One Among Many

The self in social context

Nietzsche Before Breakfast

Why accept the morality we learned in Kindergarten as THE morality?

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In this blog, I have carried the flag for naturalism, the idea that humans are integral to nature and not above it. I find it paradoxical that many humans, particularly those under the spell of Judeo-Christianism, reject naturalism. They think humans are special, that they have free will, that they experience moral emotions (can they choose not to?), and they are eager to mete out rewards, and punishments even more so. They think that were it not so, the world would come to an end. The paradox is that these non-naturalist ideas would also have to be, in the final analysis, natural—human, all-too-human.

I see the footprint of naturalism in the works of some of the philosophers whom I have dilettanteishly studied [I am a sciolist; I play that instrument. :-)]. Heraclitus, Hume, Spinoza, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche are my favorites. I would also put Russell on this list, but I am not sure if he’d object (He hated Nietzsche). Working through Nietzsche’s Daybreak, I find many quotable lines, a selection of which I share below because they reflect some of the things — and say them better — I wrote in earlier posts.

Aside from the personal nerves that Nietzsche touches, there are professional nerves. It seems to me that social psychology is in the middle of a love affair with morality. Moral psychology is the non plus ultra. As blame looms larger than praise, most of this work is concerned with figuring out how people (undergraduate students in the United States of America or the Netherlands) assign the former. That they will assign blame is a foregone conclusion. We all do, right? We love it! One of my colleagues, whose work I respect very much, is a specialist on vengeance (it’s best when served cold, but usually it’s hot).

What if we come to understand how post-bourgeois undergraduate students allocate blame? Will we blame them for blaming? That would be odd. Or will we attempt to extract normative moral ideas from what we see them do? That would be odder still. I may be over-reacting here, but it seems to me that what we have here is a case of creeping justificationism. Once we have, ostensibly on a purely descriptive platform, mapped out how our post-bourgeois undergraduates feel and think about blame on average, then the views of non-conformist Baruch or Bertrand will seem out of line, and — gad! — blameworthy. Can we really claim that a world without punishment, regret, moral outrage, and vengeance is impossible? Before you say no, we cannot, note that those of us who have been around psychology departments for more than a decade remember that punishment used to be writ-small. The action was, the research suggested, mostly in the reinforcements. If behaviorists could imagine a world with little punishment, so too could the humanists (to psychoanalysts most punishment is self-inflicted, and a thing to be overcome). Again, I am worried about the naturalistic fallacy (it pains me to use the word “naturalistic” in this context) of concluding that if most undergrads are awash in guilt, shame, regret, and moral outrage, then that should be the way for all of us. As Nietzsche rejected these notions as methods of self-enslavement, he was in my opinion a gay scientist (classic usage please).

So here are the quotes (the number refers to the section of Daybreak in which the quote can be found):

19 Morality is a hindrance to the creation of new and better customs: it makes stupid.

35 To trust one’s feelings — means to give more obedience to one’s grandfather and grandmother and their grandparents than to the gods, which are in us: our reason and our experience.

49 The becoming drags the has-been along with it: why should an exception to this eternal spectacle be made on behalf of some little star or for any little species upon it! Away with such sentimentalities!

112 Our duties are the rights of others over us.

124 We laugh at him who steps out of his room at the moment when the sun steps out of its room, and then says: ‘I will that the sun shall rise’; and at him who cannot stop a wheel, and says: ‘I will that it shall roll’; and at him who is thrown down wrestling, and says: ‘here I lie, but I will lie here!’ But, all laughter aside, are we ourselves ever acting any differently whenever we employ the expression ‘I will’?

128 [. . .] that the doctrine of freedom of will has human pride and feeling of power for its father and mother? Perhaps I say this too often: but at least that does not make it an error.

202 Let us do away with the concept of sin – and let us quickly send after it the concept of punishment!

252 He who is punished is never he who performed the deed. He is always the scapegoat.

Joachim Krueger, Ph.D., is a social psychologist at Brown University who believes that rational thinking and socially responsible behavior are attainable goals.

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