This commentary is part of The Atlas Society's 2000 online "CyberSeminar" entitled " Nietzsche and Objectivism ."

All of the reviewers/commentators so far have taken for granted that Nietzsche upholds, or seeks to find, a moral code which he would accept as proper or valid. It may be that he does; I myself have as yet read very little of Nietzsche and so am not necessarily in a good position to know. Still, it has seemed to me from the beginning that Nietzsche is challenging the very idea of a moral code, or at least certain essential aspects of that idea, and that he is not interested in finding the “right” master morality with which to replace contemporary mores. In what follows I shall make a case for this claim.

Nietzsche never speaks, in what I have read, of the need to find a proper morality--which you would expect him to do if he were really a moralist.

“Morality seems bound up with obligation, with codes and rules, and somehow I don’t see the ‘blond beasts of prey’ kowtowing to rules (any more than to a social contract)” (GM ii.17).

Nietzsche explains that morality is always just an interpretation.

In this connection it is worth looking at a very valuable passage, pointed out by Jason Ticknor-Schwob , in Twilight of the Idols, “The ‘Improvers’ of Mankind.” The passage contains, what I wouldn’t have thought possible, a discussion of a master morality of which Nietzsche disapproves. This is the Hindu moral code as presented in the book of Manu. It is undeniably master morality insofar as it imposes a hierarchical (“caste”) system upon the lower orders by the higher. Yet this particular code attempts to breed the four castes as separate races and therefore looks with abhorrence upon any interbreeding between castes. The children of such interbreeding, “chandalas,” are treated abominably in an attempt to expunge them from society, and Nietzsche finds this bad--though what grounds he has for disapproval elude me. So it is only one aspect of this master morality--its breeding program--Nietzsche disapproves of; and it is interesting to see a categorical statement from Nietzsche against the concept of “pure blood.”

Most interesting of all, though, is the point of the passage as a whole, which is that “there are altogether no moral facts” (1). Nietzsche explains that morality is always just an interpretation, a cultural attitude reified into truth. This fits well with the doctrine of GM Essay 1 that morals are the expression of the various psychologies that give rise to them. No morality, including Nietzsche’s, or any that some future Zarathustra might come up with, has any reality beyond the prejudice of its exponents. (As such it may still be perhaps a “morality,” but not such as to have a claim on anyone who lacks the relevant prejudices.)

But, finally, and moreover, Nietzsche seems fundamentally uninterested in discovering rules or guidelines for the improvement or best conduct of modern people. Rather, what he is interested in is getting better people. His focus seems to be on a future man, not on present conduct.

Kevin Hill wrote:

Does Nietzsche seek a moral code? What are we to make of his remarks that seem to suggest that he rejects the very idea of a moral code?

Part of what Nietzsche objects to in moral codes previously is that while they can be construed as tools for achieving certain kinds of results, no moral code construes itself that way. When Nietzsche uses the word “moral” he *means* “a code which regards itself as requiring something absolutely, and not as a means to some other end.” So on this intrinsicist construal of the concept of morality, Rand would also be rejecting “morality.” (Note how Nietzsche’s account of what morality *is* resembles Kant’s, though Nietzsche rejects what Kant accepts here).

“Morality seems bound up with obligation, with codes and rules, and somehow I don’t see the ‘blond beasts of prey’ kowtowing to rules (any more than to a social contract)” (GM ii.17).

The paradigm of “master morality”: the Romans (GM I.16). And they have a very lively appreciation of property rights, rules, obligations, etc., as Nietzsche knew well (the entire American political system could be said to be a further development of the Roman Republican model). Masters also “show themselves so resourceful in consideration, self-control, delicacy, loyalty, pride and friendship” and it is only when they “go outside [the community]” that they become “not much better than uncaged beasts of prey” (GM I.11). Nietzsche even goes so far as to say that the very ideas of law and justice are “master” ideas (GM II.11). The reference to the social contract here claims, along with Hume, that the social contract cannot explain the historical *origin* of the *state*. It does not imply that among masters there can be no contracts or rules.

“In this connection it is worth looking at a very valuable passage, pointed out by Jason Ticknor-Schwob, in Twilight of the Idols, “The ‘Improvers’ of Mankind.”

