A Nietzsche Question

Given that Leiter has put up a kind link to Pea Soup, I thought it would be appropriate to thank him by posting something about Nietzsche. The question I have in mind is simple really; what is the first essay of On the Genealogy of Morals a historical account of? Is it an account of (i) the concept ‘good’, the term/word ‘good’, and the nature of evaluative judgments, or of (ii) different conceptions and ideas of good, which values (i.e., evaluative attitudes) different groups have held, their methods of making evaluative judgments, their grounds for making these judgments, and so on. Roughly the question is, is his account ‘historico-conceptual’ or ‘historico-psychological’?

            Given the text, Nietzsche seems to think it is both. It doesn’t look like he made the distinction and I haven’t seen any commentator doing it either. I want to claim that his account is a non-starter for an account of (i) whereas at least it is a runner for an account of (ii).

          Nietzsche says many things which make you think that his account is about the concept ‘good’. So, he says things like ‘‘refined’ and ‘noble’ in the sense of social standing is everywhere the fundamental concept, from which ‘good’ in the sense of ‘having a refined soul’ … necessarily developed’, and ‘what a difference there is between these two words ‘bad’ and ‘evil’, in spite of the fact that they both appear to stand in opposition to one and the same concept of ‘good’! But it is not the same concept of ‘good’ which is involved in each case.’ Leiter makes this even clearer: ‘In other words, the concept “good” in the hands of masters connotes a distinctive psychological or characterological state, and not simply class position: “later ‘good’ and ‘bad’ develop in a direction which no longer refers to social standing” (GM I: 6).’

Thus, on this view ‘the masters’ and ‘the slaves’ have different concepts of good. Perhaps the master’s concept ‘good’ means something like ‘conducive to proud states of soul’ and the slave’s concept ‘good’ ‘that which eases the existence of those who suffer’. The obvious problem with any view of this sort will be how to account for disagreements.

            Imagine games on Colosseum in the end of the first centery AD. Christians are being thrown to the lions. The emperor, blond beast and a proud warrior, Domitian says ‘it is good that those Christians are thrown to the lions’. His slave Spartacus, a weak and compassionate Christian, replies ‘No Sir, that is false. It is not good that those Christians are thrown to the lions’. Domitian replies ‘Ah – of course it is good. What would you know?”.

Of course this disagreement did not actually take place (for one Spartacus lived much earlier). But, given that Nietzsche thought that there was a battle between the two moralities for thousands of years, at least one such evaluative disagreement between a master and a slave must have taken place. However, if Nietzsche’s view was that the two moralities had different moral concepts, no such disagreement could have been possible. Domitian’s first claim would have meant ‘Throwing Christians to the lions is conducive to proud states of souls which I approve’. This is something Spartacus could not have disagreed with by saying that it is false. About that Domitian was right. By saying that throwing Christians to the lions is not good Spartacus could have only meant that that does not ease the existence of those who suffer. But again, with this Domitian would not have disagreed.

Thus, to have been able to disagree as they did, the masters and slaves needed to share the same evaluative concepts. This means that Nietzsche’s historical account seems to fail as an account of which concepts the groups had. They had to have the same ones the origin of which would probably precede both groups. This is not to say that Nietzsche might have been right about on what grounds the groups judged things to be good, bad, or evil, about which moral beliefs or values the groups held and so on. And, maybe this does shed light on why we hold the moral beliefs we do. But, I’m sceptical whether the historical story can illuminate the nature of the concepts we use. 

            There is plenty of evidence that Nietzsche too on occasion thought of his account as an account of the evaluative attitudes, values, people have held. He often refers to the aristocratic mode and method of evaluation, value-judgments and values, and so on. 

