Nietzsche take on Ethics and Morality



Introduction. 1

Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals Perspective. 2

John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarian Perspective. 4

Mills and Nietzsche take on Ethics and Morality. 6




Morality definitions of good and its practicality in improvement of the quality of human life touch on a number of contested areas such as happiness, ethics and consequences. Philosophical deliberations of the moral value attached to the intentions of conduct within the confinements of definitions of goodness and happiness remain elusive and an open approach must inform a middle ground position on morality as a topic. Making comparisons of two of the most vocal morality philosophers to illustrate the need of a broader perspective in definition of other deeper concepts of morality such as righteousness and virtue underscores the sensitivity of the debate. On one hand, the position adopted by Nietzsche through the famous dichotomies defining the genesis of good, bad and evil formulate the essence of morality from the basics. Apparently, it would be difficult to discuss that whose origin or genesis cannot support its existence. On the other hand, the opinion of John Stuart Mill concerning morality raises the higher bar of morality through definition of virtue and its importance in life, for instance in religion (Smith 27).

Despite the fact that the approaches taken by the two philosophers distinguish their philosophical orientation through different concepts on the central theme, two concepts remain throughout their debate as demonstrated in this discourse. Both philosophers independently made astounding interpretations to morality, almost certainly taking a similar opinion on several elements than conflicting opinion. The centrality of morality in the work by Nietzsche and Mill illustrates the diversity of definition of the underlying interpretations such as through genealogy of morals, utilitarianism, egoism, righteousness and consequentialism.



Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals Perspective

Tracing the origin of the general meaning of good and bad from class differentiation between the powerful and the weak eventually leading to a systemic unquestionable belief of correct and wrong judgments presents Nietzsche’s opinion in a sharp reflection on morality. The First Essay depicts Nietzsche as a simplistic morality thinker in the way he relates the topic with the human society. Perhaps getting the basics rights in the definition of what morality entails gives Nietzsche the edge in laying the foundations of the debate. Morality interpretation of good through attaching benefit to the recipient of actions of others illustrates the perspective taken by Nietzsche, though he makes the observation to the effect that the terminology ‘good’ came later. Such an explanation adopts the utilitarian concept where the tag of benefit drives the definition of actions as good or bad (Geddes para.9).

For a clearer understanding of the origin of the concept of good in the society, Nietzsche takes the historical appearance of the expression ‘good’. Assigning the origin of good and bad as exclusively independent actions facilitates the drawing of the conclusion of morality, within the limitation of master and slave interpretation. Critics of this definition of origin of morality parameters would find fault in the practicality of the definitions before organized society where slave-master arrangement would be too complex and entirely inconceivable. Associating badness with excesses of power alone selectively brands higher classes as the vulnerable species in the relationship, whereas the opposite falls within logical transposition in a normal setting. As an illustration, the low classes are generally vulnerable to devise ways of defying class misfortunes such as hunger through seemingly bad interventions such as theft.

The construction of the ‘pathos of distance’ in the characterization of the spread of good and bad attributes among the classes facilitates the establishment of social balance. Exclusion of classes from a particular attribute would otherwise render the argument rather illogical since good and bad exists across the classes, at least from antiquity projections. The onus of illustrating the practicality of the genesis of good and bad satisfactorily demonstrates the reflective quality of the Nietzsche’s essay. Illustration of how the spread of bad among the traditionally good lower classes as the essay points out relies on radicalism that led to the transvaluation of perceived ideals and social morals. Rising against apparent marginalization by the power class bred evil among the low class that originally took the goodness tag. Justification of bad ‘values’ among the poor only implies that pulling the moral fiber too tight for it withstand leads to destruction of the morality perception (Lewis 458). The immoral content in the justification context cannot qualify badness to goodness under morality considerations. Nietzsche notes this concept by tagging the seemingly acceptable struggle as slave morality that is largely fueled by the survival instinct embraced to eliminate the marginalization. Opposition of the acceptable ‘morality’ forces among the two sides results in the entrenchment of the culture of good and bad. How discrete the powerful and powerless classes interact with the two values depends on the dominant mentality. Whereas the survival mentality among the lower classes triggers slave mentality and survival tactics thereon, the point of overlapping attributes of goodness and badness does not emerge clearly.