This points to a danger in reading GM--to assume that because Nietzsche is for X, Y, and Z that X, Y, and Z are features or aspects of the same thing, while because Nietzsche disapproves of A, B, and C, A, B, and C must be features of some other one thing. But as Nietzsche makes clear in GM I, there are *two* different varieties of master morality: “knightly” and “priestly” (GM I.6-7), though our priest-masters contrived slave morality and used it to prevail. But not all priests create and use slave morality: the Hindu Brahmins, for example, did not. So it is important to not miss the *complexity* of the analysis and resist the temptation to reduce it to two columns.

“Most interesting of all, though, is the point of the passage as a whole, which is that ‘there are altogether no moral facts’” (1).

Again, I think that this is best understood as “there are no irreducible, independent of consequence, or function absolute obligations.” That leaves open the possibility that certain rules might be useful for generating certain results (including certain kinds of people), the value of which may very well be “objective.”

“But, finally, and moreover, Nietzsche seems fundamentally uninterested in discovering rules or guidelines for the improvement or best conduct of modern people. Rather, what he is interested in is getting better people.”

This is a false alternative: if your goal is to get better people, and all you have to work with are modern people, then you would want rules that would, when followed by *some* modern people, increase the likelihood of the production of better people. The importance of a discipline to get this result is suggested in Zarathustra’s Prologue, as well as in BGE 188. Present conduct produces the future man.

David L. Potts wrote:

Kevin writes: “‘But, finally, and moreover, Nietzsche seems fundamentally uninterested in discovering rules or guidelines for the improvement or best conduct of modern people. Rather, what he is interested in is getting better people.’ This is a false alternative: if your goal is to get better people, and all  you have to work with are modern people, then you would want rules that  would, when followed by *some* modern people, increase the likelihood of the  production of better people. The importance of a discipline to get this  result is suggested in Zarathustra’s Prologue, as well as in BGE 188. Present conduct produces the future man.”

I didn’t present an “alternative” or suggest that the two goals are mutually exclusive. I asserted that Nietzsche as a matter of fact is interested in one thing and not in another. Whether my assertion is really true I hope to discover in time. As my reading continues, however, I have still found no reason to doubt it. Certainly there is nothing in BGE 188 to suggest that Nietzsche thinks that some one code of virtues or morals is better than any other--for producing the better people of the future or for any other reason--or even that virtue per se is better for producing better people than any other form of “slavery.” Indeed, this whole passage rather supports my point that what Nietzsche seems interested in is promoting the development of better people, without regard to any specific morality or even type of morality. (As for “Zarathustra's Prologue,” its relevance to your point escapes me, I’m afraid.)

Let me recapitulate--if possible with greater clarity--the three reasons I gave in my original post to doubt that Nietzsche is looking for the “right” master morality. First, an “empirical” reason: we don’t see him moralize. Moralists articulate specific moral guidelines, search for moral truths, attempt to define moral terms, examine problem cases to determine appropriate courses of action and test the adequacy of their prescriptions, offer codes of virtues, and the like. Nietzsche does none of this.

Second, he says that morals are expressions of the psychologies of the people who characteristically hold them (e.g., GM i.2, 10; BGE 260). This implies that morals are effects, not causes. It doesn’t look like one gets to be noble by adhering to the right code; rather, if one is noble then eo ipso one’s code becomes right.

Finally, following codes just isn’t in the masters’ line. The masters create values. This means both that they create social standards and codes, which they impose on the “herd” (GM ii.17-18), and also that they create their own values. It’s not that they have no virtues or duties, but they have their own, even personal duties (cf. BGE 272). Being the result of uniquely creative acts, these values/duties necessarily vary from one master to another and from one generation to another. And obviously, they cannot be anticipated. If so, there can never be a recommended code of master morality.

Thomas Gramstad wrote:

David Potts wrote: “Let me recapitulate--if possible with greater clarity--the three reasons I gave in my original post to doubt that Nietzsche is looking for the ‘right’ master morality. First, an ‘empirical’ reason: we don’t see him moralize. Moralists articulate specific moral guidelines, search for moral truths, attempt to define moral terms, examine problem cases to determine appropriate courses of action and test the adequacy of their prescriptions, offer codes of virtues, and the like. Nietzsche does none of this.”