31 Replies to “A Nietzsche Question

  1. Your argument to the conclusion that the master and slave couldn’t disagree about the good given Nietzsche’s account of things depends on the following paragraph:
    Thus, on this view ‘the masters’ and ‘the slaves’ have different concepts of good. Perhaps the master’s concept ‘good’ means something like ‘conducive to proud states of soul’ and the slave’s concept ‘good’ ‘that which eases the existence of those who suffer’. The obvious problem with any view of this sort will be how to account for disagreements.
    But this surely shortchanges the account Nietzsche offers. That is, I don’t think Nietzsche excludes from the concept of the good the notion of something like “ought to be promoted.” So, using your shorthand, the “master morality” concept of the good would be more along the lines of “proud states of the soul are to be promoted whenever possible and appropriate, above all else” and the slave concept of the good more along the lines of “that which eases the existence of those who suffer is to be promoted whenever possible and appropriate, above all else.” If that is anywhere close to being on the right track, then they are disagreeing about those things that ought to be promoted above all else, or something like that.

  2. That’s good. First, your proposal seems to require that the two moralities share the same concept of ‘ought’. This would entail that the conclusion that Nietzsche’s historical account cannot be the whole story about the nature of moral concepts in terms of the psychological drives of situated historical groups. I cannot remember Nietzsche talking about oughts but I think duties and obligations are supposed to come to the scene for him with the slave morality.
    I also wonder whether your suggestion doesn’t collapse into what I had in mind. It seems like you could think that both groups share the same concept of ‘good’ namely just ‘that which is to be promoted’. They would then have different conceptions of in virtue of what states of affairs have this quality. According to the masters it is conduciveness to proud states of soul whereas according to the slaves it is that suffering is eased. This would be a substantial disagreement but not a conceptual one.

  3. This isn’t really a response to the last thing you said, but I wonder how the following complicates things:
    1) Nietzsche’s claim that slave morality arises out of a certain kind of helplessness on the part of the “slaves.” They are impotent in regard to action and so must resort to other means.
    2)Nietzsche’s belief that that which is life-enhancing is to be esteemed.
    3) Suffering is to be esteemed, in part, for its great making, life-enhancing properties.
    4) However, there is an order of rank; suffering is not life-enhancing for everyone.
    “Oughts” are a tricky question with Nietzsche. Nevertheless, it is seems that he does say that certain things ought to be done insofar as they are life-enhancing, or something like that. The question is, then, in part, why that which is life-enhancing is “good.” But perhaps that is in the end not the right question or a good question.

  4. I’m not sure there will be any difficulties. So, if think of his view as a view of the development of conceptions of good, all the same psychological mechanisms are available for explanation. And, whatever view we will have about the meaning of the concept ‘good’, we can use that account to understand Nietzsche’s own claims about the value of life-enhancement.

  5. “Thus, to have been able to disagree as they did, the masters and slaves needed to share the same evaluative concepts. This means that Nietzsche’s historical account seems to fail as an account of which concepts the groups had. They had to have the same ones the origin of which would probably precede both groups.”
    I think your account misses a central feature of Nietzsche’s account of the slave revolt in morality that meets this criticism. That feature is the self-deception about one’s evaluative commitments – which Nietzsche explains psychologically in terms of ressentiment, and which finds expression as an evaluative regime when ressentiment “becomes creative and gives birth to values” (GM 1.10). Throughout GM 1, variations on the theme of self-deception about one’s evaluative commitments is reiterated as central to slave morality. In regard to your above-quoted concern, then, this would seem to mean that adherents to slave morality are self-deceived about the grip master morality continues to hold over them, and about how that adherence (to slave morality) is actually sustained by, or parasitic upon, that more basic, if not ineradicable, grip (of master morality).
    This reading seems consistent with the assumption that the reader Nietzsche intends to enlighten is “a real battleground for those opposites” of master and slave morality (GM 1.16), and is supposed to be affectively stimulated into recognizing her allegiance to “modern ideas” as afflicted by a self-deception akin to that of the adherents of slave morality in GM 1.
    So, I think Nietzsche’s account of the slave revolt in morality may well be predicated on precisely what you claim it lacks.
    (If “master morality” and what Nietzsche articulates as “morality of custom” can be conflated to some extent, I think something of a contemporary echo of Nietzsche’s view about the relation between master morality and slave morality can be found Jonathan Haidt’s attempts to get American liberals to appreciate the other three — of the five he has identified — moral foundations at work in the outlook of American conservatives, though I’ve not read enough of Haidt to see if he makes the more radical Nietzschean claim that the “liberal” foundations are genetically secondary to and parasitic upon the “conservative” ones.)

