Ethics Review Forum: Alfano’s ‘Nietzsche’s Moral Psychology’

Welcome to our Ethics Review Forum on Mark Alfano’s book Nietzsche’s Moral Psychology (CUP), reviewed by Neil Sinhababu.

Below, you’ll find a condensed version of Neil’s review, as well as Mark’s response. Please join Mark and Neil in continuing the discussion in the comments section!

Excerpt from Neil’s Review:

While Nietzsche’s interpreters come from impressively diverse intellectual perspectives, very few of them are cyborgs. Mark Alfano has done a valuable service to the field by becoming one to write Nietzsche’s Moral Psychology.

Alfano digitally searches Nietzsche’s corpus to count which words appear most frequently in Nietzsche’s finished works, and which appear most closely with which others. His cyborg implants tell him that “What Nietzsche actually talks about when he engages with moral psychology are constructs like life, virtue, value, instinct, fear, doubt, emotion, contempt, courage, nobility, disgust, laughter, solitude, drive, forgetting, and conscience” (27). So that’s what the book focuses on.

The book’s structure is mostly determined by the search results above. Alfano describes the relations between instincts, drives, types, and virtues in the early chapters of the book, and investigates curiosity, courage, pathos of distance, sense of humor, solitude, conscience, and integrity as virtues in the later chapters. Surprisingly left out are “life” and “value”, which the computer treats as the two “most prominent constructs in Nietzsche’s corpus” (25), but which don’t get [a] detailed treatment. This is partly because Nietzsche’s use of these terms is genuinely hard to interpret, but it’s also a consequence of a damaging error concerning the nature of drives that I’ll discuss shortly. […] After discussing the substance of Alfano’s interpretation, I’ll conclude by assessing his methodology.

The first topic is the relationship between what Nietzsche calls “types”, such as the noble type or the philosophical type, and the motivational states of drive and instinct. […] Alfano follows Paul Katsafanas’ recently influential view that drives are act-directed so that they motivate agents to “perform an action of the relevant type”, rather than John Richardson’s view that they’re outcome-directed so that they motivate agents to “accomplish some goal” (58). Alfano thinks the act-directed view will help to explain Nietzsche’s idea that a single drive can express itself through different actions depending on the social context: “Forbidden expression through carnal intercourse, the sex drive did not disappear or dissipate, but instead found a new way to express itself as passionate love” (59). As I see Alfano’s acceptance of the act-directed view as the most damaging error in the book, I’ll explain […] why the outcome-directed view is superior.

The act-directed view makes it harder, not easier, to explain how drives can express themselves through new types of actions. If drives essentially aim at actions of a particular type, the physical actions of intercourse will be among the central types the sex drive aims at. Why would a drive essentially directed towards those types of actions find satisfaction in expressions of love like having a nice dinner with the beloved? The outcome-directed view can explain all these actions as aiming at outcomes that intercourse and dinner will produce, like having pleasure together. […]

A more formal advantage of the outcome-directed view is that all actions can be treated as outcomes, but not all outcomes can be treated as actions. Any drive seeming to aim at an action can be treated at aiming at the outcome in which the action is performed. For example, a drive to dance aims at the outcome in which one is dancing. The outcome-directed view therefore is guaranteed to successfully deal with every case that the act-directed view can. There is no similar trick by which all outcomes can be converted into actions […]. The act-directed view could come out better only if each drive aimed inflexibly at one specific type of action, with no drives aiming at non-action outcomes. Then the act-directed view could claim to explain why drives are this way. But as we’ve seen, drives are flexible in the actions they aim at, and some drives don’t aim at actions at all. So the act-directed view fails to explain phenomena that the outcome-directed view explains, and can’t have any offsetting explanatory advantages. There is no reason for action theorists to accept the act-directed view or for interpreters to attribute it to Nietzsche. […]

Alfano then investigates Nietzsche’s account of virtue. Nietzsche evaluates types in terms of the drives that are their instincts, so one might expect his theory of virtue to specify conditions for when a drive is a virtue. And that’s exactly how Alfano presents it. On his interpretation, “a drive is a virtue to the extent that it respects three constraints:”

