‘A Promise Made is a Debt Unpaid’: Nietzsche on the Morality of Commitment and the Commitments of Morality
This article discusses what we can learn about promising and about Nietzsche’s critique of morality from his discussion of sovereign promising in the opening sections of the second essay of On the Genealogy of Morals. It argues that the philosophical focus of GM II: 1–2 is not the nature of promising in the narrow sense of making a pledge to do something for someone else, but the nature of pledging or committing oneself in general. It identifies the root difference between a moral obligation and a Nietzschean account of promissory fidelity. It argues that, in its focus on the difficult questions of what it means and how it is possible to bind oneself to a course of action, the Nietzschean account is philosophically deeper than the moral obligation account. Finally, the article considers misconceptions of revisionist readings of GM II: 1–2.
Hegel wrote in The Science of Logic that the deduction of the concept of science was accomplished at the end of the Phenomenology of Spirit in ‘Absolute Knowledge.’ This chapter links the deduction claim to the metaphor of a ladder to science that Hegel discusses in the Phenomenology Preface, and to the sublation of the form of objectivity that is the focus of ‘Absolute Knowledge.’ It argues that this reconciliation of self-consciousness with objectivity coincides with the task of unifying the theoretical and practical domains. Once one appreciates that Hegel’s goal is such a unification, one can see why he holds that the agent of conscience is already quite close to possessing absolute knowledge. The agent’s knowledge in deliberation, together with the agent’s relation to other agents in the process of recognizing action on conscience, has the same conceptual form as the complete theoretical object, the expanded version of the Concept, or inferential objectivity.
Absolutism is a nineteenth-century term designed precisely to address the mismatch between doctrine and power. The intellectual resources of absolutism were far older than the Renaissance and Reformation. The absolutism of monarchs was a contingent and temporary corollary of the principal juridical development of the early modern period: the emergence of the concept of sovereignty. Absolute monarchy was a free rider on a concept that would later unseat it. Theorists of absolute sovereignty drew heavily on Roman law, and often invoked the idea of the translatio imperii, the inheritance by modern monarchies of Roman imperial authority. The sovereignty of kings, seeking to trump the divine imperium of the papacy, masqueraded its jurisprudence as the divinity of kings. The “divine right of kings” was a theological meditation on a juridical concept, not a species of mysticism, and rarely did absolutists endow monarchs with magical or sacerdotal attributes. Absolutism conspicuously appropriated religious form when expressed as a theory of obedience. Absolutist theory offered an account of the origins of civil authority.
In Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein talks about action and the will. The main ideas we need to be acquainted with in order to understand Wittgenstein's remarks on this topic are, first, Arthur Schopenhauer's neo-Kantian theory of the will, which Wittgenstein seems to have fully accepted in 1916, and which still influenced his thinking in 1947, and second, the theory advanced in William James's The Principles of Psychology, which Wittgenstein encountered in the 1930s, and rejected root and branch. Schopenhauer and James were in turn reacting, in very different ways, to the empiricist theory of the will, which received its classic exposition in John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding. This article argues that Wittgenstein's treatment of action and the will in Philosophical Investigations is seriously flawed. Wittgenstein fails to disentangle the active/passive distinction and the voluntary/not voluntary distinction; he fails to see that voluntariness is not only an attribute of activity, but of passivity as well; and he confuses action and motion.
This chapter discusses Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s theory of the actual world as the best of all possible worlds. The chapter opens with Leibniz’s response to the two most basic questions of metaphysics: Why is there something rather than nothing? And, why do certain things exist while other equally possible things do not? It examines Leibniz’s critique of Baruch Spinoza’s metaphysics, with particular reference to the argument that God must make a choice among possible worlds because not all possibles are “compossible.” In addition, it explores Leibniz’s claim that the best of all possible worlds is the world containing the highest level of perfection or reality, intelligibility, order, and harmony. The chapter concludes by looking at three theological doctrines underlying Leibniz’s conception of the best of all possible worlds: divine creation, conservation, and concurrence.
James R. Otteson
The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) is Adam Smith's major contribution to ethical thought. Although it underwent six revisions during his lifetime, its primary arguments did not change, and this chapter focuses on those aspects that remain constant, beginning with an overview of Smith's theory followed by a discussion of the main elements of the theory. Smith presents morality as systems of overlapping spontaneous order that arise unintentionally based on continuous interactions, reactions, and responses to feedback. Although the philosopher can discover the relative utility of specific aspects of a community's moral standards, and thus make recommendations or encouragements to increase utility, Smith agrees with Hume that moral distinctions are not derived from reason.
For most of its history, philosophers employed a cognitivist approach to the nature and value of aesthetic experience. In the eighteenth century, free play and emotional impact were also recognized as aspects of aesthetic experience. But Kant synthesized only the first and not the second of these with the cognitivist approach, and following Kant the German Idealists even rejected the idea of free play and returned to a cognitivist approach. As the century wore on, a Hegelian like Friedrich Theodor Vischer and a non-Hegelian like Friedrich Nietzsche recognized the importance of free play, but it was only at the end of the century that Wilhelm Dilthey achieved a threefold synthesis of these approaches to aesthetics.
This article examines how aesthetics became a branch of psychology during the early modern period in which new references to taste, perfection, and harmony reinforced the emphasis on personal experience and judgement that was common to the natural and the human sciences of the period. During this period the debates in art theory centred on questions of the legitimacy of artistic innovations in style and genre, and were based on interpretations of the ancient texts of rhetoric and poetics. It discusses the factors that contributed to the development of aesthetics, the question of aesthetics prior to the eighteenth century, and the post-Kantian distinction between the tasks of rhetoric and those of aesthetics.
This article draws some lines that might indicate the direction in which one might consider the notion of medieval aesthetics. It chooses three examples that have always been at the centre of the history of medieval aesthetics and the various attempts of its conceptualization: Abbot Suger's writings on the Abbey Church of Saint-Denis; the aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas; and the Schedula diversarum atrium. These examples also indicate the difficulty in relating the question of aesthetics exclusively to philosophy or even to address it as a philosophical question.
The philosophy of language and philosophy of science were dominant from the middle 1930s for the next twenty-five years. During this period, many leading philosophers felt reluctant to venture into normative ethics. It was often said that philosophers have no special expertise in, or insight into, matters of right and wrong. Philosophers could defend views about the nature of moral language and judgement. But if there are no literally true propositions that x is morally required or y is morally wrong, the only moral insight or expertise one could legitimately claim to have is that one has moral attitudes that are based on fuller empirical information or are more consistent.