  6. Rob,
    that’s interesting. I think I need a bit of clarification about the proposal. So, take my case above. Spartacus thinks to himself that Domitian is mistaken and that it is not good to throw Christians to the lions. Is your idea that this is self-deception? Deep down he really has adopted the concept of ‘goodness’ of the master morality. This sounds like an interesting reading of Nietzsche.
    This is interesting but I wonder whether it avoids the problem. It seems to just move it within Spartacus. That he is self-deceived about his evaluative commitments requires that his explicit self-conscious judgments conflict with his deep-down held evaluative convictions. This conflict seems to require that the deep-down held convictions attribute value to different objects than the surface judgments. But, again, this seems to require that the same concept of good is part of both judgments.

  7. I don’t think the emperor’s calling the games “good” would mean much more than ‘the sort of thing powerful people like me enjoy entertaining ourselves with,’ and I imagine he would probably find Spartacus’ response perfectly natural and predictable. Who else, after all, he might chuckle to himself, but those hopelessly low enough in the hierarchy could possibly concern themselves with the welfare of the games’ lion fodder? And he might find it no less natural that such types as Spartacus would use the ruse of reifying moral appeals to extort gentler treatment from powerful types.
    Perhaps the Spartacus of your case illustrates a point Nietzsche makes in ANTICHRIST 55:
    “Every conviction has its history, its pre-formations, its ventures and its mistakes: it *becomes* a conviction after *not* being one for a long time, after *barely* being one for even longer. What? Could lies be among these embryonic forms of conviction too?”
    This might mean that your case occurs at a point in the development of the slave revolt in morality at which its adherents are considerably less conflicted by the continuing presence of their residual attachment to master morality, and those in power are, owing to the growing number of slave morality adherents and increase in material resources, more susceptible to indulging in contagious exchanges about normative matters with inferiors. (This might also be consistent with the reading of Nietzsche as trying to revivify or intensify the conflict in select readers.)
    Also, I take it that Spartacus would eventually rely on Christian metaphysics if his exchange with the emperor were permitted to progress, and this would invite the critique of GM 1.14 and 1.15 in which Nietzsche shows how the values of master morality are at semi-disguised play in an archetypal fantasy of slave morality.

  8. “You ask me which of the philosophers’ traits are most characteristic? For example, their lack of historical sense, their hatred of the very idea of becoming, their Egypticism. They think that they show their respect for a concept when they dehistoricize it sub specie aeternitas — when they turn it into a mummy. Everything that philosophers handled over the past thousands of years turned into concept-mummies; nothing real escaped their grasp alive. Whenever these venerable concept idolators revere something, they kill it and stuff it.”
    – Twilight of the Idols (1888)
    It strikes me as odd that anyone would think that Nietzsche could have been engaged in what you call “an account of… the concept ‘good’, the term/word ‘good’, and the nature of evaluative judgments”. It seems to me that a primary aim of Nietzsche’s philosophy is precisely to get us to stop thinking about concepts in that way, as amenable to that kind of analysis. That question has to be abandoned, and in its place we must ask: what plausible historical interpretation explains our local conceptual scheme?
    It may be worth noting that according to Bernard Williams and others, this kind of story is not and should not be overly concerned with the literal truth of its assertions, indeed, Williams’ own attempt at a Nietzschean genealogy (2002) was explicitly fictional. It is thus perhaps inappropriate to draw conclusions based on single events (such as the proposed disagreement) which “fall out” of the story but which are in no way central to its explanatory power.
    Anyway, thanks for the interesting post!

