Reiner Schürmann: The Philosophy of Nietzsche

The Philosophy of Nietzsche Book Cover The Philosophy of Nietzsche
Reiner Schürmann

Reviewed by: Zach Schroeder

Reiner Schürmann’s The Philosophy of Nietzsche, edited by Francesco Guercio, provides a comprehensive detailing of the philosopher’s corpus while interpreting it largely through the lens of Kantian Transcendentalism. Schürmann claims that Kant’s transcendental philosophy is the horizon of Nietzsche’s transvaluation of all values and roots each element of Nietzsche’s thought in the Kantian concept from which he believes it actually derives. Schürmann claims this is necessary “to understand the horizon within which Nietzsche’s transvaluation of all values, and primarily his transvaluation of reason and truth, actually applies (17).” By interpreting Nietzsche in this way Schürmann is eventually able to derive a moral imperative from Nietzsche’s transvaluation of the will through the concept of eternal recurrence.

Nietzsche claims to be the first to question the founders of religion and philosophy seriously but it is Kant, according to Schürmann, who really did so, and Nietzsche is radicalizing this critique. Nietzsche criticizes Kant as having won a victory over dogmatic traditions only to open a secret path for them to work their ideals back into philosophy, which is why he seeks to go beyond Kant by criticizing truth itself (21).

The quest for truth, in Nietzsche’s view, is seen as a symptom and he targets the individual seeking it. While this might seem to invoke truth and reason as criteria and thus undercut the raising of the question in the first place, Schürmann believes Nietzsche avoids this pitfall by associating the question with a certain type of person or will. Because philosophers have so far failed to make this association, their prejudice remains masked. Schürmann believes that this is still a transcendental quest, however, arguing that it is compatible with Kant’s definition (23). The conditions of truth in Nietzsche are defined in terms of the truthful person. Reason is a tool for the purposes of life itself, thus Nietzsche’s genealogy of reason can be seen as a continuation of the Kantian project.

Transcendentalism is a tracing back of phenomena to their condition of possibility in the subject. This is core to both Kant’s and Nietzsche’s transcendentalism, with one key difference. In Kant, this is forms of knowledge, in Nietzsche, it is will types. The a-priori forms are then distinct life types or wills.

In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche praises Kant for making philosophy creative instead of contemplative. However, Nietzsche began to observe the negative effects of Kant through a despair of truth, and believes this led Kant back into the cages of dogma and God. This is why Nietzsche wants to radicalize Kant’s critique. Schürmann draws our attention away from the detail of Nietzsche’s aphorisms, which he takes to be easily understandable, and instead examines the many different points of view Nietzsche takes, which are often contradictory. We are then meant to approach his concepts with an emphasis on nuance, multiplicity, and interwoven forces at play, as opposed to deducing some common unifying thread.

Schürmann says that everything from Zarathustra onward should be read with quotation marks, as Nietzsche distancing himself from the specific affirmations because Western language is contaminated with a faith in reason. Schürmann thinks this leads to an illusory reification through language. It is the Platonic structure of our language that sets us as unlike each other and identifies types abstractly, thus generating the illusion that some ideal prototype could be discovered and give us a science of that which we speak. In other words, the establishment of a mean among many is core to the very function and flow of our language, which disguises the rather nebulous nature of being in something artificial.

Kant reduced the self (identity) to form and function while Nietzsche believed it is dissolved entirely once traced back. The instinct or drive to discover stable principles is one of fear, a fear of a loss of identity, because our notion of identity is not metaphysically stable. Thus Schürmann believes that for Nietzsche the cardinal principle of logic appears to be the principle of identity. So, if identity is dissolved at the level of a-priori forms (will), logic does not have transcendental application.

Nietzsche’s transcendentalism as a genealogy of life forms amounts to radical criticism because it is leveled against faith in reason and truth itself. This criticism cannot be carried out in ordinary language so it takes place in the background of another truth that Schürmann believes should be taken with quotation marks, tragic truth. In tragic truth our instinct for truth reconciles itself in the insight that the only taste of a stable backdrop we can have comes from our dissolution into nothing, the opposite of metaphysical truth which then turns out to be the only one. Nietzsche shifting the question away from what truth is to where do truth and reason arise is exemplified in his critique of Socrates as the symptom of decadence and emblematic of a particular type of will. This also serves as a genealogy of not only truth, but the type of will that finds it so appealing. The history of truth as error shows “how the real world became a fable” and this part of Nietzsche’s work, Schürmann claims, is preparatory for tragic truth that can act as a protagonist.

Kant takes appearance to be, among other things, manifestations. Nietzsche rejects this in favor of preserving the beauty of things as presented. Nietzsche does not deny synthetic a priori judgments, but he denies that such judgments produce any objectivity in the sense of a transcendental science (47). Instead of asking how such judgments are possible, Nietzsche asks why our belief in such judgments is necessary. The objective validity of such judgments is, to Nietzsche, a value for someone and is necessary for life.

