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Nietzsches Post-Positivism

Maudemarie Clark and David Dudrick

As Nadeem Hussain tells us, Nietzsche has been interpreted recently as similar
in many ways to contemporary naturalists (Hussain 2004: 326).1 This inter-
pretation makes Nietzsche in effect a post-positivist, an empiricist and naturalist
who had learned, long before Quine, to dispense with the various dogmas that
often accompany these positions (cf. Quine 1961). Hussain resists this inter-
pretation because of Nietzsches apparent commitment to the thesis that
knowledge falsifies reality. Maudemarie Clark has argued at length that this
falsification thesis, which has inspired much postmodernist rejection of science
and truth, is found in Nietzsches early works but is abandoned in his later and
greater ones (Clark 1990). Hussain therefore seeks to undermine Clarks account
of Nietzsches development. Focusing on the passage that Clark takes to be the
crucial one for understanding Nietzsches ultimate rejection of the falsification
thesis, he argues that her account of the passage is problematic in several ways,
not the least of which is that Nietzsches historical context makes it seem
implausible. Interpreting it instead as expressing Nietzsches commitment to
Machian positivism offers us a more historically accurate and philosophically
satisfactory interpretation of the passage, he thinks, and it also explains how later
Nietzsche could have accepted the falsification thesis while at the same time
praising science and dismissing the thing-in-itself as incoherent.
Although we applaud Hussains close attention to the details of Nietzsches
argument and the contemporary sources on which he drew, we remain
unconvinced by his case for interpreting Nietzsche as a Machian who remained
committed to the falsification thesis. Hussain does pinpoint important problems
for Clarks account of Nietzsches development, but we will argue that he draws
the wrong conclusion from them. We contend that the problems can be fixed, and
that attention to the contemporary sources for Nietzsches thought actually helps
to provide an improved defense of Clarks thesis that Nietzsche abandoned his
commitment to the falsification thesis.
Although Hussain understates a crucial component of Clarks developmental
story (her stress on the subjective idealism presupposed by Nietzsches original
commitment to the falsification thesis), his account of Clarks 1990 interpretation
is basically accurate. Nietzsche originally held that knowledge falsifies because
he believed that all knowledge is empirical and he accepted the Kantian position
that empirical knowledge does not correspond to things as they are in
themselves. When he came to reject the whole idea of the thing-in-itself as
incoherent, he therefore had reason to reject the falsification thesis. And we have
reason to believe that he did precisely that because we find no evidence of a

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370 Maudemarie Clark and David Dudrick

commitment to that thesis in any of his last six books, those written after Beyond
Good and Evil (Nietzsche 1886, henceforth BGE). The main problem for Clarks
story of Nietzsches development is that she thinks he continued to accept the
falsification thesis in BGE, the same book in which he dismisses the whole idea of
the thing-in-itself.2 Clark attempts to explain how Nietzsche could have gotten
himself into this intolerable situation by suggesting that he now believed he
could infer the falsification thesis from a naturalized version of Kants theory of
knowledge and therefore did not need the thing-in-itself for this purpose (Clark
1990: 121). He took reality to be the chaos of sensations that is falsified by the a
priori elements that our organization imposes on it. In Clarks story, BGE 15 is the
turning point in Nietzsches development because it offers an argument against
identifying reality with the chaos of sensations. Thereafter Nietzsche had no basis
for the falsification thesis because he no longer posited a reality that could be
seen as falsified by our knowledge claims, and this explains why it plays no role
in the six works that come after BGE.

1. Beyond Good and Evil and the Falsification Thesis

Hussains first objection to Clarks account of Nietzsches development is that it

is implausible to suppose that Nietzsche understood the argument of BGE 15 as
Clark claimsi.e., in a way that undermines the falsification thesisgiven that,
as she also claims, he remains committed to that thesis in BGE (Hussain 2004: 327,
330). We concede this objection to Clarks account, but point out that she can
respond to it by abandoning her claim that BGE retains Nietzsches earlier view
that knowledge falsifies. In fact, Clark proposes precisely this solution in a paper
that Hussain cites but does not discuss (Clark 1998b).3 She explains the textual
basis for this solution in a forthcoming paper (Clark 2005), and we will briefly
summarize it here.
BGEs two problematic passages for those who believe that Nietzsche
overcame the falsification thesis are 4 and 11, for they apparently claim that
logic, mathematics, and synthetic a priori judgments all introduce falsification
into thought and yet are indispensable for it, thereby implying that all thought
falsifies. But we find reason to doubt that this is the correct interpretation of these
passages if we pay sufficient attention to their context. At the beginning of BGE 4,
Nietzsche says that falsity is to us not necessarily an objection to a judgment; it is
here that our new language may perhaps sound strangest. This seems to come
out of the blue. What new language is he talking about? Where else is he
speaking it? Nothing in the surrounding text seems to explain these matters. But
that is an illusion. As always, when reading Nietzsche, and especially BGE, we
should remember his request in the preface to the new edition of Daybreak,
written just after he finished BGE, that we learn to read [him] well, that is, to
read slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and aft, with reservations, with
doors left open, with delicate eyes and fingers (Nietzsche 1997 [1886]: 5).

