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    Nietzsche and the contingency of greatness

    Huddleston, Andrew (2012) Nietzsche and the contingency of greatness. In: Chance, Luck, Haphazardness: Evian International Philosophy Colloquium, 2012, Evian, France. (Unpublished)

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    Event synopsis: Contingent is what could be otherwise or not exist at all: It is thus what is neither necessary nor impossible. What is contingent is that which is not completely determined by logical or metaphysical principles, or else by fate or divine providence. That is, what is contingent belongs to the realm of what is changing or changeable; it is, therefore, a realm into which human actions inherently fall. Because human actions take place in the realm of the contingent, every practical self-reflection is confronted with contingency as an inherent problem. Practical reason, rational planning, and free deliberation are bound up with the uncontrollable contingency of chance, luck, and haphazardness: chance, because the consequences of action cannot be completely anticipated or explained given the unforeseeable effects of accidental causes that condition or help to shape the outcomes of our actions; luck, because the realization of intended goals or attitudes can often come about only with the world playing along, i.e., only through the coincidence of events behind the backs of agents; and haphazardness, because the good life itself, framed by the decisive or fateful events of birth and death, always has to reckon with the happening of events large and small that continually break into our lives and affect them going forward, so that one needs luck (fortuna, Glück, chance) for attaining happiness (beatitudo, Glück, bonheur) in a way that challenges our conceptions of virtue and justice. The tension between contingency and reason in human practice has been understood differently in the history of philosophy. In one strand, beginning with Plato and reaching via Leibniz to the early Wittgenstein, contingency is regarded as a disturbance that undermines our claim to grasp the rational orderliness of the world and therefore should be excluded as a factor. The critique of reason – as in Nietzsche, Lyotard, and Rorty – continues unwittingly to share this view ex negativo, for it assumes that contingency as such undermines the justificatory pretensions of reason in our theories and practices. There is, however, an alternative strand in the philosophical tradition that begins as early as Aristotle and includes Hegel, the later Wittgenstein, and Derrida (among others), one that conceives contingency as the basis for novelty and human freedom in general. Many debates about the significance of contingency in disparate areas of philosophy have taken place in the spectrum between these two poles. In philosophical reflections on the significance of history (Vico, Dilthey, Foucault), the acknowledgment of contingency has discredited our recourse to the necessity of social order and historical development (whether as progress or degeneration). In political philosophy, the contingency of social and political order has even been understood to be the enabling condition of democracy (Laclau/Mouffe, Lefort, Rancière). In the philosophy of culture and philosophical anthropology (Gehlen, Plessner), institutions, religions, traditions, and cultures have come to be regarded as forms and practices of dealing and coping with contingency. In ethics (Williams, Nagel), contingency shows up in the form of “moral luck”, moral dilemmas, and “dirty hands”. It also figures in Anglophone political philosophy in terms of the extent to which justice ought to compensate for the effects of chance, luck, and haphazardness as a legitimate means of creating some degree of fairness and equity given the contingency of one’s life-chances (Rawls, Cohen, Dworkin). In epistemology (Sosa, Greco, Pritchard), there is continued discussion about the effects of “epistemic luck” on our status as knowers. Finally, existential philosophy (Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Sartre) has elevated an individual’s comportment toward the contingency (Geworfenheit: “thrownness”) of his or her own being to a fundamental constitutive aspect of human existence. What is the significance of contingency, then, for the self-understanding of human beings in their practices? The 18th International Philosophy Colloquium Evian invites philosophers to come to the shores of Lake Geneva to examine the concept of contingency in all the different and possibly incompatible ways in which this concept can be considered and determined.


    Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
    School: School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy > Philosophy
    Depositing User: Sarah Hall
    Date Deposited: 13 Nov 2014 09:25
    Last Modified: 13 Nov 2014 09:26


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