Nietzsche and the contemporary debate on the Self

Sponsered by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) - PTDC/FIL-FIL/111444/2009 

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What do we mean by “consciousness” and what do we mean by “I” and “Self”? Nietzsche’s reflections on these questions remain immensely influential, though they are deeply problematic. Nietzsche clearly rejects the thesis that consciousness should be seen as the “kernel of man” (FW 11), he considers the “I” of consciousness to be a “fiction”, and he argues that both a metaphysical, Cartesian Subject and a Kantian and Schopenhauerian Transcendental Subject are no more than fictional constructions based on the grammar of human language, as well as on instinctive needs of human beings living in society. But on the other hand, he does not abandon either the concept of consciousness or the concept of “soul”, which he rethinks as “mortal soul” and “soul as subject-multiplicity” (JGB 12). In Z I, he distinguishes between “I” and “Self”, and he asserts that the “Self” is in fact “the body”. In Daybreak, and especially in the Nachlass, he argues that the “so-called I” is a fiction, but this fiction cannot simply be eradicated from our first-personal experience (or, in other words, that “fiction” will always remain a very powerful “fiction” in our experience of ourselves). Moreover, his philosophy is expressed in a type of discourse which is remarkably personal, individual, perspectival, and in some sense subjective. In order to express not so much the essence of Nietzsche’s alleged “doctrines” on subjectivity as rather the problematic nature of his views, we should perhaps say that his procedure is intended to experiment with the paradox of conceiving of a sort of “subjectivity without a subject”.

Nietzsche’s critique of the “subject” is mostly known for its influence upon the so-called “post-structuralist” thinkers (like Deleuze, Foucault or Derrida) and it is at the origin of the debate on “the death of the subject”. Usually, it is also discussed in connection with Heidegger and other so-called “continental” thinkers. However, in the last ten to fifteen years, it has become of increasing importance to the Anglo-American tradition, not least to many who are interested in contemporary Philosophy of Mind and “analytic” philosophy. Many of Nietzsche’s ideas — for example, his rejection of dualism, his naturalistic project of “retranslating man back to Nature” (JGB 230), his insistence on “physiology”, his questioning of the philosophical significance of the fact that man has evolved by natural selection, his conception of consciousness as a “surface”, his conception of rationality as dependent upon the “life” of our “drives and affects”, and so on — coincide with most contemporary approaches to the Mind/ Body problem, and particularly to the question about the “Self”.  

Accordingly, the crucial idea of Nietzsche and the contemporary debate on the Self is to use Nietzsche’s thought to foster the contemporary debate on the Self both from the perspective of “continental” and “post-structuralist” thought and from the perspective of Anglo-American philosophy of mind (and philosophy of language). To those who find this odd and perhaps even absurd, we answer that it is certainly less productive to keep two philosophical traditions apart (and to label them as irreconcilable) than to investigate why they are currently engaged in interpreting and studying the same author — Nietzsche. Thus, what is at stake for us is not a merely philological or historical interpretation of Nietzsche, but, rather a discussion relevant the future of philosophy. Our main focus is on the new directions philosophy may take in the future via the contemporary debate on the Self, and particularly on the role Nietzsche’s thought might be able to play in reshaping this debate.

Originally, the project’s research team included the following members and consultants: João Constâncio, Werner Stegmaier, Giuliano Campioni, Patrick Wotling, Herman Siemens, Chiara Piazzesi, Andrea Bertino, Scarlett Marton, John Richardson, Brian Leiter, José Gil, Ana Godinho, Maria Filomena Molder, Sofia Miguens, Maria João Branco, Katia Hay, Marta Faustino, Luís Sousa, André Muniz Garcia. In the meantime, alongside Pietro Gori, Paolo Stellino, and Bartholomew Ryan, Luca Lupo, Jaanus Sooväli, and Mattia Riccardi have been added as consultants. We expect several others to be added to this list. The reason for this is that the project’s main practical objective is to organize a reference volume (or, depending on the circumstances, a series of reference volumes) on “Nietzsche and the Problem of Subjectivity”. The other practical objectives of the project are:
    (a) to publish a new translation and critical edition of Nietzsche’s Morgenröthe in Portuguese;
    (b) to organize a permanent seminary on the project’s theme;
    (c) to organize a whole series of International Nietzsche Conferences in Lisbon till 2014. 


Research Group



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