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date: 08 March 2021


Abstract and Keywords

This introductory article describes the organization and contents of the Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche. The contributions deal with Nietzsche’s main philosophical topics under the headings of ‘values’, ‘epistemology and metaphysics’, and ‘development of will to power’. Other papers address biographical questions and discuss Nietzsche’s relations with other philosophers and his individual works.

Keywords: Friedrich Nietzsche, philosophy, values, epistemology, metaphysics

While no single volume can hope to cover all of Nietzsche’s extremely wide-ranging interests, this one aims to offer papers on a principled list of his main philosophical topics, which we arrange under the three headings of ‘values’ (Part 4), ‘epistemology and metaphysics’ (Part 5), and ‘development of will to power’ (Part 6). We supplement these treatments of philosophical topics with sets of papers on a few biographical questions (Part 1), on Nietzsche’s relations to certain other philosophers (Part 2), and on many of his individual works (Part 3). This results in a certain overlap, as a philosophical topic is treated within the context of a particular work, for example; we consider this a worthwhile reminder that Nietzsche’s philosophical ideas are offered in works with distinctive characters and ambitions.


Nietzsche led a more interesting life than most philosophers, a life with striking romantic elements. The strong psychological turn of his thinking, and his insistence on viewing ideas in the context of a particular personality and life, license an attention to his own. Indeed he himself stresses the relevance of his life to his thinking. His autobiography Ecce Homo situates his ideas within his own psychology and presents his works as expressing his ongoing education not just about the world but about himself. The Prefaces he wrote in 1886 to several earlier works also emphasize this biographical context. Moreover, Nietzsche puts great stress on the question of what effect philosophical ideas have on one’s ‘living’. We may take his own life as showing what someone fully informed about his ideas would consider the way to live—and may partly judge them by this fruit.

If our interest is in connecting his thinking with his biography, the great range of the former means that there are many different aspects of his life and personality we might focus on. Few topics in the realm of human psychology escape his attention; many could be profitably considered in his personal case. We’ve picked a few: his relations to his family; his relations to women; his lifelong sickness and eventual madness. But there are many other points (p. 2) on which his life and ideas strikingly interact, including: his musicianship and its bearing on his views about art; his feelings about places and belief that ideas can be marked by their geographical provenance; his feelings about nature and scenic beauty; his relation to his friends (and theory of friendship); his attitudes and behaviour towards those ‘low’ around him, i.e. low by his own exacting standards. The three biographical aspects we’ve picked bear quite differently on his thinking: they affect it, if they do, by quite different causal mechanisms.

Family. Graham Parkes (Chapter 1 ) notes Nietzsche’s belief in a kind of hereditary determinism: even (or especially?) in philosophy, thinking reflects what one’s ancestors did. He often applies this to his own case—and invites us to interpret his ideas against this background. Given the great preponderance of Christian pastors in his own lineage, we see that this determinism needn’t work in a straight line: his ancestry didn’t determine him to be a Christian, though he might have thought it explained a hortatory and religious aspect in his thinking. Parkes introduces the religious and personal temperaments of Nietzsche’s father and two grandfathers, which forms a striking background to his own radical thought about religion. A separate issue is the bearing on Nietzsche’s thinking of his upbringing and family life. Parkes discusses the impact on Nietzsche of witnessing (at age four) the drawn-out and agonizing death of his father (from ‘softening of the brain’). Parkes suggests that this was the beginning of Nietzsche’s turn from the Christian faith; it also gave him great foreboding over his own later ailments. After his father’s death (and the death of Nietzsche’s younger brother soon after), he grew up in a household comprising six females (mother, sister, two aunts, grandmother, and housekeeper). This family experience is surely germane, throwing light on Nietzsche’s infamous quips about women, on his claim to ‘know women’, and on his sometimes exaggerated masculinity. Nietzsche’s longest-lasting connections were to his mother and sister, and Parkes shows in detail the shifts and complexity in these relationships.

Women. On this topic Nietzsche emphasizes the even greater relevance of his biography: he warns that his ideas on it may be ‘just his’, i.e. express his quite particular perspective. Since he thinks perspectivity holds quite generally, what does he mean by this more pointed alert? He is acknowledging, it seems, a narrowness in his own perspective on this topic, a lapse in his ability to incorporate and include other viewpoints, which he elsewhere touts as his great strength. And yet this acknowledgement doesn’t prompt him to temper or moderate his views; he seems rather to use it to license an extra vehemence. Julian Young in Chapter 2 shows how Nietzsche’s anti-feminism and misogyny first appeared only in 1883 with Thus Spoke Zarathustra; he argues that before this Nietzsche was even a ‘cautious feminist’. What happened to change him, Young argues, was his disastrous experience with Lou Salomé; it was this biographical event, and not his philosophical thinking, that explains his ‘turn’ against women. The anti-feminism is not a consequence of Nietzsche’s attack on ‘levelling’, for example; the latter can still less explain his outright hostility towards women. Young details Nietzsche’s experience with Salomé and conveys the rage he felt towards her. What he writes against women in and after this period are acts of revenge, Young suggests. Surprisingly, this campaign did not damage Nietzsche’s relations with his friends, most of whom were emancipated women. Young discusses why these and other feminists have so often found Nietzsche’s writings congenial despite his misogynistic remarks: they have followed Nietzsche’s own advice and treated these ideas as ‘just his’.

Sickness and madness. Here we meet still other questions about the bearing of biography on thinking. Nietzsche’s madness has often been taken to count against his ideas, (p. 3) and indeed it’s easy to hear a note of exaggeration and shrillness in works immediately preceding his breakdown (in early 1889, at age 44)—for example in Antichrist and Ecce Homo. What was the cause and nature of his insanity, and does it have any bearing on the works he wrote before that break? Charlie Huenemann (Chapter 3 ) shows that the long-standard explanation for the dementia—syphilis—is almost certainly false. The cause is much more likely to have been a tumour, growing all his life on the surface of his brain and behind his right eye. This would explain the severe headaches and eye problems he suffered regularly beginning in childhood. Huenemann brings out vividly the extraordinary physical suffering this ailment subjected Nietzsche to—and how it was joined by other serious problems, especially digestive ones. His philosophical production in these circumstances is quite remarkable. But it is not surprising, as Huenemann points out, that Nietzsche puts such great weight on ‘health’, as even his principal value, and especially on the kind of health that overcomes sickness and suffering. Huenemann argues that when Nietzsche values ‘madness’, it is a healthy and philosophical madness exemplified in Zarathustra, and which Nietzsche tried to cultivate in himself. But he fell victim in the end, ‘perhaps over most of 1888’ Huenemann suggests, to the different kind of madness brought on by his tumour.

