How do we become free, according to Nietzsche?
Updated thesis title: Honesty & Obedience: Nietzsche on the Preconditions of Freedom.
This thesis explores the relationship between honesty, obedience, and freedom in Nietzsche’s writings. The central hypothesis is that protracted honesty (or truthfulness), as a form of obedience, produces the highest type of freedom favoured by Nietzsche. I argue that scholars have not appreciated the extent to which this relationship is an outgrowth of Nietzsche’s realisation, in BGE 188 and elsewhere, that “protracted obedience in one direction” has produced all freedom on earth hitherto. Chapter 1 establishes the context of my hypothesis by highlighting that Nietzsche views obedience as a precondition of freedom throughout his writings. Firstly, I compare BGE 188 to passages such as HAH 231–2 and GM II.1–3, in order to trace the development of Nietzsche’s views on obedience and constraint. Secondly, I defend the recent compatibilist trend in Nietzsche scholarship of viewing constraint as an enabling condition of freedom, rather than indicative of paradox or incompatibilism (see Leiter, 1998). Thirdly, drawing on Han-Pile (2019), I examine Nietzsche’s phenomenological descriptions of obedience, as experienced by artists and philosophers who become free. Chapter 2 defends my central thesis that truthfulness, or honesty, as a form of protracted obedience, is a necessary precondition of the highest type of freedom. Firstly, I use the findings of Chapter 1 to offer new interpretions of passages such as GS 335 and BGE 227, in which free spirits are compelled to obey the virtue of honesty. Secondly, drawing more broadly on texts such as Zarathustra and Schopenhauer as Educator, and following Jenkins (2006), I argue that truthfulness, or honesty, is Nietzsche’s highest value. As Williams (2002: 13) notes, “One of Nietzsche’s most striking qualities is the obstinacy with which he held to an ideal of truthfulness”. Thirdly, I argue that an important and underappreciated feature of Nietzsche’s conception of, and committment to, truthfulness is overcoming the criteria on which truth is not logically predicated, such as desirability. As a result, becoming free requires one to become, inter alia, increasingly indifferent about the (un)desirability, (im)morality, or consequences of the truth.
The specific focus of my thesis is the relationship between honesty, freedom and obedience in Nietzsche’s writings. Freedom is typically thought to involve an absence of obedience, constraint, tyranny, dominance, or restriction. Freedom of movement, for example, is violated by restrictions on movement; freedom of speech by restrictions on speech; economic freedom by restrictions on the capacity to make economic decisions, etc. In Beyond Good and Evil Section 188, however, Nietzsche examines the preconditions of freedom and reaches a different conclusion:
But the strange fact is that all there is or has been on earth of freedom, subtlety, boldness, dance, and masterly certainty, whether in thinking itself, or in ruling, or in speaking and persuasion, in the arts as in morals, has evolved only by virtue of the ‘tyranny of such arbitrary laws’; and in all seriousness, there is no small probability that precisely this is ‘nature’ and ‘natural’ – and not that laisser aller!
Laisser aller is the view, often associated with libertarian conceptions of freedom, according to which one is freer the less one is tyrannised, constrained, and obedient. Admittedly, Nietzsche sometimes appears to understand freedom in these terms. For example, free spirits are considered free from dogmatic customs in HAH I.224; and in HAH II.113 Sterne is, on account of his “unrestrained restlessness”, described as “the freest of writers”, as “a masterful exception to what all literary artists demand from themselves: discipline, tenacity, character, steadfastness and intentions, comprehensiveness, simplicity, restraint in pace and demeanor.” However, the central argument of BGE 188 is that “protracted obedience in one direction” is a necessary condition of all freedom on earth hitherto.