  9. Here’s my take, as a long-time Nietzsche devotee:
    When Nietzsche talks about the slaves’ concept ‘good’ and the masters’ concept ‘good’, he supposes them to be quite different concepts. But we can define them both as ‘good’ because they each carry (for the slaves and masters, respectively) the commendatory force of ‘good’. (i.e. they function expressively the way ‘good’ does). But the original concepts are ‘thick’ rather than ‘thin’ concepts. The masters say something like, ‘This is noble’, while the slaves say something like, ‘This is not-evil’. (Remember that evil is the positive concept, for the slaves). What Nietzsche is assuming here is that (our) ‘good’ is basically just a term of commendation.
    You might say: but then there’s no disagreement! As the expressivist can point out, there is disagreement in attitude. But I think Nietzsche would consider your little disagreement between Domitian and Spartacus to be absurd. Masters and slaves talk past each other, and wouldn’t even bother to have a serious disagreement about what is ‘good’. (Just like fans of opposing sports teams wouldn’t bother to have a serious disagreement over whether a goal, or a loss, etc. was good or bad, except relatively). The belief in objective values is, in his view, an artifact of the Christian world-view.
    I’ll throw this out there and see how it fares.

  10. Thanks for the comments everyone. Sorry that I didn’t get back to you earlier – the time difference. I’m starting to see that this is a tougher case than I thought.
    Rob,
    it is interesting that in the quote you give he explicitly talks about *convictions* which for me fall on the attitude or conception side of concept/conception divide. And of course the attitudes of the people in the thought experiment are understandable. I also like the idea that people are mixed type – having attitudes of both moralities. This would help to explain the possibility of disagreements. We would have both concepts.
    Nick,
    that quote seems to be symphatetic to the idea I have in mind that Nietzsche wasn’t ultimately concerned about concepts but rather the values – the attitudes people have. But, I don’t think the question you have is the right one either – the historical back-ground of our local conceptual schemes. That seems to be just the interest in concepts which you said he lacked. I’m sceptical about whether conceptual schemes can be local anyway – they seem to be translatable and people seem to be able to disagree. If Hare is right we can even disagree with the cannibals.
    Steve,
    I do agree that in Nietzsche’s view the original concepts are thick ones. But, even with them similar questions arise. I cannot see why Spartacus couldn’t just as well deny the claim that what is being done is noble. I wonder also why a Nietzschean would think that there is more to the term ‘good’ than its recommending force. If there wasn’t then the groups could share the same concept and the disagreement could be explained, as you say, as a disagreement in attitude.
    I’m sure that Nietzsche would think of my thought-expiriment as naive and absurd but I think he would be too good of philologist to think that such disagreement did not take place. We can find such disagreements from Plato’s Republic or Thucydides’s History of Peloponnesian War.

  11. Jussi,
    I’d be interested to hear more about these disagreements in the Republic and Thucydides. I don’t think, for example, that Nietzsche would consider the disagreement between Thrasymachus and Socrates to be a disagreement between master and slave morality. There is room for the masters to disagree about what is noble.
    Nietzsche’s reasons for denying that early value concepts are thin, expressivist ones are historical, not apriori. (He attacks the ‘English’ for being ahistorical). His claims are based on observation of the words that are actually used for ‘good’ and ‘bad’: the observation that their original signification is to pick out people by their class.
    Finally, Nietzsche says somewhere that words are just pockets in which we stuff different ideas. Words have a genealogy too. So it is certainly possible for a word like ‘noble’ to become broader and more abstract, and then for it to be reinterpreted what it is to be ‘noble’. I think that is part of the war in morality: the slaves do co-opt the master’s value concepts and change them. But I think this is a later development, and not the case right from the start.

