J. Doris & M. Vargas (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Moral Psychology (2019, Forthcoming)

26 Pages Posted: 23 Jul 2018

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Date Written: June 30, 2018


This essay covers the main themes of Nietzsche's moral psychology (which are dealt with in more detail in my MORAL PSYCHOLOGY WITH NIETZSCHE [Oxford University Press, 2]).

Nietzsche is a metaphysical anti-realist about value: there are no objective facts about what is morally right and wrong, good or bad. Nietzsche offers “inference to the best explanation” arguments for anti-realism, which are briefly discussed. Since there are no objective facts about value, it is unsurprising that Nietzsche is also a kind of sentimentalist about evaluative judgment, like Hume and, in the German tradition, Herder. Sentimentalists think the best explanation of our moral judgments is in terms of our emotional or affective responses to states of affairs in the world, responses that are, themselves, explicable in terms of psychological facts about the judger. (In the background here is Nietzsche’s view that our basic emotions of inclination and aversion do not have cognitive content.)

The crucial psychological facts about persons for Nietzsche are twofold:

(1) they are made up of bundles of drives, i.e., dispositions to have certain kind of affective or emotional responses, that in turn determine the evaluative character of the world as the person experiences it; and

(2) consciousness—that part of our mental lives that is linguistically articulable - is relatively unimportant in shaping a person’s beliefs and values (certain kinds of conscious states are indeed epiphenomenal, in a sense to be explained below).

Our experience of willing is part of this epiphenomenal conscious experience and, as a result, we are neither free nor morally responsible when we act (though Nietzsche occasionally refers to persons as “free” in a revisionary sense when their actions arise from their inner natures rather than from external influences).

Keywords: Nietzsche, moral psychology, anti-realism, free will, consciousness, drives, epiphenomenalism

Suggested Citation

Leiter, Brian, Nietzsche (June 30, 2018). J. Doris & M. Vargas (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Moral Psychology (2019, Forthcoming), Available at SSRN:

Brian Leiter (Contact Author)

University of Chicago ( email )

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

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