Aside from Nietzsche’s resistance against universal codes and rules, there is also the issue that he wants people to choose, develop and expand healthy, vital instincts, so that people can function and make decisions swiftly and automatically by relying on their (healthy and vital) subconscious. This raises the interesting question: Can there be subconscious moralities?

Even if one decides that a subconscious act or decision process itself cannot be designated as a moral decision or choice, there still remains the issue of deliberate “training” and directing of the subconscious. When this training/directing is done deliberately, i.e., consciously, in order to reach certain moral ends and as a means of implementing a decision process, then this seems to qualify as a morality.

“Second, he says that morals are expressions of the psychologies of the people who characteristically hold them (e.g., GM i.2, 10; BGE 260). This implies that morals are effects, not causes. It doesn’t look like one gets to be noble by adhering to the right code; rather, if one is noble then eo ipso one’s code becomes right.”

I disagree with this. The third possibility is that it’s not the one or the other, but instead is a complex, mutual, bicausal relationship: both the code and the self have causal properties, and they also each have effects caused by the other. The self must choose and embrace the code; then the code can influence the self; the changed self must continue to choose and embrace the code, and so forth. Also, a malevolent self can corrupt the code, or a benevolent self may correct weaknesses in the code and develop it further.

“Finally, following codes just isn’t in the masters’ line. The masters create values. This means both that they create social standards and codes, which they impose on the ‘herd’” (GM ii.17-18).

I think that’s a historical description of how things used to work. Nietzsche’s personal view is that the Free Spirit, or child stage, or creator, has no need to impose anything on other people, but is self-sufficient. Don’t have the books here now, but this point is also made in online sources. If others will follow, they follow. If they want to do their own thing, they do their own thing.

“and also that they create their own values. It’s not that they have no virtues or duties, but they have their own, even personal duties (cf. BGE 272). Being the result of uniquely creative acts, these values/duties necessarily vary from one master to another and from one generation to another. And obviously, they cannot be anticipated. If so, there can never be a recommended code of master morality.”

But even then there could be social practices, customs, and institutions teaching how to, say, train one’s subconscious; how to develop and vitalize one’s instincts; how to build and exercise courage; how to incorporate habits that aid the accomplishment of these ends; and so forth.

Besides, even if everybody had their own master/creator code, there would still be similarities, based on the fact that they are still all the same species, homo sapiens. There wouldn’t suddenly arise Martian or Alpha Centaurian mutant master moralities out of nowhere.  

Thomas Gramstad wrote:

David Potts wrote:

“Does Nietzsche Believe in Morality?

“...Nietzsche never speaks, in what I have read, of the need to find a proper morality--which you would expect him to do if he were really a moralist.  

“‘Morality seems bound up with obligation, with codes and rules, and somehow I don’t see the “blond beasts of prey” kowtowing to rules (any more than to a social contract)’ (GM ii.17).

“…Most interesting of all, though, is the point of the passage as a whole, which is that ‘there are altogether no moral facts’ (1). Nietzsche explains that morality is always just an interpretation, a cultural attitude reified into truth. This fits well with the doctrine of GM Essay 1 that morals are the expression of the various psychologies that give rise to them. No morality, including Nietzsche’s, or any that some future Zarathustra might come up with, has any reality beyond the prejudice of its exponents. (As such it may still be perhaps a ‘morality,’ but not such as to have a claim on anyone who lacks the relevant prejudices.)”

This raises the question, “What is a morality?” and also, “What was Nietzsche’s context, what was he reacting against?” Nietzsche was reacting against the universal Reason of Hegel (as opposed to an individual and situated reason, such as we find in Rand) and the universal collectivist altruism associated with universal Reason (which found its ultimate expression in Kant’s ethics). So, for Nietzsche, morality meant universal codes and rules, independent of individual contexts and purposes. This is what he rejected and rebelled against (and so far Rand agrees and did the same).