  12. Jussi,
    You might want to look at “The Problem of Socrates” (in TWILIGHT OF THE IDOLS), and the related unpublished notes from which it was developed (in the Kauffmann/Hollindale translation of WILL TO POWER), for some material that might bear on the kind of disagreement your case of Spartacus and the emperor illustrates.
    Also, Mark Migotti makes an illuminating attempt to integrate “The Problem of Socrates” into GM 1’s account of the slave revolt in morality in his “Slave morality, Socrates, and the bushman: A reading of the first essay of On the Genealogy of Morals,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 58 (1998), 745-779.

  13. Hi Jussi, just a not-so-quick response:
    I didn’t mean to suggest that Nietzsche was not interested in concepts at all, and I don’t think the oft-quoted passage I referenced suggests that, either. Also, I make no claims here about the viability of his approach. It may be that the idea of a local conceptual scheme is incoherent. But Nietzsche did think we have one, and he did think it evolved from quite a different one.
    In different terms, his metaphysical anti-essentialism (see Poellner 2000) seems to demolish the barrier between “genuine disagreement” and “mere” incompatibility of drive/desire.
    “Moralities too are only a sign-language of the affects” (BGE 187)
    Nietzsche, like Freud, has a projective rather than a detective take on our moral concepts: they are ultimately expressions of our drives. His question to you might therefore be: why does an apparent disagreement which has its roots in two incompatible desire-sets (eg. “I want to rule”/”I do not want you to rule”) not count as a genuine disagreement?

  14. Hi Jussi,
    I’m inclined to think you’ve presented a false dichotomy, at least on Nietzsche’s view. He would not distinguish between, on the one hand, the concept of good, and on the other, the historical conceptions of what count as good. That is because Nietzsche thinks the concepts themselves are layered with historical developments. The most relevant textual evidence is GM II:13 where he says, among other relevant things, “all concepts in which an entire process is semiotically summarized elude definition; only that which has no history is definable.” (But really one has to read the whole section to understand what Nietzsche is getting at with his talk of concepts). Thus, any summary definition (like ‘ought to be pursued’) is naivete, on Nietzsche’s account; it betrays a lack of historical sense.
    If one wants to know what *Nietzsche* takes himself to be up to, one must first appreciate what he has to say about conceptual analysis in general, and about evaluative concepts in particular. Your original question, I think, ignores Nietzsche’s approach to conceptual analysis. That is not, of course, to say we can’t approach his text in other ways (in the way a post Moorean meta-ethicist would like to, for instance) only that Nietzsche warns against such approaches.
    Now, perhaps Nietzsche is confused – perhaps what he says about this historical analysis of concepts is in general just misguided or stupid – and this led to a confusing treatment of the (apparent) disagreements between masters and slaves. But that critique comes after seeing what Nietzsche understood himself to be doing, or after seeing what he was (misguidedly) doing, not trying to understand what he was doing with our notion(s) of conceptual analysis.

  15. Steve,
    well – that’s one disagreement I had in mind. Here’s how Stanford puts Thrasymachus’s view:
    “he challenges the assumption that it is good to be just. On Thrasymachus’ view (see especially 343c-344c), justice is conventionally established by the strong, in order that the weak will serve the interests of the strong. The strong themselves, on this view, are better off disregarding justice and serving their own interests.”
    That certainly looks like the master morality to me. And, as far as I know Socrates’s *disagreeing* response is that it is *good* to be just. Now, if ‘good’ in Thrasymachus’s mouth meant that ‘serves the interests of the strong’ doing so would not make sense. Similarly if *good* in Socrates’s mouth meant that which eases the situation of the producers, then Thrasymachus could not disagree. I know this isn’t a disagreement between a slave and a master, but it does seem like a disagreement of those two moral outlooks where a shared term of good is being used.
    That pockets of ideas thing is the one that worries me. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra Nietzsche says ‘Good and evil, and rich and poor, and high and low, and all the names of values – arms shall they be and clattering signs that life must overcome itself again and again’. Here the concepts seem to be taken as names for values – the attitudes. That is the kind of idea that seems to lead to the disagreement problem. Each side correctly names their ideas as they did with their political rank words.
    What you say about noble seem right to me. I’m also starting to wonder whether the disageement between masters and slaves could be seen as a conceptual one. Each side tries to get the other side to adopt their term because of the practical implications it will carry.
    But, then, I’m also starting to worry about the conceptual confusions in which a master would be committed if she started to wonder whether things conducive to proud states of soul are good.
    Rob,
    thanks. That paper looks very interesting.
    Nick,
    I agree that expressivism would be able to account for the disagreement. But, I’m not sure that thought was available for Nietzsche if he thought of moral concepts as *signs* or *names* for the affects. That seems to lead to subjectivism which does seem disagreement problematic.
    Reid,
    I’m not sure that’s quite fair. I did start from giving evidence of Nietzsche being concerned about the concepts and the idea that he thought that they are historically and socially individuaded.

