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Nietzsche, Kant, and the Thing in Itself

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International Studies in Philosophy


Nietzsche .scholarship —- and here I will be talking exclusively about English-language work—has come a long way since Walter Kaufmann's groundbreaking study appeared in 1950. During this same time span, and particularly in the last 25 years, the breadth and rigor of Kant scholarship has flourished remarkably as well. What I want to argue here is that much of the Nietzsche literature in recent years has been held captive by a picture of Kant that is at best inaccurate and is, at worst, a misleading caricature. I will also try to show that much of the blame for this goes to Nietzsche, with some of the responsibility being Schopenhauer’s. In general, by looking at Kant's notorious thing in itself, and appealing to some recent interpretations of it, I want to see if Nietzsche's reading of Kant's theoretical philosophy can be called into question.

Two provisos should be mentioned at the outset. First, as Ruediger Grimm and others have noted, Kant was a deeply ambivalent figure for Nietzsche, and the present discussion can only sketch the contours of this complex interaction. All I can offer here, then, is the outline for a more extended analysis. Second and much more importantly, I will be focusing on epistemological and ontological issues, hence the restriction to Kant's theoretical philosophy. Nietzsche's incisive and troubling criticisms of Kant's moral philosophy will be left, for the most part to the side. And while I can only hint at them here, my suspicions are that it is in this domain that Nietzsche's strength and overriding interest lies (although admittedly he would reject Kant's very distinction between theoretical and practical philosophy).

There is not much of philosophical interest in the conclusion that Nietzsche was not a Kant scholar. Nor is it news when one philosopher criticizes another on the basis of an inadequate and unfair interpretation. But if I am right, I think we can find an extremely fruitful confrontation between the positions of Kant and Nietzsche and that this confrontation yields much more of interest if each philosopher is read as accurately and sympathetically as possible. Further, given

the close connection between Kant's theoretical and practical philosophy, we may be able to go on and raise some difficult issues in turn for Nietzsche's interpretation of the latter.

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