‘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.
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.
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.
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 chapter focuses on Leibniz’s philosophical reflections on alchemy and chemistry, beginning with his views on chemistry and natural philosophy, then considering his understanding of chemical practices as a way to discover the intelligibility of nature. The traditional hypothesis of an alchemical influence behind Leibniz’s development of the monad concept is also discussed. Finally, the chapter looks at Leibniz’s views on the epistemic status of chemical principles. On the one hand, alchemical experiments are perfectly connected to Leibniz’s metaphysics; on the other hand, the alleged alchemical proximities of this metaphysics give way to a general science in which chemical experimentation has a well-identified function.
The reception of Descartes in the second half of the seventeenth century took very different forms, which have been the subject of numerous and documented studies. On this subject, we cannot limit ourselves to categories that are too simplistic. Descartes had faithful disciples and resolute adversaries; he also had critical readers, combining admiration and the conviction that his philosophy, as revolutionary as it is, had to be both followed and reformed. The Oratorian Nicolas Malebranche (1638–1715), who passes for one of the greatest French Cartesians, surely counts among the number of readers who wants to be Cartesian, without however being understood as a disciple of Descartes. Malebranche himself has perfectly expressed the nature of his Cartesianism in declaring, at the end of his first work, the Search after Truth (Recherche de la vérité; 1674–5): “I admit however that I owe to Descartes or to his manner of doing philosophy the opinions that I oppose to his, and the boldness to criticize him.” In this chapter I attempt to clarify the sense of this remarkably ambivalent affirmation with some examples.
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.
John Kaag and Kipton E. Jensen
This chapter outlines the reception of Hegel in the United States in the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century. Hegel dramatically influenced the formation of American transcendentalism and American pragmatism, despite often being described as simply antithetical to these American philosophies. While pragmatists such as Peirce and James often criticized a certain interoperation of Hegel, their readings of the Phenomenology and Logic helped them articulate a philosophy, inherited from Emerson, that was geared toward experience and to exploring the practical, deeply human, effects of philosophy. Care is taken to describe the impact that the study of Hegel had on American institutions of culture and politics in the nineteenth century.
Vincenzo De Risi
This chapter focuses on Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s writings on analysis situs—a collection of mathematical and philosophical investigations into the foundations, development, and formalization of geometry, examining how they contributed to the development of modern geometry. It first explains the concept of situation (situs) as the first source of Leibniz’s theory of a relational space and its use in metaphysics, then considers Leibniz’s development of a new formalism for geometry (a characteristica geometrica propria) and his use of (Euclidean) metric relations between figures or points as the main subject of his analysis situs. It also discusses Leibniz’s definition of space as an order of situations, his grand ambition to establish the principles of Euclidean geometry based on the abstract concept of a metric space, and how his writings on analysis situs became intertwined with metaphysics and the theory of knowledge. Finally, the chapter reviews Leibniz’s definition of space in relation to monads and bodies.
Analytic philosophy gave serious attention to aesthetics relatively late and initial encounters were far from auspicious. William Elton’s anthology Aesthetics and Language (1954) marks a convenient entry point for analytic aesthetics, as the first self-conscious effort to bring linguistic methods of analysis to bear on aesthetics. To capture the distinctively ‘analytical’ mode of analytic aesthetics it is not enough merely to list the major landmarks: more useful is to break down the subject into those areas in which analytic philosophy itself has made its most significant contributions: the analysis of concepts, philosophy of language and mind, metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. This chapter explores analytic aesthetics through this lens reviewing selected treatments, within aesthetics, of conceptual analysis, representation, meaning, reference, metaphysics and ontology, truth and knowledge, and ethics and value.
In understanding the transition to the analytic period in America, it is important to remember that analytic philosophy is neither a fixed body of substantive doctrine, a precise methodology, nor a radical break with most traditional philosophy of the past—save for varieties of romanticism, theism, and absolute idealism. Instead, it is a discrete historical tradition stemming from Frege, Moore, Russell, Wittgenstein, and the logical positivists, characterized by respect for science and common sense, belief in the relevance of logic and language for philosophy, emphasis on precision and clarity of argumentation, suspicion of a priori metaphysics, and elevation of the goals of truth and knowledge over inspiration, moral uplift, and spiritual comfort—plus a dose of professional specialization.
I propose that we distinguish between the ‘Analytic school’ proper—which should be recognized as both a distinctive movement in twentieth-century philosophy and an aspect of twentieth-century modernism—and ‘analytic philosophy’ in a much broader sense, which is better characterized stylistically and institutionally than by any distinctive thematic content. I then argue that while the Analytic school certainly had a decisive shaping influence on analytic philosophy, the latter increasingly incorporates other important traditions. In particular, even though the nineteenth-century British philosophical tradition had little influence on the Analytic school, some influential lines of thought in analytic philosophy as currently practised (notably in philosophy of science and of perception, and in ethics) represent a return to its main interests and themes.
Political philosophy is not, initially, easy to place in terms of the foundation and early development of analytic philosophy. If, following the traditional understanding, one takes analytic philosophy to have been founded by Frege, Russell, Moore, and Wittgenstein, it is not obvious what influence these figures have had on the subsequent development of the discipline, other than prompting the rejection of idealism. From the 1920s to the 1950s analytic political philosophy, under the shadow of logical positivism, became highly introspective, but such paralysis was broken by Rawls’ advocacy and defence of a substantive position. Over time analytic political philosophy has developed into a discipline that privileges the self-conscious search for clarity and precision of thesis and argument and has the ambition of presenting simple theories or principles of great power and application. It often uses abstract examples and simplified models, and favours quantitative over qualitative social science, as well as assuming methodological and moral individualism. It has become the dominant approach in the English-speaking world.
This article focuses on the distinction between analytic truths and synthetic truths (i.e. every truth that isn’t analytic), and between a priori truths and a posteriori truths (i.e. every truth that isn’t a priori) in philosophy, beginning with a brief historical survey of work on the two distinctions, their relationship to each other, and to the necessary/contingent distinction. Four important stops in the history are considered: two involving Kant and W. V. O. Quine, and two relating to logical positivism and semantic externalism. The article then examines questions that have been raised about the analytic–synthetic and a priori–a posteriori distinctions, such as whether all distinctively philosophical truths fall on one side of the line and whether the distinction is relevant to philosophy. It also discusses the argument that there is a lot more a priori knowledge than we ever thought, and concludes by describing epistemological accounts of analyticity.
Anarchism rejects the state as an inherently despotic institution that must be abolished in order for human nature to flower. This does not mean the absence of social order, however, for anarchism also contains a positive vision of the kind of community it expects to arise when political authority is eliminated. Although it shares liberalism's commitment to individual autonomy and Marxism's commitment to social justice, anarchism claims that it can implement those principles more fully and effectively without utilizing the mechanism of the state. Anarchism as a secular political philosophy originated as a product of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, and anarchist thought was the cumulative product of a number of different individuals in different countries who elaborated its basic principles. This article examines the views of several thinkers on anarchism, including William Godwin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Michael Bakunin, and Prince Peter Kropotkin. It also considers the link between anarchism and terrorism.