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To follow this request in the case of BGE 4, we should consider its claims about
the falsification involved in logic and mathematics as made in the context of
Nietzsches suggestion that he is speaking a new language in which falsity is
not necessarily an objection to a judgment. We should also consider the three
sentences that immediately precede this suggestion.

Behind all logic and its seeming sovereignty of movement stand

evaluations. . . . For example, that the definite should be worth more
than the indefinite, and illusion [Schein] worth less than truth: such
valuations might be, in spite of all their regulative importance for us,
mere foreground appraisals, a particular type of niaisierie, precisely what
may be necessary for the preservation of beings like us. Supposing, that
is, that not just man is the measure of things. . . (BGE 3)

The final sentence indicates that the passages earlier claimthat the evaluations
standing behind logic might be mere foreground appraisals or a kind of folly
or stupiditypresupposes that man is not the sole measure of things. But does
Nietzsche accept that presupposition? The formulation of the final sentence and
the ellipsis in which it ends are surely designed to raise that question for any
serious reader. Although we cannot argue this here, it seems plausible that
Nietzsche denies this precisely in the sense that is relevant to the passage. That is,
he denies that there is some measure beyond human beings to which our
cognitive norms (or our moral norms, but that is a different issue), certainly
including those of logic, are answerable. This is one of the main claims of BGE.
When he suggests that the evaluations standing behind logic might be mere
foreground appraisals or a kind of folly or stupidity, he is therefore speaking a
new language, one in which these words have a different meaning than they do
in his (and our) normal language. This is why he warns us in the very next line,
the opening sentence of BGE 4, that falsity is not necessarily an objection to a
judgment; it is here that our new language may perhaps sound strangest. This
new language is a matter of talking as if there is some measure of things
beyond us, something to which our cognitive norms are intended to measure up.
This is how we should understand the claim of BGE 4 concerning the fictions
of logic and the purely invented world of the unconditional and self-identical.
Nietzsche is here speaking as if not just man is the measure of things. If we
presuppose that there is some outside standard to which the basic norms of logic
are supposed to measure up, then we should consider them false, for they do not
measure up to any such standard. But when Nietzsche is not presupposing
something he takes to be false, it makes no sense for him to say that logic is a
fiction or that it falsifies. Indeed, except for BGE 11, of which a similar analysis
can be given, there is no further evidence of such a view of logic in the rest
of BGE, or in any later book (Clark 1990: 1045; cf. Clark 2005), and no reason
to think it plays a part in the important arguments of BGE. And, as we will see
and as Hussain certainly agrees, BGE contains other passages in which

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Nietzsches meaning does not become clear without a lot of hard thinking about
the rhetorical features and the structure of the argument.

2. The Argument of Beyond Good and Evil 15

We turn now to the heart of Hussains case against Clarks developmental thesis
and in favor of interpreting Nietzsche as a Machian.4 Recall that, according to
Clark, BGE 15 is the turning point in Nietzsches development, that it exhibits his
grounds for abandoning the falsification thesis. Hussain finds it implausible,
given the contemporary philosophers Nietzsche was reading, that his argument
in BGE 15 is the one Clark claims to find in it. He argues that Nietzsches
historical context suggests that his argument is actually a quite different one in
favor of Machian positivism or sensualism, and that this interpretation offers a
satisfactory explanation for several striking features of the passage that Clarks
interpretation leaves unexplained.
We will focus on Hussains discussion of the first half of the argument of BGE
15, which we divide below into segments A and B.
[A] To do physiology with a clear conscience, one must insist that the
sense organs are not phenomena in the sense of idealistic philosophy; as
such they could not be causes!
[B] Sensualism, therefore, at least as a regulative hypothesis, if not as a
heuristic principle.

Hussains most important objection to Clarks account of the passage is that it

leaves segment B unexplained. Clark never mentions that Nietzsche is evidently
arguing for sensualism in the passage or that, as Hussain claims, he seems to
endorse sensualism on the basis of segment A of the argument. This is an
important objection. Without an account of how Nietzsche thinks he can get from
A to B, how can one be sure of the interpretation of A? After all, it should be a
constraint on the interpretation of A precisely that it allow one to conclude to B.
Although Clark does not explain the logic of the move from A to B, we suggest
that she could have explained it in a way that coheres well with the rest of her
interpretation as follows.

1. If one is to pursue physiology with a good conscience, then one must

accept the findings of physiology. (premise)
2. Among the findings of physiology is that the sense organs are causes,
i.e., are causal conditions of knowledge. (premise)
3. Therefore, if one is to pursue physiology with a good conscience, then
one must accept that the sense organs are causal conditions of
knowledge. (1, 2)
4. If one accepts that sense organs are phenomena in the sense of
idealistic philosophy, then one must deny that the sense organs are
causal conditions of knowledge. (premise)

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5. Therefore, if one is to pursue physiology with a good conscience, then

one must deny that the sense organs are phenomena in the sense of
idealistic philosophy. (3, 4)
6. Sensualism is the claim that the sense organs are causal conditions of
human knowledge. (definition)
7. If one is to pursue physiology with a good conscience, then one must
accept sensualism. (3, 6)
This makes explicit how Nietzsche can validly conclude to sensualism from segment
A (steps 15), given Clarks reading of segment A. Clark reads A straightforwardly:
Nietzsche is committed to pursuing physiology with a good conscience and so he
concludes that the sense organs are not mere phenomena, but are causes. Our
rendering of the argument makes clear that the point of this is that the senses are
causal conditions of knowledge, and that this is precisely what sensualism is.
This still leaves a number of things unclear, however, for instance, what it
means to pursue physiology with a good conscience, why sensualism is taken as
a regulative hypothesis, and the role of the rejection of idealism in the argument
(steps 4 and 5 seem superfluous). We will return to these matters after we
consider why Hussain would reject our view of the arguments structure.

