Nietzsche’s Fling with Positivism

  • Jonathan Cohen
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 204)


By “positivism” (which can mean many things) I mean here a stance which prizes science for its ability to both produce reliable knowledge and contribute crucially to human flourishing. By “fling” here I mean merely a temporary attachment. Nietzsche was, by any definition, an ardent anti-positivist for most of his philosophical career. My thesis here is that he can nevertheless be described as a positivist (at least in the above sense) during a certain phase in (what must now be called) his philosophical development. I am thus arguing that we must periodize Nietzsche with regard to issues of science and epistemology: positivism belongs to Nietzsche’s middle phase, beginning with Human,All Too Human (published in 1878) and concluding some time before The Gay Science (published in 1882). The connotation of “fling” as being somewhat fleeting and not especially serious or heartfelt is also intended, for not only does Nietzsche give up his positivism after a short time, but even while professing it holds at the same time some of the views which will develop into the perspectivism for which he is better known in his later works.


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    This handy phrase comes from section 25 of The Philosopher,yet another discarded beginning found in the early notebooks, as translated by Breazeale, p.7; by contrast philosophy is characterized as “the selective knowledge drive.” The published argument, which runs along the same lines even though it does not use these exact phrases, can be found in UM II 4 6.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan Cohen
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Maine at FarmingtonUSA

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