Historical Relations

Nietzsche seems not to pay close and sustained attention to other philosophers, yet he is highly aware of his relations to them, and very eager to locate his own positions in contrast with theirs. He takes one characteristic stance towards them: he reads their writings as symptomatic of certain underlying values—values often quite different from those the philosophers explicitly endorse. This diagnostic approach shifts attention away from the arguments those philosophers give in defence of their views, suggesting that these arguments are not the factors really driving them to those views, and also not the factors we ourselves should most weigh in considering them. But although this move is characteristic of Nietzsche, he does not adopt it uniformly; he also often rebuts arguments in the more direct and traditional way, by exposing false premises and gaps in reasoning. A recurring theme in this part’s papers is the interplay between these two very different ways Nietzsche responds to philosophers’ views.

The Greeks. Jessica Berry’s piece (Chapter 4 ) shakes up the received views about Nietzsche’s career as a philologist and his relation to the Greeks. Against the common idea that he was a philologist first but then quickly came, forced by the vitriolic criticism of his first book The Birth of Tragedy, to abandon the field in favour of philosophy, Berry shows that from the beginning Nietzsche criticized philology from what he took to be a distinctly philosophical perspective. But he also, until the end of his intellectual career, continued to consider himself a philologist as well as a philosopher, and criticized philosophy from a philologist’s perspective. Similarly, his relationship with the Greeks is more nuanced than usually perceived. Berry points out that Nietzsche’s early work on Homer emphasized, against the established tradition that read the classics through the prism of Enlightenment humanist thought, that Homer in fact recognized the inevitable brutish and violent element in human (p. 4) nature, the ‘delight in drunkenness, delight in cunning, revenge, envy, slander, obscenity’. Against the common perception that Nietzsche maintains an ontology of radical flux, allegedly inspired by his reading of Heraclitus, Berry points out that Nietzsche was well aware of, and even quoted, fragments from Heraclitus that emphasized order, necessity, and stability in the course of nature. For Nietzsche, ancient Greeks such as Heraclitus and Homer were interesting not because of any doctrines they suggested, but because of the example they themselves provided of certain psychological types. And Nietzsche, like the ancient sceptics following Pyrrho, whose relation to Nietzsche Berry examines in detail, was generally more interested in the psychological consequences of philosophical doctrines than in their content, and like those sceptics he often rejected any ambitions to limn the true nature of reality.

Romanticism. Adrian Del Caro in Chapter 5 examines Nietzsche’s engagement with romanticism, contrasting his early romantic period, and the influence of Goethe, Hölderlin, and Richard Wagner, with his later attempts to ‘cure himself’ of all romanticism. A framing question here is to what extent Nietzsche shared Goethe’s famous equation of the classical with health and the romantic with sickness—which Nietzsche most often calls decadence. Del Caro pays special attention to the figure of Dionysus who first functions in The Birth of Tragedy as a romantic figure of transcendence (a representative of the Schopenhauerian transcendent world of the primally unified will), and who then later reappears as a figure of affirmation of this the one and only world, the world of becoming. He shows how early Nietzsche takes over from Hölderlin a deep appreciation of nihilism—the loss of meaning—as the fundamental problem of modernity, but later comes to see himself as repudiating Hölderlin’s insistence on the primacy of poetry over philosophy and what he takes to be Hölderlin’s nationalistic notion of cultural renewal. Despite this repudiation Del Caro argues that there are deep programmatic, and even textual, affinities between Nietzsche’s Zarathustra and Hölderlin’s Hyperion. As to Goethe, while Nietzsche praised him as a ‘European event’ he also attempted, often through mistaken claims about Goethe, to carve out his own identity as the one true prophet of cultural regeneration in the face of the nihilistic challenges romanticism and idealism pose for modernity. Del Caro argues that it was fundamentally through his engagement with Wagner that Nietzsche first came to realize that romanticism actually embodied a life-denying repudiation of this world rather than a genuine path to cultural renewal.

Kant. Tom Bailey’s chapter, the sixth in the volume, examines Nietzsche’s intense and complex engagements with Kantian idealism and Kantian ethics. Bailey shows that Nietzsche’s extensive early readings in neo-Kantianism resulted not in a theoretical endorsement of Kantian idealism, but rather in an exploration of both its therapeutic or cultural benefits and its theoretical difficulties. Bailey then distinguishes two main targets in Nietzsche’s later attack on Kantian idealism—namely, the notion of a reality inaccessible to our perceptual and conceptual capacities and the notion of judgment as providing a priori determinations of reality. Bailey argues that in his later period Nietzsche strongly denied an inaccessible reality, but wavered on the Kantian notion of judgment: he shifted from accepting this notion, and the implication (drawn by the neo-Kantian, Afrikan Spir) that empirical judgments are impossible, to rejecting the notion and holding that we can indeed make judgments about the reality accessible to us. And with his notion of the ‘will to power’, he nonetheless persisted in exploring the idea that judgements give us a priori access to reality. Regarding Kantian ethics Bailey first argues that Nietzsche’s explicit criticisms (p. 5) of it are unconvincing, primarily because they rest on misunderstandings of it. But Bailey argues that Nietzsche also developed a distinctively ‘Kantian’ ethics of his own—that is, an ethics which, like Kant’s, affirms agency as the highest and unconditional value. Nietzsche differs from Kant in admitting different degrees of agency, and therefore moral significance, across agents and over time. For Bailey, this difference provides a more persuasive explanation of Nietzsche’s consistent rejection of Kantian ethics than Nietzsche’s own explicit criticisms of it.

