In my opinion, one of the most interesting works on ethics is a book called Beyond Good and Evil written by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Penguin Books presented one of its modern editions in 2009 (original work published in 1886). The book has 240 pages. By the time of writing it, Nietzsche was a well-known philosopher, and to some extent, this book can be viewed as a collection of his basic ethical ideas and concepts. The book eventually summarized his main ideas in a fairly short and concise manner. I chose this book because similar to the entire ethical concept of Nietzsche, it occupies a special place in the history of philosophy. Beyond Good and Evil was written Nietzsche in the form of aphorisms, but that did not stop the philosopher from expressing his clear negative attitude towards modern morality. The severity of Nietzsche’s criticism of contemporary morality and his indignation about the state of modern moral ideas are expressed in this book fully. This book allows a reader to understand Nietzsche’s interpretation of the common ideas about good and evil. Despite its ambiguity, this book deserves special attention as it provides an opportunity to reflect on those ethical realities in which people live. For this reason, I believe that my choice of the book was well founded.
To begin with, this book occupies a special place in Nietzsche’s work. Beyond Good and Evilappeared on the verge of the final, the most intense period of the philosophical activity of Nietzsche, whose tasks were largely predetermined in his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Nietzsche’s ideal suggested radical emancipation of man through self-creation, that is, the mastery of his/her own irrational forces implying rejection of the morality of modern society. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche proclaimed the Superman’s transition to the state of ‘beyond good and evil’. Beyond Good and Evil can be seen as sharp criticism of modernity – its philosophy, science, art, politics, etc. All the hallmarks of the 19th century – objectivity, sympathy for the suffering, historicism, scientific, etc., are considered by Nietzsche as bad manners. The book begins with a lengthy excursion into the history of philosophy, by which Nietzsche discovers the profound interconnection between all the great philosophical systems and the moral prejudices of their authors that resulted in the futility of the age-old search for the truth. This explains the need for a new kind of philosophy and new philosophers, whose characteristics are analyzed in the last part of the book. In the first part of the book, the author refers to the consideration of the natural history of morality and states that most of the philosophers could not understand that it was problematical. Nietzsche calls any morality the tyranny in relation to the nature and mind, assuming that above all, it teaches people to hate human freedom, provides limited horizons and narrow perspectives, and in a certain sense is nonsense. He is convinced that the extraordinary limitations of human development and its slowness were largely due to the moral instinct of obedience that contributed to cultivation of the gregarious type of humans. Nietzsche considers the virtues that characterize this type of humans, namely the spirit of public benevolence, piety, diligence, temperance, modesty, forbearance, compassion, etc. On the other hand, according to Nietzsche, all that degrades human personality concerns herd behavior, while person’s independent spirit, his/her desire to be alone, and self-esteem are seen dangerous and evil. The philosopher formulates his own attitude to such truths about good and evil. Nietzsche believes that he is obliged to warn people of the danger that awaits them as a result of the impact of modern morality. The philosopher has the conviction that this morality is a road to nowhere because it turns people into pathetic creatures who are unable to think for themselves. Nietzsche’s concerns are related to his confidence that modern morality destroys human dignity. The danger of modern morality is that it deprives people of the foundation that makes them humans, namely human dignity. The coming revaluation of all values should put an end to this degeneration of man.
The next section of the book is dedicated to the analysis of the main trends in the development of European science, which, in Nietzsche’s view, gradually evolved from philosophy. The psychological analysis of the so-called ‘human sciences’ with all their mediocrity and weakness of will allowed the thinker to see the manifestation of the general degeneration of man, anticipating many crises of the coming of science.
The main feature of this book is that it allows the philosopher to consider the two basic types of morality: the morality of masters and a slave morality. In all developed civilizations, they are mixed, and their elements can be detected in the same person. However, Nietzsche proves that it is necessary to distinguish between them. According to the morality of masters, or the aristocratic morality, good and evil are equivalent to the concepts of ‘noble’ and ‘despicable’ and refer not so much to the actions of people, but rather to the people themselves. In turn, according to the slave morality, the meaning of the basic ethical categories depends on what is useful and contributes to the maintenance of order in society, defending the interests of spiritually and physically weak individuals. In the history of morality, these two basic ethical positions are contrasted with each other.
