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Friday, November 2, 2018

Nietzsche’s Normative Conception of Freedom

In his essay, “Freedom as a Philosophical Ideal: Nietzsche and his Antecedents,” Donald Rutherford looks at the affinity between Friedrich Nietzsche’s normative conception of freedom and the conception of freedom developed by the Stoics and Spinoza. Here’s an excerpt from Rutherford’s essay:
An ideal of freedom is central to the normative stance Nietzsche defends in his mature writings. The autonomous person is an example of a “higher human being” (The Gay Science 2), whose value judgments are a product of a rigorous scrutiny of inherited values and an honest expression of how the answers to ultimate questions of value are “settled in him” (Beyond Good and Evil 231). The autonomous person is thus in a position to take responsibility for his value judgments in a way that conventional agents are not.  
The notion of responsibility invoked here is distinct from traditional notions of moral responsibility, of which Nietzsche is sharply critical. Indeed, Nietzsche stresses how, for him, the ideal of freedom is consistent with, and even demands, the affirmation of fate. It is characteristic of the autonomous person that she is capable of affirming the particular shape of her own fate, thus becoming, in Nietzsche’s terms, “what she is.”  
I have argued, finally, that Nietzsche’s conception of freedom can be understood as the culmination of a long line of thought in the history of philosophy—one which, beginning with the Stoics and extending through Spinoza, finds no inherent contradiction between the affirmation of fate and the realization of freedom, but which restricts this freedom to relatively few higher or “noble” individuals, who escape the bondage of conventional mores and passive emotional states. Although Nietzsche rejects key assumptions made by both the Stoics and Spinoza, his positive ethical stance can be interpreted as an extension of their efforts to elaborate the notion of freedom as a normative ideal. 
It is worth noting that Nietzsche’s conception of freedom is clearly opposed to the libertarian view of freedom which is based on the freedom of will and choice. Nietzsche’s ideal, as Rutherford points out in his essay, is a development of the ideas advanced by the Stoics and Spinoza.

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