Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Class on "Later Nietzsche"

As many students of philosophy also have noticed, many universities list classes on the later Wittgenstein and classes on the early Wittgenstein. The Later Wittgenstein class focuses on the work in the Philosophical Investigations, and the Early Wittgenstein class focuses on the work in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Such a focus seems wonderful.

However, Nietzsche is rarely (or never) given this detailed exposure (at the undergraduate level). With a far greater volume of published texts, nevertheless, professors seem to want to teach the contrasting views of the early, middle, and later Nietzsche, all in one semester, and in some cases they lack explicitely made distinctions in their program. (A studious friend who took the class on Nietzsche at Carnegie Mellon, having had to sprint through Nietzsche's published corpus in a single semester, left the class with a gigantic confusion and wondering "whether or not Nietzsche would have agreed with the values of the Nazi party.")

Yes, reading some of the early or middle Nietzsche does help illuminate the position of the later Nietzsche and so would mastering the Tractatus before proceeding to the Philosophical Investigations; however, at the beginning of the semester, a professor could do the task of briefly summarizing the issues of similarity and difference and then continue the semester with an exclusive focus on the delicate material of the later Nietzsche.

Such an upper division class would have many advantages for the student and for future Nietzsche studies, for many reasons: A more detailed exposition of his ideas would be available to students, students would be able to follow it more clearly, and this would spread a more scholarly introduction to Nietzsche himself, advocating a naturalist view and stimulating students to focus on specialized topics for their senior thesis (e.g. refined topics in Nietzsche's Philosophy of Action & Mind, of Language, Epistemology, etc.). The current approach to teaching Nietzsche to undergraduates leaves students confounded, uninformed, misled, and gives them an impression that the prolific writer was confusing, contradictory, and lacking in scholarly arguments. (Why do some philosophy professors attempt to include the entirety of Thus Spoke Zarathustra in introductory courses?)

I spoke to the instructor at Berkeley who will be teaching the class on Schopenhauer & Nietzsche 183, next semester. She told me that her tentative plan was to focus on "Schopenhauer & Nietzsche on Art" at which point my heart sank while she described that we would read from The World as Will and Representation, The Birth of Tragedy, and some excerpts from Nietzsche's later writings. I felt a little better when she reminded me that understanding their views on art would of course implicate understanding their metaphysical views. Nevertheless, as Leiter says in his Nietzsche on Morality,

As Whitman argues, part of what made The Birth of Tragedy an "embarrassment to classicists" was that it represented a return to "the magisterial tradition" of philology, then in disrepute due to the influence of the newer "scientific" model for the discipline.

Even Nietzsche himself finds The Birth of Tragedy to be a poor text (however, he notes in hindsight a few undeveloped inclinations that show evidence of his later ideas). So why in god's name do professors seek to incorporate this absurdity in their undergraduate courses? I could see the use perhaps in historical graduate courses - but why would you expose students to Nietzsche's worst writing? The next worst thing to do would be to add "On Truth and Lies in the Non-Moral Sense" to the syllabus or even Thus Spoke Zarathustra to an undisciplined audience.

At the least, the Schopenhauer & Nietzsche course could be miraculously restructured to "Schopenhauer & Nietzsche on the Will." This course could then focus on the development of theories of agency, beginning with a brief summary of the views stated by Kant and developed by Hegel, leading into a more detailed reading of Schopenhauer's contrasting development, and finally, discussing the influence these individuals had on Nietzsche's naturalistic thoughts on agency. This course would, of course, point out similarities between Nietzsche and Schopenhauer's psychological and physiological views (e.g. type-facts, the unconscious). To continue in this vein, the instructor could include some secondary literature (e.g. Leiter's article on "Nietzsche's Philosophy of Action") as well as some empirical, psychological literature on consciousness and against freedom of will. Now, THAT would make for an exciting class! - Schopenhauer & Nietzsche on Agency.

To end this post, I'm leaving a brief, hypothetical syllabus of a course exclusively on the Later Nietzsche. I'll keep this portion updated, based on any new ideas that come into my mind. (Plus, I'll add more details when I have time.)

Later Nietzsche

This course will focus on the ... course description.

Primary Texts:
On the Genealogy of Morality, trans. by Clark and Swensen.
Twilight of the Idols, trans. by . . .
Course Reader (including aphorisms from D, GS, BGE, A, EH, and WP).

Secondary Literature:
Nietzsche on Morality, by Leiter (introducing ideas of ch. 1 & 2 in lecture, and assigning the reading of ch. 3 & 4).
"Honest Illusion," by Hussain in Nietzsche and Morality edited by Leiter and Sinhababu.
"Nietzsche's Theory of the Will," by Leiter in Nietzsche on Freedom and Autonomy edited by Gemes & May.

. . .

Recommended Reading:
Nietzsche's Philosophical Context: An Intellectual Biography, by Brobjer.
Nietzsche's System, by Richardson.
. . .

I will update this syllabus.

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