- Nietzsche's Constructivism: A Metaphysics of Material Objects by Justin Remhof
In Nietzsche's Constructivism: A Metaphysics of Material Objects, Justin Remhof argues that Nietzsche was a constructivist about material objects. [End Page 179] That is, Nietzsche held that material objects—like hammers, planets, and dinosaurs—are "constitutively dependent" (19) for their existence on our conceptual practices. Planets exist in part because we deploy the concept planet. Remhof defends this interpretation against its competitors, argues that it helps us understand other areas of Nietzsche's thought, and shows how it relates to the views of certain pragmatists and to contemporary disputes in metaphysics. Although I'm not convinced by the arguments for the constructivist reading, there is much of value in the work Remhof does to develop the view and to situate it in Nietzsche's thought more broadly.
The book begins by laying out the competing interpretations of Nietzsche's material object metaphysics. Remhof dismisses the idea that Nietzsche simply had no view on the metaphysics of objects—his frequent remarks on objects as well as his willingness to engage in metaphysics elsewhere (e.g., regarding free will, causation, and the soul) give reason to doubt that he was simply agnostic (3). The other available views are (1) commonsense realism, according to which objects are what most everyone thinks they are, namely, hunks of stable, persistent matter that exist independently of us; (2) eliminativism, according to which there are no objects, either because the world lacks the intrinsic structure necessary for objects or because there are no subjects around to construct objects; and (3) unificationism, according to which objects are "unified bundles of forces" (38).
Remhof rejects the commonsense realist reading pretty quickly on the grounds that it is incompatible with Nietzsche's denial that objects exist in the way we ordinarily think they do and with his suggestion that objects are fictions (see GS 110; KSA 13:14; TI "Reason" 2, 5). An eliminativist reading would take these remarks to entail that there are no objects at all. Remhof argues instead that Nietzsche is a revisionist—objects exist, just not in the way we thought. And unificationists go wrong in thinking that bundles of forces can be unified all by themselves, without the assistance of conceiving subjects.
We then get a defense of the constructivist reading. The basic idea Remhof presents is that for objects to exist, they need to have identity conditions. For a hammer to exist, there needs to be something that meets the identity conditions for hammers—e.g., having a head and a handle and being useful for hitting nails into things. But the only way objects get identity conditions is by someone establishing such conditions. If there were no creatures around who determined what it takes for a hammer to exist, then there would be no identity conditions for hammers, so there would be [End Page 180] no hammers. To support attributing this argument to Nietzsche, Remhof adduces a variety of passages where Nietzsche suggests that our practices of naming and conceptualizing play a constituting role; an object's identity consists in its having features that we have designated as a basis for categorization. These passages include GS 58, where Nietzsche claims that "in the long run it is enough to create new names and valuations and appearances of truth in order to create new 'things,'" and KSA 12:2, where he says that "a thing = its qualities; but these equal everything which matters to us about that thing; a unity under which we collect the relations that may be of some account to us" (see also KSA 13:14, 12:2).
This view is, to be sure, subject to a number of objections. You might think that we can determine the identity conditions associated with a term, but not the identity conditions associated with an object. Our practices can change what it takes for the sentence "this is a hammer" to be true of something. But they cannot change what it takes...