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Kant Versus Nietzsche- On the Genealogy of Morals

 

 

 

Kant Versus Nietzsche- On the Genealogy of Morals

 

   In order to understand the conflict between the two approaches regarding the origin of morals a few facts must be made clear: Kant was the first (between the two) to develop his theory of morals. He defines certain values as having an intrinsic value by themselves and follows those values as he proceeds to make the following claim; Duty carries with itself absolute necessity. That claim alone embodies the whole moral perception of Kants moral account. Precisely that is where Nietzsche first disagrees; he does not accept the same values as a given fact and sets out to take what he sees as the next step; Namely, to ask why and how did those values (such as duty) come to have their value. We shall first explore Kants argument and later turn to Nietzsches genealogy and critique.

By evaluating an action as directly tied to a specific outcome, each action could be morally measured in different ways; Whether the weight is placed on the action by itself, or measured by the outcome of the action and, in particular, by its utility to its beneficiaries. Those are the two extreme views that are held whenever the moral value of an action is sought within its cause-and-effect relation. Immanuel Kant determined the moral value of an action by evaluating the principle that lies behind it, regardless of its consequence. He begins his account by defining good will: a good will is good not because of what it effects or accomplishes, nor because of its fitness to attain some proposed end; it is good only through its willing. i.e., it is good in itself. (7).

    Placing the will as the primal power behind every choice allows Kant to claim that the moral worth of an action is determined by the principle of the will behind it and has nothing to do with its outcome. Kant applies his theory by using the concept of duty as the guiding power which stands for good by itself; an action which is done strictly from duty is a moral action, not an action done merely in accordance with duty but carries within itself hidden inclinations and interests. Deriving from the morality of duty, when only an action that is made from duty (that is: only because of duty, even when against personal interests) is moral, Kant states that duty carries absolute necessity.

    When a person confronts a situation where he is capable of committing a profitable crime with absolute immunity from punishment, yet chooses not to commit the crime, his behavior should be considered as moral. Whereas, when another person lacks the formers immunity, his unwillingness to commit
the same crime cannot be attributed to his morality, rather to the fear of punishment.

    Why should the immune human being choose not to commit the profitable crime? To that question Kant answers by introducing the principle that lies behind moral behavior. A moral act is truly done only by following a universal law and not by following ones own inclinations and desires. The Universal Law is the way a rational being wants the world to act; by the categorical imperative: Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that is should become a universal law(30). In order to understand this answer we must next explore the concepts mentioned, namely, the categorical imperative and the universal law.

    Kant emphasizes the categorical imperative as the right moral choice over the
hypothetical imperative. A moral choice is made purely by the action being just and not by the profit or loss that is caused by it. The hypothetical imperative takes into account the consequence by treating an action purely as a means towards a desired end, and not by carrying any moral implications in its maxim. According to the categorical imperative an action that is in accordance with the universal law carries within itself absolute necessity for it is regarded as an end and not merely as means.

    In choosing to act in a moral way, a being overcomes the natural conflict between a mere maxim and a maxim as a universal law; the moral being chooses the latter (for it has no conflict; the moral choice carries absolute necessity) for it is a rational being and therefore, by definition acts in a rational manner. By claiming that the moral being has to be a rational being Kant reaches the core of his theory: it is the principle of the will behind every action that determines its moral worth. By self-transcending above inclinations the will becomes free to act by reason.

    Kant presents a modal of the moral human being as an entity that enjoys autonomy and freedom for it is completely free from inclinations; it acts only according to its principle and is not directed by consequence; it stays true to its will by acting in accordance with the universal law which he wills, and therefore has the highest form of freedom by directing his actions in the way that perpetuates the same categorical imperative.

    Nietzsche refuses to accept the notion that values such as duty carry absolute necessity as a given fact; in other words, he asks why is duty an a priori value. We can understand his account by exploring the first part that describes the genealogy of moral valuation and then by understanding the critique that grows out of the genealogy.

    In the first part of his account he sets out to find the origins of what the Judeo-Christian mentality perceives as moral. Here we are presented with the pathos of difference; the noble and ignoble as the dividing factor in early society. Originally, the noble role was played by the naturally powerful; warriors, lords, or as he later calls them the birds of prey. The nobility was the first to form its own moral values by simply reinstating their own ideals as a good thing to do, whereas anything that is not in accordance with those ideals is naturally deemed to be bad. Relatively, when the noble considers strength to be a good quality, being weak is immediately seen as a bad thing. The noble forms his morals by himself and does not look further for validation to those virtues.

    To those high virtues of the noble, Nietzsche attributes the birth of the people of resentment. The noble values were unattainable to most people. When a boy was born to a servant family his faith was set and no attempt by him could have changed that faith. In lack of a better alternative resentment was born. The lower class, the ignoble had to find a way to preserve themselves by setting values that they could attain. He explains the origin of the ignoble values as a negation, out of resentment, of the first noble values.It then follows that when the noble considered wealth as a good thing, the ignoble calls it a vice; when the noble is delighted by virtue of the flesh, the ignoble calls chastity a virtue.

    By Nietzsches account two different sets of morals grew apart: the noble Good/Bad and the ignoble Good/Evil. The former simply separates the noble ideals as good and therefore, without giving the ignoble any thought, anything that is different must be bad. The latter, on the other hand, is solely based on the resentment from the former; The ignoble is placed aside those birds of prey as lambs; whenever the predator ascends and preys on a lamb he is automatically called evil. Originating from that evil comes the ignoble virtue, the good as an opposition to the evil and only as a reaction to what the noble considers as a virtue.

    He then proceeds to claim that the human being is by nature not a promise keeping animal. Forgetfulness is set as the strong power that works in opposition. Why should I work hard in order to pay another for what I want when I can simply take it from him? would be the question the stronger asks. Here again, Nietzsche finds the origins to guilt and bad conscience as historical events that allowed guilt to become a harmful value. When societies first emerged by a need to protect themselves from foreign harm, its members had to stop acting like birds of prey and act in a civilized manner to their neighbors. That sudden loss of freedom (for the strongest never before was restricted in his actions to anything besides his own interest) had to find its outbreak and act against others in the same society.

    In order to fight forgetfulness and to protect the society from within a mnemonic was applied: pain. In the form of punishment a violator of the law has to repay both his victim and the society in a memorable way. By means of breeding a people of thinkers (38), it became consequently bad to be a criminal for he would suffer greatly. It is later ingrained as an inseparable aspect of Judeo-Christian morality that being a criminal is morally bad.


    Nietzsche does not offer an alternative set of morals. He does not think that proving that a value came to have value by mistake so much as touches his validity. He knows that humans need values for not willing anything is not an option. Yet he criticizes Kantian morality for accepting duty as a sole origin of morals and for not asking the so needed questions: Duty to who? and why? He discards Kant as a nihilist that by not exploring the origin of morals cannot justly claim to understand them.

    His own account can be seen as a demolition of current values through genealogy and critique as being merely the ground for future formation of new values. Nietzsche does not claim that either the noble or the ignoble are the true moral values. He merely goes against the perception that some values have an intrinsic value and by that attacks the basic foundations of Kants theory. While the final set of morals in a Nietzsche-Kant hypothetical debate might have remained similar to those found by Kant, the latter would have had to reconsider his first assumption. That is: Duty does not necessarily carry with it absolute necessity.

   

   




   
   


Ohad Maiman