As I was thinking of how to structure this entry, I realized quickly that i was biting off more than I could chew: sometimes philosophy is not well suited to a blog. Be that as it may, and end of the excuses, here goes:
Nietzsche's critique of morality is multifaceted. In the background of this critique, it may be useful to ask just what Nietzsche means (and hence just what do we mean) by the term 'morality.'
First, Nietzsche argues that the notion of choice is essential to any moral scheme. It is because we have a choice in our words and actions that someone else can sit in judgment of our actions, an essential feature of morality. If we were determined, programmed to act as we do, then it seems hard to blame someone for who they are, or for the actions they take. Nietzsche actually uses this straightforward and traditional critique of morality early in his writings, in the Gay Science, for example. There, he assumes that science, with its deterministic view of physical objects, its Newtonian mechanics, and with its view of man as a physical object, shows that morality is an illusion.
In later works, he becomes suspicious of science, too, and comes to see science itself not as vehicle for truth, but just another perspective, deeply rooted in the moral one: the central drive of science is truth, and that is a central focus of the moral view. As he becomes suspicious of truth, he must rethink his argument. But in a different form it appears again in his more mature writings. For example, in The Geneaology of Morals, first essay, section 13, he writes that an object is inseparable from the things that it does, so that it truly is what it does. Only the illusion of grammar, subject and object, makes it seem different. That is why we cannot ask of strength that it not be strong, because to be healthy is to do healthy things, and to be sick is to do sickly things. What you do is what you are. The fiction is that there is a thing-in-itself, or an atom, or some metaphysical posit, that is different from what it does, and hence can do otherwise. This belief is then exploited, Nietzsche writes,
for their own ends and in fact maintain no belief more ardently than the belief that the strong man is free to be weak and the bird of prey the lamb- for thus they gain the right to make the bird of prey accountable for being a bird of prey.Thus, the concept of the soul, of something that can make choices, makes it possible to interpret their weakness, their inability to do something, as a choice.
I think this implies, but for non-scientific reasons, a hard core determinism. We are not determined by the laws of physics and biology, no. But we are what we do, we would not be who we are if we did any differently. If there is no thing that can do otherwise, no agent, then it is hard to see how we have a choice in anything we do. And it is certainly true that Hanno would not be Hanno if he did not do everything that he actually did, and will do. If so, the moral view is incoherent.
A second critique of morality, and the one Nehamas highlights, is that the moral perspective denies that it is a perspective. In that, it holds everyone by the same standard, and demands of everyone that they share the same view. In the same section, 13, Nietzsche uses the metaphor of the lamb and the bird of prey:
That lambs dislike birds of prey does not seem strange: only it gives no grounds for reproaching these birds of prey for bearing off little lambs. And if the lambs say amongst themselves: "These birds of prey are evil; and whoever is least like a bird of prey, but rather its opposite, a lamb- would he not be good?" there is no reason to find fault with this institution of an ideal...This analogy is quite rich, and has been read in different ways. for me, the most important features include first, that just because the lamb creates their value scheme from there own experience is no reason to suppose that those values are in fact universal. Yet morality does just that, demanding that those who do not see the world in that way ought to. And second, that there is nothing wrong in the creation of the lambs value scheme. Given who the lambs are, they are right to form their world view in that way. Indeed, not to do so, not to see the birds of prey as evil, seems crazy. Just do not think that the birds of prey should view themselves in the same way, says Nietzsche. Third, the metaphor shows how the value scheme is created from the weakness of the weak, from the psychological needs of the weak. They are victims, and look at the world as victims. Morality, Nietzsche is saying, is itself a victim mentality, a need for a spiritual revenge, one which is created because actual revenge is impossible precisely because they are lambs.
If he is right, then morality is just a perspective. But the moral view denies this. For Nietzsche, the moral view is also the view of the ascetic, the view that pain and suffering, and the absence of pleasure and living, are good. The ascetic ideal says 'no' to life. Sex is bad. Power is bad. Conflict is bad. Wealth is bad. Meekness, humility, poverty, chastity, these things are good. Nietzsche then associates the values of the monk with the values of morality. We may see that someone like Kant would agree. Morality says 'no' to the desires which make us happy. But the monk, the puritan, the moral crusader, is not content to life his or her life in that way, but demands that everyone ought to live like this, too.
The ascetic ideal has a goal - a goal which is so universal that all other interests in human existence, measured against it, seem small and narrow. It interprets times, people, and humanity unsparingly with this goal in mind. It permits no other interpretation. No other goal counts. It rejects, denies, affirms, and confirms only through its own interpretative meaning (and has there ever been an interpretative system more thoroughly thought through?). It doesn`t submit to any power. By contrast, it believes in its privileged position in relation to all other powers, in its absolutely higher ranking with respect to all other powers. It believes that there is no power on earth which does not have to derive its meaning first from it, a right to exist, a value, as a tool in its own work, as a way and a means to its own goals, to a single goal. . .It insists that it is the truth, and this is part of the world view, the interpretation itself.
Now, if Nietzsche hopes for an alternative, it becomes a key feature that this alternative does not suffer from these properties, and hence will not be morality at all. It will be a value scheme, yes, an interpretation, yes... but not the life killing moral scheme of 'NO!' And it will not sit in judgment of others. It may well be that other views are the product of weakness, of sickness... but they are the values suitable to those people. They cannot do anything else. The lamb cannot cease to be a lamb just because someone tells them she is a product of disease.
I have a third critique of Morality on Nietzsche's view, but this is already too long, so it will have to wait. Till next time.