History of Modern Ethics
Stephen Darwall
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Nietzsche Lecture 2

I. Recall Nietzsche's contrast between good/bad vs. good/evil.

A. Good/bad is tied to the estimable to merit. `Good' is the primary notion, and bad is what is not good.

B. Good/evil are distinctively moral notions. Here the primary notion is that of moral evil. And the morally good is defined as what is not evil. Moreover, moral evil results from an unconscious projection of hostility or hatred. A redefinition of meritorious qualities of strength, power, and vigor as appropriate objects of moral indignation---an impersonal rather than anger or hostility.

II. We can see the difference between ``pre-moral'' and ``moral'' values in what Nietzsche says about punishment.

A. Mill writes, ``We do not call anything wrong unless we mean to imply that a person ought to be punished in some way or other for doing it.'' (Utilitarianism. V. 14) Nietzsche agrees completely. There are nonmoral notions near to the moral idea of punishment, but which nonetheless differ from it in crucial respects. For example, Nietzsche believes there is a ``pre-moral'' idea of compensation for injury that need not involve the distinctive moral notion of culpability or guilt. (GM II.4) And a society can have practices that look much like penal institutions and not have the moral practice of punishment, if their function is entirely deterrence and self-protection. What makes a restriction or sanction a punishment, in the relevant sense, is that it is thought to be deserved because of the person's culpability for some moral wrong. Being deserving of some form of punishment seems, as Mill says, to be part of the very idea of moral guilt and culpability. Similarly, to be strictly considered punishment, a sanction must involve the idea of being deserved by virtue of culpability.

B. We can see this in the emotion of guilt. Consider how you feel and what you feel like doing when you feel guilty. Of course, you feel bad. But don't you also feel as though you should feel bad? As though your feeling bad is deserved? Don't you feel like punishing yourself? Or as though you are punishing yourself? Guilt feelings seem to be punitive in their very nature.

C. Nietzsche believes that punishment of this moral kind depends upon projected hostility. The distinctive character of morality cannot be understood apart from the repressed desire to get back at someone. ``Throughout the greater part of human history punishment was not imposed … on the presupposition that only the guilty should be punished; rather, as parents still punish their children, [it was imposed] from [direct, conscious] anger at some harm or injury, vented on the one who caused it.'' (II.4) What is distinctive about moral punishment is the thought that it is deserved, that owing to the wrongdoer's free choice, she deserves to suffer. This suffering serves as a kind of compensation to the victim. But how can it? ``[T]o what extent can suffering balance debts or guilt? To the extent that to make suffer was in the highest degree pleasurable, to the extent that the injured party exchanged for the loss he had sustained … an extraordinary counterbalancing pleasure.'' (II.6.1) Note that Nietzsche says that the victim's pleasure comes not just in the fact of the wrongdoer's suffering, but in the fact of making the wrongdoer suffer. This is important. The victim takes pleasure in having power over the wrongdoer, in making her suffer just as he had suffered.

D. To serve its function, then, punishment must provide the occasion for pleasure in making another suffer. This confirms Nietzsche in his view that morality is projected hostility. ``The categorical imperative smells of cruelty.'' (II.6.1)

III. In addition to being an ideology, Nietzsche believes that morality is an unhealthy idea. It is born in negative, life-stunting forces. His ethics is a form of perfectionism. What has value is merit and human achievement. We should live our lives, individually and collectively, to achieve the greatest perfection of which we, individually and collectively, are able.

A. Compare Nietzsche here with Mill on higher quality pleasures. Mill argues that some pleasurable experiences are inherently more fulfilling or satisfying. But might that not be because involve the appreciation of another form of value, viz., merit? Consider, for example, the pleasures of significant achievements. Isn't Nietzsche onto something in holding that these pleasures have greater value because they involve the appreciation of one's merit, where the value of merit is independent of the value of happiness?

B. To compare Nietzsche's perfectionism to a moral view, notice the difference between holding that society should assure an equal opportunity for each to pursue the most meritorious life he/she is capable of and that society should be structured to secure the greatest heights of human achievement.

IV. Despite his critique of morality, Nietzsche believes that its coming onto the human scene makes possible a new kind of autonomous person, who can take responsibility for himself by rejecting or transcending morality. ``The ripest fruit is the sovereign individual, like only to himself, liberated again from morality of custom, autonomous and supramoral (for `autonomous' and `moral' are mutually exclusive.'' (II.2.2)

Of course, Kant agrees that for the will to be autonomous it cannot be bound by custom but only by its own law. However, his position is that morality itself is a custom-transcending law that springs equally from the will of each. What is ultimately at issue between Nietzsche and Kant is whether what Kant calls dignity can be reduced to merit. For a perfectionist such as Nietzsche, human beings are worthy of respect, they have dignity, only in proportion to their excellence or merit. According to Kant (and the ideal of morality he espouses), however, there is a ground of respect that depends in no way on merit, not even on moral merit. All persons have value themselves quite apart from the merit of anything they achieve or accomplish. This brings the issue squarely back to what might be the warrant for this idea. Nietzsche argues that it is a projective illusion caused by envy and hatred. Is Nietzsche right that envy and hatred are the source of the idea of equal dignity?

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