Schopenhauer. Ivan Soll (Chapter 7 ) argues that Nietzsche’s entire philosophical career can be seen as a response to Schopenhauer’s pessimistic assessment of the value of existence. Indeed his first published book The Birth of Tragedy, argues Soll, basically rests on a Schopenhauerian metaphysical framework. Schopenhauer’s principle of individuation applicable to the world of representations is the key element in Nietzsche’s concept of the Apollonian; and Schopenhauer’s principle of the undifferentiated nature of ultimate reality of the Will is the key element in Nietzsche’s concept of the Dionysian. Similarly, Nietzsche follows Schopenhauer in rejecting the Kantian claim that we organize the world of experience in order to make it knowable, in favour of the claim that we organize our experience so that we may have objects of our willings. For Schopenhauer and Nietzsche the Kantian notion of a faculty of reason and knowledge separate from the will is a fantasy. Where we seek truth we seek it to serve our will. However Nietzsche takes this line a step further by emphasizing that often illusion and falsity can be the most productive for achieving the will’s ends and therefore one should not reject them. Soll also sees Schopenhauer’s fundamental posit of the will as taken up in Nietzsche’s concept of the will to power: Nietzsche rejects Schopenhauer’s contention that the will has no ultimate end, and posits power as that end. Soll shows how Nietzsche’s normative and metaphysical views can be read as responses to Schopenhauer.

Analytical philosophy. The paper by Simon Robertson and David Owen (Chapter 8 ) explores Nietzsche’s influence on analytic philosophy. They focus on his relationship to the field of analytic ethics since it is here that his influence has been most notable. After briefly commenting on Nietzsche’s comparative neglect, they outline some key rationales motivating his re-evaluation of (ethical) values and, in particular, his critique of modern morality. To demonstrate his influence on the work of Charles Taylor, Alasdair Macintyre, and Bernard Williams, they consider the role of Nietzsche’s genealogical method in his re-evaluative project. This raises the important questions of how genealogy can be relevant to morality, and on what basis Nietzsche carries out his critique of morality. Robertson and Owen show how Taylor uses his notion of hypergoods to explain how Nietzsche’s genealogies might support a reassessment of moral values, and how Macintyre uses the notion of epistemological crises to explain Nietzsche’s strategy of critique. Williams, by contrast, takes Nietzsche to be offering fictional stories in order to elucidate real psychological processes whose very existence undermines the motivation to be moral in the received sense of that term. This leads to a consideration of Nietzsche’s criticisms of moral objectivity and authority as elucidated by Williams and by Philippa Foot. After considering Nietzsche’s substantive critique of the value of moral values and its relation to some similar-looking objections developed by a range of more recent morality critics the piece concludes with some brief suggestions as to where further engagement with Nietzsche by analytic moral philosophers might fruitfully take place.

(p. 6) Principal Works

Many of Nietzsche’s books are strikingly unlike one another. They differ not just in style but in purpose; some indeed belong to distinct genres. The prevailing interpretive practice of juxtaposing extracts from many of his books to construe Nietzsche’s position on a topic runs the danger of missing how the sense of each passage is affected by its context in a work. As a counter to this tendency we include articles on a number of Nietzsche’s books, to bring out the specific problems, methods, and procedures that characterize them. These articles treat many of the topics covered later in this volume, but within the scope and project of particular works in which they are prominent.

The Birth of Tragedy. Nietzsche’s first book develops his famous contrast between the Apollonian and Dionysian, the latter supplying a harsh truth about the world, the former a beautifying illusion that makes it bearable. Daniel Came in Chapter 9 argues, against Reginster in particular, that Nietzsche held essentially the same position in his late works as well: that illusion is necessary in order to affirm life—in order to tolerate seeing it to some extent as it is. In The Birth of Tragedy the Apollonian illusion is built into tragedy itself, fused with the Dionysian insight into the inevitability of suffering; this renders it healthier than either the purely Apollonian, or a Socratic optimism of rationality. And, though not well recognized, the amor fati that Nietzsche promotes in his much later works depends on illusion too, because it involves seeing the necessary as beautiful—an aesthetic judgment that must be false, Came argues, due to Nietzsche’s general anti-realism about values. Similarly the project of self-creation that Nietzsche advocates involves a self-beautifying illusion, for example by ‘standing back’ from one’s character and not scrutinizing it too closely. Nietzsche indeed has, Came suggests, a ‘pretence theory of the self’, so that any conception of one’s self will have to involve illusion. Thus, he argues, the early position of The Birth of Tragedy on this crucial topic is much more stable in Nietzsche than it is typically regarded to be.

Unfashionable Observations. This set of four polemical essays was written 1873–6. As Keith Ansell-Pearson (Chapter 10 ) shows, they are principally attacks on several aspects of the prevailing (German) culture, but also have broader and more positive implications that give them a thematic unity. Ansell-Pearson focuses on one theme that unites them, along with other works of this early period: Nietzsche’s commitment to the sublime as a standard for judging the present age. Nietzsche opposes this sublime to a philistine comfortableness; he thinks it is the role of philosophy to elevate a people, so that they aspire to greatness. In the first essay, on David Strauss, Nietzsche scorns German self-satisfaction after its military victory over France; this has nothing at all to do with great culture. Nietzsche diagnoses among the ‘cultural elite’ a merely mock culture, dependent on predecessors and creating nothing itself. In the third essay Nietzsche offers Schopenhauer as a genuine philosopher in his effort to rise above merely academic questions and to advise us on the art of living—an art that aims at greatness and so disregards the fashions of the time. Turning back to the second essay, on history, Ansell-Pearson shows how Nietzsche values history mainly for its power to restore life’s ‘possibilities’ to us, in the example of the highest individuals, who live concurrently by virtue of history. This theme of greatness or sublimity will obviously preoccupy Nietzsche through his later works as well. (p. 7)

