Nietzsche attacked traditional ethical theories, especially those rooted in religion. He rejected the view that people are ultimately accountable only to God. He did so because he believed that human life had no moral purpose except for the meaning that human beings gave it.

Nietzsche was extremely critical of most traditional ethics. He called Utilitarianism the “morality of the herd.”  He urged people to make their own moral choices rather than to unthinkingly accept the values of the majority. Nietzsche viewed most ethical ideas as attempts by people to protect themselves against dynamic and powerful individuals.

He rejected Kant’s morality of intentions by stating that the value of any action lay in the unintentional, especially those motives that are below the surface of the conscious mind.

Nietzsche’s new interpretation, which he cast in terms of “will to power,” was linked to a project he called the “revaluation of all values.” It revolved around the ideas of an “enhancement of life” and an attainable “higher humanity.”

Nietzsche’s Two Moralities: Master morality and Slave morality.

  • Slave morality emphasizes compassion, patience and turning the other cheek.
    • Master morality is the morality of the noble individual, who is egoistic, hard, intolerant, but bound by a code to honour his peers. The noble individual defines harm entirely in terms of what is harmful to himself and despises altruism and humility.
    • Slave morality represents the denial of life and Master morality represents the will to power. The will to power is the primal life force whose essence is the overpowering and suppression of what is alien and weaker.

For Nietzsche, the Golden Rule and respect for others were the types of ethical principles that led to the weakening of a society. The drives and energy of the individual, especially the darkness of power of unconscious forces and emotions, must be respected and exalted. He believed that the strong and the determined few in a society were essential for social progress. Conventional morality hampered these essential, superior individuals. The dark, dangerous, and more passionate aspects of human existence must be emphasized.

Criticisms:

  • Nietzsche’s approach is sinister and arrogant.
    • After Nietzsche’s death, some of his ideas were seized by Nazi thinkers. Nietzsche said, for example, that everyone tries to dominate others and that a gifted man – someone he called an “overman” – has the right to step out of the mainstream and create his own moral values. The Nazis used this idea to justify their own idea of an “overrace,” an entire race that was superior to others. As a result, Nietzsche is often unfairly associated with Nazism.
Beyond Good and Evil

Friedrich Nietzsche

To refrain from injuring, abusing, or exploiting one another; to equate another person’s will with our own: in certain crude sense this can develop into good manners between individuals, if preconditions are in place (that is, if the individuals have truly similar strength and standards and if they are united within one single social body). But if we were to try to take this principle further and possibly even make it the basic principle of society, it would immediately be revealed for what it is: a will to deny life, a principle for dissolution and decline. We must think through the reasons for this and resist all sentimental frailty: life itself in its essence means appropriating, injuring, overpowering those who are foreign and weaker; oppression, harshness, forcing one’s own forms on others, incorporation, and at the very least, at the very mildest, exploitation—but why should we keep using this kind of language, that has from time immemorial been infused with a slanderous intent? Even that social body whose individuals, as we have just assumed above, treat one another as equals (this happens in every healthy aristocracy) must itself, if the body is vital and not moribund, do to other bodies everything that the individuals within it refrain from doing to one another: it will have to be the will to power incarnate, it will want to grow, to reach out around itself, pull towards itself, gain the upper hand—not out of some morality or immorality, but because it is alive, and because life simply is the will to power. This, however, more than anything else, is what the common European consciousness resists learning; people everywhere are rhapsodizing, even under the guise of science, about future social conditions that will have lost their ‘exploitative character’—to my ear that sounds as if they were promising to invent a life form that would refrain from all organic functions. ‘Exploitation’—is not part of a decadent or imperfect, primitive society: it is part of the fundamental nature of living things, as its fundamental organic function; it is a consequence of the true will to power, which is simply the will to life.

Assuming that this is innovative as theory—as reality it is the original fact of all history: let us at least be this honest with ourselves!

Taken from Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, translated by Marion Faber (Oxford University Press, 1998).

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