The last of my sketchy notes from Will to Power (Higgins & Solomon/The Learning Company)…
(I know a few of you are actually following these notes. Please forgive the typos! I’ll eventually clean them up, but I primarily write them for my own understanding and future reference so am not as careful with them as I am other posts. My apologies!)
Nietzsche distinguishes between Morality with a capital M and morality with a lowercase m. Different societies have different moralities which is morality with a lowercase m and in the plural. To have an individual morality is to have a rank order of values.
Morality with a capital M, on the other hand, is Morality in the singular. This understanding of Morality is objective and writ large.
Nietzsche attacks singular Morality. He doesn’t attack individual plural morality.
There are no moral facts There are only moral interpretations of facts. Values are not facts in the world and if one appeals to a morality in which these are supposed to be objective, one is always going to be subverting oneself because this is not the nature of values. (The Commandments/facts about human nature are examples of objectified values.)
Values aren’t “in the world”. But they aren’t subjective or personal, either. The truth is more complicated and Nietzsche saw through this very clearly. He was probably one of the first philosophers to do so. To ask if values are in the world or in us doesn’t make sense.
Hume said the values were in us, not in the world. But Hume admitted that when we are worried about values, morality, human behavior, etc. – the question about whether values are in the world is of no interest whatsoever. This is where Nietzsche picks him up. What matters is is what is valuable for life. We experience the world in value laden terms and there is no way to get beyond that. That’s what makes us who we are. It doesn’t matter if it is subjective or objective. What are the values and how do we negotiate them given that different cultures have different values?
Values are culture specific. Different groups have different senses of morality. One of the big issues in the U.S. is always which of these singular moralities with a lowercase “m” are we going to make binding on everyone as a Morality with a capital M? This is what Nietzsche says we have to reject. We have to reject that values were given to us with a capital M from God.
“Thou shalt not” are prohibitions. Morality is seen in terms of what we should not do. Morality with a capital “M” is negative and prohibitive. God given morality is rejected by Nietzsche because the idea of an externally imposed morality is unnatural. We have to understand morality as coming from us.
The modern and most philosophical notion of Morality with a capital “M” is from Kant. Kant said there was a Moral Law and called it “The Categorical Imperative”. It is a command and it is absolutely unexceptional. “Thou Shalt” – no exceptions. Kant has in mind the singular sense of Morality (capital M).
Kant says that we should “Act always that others should act likewise.” We should ask: “What if everyone were to do what it is I am doing?” When you universalize in this way, you take morality out of experience and now understand it as a product of pure, practical reason. It is a rational phenomenon, not an experiential phenomenon. As you universalize as a test of morality, it becomes a rule for everyone. But this doesn’t work. Applying the rule to everyone almost always benefits some and disadvantages others. Universalization isn’t as fair as Kant wants it to be.
Nietzsche says applying the same rule to everyone destroys the exceptions. Nietzsche is always interested in the exceptions. We each have our own individual moralities. Morality (lower case “m”) must come from within – and those are the values worth defending. This is a defense of life in all it’s various forms. It’s the inclinations which give us morality. It is not a rational enterprise.
But even so, to say inclination is good and rationalism is bad is stupid. Some inclinations are healthy and enhance life. Others are stupid and drag life down. It is life itself that is the value. Life by it’s nature is confusing. It is diverse. The defense of life is a defense of diversity. The defense of the individual is a defense of vitality.
Are our values healthy or sick? Do they support life or drag it down? Nietzsche says externally imposed values are unhealthy. Asceticism is life denying. Rational principals are also life denying because they are externally imposed. Reason is opposed to nature in the way Kant uses reason.
Nietzsche likewise attacks modernity. He saw democracy and socialism as a leveling devices. American consumerism makes us all equal in that we have spending power. But it removes any sense of value but the market value.
Immoralism (Virtue, Self & Selfishness)
Nietzsche was a kind and gentle person. His last sane act was to hug a horse to save it from a beating. Nietzsche rejects morality as something universal. Nietzsche did not kill, steal, or commit adultery. He honored his mother and father. He obeyed the commandments but he objected to the idea that these commandments were externally imposed.
He doesn’t reject the content of the commandments. What he rejects is the idea that breaking the commandments relegates people to the realm of evil. That doesn’t explain anything. that they break the commandments consistently is a psychological, sociological problem.
Nietzsche doesn’t reject rational principals. What he rejects is the rationalization of rationality and morality. Kant separates inclinations from reason and says reason is the realm of morality. But once you do that, once you ascertain a person’s moral worth is based upon the moral law itself, you are pushing out of view the inclinations and saying they don’t matter – that we shouldn’t bother looking at them. This pushes aside the actual motives of our behavior in favor of doing the rational thing. But human beings are rarely motivated by what is reasonable, rational, or moral.