  1. The drive is consistent with or supportive of what Nietzsche calls life and health
  2. The drive does not systematically or reliably induce negative self-directed emotions (e.g., guilt, shame, disgust, contempt) that respond to fixed or essential aspects of the self
  3. The drive does not systematically or reliably induce reactions from the agent’s community that are liable to be internalized as negative self-directed emotions that respond to fixed or essential aspects of the self (86).
[…] I can’t see how the first and third constraints add anything significant to the account, as both collapse (or threaten to collapse) into the second constraint. […] The problem with the first constraint arises in trying to understand what “life” and “health” are. The most Alfano can do in explicating these terms is to say that “interrelations among drives have the potential both to enhance life or health and to thwart life or health. Drives can relate to one another in a mutually destructive way, or they can relate to one another by supporting, recruiting, or at least ignoring or neglecting one another” (96). So life and health are harmed when drives interact destructively. These destructive interactions cause negative self-directed emotions […]. So the first criterion isn’t adding much to the second. […]There is a better way to account for value, life, and health, but the act-directed view of drives prevents Alfano from pursuing it. Since life and health clearly are things that Nietzsche regards as valuable, a good strategy would be to understand Nietzsche’s account of value, locate life and health within it, and use this to illuminate his account of virtue. Alfano’s cyborg implants suggest this strategy, informing him that “the connection between value and virtue” is “the strongest connection in Nietzsche’s entire corpus” (91). Alfano recognizes that Nietzsche understands value as grounded in drives. So a natural way to understand “life” and “health” would be to treat values as “the target outcomes of drives”, following Richardson (91). But Alfano knows he can’t do this, because he rejected Richardson’s outcome-directed view in favor of Katsafanas’ act-directed view. Life and health can’t merely be acts, so Katsafanas’ view won’t help him account for their value. This leaves Alfano with no way to account for the concepts of life, health, and more generally, value. I sympathize with Alfano’s point that “It’s not easy to say what Nietzsche means when he employs them” (97), which is true on any view, but the act-directed view makes it impossible. Here we see how destructive the act-directed view is to Alfano’s project. It prevents him from giving any serious account of the two concepts most central to the semantic network. The problems radiate outward through the network, leaving him with an impoverished account of virtue.

We can understand the third constraint either as saying that a virtuous person must not be the target of community disapproval, or that a virtuous person must avoid internalizing disapproval. If avoiding community disapproval is necessary for virtue, someone can fail to have virtue simply because of scornful responses from […] the community. But Nietzsche rejects the idea of community disapproval indicating a lack of virtue, let alone constituting it. […] So the best way to read the third constraint seems to be that the virtuous person must avoid internalizing community disapproval. This collapses the third constraint into the second, as internalizing community disapproval is acquiring negative self-directed emotions. […]

Chapters 6-11 deal with Nietzschean virtues […]. Alfano focuses more on virtues that express themselves in thought and inquiry than in direct actions that affect the world. This seems to me properly reflective of Nietzsche’s central concerns. He writes mostly about intellectual figures like Wagner, Kant, Socrates, Schopenhauer, and Goethe, and less about people of action like Napoleon. Alfano’s digital methodology does a good job of picking up on this. While I found each of these chapters somewhat scattered[…], there were many interesting things there, and I’ll note some of [them] before concluding.

First up is curiosity, which has been of interest in recent discussions of epistemic virtue for its role in creating knowledge. One section of this chapter addresses the idea of perspectivism. […] Alfano’s methodology reveals that “for Nietzsche, perspectives are deeply enmeshed with affects, emotions, values, and virtues” (149). On his view, the idea of perspectivism is “to reveal, through the controlled cycling-through of various emotional and evaluative points of view, properties that would otherwise be invisible and to rectify inquiry by pitting the biases of perspectives against each other” (155). […]

Alfano is right that solitude has been unduly neglected in the literature. Nietzsche discusses solitude unusually often, especially in Zarathustra, and lived a solitary life. So understanding what solitude means to him may help us understand something pervasive about his greatest work and himself. Alfano treats solitude as virtuous in conferring distance from negative social influences on one’s thinking, and allowing fuller development of one’s distinctive thoughts including cultural criticism[…] Nietzsche himself didn’t find permanent intellectual companions worth staying close to, and this is a helpful picture of what solitude might have meant to him.