3. Sensualism as Empiricism

Hussain agrees, indeed insists, that Nietzsche is committed to sensualism, thus

that segment B endorses sensualism in Nietzsches own voice. He denies,
however, that Nietzsche understands sensualism in the way we define it in step
6. Whereas we take sensualism to be a claim about the role of senses in knowledge,
he takes it to be a claim about the world of which we have knowledge. He reads
the doctrine Nietzsche endorses in segment B as Machian positivism or
sensualism, which is clearly an ontological doctrine according to which the
world consists of sensations (Hussain 2004: 354, 345). Machand, by Hussains
lights, Nietzsche in BGE 15endorses neutral monism (Hussain 2004: 348) on
which sensations are better called elements, to emphasize that these elements
are not to be understood as belonging to some particular self . . . and because they
are the most basic building blockselementsof the world (Hussain 2004: 345).
Why does Hussain reject an epistemological reading of Nietzsches sensual-
ism? He considers it an obvious interpretation . . . that sensualism refers to the
epistemic claim that all knowledge comes from the senses, but he just does not
see how it could be a presupposition of doing physiology with a good
conscience that there are no other sources of knowledge, say, a priori ones, nor
how it could be a result of physiology that the senses give us knowledge.
Physiology has to take the senses as causes since according to such accounts the
sense organs were part of a causal process leading from external stimuli to
sensations within us. But how does it follow from this that the sensations give us
knowledge? (Hussain 2004: 336). The problem, then, is that on our definition of
it, Hussain does not see how sensualism could be entailed or presupposed by

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physiology. He therefore does not see what grounds Nietzsche could have for
affirming the truth of our step 2 (that physiology shows us that the senses are
causal conditions of knowledge, i.e., that they are necessary for knowledge).
Although our definition of sensualism in step 6 makes it possible for Nietzsche to
get validly to his conclusion from step 2, it therefore also makes it difficult to see
how he could have thought he had a sound argument for that conclusion.
We can begin to answer Hussain on this point, and to clarify the matters left
unexplained by how we have laid out the argument, if we consult BGE 14 for
help in understanding BGE 15. Hussain quotes its opening suggestion that
physics too is only an interpretation and arrangement of the world, but that it is
and must for a long time to come be regarded as more, namely, as a world-
explanation, insofar as it is based on belief in the senses (BGE 14; Hussain 2004:
326). But Hussain fails to consider how this belief in the senses is related to the
sensualism of BGE 15. Surely it is relevant to the interpretation of the latter that
BGE 14 tells us that basing physics on belief in the senses makes it

fascinating, persuasive, and convincing [to] an age with fundamentally

plebian tastes [because] it follows the instinctive canon of eternally
popular sensualism. What is clear, what explains? Only what can be
seen and feltthis is as far as one must pursue any problem. (BGE 14)

Is this the same sensualism that Nietzsche endorses in BGE 15? On the one hand,
he suggests that it isnt by linking it to what he takes to be the erroneous view
that physics is a world-explanation and by disparaging it in comparison to the
Platonic way of thinking, which was a noble way of thinking, [and] consisted
precisely in resistance to obvious sense-evidence (BGE 14). On the other hand,
however, consider the final sentence of BGE 14:

Where man cannot find anything to see or to grasp, he has no further

businessthis is certainly an imperative different from the Platonic one,
but for a tough, industrious race of engineers [Maschinisten] and bridge-
builders of the future, it may be precisely the right imperative. (BGE 14)

Given the parallel to the subtitle of BGE, Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future,
one must assume that Nietzsche places himself among (probably at the head of)
the engineers and bridge-builders of the future, i.e., those who are planning and
building the means to the future. He is saying, then, that the imperative in
question may be precisely the right imperative for him.
But isnt this imperative precisely the eternally popular sensualism he
disparaged earlier in the passage? Compare 1) What is clear, what explains?
Only what can be seen and feltthis is as far as one must pursue any problem
and 2) Where man cannot find anything to see or to grasp, he has no further
business. The two formulations are very close, both telling us that all we need for
knowledge is empirical evidence. The only difference is that the first, but not the
second, takes empirical evidence to explain . The obvious way to interpret
this differencegiven Nietzsches apparent commitment to empiricism in the

