Brian Leiter is Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the Center for Law, Philosophy & Human Values at the University of Chicago. He teaches and writes primarily in the areas of moral, political, and legal philosophy, in both Anglophone and Continental traditions.
Moral Psychology with Nietzsche
Brian Leiter defends a set of radical ideas from Nietzsche: there is no objectively true morality, there is no free will, no one is ever morally responsible, and our conscious thoughts and reasoning play almost no significant role in our actions and how our lives unfold. Leiter presents a new interpretation of main themes of Nietzsche's moral psychology, including his anti-realism about value (including epistemic value), his account of moral judgment and its relationship to the emotions, his conception of the will and agency, his scepticism about free will and moral responsibility, his epiphenomenalism about certain kinds of conscious mental states, and his views about the heritability of psychological traits. In combining exegesis with argument, Leiter engages the views of philosophers like Harry Frankfurt, T. M. Scanlon, and Gary Watson, and psychologists including Daniel Wegner, Benjamin Libet, and Stanley Milgram. Nietzsche emerges not simply as a museum piece from the history of ideas, but as a philosopher and psychologist who exceeds David Hume for insight into human nature and the human mind, repeatedly anticipates later developments in empirical psychology, and continues to offer sophisticated and unsettling challenges to much conventional wisdom in both philosophy and psychology.
Book Reviews for Moral Psychology with Nietzsche
"Leiter is one of the most important and influential Nietzsche scholars in the Anglosphere today, so this volume is a must-read for Nietzsche scholars...[I]t should also interest a more general philosophical audience...Anyone coming from contemporary analytic philosophy will appreciate the forthright, unpretentious style and argumentative rigor, as well as the broad aim not to simply re-mouth Nietzsche's phrases but rather to articulate the Nietzschean perspective."
—Alexander Prescott-Couch, European Journal of Philosophy
“Leiter’s study serves as a model for how the history of philosophy can be enriched by engaging with contemporary theories in philosophy and other disciplines….Leiter has done the field of Nietzsche scholarship a great service with his many influential contributions over the past three decades, and Moral Psychology with Nietzsche represents an impressive synthesis of many of these ideas, presented lucidly to a general audience….Leiter’s latest book is cogent and succeeds in its aim to present Nietzsche as a first-rate moral psychologist. It should be on the radar of anyone interested in Nietzsche or the history of moral psychology more generally.”
— Avery Snelson, Ethics
“Brian Leiter’s second book on Nietzsche brings together ideas and arguments that have already had a significant influence on the field through their earlier formulations in his articles from the past two decades. It is thus indispensable reading for anyone interested in Leiter’s evolving project of showing that Nietzsche has the correct naturalistic approach to issues in moral philosophy and moral psychology. As usual with Leiter’s scholarship, this monograph is extremely clear, densely argued, and philosophically sophisticated.”
— Paul Loeb, Journal of the History of Philosophy
"A rare example of a book of considerable scholarly and philosophical merit that is accessible to a wide audience….Leiter brings much needed rigor and clarity to Nietzsche studies."
— Thomas L. Carson, Ethics (2004)
"The book sets the standard by which future treatments of this subject matter will be measured and I would expect it to be a primary point of reference for discussions of Nietzsche and ethics for quite some time."
— Peter Poellner, University of Warwick
“Leiter’s book is both a major contribution to Nietzsche’s studies and a very helpful guide for students to Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality.
— Maudemarie Clark, University of California, Riverside & Colgate University
“This work is simply the best…book-length exposition of Nietzsche’s Genealogy. As such, it will be the reference point for all further scholarly work on the subject.”
— Ken Gemes, Birkbeck College, University of London
“This is a very impressive book, offering a distinctive and highly intelligent reading of Nietzsche’s moral philosophy….Leiter writes in a clear and engaging way and he has organized his material very helpfully….A real achievement.”
— Aaron Ridley, University of Southampton
“In Leiter’s hands, Nietzsche’s philosophical interests, at least with regard to morality and the ‘revaluation,’ gain a coherence and dialectical focus which his writings on other matters sometimes fail to suggest….The book is clear, crisply written, and engaging. It operates on a level wholly appropriate to its main intended readership, given that the Genealogy itself is not the stuff of introductory undergraduate courses. But Leiter also has much to offer the more advanced reader. Although only a short closing chapter is explicitly devoted to evaluating Nietzsche’s views, the text is in effect a protracted argument, constantly seeking to interpret the writings so as to bring out what is most plausible in them….[O]verall, the book does something novel and important, in seeking to expound Nietzsche’s thinking specifically on morality to an undergraduate audience, while offering a highly stimulating reading of that thinking itself.”
— Robert Hopkins, Philosophical Books
"A slim volume, deeply conversant with the literature in law and philosophy, and by turns bold, bracing and bruising, Why Tolerate Religion? should command the attention of anyone interested in the place of faith in the public arena."
— Glenn C. Altschuler, Jerusalem Post
"Although this is a rather bold and provocative thesis, Leiter's approach is highly nuanced and painstakingly thorough, as he patiently walks readers through each definition, consideration, and possible objection. The overall effect is a very impressively argued case."
— Library Journal
"Why Tolerate Religion? is a readable book that exposes several tenuous assumptions underlying the predominant justifications for religious exemptions. At the same time, it provides a fresh and intuitive framework for analyzing conscience-based objections to facially neutral laws that should appeal to legal practitioners, jurists, and philosophers alike."
