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Nietzsche and the Ancient Skeptical Tradition 1st Edition

4 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195368420
ISBN-10: 0195368428
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Editorial Reviews


"Berry's book is eminently readable, providing many notes of comparison and contrast, all pointing us toward ancient as opposed to modern skepticism." --Philosophy in Review

“Jessica Berry’s book does, in fact, inspire rethinking the big questions Nietzsche poses. It is true that the idea that Nietzsche, somehow, embraces skepticism is widespread. ... Berry clears the diffuse picture of Nietzsche’s skepticism.” -- Notre Dame Philosophical Review

About the Author

Jessica N. Berry is Associate Professor of Philosophy, Georgia State University.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (December 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195368428
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195368420
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 0.8 x 5.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,964,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My guess is that I'm not alone.
When I first began reading Nietzsche, I came away thinking this guy certainly has something important to say, but for the life of me, I never was able to say with certainty what it was.
Did he believe God was dead? Was he saying we should all strive to be more than human? Was he a nihilist? Was he a crypto-Buddhist? Was he just a cranky old fart?
So I put him away, or at least tried to, and eventually he surfaced again. As I plowed through the works of other philosophers, scientists working on the mind, social critics, etc., I began to think maybe I ought to try to figure him out.
I turned to the secondary literature and discovered I wasn't alone; Nietzsche is a tough nut to crack. There are as many interpretations of what he was up to as there are scholars. And like my first encounter with Nietzsche, I came away thinking each one is close, each one seems a bit right, but not quite.
Enter Jessica N. Berry's Nietzsche and the Ancient Skeptical Tradition. I'm obviously no Nietzsche scholar --- just someone who's read a lot of his stuff and stuff about his stuff --- but I think she's got it more right than anyone I've read so far.
Stumbling into her book turned out to be a joy. She not only has what I think is a rare take on Nietzsche; she's a really good interpretive writer.
Her strength as an educator comes through on every page. She's clear: Try looking at Nietzsche, as though he were a Pyrrhonist, an ancient skeptic (not to be confused with the modern skeptic), one who is dogmatic about his anti-dogmatism on those matters that are unclear. She stays focused: Each chapter sticks to the point, makes the argument, supports it with original readings backed up with the interpretations of other scholars.
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Format: Hardcover
The book certainly has its merits -- see the praise the previous reviewer heaped upon it -- but it also has its faults. In order, then, to achieve an "equipollence" of review, I will enumerate a few of the more salient ones here.

* Nietzsche certainly seems to make any number of positive claims, both empirical and metaphysical. To say his task is wholly critical and not the slightest constructive seems to ignore hundreds of pages of textual evidence otherwise.

* To see Nietzsche's philosophy as eudaimonistic also flies in the face of numerous passages stating explicitly otherwise. Nietzsche disdains the "bovine happiness" of the herd animal, free from worry or disturbance or anxiety. For him, this is nihilism, a will to nothingness and the end of pain. But precisely this freedom from anxiety -- ataraxia -- is the Pyrrhonic ideal.

* Doctrines of an especially metaphysical nature, such as the will to power, are ignored entirely. While this is convenient for the furtherance of the thesis of the book, again, it ignores Nietzsche's actual texts.

* An attempt is made to link the cow-like happiness of the Pyrrhonist to Nietzschean joy by way of Democritus, but this winds up reading more like a philosophical version of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" than anything remotely substantive.

The book is worthwhile, and again, has its merits -- see the previous review -- but radical revisionings are made possible only by a very selective culling of texts. Any number of other selections from Nietzsche's works, published or unpublished, have an acerbic effect on the notion that Nietzsche was a Pyrrhonist -- even a kindred cousin.
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Nietzsche and the Ancient Skeptical Tradition
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