Friedrich Nietzsche Society Conference 2009 I

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker’s Website.

Friday to Sunday I was at the Friedrich Nietzsche Society’s 2009 conference at St Peter’s College, University of Oxford. Plenary sessions and one quarter of parallel sessions took place in the chapel, which was an entertaining choice. The chapel was also used for a recital of Nietzsche’s piano music given by Michael Krücker. The chapel has great acoustics for music and it was a great opportunity to hear Nietzsche’s music in live performance. I don’t value his music highly, but it was a fine hour of live music.

The event was organised by Manuel Dries and Peter Kail. Many congratulations to them on a great job. A very happy, well organised conference with no real problems. Everyone I talked to thought it was a really good event in terms of the sessions and the social atmosphere.


I presented a paper, but I won’t go into that much as posts on Nietzsche over the Summer cover the same ground. Just a brief remark here. The session chair, Christine Lopes, asked me to clarify my position in comparison to the two other papers from Eric Nelson and Marie Fleming which touched on the issues of art and science in nature. I fell between the other two in advocating continuity in Nietzsche between the role of art and science as part of experience and inquiry into truth, but not a complete identity. On of the other speakers advocated something close to complete identity, and the other advocated a discontinuity, or a break. I’m disposed to the view that Nietzsche regards art and science as sharing the inquiry into truth, with the activity of inquiry regarded as more valuable than any goal of a final system of truth. I’m also disposed to the view that they offer different perspectives: a perspective in art of creating, and communicating through, forms; and a perspective in science of creating instruments which have value in prediction and in action.


Bernard Reginster

‘The Genealogy of Guilt’

Reginster concentrated on Genealogy of Morality, Essay II. He was corned with the relation of guilt to debt. Bad conscience seems to be an intermediate stage between guilt and debt leaving open the question of whether guilt is something other than debt plus bad conscience. Maybe it is the move from prudential obligation to categorical obligation. Will to power was defined as overcoming resistance, which Reginster defined as the source of pleasure in bringing about punishment, emphasised by Nietzsche as a major source of punishment. We should not see denial of instincts as necessarily self-directed cruelty, since prudential denial is a liberatory becoming indifferent to the instincts. Christianity is a distortion of previous guilt into a reason for self-abasement. Humans as sovereign individuals enjoy the pleasure of power in promise keeping, which is the source of promise keeping rather than fear of pain. Reginster takes the sovereign individual at the end of Essay II as an example of free will, which is also reflected in Christian guilt. Christian guilt is a rational passion motivated by responsiveness to reasons. As Reginster admitted, there is an elephant in the room with regard to this argument, how to account for the account in Essay I of free will as the illusion of salves seeking to claim that they choose slavery rather than admit they are slaves because they are weak.

Peter Poellner

‘Nietzsche’s ethics and the philosophy of mind: the case of ressentiment’

There is a problem with Nietzsche’s account of ressentiment: the Christian values that emerge from ressentiment are in contradiction wit hatred and desire for revenge. This means that the ‘slave’ who has a psychological structure of ressentiment, must both hate and not hate. This raises the problems that Sartre addressed to Freud, of how there can be unconscious motives. At some point, these motives must have conscious affects creating a contradictory situation. Ressentiment has a double purpose: self-vindication and object mastery, that is of making people feel better about themselves, and seeking to conceptually master objecta hostile external world. It has an instrumental purpose of harming the ‘masters’. Poellner argued that a not making explicit is enough to explain how we misunderstand ourselves with regard to ressentiment, and with no need to assume unconscious motivations and hidden mental processes. Despite the instrumental value of ressentiment, it has the self-harming consequence of promoting a divided self. Poeller had difficulty in defining the ‘not making explicit’ criticising Phenomenological accounts, and admitting during questions that his illustratuve example of playing tennis was inadequate.


‘Nietzsche on soul in nature: an ecological perspective’

Parkes gave a short talk on ecology and Asian (Daoist and Buddhist) philosophy in relation to Nietzsche, with regard to the wish to find perceptions of nature which are not human centred and do not impose human concepts. He showed a film (in the Quicktime video application on his MacBook Pro computer, I would guess created in the Keynote presentation application and then exported to Quicktime) about Nietzsche’s relation to nature, mostly focusing on Sils Maria. Sils Maria is a mountainous lakeside resort often visited by Nietzsche. The video referred to the meditative rhythm of Nietzsche’s walks round Sil Maria which he found conducive to composing aphorisms, and the investments he had in the landscape. There were various scenes of natural beauty and briefly of industrial ugliness. During the discussion, Parkes conceded that it is unsatisfactory to oppose a purely beautiful nature to a purely ugly industrial world.


