Monday, October 11, 2004



I was listening to the broadcast on Nietzche, who apart from confounding reluctant spellers the world over, had some interesting ideas about morality and philosophy. Having never formally studied his work, it's hard to see why he is so well regarded. However, the thing I picked up on was fairly generally applicable. Nietzche has the conception of the "Ubermensch" - a kind of mental superman. He proposed that people could be put into two classes, with the vast majority of people being of a kind of lower intelligence, and a select few being these supermen. An ubermensch should not be shackled by the morality of the herd, but instead ascribe to higher goals. Nietzche is more concerned with the origins and causes of moral feeling in humans than championing a cause that sounds suspiciously close to eugenic ideals. In his view, ethics and morality arise from the need in early culture to work together - that these things come from behavioural pressures rather than having any objective good or evil associated with them. This may be said to be begging the question, as it is difficult to see how good or evil could be applied in anything other than a framework of moral obligation. (For those who wish to brave a reading of his work, try "Beyond Good and Evil", or if you prefer allegory, "Thus Spake Zaruthastra."

The question that arose was how an individual might determine whether they were of the herd, or one of the elite. I personally subscribe to the importance of society, of working together, and the everyday, wheras Nietzche contended that progress and the best good came from a few extraordinary people. To his view, society existed mostly to support these people in their lives.

It is true for most of us however that we feel both the pressure of pride leading us to think we are special, that we should aim higher, but also the fear of being wrong and the embarassment that comes from claiming to be too good. The question comes - how close to the sun should we try to fly? What is it that separates Icarues from Daedalus? (See for a description of this myth.

Clearly people are not created with equal talents - our biology plays a strong role in the skills we take out into the world. Some are more intellectually apt than others, some naturally suited to sports, or language, or singing, some more determined than others etc. People do not normally view any of these differences as good bases for moral discrimination, but we are certainly left with the dilemma of knowing our own limits, and accepting them. Growing up is a challenging time, as we learnt first our independance, and then our mortality. Some, like Plato, would have it suggested that we should learn to do one or two things well, and dedicate ourselves to that. Nelson Mandela would have us all free ourselves from the fear of failure, and in so doing realise a greater potential. You can see his inaugural speech at

It would seem that there are no clear answers, and that many people have struggled with how to understand their own limitations. Perhaps these resources can help us understand ours.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL and found it very tough going. I have only really gathered what it was about from the intro and from what others have said..."Will to power" and all that. But I liked the process of wading through the miasma of 'stream of consciousness' that most philosophy entails, and don't get turned off much if I don't understand what I'm reading. Being a computer programmer I spend eight hours a day dealing with abstractions.

Toxic Waste

10/11/2004 07:40:00 PM  

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