Morality Monday, May 19 2008 

We have examined how Nietzsche engaged in a critical dialogue in his Beyond Good and Evil; another topic he examines in this ways is morality. “Every morality is, as opposed to laisser aller, a bit of tyranny against ‘nature’” (sec. 188 ) The mention of laisser aller or the freedom to be for we English speakers, emphasizes Nietzsche’s desire to promote what he considers life-affirming. For Nietzsche morality is considered life-denying because it violates the relativity and diversity of life. Moralities impose artificial, homogenous systems of behavior on people that because of cultural, personal, and even spatial distances can never follow them. Further more human nature strains against the bonds of morality, so society breeds obedience into men and corrupts their natural instincts: “obedience has until now been bred and practiced best among humans… Human development has been so strangely restricted… because the herd instinct is inherited best, at the cost of the skill of commanding.” (sec. 199)

Nietzsche identifies the source of the bondage of morality as distinctly Abrahamic. Judeo-Christian values (he does not mention Islam specifically but would certainly include it) have created a climate that distinctly represses: “Their [the Jews’] prophets fused ‘rich’, ‘godless’, ‘evil’, ‘violent’, and ‘sensuous’ into one entity… the slave revolt in morals begins with them.” (sec. 195) In such a system none of the above concepts can be taken on their own merits; all that is possible is a system of binary opposition for “good” things and “evil” ones. Evil things cannot be embraced regardless of context.

Consider, a moment, eating a delicious kabob the vegetables are perfectly roasted, there is a delicate drizzle of sesame oil, and all of the flavors blend perfectly. Yet in the god and evil binary we are considered “sensuous” and by extension evil. We are told to repress our natural reaction to embrace and revel in that experience. In this context it only be denying and debasing ourselves that we can be what they would consider superlative and what Nietzsche would consider herded.

As a result of this position on Judeo-Christian systems we must stop to consider if Nietzsche’s position refers to all moralities or only this sort. The answer, as usual, is yes and also no. Yes because it is hard if not impossible to point to a moral system at this time that does not frame issues in the same kind of binary. Whatever the system we are looking for some bizarre, ethereal good. In philosophy we are told to think toward “higher” forms and to subject the natural workings of our mind to artificial constructions that classify statements with feeling as invalid. Every facet of society is so infected with this thinking that it indeed seems that all moralities do operate in this system. Does that mean, though, that Nietzsche casts the same doubts on all conceivable moralities? Not precisely, because if we can imagine a morality which conformed to a life-furthering model and embraced free human impulses this might be endorsed. But, would such a system be a morality at all or merely life?


What is Noble? Monday, May 19 2008 

Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil expressed his disapproval for what he calls “the slave revolt in morals” as represented in Judeo-Christian morality that created the eponymous binary. If morality condemns natural impulses and represses human freedom what is the proper alternative? What is the way that we can, socially or individually achieve “a good and healthy aristocracy… that…experiences itself not as a function … but as their meaning and highest justification” (sec. 258)? This section Nietzsche’s project is where his strain of perspectivism most shines through. That is not to imply that this means he engages in a sort of reductionist “everything is permitted” egalitarianism, far from it. Those who self-efface, self-destroy will always to Nietzsche be an inferior multitude and those who stand up, command, embrace being will form a community of the noble.

The problem arises in the fact that the great majority conform to mediocrity and slave morality: “The mediocre alone have the prospect of continuing, of having descendants – they are the people of the future, the only survivors. ‘Be like them! Become mediocre!’ will henceforth be the only moral code that still makes sense.’ (sec. 262) The very thing that will perpetuate our civilization as it is will homogenize us to a point of robot-like boredom.

The characteristics that defy this are explicitly laid out: “Signs of nobility: never to think of reducing our duties into duties for everyone; not to want to share or transfer our own responsibility; to count our privileges and their exercise among our duties.” (sec. 272) That last point, to count privileges and their exercise among our duties, is the area most difficult to realize because it is the most removed from our current state of morality.

