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Miguel Angel de Barrechenea, Charles Feitosa, Paulo Pinheiro, and Rosana Suarez (eds.). Nietzsche e as ciências (Nietzsche and the Sciences).

Rio de Janeiro: 7 Letras / UNIRIO, 2011. 358 pp. ISBN 978-85-7577-764-0. Paper, R$44.

Reviewed by Eduardo Nasser

Nietzsche e as ciências (Nietzsche and the Sciences) is a product of the Sixth International Philosophy Symposium, “Thus Spake Nietzsche,” which took place at the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO) in 2009. Divided into two parts and composed of 27 chapters, the book has the main virtue of conferring scientific credibility on Nietzsche, reinforcing the current campaign in Nietzsche-Forschung against the caricature of him as a dilettante and inconsequential thinker. In this respect, Nietzsche e as ciências is comparable to another collection with a similar objective, the renowned Nietzsche and Science, edited by Thomas Brobjer and Gregory Moore (Ashgate, 2004). However, unlike its English counterpart, Nietzsche e as ciências portrays Nietzsche as a philosopher related more to Geisteswissenschaften than to Naturwissenschaften, and this is both the book’s strength and its weakness. For it fills a gap left by Brobjer and Moore’s volume, which in giving priority to the relationship between Nietzsche and the natural sciences neglected his involvement with the humanities. Unfortunately, however, Nietzsche e as ciências is equally unbalanced in the opposite direction, since it does not give so much emphasis to the relationship between Nietzsche and the natural sciences.

Admittedly, the relationship between Nietzsche and the natural sciences is not entirely absent from the first part of the collection, entitled “Ciências do corpo e da natureza” (“Sciences of the Body and Nature”). As an example, one can take the book’s epistemological theme. Regarding this, the natural sciences are invoked as an instrument complementary to epistemological issues: Nietzsche is presented as a thinker strongly influenced by the first neo-Kantians, particularly Friedrich Lange, who resorted to physiological studies to resolve epistemological difficulties, especially those regarding the Kantian deduction of the a priori. Rogério Lopes alludes to this in the first essay of the book, “Filosofia e ciência: Nietzsche herdeiro do programa de Friedrich Lange” (“Philosophy and Science: Nietzsche as Heir to Friedrich Lange’s Program”). Against the tradition he calls “hegemonic,” which unquestioningly accepts Nietzsche’s adherence to Schopenhaueranism, Lopes presents him as an heir to the Langean program. This commitment—which weakens with time—shows itself in Nietzsche’s approval of the naturalization of epistemology through studies in the physiology of perception. But it also manifests itself at the cultural level, in Nietzsche’s adaptation of Schopenhauer’s metaphysics to the non-theoretical demands of Lange’s Begriffsdichtung. In this regard, Katia Hanza’s “Escepticismo como voluntad de poder. Nietzsche, lector de Lange” (“Scepticism as Will to Power: Nietzsche as Reader of Lange”) is also worth mentioning.

Another issue that deserves to be highlighted is Nietzsche’s relation with Darwinism. Nietzsche positions himself critically vis-à-vis the evolutionist model of life inherent in the Darwinian tradition, supposedly in tune with Christian values, and proposes another, diametrically-opposed model, guided by the will to power. The details of this criticism are investigated, and its success evaluated, by André Itaparica in “Darwin e Nietzsche: natureza e moralidade” (“Darwin and Nietzsche: Nature and Morality”). Also notable in this regard is Scarlett Marton’s essay, “Da biologia à física: vontade de potência e eterno retorno do mesmo. Nietzsche e as ciências da natureza” (“From Biology to Physics: Will to Power and Eternal Recurrence of the Same: Nietzsche and the Natural Sciences”), the only essay that directly addresses Nietzsche’s relationship with the natural sciences, or at least the only one that evaluates it. Focusing primarily on Nietzsche’s involvement with the biology and physics of his time, Marton makes some strong claims. For example, she states that, “for a long time, and for different reasons, scholars of Nietzsche’s philosophy have tried to ignore the fact that, at times, his concerns were dictated much more by the passionate issues of scientific investigation of his time than by the philosophical or philological problems that one might expect” (p. 114; translations are mine throughout), and that to build his cosmology, Nietzsche “does not hesitate to appropriate scientific data” so as to “make strategic use of them” (p. 128).

Be that as it may, the fact is that most of the essays in the book’s first part consider the ties between Nietzsche and the natural sciences in a hesitant manner, dealing at most with Nietzschean physiology or psychophysiology—with the exception of Marton’s essay, there is little consideration of physics, mathematics, or chemistry. And even regarding physiology and psychophysiology, there is little direct consideration of Nietzsche’s position regarding the materialism of the nineteenth century, and particularly the dispute between traditional and new psychology—one thinks of the lively debates in Germany at the time, between Wagner and Vogt, say, or Liebig and Moleschott.

