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Nietzsche International Lab (NIL) in Lisbon

By João Constâncio, Director

Who are we and how we got started

Nietzsche International Lab (NIL) is a research group that belongs to “Instituto de Filosofia da Linguagem” (IFL, Institute for Philosophy of Language). IFL is a philosophy research centre classified as “excellent” by the Portuguese Ministry of Education and Science. It is part of the “Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas” (FCSH), the humanities faculty of “Universidade Nova de Lisboa” (UNL, New University of Lisbon). NIL was created by João Constâncio in 2009 as part of a research project on Nietzsche which was eventually funded by FCT, the Portuguese Ministry of Education and Science’s Foundation for research ( The Project is called “Nietzsche and the Contemporary Debate on the Self” and it will be concluded in March 2014. More information on its content is given below, as well as on our website:

The original group that created NIL with João Constâncio included Maria João Branco, Katia Hay, Marta Faustino and Luís Sousa. NIL now integrates three new FCT Postgraduate researchers: Pietro Gori, Paolo Stellino, and Bartholomew Ryan. NIL also collaborates with other researchers from IFL /FCSH, including António Marques, Maria Filomena Molder, José Gil, Ana Godinho, and Nuno Venturinha. A short biography of all NIL members is given below.


The International Network of NIL

From the beginning, NIL has established protocols of collaboration with several of the most important Nietzsche research centers in Europe. These now include: Centro Interuniversitario “Colli-Montinari” (Italy), Internationale Nietzsche-Forschungsgruppe Greifswald (Germany), Nietzsche Gesellschaft (Germany), Friedrich Nietzsche Society (UK), Seden Sociedad Española de Estudios sobre Friedrich Nietzsche (Spain), GIRN Groupe International de Recherches sur Nietzsche (Europhilosophie), Grupo de Estudos Nietzsche (São Paulo, Brazil). The protocols with these centers include such items as:

(a) Exchange of technical-scientific information pertaining to the areas of research being developed;
(b) Exchange of documents and publications;
(c) Exchange of teachers and researchers;
(d) Intechange of postgraduate students;
(e) Development of shared research projects and programs;
(f) Organization of events (seminars, conferences, training colloquia, university extension activities, etc.).

NIL also collaborates with the research center “Mind, Language and Action Group” (MLAG), a research center at the Humanities Faculty of Oporto University focused on Philosophy of Mind and classified as “excellent” by FCT.


The Current Project, “Nietzsche and the contemporary debate on the Self”

What do we mean by “consciousness” and what do we mean by “I” and “Self”? Nietzsche’s reflections on these questions remain immensely influential, though they are deeply problematic. Nietzsche clearly rejects the thesis that consciousness should be seen as the “kernel of man” (FW 11), he considers the “I” of consciousness to be a “fiction”, and he argues that both a metaphysical, Cartesian Subject and a Kantian and Schopenhauerian Transcendental Subject are no more than fictional constructions based on the grammar of human language, as well as on instinctive needs of human beings living in society. But on the other hand, he does not abandon either the concept of consciousness or the concept of “soul”, which he rethinks as “mortal soul” and “soul as subject-multiplicity” (JGB 12). In Z I, he distinguishes between “I” and “Self”, and he asserts that the “Self” is in fact “the body”. In Daybreak, and especially in the Nachlass, he argues that the “so-called I” is a fiction, but this fiction cannot simply be eradicated from our first-personal experience (or, in other words, that “fiction” will always remain a very powerful “fiction” in our experience of ourselves). Moreover, his philosophy is expressed in a type of discourse which is remarkably personal, individual, perspectival, and in some sense subjective. In order to express not so much the essence of Nietzsche’s alleged “doctrines” on subjectivity as rather the problematic nature of his views, we should perhaps say that his procedure is intended to experiment with the paradox of conceiving of a sort of “subjectivity without a subject”.

Nietzsche’s critique of the “subject” is mostly known for its influence upon the so-called “post-structuralist” thinkers (like Deleuze, Foucault or Derrida) and it is at the origin of the debate on “the death of the subject”. Usually, it is also discussed in connection with Heidegger and other so-called “continental” thinkers. However, in the last ten to fifteen years, it has become of increasing importance to the Anglo-American tradition, not least to many who are interested in contemporary Philosophy of Mind and “analytic” philosophy. Many of Nietzsche’s ideas — for example, his rejection of dualism, his naturalistic project of “retranslating man back to Nature” (JGB 230), his insistence on “physiology”, his questioning of the philosophical significance of the fact that man has evolved by natural selection, his conception of consciousness as a “surface”, his conception of rationality as dependent upon the “life” of our “drives and affects”, and so on — coincide with most contemporary approaches to the Mind/ Body problem, and particularly to the question about the “Self”. 

