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A Nietzschean opponent to metaethics

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posted on 2023-01-19, 11:29 authored by David Emmanuel Rowe
Submission note: A thesis submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the School of Philosophy, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University, Bundoora.

I argue for a way in which Nietzsche may pose a challenge to contemporary metaethical views. I do this by proposing three pertinent tensions in an interpretation of Nietzsche, namely that he was not intentionally writing a metaethics, that he seems to deny all values while also arguing for the existence of values, and the ability to ‘translate’ what Nietzsche says into contemporary terms. I argue for a view of Nietzsche as a moral error theorist. This is modelled on contemporary error theoretical views from Mackie and Joyce. I argue that the error theorist is required to provide a ‘positive’ alternative, whereby morality still plays a guiding role in the community. This raises a tension for error theorists, however, in their ability to allow morality a guiding role without re-instantiating some value. I argue that there is a radical solution to this problem in Nietzsche, who argues that it is insofar as language requires certain concepts for its truth that it is in error, in virtue of an appeal to some value. I show how this Nietzschean error theory causes problems for another prominent theory in metaethics, namely the idea that motivation generally follows sincere moral judgement in the rational agent. I then provide a ‘positive’ Nietzschean alternative. I argue against a common interpretation of Nietzsche as a virtue ethicist and argue that he is best seen as a power constitutivist, where it is power that is constitutive of action and provides a value standard. I argue for a unique conception of Nietzschean ‘agency’, which eliminates the distinction between actions and mere behaviours. This ‘positive’ alternative, I argue, does not re-instantiate any values.


Center or Department

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. School of Philosophy.

Thesis type

  • Ph. D.

Awarding institution

La Trobe University

Year Awarded


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