I conclude with an evaluation of Alfano’s digital methodology: it’s good! It focuses the book on topics in proportion to how much Nietzsche discusses them. The chapters on curiosity, solitude, and courage display the advantages of this balanced approach. Alfano rightly takes pride in how his methodology relegates over-discussed concepts like the will to power and the sovereign individual to a lesser role, as these concepts are only discussed sporadically in the finished works[…]. The book is weakest when Alfano departs from his methodology, especially when the act-directed view prevents him from giving a better account of evaluative concepts central to Nietzsche’s philosophy. But these weaknesses only redound to the credit of the methodology, as its optimal implementation would avoid these problems. […]In view of his novel and impressively balanced contribution, we should welcome him and any of his fellow cyborgs to the community of Nietzsche scholars.

Mark’s Response:

Thanks to Neil Sinhababu for his insightful discussion of my Nietzsche book. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss this with him and with anyone else who finds the time and concentration to comment at PEA Soup.

As I read Sinhababu’s comments, there are three main points of engagement: (1) my novel digital methodology for interpreting Nietzsche’s corpus, (2) my argument that Nietzsche offers an action- rather than a goal-based account of the structure of drives, and (3) the independence of the three criteria I associate with Nietzsche’s account of virtues.

On methodology: this is my chief innovation, beyond any substantive claims about what Nietzsche meant by a particular word, phrase, or sentence. The secondary literature on Nietzsche suffers from systematic cherry-picking of passages friendly to the interpreter’s view and neglect of passages unfriendly to the interpreter’s view. Using digital tools, I force myself to confront all of the relevant passages, whether friendly or not. The hope is that this makes my interpretation less an exercise in ventriloquism and more an effort to wrestle with the often-opaque, sometimes-mediocre, and occasionally-contradictory passages in Nietzsche’s writings. In addition, it makes any interpretation I suggest criticizable and corrigible in ways that other approaches do not.

That leads me to Sinhababu’s criticism of the act-directed interpretation of drives. The distinction between act-directed and outcome-directed interpretations may seem a bit nitpicky, but it relates to familiar and contemporary topics, such as Bernard Williams’s discussion of integrity via the example of an engineer who helps to design weapons of mass destruction and Amartya Sen’s discussion of the role of agency in his Dewey Lectures. It’s one thing for someone or many people to die, but another for me to play an agentic role in bringing about their deaths. As I read Nietzsche, he also thinks that there is an important difference between cases in which some outcome comes to pass and cases in which I play an agentic role in bringing about that outcome. Drives are concerned with the latter: they don’t just lead us to prefer that the world be one way rather than another, but to be motivated to act in such a way as to see to it that the world is one way rather than another. Admittedly, there are a few counterexamples to this in Nietzsche’s own writings, but I think that it helps to explain his idiosyncratic perspective on criminality and self-undermining action: in these cases, the agent is motivated to do something despite the fact that they know or could easily come to know that the action will not result in outcomes that they prefer. I presume that Sinhababu would say that the relevant outcome here is not some more distal goal (e.g., staying out of prison, not dying) but the proximal goal of having done the thing, regardless of side effects and repercussions. Note, however, that this builds agency into the characterization of the outcome itself. Such a hybrid account may show that the distinction between act-directed and outcome-directed interpretations of drives is a false dichotomy.

Finally, I’d like to defend the independence of the three conditions on a drive constituting a virtue. As Sinhababu points out, when life and health are harmed by destructive interference between drives, this may lead to negative self-directed emotions that respond to fixed aspects of the self. But it also might not. Even in the latter scenario, though, the drives in question cease to count as virtues because they undermine agency, understood in the act-directed way described in the previous paragraph. If expressing drive X makes it impossible to act in such a way as to also express drive Y, then X’s expression stymies Y — whether the agent realizes it or not, and whether the agent ends up directing negative emotions at themselves or not. This seems to me to preserve the independence of the first two criteria. Next, as Sinhababu also points out, if someone is liable to internalize their community’s negative emotional reactions, then violating the third criterion will tend to lead to a violation of the second criterion. But again, it also might not. In addition, Sinhababu fails to consider the full range of options available to someone who finds themselves in this predicament. He is right to point out that they could simply resist their community’s judgment. However, as I argue in the book (especially in the chapter on solitude), they could also respond to their community’s disapproval by electing to join a different community or even by offering cultural criticism that aims to transform their own community into one that does not disapprove of them. The third criterion thus emphasizes the fact that Nietzsche — despite his sympathies for individualism— remains deeply concerned with the interconnections between the individual and the group throughout his philosophical career.