This is not the morality concept that we find in Rand, but it is also not the morality concept that the ancients (Greeks and Romans) had, they had a more individualist but also aristocratic and elitist morality. In other words, one may get the idea from the ancients, as Nietzsche must have done, that one can have moralities that are not for all. One can have moralities that apply to just a few select people, perhaps even a morality only for one person, oneself. These aristocrat elitist (master) moralities are, or at least can be, moralities without moralism. A

nd this may explain why Nietzsche did not look for moral rules for everyone, and was not a moralist--and why this by itself does not disqualify him from having a morality.

I’m not saying that Nietzsche necessarily had a morality, only that this question cannot be settled by the method and type of questions/arguments used by David above.

David L. Potts wrote:

Thomas Gramstad writes: “Aside from Nietzsche’s resistance against universal codes and rules, there is also the issue that he wants people to choose, develop and expand healthy, vital instincts, so that people can function and make decisions swiftly and automatically by relying on their (healthy and vital) subconscious. This raises the interesting question: Can there be subconscious moralities?”

Surely not. A moral code is a code. The whole idea is to find principles for conduct. The possibility that a person’s subconscious could be trained, by somebody else, say, to function better or to achieve proper ends, does not avoid the problem. The question simply becomes what the training or the ideal subconscious functioning ought to be. The answer must make reference to principles. If Nietzsche is not searching for, articulating, defining, testing such principles, then he is not doing the work of a moralist.

I appreciate the counterintuitiveness of saying that Nietzsche, who talks constantly about morality, and who continually judges and evaluates, was uninterested in articulating a proper moral code. But I have already given my reasons for thinking it true.

But let me raise a point against my own view. It is true that in some passages Nietzsche sounds pretty relativistic. Cf. BGE 260 on master and slave moralities, or the analogy of the large birds of prey and the little lambs (GM i.13); in these passages Nietzsche conspicuously fails to present these moralities, including the masters’, as anything more than codifications of the interests and prejudices of their respective proponents. Still, to set Nietzsche down as simply a relativist is surely a mistake. For he seems to have a small set of what we might call “metavalues,” by which he seems to assess moral codes. These would include health (e.g., GM iii.14), strength (e.g., BGE 62), and life (GM Preface 5). These are values Nietzsche never treats as arbitrary and which he assumes his men of the future will vindicate (GM ii.24; cf. BGE 44, 203). Perhaps these, then, might form at least the core or the basis of a morality.

Why then doesn’t Nietzsche defend these “metavalues” explicitly and try to build a moral code upon them? I suspect the answer is that a philosopher who holds that even the laws of physics are merely interpretations, not matters of fact (BGE 22), that even causation per se is something we have no objective, rational basis to believe in (BGE 21), is in no position to claim that health is an objective value.

I wonder also whether being in a jam this severe isn’t the reason he pins his hopes on “philosophers of the future,” whose “‘knowing’ is creating, their creating is a legislation” (BGE 211, emphasis original). If this is so, then we should take Nietzsche at his word when he denies (BGE 44) being himself one of the “new philosophers” who will revalue all values (BGE 203). If it isn’t only God but also truth (the worth of truth) in which we can no longer believe (GM iii.27), we will require a very radical new beginning indeed--and I am suggesting Nietzsche admits he doesn’t have it.

David L. Potts wrote:

Kevin Hill writes: “The paradigm of ‘master morality’: the Romans (GM I.16). And they have a very lively appreciation of property rights, rules, obligations, etc., as Nietzsche knew well. Masters also ‘show themselves so resourceful in consideration, self-control, delicacy, loyalty, pride and friendship’ and it is only when they ‘go outside [the community]’ that they become ‘not much better than uncaged beats of prey’ (GM I.11).

It is important to be clear that Nietzsche himself does not attribute to the Romans a lively appreciation for rules. Rather, the Romans’ putative appreciation for rules is something Kevin is saying Nietzsche would have been happy to acknowledge as a master race characteristic. But even if he would have acknowledged it, the question remains what grounds Nietzsche could adduce for doing so.

This raises the question of how it is possible, within Nietzsche’s “system,” for the masters to be social animals. The masters after all are aggressive, dynamic, spontaneous, free, strong, and willful. Therefore, being considerate, self-controlled, delicate, and friendly would seem to be out of character. Moreover, he says outright that “the confines of society and peace” (GM ii.16), by forcing us to internalize our innate and universal animosity, cruelty, and urge for destruction, are the source of bad conscience. How then can it be possible for the masters to avoid bad conscience?

