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Tsarina Doyle, Nietzsche on Epistemology and Metaphysics: The World in View

Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009. 256 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0-74862-8070. $95.55 (cloth).

Reviewed by M. Gregory Oakes

It is a good time to be a Nietzsche scholar. In the English-speaking world, we are now seeing the fruits of a mature critical tradition, the result of several generations of Nietzsche scholarship. And not only is present scholarship informed by the work of Kaufmann, Hollingdale, and Danto, and by Clark, Richardson, and Poellner, but it also now rests on the broader foundation of Heidegger, Jaspers, and Deleuze, on the one hand, and Frege, Russell, and Quine, on the other. That is, to be a Nietzsche scholar today is to enjoy the concrescence of the major traditions of western philosophy and a new generation of active young scholars at a point, in Nietzsche, where western thought lifted up one of its most brilliant and exciting minds. It is perhaps a measure of Nietzsche’s profound and enigmatic thought that it is fully responding only now to the combined resources of continental and analytic traditions elaborated in both historical and contemporary works.

Tsarina Doyle’s recent Nietzsche on Epistemology and Metaphysics: The World in View is a case in point. Doyle contributes to a sharp, developing analysis of Nietzsche’s central metaphysical and epistemological views as they inform our basic understanding of empirical knowledge and the material order around us. The heart of the issue is of course the problem of human access to physical and metaphysical reality, where this problem is vexed by the threat of dogmatism on the one side and skepticism on the other. Perhaps the key figure in this struggle has been Kant, whose critical philosophy promised the non-dogmatic defeat of skepticism by incorporation of the empirical into the ideal. Whether Kant avoided either threat remains controversial, but reference to his account is a primary avenue of approach to the issue. Nietzsche himself took Kant as his primary epistemological and metaphysical antipode, “a strong magnifying glass” with which to address the issue of human knowledge of reality, and this relationship with Kant is the subject of Doyle’s discussion.[1] In the following, I summarize Doyle’s argument and conclude with some evaluative remarks.

Doyle’s study focuses on the heart of Nietzsche’s metaphysics and epistemology and in particular on the relationship between his will to power thesis and his perspectivism. The relationship between these two central elements of Nietzsche’s thought has long been a source of controversy among Nietzsche scholars, and while prominent scholars such as Arthur Danto and Maudemarie Clark have found the two doctrines to be in conflict, Doyle offers an interpretation in which the will to power is precisely the metaphysical vehicle required to validate Nietzsche’s perspectivism. In order to demonstrate this, Doyle first examines Nietzsche’s perspectivism as reflected in his intellectual relationship with Kant. Doyle’s Nietzsche embraces Kant’s Copernican turn but sees Kant as falling short of his own mark, particularly in his critical philosophy, wherein the Ding-an-Sich constitutes the defeat of anthropologized empirical science. For Doyle, Nietzsche’s epistemological goal is to establish the possibility of objective, empirical knowledge within the context of a Kantian anthropomorphism. An important feature of this position is the rejection of “metaphysical realism,” the doctrine of an-sich reality or perspective-free truth. If there is no such thing, then objectivity must be recast, if possible, in contextualist terms. Doyle calls “internal realism” the resulting position in which knowledge claims are constrained by the terms of the perspective informing them.[2]

A welcome addition to this discussion is Doyle’s examination of Nietzsche’s early work, including The Birth of Tragedy and the oft-cited “On Truth and Lie in a Non-Moral Sense.” Here, Doyle sees Nietzsche’s internal realism as not yet formed but struggling to emerge. Contrary to Clark and others, Doyle sees “Truth and Lie” as exceptional to, rather than representative of, Nietzsche’s epistemology insofar as it preserves a fundamental appearance-reality distinction. She presents BT and other early notes as prefiguring the will to power thesis that will ultimately reconcile self to world: a reciprocal rather than oppositional reading of the Apollo-Dionysos relationship suggests a cohesion rather than opposition between reason and intuition; and the notion of a universal, primordial intellect suggests the unity of self and world.

