Strangers to ourselves: Self-knowledge in Nietzsche's genealogy

Tom R. Hanauer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nietzsche famously claims that "we knowers [. . .] remain of necessity strangers to ourselves" in the Genealogy's preface. But the meaning of Nietzsche's claim is not entirely clear; and it bears no obvious connection to the Genealogy's historical or evaluative projects. The aim of this article is to clarify Nietzsche's claim and to connect it with the rest of Nietzsche's projects in the Genealogy. With this goal in mind, I canvass three interpretations of Nietzsche's claim: (1) the naturalistic interpretation, (2) the transcendental interpretation, and (3) the normative interpretation. Ultimately, I argue, the naturalistic and transcendental interpretations are unsatisfactory; the normative interpretation comes closest to capturing the meaning of Nietzsche's claim. According to this interpretation, Nietzsche's claim that we're necessarily "strangers to ourselves" shouldn't be understood descriptively, but rather normatively, that is, as suggesting that lacking a certain kind of self-knowledge is good for "we knowers."

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)250-271
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Nietzsche Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Genealogy
  • German Idealism
  • Naturalism
  • Self-knowledge
  • Selfhood


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