It is a privilege to have critics to respond to, particularly ones whose analyses are as incisive as those offered here. But readers sometimes have surprises for authors, and that is true in this case. Two phrases in particular have proved to be hostages to fortune: ‘transcendental argument’ and ‘distributive justice’. There is very little in the book about either, but it is right for critics to seize upon them. There is more to be said. Have I attributed to Nietzsche a transcendental argument that isn’t one (or, at least, not a good one), and am I advancing a theory of distributive justice while claiming not to have one? I will try to respond to both questions, taking in other points along the way.
First, however, there is Raymond Geuss’s question about whether Anti-Nietzsche, in addressing itself to a ‘systematic’ rather than a ‘perspectivist’ Nietzsche, gives an accurate impression of his method. There are two issues here: whether Nietzsche’s writing is of a kind that allows his ideas to be systematized, and whether he disavows system as a form of thought. The first is literary, the second philosophical. Insofar as its primary focus is his account of nihilism, Anti-Nietzsche inevitably relies on fragmentary material from the later notebooks. However, some of this is already quite systematic in form (e. g. the Lenzer Heide fragment), and Nietzsche’s various outlines for a major work on the Revaluation of All Values indicate that he expected it to form the most coherent exposition of his philosophy to date. It is hard to imagine Montaigne projecting plans for a treatise of this kind, and Nietzsche was, in any case, closer to Pascal—a more constant and adversarial presence in his work, and another aphorist whose world-view is more systematic than its mode of expression.
Anti-Nietzsche does not pretend to give a comprehensive overview of everything Nietzsche wrote, but it does set out to distil the argument that Nietzsche, during the final five years or so of his creative life, considered his central contribution to European thought. One element of this is the ‘perspectivist’ claim that everything is interpretation, including that claim itself. Some would argue that this means we should not attribute to Nietzsche any coherent system, or even take anything Nietzsche says too seriously—especially his alarming pronouncements about mastery and slavery. There’s a sense in which that’s right, but the implication is, I shall argue, quite the opposite. Rather than saying that ‘everything is interpretation’ is itself merely an interpretation, Nietzsche emphasizes that even that is an interpretation. This becomes clearer if we consider it alongside Nietzsche’s claim that even devaluation (i.e. the idea that everything is interpretation) is a form of valuation. Nietzsche routinely equates interpretation and valuation, and argues that there can be no escape from either. This is Nietzsche’s ‘transcendental argument’.footnote1
Peter Dews, whose essay in many ways provides a more illuminating introduction to the book than any I could have written, is the first to take up the question. He suggests that ‘Nietzsche’s claim for the ubiquity of the will to power (denials of which are, for him, merely sickly expressions of the will) seems not to be transcendental but metaphysical. Transcendental arguments are supposed to rule out alternatives to the conditions they discover as self-contradictory or unintelligible . . . But there seems no such constraint on thinking of human thought and activity as driven by forces other than a putative “will to power”.’ Dews here assumes that ‘everything is will to power’ is the subject of a transcendental argument, but this is to conflate what are for Nietzsche two related arguments, one of which is transcendental, one of which not.
Anti-Nietzsche suggests that in his later writings Nietzsche is attempting to derive an argument for social inequality from premises of the most radically sceptical kind, and to show that nihilism, the ‘devaluation of all values’ that constitutes the master narrative of European intellectual history, must inevitably end in the acceptance of social inequality. Nietzsche’s argument is this. We can’t devalue without valuing. Valuing always takes the form of valuing over, and every valuation is the product of a valuer, so every valuation is at the expense of some other valuer (‘will to power’). It is this inequality that makes valuation possible.
There are two claims here: the first that devaluation is necessarily a form of valuation; the second is that valuation is itself a form of ‘will to power’. It is the first of these that can be construed as a transcendental argument, in that it claims that one thing (valuation) is a necessary condition of something else (devaluation) so that the latter cannot obtain without the former. This is the argument dissected by Raymond Geuss. Unlike Dews, he seems to allow for the possibility that, if only the argument worked, it would be transcendental in form; on his account, however, the argument is unsuccessful, because ‘not-valuing’ is not necessarily a form of valuation at all. He illustrates the point by enumerating four different forms of non-valuation: active dislike; indifference; indifference born of ignorance, and indifference born of incapacity. On this view ‘valuing’ and ‘not-valuing’ lack ‘the degree of homogeneity the argument seems to presuppose’.
Finely drawn as these distinctions are, the conclusion isn’t wholly persuasive. The first two, ‘active dislike’ and ‘I can take it or leave it’, are forms of valuation/devaluation that differ in degree rather than kind; while the latter two are forms of non-valuation due to incompleteness (I have not read the novels) or incompletability (I am blind and cannot see the paintings). It might be tempting to say that Nietzsche is concerned only with the former, but Geuss is right to suggest that Nietzsche might want to consider indifference of the latter type to be a form of devaluation as well. Nietzsche considers the displacement of values to be just as much a form of devaluation as their negation, for he does not think of valuation only as the expression of opinion (though having opinions about things is clearly one of the ways we value) but as a set of revealed preferences, a hierarchy, an implicit order of rank. Being unranked, although not a specific place in a rank order, is nevertheless a placement related to it. If my ‘To Do’ list contains ten items in rank order, they have been given priority over both the things I rejected, and the things I might have thought about but did not even consider. In this context, not ascribing priority is tantamount to ascribing low priority, and if I do not have any priorities, then not having any priorities is my first priority.