Moral Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1072

Nietzsche argues that the study of moral and religious phenomena can never be the work of a day or a brief season. Modern thinkers can hope only to assemble the necessary evidence, slowly and painstakingly. Their first concern is the statement of a morphology of morality rather than the former ambitious attempt to give a philosophical justification of the derivation of a morality. Only “the collection of the material, the conceptual formalization and arrangement of an enormous field of delicate value-feelings and value-differences that are living, growing, generating others, and perishing” is possible at the present time along with some observations about recurrent features of these value growths. Investigators must know where to look for the proper evidence. For this task, the scientific person lacks the capacities needed for directing the investigations. The scientific person functions best as an instrument—an enormously valuable one. Yet the instrument “belongs in the hands of one who has greater power”—one who commands what uses the instrument shall be put to. Most philosophers also fail to qualify for this kind of moral analysis. The reason is that they have reduced philosophizing to theory of knowledge, which produces a value skepticism when what is required is action—value commanding and value judging.

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The whole problem of understanding moral valuations is reminiscent of the older faith-versus-reason controversy in theology. Does “instinct” (the tendency to act creatively without always knowing how to give reasons for one’s actions) hold a more important place in the subject matter of moral analysis than reasoning (the capacity to give reasons for one’s valuations)? This problem emerges early in the character of Socrates—a philosopher whom Nietzsche admires for his magnificent irony and dialectical skills even though Nietzsche denounces “Socratism,” the dogma that beliefs are valuable only insofar as they are capable of logical justification. Nietzsche considers Socrates a much greater figure than Plato. Socrates knew how to laugh at himself, realizing that his superior powers failed to discover the means by which to justify many beliefs he held important. Plato was more naïve than Socrates. Plato left a moral prejudice that Nietzsche simply rejects: the view that instinct and reason ultimately seek the same end—”God” or “the Good.” Plato, in thus dissolving all that Nietzsche finds fascinating in the faith-reason controversy, made possible a later Christian institutionalization of herd-morality.

Fundamentally, Nietzsche distrusts individuals who venerate reason and deny the value of instinct. He insists that people of action illustrate the gap that exists between those who merely know (intellectually) and those who act. Any existing morality needs a horizon provided by people of action who say: “It shall be thus!” This command source of any morality must itself go unjustified and unquestioned. Any existing morality is in this sense always “problematic.” By this Nietzsche probably meant that after reasons for the existing valuations have been given, there must remain, at last, a self-justifying command for which no further reasons are possible. Indeed, all morality containing progressive aspects stems from an aristocratic type of commanding. Every command requires a commander, some individual who supplies the necessary value horizon that others must simply accept. There can be no objectively grounded perspective of all perspectives. Life as an expanding process requires the cutting off of deliberative procedures at some point.

Nietzsche was willing to accept some of the painful consequences of this view of the command origin of all moral valuations. One consequence is that any existing morality requires sacrifice of numerous individuals and of many nuances of feeling and human tendency. Morality requires the application of command in such a way that not all legitimately natural instincts can find total expression at any one time. It also rests on exploitation as a necessary element in the creation of values. Some instincts must give way to others—and the commanding ones ought to be domineering and aristocratic. There must occur “the forcing of one’s own forms upon something else.”

Nietzsche’s analysis of morality led him to dislike equalitarian democracy and herd-utilitarianism (“the greatest happiness of the greatest number”). An order of rank must exist. Between commander and commanded must arise a social distance based on the former’s greater value. The new philosopher seeking to transform valuations must stand “against his own time”—finding a value standpoint “beyond” the accepted valuations of his own era. To do so requires hardness and patient waiting. Philosophical success is thus partly a result of circumstances beyond any individual philosopher’s control. What his creative response shall be is a function of what the situation is in which he finds himself. In this sense the philosopher must always be a lonely individual, “beyond” the good and evil of conventional morality. This loneliness will produce anguish.

In Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen (1883-1885; Thus Spake Zarathustra, 1896), Nietzsche describes the anguish that results from the discovery that no God is found beyond good and evil. Nor is there a higher, more ultimate Platonic harmony. The new philosopher must learn to embrace existence for its own sake. Nietzsche attempts to express the nature of this love of existence through a doctrine of “eternal recurrence.” The philosopher of existence must say “yes” to reality while knowing that “God is dead.” Any new values that arise in the evolutionary process do so as expressions of people’s self-commanding capacity. Error and pain inevitably and necessarily are aspects of existence. “That everything recurs, is the very nearest approach of a world of Becoming to a world of Being: the height of contemplation,” he wrote in the second volume of Der Wille zur Macht (1901; The Will to Power, 1910), which was published from remaining notes by Nietzsche’s sister. The new philosopher of “beyondness” needs this doctrine of eternal recurrence because the new philosopher must command new values in an existence that expresses the will to power rather than a rational scheme of things.

In Nietzsche’s style one finds a brilliance to match his intellectual daring—a wealth of suggestion, irony, maliciousness, a fine balancing of value antitheses, and playful criticism coupled with the most serious intention. Nietzsche was (as he says all people are) a philosopher who worked from an inner necessity to achieve self-understanding. Of philosophers he wrote: “But fundamentally, way down below’ in us, there is something unteachable, a bedrock of intellectual destiny, of predestined decision, of answers to predestined selected questions.”

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