Any proposal to interpret Nietzsche's texts encounters the methodological difficulty of which texts to interpret and how much weight to give them. The reasons for this difficulty are various. First, there is the sheer difficulty of the texts themselves. For the most part they consist of brief paragraphs, each of which contain a fragmentary discussion of a particular topic. If these paragraphs are collated, often two different paragraphs appear to contradict each other. One plausible response to this sort of problem is to find criteria for assigning greater weight to one paragraph over another. The texts' vague yet emphatic style only makes matters worse.
Second, Nietzsche, especially in his later works, often writes of masks and disguises. This has led some interpreters to believe that he often presents views not his own for pragmatic or heuristic purposes. Heidegger, for example, believed that the unpublished notebooks are more reliable on the assumption that these purposes do not play a role in the construction of texts Nietzsche did not intend to see read. Others, like Kaufmann, regarded the very fact that Nietzsche did not intend the notebooks to be read as grounds for assigning them less weight.
Third, some of the most politically provocative statements can be found only in his unpublished notebooks. Commentators sympathetic to the National Socialists used some of these remarks to claim that such political tendencies could gain aid and comfort from Nietzsche's texts.
Finally, Bernd Magnus, who follows Kaufmann's methodological principles, has suggested that the Nietzsche of the notebooks is a far more traditional philosopher, working through technical problems in metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. By contrast, the work Nietzsche published is the work of a deconstructionist who has transcended traditional philosophy.1 Thus, to preserve Nietzsche's most radical insights, one must follow what he chose to publish, rather than the insufficiently radical reflections of the notes.
(p.xiv) The issue of what weight one should assign to published or unpublished texts has generated disproportionate worries. If our concern is with making sense of Nietzsche's thought, then naturally all of the texts are relevant. The assumption that there is a real Nietzsche who is primarily represented by one set of texts or another strikes me as an especially perverse appeal to authorial intention. It is as much out of place in analytic circles, where the substance of an argument matters more than to whom it is attributed, as it is in circles given to speaking of ‘the death of the author’. If the published and unpublished texts really were that different, a special methodology might be appropriate. But if an interpretation that maximizes agreement among the texts is possible, no special methodology is called for. There are tensions and paradoxes in Nietzsche's thought, but this is far less often the case than is commonly thought. While he does sometimes adopt ‘masks’ in his writing, it is not so difficult to detect which positions he endorses and which he attacks. Also, Nietzsche sometimes experiments with a position to see where it will lead (in his notebooks) and thereby comes to reject it (in his published works). Finally, we must accept that he does on occasion contradict himself and that he is therefore at least sometimes wrong. That sort of problem should not be interpreted away by a special textual methodology that licenses the elimination of inconvenient evidence. My interpretation attempts to exercise textual charity—within reasonable limits. This is how we interpret most philosophical texts. Nothing about Nietzsche's texts suggests they need to be interpreted any differently.2
The textual foundations of this interpretation are editions of Nietzsche's books published in his lifetime and the posthumous manuscripts stored at the Goethe‐Schiller Archiv in Weimar. Several scholarly editions have appeared, but few have employed a rigorous historical‐critical methodology which makes them reliable sources for the posthumous material. One of them is the now standard Kritische Gesamtausgabe (Werke und Briefe) edited by G. Colli and M. Montinari. Whenever possible, I have relied on this edition, which is substantially complete as to the letters, and contains almost all of the work from 1869 to 1889. Though it remains incomplete as to the juvenilia (Nachlaß material dated before 1869), I only consider Nachlaß material dated after Nietzsche's discovery of Schopenhauer in 1865 but before the Basle period in 1869 as significant for adequately interpreting his metaphysics. This material, however, is available in the Kritische Gesamtausgabe.
(p.xv) Inevitably, mention must be made of the so‐called Grossoktavausgabe. In this 1911 edition, a second attempt was made to produce an anthology of the Nachlaß of the 1880s, arranged topically, named by the editors Der Wille zur Macht. As with the books Nietzsche himself published or prepared for publication, the sections of this text are numbered to ease reference. This text, one of several constructed texts appearing under this title, is the most widely read, and references to it are common. Walter Kaufmann has provided a translation of this text preserving almost entirely the numbering of the 1911 text of the second edition of the Grossoktavausgabe. For readers using this text, I have provided a dual reference system, first to the text as it appears in KGW and then the WP section number. My quotations from this material, however, follow the Colli‐Montinari texts; patchwork texts, altered sentence order, incorrect manuscript dating, and other artefacts of the editors' activity have been eliminated.
All quotes appear in English. As the English translation of the Colli‐Montinari edition (the so‐called Stanford Edition) is incomplete, I have been guided by Kaufmann's translations of Birth of Tragedy, Gay Science, Beyond Good and Evil, Genealogy of Morals, Case of Wagner, Twilight of the Idols, Antichrist, Ecce Homo, Nietzsche contra Wagner, and Will to Power. I have been guided by R. J. Hollingdale's translations of Untimely Meditations, Human, All‐too‐human, Daybreak, and Zarathustra. I have also generally followed Daniel Breazeale's translation of Truth and Lie. Translations have always been checked against original texts and, occasionally, modified. All other translations are mine.
In deference to longstanding precedent, all citations of the first Critique are by page numbers to both the first and second editions, referred to as ‘A’ and ‘B’ respectively. I follow Werner Pluhar's excellent new translations of this and the third Critique; I also follow Lewis White Beck's translation of the second Critique. I follow E. F. J. Payne's translation of Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation, and Ernest Chester Thomas's translation of Lange's The History of Materialism and Criticism of its Present Importance (3rd edn., trans, from 2nd German edn., London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1925). I have generally relied upon this translation, though the second German edition upon which it is based is much larger than the first edition with which Nietzsche was acquainted. I have only attributed to Nietzsche the reading of passages which correspond to passages in the German first edition. I have generally relied upon John Mahaffy's 1866 translation of volume 4 of Fischer's History of Modern Philosophy: A Commentary on Kant's Critick of Pure Reason (repr. New York: Garland, 1976). (p.xvi)
(1) Bernd Magnus, ‘The Use and Abuse of the Will to Power’, in Robert Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins (eds.), Reading Nietzsche (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 218–35.
(2) For a detailed discussion of the proper methodology for interpreting texts in the history of philosophy, see Michael Rosen, ‘The Interpretation of Philosophy’, in Hegel's Dialectic and its Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 1–22. Much of my own approach to Nietzsche is inspired by Rosen's analogous approach to Hegel.