore Nietzsche's conception of the unconscious basis of the human mind. Chapter 4 carefully reconstructs his notion of a "drive," which—as is now widely recognized—is the " principal explanatory token" of his philosophical psychology (77). Katsafanas criticizes standard homuncular readings of the drives and proposes instead a refined version of the dispositionalist approach first fully developed by John Richardson in Nietzsche's New Darwinism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). The basic idea here is that a drive inclines the agent toward purposive behavior of a certain kind. For instance, the cruelty drive inclines one toward the infliction of pain. Drives, however, are not merely passive tendencies. Rather, each of them is a "psychic force" urging one to behave in the relevant way (99). Moreover, Katsafanas convincingly argues that drives [End Page 450] have both an "aim" and an "object" (101). The aim is the drive's distinctive goal, while the object is the item that, on a certain occasion, serves to satisfy that goal. For instance, the hunger drive's goal is nourishment, while that sandwich over there is its current object. Thus, whereas the goal identifies the drive's characteristic "form of activity" (101), the object's role is merely contingent. This also explains why drives act as constant sources of motivation, for once satisfied by one object a drive starts longing for a new one. Katsafanas further argues that drives "induce affective orientations" (94) that shape our experience of the world. For instance, the sex drive causes a typical form of arousal...


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