However, scholarly wariness with respect to this particular issue is by no means unwarranted. Particularly in his mature years, Nietzsche evidently regards the nineteenth-century predominance of the natural sciences with some suspicion. He attempts to restore the traditional hierarchy that grants philosophy the right to legislate over the other sciences, and he undertakes to unmask the will to truth, and thus the persistence of metaphysics, even in the scientific mind. This is enough for us not to consider Nietzsche as a vulgar materialist typical of the second part of the nineteenth century. But should this critical relation necessarily lead us to accept, even implicitly, the Heideggerian claim that Nietzsche’s philosophy may not be regarded alongside the natural sciences, and that if Nietzsche occasionally shows interest in this domain, this is but a historiographical curiosity of little consequence in the evolution of his thinking? An investigation of Nietzsche’s sources shows that he consistently calls upon the works of physicists, chemists, biologists, and mathematicians from the very beginning. He also often positions himself in favor of materialism, and even when he opposes dynamism to materialism, it is often in a scientific context, publicly evoking one of the most exponential figures of dynamist physics, Roger Joseph Boscovich. Moreover, he also praises sensualism, regarding this as one of the great conquests of the experimental sciences. These observations show, at the very least, that there is no easy solution to the problem concerning the relationship between Nietzsche and the natural sciences, since while he certainly can be seen as one of the great modern critics of positivism, he nonetheless appropriates much from the methods and the results of the natural sciences (a difficulty expressed somewhat in Miguel Angel Barrenechea’s interesting chapter, “Nietzsche cientista?” [“Nietzsche the Scientist?”]).

Thus, albeit with a few exceptions that address Nietzsche’s relationship with the natural sciences, the essays in Nietzsche e as ciências do so in an overly mediated and cautious manner. That said, the book’s second part, “Ciências da cultura e da sociedade” (“Culture and Society”), displays more unity and depth. For it makes more evident the diversity of geisteswissenschaftlich fields through which Nietzsche moved and on which his thought later exercised an influence. The most notable of such fields are those concerning language, politics, and culture.

Regarding politics and culture, of particular note is Adriana Delbo’s article, “Nietzsche e Burckhardt: cultura, estado e glorificação do humano” (“Nietzsche and Burckhardt: Culture, State and the Glorification of the Human”). Employing the results of Quellenforschung, Delbo shows how the young Nietzsche inherits from Jacob Burckhardt his conception of the state as a vehicle of culture. Nietzsche follows Burckhardt’s campaign against the modern state guided only by immediate economic ends, by promoting a return to the Greek conception that privileges the dispute (agon) and thus makes possible the achievement of greatness, condition of all superior culture. Also regarding culture and politics, in her article “Teoria crítica y biopolítica afirmativa: la dominación de la Vida em Nietzsche y Adorno/Horkheimer” (“Critical Theory and Affirmative Bio-politics: The Domination of Life in Nietzsche and Adorno/Horkheimer”) Vanessa Lemm defends the surprising thesis that elements of Nietzsche’s philosophy fill in gaps in Adorno and Horkheimer’s critical theory. Given Adorno and Horkheimer’s criticism of modern rationality, understood as the domination of nature, Lemm suggests that their project of fighting such rationality through “cultural memory” could be pursued through the Nietzschean conception of culture. She also suggests that Nietzsche provides another important contribution to this project when he exhibits a domain of thought that precedes the conceptual, pointing towards an alternative to representational thought.

Regarding the theme of language, Paulo Pinheiro’s “Nietzsche, a linguagem e a sofistica” (“Nietzsche, Language and the Sophistical”), and Rafael Haddock-Lobo’s “Nietzsche por detrás da Gramatologia de Derrida—ou a desconstrucao do signo” (“Nietzsche Behind Derrida’s Grammatology—or the Deconstruction of Sign”) are enlightening. Both essays show how Nietzsche is a precursor of the contemporary vision of language when he indicates that the problem of language can no longer be ignored by philosophy and science. While Pinheiro treats Nietzsche’s approval of rhetoric as a gesture that could be seen as a retrieval of sophist premises, Haddock-Lobo treats Nietzsche as the main source of Derridean deconstruction, enabling the notorious transition from language to “writing,” absolutizing the “trace” over sign. “Thinking against sign in favour of the trace,” Haddock-Lobo claims, “was perhaps one of Nietzsche’s many tasks” (p. 235).

Finally, it is worth mentioning the concluding essay of the book, Wolfgang Bock’s essay on Walter Benjamin’s reception of Nietzsche, “’Você conhece o Zaratustra? Por várias razões, não ousei aproximar-me dele na escola.’ Walter Benjamin como leitor crítico de Friedrich Nietzsche” (“’Do you Know Zarathustra? For Various Reasons, I Did not Dare Approach Him in School.’ Walter Benjamin as Critical Reader of Friedrich Nietzsche”). Bock shows that in different stages of his intellectual career, Benjamin evokes Nietzsche’s concepts to criticize educational institutions, to corroborate his famous thesis on the religious aspects of capitalism, and to critically elaborate his conception of the “now-time.” Moreover, Bock reveals how Benjamin was a central character in the campaign to dismantle the connections between Nietzsche and fascism, ultimately successfully executed by Georges Bataille.

Thus Nietzsche e as ciências does not provide exactly what its title promises, insofar as it only portrays, in a general sense, one side of this relation. But this does not reduce the merit of the task it undertakes, and the book will be undeniably of value for anyone seeking a broad overview of the relationship between Nietzsche and the sciences, and particularly his relationship with the Geisteswissenschaften.

Universidade de São Paulo