Kant says we are not in a position to know what the motives of our behavior actually are. Freud says philosophers before him introduced the unconsciousness. He just made it scientific. Kant was one of the philosophers he was referring to. In Germany, the idea of unconscious has a long picture of motivation as mysterious. Kant uses the unconscious as a way of remaining oblivious to the motivations Nietzsche wants to expose.
For Nietzsche, a kindly act that is understood as acting on principal may very well be motivated by an urge for superiority, a kind of contempt or self-defense. Kant doesn’t let us see this motivation. Instead he gives us a system of rationalizations.
A principal of morality may be perceived as absolute but it often involves all kinds of fiddling. If you have an abstract moral principal, the application of that principal is going to require some gerrymandering and fiddling to apply to the particular case and then it becomes a rationalization. It operates in such a way that doesn’t require we look at the actual motivations behind our behavior. It is possible to be a good person by not doing anything wrong. The focus is never on what you did wonderful – it’s on what you did or didn’t do wrong. For Nietzsche, this is a definition of the sickly. Being a good person and living a good life on those terms doesn’t amount to living a life at all. Existence requires commitment, passion, vibrancy, adventure.
Modern philosophy thinks of ethics in terms of Kant and John Stuart Mill. Kant represents rational principal; Mill emphasizes the general good. These are essentially the same because they are involved with rational principals.
Jesus present Kant with a moral problem. the temptation of Christ shows a person so perfect where the individual is not at war with universal morality. To say Jesus is a good person does not fit.
What ethics consists of are excellences (this comes from Aristotle). To think in terms of virtues is not about being good or obeying rules. It is about being excellent. To be excellent is to be exceptional – not to be like everyone else, The test of having a virtue is that you enjoy doing it. It’s not about being like everyone else.
Nietzsche the Immoralist; Genealogy of Morals
Even now what is sick may have once served healthy moral values. Morality is not just about doing what you want to do. It must also be noble. Mozart doing what he wants to do is noble because his creation of music benefits everyone.
Master morality is doing what you want to do. Slave morality is not doing what you want to do: asceticism, slavery, etc. It’s also following gurus rather than finding your own way.
Morality with a capital M comes about through slavery and persecution. It is a reaction to Master morality.
The term “good” comes from an ancient root which means warrior. It has to do with confidence and price – self-esteem. “I am my own ideal.” It is about pursuing a sense of excellence which is one’s own and that is what the word good means.
The term “bad”, on the otherhand,’ refers to what is pathetic, failure, weakness, pathos, vulgar, what is unsatisfying. Masters speak in terms of doing what they want to do and following this in a straightforward way. Slaves speak in terms of prohibition. “Thous Shalt Not”…. (Not doing what you want to do.)
Nietzsche considered the original development of slave morality a step in the right direction: “The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives births to values.” The way the masters behave, doing anything they want, is not something to admire. It is something despise . If the slaves were in the role of the master, they would not want to behave in that way. If you make masters evil, you can consider yourself good. This is the opposite of the Master view. Masters view themselves as good without question. People who are different from them are bad (unsatisfied, vulgar, etc.)
Master morality is about good and bad. Slave morality is about good and evil. Slaves have to conclude they are good by seeing someone as worse than them (the Masters). What good amounts to in the slave morality point of view is not directly asserting yourself. It involves having more self-control and they veiw the masters as people who haven’t learned these traits. They haven’t learned to internally disrespect what externally they might go along with. this internal move on the part of the slaves Nietzsche thinks is a brilliant bit of psychology. But the problem is that it later ends up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy that keeps the slave in a secondary position. there is no immediate view of self-worth without the view that someone else is evil.
Nietzsche calls it a transvaluation of values. Evil is doing what those guys do that they think is good. Good is not doing all that. Wealthy is viewed as evil. Strength, power, warrior virtues are flipped and meekness instead is what is seen as virtuous. In modern times, this is like saying ignorance is bliss when knowledge is the virtue of master morality.
How did slave morality become Morality with a capital M? When Constantine converted to Christianity and made Rome a Christian nation around 330 A.D.
Bad consciousness is the twist between master morality and slave morality in all of us. Where both exist, slave morality is likely to take over. Solomon offers an example. Consider a Baboon who exhibits Master Morality. He does whatever it is he wants to do. But he is placed in a zoo and is told stories about the Zoo Keeper who will do horrible things to him if he makes an exception of himself. The Baboon is master of the Baboon world, but the Zoo Keeper will become his Master. This presents a conflict. The Baboon will very likely give in and try and make himself seem like every other Baboon so as not to anger the Zoo Keeper.
