No comment necessary.
I did an interview with Bob Talisse (Vanderbilt) about Character as Moral Fiction for the New Books in Philosophy podcast. Recording available (for free! 😉 here.
Interview with Paul Peppis of the Oregon Humanities center. Apparently I blink a lot.
Brian Leiter recently posted a take-down of my take-down of his (and Josh Knobe’s) Doctrine of Types interpretation of Nietzsche. I’m pleased that, if nothing else, I have “Alfanoesque bravado.” As he points out, in my initial attack, I don’t have time to get to the empirical evidence; instead, I focus only on the textual interpretation. For those who are interested, my book, Character as Moral Fiction, makes the empirical case.
Leiter identifies two main objections to his view: 1) non-fixedness and 2) non-universality. On the first, it might be that we have a merely verbal disagreement or even misunderstanding. According to his “Doctrine of Types,” “Each person has a fixed psycho-physical constitution, which defines him as a particular type of person.” What does it mean for something to be fixed? When I read this Doctrine, I thought this was a pretty strong claim. In his paper with Knobe, Leiter says that it means that one’s psycho-physical constitution is “largely immutable” (p. 88). He also says that one’s constitution is fixed “at birth” (p. 92). Since the personality psychologists Leiter and Knobe rely on think that there is no significant influence of environment on personality, I took such pronouncements in a strong sense. I thought that Leiter was attributing to Nietzsche the claim that one’s constitution is determined at or before birth and that it rarely if ever changes, and that when it changes it doesn’t budge much. But now Leiter seems to agree with me that types are “stable but nevertheless mutable.” What’s more, Leiter invokes Freud (understandably, since Freud systematically ripped off Nietzsche), who made a point of tracking the etiology of his patients’ syndromes, not insisting that they were determined at or before birth. In a way, this is now the unsurprising claim that personality doesn’t shift all that much all that quickly. As they say in the movies…
The second point is a bit more niggling. Leiter cites roughly a dozen passages in support of his interpretation of the Doctrine of Types. In my paper, I point out that many of these passages aren’t clearly meant to apply to human animals as such, though they do apply to philosophers. Leiter seems to think that the burden of proof is on me to explain why they apply only to philosophers. I think that an interesting case for this could be made, but I don’t have time right now. In the meantime, I’ll just suggest that the burden of proof actually lies on Leiter to explain why they apply to people other than philosophers. After all, Nietzsche seems pretty fixed on the idea that philosophers are different from other people. A section of Beyond Good and Evil is devoted to the prejudices of philosophers. No section of any of his books is explicitly devoted to the prejudices of the folk.
(This is a conference paper I delivered at the University of Guelph’s conference on Nietzsche and Virtue. A suitably revised version of it will appear in the Journal of Value Inquiry.)
I want to advance several theses. Before I announce them, I will lay out a few assumptions on which these theses rely. First, Nietzsche was a perfectionist. By this I mean that he thought that the only intrinsic good is the realization of human nature. This is an interpretation of Nietzsche that has found some resonance recently in the work of Thomas Hurka, among others. Second, Nietzsche believed that people have character traits, and that part of what it takes to realize human nature is to develop and act from particular character traits. This is also an interpretation that has found some uptake in recent Nietzsche scholarship (Railton, Robertson, Harcourt, Swanton, Reginster). Third, Nietzsche accepted a suitably reworked version of Brian Leiter’s “Doctrine of Types,” according to which, “Each person has a fixed psycho-physical constitution, which defines him as a particular type of person” (Leiter 1998, 2002; Knobe & Leiter 2007). As Leiter argues, Nietzsche thought that type-facts partially explain the beliefs and actions, including moral beliefs and actions, of the person whom those type-facts characterize.
It might seem, given my assumptions, that I am here merely to engage in another turn of the screw. I think (and hope) that that’s false. I think (and hope) that I’m here to swing a wrecking ball at the dominant virtue-theoretic conception of Nietzsche.
Why? Because I think that, despite my agreement with the dominant conception on certain broad issues, the way that consensus has been developed is fundamentally mistaken. First, as a perfectionist, Nietzsche has a striking and unusual focus on intellectual, rather than moral, virtues. When he praises courage, he almost always means intellectual courage. When he praises honesty, he almost always does so not because it enables cooperation or social life, but because it contributes to the investigations he values. When he praises solitude, it’s because he thinks that important investigations can only be carried out effectively without social influence. When he praises curiosity – well, that one’s obvious. I argue for this position at length in my (2012) paper, and will take it for granted here.
