Werner Stegmaier

‘Resolute reversals’: Kant’s and Nietzsche’s orienting decisions concerning the distinction between reason and nature

Translated by Herman Siemens

1. Nietzsche’s esteem of Kant for his ‘resolute’ critical ‘reversal’ of the distinction between reason and nature

Nietzsche’s most noteworthy evaluation of Kant comes from the third treatise of On the Genealogy of Morality, not from the part regarding the philosophers (§§ 6–10), but from the part regarding the priests (§§ 11–22). Since the priests were far more successful in asserting their distinctions, Nietzsche takes them far more seriously. But philosophers become priests at the moment when their distinctions are believed in and when their distinctions become so self-evident that they appear to be predetermined and not undertaken. In § 12 of GM III, Nietzsche thanks Kant for his ‘resolute reversals’. In the preceding section, he dealt with the Indian ‘ascetic priests’ and their ‘evaluation of our life’ (GM III 11, KSA 5.362), and to begin with he takes this theme further in GM III 12. He then he turns his attention entirely to Kant’s distinctions and his guiding concept of reason. This well-known text, which we are going to interpret here, does not need to be quoted extensively.

In a way that was decisive for European philosophy, Parmenides set out the concept of reason (noeîn, noûs) in such a way that it was to secure a single truth for everyone, the truth of being (eînai, ousía), against the perspectivism of the senses, in which everything always appears to be different to everyone. On this basis, Plato and Aristotle constructed the metaphysics and logic that were to dominate European philosophical thinking for millennia, as a constant opposition to the sensuousness and temporality of reality. When Kant in his KrV had this concept of reason exclude itself from the realm of the truth of being, as he did, he drove it into self-contradiction. At the same time, however, he created with the self-limitation of reason a willingness to ‘see differently, to want to see differently’ and, along with it, a new flexibility of the spirit that Hegel then made into method with his dialectical ‘movement of the concept’. But Hegel thereby prepared the way for evolutionary thinking, albeit unintentionally, for which Nietzsche appreciated him (‘without Hegel no Darwin’, FW 357; Stegmaier (1987, 1990, 1997a). Perspectival and evolutionary thinking then enabled Nietzsche to conceive of ‘objectivity’ in a new way.

Thus Nietzsche ascribes the decisive reorientation to Kant’s ‘resolute reversals of accustomed perspectives and valuations’. According to Kant, reason can no longer simply exclude sensuousness; for the senses ‘affect’ reason (affizieren), constantly unsettle it, irritate, fascinate and drive it each time in their direction. An unrestrained and unmastered nature speaks through them, against which reason must make an intense effort to remain ‘pure’, in order to hold on to a stable and universally valid lawfulness of nature. According to Schopenhauer, Nietzsche’s most important philosophical teacher, reason is nonetheless driven on by the affects qua blind will, and for this reason Schopenhauer, still in debt to the Parmenidean tradition of European philosophy, wanted to ‘eliminate’ this will and find respite from it in art. Nietzsche resolutely reversed also Schopenhauer’s evaluation. He did not want to redeem reason from nature, but on the contrary to embed it as deeply as possible in nature, to ‘naturalize’ (vernatürlichen) it (FW 109, KSA 3.469). He thought of nature as radically lawless, as that in which ‘laws are lacking absolutely’ (JGB 22, KSA 5.37), as conceptually undefinable and capable only of symbolic designation as wills to power, which are constantly affecting each other (JGB 36, KSA 5.55). Despite the radical shift in meaning, Nietzsche held on to the concept of reason and its distinction from nature, giving them a plausible, easily accessible meaning.

Unlike Kant, who in this respect has remained up till now an example, Nietzsche did not accomplish this by means of sharp and consistent definitions. Rather, it was by way of a new kind of perspectivism that he developed in a long chain of aphorisms running across his work, an ever richer and more manifold, and, as it is called today, ‘thick’ description of it (Geertz 1973) in ever new contexts (Stegmaier 2012: 86), without ever unifying it in a synoptic or at all systematic manner. [Endnote 1] While Kant reoriented the distinction between reason and nature, Nietzsche thought of reason itself as a comprehensive faculty of reorientation in a nature in which orientation is the only possibility. Both share the philosophical premise that human orientation has reality, however it may be constituted in itself, only in distinctions of its orientation, distinctions for which it however can decide, as Kant first showed and then Nietzsche did in a radicalized form. In this respect, Nietzsche’s philosophy is to be understood as a ‘radicalization of Kantianism’ (Ottmann 2000: 411).

2. Kant’s orienting technique for making distinctions in the Preface to the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason

In GM III 12, Nietzsche clearly alludes to the Preface of the second edition of the KrV, in which Kant tries once more to clarify the sense of his critical undertaking by comparing it to Copernicus’s ‘revolution of the way of thinking’ in the ‘explanation of celestial motion’. [Endnote 2] With the sentence, ‘ “intelligible character” means for Kant a way in which things are constituted of which the intellect comprehends just this much, that for the intellect it is – completely incomprehensible’, Nietzsche is visibly targeting Kant’s hypothesis that reason is determined to grasp ‘the unconditioned’, but ‘not of things insofar as we do not know them, as things [Sachen] in themselves’ (KrV Vorrede B XX). Since things are given only perspectivally through our perception, ‘things in themselves’ are an unknowable X for reason. Nietzsche, who as we know had not read much of Kant, but who set about ‘making out of every U an X, [. . .] a real, proper X’ (FW Vorrede 3, KSA 3.350; Stegmaier 1999), was familiar with the Preface to the second edition of the KrV at least in parts, be it secondhand or through his own reading (Brobjer 2008: 36–39, 129). In any case, he cited the (very popular) passage multiple times: ‘I had to deny knowledge [Wissen aufheben] in order to make room for faith’ (KrV Vorrede B XXX), even if only this passage. [Endnote 3] Here Kant is no longer concerned with things themselves, but with the way in which they are distinguished. [Endnote 4] In what follows, we will read the much studied text, especially its first half regarding ‘speculative reason,’ from Nietzsche’s perspective and with an eye on Kant’s technique for making distinctions.