  16. Hi Jussi,
    Perhaps I’m just not quite understanding what the argument is. Is it this?:
    1. Nietzsche cannot account for disagreement between masters and slaves insofar as he claims his analysis of goodness is an analysis of the concept of ‘good’.
    2. We ought to account for their disagreement.
    3. Thus, we ought to reject N’s claim that he is offering us an analysis of the concept ‘good’.
    4. Thus, such historical analyses probably “cannot illuminate the nature of the concepts we use.”
    Or maybe this:
    1. Nietzsche claims to offer us an analysis of goodness.
    2. But he really offers us two analyses: goodness(master) and goodness(slave).
    3. He winds up offering the two analyses by virtue of his historical analysis.
    4. Thus, the historical analyses probably “cannot illuminate the nature of the concepts we use.”
    Just a quick, very general response: Suppose I say this: offering historical stories about how a concept morphed over time does tell us something interesting about the concepts. ‘Good’, in its infancy, meant something along the lines of ‘high’ and ‘noble’, where those terms were understood in terms of social class. But then they got reinterpreted (a major theme in Nietzsche) so that ‘high’ and ‘noble’ were understood in terms of the class of one’s soul. Does this count as illuminating a concept? And in connection with this, might the nature of the disagreement N is concerned to highlight not one captured by assertions and denials of a proposition but instead a fight over the interpretation of a concept? (That is precisely the sort of disagreement he is discussing in GM II:12, another place where he discusses analyses of concepts in general, and related to this, talk about fighting over the interpretation of a practice is everywhere).

  17. Reid,
    thanks. This is very helpful. Sorry for not being clear. I had an argument like this in mind:
    1. Nietzsche tells us that he is giving both an account of the concept ‘good’ and the values held by different people at different times.
    2. His historical account of the concept entails that in fact there are two concepts of ‘good’.
    3. People who have different concepts of ‘good’ talk past one another and cannot therefore disagree.
    4. But, slaves and master were able to have evaluative disagreements.
    5. Thus Nietzsches account fails as an account of the concept(s).
    6. But, this still leaves with him an interesting account of the development of values – of how people came to have the evaluative beliefs they have.
    7. To be charitable to Nietzsche we should therefore read more into where he says his view is about values rather than the concepts.
    The step from the rank words to slightly different words for good qualities of the soul does seem to me to be part of the creation of value terms that didn’t exist before. This, after all, was done by the priestly aristocrats. No-one would have had an issue of the masters using the purely rank words for whatever they used them for.
    I guess I don’t see the immediate appeal of seeing the disagreement between Domitian and Spartacus to be over what ‘good’ means rather than what is good. Also, that view too seems to require that slaves and masters share the concept ‘good’ but have different interpretations of it. But, even that falls short of the view that there are two concepts at play as Nietzsche seems to sometimes suggest.