Second, the Doctrine of Types, as formulated by Leiter, is manifestly unsupported both by Nietzsche’s texts and as an empirical hypothesis. Although Leiter has teamed up with Joshua Knobe to shore up the empirical credentials of his version of the Doctrine of Types, and although Knobe is one of the best experimental philosophers currently working in moral psychology, their account of the Doctrine is wrong both historically and empirically. That is to say, Nietzsche did not hold the version of the Doctrine they attribute to him, and it’s a good thing he didn’t, because the version that he actually did hold is better empirically supported than the version that they attribute to him. For Nietzsche – and in reality – types are not immutable or fixed. Although not everyone is endowed with the same type, which type someone belongs to can (though needn’t) evolve somewhat over the course of her lifetime. In particular, whereas I agree with Leiter that the neo-Aristotelian account of character development is empirically inadequate, I do so not because I think no character development occurs but because I think that character development occurs in a different way. In addition, for Nietzsche – and in reality – types on their own are not normative. Types determine what in developmental psychology is called temperament. Character, which is normatively evaluable, only arises through the refinement, calibration, or development of temperament.
The main point I want to argue, though, is that Nietzsche held a person-type-relative unity of virtue thesis, according to which what’s intrinsically good for a particular person is to develop and act from particular character traits that “fit” her type. Typically, a single virtue will best fit a given type. Whatever virtue that is, is the type’s cardinal virtue. Any other virtues that the person with that type “ought” in some sense to develop are determined by the extent to which they support or enable the type’s cardinal virtue and the extent to which they fail to hinder or undermine it.
In addition, not so much in disagreement with Leiter but in an attempt to clarify the murky Doctrine of Types he attributes to Nietzsche, I will discuss how Nietzschean types are to be individuated. This is an issue that Leiter, somewhat surprisingly, never takes up, and it has important implications for the plausibility of the Doctrine both as an interpretation of Nietzsche and as an empirical proposal. I will argue that, for Nietzsche, there is an “enchanting abundance of types” (TI V:6), not just a binary distinction between higher and lower, master and slave, noble and contemptible. Moreover, I will argue that, for Nietzsche, part of what it can mean for a person to be of a certain type is that she is susceptible to social determination of her character. Some types – important and widespread types – are meta-types. They’re not dispositions to be a certain way, but dispositions to become particular to-be-specified ways through the shaping power of social factors.
Finally, I will argue that Nietzsche seems to have held, or at least been tempted by, a Doctrine of the Hierarchy of Types, according to which some types are intrinsically better (or, in the words he preferred, ‘higher’) than others, on a single dimension. This might seem to be at odds with my earlier claim that, for Nietzsche, types are not normative. The two fit together in the following way: merely being of a particular type has no value in Nietzsche’s eyes. What does have value is living up to the potential inherent in one’s type. The maximum value of a life, as it were, is determined by one’s type, but whether one attains that maximum is a contingent matter. A person of a “higher” type who fails to live up to her nature (to acquire and act from the virtues characteristic of her type) is no better (and probably worse) than a person of a lower type who successfully lives up to his nature. The Doctrine of Types and the Doctrine of the Hierarchy of Types are distinct theses, though the latter presupposes the former. (After all, if there are no types, then of course no type is better or higher than any other type.) It’s unclear whether Nietzsche took the Doctrine of the Hierarchy of Types to be a true proposition, or whether he merely talked at times as if it were. The answer to that question hinges on his meta-ethics, which I will not discuss here. Even if he only ventriloquized his commitment to the Doctrine of the Hierarchy of Types, this second doctrine figures prominently in the cognitive, affective, evaluative, and behavioral dispositions and attitudes he attributes to others when explaining, predicting, and evaluating their moral psychologies. It might turn out that having faith in the Doctrine of the Hierarchy of Types (and faith that one’s own type is at or near the top of the hierarchy) is more important than actually being a person of one type or other.
In his largely persuasive argument that Nietzsche is committed to the Doctrine of Types, Leiter (1998, 2002) cites fourteen passages: D 199, D542, GS P:2, GS 6, GS 187, GS 221, GS 231, GM P:2, GM III:7, GM III:15, TI “Errors” 1, TI “Errors” 2, TI “Anti-nature” 6, and TI “Skirmishes” 37. This might seem like decisive evidence, drawn from Nietzsche’s earliest mature work, Daybreak, to one of his latest, Twilight of the Idols. Yet the evidence from these passages fails to establish a commitment to the Doctrine of Types as Leiter characterizes it. I’ll discuss these passages at some length, not to belabor the point, but in to support a more sophisticated version of the Doctrine of Types.
However far a man may go in self-knowledge, nothing however can be more incomplete than his image of the totality of drives which constitute his being. He can scarcely name even the cruder ones: their number and strength, their ebb and flood, their play and counterplay among one another, and above all the laws of their nutriment remain wholly unknown to him. This nutriment is therefore a work of chance. (D 199)
This passage establishes what Nietzsche thinks is determinative of a person’s type: your type is the “totality of drives” that “constitute” your “being.” Your type is not dependent on your beliefs, your sentiments, your culture, or any of a variety of other candidates. What makes you who you are is the constellation of your drives. (I here use the metaphor of a constellation because it captures the idea of a multitude of related items and the importance of their interrelations.) What are drives for Nietzsche? I’ve argued elsewhere (and I think this is consistent with other interpretations in the literature), that a Nietzschean drive is a largely stable affective and behavioral disposition: a tendency to experience particular emotions (such as pride, disgust, elevation, contempt, and resentment) and act from them. Note that, in this passage, the strength and interrelations among drives are treated not as fixed (as Leiter would have it) but as mutable. Drives survive, swell, and abate depending on their “nutriment,” which for Nietzsche seems to mean the degree to which they are freely expressed, manifested, or vented. Any given agent possesses particular drives with particular intensities and particular interrelations – perhaps even innately – but which drives someone has, how strong they are, and how they affect one another changes incrementally as they are or are not expressed. In this same passage, Nietzsche goes on to claim that drives can be starved to death, indicating that he thinks not only that their strength but also their existence is a contingent matter, not something fixed at birth or conception.