From the beginning, Kant is concerned with ‘discovering’ the right ‘path’ for the business of reason (‘Vernunft geschäft’: KrV Vorrede B VII), that is, with an orientation of reason, after what he takes to be centuries of disorientation. Given the ‘endless controversies’ of metaphysics (KrV Vorrede A VIII), the only way left is ‘revolution’, ‘change’ (Umänderung), a ‘changed method’, in short: a ‘changed way of thinking’ (Veränderung der Denkart) (KrV Vorrede B XII, XVI, XVIII, XIX). Accordingly, ‘ways of thinking’ are paths on which one can ‘turn around’ or ‘reverse’ (umdrehen, umkehren) or reorient oneself in thought. They differ, not according to their logic, the ‘formal rules for all thought’ (KrV Vorrede B Xf.), but in their direction or precisely in the orientation of their distinctions. The language of direction (des (Sich-) Ausrichtens, (Sich-) Richtens nach etwas) – one that Kant uses continuously in his text – is foundational for the language of orientation (Stegmaier 2008: 191–4). It thus makes a difference in which direction a distinction is used, in this case, if reason is understood from a standpoint in nature or nature from a standpoint in reason. Nietzsche calls this a reversal (Umkehrung) of ‘perspective’, but also of ‘evaluation’ (Werthung): The side of the distinction, from which the other side is understood, can be valued higher. This applies not only to reason over and against nature, but, for instance, also to the truth over and against untruth, morality over and against immorality, beauty over and against ugliness, determinacy over and against indeterminacy, the unconditioned over and against the conditioned, certainty over and against uncertainty and so on. Kant avails himself of theses orientating ‘perspectives and evaluations’ in making distinctions for the sake of his ‘reversals’ or ‘revolutions.’

Traditionally as well as in everyday language, reason has been understood on the basis of nature, as part of human nature. As part of nature, it is assumed that reason perceives and recognizes nature as it is given in itself. The so-called natural attitude continuously reinforces this supposition. Here, the distinction between reason and nature still is reversible: nature leads to reason, reason leads to nature. Kant’s ‘revolution’ or ‘reversal’ reverses this and makes the distinction irreversible. His way of thinking about knowledge is such that reason does not read off the laws from nature, but rather dictates them to it (Prol § 36); going counter to appearances (‘Augenschein’), Kant calls it a ‘a manner that is counter-intuitive [widersinnisch], but true’ (KrV Vorrede B XXII Fn). This makes sense if like Kant one starts out from the view that nature, as it appears and as has been reinforced ever more by modern natural science, is fully regulated by laws, laws that in their universal and timeless validity are not given to individual and temporal perception, but can only be thought ‘purely’ by a ‘pure’ reason. Thus, if there are to be laws of nature at all, the counter-intuitive claim (Widersinn) must be taken on that reason ‘dictates’ (vorschreibt) its laws to nature. In terms of the technique of distinction, reason must be removed from nature, if lawfulness is to be thought, and it must be assumed counter-intuitively that ‘the objects must conform [sich richten] to our knowledge’, ‘before they are given to us’ (KrV Vorrede B XVI). One must orient oneself differently.

That one can orient oneself in this way has until today been shown in the most trenchant and plausible manner by the example of Copernicus, according to whom ‘the observed movements are to be sought not in the heavenly bodies, but in their observer’ (KrV Vorrede B XXII Fn). With Thales in mind, Kant introduces the concept of construction. For Kant, Thales already recognized in antiquity that in geometry he ‘had to bring out what was necessarily implied in the concepts that he himself had formed a priori and had put into the figure through construction [durch Konstruktion], not that which he saw in the figure, or what he could discern in the bare concept of it, so as to read off its properties, so to speak’ (KrV Vorrede B XII). Though Kant himself reserves the concept of construction for mathematics (KrV A713/ B741), the twentieth-century concept of constructivism was derived from it, in the general sense that ‘reason has insight only in that which it produces itself after a plan [Entwurf] of its own’ (KrV Vorrede B XIII). According to Kant, this becomes clear not only in the triumph of modern experimental natural sciences but also in the judiciary, when the judge ‘compels witnesses to answer those questions that he puts to them’ (KrV Vorrede B XIII).

At the same time however, the judicial interrogation of witnesses shows that the constructivist way of thinking, as a reversal (Umkehrung) of the natural attitude, deepens the possibilities of knowledge, but also limits them. For with this way of thinking, one remains limited to the questions that one can raise from one’s own position: one remains captive to one’s perspective. Like a witness at court, nature cannot say anything about which she was not asked. Access to nature thereby becomes itself contingent – the interrogation of nature could always have run otherwise. So Kant himself designates his ‘revolution of the way of thinking’ as an ‘Einfall’ (KrV Vorrede B XIV), that is, as a contingent thought.

Yet such ideas are not arbitrary. As in the case of Copernicus, they are evaluated according to whether they allow one to orient oneself better in thinking. That is to say, distinctions are not or not only made with regard to what appears to be given, but at least also with regard to their power of orientation. In this way and only in this way, can reason ‘learn’ something from nature (‘to seek in [nature], not fictitiously ascribe to it, what it must learn from it [nature], according to what reason itself puts in nature, and of which it could know nothing for itself’, KrV Vorrede B XIV); not, however, about nature, as it might be in itself, but about reason’s own orientation about nature and in nature. The freely chosen, constructed or chanced upon distinctions are tested in view of whether they disclose more of nature for orientation than others, even if nature as a whole remains unknown. It is for this purpose, Kant writes, that concepts are set up (‘eingerichtet’, KrV Vorrede B XVIII Fn); one experiments with them until the ‘corresponding objects given in experience are commensurate with them [the a priori concepts – WS]’ (KrV Vorrede B XVIII), so that both fit together. Orientation proceeds experimentally.

For this commensurability or fit, Kant himself appeals to an ‘experiment’ – namely, whether there is no conflict (‘Widerstreit’) of perspectives on the concepts of reason under the ‘twofold point of view’ (doppelten Gesichtspunkt), that is, the point of view on themselves on the one hand, and the point of view on their disclosive power for experience on the other. If there is no conflict, ‘the experiment decides in favour of the correctness of that distinction’ (KrV Vorrede B XIX Fn). The Copernican Turn is an orientation-experiment in the making of distinctions: the correctness (‘Richtigkeit’) of distinctions lies in their appropriateness for a sufficiently successful orientation. It is the business of reason, in turn, to decide on this correctness, and precisely this is its ‘critique’, literally the distinction (Unterscheidung) between reason itself and nature, as well as its decision (Entscheidung) concerning the appropriateness of this distinction (krinêin = to distinguish, to decide, to select, to judge). According to Kant, the experiment succeeds as desired (‘nach Wunsch’, KrV Vorrede B XIX): by means of these decisions of orientation, reason is able to preserve its unconditioned character free of contradiction (KrV Vorrede B XXI Fn). It orients itself in line with itself (Stegmaier 2016, chapter III). However, to this end its distinctions need to be conceived as ‘made’, constructed, since otherwise reason would have no scope for its decisions of orientation.

Despite all the critique, all the polemic and all the ridicule of Kant’s philosophy that Nietzsche expressed in his late writings, he decidedly followed Kant’s ‘resolute reversals’ and took them further in his own way, without investigating further the architecture of Kant’s distinctions. What he learned from Kant was his new technique in making distinctions, the method of orienting and reorienting distinctions, so as to orient reason in line with itself. In general, Nietzsche no longer treated distinctions as distinctions of what is given, but rather as distinctions by means of which we first distinguish and decide what there is; as distinctions that could always be otherwise, that could always be made and oriented otherwise. It is in this way that his ‘transvaluation’ of ‘values’ first became possible. For their part, distinctions are then not in themselves given, not matters of fact, but instead they are actions, operations that are undertaken in changing situations for the sake of changing purposes. That in turn is how Kant understood them, namely, as ‘synthesis’ or formation following ‘forms’ (Formung nachFormen’).

