Nietzsche, Naturalism and Interpretation (review)

Journal of the History of Philosophy 38 (4):606-607 (2000)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Reviewed by:Nietzsche, Naturalism and InterpretationJames WinchesterChristoph Cox. Nietzsche, Naturalism and Interpretation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. Pp. 241. Cloth, $45.00.This is a well-written book. It is clear. Making use of a wide variety of sources both analytic and continental, it argues that Nietzsche is a naturalist. By that Cox means that Nietzsche rejects other worldly sources of knowledge and being. Cox argues that Nietzsche rejects both the epistemological notion of a "God's eye view" and the ontological notion of a "pregiven world." For Nietzsche there is "a primacy and irreducibility of interpretation" (70). Nietzsche's commitment to naturalism allows him to argue that some interpretations are better than others, for naturalism becomes the bar according to which interpretations are judged. The best interpretations are those that eliminate all references to other-worldly phenomena.Cox does what he sets out to do. Assuming that there is a coherency to Nietzsche's thought—particularly to the writings from The Gay Science through to the end of Nietzsche's works—Cox buttresses his interpretation through extensive quotations from the published works. He also makes extensive use of the Nachlass—actually he uses the Will to Power to show Nietzsche's naturalism. And why not? Assuming that there is a unity in Nietzsche's thought, the book seeks to package the oft unruly Nietzsche in terms used in recent analytical debates about ontology and epistemology—and this the book does very well. Passages out of the Will to Power buttress Cox's argument that Nietzsche's thought fits into these categories. Still I would have preferred that he used the Nachlass. It is important to know when Nietzsche is writing. With the Will to Power we do not know how it fits into what Nietzsche was writing at the time.The book does not consider Nietzsche's own claim that his writing cannot be so neatly packaged. Nietzsche is suspicious of the will to systematize and I find that at times Cox overly systematizes Nietzsche's work. For example, according to Cox, Nietzsche rejects the notion that "there exists a pre-given world, nothing can serve as the foil for an interpretation except other interpretations." We transform interpretations not by confronting them with fact, but rather we transform one interpretation by leveraging it against another interpretation. Cox argues that for Nietzsche we never encounter a world outside of interpretation (160-161). For the most part this is right. Cox quotes extensively from Beyond Good and Evil. If we read the first section of that work "On the Prejudices of Philosophers," as a whole, then Nietzsche is not as consistent as Cox suggests. In aphorism 1 Nietzsche argues that no one ever seems to question the will to truth. He seems to be saying that one could seek out truth, but that it may be impossible to live with the truth. Nietzsche asks not what is true, but rather what is necessary for life and why has truth been valued. In aphorism 4 he writes that for him the falsity of a judgment is not an objection to it and that his philosophy might sound strangest when he claims that the falsest judgments are for him the most necessary. In aphorism 9, nature is described as something other than people have thought it to be. He writes, "In truth it is much different." In other words, here Nietzsche claims that he is right about the nature of the world and those who believe there are laws of nature are wrong. As Cox notes, in aphorism 22 Nietzsche does imply that his own vision of nature is "only an interpretation," but "On the Prejudices of Philosophers," or for that matter Nietzsche's [End Page 606] entire later philosophy is not as unambiguous about this as Cox suggests. (Cox also argues for a unitary interpretation of Will to Power in Nietzsche. I have argued against this position in my Nietzsche's Aesthetic Turn: Reading Nietzsche After Heidegger, Deleuze and Derrida [Albany: SUNY Press, 1994]).Cox is a good reader of Nietzsche, a good reader of current analytical thought, and a good reader of contemporary continental figures. To overemphasize Nietzsche...

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James Winchester
Emory University

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