Here's something you will have missed if you don't read the ridiculously short New Yorker letters page. In the 8/22/05 issue, Jim Holt, who clearly has some background in philosophy, though it's not clear how much, reviewed that old Frankfurt article (I mean "new book"), as well as Simon Blackburn's new popular effort, Truth: A Guide. I like Holt's work, but sometimes he's in over his head. (Hell, I think Blackburn's in over his head too, but these are particularly deep and treacherous waters.) In the article Nietzsche plays his standard role as proto-pomo looney tune; I'm surprised Brian Leiter didn't blow a gasket, given what he said the other day about that relatively innocuous Times book review about Curtis Cate's Nietzsche biography.
I sent in as short a letter as I could manage, "leaving the hash Holt makes of Nietzsche to the outraged Nietzsche scholars," but they didn't print it. In today's issue (9/18), though, there is a letter from a Michael Stern of Eugene, Oregon:
Jim Holt, in his discussion of Simon Blackburn's new book, "Truth: A Guide," says that Blackburn "accuses Nietzsche of sloppy thinking" (A Critic at Large, August 22nd). Holt argues that Blackburn's protest arises from Nietzsche's claim that we are limited by our perspectives. However, this is to ignore the Nietzschean "will to power," which interprets, and seeks to engage with, as many perspectives as possible. Nietzsche sought to describe the complex relations between perspectives and how we organize the multiplicity of existence as knowledge. Simplifying Nietzschean perspectivism in this way effectively pulls the teeth of a complex argument in order to declare in the next moment that it has no bite.Well said! In fact, that's the best short explanation of the connection between will to power and perspectivism in Nietzsche that I've seen. W.t.p. engages other perspectives in order to dominate them (naturally). It sees (we see) difference as disagreement (that is, as someone else's error), and it attempts, Borg-style, to assimilate the truth available from other perspectives into our own while quashing the error, and thereby showing/manifesting its own superiority. Of course that's not always possible (but tell that to the w.t.p.). Note Stern's cognitivist, rather than skeptical or relativist, account of perspectivism: our (re-) organization of the multiplicity of existence results in knowledge. And if "describing the complex relations between perspectives" is what perspectivists do, then I need not feel self-conscious in appealing to Davidson and Wittgenstein in pursuing a "perspectivist" project (for which I have taken some guff).
This was much better than my own letter, which basically said:
Jim Holt has Sidney Morgenbesser saying "The trouble with pragmatism is that it's completely useless." I heard it this way: playing off the supposedly pragmatist claim that "truth is what works," he said "Pragmatism is true, but it doesn't work." This is quite different (look again at that first part).Come to think of it, I may even have heard him utter those very words (recalling his remark for us, that is, not making it for the first time).