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Hyperbolic naturalism: Nietzsche, ethics and sovereign power

Sedgwick, Peter R. 2016. Hyperbolic naturalism: Nietzsche, ethics and sovereign power. Journal of Nietzsche Studies 47 (1) , pp. 141-166. 10.5325/jnietstud.47.1.0141

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This article addresses whether Nietzsche’s naturalism is best understood as exemplifying the principles of scientific method and the spirit of Enlightenment. It does so from a standpoint inspired by Eugen Fink’s contention that Nietzsche’s endorsements of “naturalism” are best read as hyperbole. The discussion engages with Enlightenment-orientated readings (by Walter Kaufmann, Maudemarie Clark, and Brian Leiter), which hold Nietzsche’s naturalism to endorse of the spirit of empirical science, and an alternative view (provided by Richard Schacht and Wolfgang Müller-Lauter), which holds Nietzsche’s “extended naturalism” to be an informing ethos of historically aware thought rather than a mere “method.” The ensuing discussion endorses the latter approach in terms that seek to take more seriously the implications of Fink’s point about the hyperbolic and figural aspects of Nietzsche’s naturalism. I argue that Nietzsche’s naturalism is indeed often hyperbolic and figural but that this exaggerated form of naturalizing thought allows insights that invite explicit theorization. Turning to an approach suggested by Adorno and Horkheimer, I argue that Nietzsche’s exaggeratedly “naturalistic” take on morality is best appreciated as a form of disturbing and disruptive political intervention in the dominant discourse of modernity in which it overtly situates itself, namely, the instrumentalizing, methodologically fixated liberal discourse of scientific Enlightenment. If we approach his thinking in this way, Nietzsche’s naturalism serves as a valuable resource for critical reflection on the hegemony of contemporary scientific culture. The context for such critical reflection is provided by Giorgio Agamben’s work on sovereign power and modernity. Nietzsche’s naturalism, I argue, is foremost biopolitical in its implications. These implications invite critical reflection on aspects of Agamben’s work; they also, following Agamben’s lead, suggest that we must step beyond the fundamental concepts of liberalism.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
Additional Information: Pdf uploaded in accordance with publisher's policy at (accessed 10/03/2016)
Publisher: Penn State University Press
ISSN: 0968-8005
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Date of Acceptance: 8 September 2015
Last Modified: 12 May 2020 23:08

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