Maria Cristina Fornari. La morale evolutiva del gregge: Nietzsche legge Spencer e Mill
Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 2006. 358 pp. ISBN 88-467-1526-8
Reviewed by João Tiago Proença
This study focuses on the utilitarian moral philosophies that influenced Nietzsche in the period from 1876 to 1886. During this decade, Nietzsche emancipated himself from Wagnerian tutelage (at least publicly, the inner distance is already perceptible in the correspondence). It became vox populi in the Wagner circle and among Nietzsche's friends to blame Paul Rée for the shift in Nietzsche's writings. And it is precisely with Rée that Fornari's work begins; it is unfortunate that his name does not appear in the title of the book. This is not easy to understand, since the work is divided into three equal parts: the first one is entirely dedicated to Rée, with the other two dealing with Herbert Spencer and J. S. Mill respectively.
In the first part, Fornari gives a brief sketch of naturalist and materialist thought in Germany and then moves on to Rée as the heir of both the metaphysical tradition, represented by the pessimistic vision of Schopenhauer, and the scientific tradition, die Naturphilosophie, cured of its naïve optimism by materialistic neo-Kantism, leading to a number of critical conclusions drawn from historical critique. This theoretical framework accounts for the anti-metaphysical stance displayed in Rée's analysis of moral action and feelings. There have been opposing views on the supposed influence of Rée on Nietzsche. Whereas early works ascribed to him a secondary role, taking Nietzsche's hints at face value, more recent scholarship tries to show that Rée was an original thinker whose influence on Nietzsche was considerable, even if, as Fornari correctly points out, that does not imply a clear-cut rejection or adoption. Bearing this in mind, Fo! rnari tackles not only the themes the two men have in common (egoism, freedom, guilt, consciousness, etc,), but their different approaches as well. Rée's focus is uncritically dominated, hypnotized one might say, by natural sciences; Nietzsche's, on the contrary, shares the rejection of metaphysics but at same time does justice to the historical role played by traditional illusions.
The main target of Nietzsche's attack is the Spenserian concept of fitness, which implies, in Nietzsche's eyes, a reaction rather than a true action, that is to say, a de-personalization whereby one does not pose one's own ends but allows them to be imposed from the outside. This means that in acting morally, the individual should aim to adapt to an outer, objective datum so as to reach a state of equilibrium. In a fully developed historical state, moral sanctions are no longer necessary, since the altruistic point of view has become incorporated into the instincts of the individual. Harmony between self and the world exists thereafter of necessity (cf. inter alia pp. 139, 172), something that Nietzsche will later denounce as a shadow of God's death. This state of affairs, socially translated, meant subordination of the individual to the demands of society. Besides tracing Spenserian themes, Fornari also presents also a full account of their reception in the wo! rks of critics such as Huxley, Fouillé, Littré, Guyau.
In the third part, Fornari analyzes the failure of a utilitarian scientific approach to morals. Mill represents a modification of the founder of utilitarian philosophy of Bentham. The problem arises as to what can count objectively as pleasure. Since the question admits of no answer, the road is open to the recognition that there are different kinds of life. In spite of all differences, Nietzsche evidently finds agreement with Mill in the latter's On liberty, and shares the same fears about democratization that Tocqueville highlighted, and were also known to him through a review on Mill.
Fornari's work, which no Nietzsche scholar interested in his moral philosophy can afford to ignore, does not bring forth new insights on Nietzsche's philosophy, but we now have a full and detailed analysis of Nietzsche's Auseinandersetzung with the utilitarians that will allow us to gauge his originality within nineteenth century culture. This is all the more significant since it is that very feature that keeps him under scrutiny as an important thinker, a destiny for the next 300 years.
Instituto de Filosofia da Linguagem/Universidade Nova de Lisboa