Postscript to Nietzsche

Here are a couple of good examples of what Nietzsche, at times, I think was speaking to.  This writer I think gets it; but this one -probably not.  Neither talks of Nietzsche, but they don’t need to, they serve to make his points.  Both these pieces give us a glimpse into the depth of Nietzsche’s critique, or at least, its reach.
The first writer knows one cannot simply use language that is categorized as “moral”; there has to be something to which the language points and it can’t simply point back to the person making the claim.  If it does, then there is no need for moral language, we could simply say, “because I say so.”  In fact, this is what Nietzsche really thought we were always doing when making ethical claims; the appeals to God, Reason, or science were psychological cover, our nod to cultural form and decorum lest we embarrass ourselves.  He looked for the day when the “overman” could shamelessly appeal to his appetite and will-to-power and nothing else, because there was nothing else to appeal to.  And the writer sees that one cannot reduce everything to “economics” or the material if one wants to then make ethical or moral appeals.
“But liberals and progressives are religio-phobic, believe that talk of love and caring is mere psycho-babble, and hence cede to the Right the values issues rather than providing an alternative set of values in which love and generosity and caring for the Earth would take center place.”
He goes on to talk about the spiritual.  He knows there has to be something to appeal to beyond power, which is all one is left with if there is only the physical/material.

This is something that secular, liberal, progressives still do not understand.  They think Nietzsche’s critique only went to “religious” or “spiritual” ethical or moral teachings and practices.  That he simply took the source of morality and ethics (God) and placed it back upon us, with humans.  That is true, but it doesn’t go far enough.  In placing it back with us, he then made the logical step that in doing such, it made morality and ethics disappear with the only thing remaining to be power backed by law (sometimes, sometimes not).  And thus the law becomes whatever the powerful say it is.  The second writer, in my view, makes the very error Nietzsche was speaking to.

I’m not commenting on the issues either writer is addressing but clearly both fall on the Left, liberal, progressive side of the spectrum.  We need to see that Nietzsche is also addressing someone like the second writer when she notes:
“That’s the problem. Just because someone, somewhere has said something is legal, that doesn’t make it right.”
But to what can she appeal to as to what is “right”?  Reason?  No, the people on the complete opposite side of this issue are reasonable people, educated, and who can make reasonable arguments for their side and do all the time.  Besides, whose reason (as Macintyre famously asked)?  Who gets to decide what “reason” means—and to what do they appeal to, to then tell us what reason means, without begging the very question?  Keep pealing back the onion and you finally get to the core of…nothing…only power, pure assertion.  Can she appeal to science?  No, science is silent as to this issue.  Can she appeal to the Constitution?  She can appeal to a certain reading of it, but if the court disagrees with her, what then?  She throws the word “right” out there like we all should know what it is.  She seems to be appealing to some objective measure or standard, out there, somewhere.  But where?  If there is no God, no spirit, no transcendence, then the appeal can only be to law, not some ethereal something called “right”.  And here, the law is against her.  What now?
Here is the modern dilemma.  Here is where Nietzsche was a prophet—he saw this day coming.  He knew that once God is dead, only power is operative making terms like “good” “right” “evil” “wrong” “fair” and “justice” empty and meaningless arrangements of letters on a page or sounds we form and utter, but might as well be yawns or unintelligible mutterings—there is no content or referent beyond our own subjective appetite or neuronal firings.  Whether this is happening individually or collectively doesn’t matter.  Beyond scale, there is no real difference between one bully or twelve, between a judge operating out of this understanding or a mass of rioters.  How do we now appeal to anything beyond saying, “Because I say so, and I have more power than you do”?  Imagine: the narrative of the world is now one of an eternal cycle of violence, not that there hasn’t always been violence, but now it is seen (provided by the Enlightenment lens, see Hobbs) as the norm, the very fabric and eternal logic of existence.  
So, if one wants to know how we have come to a world controlled by corporations, the military/industrial complex, money/resources, the supposed pure logic of economics, and media (not churches, synagogues, or mosques—which isn’t to say they should be in control—but let’s put the spotlight on those entities actually in control) one need look no further than Nietzsche.
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106 Responses to Postscript to Nietzsche

  1. Hi Darrell

    I understand you think there is a difference. You keep telling me there is a difference. I can not, however, find any substantive difference in what you say.

    You have a subjective assessment of what does and does not constitute the objective moral truth.

    I have a subjective assessment of what I consider desirable and undesirable.

    We both act according to these subjective assessments. We might both even be able to think of extreme cases where we might use violence to promote our beliefs (I imagine I would act violently towards somebody who would otherwise kill my family, for instance).

    We are both acting according to our subjective assessment of the situation, knowing full well others assess things differently.

