Nietzsche against Master Morality

The assumption is widespread that Nietzsche’s ethics can be explained as the master morality which he diagnoses in the Essay 1 of On the Genealogy of Morality. The assumption is widespread among those who are semi-informed, and even more disturbingly among those who have some claims to expertise on Nietzsche. As a reaction to Nietzsche, it’s not totally inappropriate, the texts do provoke the reader to think of master morality as something better than slave morality. That is somewhat different from a committment to master morality as a form of ethics.

Nietzsche sometime says he is referring to a philosophy of life rather than ethics or morality. I believe it would be going to far to say that there is no ethics, or moral philosophy in Nietzsche. However, it is important toı recognise that Nietzsche is challenging (which is not the same as rejecting) the bases of ethics or morality. What he is doing is to find something like what Hegel calls immediacy, and Kierkegaard calls wonder in a reaction to nature and human nature. Though whether that means we can classify Nietzshe with contemporary Naturalists of a scientistic reductionist orientation is another thing. Nietzsche looks at the wonder, or immediacy of the master’s view of the world in the most primitive of moralities, the original master morality. That he explains particularly in relation to Homeric heroes, and in general an approach in which mutual obligations are recognised between masters, but not to those outside the relevant group of masters. From this point of view, the masters define themselves as good, beautiful, truthful and so on. The salves are those who have the opposite of those characteristics.

The slaves are not evil, because they behave according to nature in the master world view, they just behave as they do without evil intention. For Nietzsche, the concept of evil is deeply embedded in ideas of soul, strong personal identity, free will and inner intentions. It is the slaves who have a good/evil dichotomy who assume there is strong personal identity and intentionalism. For the master, there are immediate reactions There is no assumption for strong personal identity and all that might go with that: free will, intentionalism, memory over time. These aspects of master morality are clearly part of what Nietzsche advocates, but it is not what Nietzsche advocates as a whole.

Nietzsche is against a metaphysical theory free will, resting as he sees it on a strong sense of personal identity in which the self is a soul thing rather than a combination of forces as Nietzsche thinks. However, he is not against the ideas of autonomy, sovereignty of the self, or self-creation. These are all given great emphasis. Both art and science are taken as products of the creative self, which creates itself as a it creates a perspective on natural forces in nature or the creation of art. The master is not an artist or scientist. Neither of these would be a complete model for Nietzsche. Nietzsche sees value in the life that is like art, he finds that beauty is a product of the desire for happiness. Happiness comes in life led as self-creating and self-legislating. It is here that Nietzsche sees the origin of value, not in the brutishness and borrishness of the master towards the slave. He does not think that value originates in utilitarian calculations of maximised benefits, or any set of abstract principles or social institutions. Nietzsche refers to the master who forgets offence and only takes revenge where it is immediately possible, but he admires the individual with no need to punish or take revenge at all, much more.

Foucault on Knowledge, Discourse and Phenomenology

Some thoughts on Foucault arising from the Methodology course I give to Political Science MA Students.

Foucault: Phenomenology not Constructivism
My main thoughts are that Foucault is not the kind of social constructivist he is often taken to be; and that his epistemology can be better understood if it is interpreted in a Phenomenological context. The Phenomenological aspect of Foucault should orientate understanding away from intellectual construction to embodiment, the extended mind, and perceptibility. All the discussion of archeology, genealogy, the order of discourse and so on, can be better understood as bringing perception into the conceptual than as conceptual construction.

Throughout the phases of his work, there is a constant underlying concern with Phenomenological themes. If he’s talking about abstract discourse or about punishment of criminals, Foucault is always concerned with the revelation of truth. Truth is appearing, there is a coming into light. The last phrase is very reminiscient of Heidegger. Heidegger turned Husserl’s abstract transcendental forms of Phenomenology into Being-in-the-world. Being-in-the-world is a big thought in Heidegger, but here we can say it includes the concrete experience of always existing in a world of care, concern and Being-with.

Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Cognitive Science
Heidegger’s approach to Phenomenology leads the way to Merleau-Ponty. Merleau-Ponty used psychological science and aesthetic references in order to explain consciousness as what is always orientated as a whole to the world, as a part of the way that the body is not just in the world, it is always orientated to the word in the perceptions of time and space, and the experience of the body. Merleau-Ponty introduces a strongly naturalistic element into Phenomenology, which is part of what has made his so influential now that the connections between cognitive science and philoosphy are such a big area. Heidegger has also been taken up in this context by Andy Clarke (his website which is very good for downloads of his work is on a list of links with philosophers, on this blog, who post their work on their website), Michael Wheeler and others.

Merleau-Ponty is dealing with the extended mind, because the mind is entangled with the body in its physical relations with the world. All ideas of isolated consciousness are abandoned. Consciousness and perception exists in the body’s relation with the world. Discourse about the world and our relations with forces in the world extend ‘consciousness’ beyond private experience.

Phenomenology: Naturalistic and Poetic
In later Merleau-Ponty, particularly in The Visible and the Invisible is more concerned with the philosophical discussion of subjective experience than with the naturalistic discussion of the world. It is still concerned with the idea of ‘flesh’ at what arises where consciousness finds contradiction and uncertainty. This links back to Heidegger and sideways to Maurice Blanchot.

In a very provisional way, we could distinguish between Phenomenology as a Naturalistic account of perception, and Phenomenology as the poetic discussion of the subjective experience of the limits of consciousness. We do not have to see them as contradictory. It is Blanchot’s discussion of the experience of writing and of poetry which seems to be indirectly invoked by Foucault sometimes. He sometimes refers to the absence, nothingness from which visible objects emerge. It is discourse which enables objects to emerge against the background of nothingness, and silence

Power, Forces and Nominalism
All of Foucault’s discussions of the construction of discourse or knowledge, the order of things, power-knowledge and so on, are concerned with how to make the invisible visible. It is the staging of punishment, its physicality which draws attention to the idea of a truth in the social world. Foucault is not a constructivist when he refers to the way truth appears in the relations of forces which make up power. Power is understood in a slight naturalistic way as the relations between forces, it is which introduces war into social relations; forces and war are always already there in the social world. Discourse shapes this but is also shaped by it, and we can only understand discourse as the making visible of the invisible. The discontinuities of knowledge, the places where theories and concepts break down and give way to new ones, are the product of this relation between the visible and the invisible. Knowledge exists in the difference between them, as what stands out from a blank background.

The assumption by critics and defenders of Foucault that he has a theory of constructed reality is a flawed one. Our knowledge of objects must be constructed in some way and that interacts with objects themselves in a grasp of reality which brings structure and order. We should consdier the widespread misconception that Foucault thinks sexual desire is produced by the prohibitions of law, prohibition produces the excitement necessary to desire. In History of Sexuality, Foucault is very clear that sexuality is shaped by discourse, prohibition and law but in an interactive way with the body, with psychology, with the inherent nature of sexuality. Like objects, sexuality could never exist in a purely inherent form before it is conditioned by discourse, but ıt is not the product of discourse. Something like Putnam or Davidson’s or McDowell’s mediation between Internalism and Externalism in the meaning of words and the content of beliefs would be an appropriate comparison here, but not one that we can develop right now.

If we adhere to a very rigid direct realism, every word we use, every belief content, refers directly to a real object. In that case Foucault may seem constructivist in a very socially relativistic way. But when Foucault links power and knowledge, he is stating what he considers to be a historical reality, that objects of power become objects of knowledge. That does not deny validity to knowledge, it does not deny some independence of science from social conditions, it does deny an absolute separation. Power is nominalistic in Foucault, it is a term which brings together many situations of conflicts of forces. There is no great abstraction which can be called power in general. There is no abstract discursive shaping of reality in a radically constructivist manner, there is a discussion of the multiplicity of forces, including the forces behind the emergence of psychological or social science. It should be taken as a discussion of how truths appear, how knowledge emerges, not as an attack on knowledge or truth. For Foucault, we are always struggling to bring the dark and obscured things into light as knowledge and truth, we are struggling to make the world perceptible.