Nietzsche's Ethics and His War on 'Morality'

Nietzsche's Ethics and His War on 'Morality'

Nietzsche's Ethics and His War on 'Morality'

Nietzsche's Ethics and His War on 'Morality'

Synopsis

Nietzsche famously attacked traditional morality, and propounded a controversial ethics of 'life-enhancement'. Simon May presents a radically new view of Nietzsche's thought, which is shown to be both revolutionary and conservative, and to have much to offer us today after the demise of old values and the 'death of God'.

Excerpt

This book addresses a need inadequately met by the expanding literature on Nietzsche's philosophy: namely, for an investigation of his ethics of 'life-enhancement' which reveals his complexity as both revolutionary and conservative. For Nietzsche is a thinker who not only repudiates traditional conceptions of god, guilt, asceticism, pity, and truthfulness, but also retains a severe ethic of discipline, conscience, 'self-creation', generosity, and honesty. As a result of his strident style and the sheer diversity of his disciples--from the political right to the political left, from Existentialists to Postmodernists, from Nazi ideologues to Students of 1968, not to mention the many artists and thinkers who have found inspiration in his writings--it has been easy to lose sight of the subtlety with which he 'revalues' values such as altruism or truthfulness, and of how he is at once ancient, in his concern with the good and the virtuous, and modern, in his obsession with autonomy and his exaltation of the will.

Part I of this book undertakes a broad survey of Nietzsche's ethic and its opposition to traditional 'morality', as conceived by him. It includes a critical examination of his conception of values, his standard for the evaluation of values, his analysis of fundamental concepts and values of 'morality'--such as altruism, responsibility, and universal duties--and the new ethical ideal he espouses. Part II illustrates this survey by presenting a detailed case study of Nietzsche's revaluation of the value of truth--perhaps the most fundamental and original of his attempts at a revaluation of all values, but also the least studied by his admirers and critics alike.

In attempting to show that Nietzsche's attack on 'morality' (and the divine) is far more nuanced than is usually supposed, I argue that his inquiry into the value of guilt, bad conscience, truth, resentment, revenge, asceticism, and God reveals that all of the latter can have 'life-enhancing' as well as 'life-denying' functions--and, insofar as they are life-enhancing, can survive a thoroughgoing 'revaluation of all values'. For example, in revisiting Nietzsche's conception of guilt, I suggest that guilt retains a central and, indeed, valuable role in his ethics of the self-responsible individual; and that he wishes to . . .

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