    Where is the difference, beyond the fact that we would use a different word to describe our actions? You say the difference is huge, but the difference you show is one of labeling, rather than one of action. In practical terms, our actions and assessments may well be identical.

    Bernard

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  2. Darrell

    Sorry, didn't see the add-on question.

    I'm not sure I do share Nietzsche's premise. I'm agnostic on the existence of moral truths. I'm not sure we reach different conclusions, as I can't find a tight definition of will to power. If we did reach different logical conclusions from shared premises, I would conclude one of us had made an error.

    Bernard

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  3. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “You have a subjective assessment of what does and does not constitute the objective moral truth.”

    Wrong. I’m not talking about what constitutes an objective moral truth. I’m talking about the fact there is a difference between appealing to one’s internal, subjective, personal psychological emotions and appealing to something completely outside one’s emotions and feelings. There is a huge difference here. An example: Forgiveness. When someone hurts us and our desires, our wills, our emotions tell us to retaliate and hurt this person back, an appeal to an objective life and teaching has often prevented such and even allowed the forgiveness of enemies.

    Or just take a very common idea. There is a huge difference between the family of a murdered member of that family storming the jail, dragging the suspect out into the street and hanging him. It was their subjective desire to do so. But we appeal to an objective law, something outside their subjective wills and desires to decide these matters. Now, let's imagine you don't believe in this thing called “law.” We get that–we're not trying to prove there in an objective referent–we are just saying there is a huge difference between the subjective desires of the lynch mob and the objective law. What is hard about seeing that?

    “I have a subjective assessment of what I consider desirable and undesirable.”

    Yes, and so did Hitler and so does the Taliban—why are your desires and emotions more valid or important than theirs? What is hard to see about this dilemma? And if you resort to violence it will be because you thought your desires and emotions were the more valid, the more significant. If at the end of the day, all you can say is, “Well, that is what I desired” then we are talking about nothing but power. Isn't this what every criminal basically says to us?

    “Where is the difference, beyond the fact that we would use a different word to describe our actions?”

    But we don’t use different words. We use the same words, but when you use them they just mean, “I’m feeling a certain way right now.” When I use them, I’m saying something is right or wrong regardless of how I “feel” about it.

    “You say the difference is huge, but the difference you show is one of labeling, rather than one of action. In practical terms, our actions and assessments may well be identical.”

    It is not labeling at all, it is the content and meaning of the words themselves. I disagree. Historically, we don’t see your belief, Nietzsche’s belief, working to change the “is” to the “ought” so it does have practical implications. We see movements pointing to something greater than themselves or their emotions.

    I think I’m with Ron here; I've made this as plain as I can. You disagree or can’t see what I’m saying. Time to move on.

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  4. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    “I'm not sure I do share Nietzsche's premise. I'm agnostic on the existence of moral truths. I'm not sure we reach different conclusions, as I can't find a tight definition of will to power. If we did reach different logical conclusions from shared premises, I would conclude one of us had made an error.”

    You both share the premise there either is no objective morality or if there is we can’t know or don’t know what it is. Either way, it would lead to exactly what you are arguing, which is that morality is just our subjective personal desires (that is what Nietzsche thought too). But you disagree that such leads to everything coming down to power, as Nietzsche did.

    Same premise, different conclusions as to what that premise logically entails.

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  5. Hi Darrell

    I'm not sure this is what Nietzsche is claiming, now that I've begun looking into that, but I'll keep digging around.

    You ask why my emotions are more valid than the Taliban's. Well, in point of fact, the Taliban believe, like you, in objective moral truths. So the question becomes the same. Why is your assessment of what is right more valid than theirs? The same problem presents itself, whether we believe we are acting from our desire, or from our sense of what is right.

    Ditto vengeance. I have no sense of having access to moral truths, yet am not, by nature, vengeful. Without going into details, I've experienced having somebody who once lived with my family murdered, and had no desire to see then perpetrator harmed.

    And, again, many religious traditions have appealed to vengeful Gods, and hence many who believe in objective moral truths would wish to see the criminal stoned, beheaded etc, because they believe it is morally right.

    What we do not appear to be able to do is make a direct causal link between belief in moral truth, and subsequent behaviour. Just as desires vary across times, cultures and individuals, so too do beliefs regarding the nature of moral truths. Our challenge, in building societies, is to find ways to negotiate these differences, without letting go of what is precious to us (be that personal belief or desire). This is equally true for believers and non-believers alike.

    To suggest, in the case of the non-believer, power is a more important factor, requires an argument, rather than an assertion.

    Bernard

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  6. Darrell says:

    Asked and answered…already addressed–see earlier responses. Time to move on.

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