The Gay Science. As Christopher Janaway (Chapter 11 ) remarks, this is one of Nietzsche’s most important books, reflected in the way he comes back to it—after his wrenching crisis over Lou Salomé, after Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil—to add not just a preface but an ambitious fifth book. The Gay Science introduces some of Nietzsche’s most important topics; Janaway reviews and advances debate on several of these. The book’s title reflects its ambition to handle painful truths, arrived at by some kind of science, in a cheerful and uplifting way. One such truth is the death of God, and the way this must pull down with it God’s ‘shadow’, morality, as we find out the truth about its origins. Nietzsche focuses his critique of morality on its value of compassion; Janaway brings out the nuance and complexity to his assessment of it. The most sensational idea introduced in the book is the thought of eternal return; large puzzles arise about the use Nietzsche makes of this thought, and Janaway sorts them and offers his own proposal. He also points out how the challenge to will the return of one’s life ‘just as it is’ seems at odds with Nietzsche’s advocacy of artistically fashioning and falsifying one’s life. Janaway suggests that Nietzsche was indeed ‘troubled’ over how to reconcile truth and art, rejecting efforts to resolve the tension by subordinating either to the other. This leads Janaway lastly to Nietzsche’s critique of our usual scientific methods for seeking truth; rather than renouncing truth, Nietzsche anticipates a new ‘science’ better aimed at what truth there is.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Nietzsche proclaims this book as his greatest achievement, but his philosophical interpreters have often disagreed; it seems to lack the argument that would make it genuinely philosophical. Gudrun von Tevenar (Chapter 12 ) aims to rehabilitate the work for philosophical attention. She points out that although it has parodic elements its main purpose can’t be parody. Nietzsche’s assertion that it is ‘tragedy’ is initially confusing, but refers to the fearful ‘overcoming’ which Zarathustra accomplishes and von Tevenar undertakes to explicate. This overcoming is of, in particular, pity and disgust, directed at humanity in its smallness and pettiness. Von Tevenar examines the conflict in Zarathustra between this disgust at humanity and his love for it; he wants not to resolve this contradiction, but to find wholeness through it. We see this in his ‘counter-ideal’ to Christianity, which, von Tevenar argues, involves a new kind of love, with three components: a discrimination by order of rank, a replacement of God and Messiah with the Übermensch, and a love for self-sacrifice from one’s need to ‘go under’. Nietzsche also replaces the Christian notion of eternity with a sexualized, earthly analogue. Lastly von Tevenar examines the relationship between Zarathustra and Jesus: they are more akin than we might have thought, and indeed Nietzsche may mean Zarathustra’s path as the one Jesus might have taken had he matured beyond thirty.

Beyond Good and Evil. Maudemarie Clark and David Dudrick (Chapter 13 ) argue that this book has best claim to be Nietzsche’s most important philosophical work. Yet, they point out, the work’s form and content pose problems for finding much philosophical significance in it. The first step is to recognize that Nietzsche intends the book to be capable of both an exoteric and an esoteric reading; in the former it articulates a crude naturalism, but in the latter he has normative aspirations that leave behind the methods of science. Clark and Dudrick begin with the Preface’s famous comparison of truth with ‘a female’ and observe how his point echoes Kant’s in his Preface to the first edition of the first Critique: Nietzsche too wants to diagnose the failure of dogmatic metaphysics, and learn from it a way to satisfy philosophy’s original promise. The point, Clark and Dudrick argue, is to exploit the ‘magnificent tension of the spirit’ between the will to truth and the will to value. They pursue this (p. 8) point into a close reading of sections 3 and 4 of Beyond Good and Evil. They find the clue leading from the exoteric sense of these sections to their esoteric and genuine sense—the sense in which they speak Nietzsche’s ‘new language’—in BGE 3’s reference to Protagorean relativism. When we realize that Nietzsche accepts this relativization of truth to humanity, we see that ‘false’ in his new language means not corresponding to a standard beyond man. Nietzsche’s denial of such a transcendent standard means that these sections do not state a critique of truth, but rather his denial that our cognitive practices require (or are capable of) an external justification. Reading the rest of the book along these lines, and finding out its further esoteric senses, shows its philosophical sophistication and importance.

On the Genealogy of Morality. Probably this book has had the greatest recent influence and is most likely today to be read by students and treated by philosophers. This may be partly due to its format: Richard Schacht in Chapter 14 notes that, in its three essays, it is the only late exception to Nietzsche’s usual ‘aphoristic’ style. Schacht brings out nuances in the very title, and points out that the term ‘genealogy’ is rarely used in the book itself; it isn’t Nietzsche’s title for a worked-out method, as often supposed. The book carries on a search for the origins or history of human values and practices, which Nietzsche had pursued in earlier works; Schacht shows how the latter anticipate its ideas, including even its famous distinction between master and slave moralities. The book’s Preface sets the overall purpose of the essays, to examine the origins of current morality, as preparation for a ‘revaluation’ of this morality’s value—a revaluation that Genealogy itself forgoes. Schacht then treats key issues regarding each of the book’s three essays. The first essay presents slave morality as arising out of ressentiment against masters; Nietzsche thinks—in Lamarckian fashion, Schacht argues—that this resentful attitude or affect becomes ingrained, and is inherited in later generations. The second essay centres on the phenomenon of ‘bad conscience’. Schacht shows how Nietzsche treats this not just critically, but also as making possible that ‘artist’s cruelty’ which makes possible a new kind of human enhancement. The third essay tells still another story, this time about the ‘ascetic ideal’, a ‘will to transcend’ certain essential features of life—such as appearance, change, even willing—from which life suffers. Schacht argues that although Nietzsche finds this ascetic ideal present in the ‘unconditional will to truth’, this by no means implies that Nietzsche abandons truth as an aim. These three stories, Schacht suggests, should be understood as ‘conjectures’ and as examples of the kind of thinking we must do if we’re to understand morality and values.

The Antichrist. Dylan Jaggard argues in Chapter 15 that we should read this work as supplying historical evidence for the diagnosis of Christianity, evidence that the Genealogy largely lacked. Nietzsche wants to find out the truth about Christianity and in particular how it denies or disvalues ‘life’. He thereby turns truth into service of life, whereas previously it had mainly served the denial of life. Jaggard goes on to treat Nietzsche’s account of the origins of Christianity in Judaism; Nietzsche relies here on the biblical scholar Julius Wellhausen’s account of the early history of the Jews, and superimposes upon this a psychological reading of how the different historical situations are reflected in the different ideas of God layered into the Pentateuch. The overall character of the development is towards a moral and legal outlook in which relation to God is mediated by priests and laws. Jaggard shows how Nietzsche presents Christianity developing from this root; it is framed not so much by the historical Jesus as by the distortions of him imposed by the early Christians, Paul in particular. These early disciples mistake the quasi-Buddhist example Jesus meant to set. Motivated by resentment over his death, they interpret his ‘kingdom of God’, by which (p. 9) he meant an inner peace, into a realm after death in which sinners would be punished and the good rewarded. Finally Jaggard turns to the lessons Nietzsche draws from this history for today: although Christianity may be suited to many due to their sickness, some have the opportunity to abandon the idea of a moral world order and to give up some—though Jaggard argues far from all—of the Christian values.