— Harvard Law Review
"This is a provocative and bracing essay, one that is bound to stimulate much discussion."
— Richard Kraut, Northwestern University
"The place of religion in the public arena, and the kind of protection and even respect it should be entitled to from the state, is a topic of significant contemporary interest. Leiter writes about it with wit and good humor. He is even bruising on occasion. But there can be no doubting his capacity as a scholar, his intellectual energy, or his ability to persuade."
— Timothy Macklem, King's College London
"Leiter argues that there are no principled, moral reasons for singling out religion as the subject of toleration. He has cut through a dense philosophical and legal literature, focused on a question of great importance, and developed a provocative, sharp, and yet nuanced case. Anyone concerned with this topic will have to read and take seriously the arguments presented in this very well-written and accessible book."
— Micah J. Schwartzman, University of Virginia
"More than ten years ago, Leiter advanced the idea that Quinean naturalism could shed light on important and pressing issues in jurisprudence. Leiter's research aims to answer three core questions within the framework of naturalism: what the American Legal Realists were trying to convey, what is the most appropriate methodology to apply to future inquiries in legal philosophy, and whether legal and moral facts should have a place in our best explanatory account of law. Naturalised jurisprudence brought fresh, fruitful, and powerful ways of thinking in legal philosophy. It obliged us to rethink the self-image of legal philosophy and its location in the wider spectrum of epistemology, philosophy of language and mind, metaethics, and morality. The collection of essays is, then, the reflection of a thoughtful, insightful, and influential body of work. It comprises nine previously published essays and two unpublished postscripts to the essays. It is a superb contribution because of its rigorous scholarship and honest analysis...
"Leiter's collection is a sophisticated and creative view on naturalism in legal philosophy marking a tour de force in jurisprudential thinking. It raises fundamental challenges to non-naturalist jurisprudence that, in my view, cannot be ignored if legal philosophers are to ensure disciplinary progress."
— Veronica Rodriguez-Blanco Mind (2008)
“Ever since W.V. Quine…naturalism has become an important topic in core areas of philosophy, such as epistemology, the philosophy of language, and the philosophy of mind; and it has now, much thanks to the writings of Brian Leiter, reached jurisprudence (or legal philosophy). Accordingly, the task of gaining an understanding of the implications of a naturalist approach to the problems of jurisprudence…is on the agenda of contemporary jurisprudence….
“Leiter’s book is a well-written and substantial contribution to the field of jurisprudence, and I warmly recommend it to anyone with an interest in contemporary jurisprudence, or in the implications of a naturalist approach to philosophy. Leiter’s ability to chart the implications of a naturalist research programme in jurisprudence, and to pinpoint the weak spots in the writings of other philosophers in the process, together with the clarity of his reasoning, is impressive.”
— Torben Spaak Theoria (2008)
“Throughout, his prose is splendidly lucid, and his arguments are forcefully and piquantly presented. Readers who dissent from some of his philosophical stances (as I do) will profit greatly from engaging with his vigorously articulated lines of reasoning. Leiter is an incisive and erudite philosopher with whom disagreements are stimulatingly worthwhile….[I]t stands as a major contribution to contemporary legal philosophy. His unremittingly naturalistic outlook…is a genuinely distinctive perspective in the contemporary debates, and Leiter adroitly connects that outlook both to Legal Realism and to the Quinean tradition of philosophy. He does so, moreover, in prose that is at once accessible and sophisticatedly precise. Naturalizing Jurisprudence deserves to be read widely and commended warmly.”
— Matthew Kramer, Criminal Law and Philosophy 3 (2009)
Nietzsche on Morality
"Arguably the most important book on Nietzsche’s philosophy in the past twenty years…"
— Mark Jenkins, Journal of Nietzsche Studies (2010)
"The book offers one of the most comprehensive and compelling interpretations of Nietzsche’s critique of morality…. With its distinctive emphasis on naturalistic themes, it forms a very significant contribution to the study of Nietzsche and is poised to become a work of reference in the field."
— Bernard Reginster, Notre Dame Philosophical Review (2003)
Why Tolerate Religion?
"A model of clarity and rigour and at points strikingly original, this is a book that anyone who thinks seriously about religion, ethics and politics will benefit from reading."
— John Gray, New Statesman
"Think you understand religious toleration? Think again. Brian Leiter's bracing argument moves deftly from the classics of political philosophy to the riddles of modern case law, demolishing old nostrums and sowing fresh insights with each step. Every reader will learn something from this remarkable book, and, beginning now, every serious scholar of religious toleration will have to contend with Leiter's bold claims."
— Christopher L. Eisgruber, Princeton University
"This book will confirm Brian Leiter 's place in the front rank of legal theorists in the world today. Leiter is not just someone who writes well about what others have said. He has carved out a new path in legal theory, and set new standards for critical analysis and insight along the way."
— Jeremy Horder, London School of Economics
"[Naturalizing Jurisprudence] is a work that goes well beyond the individual essays to present a trenchant, multi-faceted and mutually-reinforcing set of challenges to core views and methodologies that are prevalent in the field...This is thus an important book by one of the most influential legal philosophers of our time."
— Robin Kar, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews