Nietzsche and Modern German Thought

Edited by Keith Ansell-Pearson


ISBN 0-203-00397-7 Master e-book ISBN

Nietzsche is no longer a marginal figure in the study of philosophy. This collection of specially commissioned essays reflects the emergence of a serious interest amongst philosophers, sociologists and political theorists. By considering Nietzsche’s ideas in the context of the modern philosophical tradition from which it emerged, his importance in contemporary thought is refined and reaffirmed.
Modern German thought begins with Kant and has rarely escaped his influence. It is with respect to this Kantian heritage that this volume examines Nietzsche. These essays critically consider Nietzsche’s relation to Kant and the post-Kantian tradition. In broad terms it is his relation to the domains of knowledge, ethics and aesthetics, that is through the three Kantian critiques, that Nietzsche’s thought is illuminated. This allows a surprising variety of areas and questions, both about Nietzsche and about philosophy to be investigated.



Notes on contributors v
Keith Ansell-Pearson
1 Nietzsche, Christianity, and the legitimacy of tradition
John Walker
2 Kant, Lange, and Nietzsche: critique of knowledge
George J.Stack
3 Schein in Nietzsche’s philosophy
Robert Rethy
4 Hermeneutics and Nietzsche’s early thought
Nicholas Davey
5 Nietzsche, the self, and Schopenhauer
Christopher Janaway
6 Marx and Nietzsche: the individual in history
Ian Forbes
7 Nietzsche and the problem of the will in modernity
Keith Ansell-Pearson
8 Autonomy and solitude
9 Affirmation and eternal return in the Free-Spirit Trilogy
Howard Caygill
10 Art as insurrection: the question of aesthetics in Kant,
Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche

Nick Land
iv Nietzsche and Modern German Thought
11 Reading the future of genealogy: Kant, Nietzsche, Plato
Michael Newman
12 Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the metaphysics of modernity
Robert B.Pippin


Keith Ansell-Pearson

Almost every important German thinker, even if he has not
remained a Kantian, has at least started out from Kant and from
the need clearly to define his position with respect to Kant’s ideas.
Lucien Goldmann,
Immanuel Kant
Recent years have seen an astonishing array of studies on Nietzsche’s
philosophy reflecting the emergence of a serious and scholarly
interest in Nietzsche’s writings amongst Anglo-American
philosophers, sociologists, and political theorists. This volume sets out
to make a contribution to the current revaluation of Nietzsche’s
philosophy. All of the essays have been specially written at the
request of the editor and have not appeared before. The aim is to
examine in a critical and illuminating way Nietzsche’s relation to
Kant and the post-Kantian tradition of modern German thought. The
volume taken as a whole is designed to cast light on the chief areas
of Nietzsche’s relation to the Kantian heritage that encompasses the
domains of knowledge, ethics, and art as articulated in Kant’s three
major critiques of pure reason, of practical reason, and of judgement.
Some grandiose claims have been made on behalf of Nietzsche’s
writings in recent years—that he brings about the end of the western
philosophical tradition, that he overcomes metaphysics, that he
inaugurates a post-philosophical style of thinking, that he is the first
postmodernist, and so on. But the claim that Nietzsche breaks with
the philosophical tradition neglects the fact that his innermost
thinking is born out of a ‘confrontation’ (the German is
Auseinandersetzung, denoting a settlement, an exchange) with the
modern philosophical tradition. By emphasizing the importance of
situating Nietzsche’s ideas in the context of the modern philosophical
tradition it is not the intention of the volume to undermine the radical
nature of his thought; rather, it has to be the case that the originality

