Nietzsche on the Superficiality of Consciousness

In Manuel Dries (ed.), Nietzsche on consciousness and the embodied mind. De Gruyter. pp. 93-112 (2018)
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Abstract: Nietzsche’s famously wrote that “consciousness is a surface” (EH, Why I am so clever, 9: 97). The aim of this paper is to make sense of this quite puzzling contention—Superficiality, for short. In doing this, I shall focus on two further claims—both to be found in Gay Science 354—which I take to substantiate Nietzsche’s endorsement of Superficiality. The first claim is that consciousness is superfluous—which I call the “superfluousness claim” (SC). The second claim is that consciousness is the source of some deep falsification—which I call the “falsification claim” (FC). I shall start by considering Nietzsche’s notion of consciousness. Here, I shall argue that the kind of consciousness he is concerned with is in fact self-consciousness and that he put forward a higher-order theory of it. Then, I shall address the two claims. Regarding (FC), my proposal will be that, according to Nietzsche, the content of (self-)conscious mental states is falsified in virtue of its being articulated propositionally. Regarding (SC), I shall claim that it is best read as a weak version of epiphenomenalism about conscious causation. In addressing both points, I shall discuss in particular the influential reading of Nietzsche’s theory of consciousness offered by Katsafanas (2005).

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Mattia Riccardi
University of Porto


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