"Human, All-Too-Human": Nietzsche's Early Genealogical Method

Dissertation, The University of Wisconsin - Madison (1989)

The aim of this thesis is to make sense of Nietzsche's method of analyzing and criticizing metaphysical beliefs and explanations in Human, All-Too-Human. His approach to traditional philosophical questions employs what I call the genealogical method: beliefs and ideas are criticized by revealing their origin and history in the empirical world. I argue that his method offers a philosophically legitimate strategy for rejecting metaphysical explanations. How his method works is demonstrated with respect to the notion of the thing-in-itself originated because of a misinterpretation of natural phenomena. Secondly, he contends that the way in which belief in the thing-in-itself has been perpetuated is epistemically suspect. He finally attempts to show that it is unnecessary to postulate the existence of a thing-in-itself in order to explain phenomena. The upshot of his argument is that the thing-in-itself is a pseudo-concept which ought to be expelled from the domain of philosophic discourse. Nietzsche applies this same argument to any number of metaphysical ideas traditionally used to explain religious, moral and aesthetic phenomena. I also show that his genealogical method serves to clear the ground for a more naturalistic account of the world, where reason and science are said to represent a form of "higher culture." I examine Nietzsche's theory of culture and argue that, on his view, the intellectual development of the individual recapitulates the cultural development of humankind. This insight establishes an important link between Nietzsche's psychological explanations of human activity and his more general historical analyses. I finally discuss his difficulty in resolving the tension between the demand for truth and the need for error within higher culture. The artistic metaphors he uses to illustrate how higher culture can accommodate these antagonistic elements are shown to be unsatisfactory
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