It might seem that this same passage completely undermines Leiter’s version of the Doctrine of Types, but I recommend caution. Nietzsche does here claim that “our moral judgments [like our dreams] are only images and fantasies based on a physiological process unknown to us, a kind of acquired language for designating certain nervous stimuli.” This suggests that Leiter is right to think that Nietzsche aims to explain moral beliefs in terms of physiology and psychology, but not that he aims to explain them in terms of immutable facts about physiology and psychology.
Next, consider D 542:
The reverence we accord the aged man, especially when he is an aged thinker and sage, easily blinds us to the aging of his mind, and it is always necessary to draw forth the signs of such an aging and weariness out of their hiding-place – draw forth, that is to say, the physiological phenomenon behind the moral predispositions and prejudices – so as not to become the fools of reverence and injurers of knowledge. For it not infrequently happens that the aged man is subject to the illusion of a great moral renewal and rebirth and from the sensibility thus engendered in him passes judgment on the work and the course of his life, as though it was only now that he had been endowed with clear sight: and yet the inspirer behind this feelings of wellbeing and these confident judgments is not wisdom but weariness.
Here again we see that physiological facts about a person’s type (the fact that he is old and weary) are recruited to explain – perhaps to explain away – his moral judgments. However, age is clearly not a fixed physiological fact, which type-facts are supposed to be according to Leiter. Clearly, a given person’s age changes over the course of his lifetime. So, once again, we have a partial vindication of the Doctrine of Types (physiological facts explain moral psychological judgments) but only a partial vindication. Type-facts are mutable.
Next, consider the preface to The Gay Science, section 2:
assuming that one is a person, one necessarily has the philosophy that belongs to that person; but there is a big difference. In some it is their deprivations that philosophize; in others, their riches and strengths. The former need their philosophy, whether it be as a prop, a sedative, medicine, redemption, elevation, or self-alienation. For the latter it is merely a beautiful luxury – in the best cases, the voluptuousness of a triumphant gratitude that eventually still has to inscribe itself in cosmic letters on the heaven of concepts.
Once again, Leiter takes this passage to indicate that fixed, psycho-physical facts about a person explain that person’s moral beliefs. Each person “necessarily has the philosophy that belongs to that person.” But we need to proceed cautiously here. Why does Nietzsche preface his claim with the rider, “assuming one is a person”? Are there “ones” who are not persons? What would it mean for someone to fail to be a person? Leiter seems to assume that this caveat is meaningless throat-clearing. I suggest, on the contrary, that for Nietzsche being a person is an honorific category. Some human animals, in his view, do not qualify as persons. In particular, he seems to feel such contempt for those who fail to integrate, harmonize, or at least wall off their drives from one another so that they can exist in a peaceful détente that he refuses to recognize them as people. I don’t have time to argue for this interpretation here, but it fits well with some prominent interpretations (especially Lanier Anderson’s), according to which selfhood and personhood are normative categories for Nietzsche. (I also argue for this view in my forthcoming book, Nietzsche’s Socio-Moral Psychology.) We will see this criticism several more times: when Leiter claims that Nietzsche thinks that everyone’s moral actions and beliefs are explained by type-facts, the passages he cites typically only support the interpretation that philosophers’ moral actions and beliefs are explained by type facts.
For example, in our next passage, BGE 6, Nietzsche describes drives as philosophizing, that is, as leading the agents in whom they inhere to construct philosophies that valorize the drives in question. Again, all this shows is that Nietzsche thinks that philosophers’ moral beliefs are explicable in terms of type-facts that characterize them. Other people’s moral beliefs and actions may be explicable in other terms.
Like BGE 6, BGE 187 is quite specifically targeted at philosophers:
Even apart from the value of such claims as ‘there is a categorical imperative in us,’ one can still always ask: what does such a claim tell us about the man who makes it? There are moralities which are meant to justify their creator before others. Other moralities are meant to calm him and lead him to be satisfied with himself. With yet others he wants to crucify himself and humiliate himself. With other he wants to wreak revenge, with others conceal himself, with others transfigure himself and place himself way up, at a distance. This morality is used by its creator to forget, that one to have others forget him or something about him. Some moralists want to vent their power and creative whims on humanity; some others, perhaps including Kant, suggest with their morality: ‘What deserves respect in me is that I can obey – and you ought not to be different from me.’ – In short, moralities are also merely a sign language of the affects.
