Scholars are quite good at saying what Nietzsche didn’t like. My work on Nietzsche is motivated, in various ways, by the question of what he did like, in other words on what his positive ethics might have been. I began by looking at his notion of ‘freedom’ as a major contender — that was the subject of my PhD dissertation, and some of my earlier papers focus on that. Recently, I have turned my attention to ‘affirmation’, which is the subject of recents papers and works in progress. Another recent paper looks at Nietzsche’s writings on psychology and action, which are often used to ground readings of his ethics; I argue, though, that they are too confused to allow for such readings.
I am also interested in methodological questions about what scholars — especially philosophers — are trying to do when they read Nietzsche (and other figures in the history of philosophy). I touched on this question briefly in my TLS review and it crops up indirectly in other reviews I have written about books on Nietzsche. But my paper on the use of the principle of charity when interpreting Nietzsche’s work treats this in a more direct and substantial way.
I have a number of papers on Nietzsche in progress at the moment, on topics including affirmation, his relation to Schopenhauer and his use of history.
Nietzsche, the Mask, and the Problem of the Actor
from The Philosophy of Theatre, Drama and Acting, ed. Tom Stern, (London: Rowman and Littlefield International, 2017)
My chapter in this collection begins with an apparent contradiction in Nietzsche’s writing. On the one hand, Nietzsche liked to describe himself as ‘anti-theatrical’ and he did indeed put forward various criticisms of theatre and acting. On the other hand, he is also known as an advocate of using the mask, a theatrical device, in philosophical communication.
I argue that this tension is resolved by a better understanding of each of its components. But, in resolving this first tension, a further, more troubling tension is revealed: a tension between Nietzsche’s project of translating man back into nature and his views about how such a project could be communicated or expressed. Put simply: it looks like the project of translating man back into nature — of describing us as we really are — is self-undermining.
“Some Third Thing”: Nietzsche's Words and the Principle of Charity
The Journal of Nietzsche Studies 47: 2, Summer 2016, pp. 287-302
The ‘principle of charity’ is often used to interpret figures in the history of philosophy. Roughly, it tells us not to interpret someone in a way that makes them look foolish, if there’s a way of interpreting them that doesn’t make them look foolish. After all, they probably meant the non-foolish thing. But in this article, I try to explain why I’m suspicious of the way that the principle of charity is used, especially when it is applied to a philosopher like Nietzsche.
I also wrote a blog post, based on this article, but aimed at a general reader, for the Forum for European Philosophy.
Against Nietzsche's 'Theory' of the Drives
Journal of the American Philosophical Association (2015), Vol. 1, Issue 1, pp. 121-140
Nietzsche often writes about our ‘drives’ and their relation to our actions. Did he have a relatively clear, stable and consistent theory of mind or an account of human psychology in which our ‘drives’ play an important part? Can we base our account of his positive ethics on such an account? This latest paper argues that Nietzsche’s writings about drives are inconsistent to the point where a ‘rational reconstruction’ of his views is not possible. To undertake such a task is to underestimate the tangle of contradictory positions Nietzsche takes. Yet many have offered such an account in Nietzsche’s name. Perhaps it comes down to a view about what we read Nietzsche for. I touch on this briefly at the end.
Below, you can find a link to the final version of the paper or a PDF of the final draft.
'On Analysis' (TLS Nietzsche Review Article)
Times Literary Supplement, No. 5814, September 5th, 2014
This piece looks at Nietzsche and Nietzsche scholarship through the lens of some recently published books. Nietzsche has attracted such a wide variety of interpretations; it is fruitful to think about why. One focus of the piece, via the recent publication of the Oxford Handbook of Nietzsche (eds Gemes/Richardson), is the so-called ‘analytic Nietzsche’: who is he and what does he want?
Nietzsche, Amor Fati and The Gay Science
Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Volume 113, Issue 2, 2013, pp. 145-162.
This recent paper looks at Nietzsche’s notion of amor fati, to see what it is and whether it might support a Nietzschean ethic of some kind. Most writers think that, in endorsing ‘amor fati’, Nietzsche requires us to love all the terrible things that happen to us. I argue that this is a bad idea in general and a very bad idea if you are Nietzsche. So I offer a different interpretation.
Nietzsche, Freedom, and Writing Lives
Arion, 17.1 (2009), pp. 85-110
This paper gives an interpretation of the notion of freedom in Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols. It also gives an interpretation of Twilight of the Idols via Nietzsche’s notion of freedom. Along the way, I look at Nietzsche’s analysis of the significance of historical figures like Socrates, Caesar and Napoleon.
Nietzsche on Context and the Individual
Nietzscheforschung vol. 15 (2008) pp. 299-315
Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra seems to call for a bright new future, embodied in the figure of the Übermensch (or: ‘Superman’). It also seems to suggest that everything repeats itself forever (the ‘eternal recurrence’), so no meaningful progress of any kind – including the Übermensch – is possible. These two positions don’t sit well together. This paper offers a reading of Thus Spoke Zarathustra in the light of these apparently conflicting claims.