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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8 Comments »

  1. I agree. Nietzsche is wrong to assign the power of value only to those individuals he deems worthy. Afterall two problems with this are:
    1. Who is he to determine who is worthy or not? What gives him such right?
    2. What choice do you have into what class or group you are born in? Think about this, you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your parents or family.

    Comment by Monica L. — December 11, 2008 @ 7:03 am

  2. MAYBE YOUR WRONG ERIC! haha just kidding and i wanted to comment on atleast one of your blogs before this class came to a complete end…along with you and monica i agree that Nietzsche is wrong by assigning the power of value only to those he thinks are worthy. It is unfair and who is he to say if people are worthy or unworhty of anything. !!!!!!!! I DID IT!! Yayy

    Comment by lizpica9 — December 11, 2008 @ 1:49 pm

  3. Yay for you! 😛

    Comment by ericmassengill — December 11, 2008 @ 10:25 pm

  4. well…I disagree completely with your title and with the other conformists of Eric’s regime. You forget Nietzsche is entitled to free speech as a human(in America I guess since we are discussing him in this great country)and w/e he says doesnt necessarily mean it to be true but give him his most basic right to say it….you cannot judge him on this fact alone…so Hooray for all of us exercising our rights to free speech…YAY as you all put it….

    Comment by D@vid R. — December 13, 2008 @ 12:11 am

  5. hey i commented on the comment you left me. i think that you are right about neitzche, but in some ways it has its appeals. we get disgruntled and are saddened by a number of the population that dont appear to be making good use of their lives, or believe in outrageous ideas. many people find them ignorant and dont want them to do certain things like vote, but there is no way that they can. every four years something like 1% of all votes go to mickey mouse for no reason except that its funny. this is disrepectful to the process of voting, and with Neitzsche they would be excluded. just as homeless would be too. this is why people like it. it appeals to the higher class who see themselves as better than others. it is screwed up, but many believe in it.

    Comment by jeffersson — December 13, 2008 @ 5:51 pm

  6. Are Nietzsche’s ideas really that detestable? He believes that morality should be based on ambition and motivation rather than what he sees as fear. He isn’t necessarily saying religion is based on what class you were born in to, anyone can strive to make something of himself, whatever that may mean to him. But someone who acts based on outside oppression like religion is a slave who is bounded by fear, according to Nietzsche.

    Comment by Mike L — December 13, 2008 @ 8:58 pm

  7. David: Never said he couldn’t say what he was saying, but you have to admit that he basically believes that the “slaves” deserve to be oppressed, and for all you know, you may be a “slave”. He never really establishes a system for determining who is what, and seems to assign it based on whatever he feels like; so, if he thought you were a conformist, he would say you were a “slave”, and what kind of moral theory is that then?

    Mike: Legitimate point, and I actually say that. I don’t detract from Nietzsche for arguing that the motivated are the moral determinants. What I do say is that his argument is sort of arbitrary, based more on criticizing than building a positive moral theory. He provides no real groundwork other than his own judgement for determining who are “slaves” and who are “masters”. He also provides no real argument (as far as I’ve seen) for why it is that “masters” are the moral determinants.

    He also makes a major flaw in logic, because if “masters” determine what is valuable, how does Nietzsche know that “masters” are good (which is essentially what he’s arguing, with all the praise he puts on them – which seems strange in a relativist system of morals, don’t you think)? Even if he is, himself, a “master”, that only makes “masters” good in his sense. What if another “master” determines that “masters” are bad? According to Nietzsche, “masters” shape the world according to themselves, and clearly a world of over competitive abusers of power would be a harsh one to live in, so wouldn’t it be better for a cooperative system of morals, like Christianity, to prevail? And wouldn’t that have to be right, since he is a “master”, and thus a determiner of value?

    Still, I don’t say everything in Nietzsche’s theory is inherently bad, just that it needs to be made less antagonistic, and needs to be rethought into a more logically cohesive and consistent system for it to be of any use (which is ultimately the point of moral philosophy: to determine truth, so that we may better judge and better act).

    Comment by ericmassengill — December 14, 2008 @ 12:07 am

  8. […] for in-class work as well. I’ve found that the camaraderie that forms in a blog group (see these comments for an example of what I mean) translates very nicely into in-class work, and vice […]

    Pingback by Teleogistic / Hub-and-spoke blogging with lots of students — August 20, 2009 @ 9:19 am


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I am a person. I am alive. I am capable of mechanical motion. My respiratory system is functional, as is my digestive, and circulatory system. My neurons operate.

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