2 Nietzsche and Modern German Thought
and radicalness of any thinker can only be fully appreciated when his
or her ideas are situated in the context of the tradition that the particular
thinker was seeking to overcome. In several ways the essays which
make up this volume can be taken to constitute exercises in what
Nietzsche called philosophical labouring (a kind of labour that he
himself was fairly industrious at). This does not reflect an impotence of
the intellect, or a failure to take risks and experiment, but the belief
shared by a number of the contributors is that the task of philosophical
legislation has become increasingly problematic in recent years with the
advent of what, for the sake of shorthand, can be called the ‘postmodern condition’—a condition which is neither regressive nor
progressive, but which simply denotes a difficulty and a problem
concerning the actualization of philosophy and the status of modern
forms of knowledge and truth.
In the essay on ‘Nietzsche, Christianity, and the legitimacy of
tradition’ which opens the volume, John Walker examines Nietzsche’s
appraisal of the significance of Kant’s critique of metaphysics. Kant’s
critique of metaphysics undoubtedly constituted the most important and
lasting influence on Nietzsche’s education as a philosopher. In his
philosophical notebooks of 1872–3, for example, he is preoccupied with
what he regards as the fundamental revolution in thought brought about
by Kant’s philosophy: ‘The altered position of philosophy since Kant.
Metaphysics impossible. Self-castration. Tragic resignation, the end of
philosophy. Only art has the capacity to save us’ (Kritische
Gesamtausgabe: Werke III, 4, 19 [319]). Walker draws on the insights
of Alasdair MacIntyre in order to show that Nietzsche’s attempt to
inaugurate a new style of philosophy has to be understood in the context
of a tradition, in this case that of European Christianity and its
philosophical inheritance in Kant and Hegel. Despite its claim to have
established the possibility of a new kind of philosophy, Nietzsche’s
thought, Walker maintains, remains inextricably tied to the philosophical
tradition in so far as it retains what are essentially Kantian premisses.
Walker shows that Nietzsche wished to cultivate a specifically existential
reading of the meaning and significance of Kant’s critique of
metaphysics, so that it becomes, as it had been for Kleist, an existential
experience. Thus he is less concerned with the validity of the
conclusions arrived at about truth and knowledge by Kant from a
critique of reason than with the existential conclusions we need to draw
from our reading of that critique about the activity of philosophy itself.
However, Walker argues that Nietzsche’s critique of metaphysics is
ultimately self-contradictory in that it attempts to establish a philosophy
that will be life-affirming and life-enhancing but which, in its claim that

Introduction 3
thought must serve existential and practical needs, cannot demonstrate
the legitimacy of its own mode of philosophical argument and reasoning.
Walker finds Hegel’s attempt to overcome metaphysics a more coherent
enterprise since, unlike Nietzsche’s critique, it does not separate the
epistemological and existential aspects of philosophical argumentation.
Walker is adamant that his reading of Nietzsche is not a reactionary one
but a concrete one which situates the ‘text’ of Nietzsche’s philosophy
in an appropriate and illuminating ‘context’.
In his essay on ‘Kant, Lange, and Nietzsche’, George Stack sets out
to show the importance of a book which Nietzsche read avidly on its
publication in 1866, namely, F.A.Lange’s
History of Materialism, and
which served to mediate his reading and appropriation of Kant. Stack
shows that Nietzsche’s preoccupation with Kantian themes extends from
the philosophical notebooks of 1872 to the late 1880s, a longevity which
reveals Nietzsche’s intense concern with epistemological questions and
issues. Nietzsche’s critical analyses of truth, knowledge, belief, and
scientific concepts are essential, Stack argues, to his attempt to articulate
a post-metaphysical and post-epistemological conception of philosophy.
Stack’s essay illuminates for us the philosophical context in which
Nietzsche sought to formulate a new mythopoetic and existential
conception of philosophy.
In his essay entitled ‘
Schein in Nietzsche’s philosophy’, Robert Rethy
examines the extent to which Nietzsche’s attempt to overcome
metaphysics still operates within metaphysical oppositions, notably
Kant’s distinction between appearance and the thing-in-itself. What
concerns Rethy is the use of the distinction between
Schein (semblance)
Erscheinung (appearance) in Nietzsche’s early writings and the way
in which his later work is characterized by the opposition between
Schein and the will to power. In the Birth of Tragedy semblance is
conceived by Nietzsche to be the power that is constitutive of visibility,
Erscheinung is conceived as mere appearance. Turning to the
works of Nietzsche’s so-called middle period (1878–82), Rethy contends
that here we find an elimination of the duality between appearance and
a deeper level of reality such as the thing-in-itself, and in its place the
triumph of the notion of
Schein as a notion which contains its opposite
within itself. Art is celebrated by Nietzsche precisely because it affirms
the ‘good will to semblance’. The rest of his essay is devoted to
examining the implications of the fascinating relationship between
Schein and will to power as it appears in Nietzsche’s later works.
Throughout, Rethy’s analysis is guided by the question to what extent
Nietzsche’s thinking remains determined by metaphysical oppositions in
spite of its radical pretensions.

