A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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3/ The aim is not to find the origin of morals


a/ Where does the confusion between origin and foundation come from?

To look for the origin of morality is to look for where our moral concepts come from. In which context did they develop? What feeling is at the origin of their creation? Which society elaborated them? To whose interest did they correspond? Therefore, we will study morality from three points of view: historical (understanding the origin of a concept requires considering the past), sociological (to comprehend the context of a concept, we must have knowledge of the society in which it is discovered or developed), and lastly, psychological (to study the human intellect which elaborates these concepts) - or physiological, if we consider that the mind is an expression of the body.

History, Sociology, Psychology or Physiology: these are the disciplines which are requested in this investigation. The importance and interest of this research are obvious. However, I wish to raise this simple question: Does any study of this nature help us to solve our problem? In other words: Is the identification of the origin of morals necessary in any way whatsoever to define the foundation of morals?

The answer to this question seems to be negative - I would even add “unfortunately” because we need all the assistance we can get in our research. Why? Let us examine the reason by studying Nietzsche’s attempt to infer the foundation of morality from its origin.


b/ the Nietzschean genealogy

Nietzsche has tried to identify the origin of our moral judgments. Why do we make such judgments? We must disclose the invisible and unsuspected cause of this visible phenomenon. Nietzsche, for his part, claims to be suspicious: My writings have been called a School for Suspicion, even more for Contempt, fortunately also for Courage and, in fact, for Daring. Truly, I myself do not believe that anyone has ever looked into the world with such deep suspicion 1. This investigation into the hidden origin of phenomena is called “genealogy” and what is a family genealogy, if not the discovery of our ancestors, the hidden causes at the origin of our existence?

It is to be noted that Nietzsche attributes several different origins to moral judgments.

Firstly, he refers to a physiological origin: In point of fact, all tables of values, all the "thou shalts" known to history and ethnology, need primarily a physiological, at any rate in preference to a psychological, elucidation and interpretation: all equally require a critique from medical science 2.

‘Give me such and such body, and you will get such and such morals’, Nietzsche affirms, in essence. The “sublime abortion”, due to the weakness of his body and will, adopts a morality in which peace, humility and forgiveness prevail, as the supreme values, whereas the “blonde beast” prefers a morality of nobility, courage and strength: Behind the highest value judgments that have hitherto guided the history of thought are concealed misunderstandings of the physical constitution – of individuals, or classes or even whole races. All those bold lunacies of metaphysics, especially answers to the question about the value of existence, may always be considered first of all as symptoms of certain bodies; and if such world affirmations or world negations lack altogether any grain of significance when measured scientifically, they give the historian and psychologist all the more valuable hints as symptoms of the body, of its success or failure, its fullness, power […] 3.

1. Human, too human, Preface, 1
2. Genealogy of Morals, 1st essay, 17
3. The Gay Science, chap. 5, 2