3. Kant’s persistent uncritical presuppositions

Kant also had a very critical awareness regarding his own ‘critical enterprise’ (KU 170). He presented his revolution of the way of thinking ‘only as a hypothesis’ (KrV Vorrede B XXII Fn) and designated the KrV as a whole as ‘a treatise on method, not a system of science itself ’ (KrV Vorrede B XXII). From the viewpoint of Nietzsche’s further reversals, as we know, Kant nevertheless held fast uncritically to presuppositions at key points in his writings, which Nietzsche then dismissed. For the distinction between reason and nature the following points are decisive:

  1. The auto-presupposition of reason: If reason constructs its concepts by itself, this goes also for its concept of itself. Reason can, then, no longer presuppose that it is given as such. Insofar as that which is real (wirklich) must also be given sensuously, yet reason itself cannot be given sensuously, it follows, according to the criteria of the KrV, that reason itself is not real. Yet Kant never puts the existence of pure reason seriously in question in the KrV. It is only for practical philosophy that he raises the question. But in the Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten Kant writes: ‘Now, a human being really finds in himself a capacity by which he distinguishes himself from all other things, even from himself insofar as he is affected by objects, and that is reason ’ (GMS 452). From the viewpoint of the ‘distinction of a world of the senses [Sinnenwelt] from a world of understanding [Verstandeswelt]’, reason can be found in the latter, in the ‘intellectual world [intellektuellen Welt]’ (GMS 451). In fact, the intellectual world again is just a mere construction of reason itself and therefore there is nothing to be ‘found’. Kant also admits this to be ‘a kind of circle’ (GMS 450). His solution then is to introduce a ‘Factum’ of a special kind for the reality of reason (KpV 31), a fact that is indeed not given sensuously, but expresses itself under ‘necessitation’ (Nöthigung, KpV 20) by the categorical imperative for the testing of its moral maxims.
  2. The presupposition that reason has a ‘nature’: Of the reason that he discovers, Kant writes that it is an ‘organised body’ (organisierter Körper), in which all limbs have their precisely determined sense (Sinn) for one another (KrV Vorrede B XXIII and XXXVIIf.). He thereby presupposes for reason itself a well-ordered and therefore completely cognizable nature already, which is not constructed, but only needs to be reconstructed, a ‘glorious order, beauty and [providential] care [Fürsorge] everywhere displayed by nature’. This ‘possession’ remains ‘undisturbed’ by the critique (KrV Vorrede B XXXIII). It is this ‘nature’ which ‘our reason stalks with its restless striving’ to find itself on ‘the secure path of science’ (KrV Vorrede B XV) and thereby to secure the ‘completeness’ (Vollständigkeit) of its self-knowledge (KrV Vorrede B XXIIIf.). At the same time, Kant takes this ‘totality of pure reason’ as ‘human reason in general’ (allgemeine Menschenvernunft, KrV Vorrede B XXXVIII). The presupposition of a well-ordered, beautiful and caring nature was made obsolete by evolutionary thought.
  3. The presupposition of the Aristotelian distinction between form and content: For Kant, the a priori ‘forms’ of intuition and of the understanding belong to the nature of reason (in the widest sense, encompassing all the intellectual faculties of knowledge), and he says of them that they lie ‘ready a priori in the mind’ (im Gemüte]) (KrV A20/ B 34; Röttges 1999: 265ff.). However, they too are not given, but obviously constructed – for the declared purpose of making the possibility of a pure natural science conceivable. Kant does not reflect critically on the distinction between form and content either, adopting them instead from Aristotle’s metaphysics as self-evident. There, the distinction has the function of making it possible to think the essence (Wesen, ousía) as timeless, even of that which becomes (Werdendes), especially of living beings (Lebendiges). The timeless form is supposed to take up changing, material content, without itself thereby changing. To suppose something timeless in nature, be it in the nature of reason, be it in nature outside reason, was, as we can see today, precipitate and became untenable from the point of view of evolutionary thinking. Nietzsche explicitly overcame the presupposition of fixed forms in GM II 12 (‘The form is fluid, the “meaning” even more so . . .’; Stegmaier 1994: 70–88). Furthermore, the forms of intuition in Kant’s construction of pure knowledge become paradoxical: the forms of intuition are at the same time content for the forms of understanding (Stegmaier 1997b: 61–94).
  4. The presupposition of the necessity of an unconditioned for everything conditioned: For Kant a series of conditions continuing to the infinite cannot be thought; it must be closed off with an unconditioned and grounded in the latter. For Nietzsche it definitely can: He explicitly called for it (FW 374). Thus, for Kant it was a ‘necessary idea of reason’ (KrV Vorrede B XXI Fn) to assume a ‘Ding an sich’ for knowledge, even though it was not knowable; and it was all the more necessary to understand reason itself, which recognizes this, as a ‘Ding an sich’ too. Nietzsche considered himself to be free from both.
  5. The presupposition that philosophy is a rigorous science: In Nietzsche’s view, it was no longer a binding presupposition for a critical philosophy to conceptualize it as a rigorous science, in which every step of thought ought to be demonstrable to everyone in equal measure. For Kant, this was his main goal, the actual task. At the same time, Kant thereby laid down reason in terms of certainty, truth and unity; presuppositions that Nietzsche equally put in question and have become ever more questionable until today. Nowadays, there is no significant philosophy that would affirm pure reason in order to become a rigorous science and that would have the prospect of being generally recognized as such.
  6. The presupposition of the certainty of Aristotelian logic: Finally, Kant could still rely on Aristotelian logic as a formal condition for a rigorous science, and he grounded transcendental philosophy to a considerable extent on it, beginning with the derivation of the categories of the understanding from the ‘logical function of the understanding in judgements’ (KrV A70/ B95). Aristotelian logic also appeared to Kant to be given and not (in the main, at least) to be something constructed. Nietzsche, on the contrary, was ready to go so far as to understand even that as only ‘an art of schematization and abbreviation, a mastery of multiplicity through an art of expression [. . .] for the purpose of communicative understanding [Verständigung]’ (NL 1886 5[16], KSA 12.190).

