- Nietzsche's Therapeutic Teaching: For Individuals and Culture ed. by Horst Hutter and Eli Friedland
London: Bloomsbury, 2013. 250 pp. isbn: 978-1-4411-2533-0. Hardcover, $130.00, paper, $37.95.
Nietzsche's Therapeutic Teaching: For Individuals and Culture is a collection of sixteen essays that takes the therapeutic objectives of Nietzsche's writings as its central theme. It situates Nietzsche's work in the Greco-Roman tradition in which philosophical methods and doctrines were considered to be "medicine for the soul," capable of curing us from the afflictions of irrational desires, disordered psyches, or poorly cultivated characters. It is due largely to Martha Nussbaum's Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994) and to Pierre Hadot's Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1995) and What Is Ancient Philosophy? (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002) that interest in the Hellenistic tradition has revived in recent years, and with it, a growing awareness of the appeal of the meta-philosophical view that philosophy, rather than being a purely theoretical activity aimed at discovering truth, is primarily an activity aimed at helping us live a healthy, balanced, and rational life.
Horst Hutter's Nietzsche's New Regime of the Soul and Its Ascetic Practices (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2006) and Michael Ure's Nietzsche's Therapy: Self-Cultivation in the Middle Works (Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2008) already showed that reading Nietzsche's works through the lens of this ancient philosophical tradition is capable of shedding new light on both well-known and lesser-known parts of his oeuvre. Indeed, readers of Nietzsche are bound to notice that his works are littered with medical language and analogies: he [End Page 462] famously describes himself as a "cultural physician" (D 52), he repeatedly diagnoses sicknesses he deems typical of modernity (e.g., GM III:14), and he explicitly states that his aim is to promote a new and greater type of "health" (GS 382). To read these and related aphorisms not as outdated nineteenth-century biologism—or worse, as a proto-Nazi form of social Darwinism—but instead as continuing the Hellenistic therapeutic tradition, intentionally modeling itself on medical practice, certainly constitutes an exciting and potentially fruitful reorientation of Nietzsche scholarship.
In a collection that aims to investigate the therapeutic merits of Nietzsche's philosophy one would expect to find essays explaining (i) which sicknesses or conditions are in need of cure; (ii) which doctrines or techniques of Nietzsche's are meant to do the alleviating or curing; and (iii) an evaluation of how effective or satisfactory Nietzsche's proposals are, or at least a discussion of how one might go about such evaluations. These three requirements are introduced by the editors of the volume as the "diagnostic, prognostic and therapeutic" (2) dimensions of therapeutic philosophizing. About half the essays of this volume succeed in living up to this expectation. I will survey these chapters first, before expressing a more critical view about the other chapters.
Horst Hutter's opening essay (chapter 2) points out that Nietzsche's doctrines should be understood as curative suggestions for the modern cultural malaise of nihilism. Hutter argues that by drawing from the spiritual exercises of antiquity and Eastern traditions we can develop "new modes of askesis [exercise or training]" and new forms of "gymnastics of willing" (5). He also highlights the need to form political groups and societies of sane and life-affirming individuals in an effort to confront and ultimately overcome nihilism. Although the essay does not indicate what these new modes of askesis might be, or why classical or Eastern forms of spiritual training might be helpful for a typically modern cultural problem, it at least renders explicit which crisis they are meant to solve and why therapeutic philosophy is needed.
Chapter 3 by Martine Béland focuses on Nietzsche's struggles with his own health, specifically in the context of his decision to leave his position at the University of Basel. The essay is rich in detail and...