Friday, June 22, 2018

Philippa Foot on Nietzsche’s Immoralism

In her essay, “Nietzsche’s Immoralism,” (Chapter 9; Moral Dilemmas: and other topics in moral philosophy), Philippa Foot is taking Nietzsche to task for his belief that he could discredit morality. She rejects the idea that Nietzsche was preaching in favor of a new morality, insisting that he was against morality as such. Here’s an excerpt:

“Nor was Nietzsche simply a run-of-the-mill moral relativist. He branded as ‘childish’ the idea that no morality can be binding because moral valuations are necessarily different among different nations. So even his arguments for the subjectivity of moral judgement were idiosyncratic. He saw different moralities as determined by the desires and needs of peoples and generations: at one time the need to control aggressive individuals when they were no longer useful in meeting external enemies; in the long reign of Christianity the desire of the weak and ‘misbegotten’ to brand themselves as ‘good’ and those stronger characters, whom they fear, as ‘evil’: in modern Europe the longing of the mediocre ‘to look nobler, more important, more respectable, “divine”’. Throughout all these changes morality was, Nietzsche insisted, fundamentally a subterfuge by which the weak—the members of the herd—tried to dress up their weakness and their fears as ‘goodness’, a device by which they produced self-doubt and a bad conscience in those who, as nobles, had once unquestioningly called themselves good.”

She offers several examples of Nietzsche’s attack on morality and the philosophical license that he willingly grants to injustice. She points out that because of Nietzsche’s insistence that here are no kinds of actions that are good or bad in themselves, it has become possible for the most flagrant acts of injustice to escape being called evil in themselves. She does not use her own words to accuse Nietzsche of making the Nazis possible, but she produces a quote from Thomas Mann to make that suggestion. Mann said in 1947: “How bound in time, how theoretical too, how inexperienced does Nietzsche’s romanticizing about wickedness appear… today! We have learned to know it in all its miserableness.”

She goes on to question Nietzsche’s capabilities as a psychologist and a philosopher. “Nietzsche saw himself as a wonderful psychologist, but the truth is that he was partly a wonderful psychologist and partly a mere speculating philosopher far exceeding any plausible basis for his speculations.” To those who rise up to defend Nietzsche, she says: "Nietzsche's defenders are like those who say of Wagner that he is better than he sounds." However, she holds that the analytic philosophers must read Nietzsche because he has a capacity to stretch philosophical imagination. It is also important, she insists, to criticize Nietzsche’s ideas from the point of view of philosophical argument and truth. She points out that it is from the objective of criticizing Nietzsche that she has written this essay.

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