Nietzschean Self-Cultivation: Connecting His Virtues to His Ethical Ideal

Journal of Value Inquiry 53 (1):55-73 (2019)

Authors
Matthew Dennis
University of Warwick (PhD)
Abstract
Interpretations of Nietzsche as a virtue theorist have proliferated in recent years as commentators have sought to read him as a modern eudaimonistic philosopher while also attempting to show what makes his contribution to this tradition valuable and distinctive.1While some commentators still contend that interpreting Nietzsche as a eudaimonist is antithetical to his overtly-stated philosophical aims,2 over the last decade there has been a upsurge of support for such readings, especially from commentators who emphasise what they claim is the pervasive influence of the Hellenistic tradition on his work. Keith Ansell-Pearson has argued that Epicurus was a key influence on Nietzsche’s middle period, for example; whereas Michael Ure has claimed that the Stoic thought of Seneca and Epictetus was also highly influential.3 Nevertheless, even those commentators who agree that Nietzsche can be informatively situated, or is even best situated, within the Hellenistic tradition cannot agree on two seemingly-intractable puzzles which any virtue-theoretical reading must solve in order to give a full account of his moral philosophy. The puzzles can be stated as follows: Puzzle 1: Which character traits does Nietzsche endorse as virtues? Puzzle 2: What is Nietzsche’s ethical ideal? This article offers an exegetical strategy to shed light on both puzzles, especially the first one regarding which character traits Nietzsche endorses as virtues which, as we shall see, is tougher to answer by a straightforward appeal to his texts. To elucidate this puzzle, I will propose that his approving comments regarding excellence-based moral philosophy indicate that his own ethics is also structured in terms of an ethical ideal with a requisite set of virtues which, following his ancient philosophical influences, he views as fundamentally connected. As Julia Annas notes, one the most distinctive ‘assumptions which ancient theories make [is] the relationship of [our] virtues to our final end’,4 and given Nietzsche’s interest in, and apparent endorsement of, ancient eudaimonism – especially compared to his invariably scathing remarks on the modern deontological and utilitarian traditions – we have reason to think that he shares this view.5 What is significant for this article, however, is that Nietzsche’s commitment to a kind of eudaimonism modelled on the ancient world offers a potential way to solve both puzzles. If his virtues and ethical ideal are connected in a similar way to ancient eudaimonistic theories, then understanding his ethical ideal allows us to infer which character traits he endorses as virtues, and vice versa. Although it might be objected that a method tackling both puzzles in tandem would be unworkable if their solutions were contained in each other, in what follows I will show that Nietzsche’s extensive comments on his ethical ideal of ‘becoming what one is’ positions us in a strong position to infer which character traits he prizes most highly. I will call these character traits ‘virtues of self-cultivation’.
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DOI 10.1007/s10790-018-9635-z
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References found in this work BETA

Nietzsche: Life as Literature.Richard Schacht - 1988 - Philosophical Review 97 (2):266.
The Most Agreeable of All Vices: Nietzsche as Virtue Epistemologist.Mark Alfano - 2013 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 21 (4):767-790.
How One Becomes What One Is Called. Alfano - 2015 - Journal of Nietzsche Studies 46 (2):261.
The Pyrrhonian Revival in Montaigne and Nietzsche.Jessica N. Berry - 2004 - Journal of the History of Ideas 65 (3):497-514.
Nietzsche's Ethics and His War on 'Morality'.Simon May - 1999 - Philosophy 76 (297):464-468.

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