4. Nietzsche’s ‘revolution of the way of thinking’ in Kant regarding the distinction between reason and nature: pluralization and functionalization of reason for orientation I

Nietzsche’s goals in philosophy were no longer to ground the objectivity of the pure natural sciences through theoretical reason, nor to test personal maxims of agency against a universal norm of moral legislation, nor to think aesthetic and teleological judgements as claiming universal validity. For him, universalization as such had become questionable and this required him to come to a new understanding of reality from separate, perspectival orientations taking into account their evolutionary changes, that is, time. Reason hereby lost the functions that Kant ascribed to it, and so reason no longer needed to be presupposed as unconditional. Precisely this unconditional presupposition of reason was the target of Nietzsche’s well-known criticism (Müller 2011); in the end, Nietzsche liked to put ‘reason’ in quotation marks as in the relevant section of TI ‘Reason’ in Philosophy. However, as mentioned, his critique remains very global and hardly takes into account the constructive function that Kant ascribed to the concept of reason. Kant’s idealization of reason, according to which reason is a faculty of thinking the unconditioned for everything conditioned, is generalized and criticized by Nietzsche:

  • as a habitual defence against vitality, sensuousness, corporeality, temporality and historicity on the part of philosophers who believe in reason (GD Vernunft 1);
  • as a fearful impulse towards unity, reification (Dinglichkeit), substance permanence (GD Vernunft 2);
  • as getting reality wrong out of contempt for the senses (GD Vernunft 3);
  • as an insistence on the most general and hence emptiest concepts and on their claim to be self-originating (God), so as to preclude their external origins and thereby their becoming (GD Vernunft 4);
  • as remaining attached to the ‘metaphysics of language’ and its suggestion of a ‘doer and deed’ and of the ‘I as being’, ‘I as substance’ (GD Vernunft 5);
  • as a ‘moral-optical illusion’ (moralisch-optische Täuschung) born of a revenge against life through the invention of an ‘ other kind of reality’ (GD Vernunft 6); and in general
  • as mere ‘idiosyncrasies’ of philosophers who had become hostile to life.

Nietzsche for his part presents these accusations in an unmistakably idiosyncratic way, as agitated ripostes in a fictional dialogue (‘You ask me about the idiosyncrasies of the philosophers? . . .’, GD Vernunft 1). He does not simply argue logically, he does not ‘refute’ (widerlegen) where strong convictions of belief are at issue, such as ‘being in possession of the unconditional truth on one or other matter of knowledge’; believers are not open to refutation (MA 630, KSA 2.356). [Endnote 5] Instead, through the literary form of his critique of reason, his conscious polemic and hence personal tone, he makes known a ‘state of emergency’ (Nothlage) he himself is in; a new kind of emergency, replacing that of Socrates (cf. GD Sokrates 10, KSA 6.72). [Endnote 6] In the latter case, Socrates had the ‘need’ (nöthig) ‘to make a tyrant of reason’ – so as to escape other tyrannies, Nietzsche surmises, especially the tyranny of the senses and the ‘dark desires’. It was necessary to be ‘clever, clear, lucid at any cost [. . .]: any surrender to the instincts, to the unconscious leads downwards . . .’ (GD Sokrates 10). In the meantime, the state of emergency appeared to Nietzsche reversed: philosophers had become so obsessed with their idealized and idealizing reason that they could no longer hear ‘the music of life’; their idealism made them deaf to its reason (FW 372; Stegmaier 2004a).

For in no way did Nietzsche dispense with the concept of reason. He used it continuously to counter its idealistic constriction. Reason retained a decisive orienting function for him, only it is another function, harder to grasp, yet everywhere evinced. For Nietzsche, it is still reason alone that can observe this orienting function, but now it is a reason freed from idealistic restraints. In what follows, we will sketch in broad strokes the picture that Nietzsche gives of this notion of reason, drawing on a selection first of notes, then of aphorisms that follow one another in his work.

A clear starting point can be found in a note from 1875, where Nietzsche compiled ‘everything I no longer believe [glaube] – and also what I do believe.’ He begins by stating that the human ‘stands in the great maelstrom [Strudel] of forces’ and imagines

“that maelstrom to be rational and to have a rational purpose: error! / The only rational thing that we know is the bit of reason humans have: he must really strain it, and it always ends in his ruin if he wanted to surrender to something like ‘providence’. / The only happiness lies in reason, the rest of the world is a sad affair. But I see the highest reason in the work of the artist, and he can feel it as such; there may be something that, if it could be produced with consciousness, would yield a yet greater feeling of reason and happiness; e.g. the course of the solar system, the begetting and formation [Bildung] of a human being” (NL 1875 3[75], KSA 8.36)

This is high praise indeed for reason – especially coming from Nietzsche. He still understands it constructivistically, as reason that creates out of itself a rational environment, not only in the shape of a knower, but also and even more so in the shape of an artist or an educator. Reason is situated on both sides: that of the knower, artist or educator on the one side and in their respective works on the other. For Nietzsche now draws boundaries differently: reason drift s in a maelstrom of the irrational and can create only little islands of happiness and rationality. It belongs to a nature that as a whole is irrational, and this nature, on the one hand, renders it possible and, on the other, challenges it continuously to assert itself by suffusing it with rationality. It is as if reason has nature not only in front of, but also next to, and behind it. So in terms of the technique for making distinctions, one can no longer work with simple oppositions (Gegensätze). According to another note that follows shortly thereafter, ‘[t] hat which is good and rational in the human being’ is ‘a matter of chance or semblance [scheinbar] or the flip side of something very irrational’ (NL 1875 5[20], KSA 8.45). It is a contingency among contingencies and it changes contingently [Endnote 7]; it is the result of a natural evolution and therefore itself temporal. This will be Nietzsche’s view till the end.

That is how Nietzsche, after his break with Schopenhauer’s metaphysics, opens his first book of aphorisms, Menschliches, Allzumenschliches (MA 1, KSA 2.23–4: ‘Chemistry of Concepts and Sensations’), and then again his second, Morgenröthe (M 1, KSA 3.19: ‘Deferred Rationality’). In both cases, he poses the question concerning the ‘emergence’ (Entstehung) of ‘the rational out of the irrational’, of ‘logic out of the illogical’ and of ‘truth out of errors’, rejecting all manner of ‘miraculous origins [. . .] directly out of the core and essence of the “thing in itself ”’ (MA 1, KSA 2.23). He argues in evolutionary terms that the rational must have resulted from a quasi-chemical combination of heterogeneous elements, which allowed stable structures to arise at a certain point. Such chance combinations could be successful or not, and they were successful when they continued to stabilize themselves further. Nowadays, this is called the emergence of autonomy, understood as freedom to make one’s own decisions (Entscheidungen) in enduring dependency on one’s conditions of possibility. The rational that gives form to itself in this way out of nature is, to put it paradoxically, at the same time conditioned and unconditioned, or only conditionally unconditioned. Kant’s simple opposition between the conditioned and the unconditioned becomes obsolete. The function of reason, to bring rationality to nature, issues from nature itself. But the more autonomy in this sense stabilizes its conditioned unconditionality, the better it maintains itself under its conditions of possibility, the more easily it forgets these conditions – or interprets them for its part as already rational: ‘All things that live long are gradually so infused with reason that their provenance [Abkunft] in Unreason [Unvernunft] thereby becomes improbable’ (M 1, KSA 3.19).

