Why Does Nietzsche Reject Morality?

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche took a controversial and complex view towards morality, as we outline below.

Sep 10, 2023By Luke Dunne, BA Philosophy & Theology
nietzsche reject morality

 

Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy was at the same time enormously influential and very controversial. This article explores his approach to morality, and attempts to explain if, how and why he rejected morality. Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy was at the same time enormously influential and very controversial. This article explores his approach to morality, and attempts to explain if, how and why he rejected morality.

Nietzsche Regarded Morality as a Lie

Exposing the Deception, Various Artists, 1821, The Met
Exposing the Deception, Various Artists, 1821, The Met

 

Friedrich Nietzsche believes that the morality which governs much of European society and which has been consistently pushed by European intellectual and religious elites is fictitious. Nietzsche’s most extensive writing about morality and ethics is to be found in his work entitled The Genealogy of Morals. As the title would suggest, Nietzsche takes what is called a genealogical approach to morality. A genealogical approach is similar to a historical one, with an emphasis placed on the inherited traits which we can see passing from one generation’s view of the world to another.

 

The purpose of a genealogical approach is often to show that a concept or practice that we typically think of as fundamental and permanent is, in fact, the product of a particular historical situation and is therefore quite contingent. The view about morality which prevailed in Nietzsche’s time was that morality, when properly understood, consisted of timeless truths. This was a feature of Christian or Christian derived ethics, and it was also held by secular ethicists like Immanuel Kant. In Nietzsche’s view, this conception of morality was a historical fabrication, and any moral claim which relies on this timeless truth is also a lie. One of Nietzsche’s main issues with morality is, therefore, simply that it is made up and should therefore be discarded or utterly changed.

 

He Argued That Morality is Hypocritical

Statue of Friedrich Nietzsche in Saale, via Travelwriticus
Statue of Friedrich Nietzsche in Saale, via Travelwriticus

 

However, it isn’t the wrongness of morality which Nietzsche only – or even primarily – objects to. It is the hypocrisy involved, both in the original construction of morality and in the manner which it continues to exert a hold over Western culture. We have already observed that Nietzsche offers a genealogy of morality. That is a certain kind of historical narrative about how morals emerged. Although morality claims to offer a blueprint for how human beings should behave, and what kind of person we should really strive to be, in Nietzsche’s view this is utterly misleading.

 

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Really, morality was not created with this aim in mind. Rather, morality was constructed by one group to limit the freedom of another. More specifically, morality was constructed by the weak to control the strong. The slave class in society invented morality – and above all religious morality – in order to impose all manner of limits on the behavior of the powerful. For example, Nietzsche argued that many aspects of traditional morality, with its notions of guilt, punishment, and reward (among other such concepts) was a tool used by the weak to suppress the strong.

 

It prevented those with power from using power to the fullest extent, and by making what is moral the chief determinant in terms of whether an action is permissible, granted power to those who are weakest in a society rather than those who are strong. That morality is a tool by which those who claim to be weak can seize control makes morality hypocritical. Moreover, because there are many virtues of the strong in society – not least their independent mindedness and their force of character – the suppression of them has made society as a whole weaker

 

Nietzsche’s Attitude Is Complex

A photograph of Nietzsche in profile, 1882, via Pixabay
A photograph of Nietzsche in profile, 1882, via Pixabay

 

It is important to recognize that Nietzsche did not reject all morality. In fact, due to his own original contributions to the study of morality and moral philosophy, it would be greatly misleading to say that Nietzsche hated morality or rejected it outright. For example, consider perspectivism. Perspectivism was Nietzsche’s own ethical outlook, which recognizes that different individuals or cultures may have different moral perspectives and that those perspectives can all be valid within that cultural context.

 

On this view, moral values are influenced by individual perspectives, historical contexts, and cultural backgrounds – not a rational appreciation of what is universally right and wrong. It is important to note that this does not reduce morality to mere subjectivity. This is just one way to acknowledge diversity in moral outlooks. Moreover, when Nietzsche criticized existing morality, he did not at the same time call for an end to all values.

 

Nietzsche criticized traditional moral values that he considered life-denying and limiting, but in doing so demanded a creative response. He called for a “revaluation of all values,”, thereby urging individuals to critically examine and question existing moral norms and to develop new, life-affirming ethical perspectives.

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By Luke DunneBA Philosophy & TheologyLuke is a graduate of the University of Oxford's departments of Philosophy and Theology, his main interests include the history of philosophy, the metaphysics of mind, and social theory.