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Title: Grounding and generating the ethical : Hegel, Nietzsche and normativity
Author: Sharkey, William Duncan
ISNI:       0000 0004 6496 1927
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Southampton
Date of Award: 2016
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This research contributes to ethical and meta-ethical debates as well as debates in political philosophy via the exegesis and examination of the idea of agency and personhood in the writings of G.W.F. Hegel and Friedrich Nietzsche. This exegesis is conducted through the lens of (contemporary) discussions around ‘constitutivism’ as expressed through the writings of Paul Katsafanas, Christine Korsgaard and David Velleman (the lattermost of whom will take less central rôle than the prior two). I argue that the traditional accounts and contributions to the free-will debate are wholly deficient and fundamentally unsatisfying. While Spinoza and Hume offer arguments that leave us with an impoverished sense of what it is to be free, Kant’s arguments are parasitic on an implausible epistemological and metaphysical system. These archetypal tokens of arguments for Determinism, Compatibilism, and Freedom (respectively) are acknowledged and superseded by Hegel who manages to address concerns and propose a model of freedom that is philosophically robust and norm generating in a way we would hope an account of freedom should be. By arguing that freedom, for Hegel, is acting from rational, expressive and active, I am able to generate criteria that ought to be satisfied for an action to count as good. Further, I argue that Hegel’s metaphysics commits him to the view that action is ontologically continuous with agency, thus removing the ‘doer/deeds’ distinction. By collapsing the doer and the deed into the same, Hegel’s account of good action mutates into an account of good agency. This account completely coheres, structurally speaking, with the account offered by Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s account of agency (and ‘good’ agency) also places enormous emphasis on the rejection of the doer/deeds distinction. This distinction is rejected via an acceptance of philosophical Expressivism – the behaviour of an agent expresses their underlying will – what one does is indicative of what one is. Such arguments echo Hegel’s arguments for ontological continuity, and both philosophers place significant weight on the idea of agential responsibility. Further, both philosophers place significant weight on self-knowledge. One cannot act with self-determination if one has an impoverished sense of self. Instead, one would act ‘confusedly’, qua something other-than self. By acting, one has to act in accordance with one’s essence/nature lest one express one’s self badly. This has a profoundly existential tone that is highlighted to a great degree by Nietzsche. Acting badly generates a schizoid break in one’s being and one’s actions that reflect not the nature of the agent, but the nature of whatever institutional body is encouraging one’s action. This is morally warping and crippling as self-responsibility and self-development become– ultimately – terms of parody. Nietzsche’s agent is good to the degree they can act with reference to who they are; they are good if their expression is an expression of their self as a structure of drivers. What’s important here is that the expression expresses their drive structure, not the driver structure of an imposed, hegemonic, value system. After outlining the [structural] similarities of Hegel and Nietzsche’s account of agency, I show how this coheres, helpfully, with the [contemporary] constitutivist account of agency and action. I synthesis Hegel’s account of agency and ‘re-write’ it in constitutivist language to give us a description of good, ‘successful’, agency thus: (Constitutive Aim H) Each action expresses both the agent’s essence as free-being and the agent’s understanding of their own essence as free-being. (Success H) An agent’s action is successful to the degree the agent’s self-understanding coincides with the agent’s [essential] freedom. Freedom is a (the) standard of success for action, such that freedom generates normative reasons for action. I then show how this formal and bare-seeming account becomes normatively-loaded to such a degree that it generative, not only at the level of the agent, but also at the level of the state. After outlining exactly what norms one is committed to if one adopts Hegel’s project, I go on to show that Nietzsche, in adopting a formally (but, importantly, not contentfully) similar account of agency, also contributes to the constitutivist debate and re-write his account thus: (Constitutive Aim N) Each token of willing aims to overcome resistance, and aiming to overcome resistance is part of what constitutes an attitude or event as a token of willing. (Success N) An agent’s action is successful to the degree it overcomes the maximally available level of resistance. Overcoming the maximally available level of resistance (OMR) is the standard of success for action, such that OMR generates normative reasons for action. Of course, this account generates entirely different norms and the focus is significantly more existential than political. Finally, I argue that in virtue of being more generative and posit-ive Hegel’s account is, ultimately, more satisfying than Nietzsche’s while, at the same time, avoiding the sort of criticisms Nietzsche successfully devastates traditional accounts of [normative] ethics with. I argue that, in sum, this gives Hegel’s account greater force and, therefore, a reason to prefer his account over Nietzsche’s.
Supervisor: Ridley, Aaron ; Gregory, Alexander Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available