Ecce Homo. Nietzsche’s autobiography (if that’s quite what it is), written at the very end of his productive years, is of obvious interest. Christa Acampora (Chapter 16 ) focuses on what the book says on the difficult topics of agency, fate, and freedom. She begins with the book’s subtitle, ‘How one becomes what one is’: Nietzsche’s account of his life will also clarify this famous expression for an ideal or favoured path of personal development. Acampora shows how Nietzsche thinks a person is really a set of drives ordered or ranked a certain way (which is the person’s ‘type’); there’s no will or subject separate from these that could carry out the work of becoming. Nevertheless, as Acampora shows, Nietzsche thinks that work depends on the exercise of a certain ‘selfishness’, which includes, in part, careful attention to seeming trivialities like diet and climate. Moreover this selfishness needs to be expressed in a struggle and fight against ‘objects of resistance’ and indeed ‘enemies’; Acampora suggests that the primary aim is to incorporate this opposition rather than to destroy it, though she notes that Nietzsche often speaks of destroying. By these fights one both expresses one’s internal order of rank, and accomplishes it. Indeed it is even possible to change one’s constitutive rank order, and so the ‘type’ to which one belongs; this happens by a reorganization of one’s drives, carried out not by a separate will, but by those competing drives themselves. But what is most important is that the drives be pulled together into a more thorough unity, so that one becomes more fully a single thing. By all of these tactics, Acampora argues, Nietzsche holds that some of us can become what we are.


Nietzsche’s normative agenda is notoriously difficult to pin down. His denial of the objectivity of values, and insistence on their perspectivity, presses on us metaethical questions about the force with which he offers his values. One particular such question is whether he means them ‘aesthetically’, rather than morally or ethically, and if so just what this involves. As to what values he offers us, much recent work has argued that he values self-creation, autonomy, and a certain kind of free will. He also famously characterizes his ideal as of an ‘overman’. But what exactly is involved in these notions of autonomy and the overman requires detailed development. Moreover these positive values raise questions about their implications for the values of equality and justice: does pursuit of Nietzsche’s ideal require a kind of hierarchy and the dismissal or even subjugation of the weak by the strong?

Metaethics. Nadeem Hussain (Chapter 17 ) begins with a brief review of the major kinds of traditional metaethical theories which may be roughly divided into cognitivist theories which allow for genuine beliefs about morality and take moral claims to be truth-apt, and non-cognitivist theories which take the use of an indicative sentence such as ‘Torture is wrong’ not to express beliefs of any kind and take such sentences not to be truth-apt. While many passages in Nietzsche’s texts can look initially as though they express metaethical (p. 10) positions, any attempt to ascribe some particular metaethical stance to Nietzsche must deal with the fact that the metaethical suggestions in these passages can easily seem to contradict each other. After considering the initial textual evidence for ascribing versions of various metaethical positions to Nietzsche, Hussain considers objections to such ascriptions. He first treats interpretations of Nietzsche as some kind of cognitivist, holding, respectively, an error theory, or some kind of revolutionary fictionalism, or some form of subjective realism. These interpretations are related to attempts to ascribe to Nietzsche a new set of ultimate values based on such notions as will to power or life. Hussain then treats interpretations which take Nietzsche to be some kind of non-cognitivist, but shows reasons to doubt such ascriptions of subjectivism and non-cognitivism. The chapter ends with serious consideration of the view that perhaps Nietzsche simply does not have a considered metaethical stance.

Aesthetic values. Starting from Nietzsche’s observation that ‘life without music would be an error’, Aaron Ridley (Chapter 18 ) argues that aesthetic values permeate Nietzsche’s philosophy from his earliest to his last books. Much of Nietzsche’s work can be seen as creating an aesthetic theodicy, as heralded in his famous aperçu that it is ‘only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified’. Ridley goes on to show that artistry is not confined to the creation of conventional works of art but occurs in the form-giving that is essential to all human forms of life. Since Nietzsche, despite his various animadversions on metaphysics, remained committed to the view that the world is in some basic sense chaotic and meaningless, he held that only by imposing forms can we create a cognizable world. This close association between the conditions of life itself and the aesthetic activity of giving form is shown to belie the Kantian conception, taken up by Schopenhauer, that any appreciation of aesthetic phenomena is essentially disinterested. The aesthetic activity of form-giving is further shown to be an essential part of self-creation. Ridley notes the tension between those passages such as the first part of GS 290 that suggest a deliberate conscious plan of self-creation and those such as EH 2, 9 that trumpet the importance of non-conscious subterranean forces. He argues that Nietzsche wants both, since he thinks both are aspects of artistry, which requires both conscious planning, but also subjection to laws that only emerge in the creative endeavour itself.

Autonomy. Lanier Anderson argues in Chapter 19 that the notion of autonomy is central to Nietzsche’s philosophical concerns, and traces different interpretive construals of his notion back to differing views about the main philosophical work Nietzsche wanted it to do. Anderson distinguishes six main interpretive approaches, each with its own conception of autonomy: (1) autonomy as spontaneous self-determination, in the sense of traditional free will; (2) a ‘standard model’ interpretation counting actions as autonomous when they are caused by rationalizing beliefs and desires; (3) a view that traces autonomy to a Kantian transcendental subject; (4) constitutivist theories that seek to explain the source of normativity by ‘deriving ethics from action’; (5) ‘hierarchical model’ interpretations arguing that complex, higher-order attitudes ‘speak for the agent’, and thereby constitute her autonomy; and (6) conceptions of autonomy as an ethical ideal. Nietzsche’s own remarks about autonomy suggest that he construed it as a rare achievement, proper to a relatively few excellent lives, and this feature tends to support the interpretation of Nietzschean autonomy as an ethical ideal. The chapter explores the connection between that conception and Nietzsche’s views on strength and weakness of will.

