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  • Nietzsche’s Dawn: Philosophy, Ethics, and the Passion of Knowledge by Keith Ansell-Pearson and Rebecca Bamford
  • Richard Elliott
Keith Ansell-Pearson and Rebecca Bamford, Nietzsche’s Dawn: Philosophy, Ethics, and the Passion of Knowledge
Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2020. vii + 270 pp. ISBN: 978-1-119-69366-6. Cloth, $49.95.

Although caution ought to be exercised when it comes to his retrospective assessment of his past works, Nietzsche’s EH accurately describes D as a significant beginning, and a preparatory work. The preparation in question is for a broad critical reappraisal of the function of morality. More specifically, the object of Nietzsche’s critique is that which he titles “customary morality.” It is D that got the ball rolling on this project, as well as on many familiar Nietzschean themes that find arguably maturer exposition in later works, those more systematically studied on university syllabi. In this respect and others, Keith Ansell-Pearson and Rebecca Bamford are justified in their claim that D itself is a significant work, making its own distinctive contribution to Nietzsche’s philosophy. In Nietzsche’s Dawn, the first Anglophone book-length treatment of the work, they amply demonstrate many ways in which this is the case.

The theme of knowledge, including self-knowledge, and how Nietzsche construes knowledge as a “passion,” is central to Ansell-Pearson and Bamford’s volume. Its status in D is illuminating, not just for expositing [End Page 83] the independent project afoot in that book. It also gives a clearer sense of some important conceptual developments as Nietzsche’s works reconfigured their attention throughout the 1880s. A review of Ansell-Pearson and Bamford’s important claims about the passion of knowledge in Nietzsche’s Dawn will elucidate these developments. Any critical remarks offered here ought to be construed within the context of an easy recommendation to make about the volume: students and scholars alike will profit from reading Nietzsche’s Dawn.

Nietzsche in D is committed to the idea that customary morality has contributed to obfuscating our true selves. As such, any adequate critique of it would facilitate a greater capacity for self-knowledge than before. Yet it is also Nietzsche’s contention that knowledge more broadly understood has a role in uncovering this self-knowledge. D has Nietzsche promote “the pathos of the search for truth and knowledge” (15). HH marks a turn in Nietzsche’s thinking to demarcate the remit of human knowledge, without giving free rein to any hard-line metaphysical commitments. There Nietzsche is sensitive to the psychological pull that such commitments can have for fulfilling certain human needs, be they construed as innate or as contingent (16). So too in D, with a focus on knowledge as a passion, within this established remit.

Ansell-Pearson and Bamford open their second chapter by discussing the 1886 preface added to D, where Nietzsche describes his investigations as having been “subterranean,” acting as an “apparent Trophonius” (D P:1). They are right to frontload this description of the work, particularly about the kind of self-knowledge that might be available through exploring the formation and longevity of dominant moral systems. The symbolism here is one of secret cave entrances, ones that offer both promise and terror. Notable is the etymology of Trophonius: trepho, “to nourish,” is a useful metaphor for this journey of discovery. The authors refer to nourishment as one of two important aspects of Nietzsche’s account for a positive ethics in D (the other is the feeling of power) (63). Although this link between discovery and nourishment in the root etymology is not explicitly made by Ansell-Pearson and Bamford (perhaps it was in mind), in any case, it certainly lends itself to the aptness of their reading.

There is an ambiguity in this metaphor and D more widely, and indeed in all Nietzsche’s works that follow, about both the limitations upon self-knowledge and its prescriptive import. D shares a substantial affinity with the later works on the point that self-knowledge is not best [End Page 84] developed by any conscious enterprise. Nor is there reason to think that such knowledge is gained by a process fully transparent to...


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