An Enchanting Abundance of Types: Nietzsche’s Modest Unity of Virtue Thesis

Journal of Value Inquiry 49 (3):417-435 (2015)
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Although Nietzsche accepted a distant cousin of Brian Leiter’s “Doctrine of Types,” according to which, “Each person has a fixed psycho-physical constitution, which defines him as a particular type of person,” the details of his actual view are quite different from the flat-footed position Leiter attributes to him. Leiter argues that Nietzsche thought that type-facts partially explain the beliefs and actions, including moral beliefs and actions, of the person whom those type-facts characterize. With this much, I agree. However, the Doctrine of Types as formulated by Leiter, is manifestly unsupported both by Nietzsche’s texts and as an empirical hypothesis. Although Leiter has teamed up with Joshua Knobe to shore up the empirical credentials of his version of the Doctrine of Types, and although Knobe is one of the best experimental philosophers currently working in moral psychology, their account of the Doctrine is wrong both textually and empirically. That is to say, Nietzsche did not hold the version of the Doctrine they attribute to him, and it’s a good thing he didn’t, because the version that he actually did hold is better empirically supported than the version that they attribute to him. For Nietzsche – and in reality – types are not immutable or fixed. Although not everyone is endowed with the same type, which type someone belongs to can (though needn’t) evolve over the course of her lifetime. In particular, whereas I agree with Leiter that the neo-Aristotelian account of character development is empirically inadequate, I do so not because I think no character development occurs but because I think that character development occurs in a different way. In addition, for Nietzsche – and in reality – types on their own are not normative. Character, which is normatively evaluable, only arises through the refinement, calibration, and development of temperament. It might seem like I’ve just set myself an ambitious-enough goal, but I want to do more in this paper. The main point I want to argue is that Nietzsche held a person-type-relative unity of virtue thesis, according to which what’s intrinsically good for a particular person is to develop and act from particular character traits that “fit” her type.
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