The overman. Randall Havas (Chapter 20 ) argues that the notion of the overman is strongly connected to Nietzsche’s conceptions of agency and free will. Nietzsche thinks of (p. 11) human actions as commitments and of the latter as irreducibly temporal inasmuch as commitment requires both obedience to the past and responsibility for the future. More specifically, in making any possibility his own, the agent commits himself to certain outcomes in the face of contingencies beyond his control. The overman is someone who has overcome his aversion to the temporal character of action in this dual sense. He no longer has ill will towards the past as that which determines his current possibilities, nor does he have ill will to the fact that his plans for the future are nevertheless a hostage to fate—his best-laid plans may fail. In Nietzsche’s view, such overcoming is achieved in the first place in the overman’s relations to his ‘peers’. This shows that the familiar picture of the Nietzschean overman as someone who lives out his life in indifference to others should be rejected in favour of an account that sees the highest form of human life as the achievement of a form of mutuality with others who are similarly capable of affirming the temporal character of human agency. This involves a sense of responsibility that is only possible when one has given up the notion of an external grounding such as God. Such a sense of responsibility is a constitutive condition of agency. Agency and free will, then, involve not the ability to escape the constraints of time and necessity but the ability to will those very constraints.

Order of rank. Robert Guay’s paper (Chapter 21 ) argues for the importance of Nietzsche’s conception of ‘order of rank’ for understanding his philosophical enterprise as a whole. He demonstrates that with the notion of order of rank Nietzsche means to positively advocate some form of hierarchy in opposition to what he sees as an unreflective modern consensus on egalitarianism. On this reading order of rank is as essential to Nietzsche’s project as are the notions of will to power and revaluation of values. Guay identifies five interpretations of order of rank: Natural Aristocracy, Mythic Archaism, Political, Anthropological, and Transcendental, and then argues that it is the Transcendental that is fundamental for Nietzsche. He argues that only the Transcendental interpretation can account for several of Nietzsche’s claims about order of rank: that it is ‘problematic’, constructed, processual, primarily important to ‘the human type’ rather than to various fixed types, and intrinsically social in nature. On this Transcendental interpretation, Nietzsche presents order of rank not substantively, as a recommended set of hierarchical values among persons, but as a condition for the availability of normative authority. Nietzsche employs ‘order of rank’, that is, precisely because the idea that human beings fall into fixed types is problematic, and he sees this as provoking a series of questions on how natural beings could sustain any normative order, what sort of social dynamic this would entail, how plastic our normative commitments might be, and how these commitments might potentially raise our status as human beings.

Promising. Mark Migotti in Chapter 22 aims to explain 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. He begins by arguing that Nietzsche’s philosophical focus is not on promising in the narrow sense of making a pledge to do something for someone else, but in the broader sense of pledging or committing oneself in general. Migotti contrasts Nietzsche’s approach to promissory fidelity with what Migotti calls the moral obligation tradition of thinking on the subject, and argues that, in its focus on questions of what it means and how it is possible to bind oneself to a course of action, the Nietzschean approach is philosophically deeper than the moral obligation approach. A concluding section turns to interpretive debates about the role of the sovereign individual in Nietzsche’s thought and shows that revisionist readings of Genealogy (p. 12) II: 1–2, according to which Nietzsche is not really in favour of sovereign individuality and sovereign promising, are misconceived.

Peoples and races. Jacob Golomb in Chapter 23 argues that a balanced understanding of Nietzsche’s attitude toward races, nationalism, and politics can be best reached by examining his anthropological philosophy with its pivotal principle of the will to power. Nietzsche’s emphasis on sublimation rather than domination as the will to power’s most genuine exercise argues against Nazi and fascist misappropriations of his thought. For Nietzsche the most sublime use of will to power is directed at self-overcoming rather than the subjugation of others. What Nietzsche prized above all was spiritual power (Macht) not the brute political force (Kraft) or the violent act (Gewalt) which he denounced with all the sarcasm at his command. By the same token, Nietzsche’s Übermensch is one who has used this power to sublimate his naturally conflicting drives into a unified and authentic whole; he is one who has overcome his own ‘human, all too human’ nature; rather than one who tries to literally overcome other humans, as the most facile interpretations would have it. Nietzsche rejects the totalitarian state, whose severe demand for conformity precludes the very existence of the Übermensch, as ‘a fearful tyranny, as an oppressive and remorseless machine’ (GM II: 17) and calls such a totalitarian state (perhaps under Hobbes’s influence) ‘the coldest of all cold monsters’ (Z I: ‘On the New Idol’). Golomb concludes with the rhetorical question ‘Can one imagine a Nazi, fascist, or even a proto-Nazi wearing a brown or black shirt (the camicie nere of Mussolini’s time) saying such things of his or her Vaterland?’

Epistemology and Metaphysics

These traditional philosophical rubrics are disputed by Nietzsche, and his views don’t fit comfortably within them. Nevertheless he addresses issues ‘in the neighbourhood’ of the long-standing problems about truth and knowledge, being and time. At issue is just how deeply and thoroughly his critique of these notions goes. Does he still believe in truth, for example, or do his ‘perspectivism’, his ‘aestheticism’, and/or his diagnosis of truth as ascetic show that he quite rejects it (either its possibility or its value)? To what extent does he value science’s truths, and model his own theories after it? And when he denies being in favour of becoming, how radically is he reconceiving things—if there still are things at all for him? Is this idea of becoming a theory about time, and how is it related to his famous thought of eternal recurrence?

Perspectivism. Ken Gemes (Chapter 24 ) argues that Nietzsche’s perspectivism should be read as a ‘psycho-biological’ claim, and not as either an epistemological or semantic claim. He first examines and rebuts readings of it as a semantic claim about the nature of truth. These come in two versions: the first takes it as the thesis that true claims are ‘only perspectivally true’, which is taken to conflict with the correspondence theory of truth; the second takes it as the thesis that there are no facts, and no truth, at all. Gemes shows that these views run into severe problems of incoherence, and are also little supported in Nietzsche’s texts. He turns next to readings of the perspectivism as an epistemological claim that all knowledge depends on interests or affects. To be interesting, the claim must be that interests play not just a causal but a constitutive role with respect to knowledge, but interpreters (p. 13) do not make clear how this constituting would work. And counting against both semantic and epistemological readings, Gemes argues, is Nietzsche’s general focus not on theories of truth or knowledge, but on psychological diagnoses of the wills to truth and to knowledge. Those readings are also at odds with Nietzsche’s attribution of perspectives to all living things, including things, e.g. plants, incapable of truth or knowledge. Gemes then turns to his positive suggestion, that the perspectivism is, in its overt and descriptive component, the claim that every drive has a perspective that it seeks to express, often against other drives. And perspectivism also has an implicit prescriptive component, the claim that the healthiest life involves the maximal expression of the richest set of drives, each with its own perspective. Gemes shows how Nietzsche stresses the synthesis of multiple drives, effected by not repressing but rather sublimating them, as illustrated in Freud’s analysis of Leonardo. Here, rather than in questions about truth or knowledge, is the centre of Nietzsche’s interest in perspectives.

