Freedom, resistance, agency

Dries, M. (2015). Freedom, resistance, agency. In: Dries, M. and Kail, P. J. E. eds. Nietzsche on Mind and Nature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 142–162.



The aim of this article is to show (1) that freedom and agency are among Nietzsche's central concerns, (2) that his much-discussed interest in power in fact originates in a first-person account of freedom, and (3) that this novel understanding of the phenomenon of freedom informs his "theory" of agency. I will argue that while Nietzsche questions the weight philosophers have given to the first-person perspective and consciousness, these remain essential not only to his initial analysis but also to his later conception of freedom and agency. While his rejection of metaphysical free will and moral desert has had a significant impact on contemporary ethics, the sense in which Nietzsche continues to use the term "freedom" affirmatively remains largely unnoticed. He develops a sophisticated drive-driven psychological motivational account: reflective judgement and reasons can motivate by means of the affects or affective orientations agents have due to their drives; he claims that due to a strong preference - we could say with Mele, a "standing desire" for freedom (it will soon become clear what Nietzsche means by "freedom") - agents can generate the necessary motivational affects to unify their drives in view of (certain) long-term goals. Thus, when in his later philosophy Nietzsche envisages free agents who not only feel free but whose belief in their agency is justified, he has replaced the metaphysical picture (of agents who are mysterious, noumenally free, causa sui agents) with a naturalized, drive-driven psychological view of agency that he thinks has the resources to cope with the problem of affirmation that arises under nihilism conditions.

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