Q&A with Brian Leiter on His New Book "Moral Psychology with Nietzsche"

Psychological Facts Beyond Our Control: Talking to Brian Leiter

ANDY FITCH: Your book (and your ongoing work) outlines a broader case for why “If Nietzsche were more widely read by academic psychologists — too many years of Heideggerian and Derridean misreadings appear, alas, to have put them off Nietzsche — then he would be recognized as a truly prescient figure in the history of empirical psychology.” How have such “misreadings” misled academic psychologists about Nietzsche’s potential contribution to the field? What might such psychologists be distinctly positioned to appreciate about Nietzsche’s contribution if they could move beyond this interpretive impediment in the secondary literature? And what might contemporary empirical psychology still stand to gain by assimilating Nietzsche’s 19th-century corpus today?

BRIAN LEITER: Heidegger and Derrida were careless readers quite generally of earlier figures in philosophy, as is well known among scholars of any thinker they mangled. In the case of Nietzsche, Heidegger presents him as an extravagant, and utterly implausible, metaphysical philosopher theorizing about the “essence” of all reality, and Heidegger does so based on cherry-picking from work Nietzsche never published. Derrida, again relying on unpublished work, presents Nietzsche as, unsurprisingly, anticipating Derrida’s confused skepticism about meaning and truth. It bears emphasizing that Nietzsche kept extensive notebooks, from which he culled the material that was worthy of publication. Heidegger and Derrida essentially take the refuse, the material Nietzsche left behind, and treat it as the “real” philosophy. Both manage to obscure Nietzsche’s extensive interest in human nature and human psychology.

As I try to show in this book, Nietzsche anticipates many of the major themes of post-behaviorist psychology of the past 50 years: about the superficiality of consciousness and conscious deliberation when it comes to explaining human behavior; about the powerful role of affects or emotions in our moral attitudes; and about the role of powerful emotions in anesthetizing pain. Nietzsche called himself the “first psychologist,” and while he wasn’t, he was the first really good one. His corpus is a rich repository of hypotheses that psychologists still could investigate, beyond the ones they have already confirmed.

Read more at Los Angeles Review of Books