Naturalism. Brian Leiter in Chapter 25 revisits his influential account of Nietzsche as a naturalist—both a ‘Methodological Naturalist’, holding that philosophical inquiry should model its theories on science’s, as well as a ‘Substantive Naturalist’ holding that man doesn’t have a different origin from the rest of nature. Leiter shows the sources of Nietzsche’s position in the German naturalism of the mid-nineteenth century, in particular the work of Lange. His naturalism is, however, ‘speculative’, in that he postulates causal mechanisms not confirmed by science. Nietzsche’s ambition to explain morality naturalistically coexists with a ‘therapeutic’ ambition to induce some readers to escape from morality; still, Leiter argues, we can separate out the positions he arrives at by his naturalism, from the rhetorical strategies he employs therapeutically. Leiter goes on to address several doubts that might arise against reading Nietzsche as a naturalist. First, his reference to cultural phenomena is no impediment to his naturalism. Second, Nietzsche’s explanation by ‘causes’ is both strong enough to be interesting, and also not really at odds with passages (in the mature works at least) in which he seems to express doubts about causation. Third, Nietzsche’s seeming reliance on the notion of will to power in his explanations does not militate against reading him as a naturalist, Leiter argues, because he relies only on a psychological version of this thesis, and not on a ‘crackpot’ metaphysical version. Leiter concludes by summing up some of Nietzsche’s psychological theses that seem to have been confirmed by recent scientific findings.

Aestheticism. Sebastian Gardner’s paper (Chapter 26 ) presents Nietzsche’s ‘philosophical aestheticism’ as a position that extends from The Birth of Tragedy right through to the late writing, not abandoned even in the ‘positivist’ works (Human, All Too Human and Daybreak) in which Nietzsche is far more critical of art. Already in The Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche denies metaphysical truth to art, since he presents (Gardner argues) the Dionysian world—the Schopenhauerian ‘artist’s metaphysics’—not as real but as a necessary posit for fulfilment of our practical needs. And when Nietzsche criticizes art in those positivist works, his focus is on its modern, romantic form, and he leaves untouched whether it did (among the Greeks) or could in future play that favourable role. Central to Nietzsche’s later aesthetic theory is the notion of an aesthetic state, which Gardner characterizes as a ‘cycle of projection and introjection’: we invest the object with properties that it then ‘restores to us in a heightened form’. We view it as an Apollonian appearance imposed on a Dionysian ground, and judge that this view—and the way it shows the world generally—enhances our feeling of life. This aesthetic projection involves us in false beliefs, but we at least see them as (p. 14) false. And by this aesthetic state we mediate between our theoretical reason (with its commitment to truth) and our practical reason (committed to life) in a way that sustains the tension between these, ‘so that the bow should not break’. Gardner notes, finally, that this great importance Nietzsche gives to the aesthetic state is not matched by extensive treatment of art, because he still has the doubts expressed in Human, All Too Human about contemporary artistic culture. Instead, Gardner suggests, he associates the aesthetic state with his own philosophical ideas of will to power and eternal recurrence: these give to the world the ‘affective colouring’ of, respectively, the Apollonian and Dionysian visions, so recapitulating Birth of Tragedy’s union of these.

Becoming. Robin Small in Chapter 27 points out how Nietzsche finds becoming—but also being—at odds with both knowledge and life. He examines Nietzsche’s handling of this quandary, beginning with its historical part: Nietzsche’s story of how the philosophical tradition first builds the concept of being, but then pulls it down by the stages described in the famous ‘history of an error’ chapter in Twilight of the Idols. This development culminates in the replacement of being with becoming, Small suggests. But to see what Nietzsche means by becoming we need to see its surprising relation to time. We arrive at a genuine sense of becoming only by stripping away our experience of time as succession, Small argues. Nietzsche thinks this happens in our dreams, whose ‘time chaos’ gives us a sense of becoming. We make this becoming into time by positing (falsely) both periods of non-change (rest) and discontinuities in what is really continuous change. By these posits we arrive at a distinction between the persisting substance and its successive states, which helps us to deal effectively with our environment, but at the cost of misconceiving the world in terms of being. We experience time as involving a conflict between future and past, and this is a temporal interpretation of a deeper conflict within becoming. Nietzsche’s attempted solution to this conflict, and to the opening predicament about becoming and being, lies in his thought of eternal return, Small proposes: this joins future and past, and also ‘stamps being on becoming’ in a way that makes each individual life an ‘image of eternity’.

Eternal recurrence. Paul Loeb in Chapter 28 runs emphatically against the grain of most recent interpretations of this idea, in taking Nietzsche to offer it not as a challenge or thought experiment, but as a cosmological truth: only this lets us see why he considered it his most important teaching. Loeb suggests that the broad recent failure to see the idea’s meaning derives from the question-begging presumption that it is obviously false or absurd. He also blames the tendency to discount and disregard Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in which the idea is principally presented; interpreters focus instead on what is merely a preview, in Gay Science 341. And they usually misread even this section because they miss the context provided by GS 340; this identifies the ‘demon’ who announces eternal recurrence as Socrates’ demon, and the time of the announcement as Socrates’ death. GS 342 then introduces Zarathustra as the individual who will, in dying, react to eternal recurrence with joy, rather than Socrates’ despair. Turning to Zarathustra, Loeb focuses on its ‘Vision and Riddle’ chapter, which he argues presents eternal recurrence as supported by ‘direct mnemonic evidence’—memory of having lived certain moments before. Indeed, Loeb claims, it even presents Zarathustra as enjoying ‘prospective memory’ of events yet to come in his life. Although commentators claim that Nietzsche never offers any proof of cosmological eternal recurrence in his published texts, Loeb argues that in fact he does so in this Zarathustra chapter as well as in his first presentation of the doctrine in GS 109. In particular, Loeb argues, the Zarathustra proof makes clear that Nietzsche posits the recurrence of time itself, so that Zarathustra (p. 15) (e.g.) returns, when he dies, to the past moment when he began living. Finally, Loeb argues that the usual interpretation of eternal recurrence as a thought experiment cannot explain why we should carry out just this experiment. Why, in particular, should I ‘affirm my non-recurring life by craving its eternal recurrence’? This would express life denial by wanting my life to be other than it is. So this prevailing interpretation can’t even account for the practical role Nietzsche gives it.

