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Tuesday, 19 January 2010

A Moral Primer II: A Critique of Nietzschean Ethics

I have said in the first Moral Primer that Nietzsche's position on morality is one of virtue ethics. Here I therefore opine that his moral genealogy is not so successful in its historicist claims, but rather more successful in its affective perspectival dualism.

[The following abbreviations [in brackets] of the works of Nietzsche used in this essay will be in the text with the requisite chapter and section number, while footnotes will refer to the actual translations used which are listed in the Bibliography].
The Pre-Platonic Philosophers, 1872-6 [PPP]
Human All Too Human, 1882 [HA]
The Gay Science, 1882 [GS]
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 1883 [TSZ]
Beyond Good and Evil, 1886 [BGE]
On the Genealogy of Morality, 1887 [GM]
The Writings of the Late Notebooks, 1885-8 [WLN]
The Twilight of the Idols, 1889 [TI]
The Antichrist, 1895 [A]

The Moral Duality

"Twofold prehistory of good and evil.
"The concept of good and evil has a twofold prehistory:
"firstly in the soul of the ruling tribes and castes ...
"Then, in the soul of the subjected, the powerless ..." [HA 45](1)

Here begins Nietzsche's challenge to the assumption underlying most religions - that of a single 'moral world order', of a 'universal good' and a 'universal evil';
"And philosophers supported the church: the lie of 'the moral world order' runs through the entire development of philosophy, even modern philosophy." [A 26](2)

Instead, to Nietzsche, there are two different moralities which are the products of masters and slaves both respectively and symbiotically; so that morality is viewed in terms of the power relations between rulers and ruled.
Nietzsche's task was how to account for a clear distinction between the two moralities, particularly as he went on to state that, while "there have been very different moralities", morality itself "is the herd-instinct in the individual." [GS 116](3)

1) 1986 pp. 36-7
2) 2005B p. 23
3) 2001 p. 115

'Good' and 'Bad'

How then can a separate morality of the 'ruling tribes' emerge from out of the gregarious drive to the herd instinct? (4)
Nietzsche will seek to solve this with the following definitive statement;

"While perusing the many subtler and cruder moral codes that have prevailed or still prevail on earth thus far, I found that ...
"two basic types were revealed and a fundamental difference leapt out at me.
"There are master moralities and slave moralities ...
"In the first case, when it is the masters who define the concept 'good' ... 'good' and 'bad' means about the same thing as 'noble' and despicable' ..."
"Slave morality is essentially a morality of utility. It is upon this hearth that the famous opposition 'good' and 'evil' originates ...
"According to slave morality, then, the evil person evokes fear; according to master morality, it is exactly the 'good' person who evokes fear and wants to evoke it, while the 'bad' person is felt to be despicable ...
"Within a slave mentality a good person must in any case be harmless."
[BGE 260](5)

In effect, the two moralities are actually radically different perspectives of the same phenomena: that of the master and slave; one seen from above - the master, and the other seen from below - the slave. The masters regard themselves as 'good' and their slaves as 'bad', while the slaves view their masters as 'evil' and themselves as 'good'. This is called by Nietzsche a 'transvaluation of values'. (6)

4) cf. Deleuze, p. 140
5) 1998A pp. 153-6
6) Diethe p. 211

Virtue Ethics

Nietzsche claims "that moral value distinctions everywhere are first attributed to people and only later and in a derivative fashion applied to actions." [BGE 260](7)
Therefore he is really making a distinction between two different classes of people more than anything else, and this puts him with the 'virtue ethics' of the ancient Greeks [cf. Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics], where "the central questions are about character: what traits of character make a good person?" (8) - and, we might add, a 'bad' person too.

This approach to ethics was eclipsed by the system of Divine Law and its secular version, the 'Moral World Order';
"With the coming of Chrsitianity a new set of ideas was introduced. The Christians like the Jews were monotheists who viewed God as a lawgiver and for them righteous living meant obedience to the divine commandment", (9) an obedience tantamount to slavishness, according to Nietzsche.