Nietzsche clearly does not think that every human being constructs her own morality. He clearly does not think that everyone is a philosopher or a moralist. This passage is only about philosophers, about people who create valuational schemes. Their moral judgments are determined by type-facts about them, but who knows what explains the moral judgments and actions of everyone else? Note also that this passage begins to shed some light on the individuation question: how many types are there, and how are they to be individuated? One might think that being a philosopher is a type because philosophers all have the same constellation of drives. But the passage suggests otherwise. Although there may be some drives that are distinctive of and universal among philosophers, they don’t share exactly the same constellation of drives. Some philosophers are driven to justify themselves before others. Some philosophers are driven to seek equanimity. Others have masochistic drives. Still others are vindictive. The vast majority of people are not philosophers, yet even within the philosophical type there is an enchanting abundance of subtypes.
Next, consider a passage that finally discusses a non-philosophical type, the commander:
In a person […] who is called and made to command, self-denial and modest self-effacement would not be a virtue but the waste of a virtue: thus it seems to me. Every unegoistic morality that takes itself for unconditional and addresses itself to all does not only sin against taste: it is a provocation to sins of omission, one more seduction under the mask of philanthropy – and precisely a seduction and injury for the higher, rarer, privileged. Moralities must be forced to bow first of all before the order of rank; their presumption must be brought home to their conscience – until they finally reach agreement that it is immoral to say: ‘what is right for one is fair for the other.’ (BGE 221)
Here we see some evidence of Nietzsche’s commitment to the Doctrine of the Hierarchy of Types. He insists that there is an “order of rank” among types of people, such that what counts as a virtue for some (altruism, humility, modesty) is a vice in others. It might seem that his notion of someone “who is called and made to command” supports Leiter’s version of the Doctrine of Types: if you are called and made to command, it hardly makes sense to say that you might cease to be thus called and made. However, a suitably modest notion of mutability is consistent with this: if we think of types as constellations of drives, and as drives as slowly evolving dispositions that are subject to the “laws of nutriment” discussed earlier, we can see that someone who is called and made to command will only slowly and painfully give up their calling. Indeed, one might think that having less mutable drives is itself a type-fact: some individuals have flimsy natures that can be directed and redirected quite easily, whereas others have firmer natures that resist such redirection. Perhaps those who are called and made to command fall on the latter end of the spectrum.
Now consider BGE 231:
at the bottom of us, really ‘deep down,’ there is, of course, something unteachable, some granite of spiritual fatum, of predetermined decision and answer to predetermined selected questions. Whenever a cardinal problem is at stake, there speaks an unchangeable ‘this is I’; about man and woman, for example, a thinker cannot relearn but only finish learning – only discover ultimately how this is ‘settled in him.’ At times we find certain solutions of problems that inspire strong faith in us; some call them henceforth their ‘convictions.’ Later – we see them only as steps to self-knowledge, signposts to the problem we are – rather, to the great stupidity we are, to our spiritual fatum, to what is unteachable very ‘deep down.’
Once again, I want to suggest that this passage, which Leiter assumes is about all human animals, is really only about philosophers. As I’ve emphasized elsewhere (Alfano 2012), Nietzsche’s use of pronouns is deliberate to the point of being devious. While some writers might use ‘we’ to mean ‘all people,’ he rarely does. The scope of his first-person plural pronouns alone is worthy of a book-length study. In this passage, I think, it’s fairly clear that the scope of his ‘we’ is not all humans but only philosophers – and maybe not even all of them. Do all people encounter “cardinal problems”? Are all people “thinkers”? Do all people have “convictions”? Not according to Nietzsche, at least. These are the purview of philosophers. So while it might be the case that their constellations of drives are “deep,” “unteachable,” and “granite,” it does not follow that everyone’s are.
We now move on to the Genealogy, which contains a number of passages that seem to support Leiter’s version of the Doctrine of Types. First, consider GM P:2:
For this alone is fitting for a philosopher. We have no right to isolated acts of any kind: we may not make isolated errors or hit upon isolated truths. Rather do our ideas, our values, our yeas and nays, our ifs and buts, grow out of us with the necessity with which a tree bears fruit – related and each with an affinity to each, and evidence of one will, one health, one soil, one sun.
Leiter cites this passage as evidence that beliefs and actions of all humans are explained by the causal necessity of their psycho-physical types. A careful review of the passage shows just how preposterous this is. First of all, Nietzsche is obviously speaking only about philosophers. (Note again his deliberate usage of the first-person plural.) Second, the necessity he has in mind is not the causal necessity that Leiter attributes but some sort of normative necessity. Nietzsche is saying not that what is bound to happen but what would be fitting, worthy, or appropriate depends on one’s psycho-physical type. Viewed in this light, the passage supports the person-type-relative unity of virtue thesis. What’s good for someone is to fulfill their nature; different people have different natures (different types); so what’s good for different people is to develop and act from different character traits.