Yet, the more reason, emerging in this way out of nature, runs up against limits in suffusing nature with rationality or discerning a logic in nature, the more it also sees that much remains irrational and also how, as irrational, it is necessary for reason:

“The illogical necessary. – Among the things that can reduce a thinker to despair is the knowledge that the illogical is a necessity for humans, and that much good proceeds from the illogical. It is implanted so firmly in the passions, in language, in art, in religion, and in general in everything that lends value to life, that one cannot pull it out of these fair things without mortally injuring them. Only very naive people are capable of believing that the nature of human beings could be transformed into a purely logical one; but if there should be degrees of approximation to this end, what would not have to be lost if this course were taken! Even the most rational human from time to time is in need of nature, that is to say, of its illogical fundamental relation [Grundstellung] to all things.” (MA 31, KSA 2.51)”

Here, the ‘the nature of human beings’ (Natur des Menschen) is still reason, only now it is fortuitous, temporal, capable of transformation, alive; one that can only maintain itself as such in nature, which for its part is fortuitous, temporal, capable of transformation, alive and conditions it. Reason is neither fixed nor can it be assumed to be equal in all. When Socrates and Plato claimed that ‘whatever the human does, he always does what is good’ (MA 102, KSA 2.99) and reason tells the human what the good thing is, Nietzsche was in complete agreement with them. Yet everyone of course does ‘what appears to him to be good (useful), according to the degree of his intellect, the standard of his rationality’ (MA 102, KSA 2.99). From an evolutionary and realistic point of view, ‘rationality’ is not only individual, but can also be different in changing situations for the same individuals. Nietzsche hereby reoriented Kant’s concept of reason in a radical way.

Reason, when seen as individual and temporal in this way, can only be grasped and surveyed in a very limited way, even by rational beings; inevitably, it is exhibited only in manifold differences and nuances. Its apparent uniformity (Einheitlichkeit), upon which its apparent equality among all human beings rests in philosophy, was only formed historically by consistent schooling, especially in Europe, where reason became an educational programme (Bildungsprogramm: cf. MA 265, KSA 2.220: ‘Reason in School’). By way of millennia-long cultivation, it became the model of ‘rigorous thinking, cautious judging, consistent reasoning’, of a ‘tight’, ‘consistent and critical’ and in the end logically ‘correct thinking’ that could be handed down through schooling. Finally, in modernity it developed in a novel manner into a ‘scientific sense’ (wissenschaftlichen Sinn), which was given a permanent organization at the universities. The ‘reason’ that we know and value, and to which we are fond of appealing, is the product of a millennia-long education or, as Nietzsche preferred to call it, ‘Züchtung’, but is therefore no reason ‘in itself’.

In a whole series of aphorisms that follow, Nietzsche takes issue with the belief in such a reason in itself – through the technique of exposing it as paradoxical. The title ‘Rational Unreason’ (Vernünftige Unvernunft, MA 386, KSA 2.266) expressly announces this. The aphorism, or rather maxim (Sentenz) in its brevity, poses a riddle: ‘In the maturity of life and the understanding the human being is overcome by the feeling that his father was not in the right to beget him.’ That is irrational, insofar as being born is the presupposition for being able to speak in this way about being born. It is rational in the sense of Silenus’s dictum that it is better not to have been born, or at least to die soon, that is, according to the ‘tragic knowledge’ (GT 15, KSA 1.101) Nietzsche gave such importance to in GT. In Nietzsche’s understanding, the rational irrationality of this knowledge lay in the fact that it was precisely its portrayal in tragedy that enabled the Greeks to live on – until Socrates brought reason into stark opposition to unreason and tragedy died. Thereafter, the merely rational reason, detached from life, relegated the tragic and life-embracing rational unreason to the status of irrational ‘feeling’.

In order to return to life-embracing (un-)reason, one has again to reverse and to withdraw from the life-detached concept of reason its timelessness and claim to equal validity for all – to become, in Nietzsche’s image, a solitary wanderer for some time (MA 638: ‘The Wanderer’). Now, Nietzsche calls that ‘to approach to some extent freedom of reason’ (‘einigermaassen zur Freiheit der Vernunft kommen’) – no longer by way of simply declaring the status of the unconditioned à la Kant, but through extreme experiences without any pregiven goal. Nietzsche sketches on the one side the experience of nocturnal deserts, his image for the hollowing out of all reason; on the other side the experience of ‘only good and bright things’, of a ‘pure, translucent, transfigured and cheerful face’ (ibid.) on a bright morning, his image for a well turned-out rationality. Through such experiences, one can gain something, only something of ‘freedom of reason’, freedom not in the sense of an allegedly unconditional and only fictional freedom of the will, but in the sense of ‘spaces’ or ‘playing fields’ (Spielräumen) that reason acquires through its wanderings step by step, but which can also be lost again. Reason has and does not need a fixed concept of itself, but rather mistrusts every such concept.

Nietzsche consequently thinks ‘Reason in the World’ (WS 2, KSA 2.540) from the viewpoint of this contingent, individual, temporal reason as well, which acquires and loses gradually its ‘spaces’ and which, therefore, is ‘not too rational’. From this perspective, ‘the world’ in which this reason is enmeshed is ‘not the epitome of an eternal rationality’. Paradoxically, this is exactly what Nietzsche wants to ‘demonstrate once and for all’, yet in so doing seems to presuppose an equal reason in all humans. However, this apparent equal reason is, as one already knows (MA 265: ‘Reason in School’), just the sign of an intensive schooling to respect demonstrative proof (Beweise). There is still the individual freedom to respect such proofs or not.

Nietzsche challenges this freedom in the face of proof, by way of further demonstrative proofs that openly intend paradoxes, initially to demonstrate the paradoxes of the doctrine of free will (WS 23, KSA 2.557–8): ‘Whether the adherents of the doctrine of free will are permitted to punish?’ According to the ‘prevailing view’, which is also presupposed in criminal law, someone is capable of action, guilt and punishment if he or she ‘applies reason’. Here this means, ‘acting from reasons ’ that are also comprehensible to the judges. Thus, one is penalized for the ‘intentional denial of better reasoning [besseren Vernunft]’ in accordance with which, in the opinion of the judges, one could and should have acted. Now the moment of paradox: ‘But how can anyone intentionally be less rational than he must be?’ Consequence: If that defies thought, reason cannot ‘be the cause, since it cannot decide against the better reasons’. Way out: If one calls on the ‘free will’ for help, one concedes that one can act without any reasons whatsoever; in that case, however, one is not permitted to punish. Or – something that Nietzsche here does not consider any more – one already binds the free will to something universally rational and good, like Kant, while indicating that otherwise the will is basically evil. Nietzsche’s approach opens up a third way to unravel the paradox: It would be possible to think of a ‘deed without a “wherefore”, without a motive, without a provenance [Herkunft], [as] something without purpose or reason [Vernunftloses]’, which Nietzsche later has Zarathustra address in his speech ‘On the Pale Criminal’. Such a deed would merely testify to a ‘poor reason’ (Z I Verbrecher, KSA 4.45–7). Something that is happily suppressed in democratic or democratizing times: reason (Vernunft), as the capacity to give reasons (Gründe), can have different degrees in different people, it can be or become more or less rational or irrational. [Endnote 8]