4 Nietzsche and Modern German Thought
In his essay on ‘Hermeneutics and Nietzsche’s early thought’,
Nicholas Davey sets out to show that Nietzsche’s early thought is best
understood as a hermeneutic project. Davey argues that Nietzsche’s
place in this important tradition of modern European thought rests not
so much on his posthumous influence on thinkers as diverse as
Heidegger, Derrida, and Foucault, but on the rigour and independence
of his attempt to develop a radical style of hermeneutic philosophizing
that is attuned to the existential needs of modern European culture. His
essay contains a reassessment of Nietzsche’s early philological output in
order to show that for Nietzsche hermeneutics did not constitute a
distinct branch of philosophical criticism but an integral part of his
classical interests. Davey shows that Nietzsche’s appreciation of
hermeneutic thought arises out of a critique of the tradition of
SachPhilologie which ignored the existential context of learning and culture.
This leads him to the major argument that the
Birth of Tragedy is not
simply an essay on Greek art and literature, but a dual response to the
crisis within the discipline of philology and within European culture.
However, Davey argues that Nietzsche aimed not to simply destroy
philology but to reform it by showing how it could become culturally
and existentially relevant. Thus, it is mistaken to view Nietzsche’s
relationship to the philosophical tradition either in terms of a
revolutionary break or in terms of an eccentric decentring.
When Nietzsche is celebrated today as a deconstructionist
avant la
it is usually for what is widely regarded as his destruction of the
notion of the rational, unified, self-conscious, autonomous self or
subject. In his essay on ‘Nietzsche, the self, and Schopenhauer’,
Christopher Janaway critically examines Nietzsche’s critique of the idea
of the self from the perspective of Schopenhauer’s understanding of the
will. His major contention is that despite claims to the contrary
Nietzsche does not fully overcome the problems and tensions which
result from any attempt to abandon or deconstruct a notion of the self.
Janaway argues that a great deal of the undermining of the notion of
the wholly rational, self-conscious subject had already been performed
by Nietzsche by his great mentor Schopenhauer. However, unlike Kant
and Schopenhauer, both of whom attacked the notion of the soul
conceived as substance, Nietzsche does not wish to hold on to the
notion of the subject as a single, united entity which claims to be an
‘I’. Nietzsche sets out to discredit both the notion that there is a single
subject and the notion that there is a single entity called the ‘will’. If
in the end a notion of the subject is indispensable this is not because
of an epistemological a priori but a psychological one, that is, such a
notion does not serve the purpose of grounding the truth or falsity of

Introduction 5
objective knowledge of ‘reality’, but that of enhancing or depressing the
will to power. In an intriguing concluding assessment of Nietzsche’s
relation to Schopenhauer, Janaway aims to show that Nietzsche’s
celebration of multiplicity and heterogeneity (of impulses, drives, affects,
even subjects) must still rely on a notion of the self as agent since there
must exist ‘something’ which gives style to character and controls the
drives and affects necessary for there to be a coherent sense of selfhood
(the way in which, as Nietzsche teaches, ‘one becomes what one is’).
In his essay on ‘Marx and Nietzsche: the individual in history’, Ian
Forbes sets out to show that although Marx and Nietzsche cannot be
compressed into the same theoretical mould it can be demonstrated that
their achievements as two great ‘masters of suspicion’ have been
formative influences in the development of western perceptions of self
and change in society. Despite the fact that the political and economic
order of western societies confirms narrow, ‘bourgeois’ assumptions
about the individual, Forbes insists that it is a concept that is always
open to contestation. What Forbes shows through a careful reading of
the two thinkers is that a concern with the possibilities for effective
autonomous action is fundamental to both. Against any easy
categorization of Marx’s thought as the pinnacle of Enlightenment
modernism and Nietzsche’s thought as the expression of an irrationalist
counter-Enlightenment, Forbes argues that it is more accurate to describe
their contributions to the development of a radical conception of
individuality by seeing Nietzsche as the Dionysus to Marx’s Apollo.
Despite their different valuations of consciousness and rationality, the
political vision of both is of a polity in which individuals who are the
product of a certain social and historical evolution learn how to preside
over a personal re-creation, that is, how individuals learn to become selfdetermining, in a word, ‘autonomous’.
In his essay on ‘Nietzsche and the problem of the will in modernity’,
Ansell-Pearson situates Nietzsche’s notion of will to power in the
context of Hegel’s recognition of the autonomous will as a defining
moment of the modern, in order to illuminate its status as a metaphor
of self-legislation. Viewed as a problem of politics, the question of the
will, as it is posed by the modern tradition deriving from Rousseau, is
a question about the nature of law and sovereignty (political legitimacy).
In Rousseau, for example, it is the authentic self-legislation of the
individual will which provides the only legitimate ground of political
authority: ‘I submit only to the law I myself have given’, as Nietzsche
puts it in a passage in
Daybreak. Nietzsche departs from Rousseau and
Kant, however, in positing the relationship between autonomy and
morality (universality) as mutually exclusive. The crucial question for