Developments of Will to Power

Although Nietzsche makes emphatic attacks on metaphysics he sometimes seems, especially in his notebooks, to develop and defend an ontology himself, expressing it especially in his idea of will to power. He attributes such a will to life generally, but mainly uses the notion to explain human experience and behaviour, where it plays a role in his ‘drive psychology’. There are large challenges to explain just what Nietzsche means by ‘will to power’ and what status he gives it—and to reconcile these positions with his critiques of metaphysics. One particular issue is whether and how he uses the idea in support of his normative agenda—in support of his revaluation of values. And questions have also been raised as to how useful and plausible the notions of will to power and drives can be, even in their narrower applications to human psychology. The papers in this last Part address these questions.

Will to power and causation. Poellner’s essay (Chapter 29 ) examines the extensive metaphysical reflections in Nietzsche’s later writings, the great bulk of them in his notebooks. It argues that a large number of these reflections take their departure from his (plausible) rejection of regularity accounts of causation. Nietzsche thinks we cannot adequately understand causation without reference to causal powers, and he accepts a dynamist physics according to which the physical world is exhaustively constituted by powers, so that his ultimate ontology consists of a world of force-like rather than thing-like entities. It is shown how this metaphysics underwrites his claim of the primacy of becoming over being. His metaphysics of the will to power involves two further basic premises: first, that all causal powers we are directly acquainted with are essentially dependent on volition; secondly, that all conscious volitions (effective desires) are reducible to the will to power—desires for the experience of successful activity. Nietzsche concludes that, unless we are sceptical about the intrinsic nature of causal force, we need to understand it in terms of the will to power. The essay reconstructs the reasoning which leads Nietzsche, in the notebooks, to this metaphysics, and assesses some of its salient constituent claims. In the final section, it addresses the question of Nietzsche’s commitment to these ideas, given his sceptical or dismissive thoughts on metaphysics in (most of) the mature published writings. Poellner proposes that there is a genuine conflict in his later thought, and that Nietzsche in his late period was alternately drawn towards metaphysical indifferentism and panpsychist metaphysics.

Will to power and values. Bernard Reginster in Chapter 30 argues that will to power is a desire for effective agency. As opposed to Richardson’s claim that the will to power is a second-order phenomenon accompanying each first-order drive, Reginster’s idea, put in terms of drive psychology, is that the will to power is an independent self-standing drive. He shows how this helps explain Nietzsche’s psychology of the slave revolt in morality. The point of this revolt and its ressentiment-inspired revaluation is not that it allows the slaves to (p. 16) subvert and gain power over the masters, but that it provides an interpretation of the world that allows the slaves to see themselves as effective agents; as such it is an expression of their will to power. The main point of the invention of the notion of free will is not to facilitate the blaming and holding responsible of their oppressor, the masters, but to praise themselves for choosing to remain passive in the wake of the masters’ provocations. Similarly, the ascetic ideal embraced by the powerless functions to heighten their feeling of power, since in conforming to the dictates of that ideal they gain power over themselves (their drives to be more active), and come to see their weakness—their inability to act on their natural aggressive drives—as strength—their claimed choice to refrain from acting on those drives. Furthermore, this account explains why Nietzsche takes morality to be pathological: under severe restrictions, the will to power is eventually induced to turn against itself—to become a ‘will to nothingness’.

Drives. Paul Katsafanas (Chapter 31 ) treats what is arguably the most fundamental notion in Nietzsche’s psychological analyses of human action and morality, the notion of a drive. Notoriously, Nietzsche talks of drives in terms usually ascribed to full-blown agents; thus he talks of drives valuing and interpreting and of drives having perspectives. Katsafanas notes that this may easily lead to the following dilemma: either drives are taken to be mere dispositions—in which case it is hard to accommodate Nietzsche’s agential descriptions of them as interpreting and valuing and as having perspectives; on the other hand, drives may be seen as agent-like homunculi—in which case it appears that they cannot explain such phenomena as agency and selfhood since they already presume these very notions. Katsafanas proposes to solve this dilemma by arguing that drives are indeed dispositions but that they are dispositions that lead agents to affective orientations. The key point here is that it is not the drive by itself that is literally doing the interpreting or valuing—hence the drive is not a homunculus; nevertheless the drive is orienting the agent towards certain valuations and interpretations.

Life. John Richardson in Chapter 32 examines Nietzsche’s idea of ‘life’, and in particular the use he makes of it in evaluating values and in justifying his own values. It distinguishes several different senses ‘life’ might have—biological, human, phenomenal, personal, poetic—and shows how the first four are joined together in Nietzsche’s analysis of humans as complexes of drives deposited during the deep history of biological and cultural evolution. It tries similarly to clarify Nietzsche’s idea of ‘value’: he ‘naturalizes’ values, and also disputes the prevailing conception of values, which makes them principles followed by agents; against these ‘agent values’ he argues for the efficacy of ‘body values’. Given these accounts of what Nietzsche means by ‘life’ and ‘value’, the paper goes on to see how he intends the former to bear on the latter. What authority does life have, what criterion does it give for revaluing values, and what correction in our values does this criterion dictate? The paper shows how Nietzsche answers these questions, and does so in a way that addresses the obvious challenge to his argument from life to values, that this commits the naturalistic fallacy. It gives these answers in two stages: first presenting them as lessons learned from biological life—its will to power embedded deeply in us—and applied to correct our agent values, then presenting them as more radically revising the role of agent values in us, by restoring authority to our bodily taste and feeling (a change indicated in the way Zarathustra presents Life as the object of sexual love).