Edward Munch, Friedrich Nietzsche, 1906

Nietzsche’s Critique of Morality

Instructor: Matt Moss
A Public Space
323 Dean Street
Brooklyn, NY 11217

In the 1880’s, after quitting his job as a relatively obscure professor of classical philology in Switzerland, Friedrich Nietzsche published a series of philosophical polemics in which he subjected the institution of morality to a new and ruthless kind of critique. In texts such as Beyond Good and Evil and On The Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche argues that morality does not, as philosophers from Plato to Kant claimed, have its origin and ultimate justification in knowledge of universal principles. He urges instead that morality has a purely historical origin, which, when recognized, irreparably damages our conviction that moral beliefs correspond to timeless truths. Nietzsche locates this origin at a nexus of power struggles among groups that strove to subvert and dominate each other. Seen in this light, morality no longer seems to make legitimate, necessary, and exceptionless demands on human beings. Rather — and more provocatively — it comes to seem a harmful, even degrading part of human life. How can we understand this truly unique stance on moral philosophy? Is Nietzsche’s vision one of nihilistic horror? Or of human liberation and creative possibility? And how can a “genealogy” of how “we” learned to call certain actions, attitudes, and lifestyles “good” transform our understanding of the good itself?

This course will consider these questions by examining Nietzsche’s distinctive and radical conception of philosophy and its history, as well as his views on the nature and value of knowledge and truth. We will begin by considering how Nietzsche’s attack on popular morality and philosophical moral theory go hand in hand with bold theses in metaphysics and epistemology. We will ask: How should we understand the difference between a morality and an ethics, and why is this consequential? What does it mean to call for a “revaluation of values” — a new ethics, or way of life, that is not susceptible to the pitfalls of the old morality? And what is to be gained, rather than merely lost, by accepting Nietzsche’s view of humanity and its history? While very short secondary selections may be assigned, the course will primarily focus on close readings of Nietzsche’s own writings.

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 6:30-9:30pm
March 07 — March 28, 2017
4 weeks


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