  18. Jussi,
    Remember, though, that when pressed, Thrasymachus says that by the ‘strong’, he means the ‘rulers’. And he doesn’t mean a ruling race; he means (in effect) the legislators. And Socrates’ refutation of Thrasymachus consists in showing that being just is good because it makes one more FREE, more STRONG, and more HAPPY (whereas the unjust person is slavish, weak, and miserable). That doesn’t sound like slave morality to me.
    I don’t share the worry about lack of (propositional) disagreement; my own metaethical view denies that moral disagreement is always propositional. Part of Nietzsche’s philosophy of language is the idea that people are surface-thinkers, and commonly take the ‘word to be the thing’. So it can be profitable to wage a war over the meaning of words, because by imposing your own concept onto others’ practices, you change their very thinking. Consider how Christianity co-opted pagan rituals to get a foothold in ordinary people’s lives. Likewise, if Christians could successfully change value words like ‘noble’ into expressions of slavish values, then their values can likewise get a foothold. There is a line in the Protagoras (I think) about it not being possible that courage is X, because X is something contemptible. The interpretive constraint with value words is the thin (action-guiding) part. The thick (world-guided) part is open to reinterpretation.

  19. Steve,
    this is interesting. Minor complaint – your phrasing of Socrates’s reply makes it sound like justice has instrumental value whereas the challenge was to show that it has final value. You are right that Socrates’s view doesn’t really fit slave morality. But, I cannot get it to fit the master morality either. After all, constitutive of being just is being guided by reason and the idea of the Good. All of this is against Nietzsche’s idea of the masters being guided by their animal-instincts. This disagreement of course comes up in the Birth of the Tragedy.
    Furthermore, what the reason is supposed to tell the rulers is something about the good of the whole city – which would seem to require altuism and compassion, the kind of things Nietzsche’s masters weren’t supposed to care about. I think it is really interesting that there are historical moral outlooks that do not neatly fit either one of the moralities Nietzsche gives us as alternatives.
    You put the alternative very clearly – that we are imposing our concepts to others, ones that have the same action-guiding element but different world-guided one. This reminds me of David Copp’s reply to the Moral Twin-Earth argument by Timmons and Horgan. Copp thought that this is what is essentially going on in the disagreement we would find ourselves in.
    I was always suspicious of this. Unless there is very good antecedent reason to accept the semantic view from which this follows, it seems to me to be more natural to see the situation as a substantial disagreement. At least that seems to fit our self-understanding better. If I found myself from the cannibal society, it would seem like a too cunning plan for me to try to get them to adopt my concept of good.

  20. Hi Jussi,
    Sorry for not responding earlier.
    I think that, implicit in your argument, is another argument:
    1. If an analysis of goodness results in no “genuine” disagreement [one in which one party affirms, and the other denies, the truth of a given proposition], then the analysis of the concept(s) is flawed.
    2. Nietzsche’s analysis results in no genuine disagreement.
    3. Thus, Nietzsche’s analysis of the concept(s) is flawed.
    But a) ought we to endorse (1), and b) do we have any reason for thinking Nietzsche would have endorsed (1)?

  21. Reid,
    I think you are right. I’m willing to defend (1) and so are many other people starting from Hare. At least there is an appearance of disagreement. It is an open possibility to try to explain this away as Steve nicely does above but that is always the more difficult route to take.
    I’m not sure what Nietzsche would have said about (1). Don’t think he thought about it. I’m sure he would have had something interesting to say had this come up.