Accordingly, the crucial idea of our project is to use Nietzsche’s thought to foster the contemporary debate on the Self both from the perspective of “continental” and “post-structuralist” thought and from the perspective of Anglo-American Philosophy of Mind (and Philosophy of Language). To those who find this odd and perhaps even absurd, we answer that it is certainly less productive to keep two philosophical traditions apart (and to label them as irreconcilable) than to investigate why they are currently engaged in interpreting and studying the same author — Nietzsche. Thus, what is at stake for us is not a merely philological or historical interpretation of Nietzsche, but, rather a discussion relevant the future of philosophy. Our main focus is on the new directions philosophy may take in the future via the contemporary debate on the Self, and particularly on the role Nietzsche’s thought might be able to play in reshaping this debate.

Originally, the project’s research team included the following members and consultants: João Constâncio, Werner Stegmaier, Giuliano Campioni, Patrick Wotling, Herman Siemens, Chiara Piazzesi, Andrea Bertino, Scarlett Marton, John Richardson, Brian Leiter, José Gil, Ana Godinho, Maria Filomena Molder, Sofia Miguens, Maria João Branco, Katia Hay, Marta Faustino, Luís Sousa, André Muniz Garcia. In the meantime, alongside Pietro Gori, Paolo Stellino, and Bartholomew Ryan, Luca Lupo, Jaanus Sooväli, and Mattia Riccardi have been added as consultants. And we expect several others to be added to this list. The reason for this is that the project’s main practical objective is to organize a reference volume (or, depending on the circumstances, a series of reference volumes) on “Nietzsche and the Problem of Subjectivity”. The other practical objectives of the project are:

(a) to publish a new translation and critical edition of Nietzsche’s Morgenröthe in Portuguese;
(b) to organize a permanent seminary on the project’s theme;
(c) to organize a whole series of International Nietzsche Conferences in Lisbon until 2014.


Biographical notes on the members of NIL

João Constâncio, the Director of NIL, has been lecturing at the Philosophy Department of FCSH/ UNL since 1996. He earned his Doctorate and became “Professor Auxiliar” in 2005 with a Dissertation on Plato. His recent publications include a paper on Nietzsche and Schopenhauer forthcoming in the next issue of the Nietzsche-Studien and Nietzsche on Instinct and Language, Berlin / Boston, Walter de Gruyter, 2011, which he co-edited with Maria João Branco. He is also co-editor, again with Maria João Branco, of the forthcoming collection of essays, As the Spider Spins: Essays on Nietzsche’s Critique and Use of Language, Berlin / Boston, Walter de Gruyter, 2012. He is a member of GIRN (Europhilosophie) and Seminario Permanente Nietzscheano (Centro Colli-Montinari).

Maria João Branco earned her Doctorate in 2010 with a Dissertation on “Art and Philosophy in Nietzsche’s Thought”. She is now a FCT Postgraduate researcher, and a full member of IFL (FCSH), GIRN (Europhilosophie) and Seminario Permanente Nietzscheano (Centro Colli-Montinari). She will be lecturing on Nietzsche and Philosophy of Art at FCSH during the Summer Semester of 2012. She is also, as mentioned, co-editor of Nietzsche on Instinct and Language and As the Spider Spins: Essays on Nietzsche’s Critique and Use of Language.

Katia Hay is a FCT Postgraduate researcher linked to the University of Lisbon. She earned her Doctorate with a Dissertation on Schelling and Tragedy. She is currently working on Nietzsche’s Wörterbuch, as well as on a book on Nietzsche, Humor, and Language.

Marta Faustino is currently writing her PhD on Nietzsche’s concept of “great health” with a FCT grant. She is a member of the International Nietzsche-Research Group at University Greifswald (Germany) and of GIRN (Europhilosophie).

Luís Sousa is currently writing his PhD on Schopenhauer and Transcendental Idealism with a FCT grant. He is currently doing research work at the Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz (Germany) with Prof. Dr. Matthias Kossler, director of the Schopenhauer Forschungsstelle.

Pietro Gori earned his Doctorate in 2008 with a Dissertation on Nietzsche and Mach supervised by Giuliano Campioni. He has published his Dissertation in Italy, as well as a book on Nietzsche and Boscovich. He is a member of GIRN (Europhilosophie) and Seminario Permanente Nietzscheano (Centro Colli-Montinari).

Paolo Stellino earned his Doctorate in 2010 with a Dissertation on Nietzsche and Dostoyevsky. His publications include the co-edition of two books and several articles on Nietzsche. He is a member of Seminario Permanente Nietzscheano (Centro Colli-Montinari).

Bartholomew Ryan received his PhD in Philosophy from Århus University, Denmark in 2006, with a Dissertation on Kierkegaard's resonance in the work of Georg Lukács, Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno. He is now working on Nietzsche, Fernando Pessoa and Søren Kierkegaard.