Master morality lends itself to a Virtue Ethics. Slave morality lends itself to a Kantian/Judeo-Christian analysis where ethics is understood as universal and the rules are externally imposed and they apply in just the same way to everyone.
Slave morality was originally a good move. But it no longer serves us. Nietzsche doesn’t think we can go back to Master Morality. That’s not possible. But we can move beyond good and evil.
Resentment, Revenge and Justice
The French Ressentiment differs from the English Resentment. Resentment is a much stronger term. Ressentiment means irritation. Resentment seeks revenge. It is a viscous attack. Resentment is a strategy. It turns failure into virtue. It requires putting other people down and getting even with them for their superiority. Resentment is brilliant. The idea is kill someone without them even knowing you killed them.
Revenge is the original meaning of the world justice. Self-revenge is getting even with oneself for doing so well.
As we get used to judging on the basis of negating what is outside of us in order to feel good about ourselves (the blame game), we are constantly at war with ourselves about our excellence. the initially healthy move made by early Christians and Ancient Hebrews of turning the tables on Master Morality has become so internalized that there is almost no way we can get enough support to gain a good opinion of ourselves through our negative views of what is outside of ourselves. We are forced to drag our view down of everyone else in order to make ourselves feel relatively good. But this doesn’t work. It doesn’t provide us with self-esteem.
Nietzsche wages war on guilt and sin. The type of guilt he’s referring to is inward guilt – the belief that we are inherently deficient. Nietzsche says this is an unhealthy way of viewing the self and that it creates resentment.
Sin is judgment from another plane. It is not against oneself or against others but against God. It is impossible to live a sinless life based on the conventional definition of sin. Psychologically what this creates is a need to blame others for our faults.
We are so habituated to the Christian story and we are so obsessed with the need for a God that we will accept anyone who we think adjudicates across the board. This is how Nazism came to power.
Nietzsche calls slaves, not masters, brilliant and strategic. Hegel likewise has Master and Slave switch roles as a battle for recognition. The loser becomes the master slave. The slave becomes creative. The master falls into the slavish dependent position of having to be like others. Nietzsche wants those who are creative and talented but suppressed to turn that around.
Is there a difference between justice and vengeance? Another form of justice is the idea that goods are equally and fairly distributed. Nietzsche has mixed views about justice. He talks about herd morality and uses this term because Herd is considered to be the Christian flock of sheep that are difficult to distinguish but the good shepherd can recognize each individual one. What has happened to this notion of individual differences? Different individuals have different things to contribute to society. But people want to think of justice as an absolute, Nietzsche says it is better to think of justice as personal virtue. Forgiveness is important in this sense, but not as a strategem for getting even. If we have enough going on in our lives, then it becomes easy not to worry about what someone else has done to us.
Will to Power
Solomon and Higgins don’t think Will to Power is central to Nietzsche’s philosophy like other philosophers do. The Will to Power is systematically misleading. Nietzsche doesn’t mean will or power and he probably doesn’t mean “the” or “to”, either.
For Schopenhauer, the will is not individual, it is inside all of us. For Kant, it is individual, but it is external and lies behind our actions. We choose them – we will them. Nietzsche rejects both notions. He maintains Kant’s idea that the will is individualistic, but he rejects the idea of “the will”. He says it is a fiction. Will, in the Kantian sense, is nonsense. There is no agency or force behind “the will”. With Schopenhauer’s understanding, Nietzsche says the idea of a universal will is a metaphysical fiction. Will, for Nietzsche, is really more like motive.
Power is likewise problematic. It is often understood as political or military power. But the term for this in German is “reich”. Nietzsche uses the term “macht” which translates into English as the will to be alive, to feel vital and creative. In this sense, saying “the will” makes no sense. And “to” indicates a goal orientation that Nietzsche rejects. For Nietzsche, “The Will to Power” represents the present – not the future. It is never extinguished. No individual goal can satisfy it. It’s always a drive to enhance vitality and express oneself. The Will to Power cannot be predicted in advance. Any particular goal is a manifestation of The Will to Power. When one goal is fulfilled, another one takes its place.
Life consists of doing what you love. this isn’t imposed on you from the outside. It is discovered by trial and error. If you want to succeed, do what you love. The problem with goal setting is that if you set power as a goal, you make success far less likely. Likewise, to say “I want to be happy” is self-defeating.