Leiter also cites a couple of passages from the third essay of the Genealogy:
Every animal – therefore la bēte philosophe, too – instinctively strives for an optimum of favorable conditions under which it can expend all its strength and achieve its maximal feeling of power; every animal abhors, just as instinctively and with a subtlety of discernment that is ‘higher than all reason,’ every kind of intrusion or hindrance that obstructs or could obstruct this path to the optimum. (GM III:7)
In GM III:7, once again, the main focus is on philosophers, not all people. That said, Nietzsche does here subsume philosophers under the category of animals, which is quite broad indeed. But what type-facts does this passage attribute? According to Leiter (2002, p. 8), it shows that Nietzsche thinks that will-to-power is a type-fact. The meaning of this is less precise than one might hope. Is the claim that every animal is characterized by the same type-fact, namely will-to-power? In that case, there’s little sense in calling it a type-fact. Type-facts, if they refer to anything, are distinctive of their types. Is the claim perhaps that there is only one type – the animal type? – and that every animal is characterized by it? Again, this doesn’t seem to help. At best, it would be a roundabout way of formulating a universal theory of not just human but animal nature. In my view, the best way to fit GM III:7 into Nietzsche’s moral psychology is to treat it as meta-psychological. It doesn’t characterize any particular type, but instead describes how drives work in general, where the contingent constellation of drives in a given animal determines its type. Moreover, expressing those drives (as many of them as possible, without mutual undermining) constitutes flourishing. The relation between types and actions isn’t directly causal, but normative. (It may be indirectly causal, since animals typically strive to thrive, but they needn’t, and in some interesting cases don’t.)
What about GM III:15?
For every sufferer instinctively seeks a cause for his suffering; more exactly, an agent; still more specifically, a guilty agent who is susceptible to suffering – in short, some living thing upon which he can, on some pretext or other, vent his affects, actually or in effigy: for the venting of his affects represents the greatest attempt on the part of the suffering to win relief, anaesthesia – the narcotic he cannot help desiring to deaden pain of any kind. This alone, I surmise, constitutes the actual physiological cause of ressentiment, vengefulness, and the like: a desire to deaden pain by means of affects. (GM III:15 [cited by Leiter as I:15])
Once again, we see the explanation of moral beliefs and actions (blame and punishment) bottoming out in psycho-physical facts (the suffering of the punisher), so once again I agree with Leiter that psycho-physical facts explain moral beliefs and actions. But once again we have to ask, is the type of person described here fixed or mutable? I suppose one could claim that being a sufferer is a type, but it seems more appropriate to say that people of any type can suffer. Perhaps some types are more susceptible to suffering than others (Nietzsche seems to think that higher types are especially susceptible), but whether someone suffers is contingent on her life-history, her social and cultural setting, and her environment more broadly.
I now move on to the last of Nietzsche’s writings cited by Leiter in support of the Doctrine of Types, Twilight of the Idols. This whirlwind of a book encapsulates many of his mature views, and so might be thought to be decisive evidence of his conception of types. Consider first TI “Errors” 1:
everyone has heard of the book in which the famous Cornaro recommends his meager diet as a recipe for a long and happy – and virtuous – life. This is one of the most widely read books, and several thousand copies are still being printed in England every year. There is no doubt in my mind that few books (except of course the Bible) have wreaked as much havoc, have shortened as many lives as this well-meaning curiosity has done. The reason: confusion of cause and effect. This conscientious Italian thought that his diet was the cause of his longevity: but the preconditions for a long life – an exceptionally slow metabolism and a minimal level of consumption – were in fact the cause of his meager diet. He was not free to eat either a little or a lot, his frugality was not ‘freely willed’: he got sick when he ate more.
Again, we see that physiological type-facts explain actions: Cornaro was virtuous (in his fashion) because his metabolism was slow. But the physiological facts are not determinative. Nietzsche emphatically does not claim that Cornaro ate little because and only because his metabolism was slow. Indeed, he even suggests that, at times, Cornaro ate a great deal. How else can we make sense of the assertion that “he got sick when he ate more”? So, as before, type-facts do not determine behavior. Instead, they determine the conditions for flourishing. Since people tend to seek out conditions under which they will flourish (unless they are corrupt or decadent – an issue I don’t have time for here but which is discussed in TI “Errors” 2), what it’s fitting, worthy, or appropriate for them to do tends to be what they actually do. But the causal claim follows from the conjunction of the normative claim and the assumption that most people have a modicum of prudence. It wasn’t impossible for Cornaro to have a lavish diet; he avoided such a diet because it made him sick. By the same token, other people for whom Cornaro’s diet is unhealthy don’t of necessity avoid it. Indeed, Nietzsche claims that many of them foolishly adhere to it. Thus, they are not necessitated by type-facts, but type-facts do constrain the conditions under which they can flourish.
Next, consider TI “Anti-nature” 6:
let us think how naïve it is to say ‘this is the way people should be!’ Reality shows us an enchanting abundance of types, a lavish profusion of forms in change and at play: and some worthless idiot of a moralist sees all this and says: ‘no! people should be different from the way they are’!? He even knows what people should be like, this miserable fool, he paints a picture of himself on the wall and says ‘ecce homo!’