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passage combined with his disparagement of the eternally popular versionis

that the latter assumes that views based on the evidence of the senses give us an
ultimate explanation, one that goes beyond the kind of explanation a good
Humean empiricist would be willing to give. That would be an explanation that
is more than a higher-level description, one that shows that the way the world is
has what Kant calls unconditioned necessity (which is precisely what would
make it a world-explanation). On the second characterization of sensualism, it
tells us simply that after we have provided the empirical evidence for a doctrine
of physics, say, there is no more theoretical work to do. Not because we now
know why the world has to be the way it is, but because the way we gain
knowledge of the world is through the senses. This is the sensualism that BGE 14
implies may be precisely the right imperative for Nietzscheeternally popular
sensualism, but stripped of its assumption that empirical theories offer more than
higher-level descriptions. It also appears to be the doctrine of sensualism we have
already attributed to Nietzsche to make sense of the logic of BGE 15, namely, the
claim that the senses are causally necessary for knowledge.
If this is correct, then the last sentence of BGE 14 not only defines the
sensualism to be endorsed in BGE 15 but also sets up Nietzsches endorsement of
it. For the obvious question raised by the ending of BGE 14 is: why exactly would
sensualism be precisely the right imperative for Nietzsche? The beginning of
BGE 15 gives us the answer, that if one is to pursue physiology with a good
conscience, one must accept that the senses are causal conditions of knowledge.

4. Pursuing Physiology with a Good Conscience

Of course, we have yet to explain why accepting sensualismthat the senses are
causal conditions of knowledgeis required if one is to pursue physiology with
a good conscience. Or even what the latter phrase means. Turning to these
issues, consider the somewhat striking fact, which is not apparent in any of the
four English translations of BGE we have consulted, that Nietzsche uses the same
verb treiben, which we have translated as to pursue, both in relation to
physiology in BGE 15to pursue physiology with a good conscience [Um
Physiologie mit guten Gewissen zu treiben]and to characterize eternally
popular sensualism in BGE 14this is as far as one must pursue any problem
[bis so weit muss man jedes Problem treiben]. It could, of course, be accidental
that Nietzsche uses the same word in these two quite different contexts. But we
doubt it, given Nietzsches mastery of the language he uses, especially in BGE,
and the fact that der Triebthe noun drivewhich is derived from treiben, is
one of key terms in the book. We suggest that he is trying to signal that there is
some important connection between the two contexts, something to think about
here. What might that be?
It is helpful to bring in Langes work here, agreeing with Hussain that
Nietzsche certainly had Lange in mind in writing in BGE 15. We add that he also
had Lange in mind in writing BGE 14 and in constructing the transition to BGE

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15. Eternally popular sensualism says that sense evidence is the bottom line, that
this is the point to which we must pursue or push or drive every problem. But
Lange disagreed with the popular view, insisting that there is a further point to
which we can push or drive knowledge, namely, to physiology. As Hussain puts
it, Lange suggests that the physiology of the sense organs leads us to the very
limits of our knowledge (Hussain 2004: 331; Lange 1879 [1873]: III 202). It does
this by explaining how the senses work to give us the information about the
world of material objects that we already take ourselves to have. Of course, as
Hussain makes clear, Lange adds that physiology also shows us that the senses
give us only effects of things, thus that what we take to be material objects are
only pictures of an unknown object (Hussain 2004: 332). This is precisely the
subjective idealism (or representationalism) against which Clark took Nietzsche
to be arguing in BGE 15 (Clark 1990: 1234). We agree. Nietzsches point in
segments A and B, as we have laid out the argument, is that if one pursues or
pushes physiologythat is, uses physiology, as Lange does, to go beyond
popular sensualism to explain how we got the knowledge it takes us to have
then one must, to be consistent (i.e., to have a good conscience), accept that the
sense organs are causal conditions of knowledge and deny that they are mere
pictures. For as such they could not be causes! (BGE 15).
Hussains concern about how the physiology of the sense organs could
possibly show that we have knowledge makes sense if he means how it could
justify the claim that we have knowledge. That is, of course, the project of
traditional epistemology, but there is good reason to think Nietzsche rejects that
project. In Twilight of the Idols, he says:
Today we possess science precisely to the extent to which we have
decided to accept the testimony of the sensesto the extent to which we
sharpen them further, arm them, and have learned to think them
through. The rest is miscarriage and not-yet-sciencein other words,
metaphysics, theology, psychology, epistemology. (Nietzsche 1982 [1889]:
Reason in Philosophy 3, emphasis our addition; henceforth TI)

The distinction Nietzsche implies here between miscarriage and not-yet

science is presumably the distinction between those fields that cannot be done
on an empirical basis (metaphysics and theology) and those that have not
traditionally been done on such a basis (psychology and epistemology) (cf. Clark
1990: 105). We take it that Nietzsche rejects the traditional justificatory project of
epistemology, that of providing a philosophical grounding for knowledge. For him,
the empirical inquiry of the natural sciences stands in no need of philosophical
justification, and his epistemology is an empirical, explanatory doctrine.

