Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Nietzsche and Morailty

by Hanno

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.


Anonymous said...

We may see that someone like Kant would agree. Would he? That doesn't sound like the categorical imperative to me...

After all, where would the virtues of chastity and abstinence lead mankind if we ALL practiced them?

I think Kant may have been a bit more Nietzschean than you think... treat others as "ends unto themselves" rather than "a means to an end" (with the exception of "zeroes" - "What? You seek something? You wish to multiply yourself tenfold, a hundredfold? You seek followers? Seek zeros!")

Kant was more of a Rousseauean - Vitam impendere vero kinda guy. If a murderer asked Kant where to find his next victim, Kant would reply with the truth... but only because to do so frees him to live in "perfect liberty".

Hanno said...

Well, Kant is quite clear in his practical ethics that sexual desires pulls man away from his rational control, and reduces him to his animal state. For Kant, that strips him of his special status as rational. And that is for him very very bad. I can give you the citation if you like.

As to what happens to man if we are all as chaste as Kant, that is means to an end type thinking, and not what the categorical imperative is all about. The CI is not 'what would happen to the world if everyone did that' but 'is it consistent for everyone to use your maxim as their own.' It is not the practical result of our actions that count, but instead a logical property of the maxim we use to determine our actions.

ce said...

It is not the practical result of our actions that count, but instead a logical property of the maxim we use to determine our actions. do we construct a maxim?

Hanno said...

Uh, I believe that is Krista's department. Krista?

Anonymous said...

that is means to an end type thinking

You don't think that the categorical imperative serves any ultimate end like ensuring the "self-evidence" of an a priori claim to "right" such as "free will"?

Every man to his own end is perfectly in keeping with Kant's categorical imperative. In fact, ones self-imposed imperatives quickly transform into veritable "duties".

It's when you insist upon forcing others (be it through limited education, deception or force of law) to obey your own self-imposed imperatives that you begin to cross the line of using others as "means to serve your own ends."

One distinguishing difference inherent in morality (as opposed to legality) is that it tennets be strictly "voluntary". Else your moral code largely becomes a legal one (using force as an expedient for implementation) and you become the "blond beast" of "culture" which uses others as its' enforcers.

Hanno said...

Anything that results from the choices we make is prudence, not morality.

Is a kingdom of ends an end? Maybe, but that will not get you what you want, namely that Kant's values are not the anti-life, anti-man moral scheme Nietzsche despises. Kant's view of human nature, the animal side, is precisely the nausea of man that engenders Nietzsche's most vitriolic writings.

Anonymous said...

Erratum - Replace "Every man to his own end" above with "means to an end thinking"

Anonymous said...

Is a kingdom of ends an end?

I don't understand your meaning.

Is that the same as saying, "shouldn't the means and the ends be the same?" to which my reply would be, "Then there would be no generation from opposites."

...and the end of Heraclitian pantha rhei.... union with Plato's 10th motion, the unmovable mover.

Anonymous said...

Was it vitriol or polemic?

Yes, Kant was the ultimate "camel" of Nietzsche's "Three Metamorphoses" but I'm not certain that Nietzsche "despised" all Christian values. I just thought he despised believing that they were the sine qua non of values and his was an attempt at "torpifying" us much as Socrates used a form of moral elenchus that frequently substituted a right-wrong argument for a true-false one and rendered them less distinguishable.

Hanno said...

I think he did despise what he calls Christian morality, and not merely pointing to the notion that there are other value schemes. But i do no think that his conception of Christian morality is a conception that all christians would accept, at least not in this day and age.

We need to get back to old school religion, to the 'hatred of the human' inherent in christian concepts of sin. Lust, for example, "is a degradation of human nature" "that is why we are ashamed of it" "they degrade mankind." "Strict moralists... sought to suppress it..." "sexuality exposes mankind to the dangers of equality with beasts." Kant, Lectures on Ethics.

Kant is horrified by the animal within us. And that is a key part of understanding Nietzsche's reaction, as I hope to show. There is more to the story, and it belongs in the blog proper, not here.

Anonymous said...

I know Nietzsche came from a long line of Protestant preachers (father/ grandfather). I wonder what a student of psychohistory would say... "He hated his father?"

Anonymous said...

He certainly claims to "loathe" Christianity... so you're likely correct in your interpretation.

I loathe Christianity with a deadly loathing because it created sublime words and attitudes in order to deck a revolting truth with all the tawdriness of justice, virtue, and godliness....

Anonymous said...

