By Prof. Dr. Greg Whitlock on Dr. Stefan Lorenz Sorgner.
In his Menschenwürde nach Nietzsche: Die Geschichte eines Begriffes (Human Dignity according to/after Nietzsche: The History of a Concept), Sorgner conceived a bold plan and executed it remarkably well with noteworthy results. His plan entailed presenting four paradigmatic notions of human dignity; next, presenting Nietzsche’s critical evaluation of the notion of human dignity in relation to the four paradigms; and finally, reflecting on Nietzsche’s criticism in a way that embraced much of it and, consequently, largely rejected the humanist notion of the dignity of man. Sorgner took the additional steps of arguing for a posthumanism to replace the outmoded humanist notion of human dignity, as he had developed it. Each phase of the plan was carried out with care in every detail.
Although Sorgner takes every occasion to locate the reader within its structure with elaborate signposting, the overall organization of his book may prove to be difficult even for the careful reader to grasp. Sorgner devotes his first chapter to the necessary and sufficient conditions for the notions of human dignity that interest him and Nietzsche. Thus he indicates the scope of the criticism of human dignity to follow. Then he devotes a long section of the work to paradigmatic notions of human dignity to give the reader a sense of the variety of different notions of specifically human dignity. They possess all the necessary conditions for the sort of concept that interests Sorgner; the notion of necessary dignity. For many readers, it may become easy to get lost in the long presentation, though again Sorgner pays great attention to highlighting his organization. A long rendition of Nietzsche’s theories of will to power, genealogy, and perspectivism follows, which, since it is not immediately directed toward the notion of dignity, may be overwhelming. But Sorgner’s interpretation of Gay Science 115, which follows the presentation, is well worth the wait. The reader finds Nietzsche attacking the four theories so elaborately portrayed. Sorgner works through an impressive interpretation of the short aphorism, though at many spots the usual conflicts of interpretation will break out. In my own case, I considered Sorgner’s interpretations to be, if anything, too literal, rather than too loosely connected to the text. And in particular, my own interpretation of Nietzsche on science, notably the figures Darwin and Lamarck, differs from Sorgner’s. In crucial places concerning Darwin and Nietzsche, Sorgner gives inadequate evidence, in my opinion. Nor does Sorgner show evidence of hidden sources of Nietzsche’s scientific thought experiments. Other readers, of course, may object to other details in his interpretation. But what he does accomplish is to present a highly plausible, careful rendition of Nietzsche’s thoughts on human dignity. Sorgner proves that he has, after Nietzsche’s metaphor, “long legs.” This section of the book definitely rewards the two long marches required to reach it. Sorgner’s Nietzsche is a quite complex and nuanced interpretation, and Nietzsche’s argument in GS 115 and connected notes and published passages succeed in their iconoclastic campaign.
The reader must understand, further, that the book under consideration contains a certain irony or sarcasm. That Sorgner disagrees with Nietzsche about contingent human dignity is something of a façade, since contingent dignity really interests Sorgner little in comparison to the comparatively decisive attack that has been launched on the sacred citadel of human dignity at the heart of the Platonic Christian Kantian tradition. On one reading of Sorgner, “normative equality” may have become something of a cynical Hobbesian gesture.
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