- Nietzsche: Old and New Questions
Let me begin by stating that I do not believe that there are topics that have been overdone in Nietzsche scholarship or that we need new shiny questions. I consider it likely that contributions can still be made on just about any topic, including such well-trodden ones as the nature of Nietzsche’s naturalism, his metaethics, his account of morality, and his claims about [End Page 228] the sovereign individual, the bad conscience, and even perspectivism and truth. On the latter, just over a year ago, Alexander Nehamas raised new questions about my 1990 account of Nietzsche’s development on truth, and my response led me into new territory concerning Nietzsche’s perspectivism, of which I have merely scratched the surface.
On the characteristics of the new work I would like to see, I divide my reflections into three main categories, the first of which concerns learning how to read Nietzsche. All interpreters are aware of Nietzsche’s plea to his “patient friends,” that they “learn to read [him] well.” But actually doing so can be difficult when one finds a line that so clearly fits a view one is disposed to attribute to Nietzsche. It can then seem that reading “slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and aft, with doors left open, with delicate eyes and fingers” is beside the point. And perhaps sometimes it is. But I have found that it is rarely a waste of time to examine in considerable detail the context of any line of Nietzsche’s that one is tempted to pluck out of its context, taking into account how the line fits into the point of the passage in which it is found, as well as the part of the book and the book itself. In fact, if I am right, Nietzsche’s later works, and especially BGE and GM (which taken together constitute Nietzsche’s magnum opus, in my view), were written as they are precisely in order to induce us to work hard at reading them and thereby to learn things we would not learn if Nietzsche set them out in a more direct way. As an aside here, we need much more work on the question of how Nietzsche writes and why he writes as he does, but only by those who have come a long way in learning to read him well.
There are of course practical limits to how much of the context of a passage can be taken into account, but one aspect that should not be ignored is the place of the passage in Nietzsche’s development. That Nietzsche’s thought developed is something else that is usually recognized in theory, but not so much in practice, as when interpreters use passages from his early and middle-period works as evidence for Nietzsche’s position on an issue, without taking into account Nietzsche’s development and the difference between what he was trying to accomplish and his strategies for accomplishing it in different stages of his career. A particularly egregious example is the use of HH 32 to justify the claim that Nietzsche thinks that drives always involve evaluations of their objects, but I also worry about using Nietzsche’s reflections on moral psychology in D without explicitly taking into account that this is still a very early stage in Nietzsche’s thinking about morality (even if it is the real beginning of his own way in philosophy). And, of course, [End Page 229] appealing to the Nachlass as the major basis for establishing Nietzsche’s position on a topic is particularly problematic precisely because there is so little context that we often cannot even know whether Nietzsche is expressing his own thoughts on a topic or summarizing someone else’s. There are, of course, exceptions, and I must admit that in a forthcoming paper I myself make heavy use of the Nachlass. My justification for doing so is that I was trying to understand a claim about nihilism that Nietzsche makes only in the Nachlass (that in relating “the history of the next two centuries,” he is describing “what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the...