Genealogy and Relative Validity

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By attending closely to Nietzsche's later books, and to the critical project they purport to execute, we can reconstruct with some confidence the relation of genealogy to his revised critical method. Because genealogical interpretations figure so prominently in his later books—Twilight offers a (revised) genealogy of modernity, The Antichrist(ian) genealogies of Christ and Christianity, and Ecce Homo a genealogy of Nietzsche himself—it seems plausible to assume that Nietzsche intended his genealogies to contribute to the critical standpoint that these books confidently presuppose. Genealogy, I propose, supplies the empirical "case history" that enables the "immoral" philosopher to detect and interpret physiological symptoms, and to do so more accurately than priests and moralists. Genealogy thus informs Nietzsche's later writings with the validity that he is entitled to claim for them.

Some commentators attempt to "solve" the problem of validity by construing Nietzsche's occasional appeals to "life" as conferring some measure of objective validity: interpretations are better or worse (healthier or sicker) to the extent that they promote/impugn life itself. Nietzsche's rhetoric certainly suggests some such strategy, for he often denounces philosophers and philosophies as "hostile to life," as if this ad hominem were sufficient to vanquish his enemies.[6] But in taking him to be summoning "life" as an objective standard of validity, this strategy effectively convicts Nietzsche of illicit recourse to a privileged perspective.[7] If his sole defense of his genealogies rests on their (unspecified) fidelity to "life," then he simply begs the question of their validity as interpretations.

A more promising strategy would be to claim for Nietzsche's genealogies a relative validity. Kant's defense of the postulates of pure practical reason provides an instructive example here. Although Kant denied the possibility of objectively valid knowledge of metaphysics, he did not conclude that all metaphysical commitments are therefore equally valid. According to Kant, beliefs in the existence of God, freedom of the will, and the immortality of the soul, although objectively insufficient for theoretical knowledge, are nevertheless subjectively sufficient for rational faith. As Kant explains, the antinomy of pure practical reason yields the following dilemma, which defies resolution by theoretical reason: if the summum bonum (that is, the coincidence of perfect virtue and earthly happiness) is unattainable, "then the moral law which commands that it be furthered must be fantastic, directed to empty imaginary ends, and consequently inherently false."[8]

In order to avoid the contradiction involved in believing the moral law to be false, Kant recommends that we postulate the existence of God and the immortality of the soul as necessary conditions of the summum bonum , even though we cannot objectively determine that it depends upon them.

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