How do 'virue ethics' translate into a moral code? Of course, they cannot, as they depend purely on the type of man they are dealing with. As Nietzsche asserted in one of his last works;
"A virtue must be our invention, our most personal defence and need: in every other sense it is merely a danger." [A 11](10)

7) 1998A p. 154
8) Rachels p. 159
9) ib. p. 160
10) 2000 p. 12

Master Morality

Essentially, master morality is instinctive; it doesn't look back, it takes joy in struggle and war, it regards inequality as natural and it maintains a strict hierarchy.
The master will have a noble code amongst his equals, but behave ruthlessly towards inferiors. He does note hate, nor does he harbour grievances, as he always acts immediately. He believes that the mass of lower beings ought to serve the elite, and that high art - such as monumental architecture, [TI IX:11](11) should glorify the existence of that elite.

11) 1998B p. 12

Slave Morality

Slave morality would express a reversal of the above positions; being timid, retroactive, pacifist and egalitarian in nature. It would put compassion towards all human beings - 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number', as the Utilitarian would have it - before what it considers to be the luxury of art.
Importantly, slave morality reproaches masters on the basis of 'free will'. The slave says that the master can - and therefore ought to - do other than he does. He could be peaceful and take pity on those he otherwise despises. That he doesn't chose to do this makes him 'evil' in the eyes of the slave [hence Nietzsche's use of the word 'evil' and not 'bad' for this kind of morality].
To the master, this is ridiculous as one can only act according to the dictates of one's character, or 'become what you are'. [EH subtitle] (12)

12) 2005B p. 69

A History of Morality

 But Nietzsche is not advancing only a psychological/physiological thesis; he is also making a case for an actual historical origin and historical development of two divergent moralities. If this could be shown, then the long-held prejudice of a single moral world order would be undermined and finally done away with - allowing one to pursue one's own morality. Then Nietzsche could prove his assertion that "there is no such thing as moral phenomena, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena." [BGE 108](13)

He will enlarge on the 'twofold prehistory' in his On the Genealogy of Morality, so entitled because moralities are "descended and evolved." (14) 
Here, Nietzsche posits primordial warrior-bands who are the genealogical prototypes of his 'masters', and therefore carriers of the seeds of 'good' and 'bad';

"At the centre of all these noble races we cannot fail to see the blond beast of prey ... avidly prowling round for spoil and victory", [GM I:11](15) who "unscrupulously" lay their "dreadful paws on a populace which, though it might be vastly greater in number, is still shapeless and shifting." [GM II:17](16)
This 'populace' will be enslaved and will in turn create 'good' and 'evil'.

13) 1998A p. 64
14) Danto p. 162
15) 1994 p. 25
16) ib. p. 63

The Priest

Given this scenario, a theoretical problem arises: if the slaves are intrinsically herd-like, and dominated by master morality, how are they able to create slave morality and then to exercise it as a system?

Nietzsche finds the solution to this in the figure of the ascetic priest. The priest has power, albeit at first only secondary to the warrior masters. He has therefore a parasitic power as he serves the masters in being able to keep the herd in line with his pia fraus, or 'pious deceit'. [TI VII:5](17)
However, inevitably "the priestly caste and warrior caste confront one another in jealousy and cannot agree on the prize of war." [GM I:7](18)

The priest sees in the herd the potential for achieving victory over the masters - remembering that at this stage slave morality has yet to be created. The enslaved herd is necessarily prone to a particular emotion - that of resentment - or ressentiment, as Nietzsche always uses the French word following Dühring who did the same in his 'The Value of Life' (1865), a book that Nietzsche made a "detailed reading" of in 1875. But whereas Dühring endorsed ressentiment, Nietzsche "had come to see values based on reactive affects like ressentiment as unhealthy and harmful." (19)
As Nietzsche was to say in his Genealogy;

"The beginning of the salves' revolt in morality occurs when ressentiment itself turns creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of those beings who, being denied the proper response of action, compensate for it only with imaginary revenge." [GM I:10](20)

The priest unites his cunning with the aforementioned resentment, channelling the latter to use as a weapon with which to defeat the masters. The priest is the "direction-changer of ressentiment." [GM III:15](21) With the mass of the herd now behind them, the priests - "the greatest haters in world-history" [GM I:7](22) - are invincible, and are authors "of the most malignant conspiracy - the conspiracy of the sufferers against the sound and the victorious." [GM III:14](23)

Nietzsche says that this slave revolt actually occurs in history during the Roman Empire with the advent of Christianity which is described as a conspiracy invented by the Jewish priests to overthrow the noble Romans;
"A revolt which has two thousand years of history behind it and which has only been lost sight of because - it was victorious." [GM I:7] (24)
Out of "Jewish hate - the most profound and sublime hate, which creates and changes old values to new creations" came the Christian religion of so-called "love", which "grew out of that hate, as its crown, as its triumphant crown." [GM I:8](25)
Jesus of Nazareth himself was manipulated;
"Has not Israel really obtained the final goal of its sublime revenge, by the torturous paths of this 'Redeemer', for all that he might pose as Israel's adversary and Israel's destroyer?" [GM I:8](26)

And so slave morality is created and then brought to power and remains so to this day.

