A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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3/ It is not looking for the origin of morality


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

To seek the origin of morality is to seek the origin of our moral concepts; what is the context in which they were formed, who forged them, what sentiment was behind their creation, what society developed them, what interest presided over their conception, etc.? The preferred perspective from which to study morality will therefore be threefold: it will have recourse to history (to grasp the origin of a concept, we need to look at the past), sociology (to grasp the context of a concept, we need to know the society in which it was discovered or constructed), and finally psychology (to study the human mind that develops these concepts) - psychology or physiology, depending on whether or not we consider that what belongs to the human mind is an expression of its body.

History, sociology, psychology or physiology: these are the disciplines that will be called upon in such a study. The importance and relevance of this study are obvious, and the discoveries made are immense. The simple question is: do these discoveries help us with our problem? In other words, is the discovery of the origin of morality able to help us in any way in our search for the foundation of morality?

Unfortunately, the answer seems to be no (and that is a shame, because we are depriving ourselves of a valuable aid to our research). But why not? We will find out by studying Nietzsche's attempt to deduce the foundation of morality from its origin.


b/ The example of Nietzschean genealogy

Nietzsche seeks to identify the origin of our moral judgements. Where does it come from that we make such judgements? It is a question of going back from the visible phenomenon to its invisible and unsuspected cause. Nietzsche, for his part, wants 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. Such an investigation, which seeks to identify the hidden origins of phenomena, is called 'genealogical', because what is a family genealogy if not the discovery of ancestors, the hidden causes at the origin of my existence?

It should be noted that Nietzsche attributes several different origins to moral judgements.

First of all, 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 a body, and you will have such and such morals", Nietzsche tells us in essence. The "sublime runt", because of the weakness of his limbs and his will, will support a morality that makes peace, humility and forgiveness the supreme values; the "blond beast", on the other hand, will produce 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, All Too Human, Preface, 1
2. On the Genealogy of Morals, 1st essay, 17
3. The Gay Science, chap. 5, 2