In WS 185 (KSA 2.632–3: ‘On the rational death’) Nietzsche takes up once more the becoming-irrational of reason (MA 386, KSA 2.266) in relation to the topic of death. There, he opposes ‘involuntary (natural)’ death to ‘voluntary (rational)’ death and considers the human being in deliberately non-idealistic terms as a machine that is only meaningful as long as its ‘maintenance costs’ do not exceed its utility. At that point in time, voluntary death, that is, suicide, is rational; involuntary, natural death, by contrast, is ‘the suicide of nature, that is, the destruction of the rational being by the irrational, which is bound to the former’. It is irrational for the human body, which needs reason in order to live, to ‘murder[.] ’ this reason. This paradox can only be whitewashed by appealing to ‘the higher reason (of God)’, ‘to which the low reason has to accommodate itself ’. But suicide – Nietzsche again does not say this explicitly – in the normal sense is also paradoxical, insofar as it bereaves reason of the possibility continuing to being rational. The opposition between reason and nature, rationality and unreason, becomes paradoxical in both directions. The opposition cannot be maintained as an opposition.

Like Kant before him, Nietzsche therefore moves from the opposition between reason and nature to the self-relation of reason, but here again in a new way. In WS 189 (KSA 2.635–6: ‘The Tree of Humanity and Reason’) Nietzsche talks about ‘a task for reason given by reason’, namely, ‘ to prepare the earth for a growth of the greatest and most joyful fertility’. Reason should become a manifold reason of manifold people who, each in their own way, test new ways of living and growing and thereby challenge each other unremittingly through an evolutionary competition. As a consequence, the fertility of ‘the whole fruit-tree of humanity’ will increase overall. According to Nietzsche, at a higher stage of evolution ‘instinct’ no longer suffices for this task. Instead, reason, now become autonomous, must ‘confront the task face to face’ and take it on consciously. But then again, this reason can only be a single reason with its degree of influence on others. Its self-relation now includes the relation to the other reason of many others. Equally, it is no longer a ‘pure’ reason, but a self-relation that continually enriches itself with relations to others (Stegmaier 2016, Einleitung).

In this way, Nietzsche restricts and extends the concept of reason at the same time. He restricts it to individuals, each in its different way rational, and extends its modes of operation through them. Nietzsche deals with this in Morgenröthe. Once something has started out as rational and proven itself, it becomes routine, passes into ‘feeling’ and goes on operating in an unknown and unconscious way: ‘How we are all irrational. – We still draw the conclusions from judgements, which we hold to be false, from teachings, in which we no longer believe – through our feelings’ (M 99, KSA 3.89). Nietzsche can thus posit reason already in dreams, as a ‘poetizing [dichtende] reason’. Accordingly, drives that cannot act out in the waking state can get their ‘nourishment’ in dreams (M 119, KSA 3.111: ‘Experiencing [Erleben] and Poetizing’). The apparently irrational, random connections of dreaming reason do not differ in principle from the poetized forms of waking reason. In a dream, reason just has a greater ‘freedom of interpretation’. One must be all the more on one’s guard (sich hüten) not to attribute one’s own reason, one’s own limited interpretations, to nature itself. ‘Rationality or Irrationality are no predicates for totality’ (NL 1881 11[157], KSA 9.502). All orders that we attribute to nature are shadows of the old God, who is supposed to have created them following rational plans. Thus, one has to make the effort to ‘de-divinize’ nature and ‘naturalize ourselves as humans with the pure, newly found, newly redeemed nature!’ (FW 109, KSA 3.469; Bertino 2011).

Neither in reason nor in nature, then, can a pregiven and unified nature be presupposed. Instead, what must be presupposed is that the complexity of nature, out of which reason emerges and of which it is a part, still is more comprehensive than reason can disclose. Later, Nietzsche will note that ‘the true world of causes is hidden from us: it is unutterably more complex’ than ‘the intellect and senses can grasp’; these are ‘above all a simplifying apparatus. Our false, diminished, logicized world of causes is the world in which we can live. We are “knowing” as far as we are able to satisfy our needs’. Nowadays, one speaks of a reduction of complexity. Nietzsche adds: ‘The study of the body gives [us] an idea of the unutterable complications’ (NL 1885 34[46], KSA 11.434). The body can serve as ‘guiding thread for understanding the poorer’ phenomenon, namely, reason which still shows ‘an immense manifoldness [Vielfachheit]’ (NL 1885, 2[91], KSA 12.106).

Nietzsche’s Zarathustra addresses this in the famous speech On the Despisers of the Body (KSA 4.39–41). Here, reason becomes a ‘tool and plaything’ of the body. The highly complex organization of the body, not even remotely transparent to reason, guides the human’s orientation in its world in a way that is more complex, precise and prompt than traditional reason believes it can. The ‘reason’ of the body is therefore greater and more comprehensive. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra also presents this difference in degree as an opposition, namely, between a ‘small reason’ of the intellect and a ‘great reason’ of the body. At the same time, the extension of the concept of reason given here shows what he means by ‘reason’: less an order-creating, much less a law-giving reason, than an orientating reason. In German, ‘Sinn’ in the phrase ‘a multiplicity with one sense [Sinn]’ is the direction that the body gives to the plurality of its organs and organizations, including the intellect; the directedness towards a certain form of behaviour in the given situation. Whereas Kant wanted to orientate reason anew, Nietzsche understands reason itself as orientating. Further, when Zarathustra claims the great reason of the body to be ‘a war and peace, a herd and a shepherd’, this is also about orientation, about orientating the orientation of organs and organizations, affects, instincts, drives and so on in relation to each other. According to Nietzsche, they can compete with each other and occasionally fight each other, but also reach a settlement with each other. Where they orientate themselves in relation to each other as animals do in a herd, they need a shepherd for the sake of a common orientation. By no means need this be the intellect or the ‘small reason’ which says ‘I’. On the contrary, Nietzsche introduces a new concept, the ‘self ’, in order to designate the self-relation or the self-organization of the body itself, which, with the help of its great reason, makes all the pluralities of the body into functions of the common orientation. To this end, this self or its orientation (Stegmaier 2008: 293–302) must continuously scan the constantly changing situations for promising forms of behaviour so as to exclude impending dangers. (‘The self always listens and seeks: it compares, coerces, conquers, destroys. It is also the I’s ruler.’) The self-organizing self of orientation acts in an inconspicuous and largely unknown way ‘wisely’, that is, with a combination of circumspection (Umsicht), farsightedness (Weitsicht) and consideration (Rücksicht) towards the conditions and consequences of a given mode of behaviour and when necessary, with caution (Vorsicht). These are the classical virtues of orientation over which great reason disposes much more than small reason and which it can deploy very quickly. Small reason, by contrast, does not even see its own function (‘There is more reason in your body than in your best wisdom. And who knows then to what end your body requires precisely your best wisdom?’), and that is why it is small. In the end, it cannot see why it uses certain concepts or why it decides for certain distinctions. (‘Your self laughs at your ego and its proud leaps.’ ‘What are these leaps and flights of thought to me?’ it says to itself. ‘A detour to my purpose. I am the leading strings of the ego and the prompter of its concepts.’) For instance, the self, the self-organization of the body with its outstanding power of orientation, makes the I, consciousness, the intellect, feel pain only at certain points, namely, at such points, where conscious thinking can help to prevent bodily handicaps. (‘The self says to the ego: “Feel pain here!” And then it suffers and reflects on how it might suffer no more – and just for that purpose it is supposed to think.’) In sum, the traditional, so-called reason has only a limited function of orientation within the far more comprehensive orientation of the body in its natural environment, whose complexity remains largely unknown.

