Eric Massengill's Ethics Class Blog

Nietzsche is Wrong.

December 11, 2008

Nietzsche is wrong to assign the power of value only to those individuals he deems worthy. This breaks one of the most fundamental, fair, and truly rational frames of moral thought: a moral philosophy must be universal, and apply to all individuals equally. This might be avoided if he had a thorough, standard way of determining who has the power of value, but he throws this away in exchange for an arbitrary assignment; he gives moral worth only to those that he likes, and criticizes all those who he doesn’t like, and all their ideas, saying that not only do they have no intellectual worth, but they also have no moral worth.

This stems out of a common problem that occurs with driven, intelligent individuals: why does the rest of the world have to be so dumb, and why does it have to keep me down? Nietzsche, irritated at the unintellectual majority and their frequent oppression of the intellectual minority, has declared that everything they say is wrong. In fact, he falls into the trap of “slave morality”. “They will probably express a pessimistic suspicion about the whole human condition, and they might condemn the human being along with his condition. The slave’s eye does not readily apprehend the virtues of the powerful: he is skeptical and distrustful, he is keenly distrustful of everything that the powerful revere as ‘good’–he would like to convince himself that even their happiness is not genuine. . . . The opposition comes to a head when, in terms of slave morality, a hint of condescension . . . clings even to those whom this morality designates as ‘good’ . . .” (Nietzsche 354). Doesn’t everything he says apply to himself?

He is simply using his moral “philosophy” as a pulpit to berate everyone who irritates him. His moral theory tells us nothing about what specifically any individual should do, how one leaves this “slave” group and becomes a master, how to best live one’s life (he mentions it only in a broad sense of being assertive and self-determinate), what we should do in the face of the immoral; and so, he fails at every metric we have for a moral theory. His theory is rendered useless by his sermonizing and persecutive language. His theory could be salvaged by reworking it into a more positive, productive theory, instead of one whose sole purpose seems to be denigrating the inferior group.

Perhaps he could argue that value, being something inherent in the mind, can only be created by us and cannot exist somehow outside ourselves, like force properties or gravity; but it is not just that, because there are many values we share with animals, and it would seem strange that our animal values would be fundamentally moral. So, the only capacities of humans that can generate moral value are those capacities fundamentally human, which would be our creative capacities: thus, those who can generate moral worth are those who don’t just get by, who just try and live a normal, bland life and then die; they are those who produce, who create, who add to human experience, the artist, inventor, and others who try to do more than simply exist.

By reworking his theory this way, Nietzche would retain some of his primary points (those who are self-reliant and productive are the generaters of moral value, all others just leach, etc.) without succumbing to arbitrariness, and keeping his theory in a logical, not emotional, basis. It is also (at least it seems to me) much more appealing and inclusive, because it gives a clearer window of opportunity for people to move from “slave” to “master”, by trying to become achievers instead of subsisters (which would also be less divisive terms to use, although clearly Nietzche just wants to be a @$$hole and hate on everyone, so he would probably yell at me for suggesting such a thing).

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Aristotle and Murder

December 7, 2008

Actions themselves, according to Aristotle, are not the source of immorality, but the character that commits those actions is. Thus, an action is not judged good or bad based on the action itself, but rather its relation to the virtue of the person commiting it. Aristotle would give two primary reasons why the act of murder is wrong: first, it is an act of bad character, and so certainly the action is performed by a person with bad character, thus the action is not bad but it illustrates the actor’s lack of virtue, which is what we are really punishing; second, regardless of how much virtue or vice a person has, an act of murder is an act of vice, and since virtue is a habbit (as is vice) commiting murder brings a person’s character closer to commiting murder again, since vice, like virtue, is a habbit. Thus murder is only wrong in that it shows the immorality of the character of the person murdering, and in that it increases the vice of the person murdering (since it gets them out of the habbit of not murdering, and increases habbit towards murdering).

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