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Nietzsche and
the denial of
moral truth
Michael Lacewing
[email protected]
Nietzsche’s non-cognitivism
• False belief that value can’t have its origins in this
‘lowly, deceptive world’ of desire.
• Consulting our ‘intuitions’ to justify moral
principles: these justifications are expressions of
our morality, which has a history.
• ‘most of a philosopher’s conscious thinking is
secretly guided and channelled into particular
tracks by his instincts. Behind all logic, too, and its
apparent tyranny of movement there are value
judgements, or to speak more clearly, physiological
demands for the preservation of a particular kind of
life.’ (§3)
Nietzsche’s non-cognitivism
• ‘all animals, including la bête philosophe [the
philosophical animal], strive instinctively for an optimum
combination of favourable conditions which allow them
to expend all their energy and achieve their maximum
feeling of power’ (On the Genealogy of Morals, III §7)
• There are different ‘types’ of people, who are drawn to
the different types of life that suit them best, e.g.
• Different values (and interpretations) support different
ways of life.
• Philosophical views reflect particular interpretations of
Philosophers’ values
• Philosophy requires contemplation and ‘ascetism’.
Values of transcendental world of mind – knowledge
of truth and goodness – are defended as superior to
values of action.
• This carves out social space and reinforces selfdiscipline.
• The ‘will to truth’ is an expression of a ‘will to
• Nothing wrong with this – but we should be aware
that we are seeking to impose values, not discover
The ‘will to power’
• What is the will to power? Is Nietzsche
right about it?
• ‘Life is the will to power’
– But not all forms of life involve a will –
Nietzsche is projecting psychology onto
biology (which he criticizes in
– Some living things (human beings under
the ascetic ideal) lack the will to power!
The ‘will to power’
• The will to power is a characteristic of the will –
the basic form of our drives/instincts.
– The nature of a drive is to assert itself.
– For success, it must compete with other drives.
To achieve expression is for the drive to have
– Power is not a separate aim of the drives.
• The will to power is present in all willing. But it
can be strong or weak. It is weak in the ascetic
• What force can combat or reduce the will to
power? What is the origin of despair,
decadence, etc.?
• Are all motives nothing more than the will to
power, e.g. love?
• Suggestion: Nietzsche approves of those
understandings and expressions – of love, of
thought – that fit with and express the will
to power, but is not reductivist.
Nietzsche on physiology
• Nietzsche doesn’t understand
evolution; and doesn’t distinguish
biological from social inheritance
• Genetics does not determine
psychology, so the will to power is not
‘in one’s blood’.
• Therefore, values are not physiological
demands for a way of life.
Will to power and values
• Say ‘yes’ to will to power = saying ‘yes’ to life,
and take joy in exercising power
• Naturalistic fallacy? What is natural is not
necessarily what is good.
• Reply:
– without life, valuing is not possible.
– Therefore, any values that deny or impoverish
our living undermine their own foundations.
– Therefore, the affirmation of life (will to power)
is the basis of all values.
• Equivocation on ‘life’:
– ‘life’ as the strong expression of the will
to power.
– ‘life’ as a matter of being alive.
• It is the latter, not the former, that
makes valuing possible. So we can ask
why we should value the higher form.