This is the passage from which I derive the title of my paper. It suggests several things. First, there are many, many psycho-physical types. Second, types are constantly “in change and at play.” Third, it is not a trivial matter to regularize this abundance of types: people differ from each other in significant ways, and the difficulty (though not the impossibility) of some sort of Procrustean social or moral policy makes it a foolhardy endeavor. Finally, in addition to potentially thinking that some types are (when fully developed) superior to others (when fully developed), Nietzsche seems to suggest here that the very fact of the diversity of types is itself valuable. Not only is there a hierarchy among types, but the fact that there is a hierarchy rather than an egalitarian mélange is itself normatively significant.
Only two passages remain among those Leiter cites in support of his version of the Doctrine of Types. The penultimate is TI “Errors” 2:
The most general formula at the centre of all religions and moralities is: ‘do this, don’t do that – and then you’ll be happy! Otherwise…’. Every morality, every religion, is this imperative, – I call it the great original sin of reason, the immortal unreason. In my mouth, this formula changes into its opposite […] someone who has turned out well, a ‘happy one’, has to perform certain acts and will instinctively avoid others, he is the physiological representative of the system he uses in dealing with people and things. In a word: his virtue is the effect of his happiness.
As before, the necessity Nietzsche has in mind here is not causal necessity, as Leiter would have it, but normative necessity. Individuals flourish by expressing their types, but not every individual actually (let alone necessarily) does express his type. This passage also raises the pessimistic possibility that some types cannot be fulfilled, or at least that it’s nigh-impossible to fulfill them. Broken people, whose drives are in such disarray that the expression of one almost inevitably undermines the expression of the others, will find it difficult if not impossible to flourish. “Happy” people, in Nietzsche’s view, have all and only the virtues they need to express their natures. The more complicated someone’s constellation of drives is, the more difficult it will be to express them all (or express almost all of them while modulating, attenuating, or redirecting those that are not directly expressed). It’s passages like this that lead me to attribute to Nietzsche a person-type-relative unity of virtue thesis. If what’s good for someone is to express their nature or type, and their type is the constellation of their drives, then what’s good for someone is to develop and act from whichever virtues mutually support the expression of all of her drives.
This claim might seem to fly in the face of Nietzsche’s repeated insistence that it’s particularly admirable when someone healthily harbors multiple prima facie conflicting drives. “One must have chaos within oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star” (Z V:5). (Or, less poetically, consider his praise of Caesar in BGE 200.) The point here, I take it, is not that internal chaos is itself a good, but that harnessing and coping with internal chaos is a more impressive achievement than developing the virtues that support a simpler type. Just as we admire other achievements (intellectual, aesthetic, whatever) in part because of the resistance that must be overcome to arrive at them, so we admire those people whose characters were developed by overcoming great resistance.
The final passage I want to consider is TI “Skirmishes” 37:
The loss of any hostile instincts that might arouse mistrust – and that is what our ‘progress’ really amounts to – represents just one of the consequences of a general loss of vitality: it takes a hundred times more care and caution for such a conditional and mature being to keep going. This is why people help each other, this is why everyone is sick to some extent, why everyone is a nurse. This is called ‘virtue’ -: with people who still knew a different sort of life – one that was fuller, more extravagant, more overflowing – it would have been called something else, maybe ‘cowardice’, ‘misery’, or ‘old lady morality’ … Our tenderized ethics is a consequence of decline (this is my claim, this is, if you will, my innovation); on the other hand, harsh and horrible ethics can be the consequence of a surplus of life: since a lot can be risked, a lot can be challenged, a lot can also be squandered. What used to be the spice of life would be poison for us … To be indifferent, that is also a form of strength – and we are too old, too mature for this as well: our morality of sympathy […] is one more expression of the physiological over-excitability that is characteristic of everything decadent.
For the final time, it’s clear that moral beliefs and actions are here being explained in terms of type-facts, in terms of psychological and physiological facts about the agents who hold those beliefs and form those actions. This passage and the one on commanders are the two main passages that Leiter cites in which Nietzsche attributes types to people other than philosophers. That’s pretty weak evidence.
That said, a cruise through Nietzsche’s writings will acquaint any reader with, as he himself would put it, an enchanting abundance of types. There are higher and lower men. There are slaves, nobles, and priests. Philosophers are often discussed as a type, as are free spirits, free thinkers, and good Europeans. There is of course the overman, and his blinking counterpart, the last man. Nietzsche also discusses poets as a type, as well as saints and nihilists. The fourth book of Zarathustra is a veritable menagerie of types: the king, the leech, the magician, the retired pope, the ugliest human, the voluntary beggar, and the shadow. Finally, there are the eponymous types: the Apollonian, Dionysian, Socratic, Christian, and Kantian, along with the Schopenhauers, Buddhas, Napoleons, Cesare Borgias, and Goethes. Such types represent, for Nietzsche, the creation of new values by those who initially represent them, and who thus give them their names.
