The most agreeable of all vices: Nietzsche as virtue epistemologist

Mark Alfano*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


It has been argued with some justice by commentators from Walter Kaufmann to Thomas Hurka that Nietzsche's positive ethical position is best understood as a variety of virtue theory-in particular, as a brand of perfectionism. For Nietzsche, value flows from character. Less attention has been paid, however, to the details of the virtues he identifies for himself and his type. This neglect, along with Nietzsche's frequent irony and non-standard usage, has obscured the fact that almost all the virtues he praises are intellectual rather than moral. The vices he most despises include dogmatism, intellectual partisanship, faith, boredom, the desire for certainty and pity. The virtues he most appreciates include curiosity, honesty, scepticism, creativity, the historical sense, intellectual courage and intellectual fastidiousness. These tables of values place Nietzsche squarely among so-called responsibilist virtue epistemologists, such as Lorraine Code and Linda Zagzebski, who emphasize that knowledge is infused with desire and affect. I argue that curiosity construed as the specification of the will to power in the domain of epistemology is the cardinal Nietzschean virtue, and that the others-especially intellectual courage and honesty-are presupposed by curiosity. Thus, Nietzsche turns out to accept his own peculiar brand of the thesis of the unity of virtue.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)767-790
Number of pages24
JournalBritish Journal for the History of Philosophy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • curiosity
  • honesty
  • intellectual courage
  • Nietzsche
  • responsibilism
  • virtue epistemology


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