Tag Archives: Master–slave morality

Master-Slave Morality and You

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…