“Some Third Thing”: Nietzsche's Words and the Principle of Charity

Journal of Nietzsche Studies 47 (2):287-302 (2016)
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The aim of this paper is to begin a conversation about how we read and write about Nietzsche and, related to this, other figures in the history of philosophy. The principle of charity can appear to be a way to bridge two dif-ferent interpretative goals: getting the meaning of the text right and offering the best philosophy. I argue that the principle of charity is multiply ambiguous along three different dimensions, which I call “unit,” “mode,” and “strength”: consequently, it is not a single, neutral or independent principle to which we can helpfully appeal and it cannot, in itself, perform this bridging function. Nietzsche, I suggest, is particularly ill suited to some forms of charitable reading. I compare charity to what I call “misreporting” a philosopher’s words, in order to highlight some problematic structural similarities. Finally, I assess what charity might be doing instead, if it is not intended to bridge meaning and best philosophy.
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