I wrote my doctoral dissertation primarily on Nietzsche’s philosophy. In the first four chapters, I developed a textual, systematic reading of Nietzsche’s views on metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, and in the fifth chapter I gave my own account of metaethics which attempted, on the one hand, to further develop, supplement, and systematize Nietzsche’s best ideas, and, on the other hand, to revise, replace, or recontextualize his most flawed ones.
After years of intense focus on both reading and doing Nietzsche scholarship, towards the end of my dissertation my focus shifted to reading and doing more work on moral philosophy. And in the last two years of blogging at Camels With Hammers my focus has been primarily on continuing to talk about moral philosophy and has expanded to also include a heavy influence on the philosophy of religion and of atheism. I have continued to read Nietzsche but have for the most part been disinclined to blog about him with any frequency, even though this site’s name is an allusion to his philosophy and even though his philosophy is my area of strongest technical expertise.
But last night I was overwhelmed with a strong sense of the potential value of regular blogging on Nietzsche. Nietzsche himself is, to my mind, the 19th Century equivalent of a blogger. Rather than writing traditional books with focused topics and chapter long arguments, Nietzsche wrote most of his books in the form of numerous, numbered, short, several hundred word essays on a variety of loosely-related topics. His sections are self-contained enough that they can often be read profitably in isolation from the larger books they appear in or even from the sections immediately preceding or following them. But for a true and rich understanding of any given section’s full and most nuanced meaning, it must ultimately must be contextualized within the voluminous totality of Nietzsche’s complete writings. The same goes for his short, sentence or two long, aphorisms (or, as they would be called today, his “tweets”.*)
What I want to do therefore is devote blog posts to specific sections of Nietzsche’s writing and both explicate what is going on in each section and give the context which comes from years of studying and systematizing Nietzsche. I want to develop my own reading of Nietzsche by exploring how sections I did not have room to cover in my dissertation exemplify the points I made there (which I will reiterate here for you, since, of course you have not read my dissertation). Along the way I will be leisurely building a fuller and more nuanced textual and philosophical case for my interpretation of both Nietzsche and the philosophical insights he offers which I think deserve a wider hearing. I will be addressing head-on texts where Nietzsche says things I disagree with philosophically and I will be defending my interpretations of Nietzsche in the contexts of texts that on the surface seem to refute me.
Most importantly, I will be mining a rich wealth of insights for both professional philosophers and lay people (especially atheists) alike. Nietzsche is in many ways an under-tapped resource for the atheist community—despite his ubiquitous cultural association with atheism. Unfortunately, he is a provocative writer who says many things which out of context can be exploited by the enemies of atheism (and at least a few things which even in context, we would do best to disassociate ourselves from). I appreciate many atheists’ wariness to be linked to him because of his potential for drawing counter-productive controversy or because they do not have an adequate background in his writings to make sense of what is really going on in his writings. I hope to use more of Camels With Hammers to give such atheists the necessary guidance to properly understand and debate Nietzsche’s ideas for themselves.
Nietzsche is not a prophet to be read as an unquestionable fount of divine revelation. I will often enthusiastically trumpet some things he says as exciting and deserving of influence. I will regularly try to soften some of his more excessive rhetorical blows so they don’t overshadow his more nuanced insights. I will frequently attempt to show the deeper harmonies between his ideas where others see only flat contradictions. And I will give more positive attention to the humane and constructive side to his discussions of morality than one often hears from those who focus only on his harshly negative side.
But for all this I am not arguing that he is inerrant or free of any contradictions whatsoever or that his ideas have authority to which any one must submit categorically, without reasoning for themselves. Sometimes I will encourage running far far away from a given idea he defends. And sometimes we will learn much more from the debate he inspires than from his actual position. And sometimes the dialectic of my defense of him and your vigorous rejection of him will be the most productive aspect of these posts.
Feel free to suggest sections from Nietzsche that you would like me to discuss. Sometimes I may focus on a particular series of sections from one work, other times I may post on several sections that tackle a common theme across different works, and other times I may just discuss something that randomly struck me as worth highlighting. There will be no programmatic approach to the reading and writing schedule. I will just write on one section (or series of sections or group of sections) at a time and over time a fuller and fuller sense of Nietzsche’s philosophy and its value will emerge.
*Apologies to Eric Steinhart for the Nietzsche/Twitter observation.