The first part of the answer seems to be that the masters cannot be entirely comfortable in society. The blond beast of prey is not vanquished but still lurks in the hearts of the “noble races” even today, and it “needs release from time to time, the beast must out again, must return to the wild” (GM i.11), as a result of which we must continually fear the master races and what they might do.

But how can the masters get along between themselves? The answer seems to be that there is a natural sort of good will between persons whose power is roughly equal (GM ii.8; BGE 259, 265). To injure, exploit, commit violence upon one’s true peers, it seems, lacks “good manners” (BGE 259). But this cannot be a universal arrangement. The strong, even in society, must violate and brutalize other people in order to stay living and vital, since that is the principle of life.

So the answer to the question how the masters can be civil is, first, that they can’t, entirely, though they try, and second, that their civility is extended mainly only to one another, out of their sense of decorum.

But where does this sense of decorum come from? Nietzsche’s answer is that the reverence which each master feels for himself is extended by a sort of sympathetic reaction to others of his own rank (BGE 265). As to the plausibility of this, I suppose it depends on how reasonable you think it is to suppose (BGE 260, 263) that “reverence” is a characteristic master emotion.

Thomas Gramstad wrote:

David Potts wrote: “But where does this sense of decorum come from? Nietzsche’s answer is that the reverence which each master feels for himself is extended by a sort of sympathetic reaction to others of his own rank (BGE 265). As to the plausibility of this, I suppose it depends on how reasonable you think it is to suppose (BGE 260, 263) that ‘reverence’ is a characteristic master emotion.”

...and that depends on how reasonable you think it is to suppose that masters are violent blond beasts.

David L. Potts wrote:

I think David and I were talking past each other--there’s very little to disagree with in his post as I see it. The Roman appreciation for order, courtesy, etc., while avoiding the bad conscience, is possible, on Nietzsche’s view, precisely because the aggressive stuff finds outlet elsewhere--in war, pillage, etc. So I think he would say that to maintain the internal structure, with its partially attractive features, the system as a whole must be constantly expanding through conquest, with all the unattractive features of that. I was not trying to suggest that the masters, or the Romans, were soft and cuddly--far from it. What Nietzsche misses, and Ayn Rand sees, is that there is a third way: a culture based on *exchange*. And without the third way, buying into either master or slave morality will end up bringing its “opposite” along in its train (cf. Gail Wynand, the figure of the leash, etc.).

As for the “reverence” issue, one point that Nietzsche recurs to elsewhere is that masters are big on commanding *and* obeying (presumably because of the *military* values their culture depends upon--unless you are a footsoldier or Caesar, every militarized Roman both commands and obeys). Slaves, by contrast, wish to abolish both commanding and obeying altogether in favor of “equality.”

David L. Potts wrote:

Will Herd Members “Do Their Own Thing”?

Thomas Gramstad writes: “‘The masters create values. This means…that they create social standards and codes, which they impose on the “herd”’ (GM ii.17-18). I think that’s a historical description of how things used to work. Nietzsche’s personal view is that the Free Spirit, or child stage, or creator, has no need to impose anything on other people, but is self-sufficient. If others will follow, they follow. If they want to do their own thing, they do their own thing.”

Are we both reading the same Nietzsche?

In all seriousness, it sounds like you are saying that the masters in a Nietzschean paradise would only lead by suggestion and any herd members would be allowed to “do their own thing” if they want. But let us just remind ourselves that “the essential characteristic of a good and healthy aristocracy [includes that it] accepts with a good conscience the sacrifice of untold human beings who, for its sake, must be reduced and lowered to incomplete human beings, to slaves, to instruments” (BGE 258, emphasis original) and that “egoism belongs to the nature of a noble soul--I mean that unshakeable faith that to a being such as ‘we are’ other beings must be subordinate by nature and have to sacrifice themselves” (BGE 265). Further, Nietzsche says that he wishes Europe would “acquire one will by means of a new caste that would rule Europe” (BGE 208, emphasis original).

