Nietzsche’s Critiques

The Kantian Foundations of his Thought

R. Kevin Hill


Nietzsche_s CritiquesKevin Hill’s highly original new interpretation of Nietzsche’s philosophy is the first to examine in detail his debt to Kant, in particular the Critique of Pure Reason, Critique of Practical Reason, and Critique of Judgement. Nietzsche, Hill argues, knew Kant far better than is commonly thought, and can only be thoroughly understood in relation to Kant. Nietzsche’s Critiques maintains that beneath the surface of his texts there is a systematic commitment to a form of early Neo-Kantianismin metaphysics and epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics, grounded in his reading of the three Critiques, Kuno Fischer’s commentary on the first Critique, and Friedrich Lange’s discussion of Kant in The History of Materialism. The book also documents the decisive influence Nietzsche’s close reading of the Critique of Judgement had on the writing of the Birth of Tragedy, and offers a remarkably accessible interpretation of Kant’s system, while clarifying such difficult issues as the interpretation of Kant’s ‘Transcendental Deduction’ and his notion of reflective judgement. Lucid and thorough, Hill’s work will be of great value to scholars and students with interests in either of these philosophical giants, or in the history of ideas generally.


Abbreviations xii
A Note on Textual Methodology xiii
1. Nietzsche’s Flesh, Kant’s Skeleton
From Kant to Nietzsche
Germany in the later nineteenth century
Nietzsche’s secondary sources concerning Kant
Nietzsche’s reading of Kant
Nietzsche’s image of Kant
Reading Kant
The interpretation
PART ONE. The First Reading: Judgement (1868–1874)
2. The Critique of Judgement
The place of the Critique of Judgement in Kant’s thought
Aesthetic judgement
The unity of the concept of reflective judgement
Teleological judgement
The message of the Critique of Judgement
3. Early Nietzsche and the Critique of Judgement
Why Nietzsche read the Critique of Judgement
Schopenhauer on teleology
Lange, Darwin, and Kant
‘On the concept of the organic since Kant’
‘On Schopenhauer’
The Dionysian world artist
The aesthetics of Birth of Tragedy
Life force
PART TWO. The Second Reading: Reason (1880–1889)
4. Space, Time, and Idealism
Space and time in Kant
Space and time in Nietzsche
The Antinomies
5. Kant on Metaphysics
Nietzsche’s debt
The Deduction introduced
The Transcendental Deduction
The Paralogisms
Appendix: textual issues concerning the Transcendental
6. Nietzsche on Metaphysics
Kant’s and Nietzsche’s critiques compared
The presence of Kant in Truth and Lie
The argument of Twilight of the Idols: ‘reason’ in philosophy
Nietzsche’s reading of the Deduction and Paralogisms
Synthesis and struggle
7. The Critique of Morality
The three pillars of Kantian ethics
The second Critique and the Genealogy of Morals
Genealogy 203
First essay: slave morality as a source of moral intuitions
Second essay: conscience and the analysis of agency
Third essay: asceticism and the phenomenal–noumenal contrast
Conclusion: The Ruins of Reason?


1. Nietzsche’s Flesh, Kant’s Skeleton

It is said that the spirits of the night are alarmed when they catch sight of the
executioner’s sword: how then must they be alarmed when they are confronted by Kant’s
Critique of Pure Reason
! This book is the sword with which
deism was put to death in Germany. Frankly, in comparison with us
Germans, you French are tame and moderate. You have at most been able
to kill a king . . . Immanuel Kant has stormed . . . heaven, he has put the
whole crew to the sword, the Supreme Lord of the world swims unproven
in his own blood.

