JAMES AND NIETZSCHE ON THE PLURALIST WILL (2): Nageled by an AUF

NAGELED BY AN AUF: Apparently my grouping together of James and Nietzsche was not clear enough, so « ben » asked me a seemingly innocuous question. Quoting a fragment of a sentence I wrote in a long argumentative chain « Here again I see Nietzschean “will”, « ben » continued « Interesting. Can you say more about this ». Like a fool I replied only to receive in return an AUFing:

« Don’t take this the wrong way, Terence, but if, in the future and in more formal venues, you want to link Thinker X to Nietzsche on the will, you might be well served by not making your leading point the occurrence of the word “will”. »

Now, is this patronising padding or is it supposed to be an argument? I must admit that I can’t detect one. As ben talks about « more formal venues » I can’t help feeling that he is trying to « do a Nagel » on me (cf. Jeff Bell’s post on indiscipline ). But I refuse to be Nageled when no valid reason is given except a sociological warning and an apparent naïveté about my reasoning comporting a linguistic element accompanying a conceptual one. Now I note that ben’s not-to-be-taken-the-wrong-way « rebuttal » of my argument deals with the beginning of my last post and the end but does not touch on the middle, which is the main part giving sense to the rest. Nor does he refer back to my immediately preceding post where I find three levels in the James excerpt that was being discussed.

First I must dissipate the equivocation in ben’s calling my lexical introduction my « leading point ». Yes I lead into the argument with this point, I say: « From a lexical point of view the quote begins with “Will” (“Will you or won’t you have it so?”). » This is an act of intellectual courtesy not just in my replying to an unknown questioner but also in accepting the rather cavalier summation to explain a fragment of a sentence of mine.

So I begin with a lexical take on the question. This is just suggestive without the conceptual argument that precedes and follows. But it is in no way my principal argument. Ben, I do not know what familiarity have with Continental Philosophy but I can tell you that quite regularly thinkers like Lyotard, Deleuze, Serres,Derrida (one has only to think of Derrida expatiating on the difference between « perhaps » and « maybe » in English) would evoke, analyse, and exploit in their arguments the conceptual latencies not only of single words, including modals and prepositions, but even of prefixes. This tradition is continued today by, for example, Bernard Stiegler and I think it is a powerful tool when wielded correctly. I have attended the seminars of these philosophers and I had no idea that they were disreputable « venues », though I chose them because they were not « formal » in the way that you prize so much.

On the particular point of finding the use of a specific modal (in this case « will ») an important part of the argumentative structure, I can assure you this time as a senior high school teacher that this is taught to every French lycéen as a very useful technique in the analysis of texts, by both their French teacher and their philosophy teacher. It is taught and used in the university up to at least the level of the agrégation once again in both philosophy and French. So I wonder if these too are not prestigiously formal enough « venues » for you, as you seem to be able to leap across or through language to get at a pure comparison of Nietzsche and James, unmediated by language. How impressive!

On the minor point of the linguistic and conceptual values of « will », I can only say that I see no reason to believe that in the James quote « will » is being used in its epistemic value, but in what I have been used to calling its root value (but I am pretty flexible about terminology if you want to propose another set of terms) which includes volition.

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