...but I would have thought that he had "surpassed" the temptation to indulge his final sin.

Zarathustra (ending)

O ye higher men, your distress was it that the old soothsayer foretold to me yester-morn,-

-Unto your distress did he want to seduce and tempt me: 'O Zarathustra,' said he to me, 'I come to seduce thee to thy last sin.'

To my last sin?" cried Zarathustra, and laughed angrily at his own words: "what hath been reserved for me as my last sin?"

-And once more Zarathustra became absorbed in himself, and sat down again on the big stone and meditated. Suddenly he sprang up,-

"Fellow-suffering! Fellow-suffering with the higher men!" he cried out, and his countenance changed into brass. "Well! That- hath had its time!

My suffering and my fellow-suffering- what matter about them! Do I then strive after happiness? I strive after my work!

Well! The lion hath come, my children are nigh, Zarathustra hath grown ripe, mine hour hath come:-

This is my morning, my day beginneth: arise now, arise, thou great noontide!"- -

Thus spake Zarathustra and left his cave, glowing and strong, like a morning sun coming out of gloomy mountains.

After all, that which doesn't kill me, makes me stronger.

Anonymous said...

Kant is horrified by the animal within us.

Wasn't Nietzsche as well? Or is that which stares back at us from the edge of the Nietzsche's abyss the animal within man... a sheep?

Anonymous said...

At least when Freud stared into the abyss, he didn't see a "herd animal" staring back, he saw a "hoard animal". Maybe Nietzsche shouldn't have hated his "primordial father" as much as he seems to have.

Anonymous said...

erratum - "horde animal"

ce said...

After all, that which doesn't kill me, makes me stronger.

That which doesn't kill you, can make you weaker.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like something to avoid in the future, then...

Anonymous said... having too much pity for my parasites.

GoM (2nd Essay)

10 -As it acquires more power, a community no longer considers the crimes of the single individual so serious, because it no longer is entitled to consider him as dangerous and unsettling for the existence of the totality as much as it did before. The wrongdoer is no longer “outlawed” and thrown out, and the common anger is no longer permitted to vent itself on him without restraint to the same extent as earlier— instead the wrongdoer from now on is carefully protected by the community against this anger, especially from that of the immediately injured person, and is taken into protective custody. The compromise with the anger of those particularly affected by the wrong doing, and thus the effort to localize the case and to avert a wider or even a general participation and unrest, the attempts to find equivalents and to settle the whole business (the compositio), above all the desire, appearing with ever-increasing clarity, to consider every crime as, in some sense or other, capable of being paid off, and thus, at least to a certain extent, to separate the criminal and his crime from each other—those are the characteristics stamped more and more clearly on the further development of criminal law. If the power and the self-confidence of a community keep growing, the criminal law also grows constantly milder. Every weakening and deeper jeopardizing of the community brings its harsher forms of criminal law to light once again. The “creditor” has always became proportionally more humane as he has become richer. Finally the amount of his wealth even becomes measured by how much damage he can sustain without suffering from it. It would not be impossible to imagine a society with a consciousness of its own power which allowed itself the most privileged luxury which it can have—letting its criminals go without punishment. “Why should I really bother about my parasites?” it could then say. “May they live and prosper; for that I am still sufficiently strong!” . . . Justice, which started with “Everything is capable of being paid for; everything must be paid off” ends at that point, by shutting its eyes and letting the person incapable of payment go free—it ends, as every good thing on earth ends, by doing away with itself. This self-negation of justice: we know what a beautiful name it calls itself—mercy. It goes without saying that mercy remains the privilege of the most powerful man, or even better, his beyond the law.

Anonymous said...

That which does not kill me keeps me free. The concept we are missing in this conversation is the link from morality to truth and truth to freedom, even if they are each, in some people's views, simply perspectives. I think FJ began going there in his 10/7 posting.

Anonymous said...

It's what Berlin termed "the unavoidability of conflicting ends" or, alternatively, the "incommensurability" of values. He once called this "the only truth which I have ever found out for myself... Some of the Great Goods cannot live together.... We are doomed to choose, and every choice may entail an irreparable loss." In short, it's what Michael Ignatieff summarized as "the tragic nature of choice".


Euripedes "Hecuba" - I may be a slave and weak as well, but the gods are strong, and custom too which prevails o'er them, for by custom it is that we believe in them and set up bounds of right and wrong for our lives. Now if this principle, when referred to thee, is to be set at naught, and they are to escape punishment who murder guests or dare to plunder the temples of gods, then is all fairness in things human at an end.