In the less emotive language of the aphorism-books, in which Nietzsche also uses foreign words, unlike in Z, he takes this up with the distinction between ‘instinct and reason’ and summarizes both under the formula ‘evaluation of things’. Reason, which ‘wants some ground or “what for?”, some purpose or utility behind our values and actions’, functions also here as a ‘tool’ of instinct: ‘we have to follow our instincts but persuade reason to come to their aid with good motives’ (JGB 191, KSA 5.112). By leaving reason on one side of the distinction, Nietzsche can again intensify it gradually to a ‘great reason’ with a superior power of orientation. This ‘great reason’ then stands out as an ‘elevated, independent spirituality’, a ‘will to stand alone’, an ‘elevated and hard nobility and self-responsibility’ above the mediocrity of the reason of the herd (JGB 201, KSA 5.123). Finally, Nietzsche assigns this great reason – understood as the ‘semiotic of being well turned out, of ascending life, of the will to power as the principle of life’, as ‘self-affirmation, self-glorification of life’ – not to epistemology, but to aesthetics. To this end, he creates a new word, the verb ‘vernünftigen’ (to make rational), and puts it on a line with ‘verklären’ (to transfigure) and ‘verschönen’ (to beautify: WA Epilog, KSA 6.51). Accordingly, reason, like art, makes the world ‘endurable’, it does not justify it – Nietzsche silently, but clearly corrected the famous formulation from GT 5 in FW 107 (KSA 3.464). Reason shows itself ‘in reality’, which it construes in such a way that one can orientate oneself sufficiently in it,‘ not in “reason”’, which was isolated from and opposed to it in the European tradition of philosophy (GD Alten 2, KSA 6.155–6).

5. Kant’s far-reaching critical premises: pluralization and functionalization of reason for orientation II

Yet, as is well known, Kant did not restrict his distinction between reason and nature to the critique of pure theoretical reason. He also pluralized and functionalized reason, and his technique for making distinctions reached further than Nietzsche suspected on the basis of his limited textual knowledge. Kant scholarship itself has only become aware of this in the past decades, in particular through the Kant-interpretations of Friedrich Kaulbach (1990) and Josef Simon (2003), who themselves read Kant from a Nietzschean viewpoint. Within Anglo-American Kant- and Nietzsche-scholarship this has gone virtually unnoticed, as have the consequences that the philosophy of orientation has drawn from it. To conclude, I would therefore like to draw attention to some of the most important points:

  1. First, there is Kant’s sustained talk of the ‘use of reason’ (Gebrauch der Vernunft). Not only does he distinguish its ‘theoretical’ and ‘practical’, its ‘dogmatic’ and ‘regulative’ uses and so on, but also its ‘appropriate’ (angemessenen), its ‘free’, its ‘instrumental’, ‘natural’ and ‘technical’ (technischen) uses – to name a few of the 60-odd adjectival qualifications employed just for the use of reason, not to mention the many more employed for the use of the understanding (Schlicht von Rabenau 2014: 106). Hence, reason appears differently in different functions. However, since the reality of reason cannot, according to the criteria of the KrV, be fixed, it appears only in such functions.
  2. Kant also seems to have conceded this without further ado. In the introduction to his regularly held Logic course, he naturally followed the perspectivism of the Leibniz school (without thereby taking over the rational ontology, psychology and theology of Wolf). There, he linked the differential use of reason to ‘horizons’ and thereby to ‘standpoints’, from which such horizons open up, and treated these horizons of knowledge prior to the ‘formal criteria of truth’, such as the law of non-contradiction (Log 51ff.; cf. Stegmaier 2004b: 258f.). He placed the ‘capabilities and ends of the subject’ for disclosing the world, always limited, under the concept of horizon (Log 40). No one, Kant says, can think beyond his horizons and it is ‘reckless’ (verwegen) ‘to want to determine the horizon of others, partly because one does not know their capabilities, and partly because one does not know their intentions [Absichten] sufficiently’ (Log 43). The horizons of reason can be as manifold as its uses. Kant distinguished explicitly a logical, an aesthetic and a practical horizon, an historical and a rational horizon, a universal and an absolute horizon, a particular and a conditioned, a private horizon, a horizon of common sense (or ‘healthy reason’: gesunde Vernunft) and a horizon of science (Log 40–4). Horizons and standpoints can exist next to each other and be changed over time without the necessity of grounding them in a common principle: Kant does not indicate such a principle for his distinction of horizons, nor does he integrate them into a system, but leaves them in their contingency. This obtains especially for the ‘determination of the private horizon’, which, according to Kant,
  3. “depends upon various empirical conditions and special considerations, e.g., age, sex, station, mode of life, etc. Every particular class of men has its particular horizon in relation to its special powers of cognition, ends, and standpoints, every mind its own horizon according to the standard of the individuality of its powers and its standpoint.” (Log 41)
  4. To these individual powers belong also the ‘mental endowments’ (Gemütsgaben: Anth 197), the understanding, judgement-power and reason. In the Anthropologie Kant makes extensive ‘observations’ concerning ‘how one differs from another in these mental endowments or in their habitual use or misuse’ (Anth 197). The ‘rational horizon’ (rationale Horizont) is distinguished by the fact (among other things) that it ‘can be fixed’ in view of ‘how far reason can go here a priori without any experience’. Accordingly, even the KrV stands within a particular horizon, namely, the ‘horizon of science’ (Horizont der Wissenschaft: Log 41).
  5. Within the horizon of science, Kant distinguished again one’s ‘own’ reason and an ‘other’s reason’ (fremde Vernunft). Even though he often appears to, Kant does not simply assume one unitary reason. He used the formula ‘fremde Vernunft’ time and again, [Endnote 9] most conspicuously in his essay Was ist Aufklärung? The maxim ‘Have courage to use your own understanding!’ (WA 35) only makes sense if reason is not already assumed to be universal and common. [Endnote 10] The formula also comes up in KrV, in the decisive but less considered ‘Transcendental Doctrine of Method’. According to this, one cannot judge from one’s own standpoint the extent to which one’s own judgements has ‘only private validity’ (Privatgültigkeit: KrV A820/ B848). Therefore, we ought always to make the ‘experiment’ (Versuch) of communicating our judgements to others ‘with the grounds that are valid for us’ and to see ‘if they have the effect on the reason of others [fremde Vernunft] as they do on our own’ (KrV A821/ B849). But even this does not secure the objectivity of the judgement (Simon and Stegmaier 1998). According to Kant’s three maxims of Enlightenment, [Endnote 11] the first demands that ‘one use [bedienen] one’s own reason’ and not ‘follow someone else’s reason [fremder Vernunft folgen]’ (Anth 200); the second that ‘one put oneself in viewpoint [Gesichtspunkte] of others’ (Log 57), so as not to become a ‘ logical egoist ’ (Anth 128); but the third is that one ‘always think consistently with oneself [mit sich selbst einstimmig]’. According to this third maxim, everyone has in the end to decide (entscheiden) for themselves which judgement they want to take as correct, after having weighed up the judgements of the others. Even after taking the reason of others into consideration, no one can get beyond their own reason. Nietzsche’s perspectivism claimed nothing else. In the KrV Kant formulated it as ‘universal human reason, in which everyone has his voice’ (jeder seine Stimme hat), which is unmistakably his own (KrV A752/ B780). Accordingly, the unity and universality of reason is already for Kant not a fact, but a norm.
  6. Finally, it was Kant who gave the concept of orientation a home in philosophy with his essay Was heißt: Sich im Denken orientieren? [Endnote 12] There is no need to present its meaning for Kant at length here (see Stegmaier 2008: 78–96), but with this concept, Kant already went beyond the concept of reason, without intending to or even admitting it to himself. He was also forced to do so by a situation of need, a ‘lack’ (Mangel: WDO 139) that reason itself can see but cannot make good: the fact that, at the moment when reason, ‘purified’ of relations to the world and nature, wants to engage with the world in order to know something in it and to act in it, it needs orientation. As Kant had already discovered early on, this begins with the right– left distinction or the distinction between ‘region[s] of the world’ (Weltgegend), which are neither given to the senses nor determinable by the understanding. It extends to moral agency, in which reason must be permitted to ‘believe’ (glauben) what it cannot ‘know’ (wissen), namely, that God will one day reward actions worthy of happiness with a happy life. Such orientations are ‘a need of reason itself ’ (‘der Vernunft eigenes Bedürfniß’: WDO 136). According to Kant, with the ‘ right ’ conferred by this need, reason is allowed ‘to assume something and to accept what it cannot presume to know through objective reasons, in thinking’ (WDO 137). In the case of the need of reason for orientation, ‘need’ is equivalent to ‘insight’ (Bedürfnis für Einsicht: WDO 138 Fn), or orientation prevails over thought. It is a natural need, a need which constantly keeps us alive to the situatedness of human reason in a body and its environment; for Nietzsche, it is the need of a reason of the body as well, of a great reason. Already with Kant, reason becomes a function of orientation.