6 Nietzsche and Modern German Thought
Nietzsche about politics in the modern period is that concerning the
value-basis on which sovereign individuals—individuals emancipated
from the morality of custom and proud possessors of free will—are to
enter into social relationships and construct their ethico-political
identities. Ansell-Pearson is sceptical, however, about recent claims that
Nietzsche’s doctrine of will to power is capable of providing the basis
for developing a postmodern conception of human agency, since the
question about the relationship between the particular and the universal
which runs through the modern tradition is not resolved in Nietzsche but
revealed in all its tension and difficulty.
In the context of a discussion of Kant’s attempt to establish
autonomy as the supreme principle of morality in the form of the
categorical imperative, Jay Bernstein’s essay on ‘Autonomy and solitude’
examines how Nietzsche’s non-moral conception of autonomy partakes
of the aporia characteristic of modernity. The key contrast to be drawn
is that between autonomy and heteronomy, that is, between what the
will determines for itself and what determines the will, while the crucial
question concerns how it is possible to distinguish between the
autonomous and heteronomous aspects of our being, of locating
precisely where the ‘freedom’ of the will lies. Bernstein contends that
unless it is possible to provide the self or subject with any essential
determination then the project of autonomy must collapse. His essay
contains a novel and suggestive reading of the relationshp between the
doctrine of eternal return and that of will to power. The thought of
eternal return is designed, Bernstein contends, to illuminate the relation
of the self to itself, in the sense that it poses the question, what relation
must there be between a self and its ruling thought if that thought is
to be autonomous? What concerns Nietzsche is not the universality of
the will which wills itself (is autonomous), but rather the attitudinal
relation between the self and its will. But, considered as a categorical
imperative, the eternal return immediately cancels itself out when it is
commanded because it becomes something unconditional and dogmatic.
It is within the paradoxes of the thought of eternal return that Bernstein
instinctively locates the source of Nietzsche’s interrogation and
dissolution of the modern project of autonomy.
In his essay on ‘Affirmation and eternal return in the Free-Spirit
Trilogy’, Howard Caygill performs a major reassessment of the place of
the doctrine of eternal return in Nietzsche’s thought. Through a reading
of Nietzsche’s Free-Spirit Trilogy (the works written between 1872 and
1882), Caygill sets out to show that the true significance of the thought
of eternal return is best appreciated in the context of Nietzsche’s
confrontation with the ‘crisis of judgement’ experienced in post-Kantian

Introduction 7
thought. Jürgen Habermas, for example, traces the ‘philosophical
discourse of modernity’ to the problem of validating discrimination, and
sees Nietzsche’s will to power as the source of recent antiEnlightenment tendencies in French thought. The legitimacy for his own
reading, Caygill insists, is to be found in Nietzsche himself, notably in
Ecce Homo where eternal return is construed neither in terms of its
systematic relationship to the notions of will to power and the overman
nor as a solution to the problem of liberation from
ressentiment, but as
an aporia or puzzle which opens up new philosophical spaces. The
thought of eternal return, Caygill sets out to show, is ‘beyond’ the yes
and no of judgement. Consequently, it is argued, the thought should not
be construed, as is commonly the case, in terms of its relationship to
the doctrine of will to power since the thought is beyond the judgement
contained in will to power (its yes and no, its active and reactive
nature). Here Caygill departs radically from the interpretations put
forward in the essays by Ansell-Pearson and Bernstein in which will to
power itself is seen as the major principle of Nietzsche’s philosophy
beyond good and evil. To include eternal return within the teaching of
will to power, however, Caygill argues, is to subject it to the oppositions
of metaphysical thinking. The affirmation contained in eternal return
precludes and exceeds the judgemental willing of the subject.
In his essay entitled ‘Art as insurrection: the question of aesthetics
in Kant, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche’, Nick Land develops a
challenging reading of Nietzsche’s radicalization of aesthetics in the
context of a discussion of Kant’s third critique on judgement, arguing
that Kant’s thought on art is a symptom of a deep trauma afflicting the
critical enterprise, and in the context of Schopenhauer’s discovery of the
unconscious basis of drives and his radicalization of desire. Land reads
the figure of Dionysus in Nietzsche as an exacerbation of the radical
tendencies of the tradition in that it conceives desire as the collective
liquidation of institutions, in which art and desire are utterly fused. He
further contends that the problem of desire finds a materialist
displacement in Nietzsche, in that it is affirmed as recurrent excitation
and freed from any redemptive metaphysics. Land sees the significance
of Nietzsche’s aesthetic practice in the way in which it refuses
philosophy’s attempt to rationalize, normalize, and limit the unconscious,
imagination, and genius. It is art which exceeds and resists the policing
of the unconscious by philosophy and the attempt to control and limit
libidinal energy. Contra the bureaucrats of pure reason Nietzsche
celebrates the madness of art.

