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Nietzsche and the Empirical: through the eyes of the term 'Empfindung'

Philosophical Society for Southern Africa
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  • Biology
  • Linguistics
  • Philosophy


This paper examines Nietzsche's attitude to the empirical by concentrating on his concept of Empfindung (sensation, perception, feeling). In Section 1, five distinctive features of his use of 'Empfindung' are described in relation to the philosophical tradition and some of his sources in 19th Century physiology. All five features, I argue, point to Nietzsche's philosophical concern to stake out the limits of 'Empfindung' as an aspect of human finitude. In Section 2, my attention turns from the term 'Empfindung' to Nietzsche's actual argumentation. The bewildering variety of perspectives and arguments concerning 'Empfindung' in his writings are broken down into three basic types of argument or discourse with radically different, incompatible presuppositions: a critical, epistemological discourse serving anti-metaphysical ends; a quasiscientific discourse serving critical-epistemological ends; and a quasi-ontological discourse of life that looks to explain the results of Nietzsche's critical epistemology. The value of this 'contradictory' practice, I contend, is twofold: Nietzsche makes epistemology fruitful for the philosophical problem of life; at the same time he offers a performative critique of epistemology by the manner in which he exceeds it. South African Journal of Philosophy Vol. 25(2) 2006: 146-158

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