1 I owe the selection of texts cited in large part to Hakaru Kodama, who is working in Greifswald on a thesis on Nietzsche’s concept of reason. Like him, I focus mainly on published texts or texts prepared for publication and thus authorized by Nietzsche himself. The interpretations are my own.

2 GM III 12 has mostly been interpreted in relation to Nietzsche’s perspectivism. Cf. recently Dellinger (2016). Here, I relate GM III 12 to the KrV, especially to the Preface of the second edition. For the relations to the KpV and the KU, see Gentili (2015).

3 NL 1872–3 19[34], KSA 7.426 f. (literal and extensive rendering), VM 27, KSA 2.392 and M 197, KSA 3.172 (very free paraphrase).

4 On this point, Kant had written in the first edition of the KrV the following (taken up in the second edition): ‘Das, was hierbei streitig wird, ist nicht die Sache, sondern der Ton. Denn es bleibt euch noch genug übrig, um die vor der schärfsten Vernunft gerechtfertigte Sprache eines festen Glaubens zu sprechen, wenn ihr gleich die des Wissens habt aufgeben müssen’ (KrV A744f./ B772f.).

5 On the limited leeway on the one hand and the manifold varieties of refutation on the other hand, cf. MA II WS 211, KSA 2.644; M 95, KSA 3.86f.; FW 39, KSA 3.406f.; FW 84, KSA 3.439ff.; FW 106, KSA 3.463f.; FW 260, KSA 3.517; FW 347, KSA 3.581ff .; GM Vorrede 4, KSA 5.250f.; GM III 11, KSA 5.361ff .; WA Nachschrift, KSA 6.40ff .; WA Epilog, KSA 6.50ff .; GD Sokrates 3, KSA 6.68f.; GD Fabel, KSA 6.80; AC 10, KSA 6.176f.; AC 45, KSA 6.221ff .; AC 53, KSA 6.234f.; EH Vorwort 3, KSA 6.257ff .; EH (GT) 2, KSA 6.311f.; EH Schicksal 3, KSA 6.367.

6 On Nietzsche’s heuristic of Not, cf. Stegmaier (2013: 154–6).

7 Cf. M 123, KSA 3.116: ‘Reason – How reason came into the world? In an irrational way of course, by chance. One will have to divine it [errathen], like a riddle [Räthsel].’

8 On Nietzsche’s new teaching concerning free will, rationality as the feeling of freedom, see M 544, KSA 3.314–15, and FW 76, KSA 3.431–2.

9 See above all (following the compilation by Simon (2003: 22, Fn. 21)) TG 349; KrV A821/ B849; KrV A836/B864; Anth 200 and 202; ÜGTP 182; Log 22; Päd 441. Simon develops his overall interpretation of Kant from the topos of the fremde Vernunft.

10 Cf. also WDO 146: ‘Selbstdenken heißt den obersten Probierstein der Wahrheit in sich selbst (d.i. in seiner eigenen Vernunft) suchen, und die Maxime, jederzeit selbst zu denken, ist die Aufklärung.’

11 Log 57. Kant repeats and varies the maxims in Anth 200 and in KU §40 294. According to the Introduction to the Log, it is about ‘allgemeine Regeln und Bedingungen der Vermeidung des Irrthums überhaupt’; according to Anth, about ‘Maximen’ of the ‘Vorschrift ’ to attain ‘Weisheit’; according to the KU, about ‘Maximen des gemeinen Menschenverstandes’.

12 With this essay, Kant came to the support of Moses Mendelssohn in the Pantheismus-Streit, who first transposed the concept of orientation from geography to philosophy (Stegmaier 2008: 62–77). Despite his commitment to perspectivism (FW 354, KSA 3.593), Nietzsche, on the contrary, avoided the concept of orientation; probably because Eugen Dühring, with whom he did not want to get confused, used it extensively.


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Stegmaier, W. (2016), Orientierung im Nihilismus – Luhmann meets Nietzsche, Berlin/ Boston: de Gruyter