While Nietzsche's rhetoric sometimes leads him into logical corners he knows he should avoid, his understanding of genealogy contains other ways of avoiding such corners. What I wish to argue is that if he had fully developed his account of the nature of interpretation, he would have come up with the notion of the hermeneutic circle. And since circles have no corners, he could not have backed into the logical difficulties he encounters when he tries to provide metaphilosophical justifications of his genealogical method.
Let me proceed by drawing a sharper contrast than Nietzsche does between the notions of perspective and interpretation. To someone trained in the "English" philosophical tradition with its empiricist background, the term perspective connotes a visual relation between a perceiver and a thing perceived. The thing perceived is itself usually thought of as a medium-sized physical object. Nietzsche's appeal to perspectivism then appears as an antidote to the rationalist tendency to project an aperspectival, godlike comprehension of the whole. In contrast to the metaphysical belief that there is only one correct description capturing reality in its own terms, perspectivism implies that there can be many different perspectives on the same thing. Since Nietzsche's perspectivism extends beyond simple epistemological cases to scientific theories and even to moral systems, however, the original connection between the point of view and the comprehended reality becomes metaphorical and tenuous. The reason that the perception of medium-sized physical objects under normal conditions seems unproblematic is that the verification procedures are reasonably well satisfied simultaneously with the act of perception. But Nietzsche's perspectivism does not imply that these verification procedures serve to validate all knowledge. On the contrary, verification procedures are both internal and relative to the particular kinds of perspectives. There is no general epistemology to specify a single verification procedure that any particular perspective would have to satisfy.
I think this account of what Nietzsche is saying is standard, and its obvious paradoxes are fully exploited by him. What is not so obvious is the sense in which perspectivism preserves what it appears to negate. Let me use a term of Hilary Putnam's and call the view that is usually contrasted with perspectivism "metaphysical realism." This is the view that reality may be different from the way it appears to us, and that our scientific terms refer only to these phenomena, not to the things as they are in themselves. A consequence of metaphysical realism is that our best-confirmed physical theories could be completely wrong, even in the long run. But perspectivism also leads to this skeptical conclusion. Perspectivism is often construed as implying that there is a thing that can be validly grasped from different
perspectives, and is thus independent of any particular perspective. More problematically, the idea of different perspectives implies that from within a given perspective, especially a complex, long-standing, and heuristically successful one, there are respects in which the perspective would inevitably be inadequate, distorting, and even wrong. Furthermore, since verification procedures are internal to perspectives, there would be no way ever to rectify these deficiencies.
What I have just described is close to Hume's position that we will never get in touch with the "secret springs" of the world. How he even knew there were secret "springs" if causation is only a subjective and never an objective property is, of course, the question Kant raised. I think that genealogy ought not to be defended by appeal to perspectivism. Perspectivism is too weak a justification for genealogy, because the genealogist does claim to be capturing the phenomenon as it really is. Genealogy is not simply another perspective. How the genealogist could make this claim as a perspectivist is not clear. Why would the genealogist need to think of the genealogical discovery as another perspective? Only, I think, as the result of some metaphilosophical reflection whereby the genealogist is asked to justify the outcome of the analysis. A thoroughgoing genealogist could avoid metaphilosophy altogether by suggesting that the only way to challenge the results of one genealogical analysis would be to produce another genealogical analysis either of the original phenomenon or of the initial genealogical account itself. Genealogy is not easy to do successfully, and I see no a priori reason to believe there is an infinite regress here. The challenge is a practical one, and in practice there would have to be strong motivation to attempt a genealogy of a genealogy. Even with strong motivation, moreover, the second-order genealogy will not necessarily succeed. If it does succeed, then we will be concerned with the substance of its concrete findings, and metaphilosophical justification will be unnecessary.
As two French Nietzsche scholars, Jean Granier and Sarah Kofman, have both brought out, Nietzsche sometimes offers an alternative account of genealogy. Instead of thinking of genealogy as a perspective, he often suggests that it is simply good, rigorous philology. The Genealogy's third essay, the paradigm case of genealogy, is thus construed not as incorrigible perception, but as close reading. One advantage of this way of thinking of genealogy is that metaphilosophical justification is beside the point if the genealogical analysis appears compelling. Another advantage of this more hermeneutical and less epistemological understanding of the genealogical method is that Nietzsche thereby avoids the paradoxes of perspectivism and the metaphorics of vision by construing the phenomenon not as a physical object but as a text. Traditional problems about how the senses can be known to be in touch with the object, or how the mental hooks up with the physical, are now circumvented. A text is a physical object in some
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