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Nietzsche on Art and Freedom

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There are passages in Nietzsche that can be read as contributions to the free will/determinism debate. When read in that way, they reveal a fairly amateurish metaphysician with little of real substance or novelty to contribute; and if these readings were apt or perspicuous, it seems to me, they would show that Nietzsche's thoughts about freedom were barely worth pausing over. They would simply confirm the impression—amply bolstered from other quarters—that Nietzsche was not at his best when addressing the staple questions of philosophy. But these readings sell Nietzsche short. He had next to no systematic interest in metaphysics, and his concern with the question of freedom was not motivated by metaphysical considerations. Rather—and as with all of Nietzsche's concerns—his motivations were ethical. He was interested, not in the relation of the human will to the causal order of nature, but in the relation between freedom and the good life, between the will and exemplary human living. Read from this perspective, Nietzsche's remarks about freedom actually add up to something. And what they add up to is one aspect of his attempt to understand life after the model of art. Beauty, for Kant, was an image of the moral. 1 For Nietzsche, by contrast—and the contrast can be hard to spell out—art was an image of the ethical. 2 My hope here is to begin to explain why Nietzsche might have thought that the issue of freedom was relevant to that. In sections 1–3, I attempt to show why Nietzsche is not best read as a participant in the standard free will/determinism debate; in sections 4–6, I try to spell out the ethical conception of freedom that he develops instead.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Philosophy, School of Humanities, University of Southampton, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 2007-08-01

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