17) 1998B p. 36
18) 1994 p. 18
19) Small p. 106
20) 1994 p. 21
21) ib. p. 99
22) ib. p. 18
23) 2003A p. 88
24) 1994 p. 19
25) 2003A p. 17
26) ib. p. 18

A Critique of the Genealogy

This makes a gripping narrative, but there are some counter-arguments. For example, while slaves were thought of as inherently "corruptible" and "criminal" by the Roman elite (27), it is also true that apart from the celebrated Spartacus, slave revolts were quite rare in Rome, individual rebelliousness being far more common;
"Rebelliousness, however, must not be confused with notions of class solidarity among slaves, and there is no indication that resistance was fuelled by ideological programmes rooted in the desire to secure radical alteration to the structure of society." (28)

Also, at this time the Jews had long been in contact with Hellenic culture, there being "Jews who ... had two languages and two cultures, like ... the Pharisee Saul-Paul of Tarsus" (29), while "the process of Hellenisation" had "an open and direct influence" on the Jewish priesthood. (30)
The point being that there was not such a clear-cut distinction between the Classical and Judeo-Christian cultures as Nietzsche had it when he wrote;
"Rome against Judea, Judea against Rome." [GM I:16](31)

27) Bradley p. 123
28) ib. p. 130
29) Hengel p. 105
30) ib. p. 310
31) 1994 p. 34

The Poetic Truth of the Genealogy

I maintain that the force of Nietzsche's moral theory still depends largely upon its psychological - and poetic - truth, rather than on any historical verity it might have.
If we are dealing with an ethics based on character, as aforesaid, then another problem with Nietzsche's theory of master morality in particular presents itself - i.e., he typifies all morality as a 'self-overcoming' which turns 'against the instincts of life' [TI V passim.](32). So the doubt surfaces as to whether so-called master morality really is a morality, and the concept of two different types of morality therefore collapses. This ambiguity did not escape Nietzsche who often called the exemplars of 'master morality', such as himself and his Zarathustra, "immoralists". [TI V:6](33)

In the poetic treatise Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he wrote that;

A tablet of things held to be good hangs over every people.
Behold, it is a tablet of its overcomings:
behold, it is the voice of its will to power. [TSZ I:15](34)

32) 1998B
33) 2005B p. 175
34) 2005A p. 51

Morality as Power

 So we return once more to the connections made between morality and Nietzsche's theory of power, which he called the 'will to power' - morality being merely a manifestation of that power;

"The will to power is thus introduced as the will to overcome oneself." (35)

At this point "the will to power is the driving element in all life: 'Where I found a living creature, there I found the will to power' [TSZ II:'On Self-Overcoming']." (36) However, Nietzsche subsequently came to treat the concept far more widely, as if instinctively returning to the Pre-Platonic notion of an arche. [PPP VI](37)

In BGE he explains his reasoning for this step, adverting to what Danto (38)[called his 'method of parsimony';
"Assuming that nothing real is 'given' to us apart from our world of desires and passions ... may we not ... ask whether this 'given' also provides a sufficient explanation for the so-called mechanistic [or 'material'] world? ... as a world with the level of reality that our emotion has - that is, as a more rudimentary form of the world of emotions, holding everything in a powerful unity ... as a preliminary form of life?
"We are commanded to do so by the conscience of our method: we must not assume that there are several sorts of causality until we have tested the possibility that one alone will suffice ...
"Assuming, finally, that we could explain our entire instinctual life as the development and differentiation of one basic form of the will [namely the will to power, as my tenet will have it] ... then we would have the right to designate all effective energy unequivocally as: the will to power. The world as seen from the inside, the world defined and described by its 'intelligible character' - would be simply 'will to power' and that alone." [BGE 36](39)

Note that the concept of the 'will to power' is presented 'from the inside' as a hypothesis. It was only in his late notebooks of the period 1885-8 that Nietzsche tried to work out the idea as a full-blown metaphysical/ontological arche.
35) Kaufmann p. 173
36) Diethe p. 224
37) 2006 p. 27
38) Danto p. 216
39) 1998A pp. 35-6