7 Replies to “Ethics Review Forum: Alfano’s ‘Nietzsche’s Moral Psychology’

  1. Thanks, Mark!

    Your digital methodology is awesome. Cyborgs can see an entire text at once better than mere humans. Regarding virtue, I see how the third condition can be independent, though the first condition is hard to understand without the full account of life and health that the act-directed view stole from you. So it’s time for more attacks on the act-directed view, which doesn’t deliver the explanatory benefits you’ve mentioned above.

    Obviously we care about our agentic roles. In Williams’ example, one might prefer that one not play an agentic role in the creation of horrible weapons, in addition to preferring that the weapons not exist at all. You correctly anticipate my response a bit later when you describe the goal of having done the thing. Drives aim at outcomes, and one’s not having done the bad thing of creating weapons is an outcome. As you say, “this builds agency into the characterization of the outcome itself”, and that’s how outcome-directed views handle these cases.

    I don’t see any robust sense in which this generates a “hybrid account”, however. If a Marxist’s drive is directed at the establishment of global Communism, this doesn’t mean the right account of drives is a hybrid between outcome-directed and Communism-directed views. Communism is merely built into the outcome the drive aims at, as acts are in many of our drives’ outcomes. We should say that drives in general aim at outcomes, not acts or Communism.

    This is important for the issue that led you to bring up act-directed views in the book – explaining how a single drive could motivate many different types of actions. The “drive for restfulness” in Daybreak 109 could motivate lying down, taking a sleeping pill, or exercising to burn off excess energy. The “fear of disgrace” Nietzsche mentions next could motivate avoiding disgraceful actions or attacking gossipy people. (These drives seem to aim at non-action outcomes. I don’t know if they’re atypical in this way.)

    There is an important relation between drives and acts, of course: drives in some way motivate the acts that one believes are likely to produce the outcomes. That’s part of their functional role. But drives can just as easily prevent actions that one believes would interfere with the outcomes. Both the fear of disgrace and the drive to restfulness might be expressed in avoiding disgraceful or tiring actions. And as Katsafanas notes, drives also affect many things apart from action, like attention and emotions. So we can’t reconstruct the act-directed view as describing the sole effect of drives either.

    If you seek a unified account of how drives affect action, thought, and feeling, an outcome-directed view won’t cause you trouble. It can incorporate whatever you want in the outcome a drive aims at. Act-directed views lack this flexibility, so they’ll often lead you wrong. I don’t see any point in having them.

  2. Neil claims that (1) there’s a crucial distinction between act-directed and outcome-directed accounts of Nietzschean drives, and (2) we should reject the act-directed account (which Neil says that Mark and I accept) and accept the outcome-directed account. I think this is a misunderstanding. It will take a bit of time to explain why.

    I’ve argued that Nietzschean drives aim not at particular actions or particular outcomes, but at general types of activity. To see what this means, let’s forget about drives for a moment and just think about ordinary desires. I might have a desire to perform some particular action, such as walking to my kitchen in order to get a cup of coffee. Or I might have a desire to perform some general type of action, such as doing something intellectually stimulating. That latter desire could be fulfilled in multiple ways: by reading a book, by talking about philosophy, by watching a documentary, by going to a museum, by learning a new language, and so on. It’s clear that the former kind of desire aims at a particular outcome: having a cup of coffee. The latter kind of desire is more complicated. Sure, it aims at outcomes, but these outcomes are indeterminate; there’s no _particular_ outcome that the desire, as I’ve described it, motivates me to pursue. Rather, it motivates me to engage in a particular type of activity, which can take many different forms and be directed at many different outcomes.

    So, here’s my basic claim: Nietzschean drives are like the latter type of desire. They don’t aim at particular actions, but at general types of activity. Thus, Nietzsche will speak of things like the sex drive, the aggressive drives, the intellectual drives, the social drives, and so on, rather than things like a drive to eat that bowl of ice cream, or to talk to that particular person.

    Why does this matter? Well, I think it’s fine to say that drives aim at outcomes, so long as we keep in mind that these outcomes are particular _types of activity_. The sex drive aims at this outcome: engaging in sexualized activity. The aggressive drive aims at this outcome: engaging in aggressive activity. And so on. I find it more perspicuous to describe this as drives aiming at activity-types rather than an outcomes, but this just a matter of terminology rather than a deep disagreement.

