Moral physiology and vivisection of the soul: why does Nietzsche criticize the life sciences?

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Recent scholarship has shown Nietzsche to offer an original and insightful moral psychology centering on a motivational feature he calls ‘will to power.’ In many places, though, Nietzsche presents will to power differently, as the ‘essence of life,’ an account of ‘organic function,’ even offering it as a correction to physiologists. This paper clarifies the scope and purpose of will to power by identifying the historical physiological view at which Nietzsche directs his criticisms and by identifying his purpose in doing so. Nietzsche’s criticism, it is argued, is a widespread and pre-Darwinian description of the basic dispositions of organisms and their internal processes. The purpose of this criticism is to undermine the efforts of Herbert Spencer and Arthur Schopenhauer to derive moral-psychological insights from that description. The paper concludes that Nietzsche’s proposal to conceive of ‘organic function’ in terms of will to power is of little import for his moral psychology besides clearing away competing views.
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Archival date: 2021-04-01
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