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Empiricism, Determinism, and Naturalism

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Title: Empiricism, Determinism, and Naturalism
Author: Sergay, Nathaniel
Advisor: Wright, Kathleen; Miller, Jerry
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of Philosophy
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Issue Date: 2012
Abstract: Brian Leiter’s naturalistic interpretation of Nietzsche’s ethics reduces the cause and explanation of all facts about an individual to biological and psychological properties. He makes two central claims. First, that empiricism is the distinctive scientific way of looking at the world, providing access to objective, valueless truth. Second, that Nietzsche seeks to identify the causal determinants of human values, actions, thoughts, feeling, etc. in a fixed psycho‐physical human nature. I argue that Nietzsche’s endorsement of empiricism does not entail his endorsement of Leiter’s strong naturalism. Leiter misconstrues Nietzsche’s arguments concerning truth, failing to realize that his own thesis of truth is susceptible to Nietzsche’s attack on metaphysics. In fact, Nietzsche subscribes to a “postmodern” falsification thesis, rejecting the scientific and/or empirical claim to access “valueless,” objective reality. Nietzsche believes all of our “truths,” “knowledge,” judgments, and experiences are infused with subjective values. Instead of seeking “objectivity” through disinterested empiricism, we must seek objectivity by engaging with our values and affective interests. I go on to show that Leiter also misconstrues Nietzsche’s arguments concerning causality. As a result, Leiter’s thesis that Nietzsche seeks to identify deterministic causes of human facts is untenable. Finally, I show that, due to his naturalistic interpretation, Leiter misconstrues Nietzsche’s dismissal of the Kantian problem of freedom (of the causa sui) as an endorsement of determinism.
Subject: Leiter, Brian -- Criticism and interpretation
Subject: Naturalism
Subject: Determinism (Philosophy)
Subject: Empiricism
Subject: Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, 1844-1900 -- Criticism and interpretation
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Sergay, Nathaniel. "Empiricism, Determinism, and Naturalism". 2012. Available electronically from

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