From Kant to Nietzsche
Nietzsche interpretation has become a central enterprise in making sense of the
often referred to but little understood phenomenon of postmodernism. There is
a widespread belief that we have entered a phase, not only in the history of
philosophy, but in many cultural spheres, which leaves the characteristic commitments, values, and dilemmas of modernity behind. Restricting our compass
to philosophy, it is noteworthy that many contemporary figures identify
Nietzsche with the turning point away from modernity. This claim about
Nietzsche’s historical importance appears to originate, in the first instance,
with Nietzsche himself. ‘We [i.e. Nietzsche and his readers?] have found the
exit out of the labyrinth of thousands of years. Who else has found it? Modern
man perhaps? I have got lost; I am everything that has got lost, sighs modern
man’ (
A 1).
Here Nietzsche implicitly claims not only to have transcended modernity,
but to have transcended the premodern, a feat ‘modern man’ attempted without success.
Nietzsche is not alone in claiming a unique historical status for himself; such
claims come hard on the heels of historicism itself.
1 Hegel’s encyclopaedic system completes the efforts of the history of philosophy to achieve a perfect representation of reality (including itself as a part of it). Marx ushers in a period in
which philosophers will no longer seek to understand the world, but to change
it; the last in a series of historical changes is here—after that, philosophers will
have little to do. Heidegger, not to be outdone, claims that Nietzsche was mistaken in regarding himself as the first post-metaphysical philosopher free of the
nihilistic burdens of the old tradition. In a spirit of healthy competition, he
reserves that distinction for himself; generously, Nietzsche is at least allowed to
be the last metaphysician.
To be fair, Heidegger did more than perhaps any one else to establish
Nietzsche’s reputation as a philosopher of the first rank, and not a mere literary
2 And despite Heidegger’s one-upmanship, his insistence on
Nietzsche’s historical singularity directed attention to Nietzsche’s own claims,
which are frequently endorsed in Continental philosophy. Subsequently,
Nietzsche has become associated with scepticism about or outright rejection of
just about anything familiar and of putative value; invocation of his name, especially in literary-critical circles, has become one with the elevation of philosophical avante-gardism to a principle. Nietzsche heralds, not just the death of
God, but the death of Man; Nietzsche is against truth, dishonesty, science,
Romanticism, democracy, capitalism, socialism, morality, and decadence.
To be sure, there have been dissenters to this view all along. Walter
Kaufmann, in a concerted effort to cleanse Nietzsche’s reputation of its association with a half century of German imperialism, produced the decisive
American interpretation: Nietzsche, like Emerson, challenges us to rise out of
our existential complacency; Nietzsche’s is a critique of religion much as many
liberals proffer.
3 This attempt to sanitize Nietzsche rested on the claim that he
Nietzsche’s Flesh, Kant’s Skeleton

is strongly committed to epistemic and moral views of his own. These commitments serve as the foundation upon which he builds his own radical critiques of
other positions, especially Christianity.
Both interpretations lose something of the bite of Nietzsche’s thought, but
they do capture important aspects of it. Yet their seeming exclusivity stalemates attempts to do justice to the texts. How can the reader make sense of the
seeming cohabitation of drastic scepticism (‘
Ultimate Scepsis— What are man’s
truths ultimately? Merely his
irrefutable errors’ (GS 265)) with dogmatic pronunciamentos (‘This world is will to power—and nothing else besides!’ (KGW
vii.3. 339 (1885)/WP 1067)), the uncomfortable proximity of an almost
Wildean freedom from morality with extreme ethical demands and condemnation? How to make sense of such seeming paradoxes in Nietzsche?
To answer these questions, I will attempt to reconstruct what I take to be the
skeletal structure of Nietzsche’s thought, stripped of its literary and rhetorical
surface. It would be a mistake to dismiss such a project on the grounds that
Nietzsche’s (or anyone else’s) thought cannot be cleanly distinguished from the
literary structures within which it is found. The same is true of skeletons more
generally. A skeleton is not the
essence of an animal body, nor can it function
without complex relations of interdependence upon viscera, muscles, skin,
blood, etc. One might also argue in Nietzschean fashion that our ability to distinguish between where a skeleton begins and where the softer flesh ends
depends upon various processes of reification, the imposition of imaginary
boundaries upon experiences that are essentially fluid and chaotic, and so on.
Still, it seems that anatomists do manage, in a rough-and-ready way, to find
such distinctions, whatever their ontological status. My interpretation is
offered in that spirit: I find it useful to regard certain central claims Nietzsche
makes as the relatively fixed carriage upon which Nietzsche hangs and carries
about his more changeable observations about specific topics. In the postQuinian era, it may no longer be possible to make sharp distinctions between
metaphysics and science, between framework and fact. But one can speak, if
necessary, of those parts of the web of someone’s beliefs that are closer to an
entrenched centre…

