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  • Nietzsche’s Pragmatism: A Study on Perspectival Thought by Pietro Gori
  • Neil Sinhababu
Pietro Gori, Nietzsche’s Pragmatism: A Study on Perspectival Thought. Trans. Sarah de Sanctis.
Berlin: De Gruyter, 2019. xii + 170 pp. ISBN: 9783110590944, 9783110736854. Hardcover, €102.95; paperback, €14.95.

Pietro Gori dedicates Nietzsche’s Pragmatism “To the wanderers and Good Europeans,” and Anglophone wanderers into Sarah de Sanctis’s translation [End Page 104] will indeed find good European Nietzsche scholarship. The table of contents is a helpful map of the book, with five chapters consisting of twenty-eight sections on a sequence of philosophical and interpretive topics. Perspectival thought, addressed in the subtitle, is the explicit topic of the third chapter. Pragmatism, mentioned in the title, is the explicit topic of the fifth and final chapter. While both topics also are discussed in many other places, the overall focus is on Nietzsche’s views of epistemology and truth.

The first chapter discusses Nietzsche’s views of evolutionary epistemology, comparing them especially to other philosophers and scholars of the time. It follows Michael Bradie’s (1986) distinction between two different traditions going by the name of “evolutionary epistemology.” One is a cognitive science project that understands human psychological mechanisms in terms of how they evolved (EEM). It claims that human minds have a significant innate structure explained by evolutionary fitness in an ancestral era, and it competes against theories that suggest less innate structure or explain the innate structure differently. The other is an intellectual history project seeking to understand the spread of knowledge using metaphors originating from the theory of evolution (EET). It seeks to understand the success of ideas using analogies to evolutionary fitness. It is obviously important to distinguish the cognitive science project (EEM) from the intellectual history project (EET), as they explain different parts of the mind in terms of different past events. So I would have thought it natural to use Bradie’s distinction as a reason to make only one of them the topic of analysis.

Gori’s first chapter meticulously tracks both the scientific and historical projects, giving us a parallel study of various philosophical-scientific thinkers of the era engaged in evolutionary explanation of innate mental structures, or whether they used evolutionary concepts and metaphors to understand the growth of knowledge. He shows us how figures of the time, including Nietzsche, William James, and Ernst Mach, explained the human mind in evolutionary terms, and also used evolutionary metaphors to explain scientific progress. The extent to which and ways in which these different thinkers engage in each form of evolutionary explanation have their subtle differences, making the overall picture hard to summarize. Gori’s account of the underlying situation is careful and detailed, though a narrower focus might have helped him discover more of interest in their views.

Chapter 2 addresses Nietzsche’s oft-quoted unpublished remark that “facts are just what there aren’t, there are only interpretations” (1886–87) [End Page 105] (KSA 12:7[60]). Gori immediately puts the remark in context, noting that it was “taken from a notebook and was not intended for publication” (41). He disagrees with those who regard it “as a motto exemplifying Nietzsche’s late philosophical view,” and criticizes the methodology giving rise to such interpretations:

sometimes they compare ideas that Nietzsche included in these published texts with some views that he merely sketched in his private papers and that he then left there, as rough and incomplete as any record that we ourselves write down on our notebooks every day; and they do that pretending to have found the proof of a contradiction within Nietzsche’s thought, while in fact they only encountered the trace of a ceaseless reflection.

(43 n. 3)

Gori describes a mistake that can easily result from excessive reliance on unpublished material. Nietzsche may also have omitted clarifications when writing notes for himself that he would have included when writing for others. Some ideas may have been later rejected, while others may result from a ceaseless reflection that honestly considers objections to its own assumptions. That an idea appears in the notebooks therefore shows that Nietzsche considered some clarified version of it, but it...


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