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Interview with J. Young about his Nietzsche book

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In Harper’s, here. Young’s philosophical biography is very recent, and the best work of its kind in a long time. The interview is interesting. Here’s an excerpt from the interview, about postmodern interpretations of Nz:

Postmodernism has its origins in Kant’s observation that all experience is interpretation, that all experience is filtered through the particular structures of the human mind. To this, taking its lead from both Hegel and Nietzsche, postmodernism adds that the filters in question vary from language to language, culture to culture, angle of interest to angle of interest. And so, it concludes, since there are many equally good interpretations of the world, no single one can be picked as the uniquely correct interpretation. From this it follows, so it is claimed, that there can be no particular character that reality has, since to assign it any such character would be arbitrarily to privilege one interpretation over all the others. And if there is no particular character that reality has, then the very idea of “reality” makes no sense. The concept must be abandoned; there is nothing but interpretations.

We “plural realists”–Nietzsche, Hubert Dreyfus (who coined the term), and myself–agree that there are many equally valid interpretations of reality, that there is no uniquely correct interpretation. But from this it does not follow that there is no way reality is, since an equally possible inference is that there are many ways it is. And in fact it is pretty obvious that there indeed are many ways that reality is. Consider a rolling, Provençal landscape. To the property developer it shows up as “valuable real estate,” to the wine grower as a “unique terroir,” to the mining engineer as a “bauxite deposit,” to the cyclist as an “impediment and challenge,” and to the fundamental physicist as “quanta of energy.” We do not have to choose between these interpretations because, quite evidently, they are all true. Each interpretation truly describes reality from, in Nietzsche’s word, the “perspective” of a particular interest. Some interpretations of course we will want to reject as false. That we do, as it were, democratically. If someone claims that the landscape is a papier mâché construction on an alien film-set we will reject that on the grounds of its discordance with the coherent picture built up by all the interpretations we accept as true.

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5 Comments

  1. Kleiner says:

    The rolling Provencal landscape example here pretty well nails what I think Heidegger’s aletheia-ology is all about. And, in my view, this is not necessarily a brand new insight. One might remember that Aristotle remarks in his Metaphysics and in the Nic Ethics that “being is said in many ways”.
    Where I can get on with the pomo critique is in noting that particular modes of disclosure (“interpretations”) can become dominant, and when this happens it can lead to a forgetfulness of other (and perhaps even more important) ways of “saying” Being. In other words, I don’t mind the medicine, what I mind is thinking that the medicine itself is a way of life.

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    • Siler says:

      I immediately thought about Heidegger, too. The provencal landscape disclosed in myriad ways sounds a lot like the hammer example from The Question Concerning Technology.

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  2. Rob says:

    Having recently reread AOM, WS, and D, I was struck by precisely the point Young makes about Nietzsche’s developing attitude toward Epicurus and the art of life he stands for in Nietzsche’s thought, though there are plenty of points throughout those early-to-middle-period works which evidence his already having a firm grasp of the unattainability of happiness through direct means.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    I think Heidegger would agree that reality has many aspects that are disclosed in a multiplicity of apparent ways and that those ways are subject to perspective, but I think he would hold that there is a single unified way–altheia itself or THE unconcealed–that actually exists, a way in which all other ways have their root and foundation. That while we have access to the various aspects of altheia or Truth, Truth in its fundamental unconcealedness is constitued in such a way that we cannot perceive it whole.
    Does that make Heidegger–and me for that matter–a plural realist or a monist? or both? Einstein, notably an avid proponent of relativity, never assumed that reality was infinitely relative, but rather believed that ultimate reality was ultimately/essentially determinate and one or unified.

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