So, Nietzsche is a name you’ve heard, but you never really knew too much about the man. Maybe you associate him with the Nazis. Maybe you think of him as a revolutionary philosopher. Or maybe you just know him as the guy Kevin Kline was obsessed with in “A Fish Called Wanda”.
In any event, you decided enough’s enough, and want to learn about bit more about this guy with the impossible to both spell and pronounce last name. Well, you’ve come to right place, good sir or madam. Today’s lesson is on: master-slave morality!
(I’m tingling with excitement too) First things first. Neither master morality nor slave morality is right. Neither is one wrong. Good philosophy is about valid observations. Master-Slave Morality merely calls it like it sees it.
Master morality is the morality of the strong man. Masters create morality. The master decides what is good, and implicitly those things that are not good are bad. Good and bad are defined in terms of consequences: a positive consequence is good, a negative consequence is bad. The strong willed masters will naturally oppress the weak slaves, because that oppression is good for the masters, and thus morally right.
Slave morality is a response to master morality. Instead of basing good and bad on the consequences of an action, slaves base morality on the intentions of an action. Because master morality originates in the strong, slave morality originates in the weak. Slaves are basically jealous of the masters. They hold up humility as something one chooses, rather than something that is forced upon you (like, say, if you were a slave). The slaves do not try to make themselves masters, but to make the masters slaves.
Think about that last sentence for a second.
Continuing, Nietzsche believed Christianity and democracy to be based in slave morality, while the Roman Empire was based in master morality (before the rise of Christianity). Slave morality is obsessed with freedom and equality. (Suddenly it sounds a lot better.) While he spends much time condemning slave morality, he does not support master morality in totality either. He believed society needed to re-evaluate its morals so as to wean out the problems in both master and slave moralities.
To summarize: Slave morality values things like kindness, humility and sympathy.
Master morality values pride, strength, and nobility.
These two conflicting moralities are basically both ways to say “I’m right and you’re not”. For the masters, it validates being the master. For the slaves, it invalidates the masters and thus reduces them down to slave levels, making the slaves right.
The question now is: what are you, master or slave? Be honest now. There are no right answers…
Great post! You helped me understand this better. Reading Nietzsche is hard sometimes, I don’t understand it all 🙂
I’m glad you liked the article! Nietzsche is hard a lot of the time, I will learn new things just from writing about it. I’m glad I helped you understand the topic a little better though. I plan to write a few more articles on Nietzsche in the future, dealing with some of his other concepts like the Will to Power, Eternal Return, “God is Dead”, etc.
Yes! Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which I am trying to read at the moment, contains a lot of metaphors and much symbolism. I have noticed though, that after a while you get used to it. I, too, think that writing about something aids you in understanding it.
That sounds interesting! I will subscribe to your blog now.
Nietzsche certainly wrote with a complex syntax, sometimes even melding poetry and prose into poetic prose. That is something I try to do sometimes in my writing as well, but it’s definitely not easy. Glad to hear you subscribed, I hope to continue delivering good content you’ll enjoy!
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Just some random thoughts. I’m an an expert in nothing related to this but have been fascinated by Master/Slave Morality for a while now and Nihilism/Existentialism/Absurdism for a long time.
I believe that Nietzsche proposed that the set of morals prescribed by the Christian church, Slave Morality, require a belief in God to make sense. With the rise of scientific knowledge and more people not believing in God at the time these morals no longer work for individuals or society. I believe he was actively worried about society not working well with antiquated morals. It strikes me as being similar to Existentialism. If there is not a universal set of “correct” morals and indeed morality is a subjective moving target maybe we should, individually and as a group, come up with a set of morals that works best for the individual and the group. (Might be adding the group part to existentialism but I think it fits with Nietzsche’s concerns. Ubermensch would clearly be an individual set of morals.). Perhaps similar to the difference between morals and ethics (which nobody seems to be able to agree on).
“Nietzsche believed that morals should be constructed actively, making them relative to who we are and what we, as individuals, consider to be true, equal, good and bad, etc. instead of reacting to moral laws made by a certain group of individuals in power.”
Spinks, Lee (2003). Friedrich Nietzsche. Florence, KY: Routledge. p. 5.
I see one path that I find amusing and possibly a good choice. I may or may not have taken this path.
If there is no moral absolutism and one questions the belief in God nihilism can be a result.
Nihilism is a painful state to live in so what to do….
Existentialism! Create your own set of morals with the knowledge that it is just a construct. Live happily within it.
Until the Nihilists in you points out that your your construct is just a construct and is as invalid as the one you rejected to become a Existentialist.
What to do…
Absurdism! Let’s get weird!
“Absurdism originated from (as well as alongside) the 20th-century strains of existentialism and nihilism; it shares some prominent starting points with, though also entails conclusions that are uniquely distinct from, these other schools of thought. All three arose from the human experience of anguish and confusion stemming from the Absurd: the apparent meaninglessness in a world in which humans, nevertheless, are so compelled to find or create meaning. The three schools of thought diverge from there. Existentialists have generally advocated the individual’s construction of his or her own meaning in life as well as the free will of the individual. Nihilists, on the contrary, contend that “it is futile to seek or to affirm meaning where none can be found.” Absurdists, following Camus’s formulation, hesitantly allow the possibility for some meaning or value in life, but are neither as certain as existentialists are about the value of one’s own constructed meaning nor as nihilists are about the total inability to create meaning. Absurdists following Camus also devalue or outright reject free will, encouraging merely that the individual live defiantly and authentically in spite of the psychological tension of the Absurd.”