5. Kant on Metaphysics

Nietzsche’s debt
In Chapter 6, I will argue that Nietzsche’s critique of metaphysics is crucially
dependent on the transcendental psychological theory Kant sketches in the
Transcendental Deduction and the use he puts it to in the Paralogism’s attack
on rationalist arguments for the existence of mental substance. This claim is
central to my interpretative hypothesis that Nietzsche’s debt to Kant cannot be
accounted for by reference to Schopenhauer (who displays limited understanding of the Deduction and the Paralogisms and makes no positive use of this
aspect of Kant’s transcendental psychology in his own account of the ‘world as
1 Unfortunately, the Transcendental Deduction is the most
difficult of Kant’s texts to interpret, and arguably one of the most difficult texts
in the history of Western philosophy. So before we can see what Nietzsche
appropriated and to what extent he may have misappropriated Kant, we must
pass through the valley of the shadow of some thorny Kant exegesis.
The Deduction introduced
Kant began his career committed to Leibnizian/Wolffian metaphysics and
Newtonian physics. By the time he had written his Inaugural Dissertation, he
had arrived at the view of space and time presented in Chapter 4. This allowed
Kant to claim that Newtonian physics was correct as a characterization of the
world of appearances; Leibnizian argument can independently establish the
character of things-in-themselves.
This resolution was unstable. First, we need some intellectual resources
beyond sensibility to be able to construct Newtonian theory, in particular, the
1 WWR, ‘Criticism of the Kantian Philosophy’, 438–91.
concepts of substance and causality, and seemingly a priori principles concerning them; reason thus leaks into appearances. Second, there is a question about
the status of these principles themselves. They are clearly
a priori, but are they
analytic or synthetic? If they were analytic, there would be no problem about
their application to either appearances or reality.
2 All attempts to show that
they are analytic have failed. Furthermore, it is difficult to explain why historically there have been competing conclusions from reason about the nature of
reality, if the deliverances of reason are analytic. It looks as though these principles must be synthetic. Now synthetic
a posteriori truths are easy to come by,
given empirical intuition. How are we to account for synthetic
a priori truths?
We lack any intuitive connection to things-in-themselves. If we are not directly aware of things-in-themselves, there is something inexplicable about the
mind and reality being in harmony in this fashion. Descartes had ascribed the
assurance we have that our
a priori beliefs correspond to reality to the nondeceiving God. Kant was not having any of that.
There is a solution: what if the mind imposed order on its experience at an
intellectual and an intuitive level? Transcendental idealism resolved the problem of synthetic
a priori knowledge for geometry; perhaps the same approach
would work for metaphysics? Lacking the consensus we have over geometry,
we need some sort of argument that will justify the synthetic
a priori principles
of metaphysics that we need to do Newtonian theory. There is the answer: we
can do Newtonian theory, but we need these principles to do it, so these principles must be true. Could a sceptic not reply that perhaps we are mistaken in
thinking we can do Newtonian theory?
However that may be, we can be sure that we have experience. Understand
by experience the capacity to encounter nature-for-us and to make assertions
about it at all. That is something the sceptic cannot deny. If we can show
that there are ‘quasi-Newtonian’ concepts and principles presupposed in any
assertion-making about appearances at all, then it will follow that since we can
‘have experience’, the world of experience must be quasi-Newtonian.

About the author:

R. Kevin Hill

Associate Professor of Philosophy

Hill Portrait.pngR. Kevin Hill has been teaching in the department since 2004. His interests include philosophy of law, Kant, 19th and 20th century Continental philosophy. He is the author of Nietzsche’s Critiques: The Kantian Foundations of His Thought (Oxford, 2003) and Nietzsche: A Guide for the Perplexed (Continuum, 2007). He is also the editor/co-translator of The Will to Power (Penguin, 2017), the controversial anthology of Nietzsche’s notebooks.

He is currently working on a new translation of Nietzsche’s Joyous Science, also for Penguin, forthcoming in Spring of 2018.