Nietzsche's perspectivism and the revaluation of values

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Von Eschenbach, Warren Jonathan

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In the Preface to Human, All-Too Human, Nietzsche stresses that his free spirits "shall learn to grasp the sense of perspective in every value judgment—the displacement, distortion and merely apparent teleology of horizons and whatever else pertains to perspectivism." This statement raises a number of significant questions: What exactly is perspectivism? What does it mean for value judgments, or anything for that matter, to be perspectival? And why does Nietzsche think that it is important that the free spirits learn to grasp the sense of perspective in value judgments? The purpose of this dissertation is to shed critical light on these issues. I begin with a discussion of Nietzsche's perspectivism and argue that it is the neo-Kantian thesis that i) the phenomenal world is constituted through cognition; ii) what we can know is limited to the phenomenal world; and iii) interests, needs, and desires explain which concepts and forms of sensibility we develop and employ in constituting phenomenal reality. I then argue that Nietzsche's explanations for the origin of various values—most notably those of master and slave morality—demonstrate considerable affinities with his perspectivism by showing that evaluative concepts, too, vary from perspective to perspective and can be given functional explanations. I suggest that Nietzsche's imperative that the free spirits appreciate the sense of perspective in value judgments can be explained if we recognize that perspectivism plays a decisive role in Nietzsche's revaluation of values by revealing that because moral values originate to serve particular interests, needs, and desires, absolute and universal normative claims are unjustified. Finally, I discuss a couple of key critical issues related to both perspectivism and the revaluation of values—specifically the criticism that Nietzsche’s revaluation of values undermines his authority by revaluing his own evaluative standpoint and whether perspectivism leads to relativism. I argue that Nietzsche’s revaluation project is not jeopardized because the revaluation of all values occurs only as a consequence of revaluing morality. In addressing relativism, I argue that Nietzsche is a moral skeptic, not a moral relativist, but that relativism seems to be an unavoidable consequence of his epistemology.