Nietzsche Not As Metaphysical But Political Philosopher

Nietzsche is either a strikingly poor metaphysician, or a brilliant political philosopher. I prefer to believe the latter is the truth, although I seem to be in a bit of a minority from what I can tell.

Not that most people who know of Nietzsche will say explicitly that he’s a bad metaphysician. They only say, in my (admittedly limited) experience, that he comes to metaphysical conclusions that might be true, on the basis of arguments that tell us nothing about metaphysics. And since he’s witty and entertaining and stylish and famous, that must presumably be okay.

What greater insult could a philosopher receive than to be praised condescendingly as a supremely entertaining fallacy-factory?

We could easily summarize a typically Nietzschean sort of thought in this way: Weak people want to escape this world, and so any theory that posits a world beyond this one is an invention born of weakness, and thus, no world exists beyond our own. Here is an example of how people want to read Nietzsche. He’s saying something about ultimate reality, on the basis of an argument that proves nothing about ultimate reality itself.

And at times, surely, that is how he sounds. Yet, it is important to keep in mind the Nietzschean way of writing philosophy. He is no Kant, no Aquinas, no Aristotle. Those philosophers are themselves often ambiguous, difficult, diversely interpreted, but without a doubt they are making some effort to be clear and consistent and comprehensible. Nietzsche is more playful than they, far more literary in his philosophical writing.

Nietzsche can be difficult to pin down. When is he being ironic? When is he being hyperbolic? When is he trying to invoke an idea or a mood indirectly through his statements? We are left with considerable latitude in how to interpret him.

I am certain he knew he would be read as a mere gigantic impish fallacy, and he chose to be happy with that. His writing reveals itself differently to different readers.

If we choose to read him sympathetically, to assume at every point that he actually knew how to recognize a fallacious argument and was trying to say something not fallacious, even if a piece of writing seems easily read as a fallacy, then quickly a pattern becomes clear.

Nietzsche is talking about us.

He’s not talking so much about the universe or ultimate reality or things as they really are.

He speaks about human nature.

He speaks about human thought as it stands in its many streams in the modern world.

He speaks about life and choice and perception and happiness. He speaks insightfully about those things. That, then, is how I’ll choose to hear him.

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