In the secondary literature, scholars such as Lemm (2016), Rutherford (2011), and Ridley (2016) have emphasised that, for Nietzsche, freedom arises out of constraint and fatedness, contra laisser aller. For example, Rutherford (2011: 533) observes that “Nietzsche envisions a freedom that assents to fate as a condition of its own possibility.” At the same time, scholars such as Reginster (2013), Poellner (2009), and Jenkins (2016) have explored the link between truthfulness and freedom. For example, Poellner (2009: 177) suggests that “Nietzsche’s account of freedom and the free person cannot be detached from the question of an individual’s relation to truth”. Although these claims are correct, as well as topical in contemporary Nietzsche scholarship, there has been no sustained attempt to bring the two literatures together. Consequently, Nietzsche scholarship lacks a comprensive understanding of how and why freedom, obedience, and truthfulness (or honesty) are interrelated in Nietzsche’s writings. Hence, my main contribution to Nietzsche scholarship, and to these debates in particular, is to argue that protracted truthfulness, or honesty, is the specific type of obedience which generates the highest type of freedom favoured by Nietzsche.
In order the defend this thesis, I will use the insights of an exegetical reading of BGE 188 to explain why in BGE 227 Nietzsche writes that free spirits have only one virtue, the virtue of honesty, which he urges them to labour at protractedly:
Honesty – granted that this is our virtue, from which we cannot get free, we free spirits – well, let us labour at it with all love and malice and not weary of ‘perfecting’ ourselves in our virtue, the only one we have: may its brightness one day overspread this ageing culture and its dull, gloomy seriousness like a gilded azure mocking evening glow! And if our honesty should one day none the less grow weary, and sigh, and stretch its limbs, and find us too hard, and like to have things better, easier, gentler, like an agreeable vice: let us remain hard, we last of the Stoics!
By focussing on the relationship between freedom, obedience and honesty, I will have outlined a framework with which to compare and contrast certain passages in Nietzsche’s writings, with the intention of tracing his intellectual development. For example, HAH 232 (on the “origin of free thinking”) and HAH 231 (on the “genesis of the genius”) prefigure Nietzsche’s view that constraint is a precondition of freedom. Similarly, GM II.1–3 considers the “social straitjacket” to be a necessary condition of the emergence of the “sovereign individual”. Both passages parallel the role of tyrannical and arbitrary laws described in BGE 188. With regard to research relevance, my research will deepen our understanding of 1) Nietzsche’s intellectual development with respect to constraint and obedience; 2) his positive conception of freedom, specifically in relation to obedience and honesty; and 3) central Nietzschean concepts, such as self-overcoming and life-affirmation, which are closely related to truthfulness and freedom.
1. [Organisational Assistant] Jean Monnet PhD Summer School, University of Dundee. June 2014, June 2015
Other Research Interests
1. Dostoevsky, Turgenev, and Russian nihlist writers, esp. relation to Nietzsche (and N's remarks on D)
2. Epictetus, Seneca, Aurelius, and other stoics (esp. N's sustained commentary on stoic philosophy)
3. Shakespeare, esp. Hamlet and Caesar (and N's remarks on S and Hamlet)
3. Cervantes' Don Quixote (and N's remarks)
4. Musil's Man Without Qualities (and influence of N)
5. Chopin's Nocturnes (also Nietzsche's remarks on C).
DEANS’ LIST FOR ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE, University of St Andrews: September 2016–17
Awarded to students whose credit-weighted mean for the year is 16.5 or above.
CARNEGIE-CAMERON POSTGRADUATE BURSARY, University of St Andrews: June 2016–17
Payment of tuition fees by the Carnegie Trust for a one-year taught postgraduate master’s course.
POLITICS LEVEL 4; LEVEL 3; LEVEL 2, University of Dundee: June 2016, 2015, 2014
Best performance for the academic year in either politics or international relations.
ALEX REID PRIZE, University of Dundee: June 2016
Awarded annually to the honours politics student who produces the best dissertation.
PHILOSOPHY LEVEL 2, University of Dundee: June 2014
Best performance for the academic year in philosophy.
POLITICS & INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, Undergraduate Awards: November 2015, 2016
Highly commended twice by the world’s largest undergraduate academic awards programme.
M.A. INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND POLITICS, The University of Dundee, 2012–16 (First-class)
M.LITT. INTERNATIONAL POLITICAL THEORY, The University of St Andrews, 2016–17 (Distinction)
M.A. CONTINENTAL PHILOSOPHY, The University of Warwick, 2018–19 (Distinction)