Knowledge and Affect: Perspectivism Revisited

26 Pages Posted: 31 Jul 2017

Date Written: July 30, 2017


Is Nietzsche's famed perspectivism a kind of Protagorean relativism that undermines the intelligibility of his own criticisms of religious and moral thinking as false? I argue against the Protagorean reading through a careful examination of the only two published texts in which Nietzsche discusses perspectivism: THE GAY SCIENCE, sec. 354 and the GENEALOGY, the 3rd essay, section 12, both written around the same time. I show that neither passage supports the Protatogrean reading (or similar deconstructionist and anti-realist readings familiar from the secondary literature).

Both GS 354 and GM III:12 presuppose that the features of the world that become objects of cognition are the result of affective or emotional engagement. GS 354 emphasizes the way in which evolutionary pressures produce affective convergence on certain judgments about what is true; GM III:12 calls attention to the ways in which, beyond that evolutionary baseline, what we know will depend on our capacity to control our affects/interests. GS 354 gives us a doctrine that is both Humean and Darwinian; GM III:12, by contrast, is a defense of Thucydides's ability to suspend moral judgment to understand how historical actors really behave.

Both passages defend a kind of naturalized Kantianism: whereas Kant treats the uniformity of human judgment on these matters as transcendental conditions on the possibility of knowledge, Nietzsche treats them as simply consequences of our cognitive propensities as shaped by evolutionary forces. But GM III:12 also calls attention to the role affects play in knowledge beyond the Kantian case, i.e., the cases where we can turn on, and turn off, as it were, certain affects in the course of inquiry. It is in the latter case that Thucydides is crucial for understanding perspectivism.

Keywords: Nietzsche, Perspectivism, Kant, Thucydides, Darwin, Hume, Knowledge, Truth

Suggested Citation

Leiter, Brian, Knowledge and Affect: Perspectivism Revisited (July 30, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Brian Leiter (Contact Author)

University of Chicago ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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