Nietzsche on Criminality

Dissertation, University of South Florida (2021)

Abstract

In Nietzsche scholarship, little has been done regarding Nietzsche’s reflections on penology and criminology. This dissertation aims to critically examine Friedrich Nietzsche’s thoughts on justice, punishment, and the criminal and to show that his interest in these topics runs throughout his writings. Nietzsche attacked the tradition of Western justice theory and the idea that justice consists in giving each their due. I argue that in place of this notion of justice, he puts forth a non-metaphysical, naturalistic account of justice that refuses to judge and hold man accountable. In addition, I explicate Nietzsche’s passionate critique of punishment, which stops short of calling for its complete abolition, and the various alternatives he sets forth in place of punishing. Finally, I demonstrate that Nietzsche’s reflections on criminality amount to a defense of the criminal whom he considers a valuable and essential feature of society. Nietzsche’s reflections on justice, punishment, and the criminal are important and warrant closer consideration for several reasons. First, these topics intersect with several major themes within Nietzsche’s work, such as causality, freedom, responsibility, guilt, ressentiment, hierarchy of rank, and greatness, or nobility. Second, a thorough understanding of punishment, and its relationship to justice and revenge are essential to understanding why Nietzsche rejects traditional morality and the values he wishes to call forth in its place. Third, his rejection of the traditional notion of justice as revenge, and his affirmation of mercy, as well as his insistence upon overcoming the desire to punish, undermines the idea that he is a champion of violence and cruelty. Fourth, these topics contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of what Nietzsche means by greatness and advances our knowledge of his ideal-types and moral exemplars. Finally, a thorough understanding of Nietzsche’s treatment of justice, punishment, and the criminal lends a coherent dimension to his positive ethics, his political theory, and his vision for society. While some critics have claimed that Nietzsche’s reflections on justice and punishment yield nothing of practical use, this dissertation demonstrates that Nietzsche not only provides valuable critiques but also valuable philosophical and psychological insights concerning justice, punishment, criminal law, and criminal justice reform.

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Laura McAllister
University of South Florida

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