Nietzsche's virtues: curiosity, courage, pathos of distance, sense of humor, and solitude

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The contours of Nietzsche’s socio-moral framework are idiosyncratic when compared to contemporary neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics. Nietzsche starts with a naturalistic conception of drives, instincts, and types of people. He then moves in a normative direction by identifying some drives and instincts as virtues – at least for certain types of people in particular social and cultural contexts. Much of Nietzsche’s understanding of virtue must therefore be understood relative to a type of person and the context in which they find themselves. Nietzsche pays special attention to his own type in his own context, emphasizing the virtues of curiosity, courage, the pathos of distance, the sense of humor, and solitude. These instincts-become-virtues are held together by conscience and integrity. For Nietzsche, drives are act-directed motivational and evaluative dispositions. An agent’s drives move her to engage in and positively evaluate a range of characteristic actions regardless of the consequences that may eventuate from those actions. Drives thus differ from preferences and desires in being associated primarily with the processes of agency rather than with teleologically-specified states of affairs. In addition, Nietzsche thinks that instincts are innate drives, though other drives can be acquired. Moreover, instincts and other drives are mutable on several dimensions, including their intensity, their objects, and the structural interrelations. And an agent’s instincts and other drives constitute her psychological type. This in turn makes it possible to say what a Nietzschean virtue is: namely, a well-calibrated instinct or other drive. What it takes for a drive to be well-calibrated involves both internal and external (social) integration, or at least non-interference. In particular, a drive is a virtue to the extent that it is conducive to life, does not systematically or reliably induce negative self-directed emotions that respond to fixed aspects of the self, and does not systematically or reliably induce reactions from the agent’s community that are liable to be internalized as negative self-directed emotions that respond to fixed aspects of the self. In Nietzsche’s framework, exemplars of different types elicit different discrete emotions in people with fine-tuned affective sensitivity. While some exemplars inspire admiration that leads to emulation, others incite envy and the motivation to agonistic one-upsmanship. Exemplars of bad or deplorable types provoke contempt and disgust, which serve as signposts of what to avoid. Nietzsche also pays special attention to the role of community in fostering virtues. For him, one’s community and the language used by that community play a constitutive role in the cultivation of virtue. This is because part of what it means for a person to be of a certain type is that she is susceptible to social determination of her character.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbuch Tugend und Tugendethik
EditorsChristoph Halbig, Felix Timmermann
Place of PublicationWiesbaden, Germany
PublisherSpringer, Springer Nature
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9783658244675, 9783658244668
ISBN (Print)9783658244651
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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