8 Nietzsche and Modern German Thought
In ‘Reading the future of genealogy: Kant, Nietzsche, Plato’,
Michael Newman addresses the problem of reading as an explicit
theme of Nietzsche’s writing. In aphorism 137 of his
Mixed Opinions
and Maxims
(1879) Nietzsche writes that the worst readers are the
ones ‘who proceed like plundering soldiers’. In the preface to the
Genealogy of Morals he argues that in order to understand his texts
there needs to be cultivated ‘an art of exegesis’, an art which requires
not the plundering of soldiers but the ‘rumination’ of a cow. Newman
explores the implications of Nietzsche’s demand for an art of exegesis
in the context of the ‘future’, the fate, of a genealogy of morals where
the emphasis is on effecting a self-overcoming of modernity. The fate
of Nietzsche’s
Genealogy of Morals must reside in the future as his
project is unreadable by ‘modern men’ who are unskilled in the art of
exegesis. Nietzsche’s text is thus composed for the benefit of a future
humanity that is in some sense ‘beyond’
(über) man, that is, over-man.
Newman’s focus on the problem of reading in Nietzsche has the effect
of showing that questions about Nietzsche’s importance and about the
significance of his thought are inseparable from questions of how we
are to read him and about how his experimental texts are designed to
serve as mediums of philosophical education. Newman attempts to
illuminate the problem of reading (in) Nietzsche by relating
Nietzsche’s concerns with those of Plato in the
Phaedrus on love,
reading, writing, and speech, and with those of Kant on art and genius
in the
Critique of Judgement.
Finally, in the essay on ‘Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the metaphysics
of modernity’ which concludes the volume, Robert Pippin sets out to
raise a number of important questions concerning the radical turn
philosophy takes in Nietzsche by considering Heidegger’s influential
reading of him as the last metaphysician of the west whose thought
completes the modern metaphysics of subjectivity. For Pippin the key
question to be asked of Nietzsche’s philosophy is quite simple: how are
we to understand it? It is especially important to ask this and related
questions if we are to comprehend the grip Nietzsche continues to hold
over our current imagination. Heidegger’s great claim is that despite its
radical pretensions Nietzsche’s thought remains inextricably linked to
metaphysics (not only in its Cartesian sense but also its Platonic one)
in that it shares certain assumptions about subjectivity that are common
to the tradition. Pippin’s essay, however, has wider ambitions than
merely assessing Heidegger’s controversial reading of Nietzsche. He also
wants to challenge the way in which Heidegger develops an intellectual
history through a history of philosophy. What needs to be considered,
Pippin argues, is the Nietzschean counter-charge to a Heideggerian

Introduction 9
nostalgia for the experience of Being. Such a change would amount to
the claim that the disclosure of the contingent, social and psychological
origins of metaphysical beliefs discredits any romantic yearning for the
kind of experience of Being which prevails in Heidegger’s work.
It is hoped that the essays in this volume will serve to inspire further
research into the area of Nietzsche’s relation to the modern
philosophical tradition. No attempt has been made to impose a unity on
the collection. Indeed, a number of essays clash on how we are to
interpret fundamental aspects of Nietzsche’s thought. But this conflict
of interpretation seems to me to represent a more healthy and
appropriate response to the challenge of Nietzsche’s legacy than any
spurious unanimity of what that legacy amounts to.

About the author:

Keith-Ansell-Pearson1Keith Ansell-Pearson is a British philosopher specializing in the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze. He is currently Professor of Philosophy at Warwick University. Ansell-Pearson is the author of numerous books including Germinal Life, Viroid Life and Philosophy and the Adventure of the Virtual.


Ansell-Pearson graduated from the University of Sussex and taught at the University of Malawi in southern Africa and Queen Mary College in London. He joined the Philosophy Department of the University of Warwick in 1993 and has held a Personal Chair since 1998.

He is on the editorial boards of Journal of Nietzsche Studies, Nietzsche-Studien, Deleuze Studies, Cosmos and History and the book series Nietzsche Now. He serves on the scientific committee of Nietzscheana.


Ansell-Pearson is known for his work on Nietzsche, Bergson, and Deleuze, and for exploring their work in the context of modern biophilosophy.[3] Lately he has been focusing on Nietzsche’s neglected middle period texts, especially The Dawn.