Nietzsche as Philosophe on the Body

In the preface for the second edition (1887) of The Gay Science, Friedrich Nietzsche poses the problem of the body in the wake of the high-reaching philosophical systems of his predecessors:

The unconscious disguise of physiological needs under the cloaks of the objective, ideal, purely spiritual goes to frightening lengths—and often I have asked myself whether, taking a large view, philosophy has not been merely an interpretation of the body and a misunderstanding of the body (34-35).

Using words like “ideal” and “purely spiritual”, Nietzsche seems to be referring to philosophers like Immanuel Kant, and G. W. F. Hegel, in that they appear to eschew the body in their philosophical systems which thus encourage an ascetic view of life. In this regard, it seems Nietzsche might be somewhat unfair to them. By opposing what might be called “philosophy” proper, Nietzsche, is rather a philosophe. I use this term in the way that Louis Menand uses it—in his introduction (2003) to Edmund Wilson’s To the Findland Station (1940)—to describe Marx and Engels as “philosophes of a second Enlightenment.” One could include Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the category of philosophes of the first Enlightenment, in that he too resisted what he considered philosophy affirmed the status quo. In Rousseau’s case, he was resisting the Catholic Church’s narrative that ordered all of society as determined by a great chain of being descending from God and the Church.

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