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Nietzsche’s Prefiguration of Postmodern American Philosophy

West, Cornel

In this paper, I will try to show the ways in which Nietzsche prefigures the crucial moves made recently in postmodern" American philosophy. I will confine my remarks to two of Nietzsche's texts: Twilight of the Idols and The Will To Power. The postmodern American philosophers I will examine are W.V. Quine, Nelson Goodman, Wilfred Sellars, Thomas Kuhn and Richard Rorty. The three moves I shall portray are: the move toward anti-realism or conventionalism in ontology; the move toward the demythologization of the Myth of the Given or anti-foundationalism in epistemology; and the move toward the detranscendentalization of the subject or the dismissal of the mind as a sphere of inquiry. I then shall claim that Nietzsche believed such moves lead to a paralyzing nihilism and ironic skepticism unless they are supplemented with a new world view, a new "countermovement" to overcome such nihilism and skepticism. Lastly, I will suggest that postmodern American philosophy has not provided such a "countermovement," settling instead for either updated versions of scientism (Quine and Sellars), an aristocratic resurrection of pluralistic stylism (Goodman), a glib ideology of professionalism (Kuhn), or a nostalgic appeal to enlightened conversation (Rorty). Such weak candidates for a "countermovement" seem to indicate the extent to which postmodern American philosophy—similar to much of postmodern thought in the West—constitutes a dead, impotent rhetoric of a declining and decaying civilization.

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Union Theological Seminary
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March 1, 2013