In closing, I want to point to a couple of further issues that merit full-fledged discussion but for which I don’t have space here. The first is Nietzsche’s developmental psychology. Unlike Aristotle, who thinks that one becomes virtuous through practice, realizing all the while that one is not virtuous yet but aiming to become so, Nietzsche (as I argue elsewhere) thinks that the temporal relation runs in the other direction. First, one supposes, imagines, hopes, or fantasizes oneself to be a certain way – to have certain character traits. In so doing, one becomes committed to a standard of conduct, which includes not only ones behavior but also one’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, preferences, and deliberative strategies. Commitment to this standard in turn induces congruent behavior. Thus, thinking of oneself as having certain traits, as fulfilling a certain type, is temporally – and, I would argue, logically – prior to actually having those traits. This is a theme that crops up especially in the Genealogy, where Nietzsche describes the nobility not so much as being higher but as imagining themselves to be higher, as enchanted by the pathos of distance. This pathos induces them to behave as if they were higher, which has knock-on social effects that lead to self-confirmatory conduct. The theme also crops up, in a less uplifting way, in his description of psychological slavishness, which seems to be a disposition to simulate, mimic, or even acquire whatever character traits are attributed to one. Instead of or in addition to feeling committed to a certain code of conduct, the slave feels that others, perhaps others with the power to punish, expect him to behave in accordance with a certain code of conduct. Thus, while both masters and slaves become what they are taken to be, the masters do so by becoming what they take themselves to be (and what fellow masters take them to be), whereas the slaves become what others (and only others) take them to be. This is what I meant earlier, when I claimed that, for Nietzsche, part of what it can mean for a person to be a certain type is that she is susceptible to social determination of her character. Though I don’t have space to go into it here, I also contend that this account of character development is empirically adequate – a view I explore at length and without much attention to Nietzsche in Character as Moral Fiction.
It’s also what I meant when I claimed earlier that having faith in the Doctrine of the Hierarchy of Types (and faith that one’s own type is at or near the top of the hierarchy) is more important than actually being a person of a higher type.
I’ve unfortunately exhausted my time sowing Leiter’s version of the Doctrine of Types with salt. My more positive claim that Nietzsche held a person-type-relative unity of virtue thesis, however, should now look quite plausible. I’ll close with a methodological point. In GS 120, Nietzsche revises the dictum “virtue is the health of the soul” to “your virtue is the health of your soul,” and in A 2, he claims, “A virtue needs to be our own most personal need and self-defense: in any other sense, a virtue is just dangerous.” Statements like these suggest that if we want to discern Nietzsche’s virtue theory, we need to look not (or at least not only) at his praise of ancient noble societies, of Napoleon, and of Cesare Borgia, but (also) at his self-attributions.
The reason that commentators on Nietzsche’s remarks on virtue have found him so difficult to interpret is not, as Jessica Berry suggests, that he has no theory of virtue, but that he held such a relativistic view. The very same traits that he praises as virtues in some constitute vices in others. If one simply attempts to compile a catalogue of all and only the virtues that Nietzsche consistently praises and never condemns, one comes up empty-handed. However, if one applies a more subtle approach, one sees that within a given type, his praise is quite consistent. For instance, in his own type, Nietzsche praises certain intellectual virtues – curiosity chief among them, but also versions of intellectual courage, honesty, solitude, cruelty towards one’s own conscience, and so on – that hang together.
To summarize, then: Nietzsche thinks that people’s beliefs and actions, including their moral beliefs and actions, are to be explained largely in terms of their psycho-physical types. Psycho-physical types in turn are to be understood as constellations of largely stable but nevertheless mutable and interrelated drives. These drives can relate to one another in a mutually undermining way, or they can relate to one another by supporting, recruiting, or at least ignoring one another. For Nietzsche, virtue consists in the alignment of one’s drives, that is, in the fulfillment of one’s type. Such alignment might include the altering one’s drives to some extent. There are at least two kinds of higher-order type-facts: slavishness and masterliness. Slavishness is a second-order disposition to acquire, simulate, or mimic the traits that are attributed to one, whereas masterliness is a second-order disposition to acquire, simulate, or mimic the traits that one attributes to oneself. Someone of a higher type, according to Nietzsche, has drives that are harder to bring into alignment, so when that does happen, it’s more of an accomplishment and thus more praiseworthy. Nietzsche thinks that his own type centers on a kind of insatiable curiosity, which recruits intellectual courage, solitude, cruelty towards one’s own tender feelings, and other auxiliary virtues. Thus, he so often self-attributes curiosity and its allied virtues not only to show us what belongs to his type but also to summon those very traits within himself, since he also takes himself to have the higher-order disposition of masterliness.
