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Nietzsche, Psychology, and First Philosophy

Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the most elusive thinkers in the philosophical tradition. His highly unusual style and insistence on what remains hidden or unsaid in his writing make pinning him to a particular position tricky. Nonetheless, certain readings of his work have become standard and influential. In this major new interpretation of Nietzsche’s work, Robert B. Pippin challenges various traditional views of Nietzsche, taking him at his word when he says that his writing can best be understood as a kind of psychology.

Pippin traces this idea of Nietzsche as a psychologist to his admiration for the French moralists: La Rochefoucauld, Pascal, Stendhal, and especially Montaigne. In distinction from philosophers, Pippin shows, these writers avoided grand metaphysical theories in favor of reflections on life as lived and experienced. Aligning himself with this project, Nietzsche sought to make psychology “the queen of the sciences” and the “path to the fundamental problems.” Pippin contends that Nietzsche’s singular prose was an essential part of this goal, and so he organizes the book around four of Nietzsche’s most important images and metaphors: that truth could be a woman, that a science could be gay, that God could have died, and that an agent is as much one with his act as lightning is with its flash.

Expanded from a series of lectures Pippin delivered at the Collège de France, Nietzsche, Psychology, and First Philosophy offers a brilliant, novel, and accessible reading of this seminal thinker.

152 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2010

Philosophy: General Philosophy


“Through sympathetic and creative readings of Nietzsche’s imagery, and with an unusually strong emphasis on his project of a ‘gay science,’ this book presents Nietzsche’s commitment to the priority of psychology in a new light. Arguing against the tendency to give naturalist readings of Nietzsche’s psychology, Pippin’s refreshing proposal is to place Nietzsche’s project in the light of the earlier French moralistes and of Montaigne in particular. From this perspective he is able to cast light on Nietzsche’s treatments of agency, erotic longing, and self-deceit in ways which challenge much recent thinking about Nietzsche. This book should provoke lively debate and anyone interested in Nietzsche will gain much from Pippin’s subtle reflections.”--Christopher Janaway, University of Southampton

Christopher Janaway

“What counts in the context of Nietzsche as a successful or even legitimate interpretation is open to dispute in a way that is true of perhaps no other major figure in the history of philosophy. The need for a unifying characterization of Nietzsche’s philosophical project is both pressing and extremely hard to fulfill. Pippin’s interpretation of Nietzsche—as occupied fundamentally with subjective deficiencies which not even a full realization of Enlightenment ideals in modernity could eliminate—is by any measure outstanding and merits the attention of all concerned to understand the development of philosophy in the wake of Kant. Readers who fear that unless Nietzsche is equipped with an original and cogent set of doctrinal commitments in epistemology, metaphysics, and meta-ethics, his strictly philosophical interest will evaporate, will find in Pippin a trenchant, rigorous, and persuasive account of how Nietzsche’s psychological turn, understood correctly, addresses traditional philosophical concerns while seeking to recast our basic conception of the task of philosophy.”--Sebastian Gardner, University College, London

Sebastian Gardner

“There have been literally hundreds of works on Nietzsche published over the last thirty years, but none of them approach him in quite the way Robert Pippin does here. The result of long and deep reflection on Nietzsche’s philosophical project, Nietzsche, Psychology, and First Philosophy does not attempt to reduce all philosophical theorizing to psychology, but instead suggests that Nietzsche’s philosophical thinking, like that of the French moralistes before him, was driven by a desire to understand how human beings think about their lives and why they think about their lives in the ways that they do.”--Alan D. Schrift, Grinnell College

Alan D. Schrift

"Pippin presents a much-needed new approach and appreciation of Nietzsche. . . . [He] adroitly starts fresh with Nietzsche, considering his work holistically and in the context of both early psychology and 19th-century French morality. In his novel reading, Pippin exposes the folly of underappreciating Nietzsche’s irony and self-criticism."—Choice


“Pippin’s is one of a small but growing numbers of works that, working through Nietzsche, recognize that orthodoxy is often little more than a heresy that has, for the moment, won the day.”  

Alexander Nehamas | Common Knowledge

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations


Introductory Remarks

Chapter One. Psychology as “the Queen of the Sciences”

Chapter Two. What Is a Gay Science?

Chapter Three. Modernity as a Psychological Problem

Chapter Four. “The Deed Is Everything [Das Tun ist alles]”

Chapter Five. The Psychological Problem of Self-Deception

Chapter Six. How to Overcome Oneself: On the Nietzschean Ideal

Concluding Remarks



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