Life is a process. It is ongoing. Life is exciting. It is dangerous. It involves taking risks. This thinking is in conflict with Darwin who talks about survival of the fittest. Goals should not be about survival. They should be about being a great “this” or a great “that”. It is the exercise of excellence.
Life is cruel. That’s the way it is. To say we strive for pleasure and an avoidance of pain is likewise a faulty understanding. Creativity doesn’t offer a point of satisfaction. We are desiring creatures. To think in terms of complacency or contentment is to deny the kind of creatures we are.
The Ubermensch is an ideal. It is a full manifestation of “The Will to Power”.
The idea that time repeats itself over and over again is an ancient idea. Time as a wheel was an understanding in Zarathustra’s Persia; the Vedic Philosophy of India, Ancient Greece (through Heraclitus, the Stoics, and the Pythagoreans). But Christian Orthodoxy rejected it. The church insisted that history is linear. The atonement would be a linear event in time. The Church said that there is only one time and it is linear.
In his notes, Nietzsche plays with a proof for Eternal Recurrence. It goes something like this: Time is infinite. there is a finite number of energy packets (energy states) and consequently a finite number of sequences of energy packets. In the infinity of time, the number of sequences is going to have to repeat itself an infinite number of times.
This proof is obviously flawed and Nietzsche never intended to publish it. But that doesn’t mean Nietzsche doesn’t believe in Eternal recurrence.
If you were to take this thought seriously – that your life is going to be repeated an infinite number of times, then the weight it gives to this life and the moments of this life is incalculable compared to the Christian image that this life is but a blink and it is the next life, the eternal life, that gets all the weight.
Milan Kundera in his book The Unbearable Lightness of Being, played with Nietzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence. If events repeat themselves an infinite number of time and consequently have a certain amount of weight because of this repetition, would we be able to tolerate the idea of that much weight on the way we live our lives instead of rationalizing our lives? The rationalization goes like this:
This will be over soon, then I’ll get what I want. If I just put up with the job now, I’ll get the promotion in the future. There is yet another world waiting for me that is more perfect than this one.
What if, instead, we took the moments of our lives seriously?
The Nietzschean alternative to Christian consciousness where we are always looking forward to the next life is this idea of eternal recurrence. We are so used to thinking of life as linear that it is difficult to understand the idea of time as circular in many cultures (current and ancient). The problem is that we can’t know the difference between an occurrence and a recurrence.
There is a deep prejudice against eternal recurrence in the Judeo-Christian world because of the belief in “free will” even though there is some evidence for it in physics. Nietzsche says that the idea of “free will” is often used as and excuse for blame. It leads to a general reinforcement of uglifying the world around you in order to feel good.
Nietzsche thinks our primary freedom is how we deal with internal drives. Freedom is to feel free to actively engage in your life. To deal with life in the present and fully be yourself. This is the only freedom we have and thankfully is the only one we really want because it is readily available to us all the time.
Nietzsche was clear that there is a sense of immortality for those who excel. Not as in an afterlife, but in the same sense Homer is immortal through his works.
Nietzsche gave meaning to his life by doing something that went beyond his life. Becoming who you are doesn’t end in death. Events after death deeply affect one’s flourishing. [Which makes me think of Solomon, who is dead, but here I am watching a lecture by him as though he is alive.]
Nietzsche says “become who you are”. So who does Nietzsche want us to be? He won’t offer concrete advice. Instead he says in The Gay Science: Give style to your character. Love who you are and what you have to work with and make something beautiful out of it.
The slave takes his flaws and turns them into weapons by re-describing them as good. Nietzsche is a sick lonely man. What do you do when you find yourself alienated from other people? Nietzsche gave shape to himself. The man with the mustache becomes irrelevant to the creation Nietzsche has become.
It’s an art of transfiguration. This is about taking your own traits and giving them a setting. Taking the resources you have and creating a masterpiece. Our endowments are not virtues until we figure out a creative way to use them.
The individual plays off other people and vice versa. If we becomes ourselves, we positively affect others.
Solomon and Higgins conclude the lecture with a quote from Nietzsche:
Whoever has really gazed down with an Asiatic and Super-Asiatic eye into the most world denying of all possible modes of thought (beyond good and evil) and no longer, like Buddha and Schopenhauer, under the spell of morality. Perhaps by this very act without really desiring it may have opened himself to this opposite ideal. The ideal of the most high spirited, energetic, world affirming man who has not only come to terms with and assimilated with what it is but wants to have it again as it was and is for all eternity – insatiably calling out, “Once more”.