Monday, August 08, 2011

Beatrix Himmelmann, Beatrix. Review of NIETZSCHE AND THE ANCIENT SKEPTIC TRADITION. NDPR (July 2011).

Berry, Jessica N.  Nietzsche and the Ancient Skeptical TraditionOxford: OUP, 2011.

When writing on a figure like Nietzsche, a figure attracting wide attention and receiving diverse interpretation, many authors begin by ensuring that they are able to offer an exciting new way of understanding. Few, however, succeed in really doing so. Jessica Berry's book does, in fact, inspire rethinking the big questions Nietzsche poses. It is true that the idea that Nietzsche, somehow, embraces skepticism is widespread. He is known to be abundantly critical about most of the claims presented by the most influential philosophers -- philosophers whose legacy still is and, probably, will continue to be an important stimulus for philosophical debates in a variety of fields. Nietzsche takes pride in portraying himself as a "tempter" (Versucher), "digging, mining, undermining" (Daybreak, Preface 1). In his late self-image Ecce Homo he famously declares: "Ich bin kein Mensch, ich bin Dynamit." ("I am not a man, I am dynamite.")

Berry clears the diffuse picture of Nietzsche's skepticism. She identifies a specific tradition of skepticism to which Nietzsche owes quite a bit and which might, accordingly, contribute to explaining his key projects. Even though Nietzsche refers to Descartes explicitly when he publishes the first edition of Human, All too Human (HH, Instead of a Preface) in 1878 and alludes to Hume's skeptical objections throughout his works, it is not a strain of modern skepticism that he takes up. As Berry points out, ancient skepticism, namely Pyrrhonism, provided Nietzsche with a pattern of argumentation to which he felt akin. Cartesian doubt is methodic doubt, i.e., it is employed in order to arrive finally at some kind of certainty. In a fragment from 1885 (KSA 11: 632), Nietzsche states that, for this reason, Descartes is not radical enough. Descartes strives for certainty and does not want to be deceived. "Why not?" asks Nietzsche. Being disinterested in certainty, however, distinguishes Pyrrhonian skeptics. In contrast to another group of ancient skeptics, the Academic, they do not claim to know that things are, by their nature, inapprehensible. Consequently, Pyrrhonian skeptics are not in danger of turning into negative dogmatists. They are not tempted to fall victim to the one flaw all sorts of dogmatists share: a preference for ceasing investigation altogether because of the conviction that ultimate insight into the structure of things has been achieved. Pyrrhonists, instead, seek to continue investigation through epochē, suspension of judgment by means of opposing arguments and appearances against each other in any way whatsoever -- hoping to achieve equipollence (isostheneia) of the objects and reasons thus opposed.

From all of this, it should be fairly plausible that Nietzsche must have been attracted by the tradition of Pyrrhonian skepticism. . . .

1 comment: