Nietzsche's Project of Reevaluation: What Kind of Critique?

In María Del Del Rosario Acosta López & Colin McQuillan (eds.), Critique in German Philosophy: From Kant to Critical Theory. Albany: SUNY Press. pp. 237-262 (2020)
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Abstract

Whether Nietzsche’s genealogical critique of morality is best understood as an internal or as an external critique remains a matter of controversy. On the internalist interpretation (Ridley, Owen, Merrick ), the genealogical enterprise takes as its starting point the perspective being criticized, gradually revealing it to be untenable ‘from within.’ On the externalist interpretation (Leiter, and arguably Geuss, Williams, and Janaway ), this constraint is lifted; the starting point of the critique need not be the perspective being criticized, but may be that of someone who already suspects the latter to be untenable. According to a common objection to ‘external critique’ interpretations, the limited-scope objection, since an external critique to a value-system could only work on an audience whose members were predisposed to abandon that system of values, ‘external critique’ interpretations impose a severe limitation on the transformative potential of Nietzsche’s project. ‘Internal critique’ interpretations, by contrast, can seem hard to reconcile with the polemical character of On the Genealogy of Morality (which lends the book its subtitle, Eine Streitschrift) and with Nietzsche’s frequent remarks to the effect his works were addressing a particular, ‘higher,’ kind of individual. The overarching goal in this paper is to call into question the usefulness of the ‘internal-external’ or ‘immanent-transcendent’ dichotomy for understanding Nietzsche’s genealogical critique. I argue that the apparent usefulness of the distinction between external and internal critiques when approaching Nietzsche’s works rests on the assumption that any critique of values must itself be grounded on values that function as evaluative-critical standards. If the assumption is right, then one of two things, either the values that are deployed as standards coincide with those that are the target of critique, in which case the critique is internal, or they are not (etc.). Thus the assumption is liable to render us forgetful of a third possibility, that of a critical strategy that does not work by deploying (internal or external) values as standards of critical assessment, but by revealing something about the nature of value, and more precisely about the origin of any individual’s commitments to their values. On the view that I defend, one of the crucial steps of Nietzsche’s genealogical method is to bring his reader to realize that any individual’s commitment to their values is expressive of and rooted in their commitment to preserve their way of life. Realizing this does not require that the reader abandon their own values. But it does require that they acknowledge that were they committed to a relevantly different way of life, they would subscribe to different values. And this, in turn, suffices to bring about a transformation in their understanding of and relationship to those commitments through the further realization that it is ultimately always up to them to undertake the project of taking distance from and ‘re-evaluating’ those values.

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