5. Sensualism as a Regulative Hypothesis

But doesnt Nietzsches sensualism belong to the traditional epistemological

realm of justification? After all, he calls it an imperative and formulates

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it as a claim about where we have no business, namely, in the realm of

a priori theorizing. Hussains question is how physiology could justify such
an imperative. Our answer is that it doesnt, certainly not all by itself. As
we have been arguing, Nietzsches claim is that if we are going to use physiology
as Lange didto explain how we get the knowledge or gain the information
we take ourselves to havethen we must accept that the senses are causal
conditions of knowledge. But if we are to explain how the senses are involved
in our coming to have knowledge, we must already accept that we have
knowledge. The justification for taking ourselves to have knowledge is
independent of the use of physiology to explain it.5 Nevertheless, once we
have a physiological explanation for the knowledge we take ourselves to have on
some independent grounds, we have a reason to rule out the pursuit of non-
empirical knowledge. This does not mean that we have shown that a priori
knowledge, say of the existence of God, is impossible. Obviously, no physiological
theory could show that. But according to our theory, all knowledge is conditioned
by the senses, which are therefore causally necessary for knowledge. So the project
of using physiology to explain the knowledge we take ourselves to have commits
us in all consistency to doubting claims to a priori knowledge.
The resulting theory is, of course, a hypothesis, an empirical theory. It may
turn out that there is knowledge for which the senses are not necessary. A
consistent sensualism must accept the possibility that we might be led (by
empirical evidence) to reject sensualism as false. That is, dogmatic empiricism
must be rejected. Nevertheless, Nietzsche claims we have reason to accept
empiricism at least as a regulative hypothesisas an imperative to regulate our
cognitive behavior, to keep us faithful to the earth, as Zarathustra puts it
(Nietzsche 1982 [188385]: e.g., Prologue 2, On the Gift-Giving Virtue 2; cf. On
Immaculate Perception). Of course, we may or do also accept it as more than
that, as the truth about how all knowledge is acquired. But the point is that our
degree of confidence in its truth need not be greater than it is for other empirical
theories in order to accept the theory as having regulative implications for our
But why introduce norms or regulations at allwhy not be satisfied
with a purely descriptive theory about how we acquire knowledge? Clearly
Nietzsche thinks the history of philosophy shows us that we need more
than that. Claims against the role of the senses in knowledge are all too attractive.
We take Nietzsche at his word when he says that such challenges arise
from a noble way of thinking (BGE 14). If we are concerned less with honor
than with truth, however, we ought to resist easy assent to such claims; Nietzsches
formulation of sensualism as an imperative is designed to foster this resistance.6

6. The Rejection of Idealism in BGE

If we have now answered Hussains objections to interpreting Nietzsches

sensualism as an epistemological doctrine that is equivalent to a consistent or

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non-dogmatic empiricism, we yet havent answered his objection to taking

Nietzsche to be arguing against Langes idealism. We have agreed, in effect, with
Clark that BGE 15 exhibits Nietzsches realization that for purposes of giving an
empirical account of human knowledge, he must presuppose the existence of
real, independently existing things: brains, sense organs, the bodies to which they
belong, and the bodies with which they interact (Clark 1990: 123). Hussain
responds that this is implausible given Nietzsches historical context, because in
Lange Nietzsche would have come across a reductio of precisely the kind of
empirical theory of knowledge Clark wants to ascribe to him (Hussain 2004:
331). We offer two answers.
First, why think Nietzsche would have accepted Langes reductio? Hussain
takes Langes argument to be that

physiology itself undermines the reliability of the evidence it is based on

and thus undermines the theories of physiology themselves. In the
process it also undermines the materialistic worldview of mind-, or
brain-, independent physical objects in three dimensional space and time.
(Hussain 2004: 334)

Hussain denies that this argument, which he claims Nietzsche would have
encountered in Lange, depends on the traditional demand for a secure
foundation for knowledge (Hussain 2004: 89). But this is not easy to accept.

What physiology in the end shows us . . . is that for all I know I could be,
for example, a brain in a universe which consists only of my brain
surrounded by a thin membrane that generates just the right pattern of
electrical impulses for the optical nerve, the auditory nerve, etc. (Hussain
2004: 333)

But what, then, does physiology add to the traditional skeptical problem? How is
the challenge posed by physiology (Physiology shows that it is possible that I
am a brain-in-a-vat) fundamentally different than that posed by Descartes (It is
possible that I am deceived by an evil genius)? If Nietzsche gave no credence to
the latter challenge, why think he was moved by the former?
The argument Hussain attributes to Lange appears to be something like this:
Physiology tells us that what is happening when we claim to know that P is that
some particular nerves are stimulated, etc. But those nerves being stimulated, etc.
is compatible with a wide range of accounts of the external world. What reason
have we to suppose that the one we had taken to be true is in fact true? Without
some such reason, our account of the external world is unjustified. And as we
have seen, physiology furnishes us with no such reason. Therefore, our account
of the external world, including that of physiology, is unjustifiedand we learn
this by attempting to do physiology with a clear conscience, and while finding
out that it cant actually be done with one.
Hussains Lange may be right that physiology furnishes us with no (non-
question-begging) reason to hold that our account of the world is true. But it does

