I’m reluctant to write on Nietzsche because there is a very high chance that anything I say will be wrong. But what else do I advocate then live and learn, so onward!
Nietzsche is one of the most ambiguous philosophers in existence. He regularly contradicts himself, he criticizes anything and everything, and his work is unsystematic and poetic. These traits can make it quite fun to read his work, but they do not lend themselves to straightforward interpretation. That being said, I do think that I have at least a tenuous grasp of one of his most famous lines of thought – his ideas and conceptions of morality.
Nietzsche is generally considered to be a anti-realist on the subject of morality. He thinks that morality is something that we make up, a non-empirical fantasy. Another way of putting it is that he thinks that you can fully explain someones morality by looking at their lives; our morality are codes that are ‘good’ for us in the sense that they benefit us. Nietzsche rails against ‘slave morality’, slave morality being the moral codes adapted by the herd. This slave morality probably aligns with morality as most north American’s today think of it – be nice to people, be humble, don’t be greedy, etc. In short, it is the morality of the church. Nietzsche thought that this kind of morality was a morality that was good for weak people, and that they used this morality to constrain strong people who would be much better off acting otherwise then dictated by this slave morality. Thus he issued a call to action of sorts. He proposed a different kind of morality, his ‘will to power’.
I’m going to leave aside talking about moral realism for the moment – I’ve touched on the topic several times recently. What I instead want to look at is Nietzsche’s proposed moral system, one that emphasizes greatness over kindness.
Though Nietzsche was proposing this system in opposition to what he perceived to be a majority morality, by my current conception of his system I think that it is much more compelling then many will probably first think. Is it better to live a great life or a kind life? Though I think I’m inclined towards the second, I cannot help but hesitate. Human existence seems like it would be quite bland without excellence (though it would likewise be rather unbearable without kindness). Nietzsche’s system does not eliminate kindness, he is advocating that the great not allow themselves be tied down. Greatness, I must say, has its own unique pull that kindness does not bring to the table. In the end I don’t think I could subscribe to it, but it isn’t a simple choice.
Morality is not usually considered a matter of personal benefit – that is what differentiates Nietzsche’s meta-ethics from more traditional ethics. I think, though, that even within the traditional normative ethics framework there is space to argue the value of greatness.
Let me know what you think,