The Will of Power

The German phrase itself, 'der Wille zur Macht', is customarily rendered - and retained here - as 'the will to power'; but this has an unwanted teleological connotation. For Nietzsche, power doesn't will anything other than itself. It overflows, overcoming all resistances regardless of what they are. Perhaps a better version in English would be 'will of power', as coined by Chatterton-Hill (40). But such ultimate concepts begin to frustrate our languages anyway, which are - as Nietzsche liked to point out - based on the erroneous subject/object model. [GM I:13](41)

However, in the security of his notebooks, he tried to express this ultimate concept;

"And do you know what 'the world' is to me? Shall I show it to you in my mirror? This world: a monster of force, without beginning, without end ... as force everywhere, as a play of forces and force-waves simultaneously one and 'many' ... this, my Dionysian world of eternal self-creating, of eternal self-destroying, this mystery world of dual delights, this is my beyond good and evil, without goal ... do you want a name for this world? ...
"This world is the will to power - and nothing besides! And you yourselves are this will to power - and nothing besides!" [WLN 38:12](42)

The world as we know it almost evaporates here, as he would write in a later notebook;
"The will to power, not a being, not a becoming, but a pathos, is the most elementary fact." [WLN 14:79](43)

40) Chatterton-Hill p. 190
41) 2003A p. 25
42) 2003B pp. 38-9
43) ib. p. 247


We return then to that inescapable aspect of Nietzsche's philosophy - that of perspective. The will to power is 'correct' as far as Nietzsche himself is concerned because "there is only a seeing from a perspective, only a 'knowing' from a perspective." [GM III:12](44)

That Nietzsche's argumentation could be seen as being trapped in the circularity of the 'Liar's Paradox' ["this statement is false"] did not thwart him - on the contrary;
"'Wisdom' as an attempt to get beyond perspectival appraisals (i.e. beyond the 'wills to power'), a principle that is disintegratory and hostile to life." [WLN 5:14](45)
Perspectivism is therefore to Nietzsche, life-affirming. And a perspective such as the will is therefore a particular interpretation;
"Such an interpreter would put to you the universality and unconditionality in all 'will to power' ...
"And given that he too is just interpreting - and you'll be eager to raise that objection, won't you? - then all the better." [BGE 22](46)

The real 'truth' in Nietzsche's theories of morality and power lay in their life-affirming quality - for him;
"The world as will to power, and more specifically as a heightened sense of will to power, is a miniature portrait of Nietzsche's life. It is described the only way he could describe it, that is, as reflected in him." (47)

And the question remains, can any philosophical 'truth claim' get beyond perspective?
That is the question to which Nietzsche's philosophy constantly pushes us towards in an exhilerating fashion.

44) 2003A p. 86
45) 2003B p. 108
46) 1998A p. 23
47) Thiele p. 34

Bradley, K. Slavery and Society at Rome, CUP 1994
Chatterton-Hill, G. The Philosophy of Nietzsche, Haskell House 1971
Danto, A. Nietzsche as Philosopher, Columbia 1965
Deleuze, G. Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. H. Tomlinson, Athlone 1983
Diethe, C. Historical Dictionary of Nietzscheanism, Scarecrow 1999
Hengel, M. Judaism and Helenism, SCM 1974
Kaufmann, W. Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. Meridian 1956
Nietzsche, F. ;
Human All Too Human, trans. R. Hollingdale, CUP 1986
On the Genealogy of Morality, trans. C. Diethe, CUP 1994
Beyond Good and Evil, trans. M. Faber, OUP 1998A
The Twilight of the Idols, trans. D. Large, OUP 1998B
The Antichrist, trans. A. Ludovici, Prometheus 2000
The Pre-Platonic Philosophers, trans. G. Whitlock, Illinois 2006

The Gay Science, trans. J, Nauckhoff, CUP 2001

The Genealogy of Morals, trans. H. Samuel, Dover 2003A
The Writings of the Late Notebooks, trans. K. Sturge, CUP 2003B
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. G. Parkes, OUP 2005A
The Antichrist, Ecce Homo, The Twilight of the Idols, trans. J. Norman, CUP 2005B
Rachels, J. The Elements of Moral Philosophy, McGraw-Hill 1993
Small, R. Nietzsche and Ree, OUP 2005
Thiele, L. P. Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of the Soul, Princeton 1990

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