In recent weeks, I’ve explored some philosophical work on Nietzsche, namely; the work of Leiter and Hurka. I present three thoughts. In a sense they are interrelated.
1. Nietzsche is not a systematic philosopher.
The commonality of so-called ‘continental philosophy’ (Leiter himself would probably discourage such a distinction for reasons interesting in itself) is that they are mostly unified in being anti-systematic, and I would go further to say, distinctly anti-Kantian (notable exceptions apply like Hegel). Nietzsche is suggestibly anti-systematic. Or is he? I would think so, however, there is some two senses in which we may consider the phrase ‘systematic philosophy’.
a. Contemporary philosophy: Nietzsche has a very interesting contribution to moral psychology and meta-ethics. Leiter & Knobe for instance has explored this avenue in an empirical manner. In addition, if we are to consider philosophy in a more Lewisian construal; of the interconnections of philosophical topics, and setting conditions explicitly of how one area can and should relate to another; there is certainly a lot to say of a ‘systematic’ contribution to Nietzsche’s philosophy especially in metaethics and normative ethics.
b. Philosophy as a system: I think the building of systems was associated with santimonious and optimistic reasoning so utterly detached from the world, that Nietzsche would highly be disdainful not only of the notion that ‘the proper philosophy’ (i.e. his) is a system, but even of persons considering his work as a system. This notion of Nietzsche as systematic is a dead end. But the distinction between a. and b. is important.
2. Nietzsche is a ‘Perfectionist’
The contemporary moral philosopher, Thomas Hurka is known for his position in ethics called ‘Perfectionism’. Now perfectionism seems to be a doctrine with many nuances; for instance, Hurka distinguishes between multiple notions of perfectionism. Nietzsche’s description of the eminent individual, the great genius; is one who works above the normal rules of the masses. Nietzsche’s notion of such an individual seeks their highest eminence, whatever end that may be; from a great poet (Goethe) to a great composer (Beethoven) or to a great leader (Napoleon?). I find Hurka’s interpretation of Nietzsche interesting, and it makes me a little more curious about Hurka’s own proposed model of perfectionism. Hurka calls his approach ‘neo-Aristotelian’ but acknowledges that forms of perfectionism, or the doctrine of one reaching their highest ability as a moral and ethical goal to span across the ages; from Aristotle to Aquinas to Marx and Nietzsche. A system of ethics based upon the highest eminence of an individual seems immediately attractive to me, but in the case of Nietzsche I consider a tension or systematic addition to the issue…
3. Two tier morality?
As a question of Nietzsche’s philosophy, and of society as a whole I wonder; can there be two tiers of morality? A law where the eminent, superior caste seek their own inner perfection and embrace virtues of creativity, leadership and entrepreneurship, while there lives an underclass of society? I immediately think of a division of labour of a sort askin to say the Morlocks and Eloi of HG Wells’ Time Machine; or a Marxian class war; where there is a fixed ruling class and an immobile working class (and lets face it, social mobility doesn’t look so good these days). Can there be such a system of morality where one size does not fit all?
Within Nietzsche’s system, Leiter notes a certain equivocation. Nietzsche on one hand seems to promote the abandonment of traditional morality as it is normally construed, but yet promotes a moral system. One cannot damn morality and promote it at once (in the promotion of, say the master morality in Genealogy of Morals). Nietzsche is aware that not everyone can embrace the system of master morality, and while disdainful of slave/conventional morality, wouldn’t one need to support the other in some naturalised moral caste system?
It seems the case that Nietzsche made his philosophy for those who pursued the master morality, and it also seems the case that he was against the ‘wrong’ kind of person being part of the master morality. What counts as the wrong kind of person is unknown to me, but he does give a condition of exclusivity to higher morality. Is it the case that we require the philistine slave morality that he so hates? Is it possible that we require the slaves so that the master moralists can rule? It would seem almost prudent to give a system of control, a system of morality, to ensure that those who seek eminence do, but also preserve social order by having others who do not. Is it a matter of disposition and natural necessity that only a minority strive to leadership while others stay as worker ants? or a notion of idealised social order?
I feel immediately over my head in confusion here. Reading about Nietzsche seems to proffer more thoughts and explorations than answers, while reading Nietzsche himself provides humour and understanding of his disdain. For me, looking at the philistine objects of cultural veneration; where amateurism is celebrated and ignorance is the rule de jour seems to make me think that slave morality is all around.
Michael (following conversations with Destre)