In view of the magnitude of levels of acceptance of the class perceptions, the analogy of powerful eagle class against the relatively weaker lambs within the inherent conflict identification demonstrates natural enmity that adds meaning to the characterization (Negri 12). Power as a fountain of goodness in the illustration adopted by Nietzsche’s first essay appears to form the standardization yardstick. The branding of the powerful as systemically bad and that they are only good if they exercise freedom of choice to decide to cross over the slave and master morality gap is debatable among the morality philosophers. In addition, attaching the origin of slave morality to religious class may indicate the apparent pursuit of solace in ‘purity’ of the class (Mwhalin para.9).

John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarian Perspective

Mill’s discussion on morality captures appropriateness of actions for the definition of morality, which is largely a utilitarian perspective as opposed to the egoistic approach adopted by Nietzsche. Righteousness attributes of the actor facilitates the determination of Mill’s c of morality. The valuation of utility in actions according to the postulations by Mill perhaps obtains credit from satisfaction and happiness. Intrinsic motivation towards pleasure and satisfaction as the center of valuation allows the opinion by Mills to attain definition aspects as those taken by Nietzsche. Explaining the role of goodness from the perceived benefits to reflect on morality demonstrates the philosopher’s connection with social perceptions where morality definitions take shape. Pleasure in terms of the mental satisfaction takes precedence over physical pleasure. Perception of pleasure makes importance to Mill if first accepted in the minds of the beneficiaries of the good thereon (Mill 11).

The importance of moral instincts in the determination of morality by an individual and the society forms the foundations of Mill’s postulates on goodness. Inherent tags of right or wrong do not form part of the postulates forwarded by Mills and he argues that only morality instincts assist the valuation of goodness in actions. The application of certain general rules established by instincts determines the perception of morality in the society. Existence of instincts in the minds of people deliberating on morality simplifies a rather complicated debate where opinions on the appropriate determination of morality clash. It therefore implies that the lack of written rules and regulations for the determination of morality leaves the opinion diversity as confusing as it is. Generally, accepted moral values compel the society to hold certain incidental principles of good and bad as the foundations of morality.

Mill’s attempts to demystify incorrect reception of utilitarianism as certain isolated critical views elaborates pleasure as the central motivation to acting as desired under morality principles. Just as Nietzsche approaches his essay by definition of the morality defining concepts of good and bad, Mills considers utility attachments of actions as the driving factors in his enumeration of morality. Pleasure and utility appear to represent closely related concepts from which the human race finds solutions to morality. Classification of pleasures based on their importance may prove determinant to the overall utility and value. According to the postulates forwarded by Mills, pleasures that take higher ranking from the beneficiaries have a higher utility and may compel decision making towards uptake of more pleasurable actions. It implies that the most dominant determinant in choosing pleasure considers quality over quantity. Mills explains that the most preferable pleasure in a smaller quantity would not ordinarily be traded for a higher amount of a lower ranking pleasure.

Utilitarianism perhaps confuses people who fail to distinguish true happiness from contentment that represents a lower quality of pleasure from a morality perspective (Mill 25). Contentment would overrule the value of morality lessons captures in Mills illustrations of the better version of pleasure. Mill reckons that being a dissatisfied human, scores highly in terms of value of pleasure when compared to being a satisfied animal. Alternatively, a wise person in spells of dissatisfactions ranks higher when compared to a fool with a feeling of satisfaction. Mills therefore considers the overall quality of pleasure as a determinant of the moral motivation that humans should have towards attaining a particular pleasure. Higher and lower levels of pleasure form the threshold of judgment that an individual must always contemplate on in order to discern how utility ranking elevates the motivation thereon. The concept of life and its dignity allow Mill’s arguments to expel lower forms of pleasure in qualification of the correct and appropriate pleasures under morality consideration. Morality and motivations of taking the most appropriate decision must be informed by the apparent quality of pleasure as opposed to the quantity. Happiness as an attainable human life motivation forms a central concept taken by Mill in explaining the role of pleasure informing moral decisions.

Virtue as a conglomerate of choosing proper decisions with an aim of attaining higher pleasures and happiness also stands out as an argument in Mill’s postulates. The importance of education towards attaining better responses in handling happiness and motivations thereon emerges in the considerations of utility as the driving motivation. Social arrangement also influences the nature of perceived pleasures in the society. It is important for Mill to illustrate the impact of selfishness in alienation of pleasure to other people and as a cause of unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Pain withstood as a motivation for greater benefit of the community receives a mention by Mill and martyrdom is employed in the illustration (Mill 36). A martyr seemingly sacrifices a single life for the satisfaction of the large group of people professing the cause of the martyr. Maintaining the attitude of happiness in pursuit of all activities undertaken forms the basis of morality under the utilitarian perspective.