‘Who is the “sovereign individual”? Nietzsche on Freedom’

Leiter criticised any idea that Nietzsche favours free will in any form. He concentrated on the ‘sovereign individual’ at the end of Genealogy, Essay II. He rejected the idea that this is an example of free will. The phrase is only used once by Nietzsche, and is only used ironically to refer to a business person who can remember debts. Where Nietzsche refers to freedom and free will in apparently favourable ways, he is engaging readers so that that Nietzsche’s text will have an impact. Leiter shifted from freedom in the sense of free will to the political sense of political liberalism, arguing that nothing in Nietzsche can be taken as support for political liberalism. His views on the different moral value of different people, and the freedom created by participation in war, are in contradiction with political liberalism, according to Leiter. I intervened in the discussion period on the political issue, more on this and a bizarre confrontation between Leiter and Ken Gemes in a later post.


‘Nietzsche’s metaphysics’

Strawson presented an argument for seeing Nietzsche as supporting the kind of metaphysics that Strawson himself favours. That would be a very Spinozistic metaphysics, which Strawson believes is confirmed by 20th Century physics. He mentioned Einstein’s Relativity theory, particularly with regard to four dimensionality and the equivalence of mass and energy; and Quantum mechanics particularly with regard to entanglement. Anyone seeking reliable introductions to these topics can go to these entries in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Jeffrey Bub, ‘Quantum Entanglement and Information’; Francisco Flores, ‘The Equivalence of Mass and Energy’; Robert DiSalle, ‘Space and Time: Inertial Frames’. Strawson presented his metaphysical theses in a hard out and here they are: no persisting and unitary self; no fundamental (real) distinction between objects and their properties/propertiedness; no fundamental (real) distinction between basal properties of things and power properties of things; no fundamental (real) distinction between objects or substances on the one hand and processes and events on the other; reality not truly divisible into causes and effects; objects not governed by laws of nature ontologically distinct from them; no free will; nothing can happen otherwise than it does; reality is one; reality is suffused with–if it does not consist of–mentality in some form or sense; everything is ‘will to power’. All delivered in Strawson’s habitual quirkily charming style.


‘Consciousness, language, and nature. Nietzsche’s philosophy of mind and nature’

A comprehensive account of Nietzsche’s view if mind, language, and knowledge with regard to Analytic philosophy, philosophical naturalism, philosophy of mind, and cognitive science, since W.V.O. Quine, by way of Putnam, Fodor, Dennett and others. The comprehensive nature of the presentation make sit particularly hard to remember particular points. The main theme was that language and mind are unified in knowledge of the natural world, and belong together in the context of the natural world.


‘Nietzsche’s value monism. Saying yes to everything’

Richardson looked at the implications, and difficulties, of Nietzsche’s call to affirmation of all of life. One difficulty is how we can say yes to everything however terrible, and however much suffering it creates. Another difficulty is that the affirmation must include the moments of life in which someone says no to life. Richardson suggested that these difficulties can be reduced by also referring to Nietzsche’s commitment to resisting value oppositions. He clearly rejects the opposition of good to evil. He appears to replace this with an opposition between good and bad, but Richardson argues that what is really happening here is the elaboration of a purely comparative evaluation of the difference, between the better and worst, rather than an opposition between absolute opposite.

I didn’t make notes on the parallel sessions I went to, but I would like to briefly indicate the names of speaker in those sessions and what themes I learned about from attending those sessions.

Nietzsche and Darwin: Alessandra Tanesini, Peter Sedgwick

Nietzsche on Rhetoric and language: Benedetta Zavatta

Nietzsche on Language and Consciousness: Mariano L. Rodriguez

Morality and Naturalism: Mario Brandhorst, Maria Fornari, Rogério Lopes

Nietzsche on Science and Nature: Babette Babich, Christian Emden, Paolo D’Ioro.

Posts coming on the bizarre Leiter-Gemes confrontation and the Italian contribution to Nietzsche editions and studies.


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