The noble person in setting himself apart as singular, superlative he necessarily dominates without having to act but rather by being. That also means that the multitudes, trapped in oppressive herd culture, are not necessarily looked down upon. For Nietzsche the aristocrat is to busy looking around and up to bother considering what is beneath them: “Up here the view is clear, the spirit is exalted.’ But there is an opposite kind of person who is likewise at the top and likewise has a clear view—but looks down.’ (sec. 286) This is how Nietzsche distinguishes his ideas from social Darwinism and tyranny. The first type is the noble individual, self-realized and enjoying life. The second we must imagine as someone looking down on those above him—from below.

This sort of person can be pictured as the height of authorized power of the life-denying world. A king or better yet high-priest who demands others deny themselves everything and glorifies himself only in the pleasure of being obeyed without actually being superior. This is who Nietzsche speaks of in a particularly illustrative quote from his unpublished notes:

“But I have found strength where one does not look for it: in simple, mild, and pleasant people, without the least desire to rule—and, conversely, the desire to rule has often appeared to me a sign of inward weakness: they fear their own slave soul and shroud it in a royal cloak (in the end, they still become the slaves of their followers, their fame, etc.). The powerful natures dominate, it is a necessity, they need not lift one finger. Even if, during their lifetime, they bury themselves in a garden house!” (Nachlass, 206)

The Prejudice of Philosophers Monday, May 19 2008 

An important element of Nietzsche’s philosophy as put forward in his Beyond Good and Evil is his critical eye on the philosophy of the past. He makes the point that previous philosophers while claiming to express an objective truth merely stated their preference: “although they all make a lot of virtuous noise when the problem of truthfulness is touched even remotely” (§sec 4) His problem is that philosophers select their conclusions before examining any evidence about the world. Descartes is a perfect example of this behavior. In Meditations Descartes knows that he will eventually conclude that God exists no matter where his methodological skepticism would lead him. To take up arms against this history of fallacious, deceptive thinking Nietzsche adopts a unique style and continues his criticisms against the philosophical tradition.

Do not be mistaken, Nietzsche himself has his own favorite truths for which in Beyond Good and Evil he advocates most rigorously. His system of judgment values philosophies differently: “We do not object to a judgment just because it is false… The question is rather to what extent the judgment furthers life, preserves life” (sec. 4) after all, the great bulk of science is a border of falsehoods that must be reshaped around different possibilities. If he does not object to the falsity it seems a contradiction to his above position. (We will find a great deal of contradictions when dealing with Nietzsche) What is so problematic is the method of arriving at that falsehood and the fact that it is forwarded as truth. How then should one express some notion? Nietzsche’s answer is to merely state one’s position so that is may be evaluated, advocated, or broken. His method for this new style of advocacy is reflected in his chapter of epigrams. These contentions are terse, bold statements which convey a thought with little to nothing devoted to examples or logical arguments. An example that reflects a theme he later develops with some depth: “There is no such thing as moral phenomenona, but only moral interpretation of phenomenona…” (Sec, 108 ) This sort of statement is what Nietzsche believes should be enough for us as an audience. It is a position, bold and to judged on its value rather than meaningless formalism. So then, how is that we can dismantle, or cast doubt upon a statement so atomic other than to simply forward our own disagreement?

For one thing we can ridicule a position. In his criticism of nationalism Nietzsche uses this method with great aplomb. “The most unambiguous signs suggest that Europe wants to be one.” (sec. 256) he says and goes on to point out that in the work of Richard Wagner, a figure whose art was considered to embody the national differences among Europeans, actually shows traits that would be considered most “un-German” by nationalist thinkers. He engages in parody of Wagner’s work to make his point: “—Can this be German? / This fevered shrieking from a German heart? / A German body rends itself apart? /…This nun’s eye-rolling, Ave-churchbell chiming/ The fake-ecstatic pious rhyming?” (sec. 256) If we laugh, if we can see the humor we can therefore see what is humorous about the idea that such art can be considered to have this national characteristic or another. Truly Nietzsche is trying to make “life furthering” assertions and criticisms. To use laughter and one-liners would be unthinkable to most philosophers, but that devotion to mundane language, inane arguments is what makes Nietzsche’s ideas so freeing.