Thu 31 May, 2012 11:03 am
I'm trying to work my way through Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morality. It's tough slugging, but this is my essential summary of his first treatise. Would anyone be able to comment on the accuracy of it?
A. Nietzsche makes most sense when read in contrast with Hume, the philosopher Nietzsche obliquely refers to as that “English psychologist.”
B. Hume, as Nietzsche writes, presents a psychological account of morality: what we call moral is what was once good for society
a. “‘Originally’ – so they decree – ‘unegoistic actions were praised and called good from the perspective of those to whom they were rendered, hence for whom they were useful; later, one forgot this origin of the praise and, simply because unegoistic actions were as a matter of habit always praised as good, one also felt them to be good – as if they were something good in themselves.’” (10)
C. Nietzsche has two connected problems with this argument
D. First, it is ahistorical; it only considers the present state
a. “Unfortunately, however, it is certain that they lack the historical spirit itself, that they have been left in the lurch precisely by all the good spirits of history! As is simply the age-old practice among philosophers, they all think essentially ahistorically.” (10)
E. Second, because Hume thinks ahistorically, he does not have the ability to offer a normative account; Hume only offers a positive account
F. If, on the other hand, he had provided, like Nietzsche does, an historical account, he would be able to see that the current morality is merely one of the historical moment; and thus would be able to judge it and offer a normative account
G. Thus, Nietzsche is able to judge “the value of these [contemporary] values” by providing a historical genealogy of morality
As I recall, there were several main points of GofM.
One was that morality always involves some sort of a dipole system which distinguishes people on the positive end of the dipole from those on the negative end.
Nietzsche noted that as nearly as he could tell and prior to some point in time, the moral dipole had always and everywhere been high vs low, or noble vs vulgar but that somewhere in the period during which Israel was being ruled by outsiders i.e. between the Babylonian captivity and the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, that old high/low polarity system was lost and replace with a good/evil dipole which Nietzsche claimed was a near total inversion of the old system.
We can in fact see something like that going on today with demoKKKrats and Gaea worshipers trying to create a moral dipole which calls for dynamiting dams and shutting down major agricultural areas for the greater glory of Gaea and the sake of delta smelts and snail darters.
Nietzsche also noted that classical Greeks had always USED their religion in such a way as to minimize feelings of guilt, which he viewed as a good thing, and that was also his main motivation in despising Christianity. The demoKKKrats and Gaea worshipers clearly aren't with Nietzsche on that one, their platform calls for massive and planetary guilt trips and the ultimate sacrifice of 80% of the present human population of the planet to resolve that guilt and appease Gaea.
Two things I like about both Hume and Nietzsche: they were both skeptical about the reality of the ego and they both questioned the reality (not necessarily the utility) of causality as a metaphysical desciption of the world.
By the way, Nietzsche also considered himself a psychologist. He was in fact a precursor of Freud (who plagerized Nietzsche considerably).