[Updated 5 Sept 2013]
In contemporary virtue theory, virtue is almost always thought of as acquirable: no one is born with it, and some manage to achieve it. The reasoning behind this claim tends to be quick, but the basic idea is that, since we hold people responsible for their character, it had better be something they can do something about. Moreover, it’s often said, this is how people have always thought about virtue. But the noble warriors in Homer Illiad don’t acquire their virtue: they’re born with it. And Josh Knobe and Brian Leiter argue that, for Nietzsche, virtue is similarly heritable. (I happen disagree, but leave that to one side.)
But Homer wasn’t a philosopher and Nietzsche is usually an outlier. Perhaps perfect consensus doesn’t exist on the acquirability of virtue, but near consensus does. Jane Austen, insightful as usual, suggests otherwise.
Her answer seems to be: for men, but maybe not for women. Here’s a quote from Pride and Prejudice:
As for Mary, she was mistress enough of herself to whisper to Elizabeth, with a countenance of grave reflection, soon after they were seated at table:
“This is a most unfortunate affair, and will probably be much talked of. But we must stem the tide of malice, and pour into the wounded bosoms of each other the balm of sisterly consolation.”
Then, perceiving in Elizabeth no inclination of replying, she added, “Unhappy as the event must be for Lydia, we may draw from it this useful lesson: that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable; that one false step involves her in endless ruin; that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful; and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex.”
Elizabeth lifted up her eyes in amazement, but was too much oppressed to make any reply.
Mary Bennett is expressing what I suspect was an all-too-common conception of female virtue. Instead of being something that one achieves, i.e., something that one does not start with but can with some effort acquire, female virtue is something that one can only lose, i.e., something that one does start with and can all-too-easily give up. Not only that, but once one loses it, it is gone forever.
I’ve expressed reservations about the notion that chastity is a virtue elsewhere (fidelity might be, but that’s quite different). Thinking about it in this light only makes my reservations stronger.
Here’s a nice example of the insane approach to virtue still practiced today. Mom browses through her sons’ facebook news feeds with them (no problem there; they’re minors). Sees a selfie of a girl in pajamas, possibly not wearing a bra. Gasps. Clutches pearls. Faints onto the divan. Blocks girl’s profile forever. (Or at least thinks she does; her sons are probably a little more adept with the interwebs than she is….) Nietzsche had something to say about this kind of thing:
The church combats the passions by cutting them off in every sense: its technique, its ‘cure’, is castration. It never asks: ‘how can a desire be spiritualized, beautified, deified?’ — it has always laid the weight of its discipline on eradication (of sensuality, of pride, of greed, of the thirst to dominate and exact revenge). But attacking the root of the passions means attacking the root of life: the practices of the church are hostile to life… (The Anti-Christ, “Morality as Anti-Nature”)
Instead of slut-shaming and ostrich-ing, maybe she could have told her sons that, regardless of how a woman dresses and presents herself, they should treat her with respect.
Ratzi the Nazi has retired.
Good riddance. His replacement seems only marginally better, but only time will tell. Here are some apropos words to mark the occasion, from book for of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Cambridge translation):
“What does the whole world know today?” asked Zarathustra. “This perhaps, that the old God no longer lives, the one in whom the whole world once believed?”
“You said it,” answered the old man gloomily. “And I served this old God until his final hour. But now I am retired, without a master, and yet I am not free, nor merry for a single hour unless in my memories. And so I climbed into these mountains to finally have a festival for myself, as is proper for an old pope and church father: for know this, I am the last pope! — a festival of pious memories and divine worship. But now he himself is dead, this pious human being, this saint in the woods who constantly praised his god with singing and growling. I did not find him when I found his hut — but two wolves were in it, howling at his death — for all animals loved him. Then I ran away. Did I arrive in vain in these woods and mountains? Then my heart resolved to seek another, the most pious of all those who do not believe in God — to seek Zarathustra!”
Here’s a draft of a paper to be presented at a conference at UNC in May. As always, comments, criticisms, questions, etc. are most welcome.
Gone are the heady days when Bernard Williams (1993) could get away with saying that “Nietzsche is not a source of philosophical theories” (p. 4). The last two decades have witnessed a flowering of research that aims to interpret, elucidate, and defend Nietzsche’s theories about science, the mind, and morality. This paper is one more blossom in that efflorescence. What I want to argue is that, in light of contemporary science, Nietzsche’s is the best-supported moral psychological theory in the history of philosophy.
Given limitations of space, I will not be able to engage at length with the many competitors for this title. Instead, I will proceed by discussing three key Nietzschean insights and the contemporary psychological evidence for them. The first Nietzschean insight is the disunity of the self. The second, connected, Nietzschean insight is the primacy of affect. This primacy is expressed by what I have called elsewhere (Alfano 2010, forthcoming b) the tenacity of the intentional, and what Nietzsche calls the Socratic equation (TI Socrates 4, 10; WP 2:432-3). The third major Nietzschean insight is the social construction of character, which presupposes a wild diversity within the extensions of trait-terms and the dual direction of fit of character trait attributions. This last point is somewhat in tension with the only other published defense of the empirical credentials of Nietzsche’s moral psychology (Knobe & Leiter 2007), so I will make a few remarks about the contrast between my view and theirs.