In his book, Beyond Good and Evil, Friedrich Nietzsche’s main argument is that morality—the system that we organize our world into to identify, name, and categorize all the possible actions we could do as either good or evil—is not only simply incorrect, but it, in fact, serves no useful purpose any longer in our world.
Morality and the Restriction of Our Will
Nietzsche’s argument that morality no longer serves any useful purpose spills out of a kind of moral argument into psychology. From a proposal to rearrange human psychology, it becomes a profoundly revolutionary argument across all dimensions of life, in ways that we have not yet fully come to grips with.
Nietzsche once called himself and his works a destiny, the destiny of Europe; and every time we go back to read Nietzsche, he seems more and more prescient, more and more correct, that he was, in fact, our destiny.
His work, and especially his book Beyond Good and Evil, argues that morality is simply something we need to jettison, something we need to get past. We need to get past it because it constrains us in problematic ways; restricts our will and punishes us in ways that we now need to transcend.
Why is that; why does a morality of good and evil no longer serve any purpose? How did this happen? These are the questions that in some ways Nietzsche explores in Beyond Good and Evil. However, Nietzsche thinks that understanding his answers rests on understanding his rejection of the assumptions that we take for granted.
Learn more about Plato’s view of evil.
The Purpose of Truth
Nietzsche challenges us to think about the purpose of truth, the concepts of good and evil, and how these concepts are all related to each other. He suggests that all these concepts that we think of as natural part of the world are not, in fact, applicable to the world as we find it.
They, according to Nietzsche, are instruments of our own devising that have served the world that we have convinced ourselves we inhabit. They’re tools that we use—the language of good and evil, and the language of truth; however, these are tools that have now outlived their usefulness for us.
This is so because now we’ve reached a stage of development where they are in some sense not very fruitful for us to employ. They’ve served a purpose for us in convincing us that the world is, in fact, organized by these categories; but Nietzsche thinks that now it is not so.
This is a transcript from the video series Why Evil Exists. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Challenging the Concept of Philosophy
Nietzsche challenges the conception of what philosophy is. His book’s famous first sentence is: “Suppose truth is a woman—what then?” That is a really interesting philosophical and philological joke because the word ‘philosophy’ comes from Philosophia, which means ‘the love of wisdom’, and Sophia is a female noun.
In other words, Nietzsche is saying what if we actually believe what we say we believe? What if we actually believe that philosophers are supposed to love a woman? The idea here is that we should not just be interested in getting the truth through, say, a scientific method; we have to seduce the truth, we have to seduce life, in order to get what we want.
Nietzsche thinks this is the true meaning of philosophy. There is a seductive, romantic, even a sexual connotation to what philosophy really is.
We can put this thought in a way that isn’t quite as sexist as Nietzsche in his own time did. He really wants us to think about the pursuit of a meaningful life—which is what he sees as the true point of philosophy—as a seduction.
It is a vital activity in which we are betting our hearts, not just our minds and intellects.
Evolutionary View of the World
Nietzsche thinks that the human is an animal who uses language and thought to make its way in the world.
Nietzsche’s very Darwinian. He’s someone who appropriated and understood the implications, at least as he understood them, of Darwin’s evolutionary view of the world and of humans. He thought of humans as fundamentally being animals with a certain broader set of skills and a repertoire of abilities that other animals don’t have, but effectively still subject to evolutionary constraints.
Learn more about evil as a social construct.
Linguistics and Ethical Thinking
The problem, Nietzsche thinks, is that the skills and abilities we have, particularly in terms of the language we’ve developed, have trapped us in a certain unhealthy position, and the primary surface manifestation of the problem we face is our continued captivity to the language of good and evil.
Undoubtedly, there is a huge focus on language here, and that’s very important because this is a really crucial dimension of Nietzsche.
In some ways like Hobbes, Nietzsche wants to say that much of our ethical thinking turns out to be not just linguistically shaped, but in some ways linguistically created.
He wants to say that in using language, we are always vulnerable to forgetting that the words we use are our words. We are always tempted to impute to them a spurious metaphysical credibility that they in no way actually possess.
The language of good and evil is a language that emerges out of a certain cultural context, a certain background.
Common Questions about Nietzsche’s Language of Good and Evil
Nietzsche, in his book, Beyond Good and Evil, argues that morality is something we need to jettison, something we need to get past.
Nietzsche thought of humans, just like Darwin, as fundamentally being animals with a certain broader set of skills and a repertoire of abilities that other animals don’t have, but effectively still subject to evolutionary constraints.
Nietzsche thought that the language we’ve developed has trapped us in a certain unhealthy position. The primary surface manifestation of the problem we face is our continued captivity to the language of good and evil.