Joe's Reviews > Nietzsche's Critiques: The Kantian Foundations of His Thought

Nietzsche's Critiques by R. Kevin Hill
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's review
Jan 28, 2015

really liked it
bookshelves: reviewed, nietzsche, modern-philosophy, neo-kantianism, metaphysics


The New 'New Nietzsche'

Now, it certainly isn't everyday that one runs across a new interpretation of Nietzsche! Well, this book (among others) has in fact achieved that. This book on the Kantian roots of Nietzsche's thought is one among several, including:

Michael Steven Green: Nietzsche and the Transcendental Tradition
Robin Small: Nietzsche in Context
George J. Stack: Nietzsche's Anthropic Circle : Man, Science, and Myth

Most students of my generation, here in America, began our exploration of Nietzsche with the sober Walter Kaufmann and analytically-minded Arthur Danto.. Later, in the mid-sixties and seventies, we became acquainted with the "New Nietzsche', that is the so-called Continental (e.g., Heidegger, Jaspers, and Karl Löwith) and Postmodern (Deleuze, Derrida, and Foucault) interpretations. Later still, we became aware of the 'esoteric' Nietzsche of both Pierre Klossowski and Leo Strauss and his school (Laurence Lampert, Stanley Rosen). Well, now the latest Nietzsche is the Kantian Nietzsche. Nietzschean interpretation now has Radical Kantianism to range alongside the Continental, Postmodern, Straussian and Analytic interpretations. Bravo!

A good 'rallying cry' for this new interpretation was provided by Green in his 'Nietzsche and the Transcendental Tradition' where he says of Nietzsche that:

"His exposure to philosophy primarily came from two sources. He knew a great deal about ancient philosophy, especially Plato and the pre-Socratics by virtue of his philological training. And he had read a number of philosophers in the nineteenth-century Neo-Kantian tradition, such as Schopenhauer, Friedrich Albert Lange, Gustav Teichmuller and Afrikan Spir. It is to these writer we should primarily look to understand what Nietzsche was talking about, not Derrida or Foucault and not Tarski or Quine." (Green, Introduction, p. 3.)

Our author, R. Kevin Hill, will argue for the centrality of Schopenhauer, Friedrich Albert Lange and Kuno Fischer in Nietzsche's understanding of Kant and Kantianism. I will be stepping on no ones toes if I say that a generation ago almost no readers of Nietzsche were studying the neo-Kantian canon - with the single exception of Schopenhauer, of course. Some of the most important of these relatively unknown neo-Kantian works are:

F. A. Lange: The History of Materialism and Criticism of its Present Importance
Kuno Fischer: A Commentary on Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason"
Afrikan Spir: Right and Wrong
Jules de Gaultier: From Kant to Nietzsche
Hans Vaihinger: The Philosophy of As If

We absolutely will NEVER see Nietzsche until we see him in the sea in which he swam. This means becoming acquainted with not only Kant and Schopenhauer but also the works mentioned above. Note that both de Gaultier and Vaihinger are after Nietzsche's intervention but they help show us the trajectory of neo-Kantianism.

I want to add, regarding the 'Kantian Nietzsche', that even though it perhaps shows that I am far too easily excited I am delighted by this emergent trend in Nietzsche interpretation. Also I should point out that Nietzsche is at his most 'Kantian' in the notes he never saw fit to publish (i.e., Will to Power). Now, all these works mentioned above should be in any college library but I doubt that most public libraries would have them all. These books on Nietzsche, btw, understand themselves to be, for the most part, disputing and disproving the postmodern understanding of Nietzsche. They can however, or so I would argue, be understood to be exposing the radical Kantian roots of this very Nietzschean postmodernism.

How? Well, in 'Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology: Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984, Volume II' there is an essay almost entirely ghost-written, and thus approved, by Foucault. The essay 'Foucault' (p. 459) begins thusly "To the extent that Foucault fits into the philosophical tradition, it is the critical tradition of Kant, and his project could be called a Critical History of Thought." So there is a way that Foucault (and postmodernism in general) can be understood by those steeped in Anglo-Saxon academic philosophical analysis - go back to their mutual neo/Kantian roots. That is, in my opinion, the great work of reconstruction that this newly emergent school is embarked on. The history of radical Kantianism (Kant, Neo-Kantians, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Postmodernism) has yet to be written! Hopefully, some young scholar is assembling even now the materials necessary for the writing of this history.

Now, our expositors of the Kantian Nietzsche do not generally understand themselves to be engaging in a sort of unification of the various Nietzsche interpretations. - In fact, anything but! The spirit of this remark by Hill can, in this regard, be taken to be typical:

"If we are to read Nietzsche, not as the legislator of a new post-theistic religion or as the bellelettrist of acute psychological and cultural observation, that is, if we are to read him as a philosopher, we will be led inexorably to the context of Neo-Kantianism, and to the highly peculiar things Nietzsche did with Kant." (Hill, Conclusion, p. 232.)

Thus Hill repudiates the 'constructivism' we find in some Straussian interpretations (e.g., Lampert) of Nietzsche and also the aesthetics of (so much of) postmodernism. But I do not believe this will be the last word!

I agree that the only two philosophical `traditions' that Nietzsche knew, in a manner that would be recognized as rigorous by academics, were the Kantian and the ancient Greeks. I would argue that it may well one day be said that the Platonic 'world-making' of Nietzsche was in fact a consequence of his Radical Kantianism. If the `Real' world is unreachable (the infamous things-in-themselves) then the True, Good and Beautiful are forever unreachable too. And so they (the true, good and beautiful) will eventually be denied - or created. Thus the `Platonic' world-making of Nietzsche is an attempt to prevent the inevitable fall into nihilism (denial of values) which eventually follows as a consequence of Radical Kantianism...

In fact I have long thought that the only way to (intelligently) argue against Nietzsche as (political) esotericist (as Laurence Lampert presents him, e.g.) is to present Nietzsche as a Kantian who radicalizes the political consequences of living in a world in which the 'things themselves' (i.e. the Truth) are forever a black box to us. But these two interpretations, thanks to the danger of nihilism, then slide into each other.

But how would one go about making this argument? I would make it by arguing the centrality (for Nietzsche) of Kant's third critique. I think that Hill has nicely shown that not only had Nietzsche read the 'Critique of Judgment' first but Hill has also shown that it remained a central concern to Nietzsche throughout his thinking career. And I should add that Hill has given us, in these pages, an intelligent discussion of the 3rd Critique too.

Thus the key to all this will turn out to be, in my perhaps worthless opinion at any rate, Kant's (3rd) Critique of Judgment - which has, in fact, always seemed a duality to me. On the one hand you have the section on aesthetics while on the other hand you have the section on teleology. How do they hang together? Is the section on teleology really the `4th' critique? ...But what if this last, the search for intelligibility, meaning, purpose, was to be taken seriously? Wouldn't it threaten to swallow all the other Critiques? The search for intelligibility and purpose becomes, inevitably becomes, the Creation of intelligibility and purpose. If you read the 3rd Critique first you might conclude that the other critiques (Pure Reason, Practical Reason) follow from it! Nietzsche read the 3rd Critique first! Our ability to form judgments, purposeful (Teleological) Judgments, is how Kant hoped to seal his system...

But enough of that! So, in closing, I want to say that this is a great addition (and introduction) to the new 'Kantian' school of Nietzsche interpretation. But this school is still in its infancy and no one yet knows what it will become once the other interpretive schools actively engage it...
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