Activism and Exceptionalism
A useful note from an old friend, whose anonymity I will respect. Said person left a comment on the post about Bad Dog-morals, and the comment is worth reproducing here in full:
I'm not clear on what it took to get on your lists -- are these supposed to be the five most interesting books you've read in each category? Most influential? Most convincing?
Also, I think you miscategorize Nietzsche because you are conflating two categories into one, and two dimensions into one.
The dimension you say you are trying to get at is the dimension of "exceptionalism." For you, the perspective of believing humans are exceptional leads people to write books trying to define this exceptional sense of morality that they believe humans have, and explicitly or implicitly prescribe the actions that fall under their definition of "right." Rawls falls into this category, as do John Stuart Mills and lots of other classic ethical theorists (I don't remember Nozick, Gauthier, or Frank well enough, but they probably fall in this category as well).
At the other end of this dimension are people who don't believe humans are exceptional and (therefore?) write books explaning the origins of morality in historical terms. Your focus here is on "historical" in the sense of "evolutionary/biological," but to me the non-exceptionalism assumption might well also prompt people to write *cultural* histories of different ethical systems in the sense of an historian or anthropologist.
I think the best part of Nietszche's project is the cultural history of the Judeo-Christian ethical system, which is NOT the kind of thing an exceptionalist would usually be interested in doing. The reason you are tempted to lump him in the second category is because you see him making prescriptions and assume that that makes him an exceptionalist.
But that is where you are conflating two dimensions. The dimension of exceptionalism is separate from the dimension of, for lack of a better term, "activism." It is quite possible and consistent to reject exceptionalism and still make prescriptions in one's writing -- in fact, I dare say, your blogging is an excellent example of this. The goal of impacting others' behavior, including behavior in the realm of what we commonly term morality, through one's writings is not contingent upon the exceptionalism premise.
(NOTE: In a technical (but important) sense, all writings have activist projects -- the goal might be to affect the behavior of the committee making tenure decisions, for instance. But I'm using activism here in a much less inclusive sense of self-conciously attempting to influence the ethical norms of others)
Hence, I think that Axelrod and probably the other books you listed in your first set (I haven't read them) have non-exceptionalist, non-activist projects. Rawls (and probably some of the others in your second set) have exceptionalist, activist projects. But Foucault, me, non-exceptionalists who make policy recommendations, and (under some readings, at least) Nietzsche have non-exceptionalist, activist projects.
To which I say: What would Troester say to this, if he still blogged at all? I'm calling you out, man. I don't know enough deontological Kierkegarrdians to ask anyone else. A leap of faith on human exceptionalism? Or is "activism" a better way of thinking about it, requiring only a plasticity of moral sensibilities?
Or anyone else, for that matter. It just seems to me that this is a question that is amenable to answer, even wrong answers.