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not follow that for all I know that account may be false and I might be a brain in
a vat. For among the things I know are many which imply that that account is
true and that I am not a brain in a vat. Now the argument here offered is,
admittedly, circular. But the circle is vicious only if we are trying to give a
foundational justification for our knowledge claims. For even if many accounts of
the world are compatible with what physiology tells us is happening when we
make claims about the world, that is problematic only if we restrict our sources of
evidence to physiology itself. And we would do so only if we were attempting to
use physiology to give a foundational justification for knowledge. Therefore, the
argument Hussain attributes to Lange is effective only if one thinks that one
must, and cannot, supply a theory which provides foundational justification for
our knowledge claims (which include those that result from our everyday
sensory interaction with the world, as well as its extension and refinement in
natural science). We have reason to doubt that Nietzsche would have accepted
Second, Nietzsche would have come across the very argument Clark claimed
to find in BGE 15against using physiology to conclude to idealismin one of
the authors Hussain sees as constituting Nietzsches historical-intellectual
context, namely, Afrikan Spir. Nietzsche studied the first edition of Spirs Denken
und Wirklichkeit from 1873 on, quoted from the second edition of 1877 in Human,
All Too Human 18 (Nietzsche 1996 [1877] henceforth HA), clearly was referring to
Spir as a distinguished logician in HA 16, and was re-reading and taking notes
on Spirs book in 1885, while he was writing BGE (Green 2002: 46). Many
passages of BGE reflect its presence in Nietzsches thought (most obviously: BGE
10, 15, 16, 17, 34, 43). Here is a relevant passage from Spir:

John Stuart Mill was one of the very few thinkers who saw perfectly
clearly that what we cognize as bodies are our own sensations. Among
these thinkers, however, Mill was, as far as I know, the only one who
made the attempt to derive our knowledge of the world of bodies solely
from the given sensations, without pulling in physiological knowledge,
which would not be permitted since physiological experience already
presupposes the knowledge of the world of bodies and consequently
cannot be used for the explanation of its origin. (Spir 1877 I: 135)

The first sentence makes clear that, as Hussain also notes, Spir held that material
objects are in fact our own sensations. Spir thus accepted a phenomenalism
similar to the Machian one Hussain attributes to Nietzsche (more on which
below), a position that makes bodies or material objects, in Nietzsches phrase,
phenomena in the sense of idealist philosophy. But Spir argues in this passage
that one cannot consistently derive phenomenalism from physiology because the
latter already presupposes knowledge of the world of bodies. Thus, according
to Spirs argument, someone who pursues physiology in the way Lange did, to
explain the origin of our knowledge, and who makes no appeal to a priori
considerations, cannot consistently conclude to phenomenalism (which Clark

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380 Maudemarie Clark and David Dudrick

called representationalism or subjective idealism). This is the argument we

take Nietzsche to be giving in BGE 15 and it is basically the one that Clark
claimed to find there.7
Of course, on our account, Nietzsche disagrees with Spirs conclusion that
physiology cannot be used to explain the origin of such knowledge. But
consider the footnote in which Spir explains that conclusion:
That is, physiological knowledge may be used for explanation of the
knowledge of bodies, but only from the viewpoint of physiology, of
empirical knowledge in general, which shows [what is in fact] our
sensations as a world of bodies. The theory of knowledge, in contrast,
cannot use such empirical knowledge, for it has to show first how in
general we come to cognize our sensations as a world of things outside of
us. (Spir 1877 I: 135; bracketed material our addition)

In other words, physiology cannot explain knowledge in a way that will

contribute to the traditional foundational project of epistemology, to which Spir is
committed and on which he bases his phenomenalism, as we will argue below.
Since, as we have already argued, there is good reason to think that Nietzsche
rejects that project, he is free, as Spir puts it, to use physiological knowledge . . .
for explanation of the knowledge of bodies, and to deny the need for an
explanation from some viewpoint that goes beyond that of empirical knowl-
edge in general.
We conclude, then, that it makes perfect sense, given his historical context and
his other philosophical views, for Nietzsche to be offering the argument Clark
claimed to find in segment A of BGE 15an argument against using an empirical
theory to conclude to idealism. And the earlier parts of our discussion fill in what
Clark leaves unexplainedhow Nietzsche can conclude to sensualism (which
Spir treats as equivalent to basic empiricism) from segment A. We therefore see
no basis for seeking an alternative to Clarks interpretation of BGE 15 (Hussain
2004: 328), much less for supposing that Machs ontological version of sensualism
has anything to do with its argument.

7. Nietzsches Rejection of Spirs Foundationalism

Hussain offers a final argument for attributing Machian sensualism to Nietzsche

that takes seriously Spirs influence on him. Although it will not salvage his
reading of BGE 15, it is helpful in setting out Nietzsches historical context, and
ultimately in seeing why that context would not have led Nietzsche to Machian
sensualism. Hussain tells us that several features of Spirs work help to shed light
on Nietzsches.
The first is the conception of the world of experience in phenomenalist
terms as made up of sensations that come and go in various clusters
according to their own laws. The second is the conception of our

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Nietzsches Post-Positivism 381

thoughts, and of our language, as referring to clusters of sensations using

concepts given which all such claims, literally construed, are false. What
is important to see is that according to such a view our claims about
middle-sized objects would be false even if there were no thing-in-itself.
. . . [The third is that although] my representations are false . . . they [may]
convey information about something in the world of experience other
than them. (Hussain 2004: 3423)

The Spirean views Hussain highlights here are important for understanding
Nietzsche. Nietzsche did indeed accept Spirean phenomenalism at some point
e.g., in HA and the first edition of GSand that is why he thought he still had
grounds for accepting the falsification thesis after he rejected the thing-in-itself. It
was (at least mostly) from Spir that Nietzsche took over the theory that Clark
claimed Nietzsche was rejecting in BGE 15. In these earlier works, he accepted
from Spir that the necessary a priori components of knowledge falsify the chaos
of sensations, which he considered reality precisely because sensations are the
real content of knowledge, the only part we dont contribute or make up. But the
concept of the thing-in-itself plays an important part in Spirs theory, and
Hussain claims that if we were to remove the thing-in-itself from Spirs account,
as Nietzsche did, then the apparent world we would be left with would be that
of Machs sensory elements (Hussain 2004: 347). This seems right: Machs
neutral monism, according to which sensations are not subjective, in that they
do not belong to some particular mind, does seem to follow if one simply
removes the thing-in-itself from Spirs view. But we doubt that Nietzsche ever
accepted the Machian view. Nietzsche would have been forced to adopt Machs
neutral monism only if, while rejecting the thing-in-itself, he continued to accept
Spirs commitment to traditional epistemology. But since he rejects both,
Nietzsche steps off the Spirean boat before it steams into the Machian port.
To see this, consider that Spir begins his book with a chapter on the
immediately certain in which he argues for the Cartesian position that a
philosophy worthy of the name must begin with immediate certainty (Spir 1877
I: 28)for immediate certainty is the source of all certainty (26) and it was
Descartes insight that immediate certainty of a factual nature (in contrast to the
rational certainty we have of logical truths and principles of knowledge) is to be
discovered only in the content of our consciousness (28). This is what the cogito
amounts to, expressed in universal and precise terms: Everything that I find in
my consciousness is immediately certain as simple fact of consciousness (27).
Spir explains that when I see an object, there is room for doubt

whether the seen object exists outside my consciousness. But that I have
the given impression of sight which awakened in me the representation
of a seen object outside of me admits of no doubt. . . . The same holds for
the whole of the contents of consciousness. So one may doubt whether
anything outside of us corresponds to this content, but the given content
of consciousness itself stands beyond all doubt. (Spir 1877 I: 2728)

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382 Maudemarie Clark and David Dudrick

This Cartesian argument not only gets Spir aboard the traditional epistemological
project, but it also sets him on course towards phenomenalism. Hussain implies,
without exactly saying, that Spir agreed with Lange that one can get to
phenomenalism from physiology (Hussain 2004: 332, 333). But this is simply not
the case. We have already quoted a passage in which Spir denies just that.
Further, Spir makes clear that his phenomenalism comes from two different
sources: the teachings of physiology and the facts of perception:

Physiology teaches that all perception is mediated by the sense organs

and that every sense organ is capable of a specific, unique stimulation,
which is always the same, however different the objects that affect the
organ. The optical nerve gives only light and color sensations . . . whether
it is affected by electricity or light waves. . . . Physiology thus teaches that
our sensations are completely separate from real external things,
completely unlike and incommensurable with them. (Spir 1877 I: 119)

Hussain quotes this passage to show that Spir uses the teachings of physiology
to conclude to phenomenalism, but he ignores the role played by what Spir calls
the facts of perception in arriving at this conclusion. These facts are that
external things are themselves immediately perceived, the material objects of our
experience are themselves seen and touched, smelled and tasted, have directly to
do with these and know nothing of any mediated process of perception. It is
from the combination of these facts of perception with the teaching of physiology
that Spir thinks phenomenalism follows, specifically, the thesis that which we
cognize as material objects are nothing but our own sensations. But how does this
follow? Spir reasons that because we have no awareness of sensations that
mediate our perception of a chair, the immediate object of perception is the chair
itself. Physiology, however, tells us that the perception of the chair is in fact
mediated by sensations. Spir thinks the only way to reconcile this finding of
physiology with the facts of perception is to conclude that the chair one
immediately perceives is a collection of ones own sensations.
But this clearly doesnt follow. Granted that the perception of an object is
mediated by sensations, why cant the object perceived belong to the world that
is external to consciousness? Spirs answer can only be the Cartesian position he
argues for at the beginning of his book, as we have seen, namely, that we have
immediate certainty concerningand only concerningthe contents of conscious-
ness, i.e., the immediate objects of consciousness. The immediate object of
perception must therefore be something of which we can be immediately certain.
According to Spirs argument for the Cartesian position, one can never be certain
that one is aware of a chair that is external to consciousness, but only of being
appeared to chairly, to use Chisholms formulation (Chisholm 1966). Therefore,
the immediate object of perception must be this chairly appearing and not a chair
that is external to consciousness. Spir thus needs the claim that we have
immediate certainty of the contents of consciousness to get to his phenomen-

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Nietzsches Post-Positivism 383

alistic conclusion that the object one perceives is in fact of a collection of ones
own sensations.
Nietzsche clearly must reject this argument. In BGE 16, he rejects immediate
certainties, starting with the Cartesian cogito, along with the thing-in-itself and
absolute knowledge, and he uses one of Spirs characteristic Latin phrases to do
so, saying that these concepts involve a contradictio in adjecto (BGE 16; Spir 1877,
e.g., II: 132). Thus, while Spirs position minus the thing-in-itself may well
resemble Machs sensualism, Nietzsche had no reason to accept the latter because
he rejects much more of the former than the thing-in-itself. He rejects the whole
role that immediate certainties allegedly play in knowledge and certainly do play
in Spirs thought, and therefore has no reason to accept phenomenalism, nor
therefore to move in Machs direction.
For Hussain, the attraction of Machs sensualism is that it allows us to see
how, unsurprisingly in the end given his historical context, it is possible to
reconcile the falsification thesis with Nietzsches empiricism (Hussain 2004: 355).
But this reconciliation requires Nietzsche to be a phenomenalist who takes
material objects to be phenomena in the sense of idealist philosophy. In BGE 15,
as we argued earlier, Nietzsche rejects Langes view that physiology implies
phenomenalism. We have just argued that in BGE 16 he also rejects Spirs view
that one can get to phenomenalism by combining physiology with the facts of
perception. Clarks 1990 account is thus largely right about the central role of
BGE 15 in Nietzsches move away from the falsification thesis. It would have
been more accurate, however, if it had presented BGE 15 and 16 (the former as
illuminated by its connection to BGE 14) as the twin bases of Nietzsches
recognition that he must abandon his commitment to the falsification thesis.
We conclude that Hussains paper is a valuable attempt to look to Nietzsches
contemporaries for insight into the structure of his thought and that it offers
important arguments against Clarks 1990 account of Nietzsches development.
These arguments have driven us to illuminate more of Nietzsches argument in
BGE 15 than Clark was originally able to do. Yet, we still think that Clark, guided
largely by the principle of charity, gave a better reading of Nietzsches argument
in BGE 15 than does Hussain, even though he takes into account more of
Nietzsches intellectual-historical context. This is probably because Nietzsche
was actually a better and more far-seeing philosopher than Hussain gives him
credit for being, a judgment for which we think our brief examination of
Nietzsches contemporaries provides some evidence.

Maudemarie Clark David Dudrick

Department of Philosophy and Religion Department of Philosophy and Religion
Colgate University Colgate University
13 Oak Drive 13 Oak Drive
Hamilton, NY 13346 Hamilton, NY 13346

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384 Maudemarie Clark and David Dudrick

The main sources for the interpretation to which Hussain refers are Leiter 2002, Clark
and Leiter 1997, and Clark 1990, 1998a and 1998b. Schacht 1983 and Wilcox 1974 represent
earlier versions of the interpretation of Nietzsche as a naturalist.
For purposes of simplification, we ignore here the role of The Gay Science (Nietzsche
1974 [1887]), henceforth GS). Clark claims that the falsification thesis is found in GS and
that it contains an argument that is the basis for Nietzsches rejection of the thing-in-itself,
but not that he actually recognizes the thing-in-itself as incoherent in this work.
Unfortunately, in this paper Clark also denies that the falsification thesis is present in
GS. This is implausible. Clarks current view is that the falsification thesis is present in the
first four parts of GS, which was published in 1882, but not in the fifth part and preface,
published in 1887, thus the same year as GM and the year after BGE.
We are ignoring here Hussains second objection to Clarks account, namely, that it
leaves certain puzzles regarding the empirical theory of knowledge that, according to
Clark, BGE 15 gives Nietzsche a reason to abandon (Hussain 2004: 331). Although there is
something to what he says here, we think that our overall account shows that he draws the
wrong conclusion from itthat Nietzsche actually accepted Machs theory. The real
problem is rather that Clark did not make clear enough the necessary a priori component of
the theory Nietzsche accepted. For some clarification, see our discussion of Spirs
foundationalism in the last section of this paper.
Of course, physiology can in no way offer a complete explanation of how we come to
have knowledge of the world. There are many other dimensions of the explanatione.g.,
historical, social or cultural, and conceptual. BGE 16 alludes to the conceptual
requirements for having any knowledge at all, and GS 110 suggests something of
Nietzsches account of the historical and social dimensions of knowledge. In the passages
under consideration in this paper, Nietzsches point is that to the extent that we accept that
knowledge depends on the evidence of the senses, we can explain how this works only
through physiologyby explaining how the senses allow us to gain information about the
In TI, Nietzsche tries to foster resistance in a different way, by presenting inquiry into
the role of the senses in knowledge as itself tempting. Just before the passage quoted above,
Nietzsche says,

And what magnificent instruments of observation we possess in our senses! This

nose, for example, of which no philosopher has yet spoken with reverence and
gratitude, is actually the most delicate instrument at our disposal: it is able to
detect minimal differences of motion which even a spectroscope cannot detect.
(TI, Reason in Philosophy, 3)

Clark notes the connection between the argument of BGE 15 and this passage from
Spir in Clark 1998b: 75.


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