Mills and Nietzsche take on Ethics and Morality

Mills and Nietzsche have a number of opinions that nearly coincide with regard to the nature of ethical considerations that a society attaches to morality. The foundations and origins of morality perceptions form an important start for the discussion and the two philosophers make a deliberate dedication of basic definitions of goodness, badness, pleasure and happiness. In generating the background interaction of the society with the specified elements under morality concepts facilitates the establishment of a common ground for their arguments. The use of basic life settings in the development of the explanations shows that the two have a deeper understanding of ethical concepts in the society from the most basic perspectives. Nietzsche employs ancient slave-master setting while Mill adopts several animal and human relationships in understanding the motivation of actions towards definition of morality. Apparently, both employ qualitative distinction of actions in attaching morality and value of right judgment. Whereas Mill’s concepts on morality preceded Nietzsche in historic considerations, it is interesting to realize the similarity of the approach taken. Mill’s observation that the social arrangement elevates persons to make pleasure accessible to many more other people coincides with the concept that Nietzsche holds about those in power.

However, in order for the persons in power to make such an important beneficial impact in the lives of the majority, a significant descent from the master morality seemingly oppressing the powerless must prevail. Both positions taken by the philosophers illustrate the importance of social order and power stratification that is presented in the arguments propagated but in a different way. In view of the role of morality as a value as opposed to vices on the lower side of rating, the two philosophers hold the opinion that the quality of life of human beings depends on the quality of perceived satisfaction. Nietzsche defines the context of the powerful class as a higher and pleasurable position that the powerless would easily fight to attain. Mill on the other hand illustrates the better position from a more complicated qualitative analysis that raises the standards set by Nietzsche. As an illustration, Mill explains the superiority of suffering persons bearing wisdom when compared to contented fools without particular urgency of leaving the comfort zone. Although both perspectives employ different happiness qualification standards, it is clear that the issue of morality and ethics originates from the social interpretation of the actions taken. Extrapolation of the struggles by the powerless class in the Nietzsche essay and effective transposition onto the position taken by Mill coincides with the motivation to attain higher pleasures.


Nietzsche takes an egoistic deliberation of moral values and employs the theme of class superiority to define the origin of morality perceptions among the classes. By depicting the class tag as a determinant of the quality of morality, Nietzsche takes a different perspective from Mills in enumeration of morality. Nietzsche’s essays consider the quality of morality from an apparent dichotomy of considerations of good and bad from the genesis perspective whereas Mill employs a generally open approach without dichotomy restrictions. Mill delivers happiness and pleasure analysis from a position that avoids egoism but a comprehensive characterization of the state of reasoning behind the valuation of pleasure as either higher or lower status (Mill 42). Depicting the attainment of pleasure as well as actions targeting attainment of freedom from pain as most powerful drive towards making life meaningful establishes Mill’s approach.

Comparing Nietzsche and Mill in explanation of the quality of goodness attained in the end of actions, both highlight the valuation in a different attempt. Nietzsche brands the powerless as the origin of bad and evil and illustrates contentment between the classes as illustrated in the acceptance in the analogy of the eagles and lambs. The apparent acceptance by the classes that the tag of either bad or good exists creates a scrappy concept of individual role of embracing ethics in the society. Perhaps due to the restriction of the dichotomous design of the classes, Nietzsche fails to forge a convincing argument to support the unfair branding of power as a determinant of origin of immorality. In terms of the level of influence, that each of the philosophers has on the other, it is clear that the two employ independent conceptualization of morality and no clear relationship is witnessed. Apparently, there is a huge difference in the root argument adopted where one employs egoistic argument while the other employs a different approach.


Works Cited

Geddes, Dan. “Towards an Evaluation of Nietzsche Genealogy of Morals,” 2012, Web. (4 August, 2012)

Lewis, K. David. “Counterfactual Dependence and Time’s Arrow.” Nous, 13.4(1979):455-476.

Mill, J. Stuart. Utilitarianism, New York, NY: Barnes and Noble, 2007. Print

Mwhalin, Christopher. “Nietzsche, F. “First Essay: ‘Good and Bad,’ ‘Good and Evil’” in On the Genealogy of Morals,” 2008. Web. (4 August, 2012)

Negri, Paul. The Genealogy of Morals, New York, NY: Dover Publications, 2003. Print

Smith, Douglas. On the Genealogy of Morals, On the Genealogy of Morals, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1996. Print

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