    Aside from that, there’s a further wrinkle. For Nietzsche, drives are lifelong, recurring dispositions to engage in particular types of activities (aggressive activity, sexual activity, intellectual activity, etc.). Moreover, Nietzsche adds that drives are dispositions to manifest these forms of activity continuously: as long as the drive is operative, the agent will be disposed to continue engaging in whatever type of activity the drive motivates. So, if I’m in the grip of the aggressive drive, I’ll be disposed continuously to manifest aggressive activity. Being rude to the cashier won’t be enough; I’ll also want to glare at the customers, to berate my friend, to drive angrily, etc., and I’ll be disposed toward all of these things as long as the drive is active.

    So, drives differ from ordinary desires in two ways: (a) whereas some desires take particular actions as their objects, drives never do; instead, drives motivate the engagement in particular types of activity; and (b) whereas some desires are satisfied when a particular action is performed, drives never are; they motivate the agent to continuously engage in the action-type in question. Those are the key differences. It’s because drives differ in this way from standard desires that Nietzsche thinks it’s important to discuss them. He thinks appealing to drives can illuminate several features of human psychology and action.

    How does this relate to Neil’s claim? Neil thinks I’m denying that drives generate dispositions toward outcomes; but that’s not the case. The actions that are motivated by the drive may involve attaining certain outcomes: in my aggression example, I want the cashier to be insulted, I want the customers to see me glaring at them. Those are outcomes, and we explain why the agent wants those outcomes in part by appealing to the aggressive drive. But my point is just that listing those outcomes is potentially misleading, because it doesn’t give an exhaustive account of what the drive is motivating.

    So I think Neil must be misunderstanding my claims. Neil writes “why would a drive essentially directed at [the physical actions of intercourse] find satisfaction in expressions of love like having a nice dinner with the beloved?” Well, the first thing to note is that for Nietzsche the sex drive isn’t directed at the physical actions of intercourse. That’s too determinate. To say that a person’s sex drive is active, for Nietzsche, is to say that the person is disposed continuously to engage in sexual activity. What counts as sexual activity? That’s going to depend on a host of background features, such as the agent’s beliefs, preferences, expectations, social setting, etc. In a culture that treats romantic dinners as sexualized, having a romantic dinner is one way to engage in sexual activity.

    If I understand Neil’s alternative explanation, the romantic dinner is supposed to be viewed by the agent as a precursor or a step toward sex and is supposed to be sought for that reason: the drive motivates sex, dinner is a step on the way to sex, so the drive motivates having dinner. This is fine as far as it goes but it’s rather limiting in its explanatory power. Part of Nietzsche’s point is that drives can motivated activity that isn’t connected in instrumental fashion toward these very particular outcomes. We all know—don’t we?—that we can give expression to sexuality in acts that aren’t steps on the way to sex. A billboard, a pair of shoes, a flirtatious look, a way of standing, etc. – all of those can be sexualized without in any direct way connecting to the prospect of having sexual intercourse. Moreover, part of Nietzsche’s point is that the agent in the grip of the sex drive _won’t_ be satisfied by having sexual intercourse; the drive will motivate further sexualized activity, which, Nietzsche thinks, indicates that sexual intercourse wasn’t the drive’s primary aim. That’s really a key point for Nietzsche: there is no _outcome_ that satisfies or fulfills the drive, other than the continuous engagement in activities that manifest the drive.

    So, simply put: my interpretation of Nietzschean drives doesn’t deny that drives motivate the attainment of outcomes. Instead, I am simply denying that this is all that drives motivate. In addition to motivating the attainment of particular outcomes, the drive induces a disposition to continuously engage in some characteristic form of activity. (In my work on this, I make this point by distinguishing between the drives aim and object. This is Freud’s terminology but the idea is present in Nietzsche. The sex drive’s aim is the continuous manifestation of sexualized activity; the drive’s objects will be the variety of particular actions, including outcomes, that Neil focuses upon.)

