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  • Nietzsche Studies as Historical Philosophizing
  • John Richardson

As to which of Nietzsche’s own topics is most important for Nietzsche scholars to address, I think the answer is clear: his critique of morality. This is his own idea of where his main importance lies. He also stresses the extreme difficulty of the task. It’s hard not just because the issues are so very complex, but because anyone who tries to evaluate morality is inhibited and misled by his or her own ingrained allegiance to it. We cannot find sufficient distance from these values to be able to assess them properly.

But now, why think that Nietzsche studies has not done justice to his critique? Why not rather say that we here prefer our own value perspective, as legitimate as his own? Indeed, we may feel that we see better in our liberal valuing than Nietzsche does in his attacks on democracy, equality, and compassion. So it may seem that his critique has been treated fairly and sufficiently after all.

What need better accounting, however, are Nietzsche’s arguments and insistences that this critique is tied tightly to all the other values and insights he claims—including all the ones we think make him worth reading. He would feel considerable scorn, I imagine, for the usual procedure among Nietzsche scholars of embracing his ideal of the free spirit while very largely abiding by the social-political values so standard in our community. He appeals to an elitist, exceptionalist taste and aspiration in us, which, however, sits uncomfortably with our solid faith in persons’ equal value. Nietzsche scholars will need to face these issues more honestly and attentively than I think we have so far done.

But I want to focus instead on another kind of issue, which concerns our method in treating Nietzsche’s ideas and arguments on this topic—and on all of his others. When we try to produce good “philosophical scholarship” on Nietzsche, what should we be aiming at? This basic question of method is another long-term topic for Nietzsche studies. I’ll make a few suggestions about it.

Now of course we firstly and mostly get our idea of proper method in the history of philosophy quite independently of Nietzsche. We are trained in philosophy, and in the history of philosophy. We learn from the example of the secondary literatures on other major historical figures. We have, from this background, the challenge to bring Nietzsche scholarship up to [End Page 271] the level achieved, through many more generations of scholars, in the study of figures such as Aristotle and Kant. But Nietzsche is a radical and revolutionary philosopher. And one of the ways he is so is in his reconception of philosophy and philosophical method. It’s important for Nietzsche scholars—I suggest—to reflect on the implications of this reconception for their own practice. How does his idea of proper method bear on the way we study him? I will focus on one main feature of his reconception: his claim that philosophy must be historical. If we think “historically” in the way Nietzsche wants us to, how will we study him?

To be sure, we may choose to reject Nietzsche’s conception of how philosophy should be done. Indeed, to a very large extent it seems that we even must do so. We probably couldn’t participate in the professional community if we tried to put his lessons fully into practice. Essays written in Nietzsche’s own styles just are not published in professional journals, or by academic presses. Even if we reject Nietzsche’s model for philosophy, however, we will need to take account of it in a very important way. We must do justice to the fact that this is how Nietzsche conceives of what he himself does. He is thinking in the way he thinks philosophy should be done, and we should read him in this spirit. But although this is easy to say, it can be very hard to do, due to the grip of our own training.

Consider the general situation: We have the conception of philosophy we have learned from current practice. This is the way we ourselves...


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pp. 271-277
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