From the standpoint of the highest type of people, they can coexist. This is possible if the ‘crowd’ that is not able to do anything lofty practices their slave morality exclusively in their environment. However, Nietzsche emphasizes that it is never limited to this, and he does not abandon the universalistic claims. Moreover, at least in the history of the West, the slave morality has every chance to succeed. This idea is confirmed by the spread of Christianity. Nietzsche does not deny completely the value of Christian morality, recognizing that it has made the human inner world more refined. Nevertheless, he sees it as an expression of vindictiveness that is the characteristic of the herd instinct, or slave morality. Nietzsche sees the same embodiment of revenge in democratic and socialist movements, considering them a derivative form of the Christian ideology. Such qualities as compassion, goodness, decency and modesty are regarded as virtues, while properties exhibited by strong and independent individuals are considered dangerous and resulting from evil. Nietzsche believes that the ideal of universal, single and absolute morality has to be discarded as it leads to the decline of life and degeneration of humanity. It should be replaced by a gradation of ranks, and degrees of various types of morality. Let the ‘flock’ continue practice their values, provided that it is deprived of the right to impose its on the people of the highest type. When Nietzsche speaks of the need to be beyond good and evil, it should be understood as a call for overcoming the so-called slave morality, which, from his point of view, is protecting mediocrity and preventing the rise of the human type. His position does not mean indifference to the nature of human values and the elimination of any moral criteria. This would be suicidal for any person. Only those who belong to the highest type can stand on the other side of the values imposed by society because these individuals are themselves the bearers of the moral law, and they do not need anyone’s custody. Their self-determination, according to Nietzsche, is the only way to a higher level of human existence, to the superman.
Analyzing this book, I can point both its advantages and disadvantages. I would say that the purpose of writing of this book is its main merit. Nietzsche sought to justify a new type of ethics that would allow people to realize their human dignity. This idea is one of the most interesting to me. In other words, we can see the advantage of this book in its noble purpose. Nietzsche was raised in the framework of Christian ethics, and yet he spoke out against the common Christian morality. To some extent, his protest is justified. We can observe a similar state of morality in today’s world when hiding behind the ideals of goodness and justice, people commit evil and despicable acts. Nietzsche’s work is an excellent opportunity to reflect on those ethical realities in which we live. The strength and dignity of this book are that it seeks to find the truth. To this end, Nietzsche is willing to sever his relations with the whole ethical tradition in which he was raised and developed as a person. In other words, the dignity of the book is in its boldness. Nietzsche is not afraid to go against the whole society; he does not hesitate to act against morality with thousands years of history.
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When you read Nietzsche, you are simply amazed by the life-giving and invigorating intellectual energy of his lines. This book is full of caustic and scathing critique of contemporary society. I learned from this book that every person is worthy of respect for his/her identity, and in this regard, human morality should promote human potential in its noble and strong forms. Nietzsche is categorical in his judgments; he always says his clear “yes” or “no” in respect of what he writes about. On the other hand, all his works, including the book in question, are related to the risk of being misinterpreted. We know one example of such a terrible danger when the German Nazis used Nietzsche’s ideas as a manifesto for their violent ideology. They saw themselves as supermen who could defend their morality through violence and terror. The will to power as the main idea of Nietzsche was the slogan that led to the deaths of millions of people.
This is a terrible example of how the word can become a cruel weapon that destroys everything in its path. For this reason, this Nietzsche’s work, just as all his other works, is for a mature and adequate reader who will be able to draw correct conclusions. Therefore, I would definitely recommend this book to those of my friends who can understand it adequately without distorting its basic meaning. In addition, I do not understand why Nietzsche is opposed to Christian morality, but does not see the difference between the theoretical and practical part of this morality. Theoretically, the Christian morality deserves respect because it glorifies and promotes the noble human qualities, such as the pursuit of justice, kindness, honesty, decency, etc. Unfortunately, in practice, the human behavior that seems to be based on Christian morality often violates the basic principles of Christianity. We all have to understand the difference between theory and practice, but for some reasons, Nietzsche rebelled against the whole of Christian morality while not seeing the difference between its theoretical and practical parts. In my opinion, it is wrong. In this regard, insisting on a new morality is also incorrect because the focus should be on improving the existing ethics. This is the main weakness of the book.