Nietzsche Against the Philosophical Canon

Author: 
Brian Leiter

Nietzsche views the Western philosophical tradition as organized around a conception of philosophy deriving from Socrates. According to this (loosely) Socratic philosophical canon: (1) Philosophy, as the “love of wisdom,” aims for knowledge of timeless and non-empirical truths, including truths about the good and the right; (2) Knowledge of the truth is the overriding value in philosophy and is also essential for living well; and (3) Philosophical knowledge is acquired through the exercise of reason, understood as a faculty that can operate independently, in whole or in part, of a posteriori evidence. This paper explores Nietzsche's reasons for rejecting this conception of philosophy on each count, especially as developed in his book, Twilight of the Idols. Nietzsche's replacement of metaphysical speculation with psychological diagnosis is compared to Carnap's own critique of metaphysics, and helps explain Carnap's high appraisal of Nietzsche compared to other major figures in post-Kantian German philosophy. Nietzsche's rejection of the traditional philosophical canon is contrasted with that of other critics of the tradition, including Marx, Quine, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein. The reaction against naturalism in recent Anglophone philosophy is offered, finally, as a case study in support of Nietzsche's skepticism about the philosophical canon.