|Abstract:||My dissertation explores Nietzsche’s claims to originality as a new kind of philosophical psychologist. My argument proceeds through an elaboration and defense of three basic and interrelated interpretive claims about Nietzsche’s claims to originality in psychology: 1.) The most original goals in Nietzsche’s psychology are therapeutic rather than theoretical in their orientation and outlook. 2.) Nietzsche aims to facilitate these therapeutic goals through an experimental style of thinking and writing. 3.) Nietzsche’s understanding of “psychology” is therefore far less familiar than has been previously supposed by many of his commentators.
In Chapters One and Two, I make a preliminary case for reading the most original features of Nietzsche’s psychology in terms of his therapeutic ambitions. I argue that many current trends within Nietzsche scholarship fail to appreciate that he often he views his readers as not only interlocutors of his philosophical ideas but also as patients who stand in need of a cure. This therapeutic analogy, however, is not without its own interpretive difficulties. I survey some failed strategies of making sense of Nietzsche’s therapeutic project that portray him as a self-help guru, an exemplar of ancient practices of the ‘art of living,’ and also as a Wittgensteinian quietist. Finally, at the end of the chapter I argue that Nietzsche’s unconventional style of philosophical writing offers us a clue to his therapeutic ambitions.
In Chapters Three and Four, I offer a reconstruction of Nietzsche’s genealogical diagnosis of humanity’s problematic relationship with its own self-worth through the lens of the concepts of optimism and pessimism. According to Nietzsche, the history of Western civilization has been guided by traditional ideals that manage to combine a highly ambitious and very optimistic belief about the cosmic importance of human beings with a deeply pessimistic view of their own self-worth when their mere embodied, temporal, and natural selves are compared to their own transcendent ideals. I focus particularly on Nietzsche’s diagnosis of how a certain picture of human life—the ascetic ideal—has instilled within humanity a pervasive sense that our natural selves and the natural world are deficient, impure, corrupt, and therefore stand in need of redemption by a higher metaphysical world.
Chapter Five turns to a critical discussion of one of Nietzsche’s most famous figurative images: the death of God. I propose that Nietzsche’s diagnosis of the death of God is best understood to express a cultural death that focuses on the failure of the Western tradition as a particular way of life. I then survey two failed responses to the problem posed by the death of God through an analysis of Nietzsche’s figurative images of the Madman and the Last Man. Both of these responses fail, I argue, because each figure fails to take risks that would allow them to envision alternative possibilities for a meaningful life after God’s death.
In the sixth and final chapter of the dissertation I offer an account of the kind of affirmative therapeutic experience that Nietzsche is trying to cultivate in his readers that would allow them to maintain a new kind of cheerfulness in the face of the death of God. According to Nietzsche, we have inherited a tradition that has habituated us to need deep assurances of wholeness, completeness, and cosmic security when thinking about the meaning of our lives. In order to overcome our need for traditional assurances of cosmic security, Nietzsche claims that we must learn to engage in new kinds of risk-taking and adventure. What is most valuable in Nietzsche’s thinking when viewed from the standpoint of a therapeutic ideal rather than a theoretical system, I suggest, is not a catalogue of settled doctrines but rather a new experimental sensibility that continually seeks to explore the possibility of an open-ended, highly provisional, and yet-to-be-written future for philosophy.