The context of these passages shows that they are meant politically; it is not just “spiritual” domination that is in question. When Nietzsche says, as he often does (BGE 44, 188, 239), that slavery is necessary for the enhancement of man, it is often clear that he means “slavery” at least partly in what he calls a “subtle” (i.e., spiritual, intellectual) sense. However, that should not blind us to the fact that usually the context shows that he also means it in, as he says (BGE 188), the “cruder” sense. For instance, at BGE 44 the contrast is to “equality of rights” in the paragraph immediately preceding his mention of slavery.

Perhaps there is a difference between the Nietzsche who is so ready to talk about noble races, classes, “blood”--deploring intermarriage, for example, as a source of sickness and degeneration (BGE 200, 208, 224, 261)--and the Nietzsche who talks about the noble souls as primarily spiritual (BGE 287), as individuals who may be very few (BGE 126, 200), who may overcome lower class origins (BGE 61), who are delicate and vulnerable (BGE 62, 203, 274), and who are difficult to identify (BGE 274, 287). But this only means that Nietzsche recognizes that not every member of the master class will be truly noble, and even that true nobility can emerge from anywhere. It is to his credit that he takes the side of nobility in the case of conflicts; but this should not blind us to the true nature of what he is advocating.

Kevin Hill wrote:

David Potts wrote: “The context of these passages shows that they are meant politically; it is not just ‘spiritual’ domination that is in question. When Nietzsche says, as he often does (BGE 44, 188, 239), that slavery is necessary for the enhancement of man, it is often clear that he means ‘slavery’ at least partly in what he calls a ‘subtle’ (i.e., spiritual, intellectual) sense. However, that should not blind us to the fact that usually the context shows that he also means it in, as he says (BGE 188), the ‘cruder’ sense. For instance, at BGE 44 the contrast is to ‘equality of rights’ in the paragraph immediately preceding his mention of slavery.”

Though I applaud the emphasis that Nietzsche’s notion of “slavery” in this context is not merely spiritual, matters become muddled when we ask what he means in acknowledging the existence of “slavery” in a cruder sense. This is because Nietzsche regards the perfection of the economic system as the reduction of the majority to a condition tantamount to “slavery” [WP 866]. If this passage is taken in conjunction with the passage on the inevitable triumph of the forces of privatization over the state in Human I:472, along with countless passages condemning the state elsewhere, then one might infer that Nietzsche regards the achievement of new “slavery” as equivalent to the replacement of the state by private, economic organizations, the reduction of all to the status of employee. The fact that the new “masters” benefit from this productivity does not necessarily imply that they exploit coercively through a state apparatus. For example, they might accept donations from successful businessmen to found research institutes in Poughkeepsie, NY. Thus they may very well “rule” in nothing more than a spiritual sense--defining what people should value (which fits with Nietzsche’s *constant* attack on the state during all phases of his thought) while at the same time benefitting from an economic arrangement that *he* regarded as little more than slavery in a new guise. My point is that one can endorse the claim that the “exploitation” is material, not spiritual, without assuming that it is *political*, since this is incompatible with slews of quotes condemning the state (cf. “Use and Abuse of History,” “Glance at the State” in Human, “New Idol” in Zarathustra, for starters). But this topic should really be discussed under the rubric of Nietzsche’s politics, later on.

David L. Potts wrote:

Kevin Hill writes (I’ve edited slightly): “...the passage on the inevitable triumph of the forces of privatization over the state in Human I:472, along with countless passages condemning the state elsewhere, [implies] that Nietzsche regards the achievement of new “slavery” as equivalent to the replacement of the state by private, economic organizations, the reduction of all to [a condition tantamount to ‘slavery’ (WP 866)]...”

Your response is reasonable enough. Your thesis is intriguing and it will be interesting to see whether it can be sustained by the texts. I trust I will be forgiven if, at my present state of reading, it strikes me as quixotic. In the two of Nietzsche’s philosophical Frazetta paintings I’ve read so far (GM and BGE), he heaps abundant scorn upon democracy and “equality of rights” but never on the state per se.

But, as you say, this topic is best discussed when we get to part 3 of the CyberSeminar.  

Back to  Part One, On Human Nature and Values

> Return to the parent page for this 2000 online CyberSeminar, "Nietzsche and Objectivism."

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