Schürmann believes Nietzsche uses Kant’s own insights to dismantle the Kantian quest for knowledge. What we call knowledge is, according to Nietzsche, only a schematization of chaotic sense reality for practical vital needs. Schürmann directs the reader’s attention to an emphasis on the body given by Nietzsche as evidence of chaotic reality. The practical need for schematizing and simplifying is then to resist the thrashing of chaos, but the body shows us that this resistance is futile in the long run, and instead serves our purposes during life alone.

Schürmann points out that Heidegger identifies Nietzsche as still within the Platonic tradition because of his poeticizing prior to reasoning out his concepts, something Plato does in Phaedrus. Schürmann believes this is an oversight on Heidegger’s part because the “prior-poeticizing” in Nietzsche is actually the transcendental grounds for truth in service of life (51). In other words, poeticizing is ontologically prior to reason in Nietzsche’s account.

The tragedy of ideal truth, understood historically, undertakes epochal turns at the moment of a “self-emptying” of values, also known as nihilism. The will to power is Nietzsche’s final conceptual understanding of the play of tragedy on truth and the various forms and emergences of nihilism. Schürmann focuses heavily on historical nihilism, but he does provide explanations for all forms of nihilism addressed by Nietzsche. Furthermore, linking nihilism with his broader attempt to explain Nietzsche’s work as a radicalization of the Kantian project, he says that because Kant placed ideas about totality in thinking and the human mind alone they had to inevitably be denounced as nothingness.

Schürmann interprets the will to power differently than Heidegger and Kaufmann (68). He views it through the notion of historical decadence culminating in Nietzsche’s passage in Twilight of the Idols called “How the ‘true world’ became a fable.” Schürmann takes a phenomenological approach and comes to describe it as a playing out of forms which through time is a perpetual attempt at configuration. The will to power is most evident as the means of distinction between epochs. To break from epochal influences is to assume control of one’s reality, transvaluating its activities into joyful creations. This phenomenological view puts struggle at the heart of all that there is and invokes a need to resist getting too carried away with useful fictions.

For Schürmann, the very phenomenology of the will to power makes for a verbal understanding of being. Nietzsche’s gift-giving virtue is a horizontal transfer of knowledge motivated by love. Its necessity for action and the emptying of power (knowledge) makes for a highly verbal description of ethical life. After examining the grounds of what he calls Nietzsche’s practical philosophy, the will to power emerges as the differentiating principle within the flux of forces. For Schürmann, the moral imperative derived from the will to power is then along the lines of “do justice to that flux (85).”

Nietzsche sees himself as the first philosopher to compare many moralities as part of the same phenomenon, opposed to his predecessors who attempted to understand a “correct” morality (90). The bad conscience that takes hold as a result of allowing oneself to live in service of one of these moralities is an example of assuming an inherited role instead of assuming control of reality. The result of Nietzsche’s critique is that “Kant is turned against himself: if morality is ‘common,’ then what is moral is to show what commonly happens, namely the a-moral aggregation of forces for which Western morality is but a disguise (94).”

Schürmann interprets the eternal recurrence as a transvaluation of both time and will. It is a movement from “thou shalt” to “I will” to the “free spirit.” Once eternal recurrence is fully thought, the selective essence contained within moments is revealed and creative choice becomes accessible. The wills of others is then transvaluated and one’s own will can live through the body and time goes from a succession of events narrated by a prior will into the now and its perpetual repetition of moments. Thus time goes from a particular life to be endured through one’s given role to a continuous return of opportunities for joy; from “a life” to “life.”

Nietzsche’s project of radical enlightenment robs us of the chance to systematize ethics, but Schürmann believes that the heavy moral imperative derived from the eternal recurrence, that of facing the consequences of each action as if we had to do so for eternity, is a chance to universalize ethical thinking in a different way. The moral imperative derived from Nietzsche is then identified as a kind of Hereclitean justice. To do justice is to homologize one’s logos with the strife of existence. The homologizing of living and thinking is meant to avoid the very essence of injustice, which is to be selective of certain forces over others. In other words, injustice can be understood as a breach in the process of thinking one’s way through life in a manner that is compatible with the flux.

Schürmann’s coverage of Nietzsche is comprehensive and detailed. It succeeds in its task of establishing him within the broader philosophical discourse. While some of the conclusions Schürmann draws are thought in a manner compatible with his own, particularly in relation to the tragic double bind, I see no reason to think of them as uncharitable or unreasonable. Any reader would walk away from this book with a firm grasp of core Nietzschean concepts, but that is not all. In this work one finds the beginning of an altogether different Nietzsche, a positive Nietzsche. While we have been thoroughly treated to Nietzsche’s negative concepts through his reclamation in the 20th century, Schürmann successfully pulls back the veil on a vast reservoir of thought that is, as of yet, largely untouched. For anyone looking to do serious work on Nietzsche in the future, it is my firm opinion that this will be a fundamental and necessary text.

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