    There’s also a second issue: Neil also claims that my reading of drives is incompatible with seeing Nietzsche as prioritizing life and health; he thinks that Mark can’t analyze the notion of life or health because Mark adopts the act-directed conception of drives. I found this very surprising, given that in my book on the topic (Agency and the Foundations of Ethics, OUP 2013) I argue that Nietzsche defends his prioritization of life/health precisely by appealing to this account of drives. The basic idea is this: Nietzsche defines life and health in terms of his notion of will to power, associating health and flourishing life with successful manifestation of will to power. What’s will to power? For Nietzsche, to say that someone wills power is to say that they seek not only to achieve some determinant goal, but also to encounter and overcome obstacles or challenges in the course of achieving that goal. Think of it this way: to will power is to seek challenges; so, if you will power successfully, you’ll select goals or projects in part because they induce certain types of challenges. So, for Nietzsche, the healthy person, the person whose motivations are “life-enhancing” (as Nietzsche likes to put it) is the person who manifests a high degree of challenge-seeking behavior. (That’s a bit of a simplification, but it will serve for now.)

    So, coming back to the point about drives: why should we care whether we’re healthy in this sense? Why should we care whether we manifest will to power? I think Nietzsche’s answer hinges on certain claims about the nature of drives. Consider: for Nietzsche, the claim action A aims at power simply means that A aims not only at the attainment of some determinate end, but also at encountering challenges or obstacles in the pursuit of that end; and the claim action A is drive-motivated simply means that A aims not only at the attainment of determinate objects, but at continuous expression of its characteristic form of activity. Hopefully we can already see that these are very close, and in my book Agency and the Foundations of Ethics I try to show that the latter claim entails the former claim. Simply put, the will to power thesis is a description of the form that drive-motivated action takes.

    The real argument would take some time to explain. But my point is just this: my reading of drives doesn’t prevent us from seeing the import that Nietzsche attributes to life; on the contrary, it supports and gives some content to Nietzsche’s claims about life.

  3. Good to see you here, Paul! I insist on the outcome-directed view because I see how it lets drives explain what they’re supposed to explain in our psychology. I don’t see how the act-directed view does that.

    You say that a drive “motivates me to engage in a particular type of activity, which can take many different forms and be directed at many different outcomes.” Which forms and which outcomes? Supposing the drive aims at activity A, what’s the rule for which F’s I’ll do and which O’s I’ll pursue?

    As an outcome-directed theorist, I say that one is motivated to things that raise the probability of the outcome the drive aims at. If my drive aims at O, it’ll motivate me to do the A’s that I expect to raise O’s probability. Such a view comes with decision-theoretic resources for systematically explaining how much motivation different drives produce when combined with different beliefs, and what effects on action the battles between them will have.

    You have misinterpreted my dinner example. Correcting this will demonstrate that the outcome view explains more than the pursuit of causal means to ends. The published version of my review is clearer, but even above, the outcome I describe as the object of the drive is “having pleasure together.” A nice dinner with someone you love manifests this outcome, as does sex. Obviously people want many different things from sex, but mutual pleasure with a loved one is among them, and if this is what a drive aims at, it’ll motivate pursuing the various manifestations of this outcome. People whose sex drives have a different character will pursue the many manifestations of whatever outcome it aims at.

    With this flexibility about outcomes and ways of raising their probability, we have the resources to build a systematic theory of where our drives will drive us, individually and when they weigh against one another. I do not see how this can be achieved without an outcome-directed theory.

  4. Hi Neil,

    I think Mark’s point applies here: Nietzschean drives are supposed to dispose agents to engage in certain activities, rather than to bring about certain states of affairs. If you have a drive toward aggressive activity, Nietzsche’s idea is that you wouldn’t be satisfied merely by aggressive things happening independently of you; you want to be engaged in aggressive activity yourself. So that’s one reason for resisting the idea that there’s some sharp distinction between the act- and outcome-based account: in order for the outcome-based account to be a plausible reconstruction of Nietzsche’s view, it would have to build in the idea that the relevant outcomes always include agential activity.

    Aside from that, though, I don’t understand why you think that explaining particular actions is easier with the outcome model than the act model. You write:

    “Supposing the drive aims at activity A, what’s the rule for which F’s I’ll do and which O’s I’ll pursue?”

    So you’re suggesting that if we have the outcome-directed view of drives, we can formulate claims such as

    “If my drive aims at O, it’ll motivate me to do the A’s that I expect to raise O’s probability.”

    But as you yourself acknowledge, any case of being disposed toward some act can be redescribed as being disposed toward an outcome in which the act is performed. So, if there’s some way of formulating a generalizable principle such as the one you have above (and I actually doubt that there is, but set that aside), why can’t we just rewrite it like this:

    “If my drive aims at T (a type of activity), it’ll motivate me to do the A’s that I expect to raise O’s probability, where O is the set of outcomes in which I engage in T.”