As above, Nietzsche’s will to power thesis has been thought by some to be incompatible with his perspectivism. Some have thus argued that Nietzsche doesn’t offer the former as a metaphysical thesis, while others have concluded that Nietzsche’s overall position is simply untenable. Doyle argues that both interpretations are mistaken. The key question, on her account, is whether objectivity must be understood to entail the absence of perspective, as is commonly thought. But the notion of a perspective-free truth is incoherent, as Doyle reads Nietzsche, so if we are to preserve an objective/subjective distinction, both must be construed in perspectival terms. Thus, on Doyle’s account, Nietzsche thinks that a perspectival account may be judged objective if it can be shown to be “comprehensive,” i.e., congruent with multiple perspectives. It is here that Nietzsche’s will to power thesis plays a pivotal role in his epistemology, for Doyle. On her account, Nietzsche sees the will to power thesis as revealing unity among subjective (qualitative) and “objective” (quantitative) phenomena, which are otherwise at theoretical odds. Both can be cast in terms of the will to power, so Nietzsche can plausibly hypothesize their basic unity as different expressions of the same one phenomenon. This unity is key, epistemologically, since on Doyle’s reading it offers subjective access to the objective.

The ultimate question for Doyle, then, is whether we can make sense of a phenomenon in both subjective and objective terms. This question plays out for Doyle in terms of the apparent opposition between intrinsic as against relational analyses of causality. Here, Doyle recalls the vis viva issue wherein Descartes, Leibniz, and others debated whether the relational or extrinsic qualities of causation were not the expression of some internal or intrinsic nature. Nietzsche, reports Doyle, applauded Kant’s pre-critical efforts to unify the internal and external qualities, but objected to the later, critical account relegating the intrinsic to the unknowable thing-in-itself. In arguing that Nietzsche seeks his own unification of the intrinsic with the relational, Doyle takes on recent interpreters such as Peter Poellner and Steven Hales and Rex Welshon, who maintain that Nietzsche rejects the notion of intrinsicality. Doyle’s textual analysis reveals an ambiguity in Nietzsche’s thought, with passages supporting her position and others apparently supporting the anti-essentialist view. With a charitable if conditional reading of Nietzsche on this issue in hand, Doyle confronts the final, philosophical question whether causality may be understood in both relational and intrinsic terms. While some available analyses of causality are incongruent with Nietzsche’s views (e.g., counterfactual analysis), Doyle finds George Molnar’s “powers” analysis both coherent and compatible with Nietzsche. In this way, Doyle is able to conclude that Nietzsche has the resources to collapse the appearance/reality distinction, bringing “the world in[to] view.”

I find that Nietzsche’s Epistemology and Metaphysics: The World in View is a valuable contribution both to Nietzsche scholarship and to philosophy in general. It is clearly written and the attention that Doyle has paid to organization and leading the reader through its complex argument is welcome and effective. In terms of Nietzsche scholarship, Doyle’s work displays intimate knowledge of the whole of Nietzsche’s corpus, draws upon a close understanding of a great range of Nietzsche scholarship, and clearly helps to advance our understanding of the most fundamental issues in Nietzsche’s metaphysics and epistemology. Doyle’s familiarity with Kantian and related literatures is likewise impressive. More generally, scholars on both sides of the continental divide will benefit from this work, bringing us closer, as it does, to a unification of these two important traditions: Nietzsche’s thought on the basic structure of reality and our access to it should be well known by all who wish to comment on these matters. Nietzsche’s Epistemology and Metaphysics certainly raises questions that the reader will wish to pursue. Among these are questions concerning the accuracy of Nietzsche’s interpretation of Kant, the coherence of a perspectival objectivity, and the possibility of an intrinsic relationality. It is however precisely for placing us in a position to examine these issues more closely that we may value Doyle’s work most.

Winthrop University

1. Ecce Homo, “Why I am so Wise,” 7; cited in Doyle, p. 1.

2. Throughout Nietzsche on Epistemology and Metaphysics, Prof. Doyle makes knowledgeable reference to and use of related contemporary discussion, calling upon the work of such figures as Donald Davidson, David Lewis, and Peter Strawson. It is somewhat surprising, therefore, that Doyle here fails to mention Hilary Putnam, with whose work the terms ‘internal realism’ and ‘metaphysical realism’ are most closely associated.