META-ETHICS, NIHILISM, AND NIETZSCHE

I. Prologue / the Nature of My Contemplation

It has been more than 30 years since I read Frederick Nietzsche. I appreciate this opportunity to revisit his writings, to rethink them, and to try to understand their relevance to my present philosophical contemplations on meta-ethics, in particularly to nihilism. Back then, I was a Navy veteran trying to work my way through college doing plebeian labor varying from electrician’s work to warehouseman. Nietzsche would have considered me a member of his contemptible “herd” or one of those “everyday intellects, ordinary minds or clumsy, worthy mechanists and empiricists” not worthy to contemplate his writings instead of one of his “free spirits” or his “few” destined to understand him. Though back then I appreciated some of his work to a limited extent, I returned his contempt of me — or more accurately his contempt of my class in life — with the same analysis of him as given by Bertrand Russell:

Speaking of Spinoza he [Nietzsche] says: ‘how much of personal timidity and vulnerability does this masquerade of a sickly recluse betray!’ Exactly the same may be said of him, with the less reluctance since he has not hesitated to say it of Spinoza. It is obvious that in his day-dreams he is a warrior, not a professor; all the men he admires were military. … His ‘noble’ man — who is himself in day-dreams — is a being wholly devoid of sympathy, ruthless, cunning, concerned only with his own power. … This is Nietzsche’s philosophy in a nutshell.

I saw Nietzsche back then, as many still see him, as a nihilist.

 
I have come to realize by this re-reading of him that my dismissal of him was error and that Nietzsche was not a nihilist but a moralist. Over the last 30 years, his statute, influence, and philosophical progeny in continental philosophy and in the modern will-to-power that is post-modernism has only grown — especially in the field of existential meta-ethics that has become the focus of much of my contemplations in philosophy. His pronouncement that “God is dead!” is probably the most brilliant philosophical sound-bite of modern philosophy. In the present post-modern world, it has more power than Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” that begun the modern world of philosophy. His Thus Spoke Zarathustra is without doubt epic poetry. It took some dry ideas that have been around since the ancient Greeks that were turned into practical politics by Niccolò Machiavelli and transformed them to the level of a religion for many claiming to be irreligious. This was my problem with him before and, frankly, still is. He clearly seems to have a problem with religion and humanism, yet a large portion of Western humanism has made Nietzschean philosophy a religion for the irreligious and see him as one of its greatest prophets if not their messiah whose meta-ethics saved humanist morality and ethics from nihilism.

 
A wide spectrum of political, ethical, and moral perspectives see Nietzsche as its savior from nihilism despite the morality and ethics to which Nietzsche’s metaphysics and epistemology led him. Peter Berkowitz admitted in the first line of “Nietzsche: The Ethics of an Immoralist”:

The dazzling beauty of Nietzsche’s writings may blind the reader to the explosive character of his opinions. Nietzsche expounded a radical and aristocratic egoism; poured scorn on Platonism, Christianity, modernity, enlightenment, democracy, socialism, and the emancipation of women; denounced the belief in human equality as a calamitous conceit; and ardently championed a rank order of desires, types of human beings, and forms of life.

Professor Berkowitz is a conservative political scientist and law professor at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute. After making the above introduction and almost three hundred pages of analysis, he ends the book complimenting Nietzsche as a great moralist who “affirms that nature, reason, or revelation supplies moral and political standards; we must study such thinking in accordance with the demands of the intellectual conscience”. Another conservative law professor Brian Leiter, an advocate of the law and economics school in the philosophy of law, in his article “The Truth is Terrible” treats Nietzsche as the ultimate bearer of truth in a meaningless universe that has no truth. While at the other end of the philosophical spectrum, philosophers in the post-modernist school of continental philosophy such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida are just as complimentary to Nietzsche. They also see him as the savior of ethics and morality from nihilism arguing that his philosophy makes each individual their own Superman rejecting social construct ethics and morality to create their own individual identity and the identity of the Other through individual constructs of ethics and morality.

 
In fact, all present existential or post-modernist philosophy books that I have seen on Nietzschean philosophy see it as a transvaluation of nihilism into an “affirmation of life”. Furthermore, as almost always has been the case since Nietzsche became popular, many modern artists and would-be artists see his emphasis on aesthetics especially on the aesthetics of geniuses as the givers of ultimate meaning or on aesthetics as the ultimate affirmation of life as of course referring to them and their art. Nietzsche regarded art “as the great stimulus to life”. Admittedly, from the meta-ethics standpoint, “moral values or disvalues … also include non-moral values, notably aesthetic ones, beauty and various kinds of artistic art”. However, I will not be contemplating this aspect of Nietzschean meta-ethics nor of his metaphysics and epistemology unless necessary to deal with his concept of moral values: of good and evil in mortality not aesthetics. In this essay, I inquire into or ask how Nietzschean meta-ethics — seeking to go beyond good and evil as he puts it that led Nietzsche to aristocratic egotism awaiting a “man of the future” to redeem life in the same way Christianity awaits its Savior to redeem life — created and creates such a universal appeal to so many and has so much power.

 
My conclusion and argument are that the substance and so-to-speak successful will-to-power of Nietzschean meta-ethics is in the sound-bite “God is dead!” that successfully attracts all those in the West who have: 1) a Nietzschean resentment to Christianity; 2) a Nietzschean will-to-power need to replace Christianity with their own secular version of Christianity having essentially the same normative language but without the Christ; and 3) a fear of nihilism. Because it is the reader that gives meaning to text, once those with these attributes become Nietzschean readers — regardless of their perspectives on life — they make Nietzsche and Nietzschean philosophers and philosophical writings their prophets and bible substitute in the same way Christians, regardless of their perspectives on life, have the same prophets and bible.

 
Before I get into my argument and conclusion, I have to make sure my concepts of meta-ethics and nihilism are the same as Nietzsche and must summarize my philosophy of language in order to assure that my contemplation is of the same content as that of Nietzsche.

— The remainder of this essay is found at Meta-Ethics, Nihilism, and Nietzsche

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