    It seems to me that the outcome- and act-directed views are on par in terms of their ability to explain why agents engage in particular actions.

    I also have a worry about your sex drive example–if this is really supposed to be a case in which the agent is just aiming at “having pleasure together,” then what’s supposed to be added by claiming that it’s motivated by a sex drive? Why not just explain it in terms of the agent’s aiming at having pleasure with someone? And, if you were going to explain it in terms of drives, why would the _sex_ drive be more appropriate than some other drive that also manifests by motivating actions that involve pleasure together, such as a drive toward sociality? Basically, I worry that your example, in part because it focuses solely on outcomes, is leaving out the very features that Nietzschean drive explanation is supposed to elucidate.

  5. Paul, your formulation is indeed good for connecting any activity a drive motivates to the activity it’s directed at. To quote it so people won’t have to look back up:

    “If my drive aims at T (a type of activity), it’ll motivate me to do the A’s that I expect to raise O’s probability, where O is the set of outcomes in which I engage in T.”

    For drives whose focus is an activity, this on par with the outcome-directed view. It’s a special case of the outcome-directed view for cases where O = engaging in T.

    Nietzsche also tells us of drives that aren’t directed towards activities, but rather outcomes like restfulness or the absence of disgrace (D 109). These outcomes resist characterization as activities. I can’t see any general reason to deny the existence of drives directed at non-activity outcomes of this sort. The act-directed view made trouble for Mark because life and health likewise aren’t exactly activities, though they are conditions that involve strong relations to activity. So why not allow other values of O than engaging in some T? Why not rest, or the absence of disgrace, or health, or the happiness of one’s children, or the existence of the Übermensch? That is, why not just accept an outcome-directed view?

    You and I agree that drives won’t just motivate how we act — they’ll also affect various other parts of our mental lives. Do you think these other parts of our mental lives must be directed towards activities? I think one should let Nietzsche daydream of the Übermensch, not just his own activity to create the Übermensch. Outcomes, not activities, are the conceptual category with greater flexibility to encompass all the objects of thought.

    You’re right that my treatment of the sex drive deprives the term “sex drive” of some significance. But I think this is empirically warranted, and true to Nietzsche’s remark that “The degree and kind of a man’s sexuality reaches up into the topmost summit of his spirit.” Nietzsche is at least right that human sexuality comes in many kinds. My full review mentions people whose sex drives focus on outcomes where they are physically restrained from activity, as a counterexample to act-directed views. Given this incredible variety, I regard the idea of a unified “sex drive” as at best an approximation.

  6. Thanks to Neil and Mark for an engaging exchange, and indeed for these additional comments, which I’ve been reading with interest. I did want to encourage both Neil and Mark to say a bit more on the issue of health and the relationship of health to virtue in Nietzsche. On the one hand, Mark does says quite a bit more in his book to flesh out more of an account of health than Neil perhaps allows in the review. Health is expanded on as a matter of biological and psychological health, and also as a matter of the health of inquiry (for instance in the discussion Mark gives of curiosity as connected to health, e.g. via GS 382). On the other hand, Neil makes a good point when he notes that health, and life, are tied to the account of drives that Mark presents, that this influences the way in which health is presented within Mark’s argument in the book, and that there is more to say about health.

  7. I’ll try to respond to Rebecca’s comment tomorrow. Sorry to be slow in general.

    On the act/outcome distinction, I think one additional reason to give actions pride of place in our analysis is that Nietzsche associates drives with instincts. In the book, I argue that, for Nietzsche, all instincts are drives, but not all drives are instincts. *Innate* drives are instincts, but there are other drives that are not innate. When it comes to instincts, the connection with actions is clearer: animals (including human animals) will tend to engage in a certain range of actions regardless of what those actions accomplish or might accomplish. In humans we see this in extreme examples such as drinking seawater while suffering from dropsy. But, in alignment with Nietzsche’s attempt to “translate man back into nature,” it seems that he thinks we do that kind of thing pretty frequently. So while I agree with Neil that the full range of human drives as Nietzsche conceives them is more flexible than narrow instincts, I also think that he views drives as originating in instincts. If that’s right, then drives should probably be understood in light of this etiology, even if they have to some extent escaped it.

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