Was Afrikan Spir a Phenomenalist (and What Difference Does It Make for Understanding Nietzsche)?
46 Journal of Nietzsche Studies 152-76 (2015)
32 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2012 Last revised: 13 Nov 2023
Date Written: October 18, 2012
I have argued that Nietzsche was influenced by Afrikan Spir’s falsification thesis, according to which all our empirical judgments are false because they attempt to impose the necessity, unity, and timelessness of thought upon the contingency, plurality, and successiveness of sensations. My reading has been challenged by Nadeem Hussain, who argues that it ignores Spir’s phenomenalism.
According to Hussain, Spir argued that our empirical judgments are false because they treat our sensations as something that they are not (namely material objects). Since truthful judgments about sensations themselves are possible, there is nothing about sensation that is incompatible with thought. I argue that Hussain arrived at his reading by concentrating upon the first book of Spir’s major work, Denken und Wirklichkeit, before Spir presented his argument for falsificationism. When the rest of Spir’s book is considered, it is clear that Spir argues that even sensations themselves cannot be thought without falsity.
I then consider how we should understand those passages, emphasized by Hussain, in which Spir claims that our empirical judgments can have a certain conformity to our sensations. I conclude that Hussain has identified an important element of Spir’s thought, although it is one that is not only compatible with my interpretation of Spir, but supports it.
Finally, I briefly discuss the consequences for understanding Nietzsche. Here I repeat my argument that the antinaturalist theory of cognition that Nietzsche inherited from Spir made his epistemological position unstable and at times forced him into a form of global noncognitivism.
Keywords: Nietzsche, Afrikan Spir, Nadeem Hussain, phenomenalism
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