'Thinking Differently': Nietzsche on our Capacities for Guided Self-change

Jones, Robert M. (2024). 'Thinking Differently': Nietzsche on our Capacities for Guided Self-change. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.00096436


Morality, Nietzsche claims, is bad for us. It has shaped humanity into ‘the sick animal’ (das kranke Thier) (GMIII 13). His critique of morality sets an ethical task: to overcome the values that tie us to morality and select and adopt our own values. The difficulty we face with this task is that morality has already come to constitute who we are. Whether we know it or not, the values, beliefs, practices, and habits it promotes are already our own. The task to overcome morality, then, requires that we change ourselves. Nietzsche is often thought to be a philosopher interested primarily in the exemplary greatness of a select few. However, in this thesis, I explore and develop Nietzsche’s ideas about the capacities human beings, not only the select few, have to engage in this task of self-change. Nietzsche presents many sceptical claims about the scope and efficacy of human agency. Yet I argue that alongside these claims, we can also draw from his works a positive conception of ourselves as agents. Nietzsche claims that our motives are unknown to us, that we have no free will, and that our conscious reflections and intentions are epiphenomenal. And yet, I argue, Nietzsche also leaves open the possibility of forms of conscious thinking and learning that can guide us in the ethical task of self-change. Such guidance is possible only sometimes and there are limits to it. Nonetheless, Nietzsche does affirm that we can think differently, and thereby become different.

Chapter 1 examines Nietzsche’s drive psychology. I argue that, given the constraining relationship between drives and world, the drive-structures that constitute agency can change in response to the world. In chapter 2, I argue—against aspects of the prominent ‘doctrine of types’ reading—that, within limits, character change is possible. Chapter 3 develops an account of ‘guidance free will’, which differs significantly from traditional accounts of free will that see moral responsibility as their criterion of success. Chapter 4 argues that despite Nietzsche’s scepticism about conscious causation, conscious engagement allows agents to learn, to acquire contents from the world, and to reflect on those contents in ways that effect changes to their drives and actions. Finally, chapter 5 offers an account of the processes through which agents can promote value-ownership by engaging in self-genealogy and value-experimentation.

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