  22. Hi Jussi,
    Your post and ensuing discussion raise a number of interesting points. It is not obvious to me, however, what motivates it; that is, what ultimately turns on the question of whether Nietzsche i) provides an analysis of the concept good and/or ii) whether he can account for disagreement in the sense that concerns you.
    Perhaps I could get a clearer sense of your aims and worries if you offered what you take to be a ‘real’ example of conceptual disagreement over good. In so doing you would convey what those who share (and by implication, those who don’t) the concept agree on when they disagree. If we think the concept of good ‘thin’ we might wonder if there is anything very interesting shared at all. Indeed, we might wonder what significance is to be found, beyond ease of conversation, in saying there is any ‘concept’ at all.
    The case of truth is, I believe, somewhat analogous in this respect. One crude but effective way of thinking about a concept is as that which enables one to think about something as such. But what is it to think about truth as such? Do those who think truth is correspondence, those who think it coherence, those utility, share the concept truth? We speak easily enough of them as disagreeing about what truth is, or what the term truth denotes, but what is it they agree on? Are we merely assuming there is something they share, a concept, in addition to a term and is customary context of use? Must there be a concept for every term we have?
    Nietzsche makes a rather deflationary remark with reference to cause and effect, urging they be thought of only as “pure concepts, that is to say as conventional fictions for the purpose of designation and communication–*not* for explanation” (BGE 21). Might he–and we–say something similar about truth (I take it deflationists do), and good? Is there an importance to be attached to a sense of disagreement that requires we say something more?

  23. Joseph,
    thanks. That is a lot of good questions. Not sure if I can answer all of them – we are getting into deep waters of philosophy of language here.
    First about motivation. I’m just trying to get my head around Nietzsche’s ethics. One interesting clarificatory question I had was what exactly is his theory a theory of. Whilst I was pursuing this question, he seemed to give many different answers in the text. The idea then was to consider would have been the best, the most non-problematic choice for him to specify his view. One option seems problematic to me whilst I haven’t seen any problems raised for the other yet.
    I take it that you want me to give an example of a *substantial* and not a *conceptual* disagreement about what is good. The disagreement about the value of universal health care between the liberals and the conservatives?
    Why must there be a concept for every term we have? Well, it seems like otherwise we would be just making noises. And we do not seem to be. It seems like we can use terms to express contents which we can communicate. And, it’s not clear how contents could be something private anyway given the private language arguments by Wittgenstein. So, having meaningful terms seems to require shared concepts.
    Truth is a good case. It seems like the concepts of truth can be specified in terms of the conceptual role it plays. That role seems to be specified by a variety of platitudes about truth which even most of the disagreeing philosophers accept. These include the non-paradoxical instances of T-schema for start. But, they also include many claims some of which are perhaps controversial. These include things like timelessness (if a proposition is once true, its truth-value won’t change), absoluteness (propositions are not more or less true), opaqueness (there are true propositions for which there isn’t justification and justified propositions that are not true), transparency (to assert a proposition is to present it as true), systematicity (truth-apt claims have truth-apt negations, conjunctions, and the like), and so on.
    It seems like the disagreeing philosophers can then be understood as disagreeing about the property of truth. This is the question of what is the property of sentences such as that true propositions would have their platitudinous features. Here the network of platitudes sets up a ‘network condition’ which some sentences will satisfy in virtue of some property – be it correspondence, coherence, or whatever.
    I think similar accounts could hold in the case of ‘good’. What is shared are platitudes which connect the term to many other normative concepts (the better a thing is the more reason there is to pursue it and the like). There are also other features of the discourse – such as some rational connection to motivation and the seeming possibility of disagreements. I take it that one important metaethicist’s job is then to find the nature of goodness as a property such that can play the role specified by the concept.
    Sorry – I am a bit out of depth here but that’s the basic picture I have in mind.
    It seems that even that causation remark says more than you seem to suppose. He admits that the concept of causation plays a role in communication and designation. I cannot see how it could unless we would share the *same* fiction that is given by the *convention* Nietzsche refers to. And, I’m suggesting that he should think this much also about the concept of *good*. All of this is supposed to be neutral on the metaphysical level.

  24. Jussi,
    Thanks for the response and thanks for continuing the conversation in a direction that has strayed from your original concern.
    What you say is very interesting and goes some way to answering some the of the challenges I posed, however I am not sure if it goes so far as to assuage my deep doubts concerning the ultimate philosophical utility of talking about conceptual analysis (and especially with respect to Nietzsche).
    I had asked you for an example of a conceptual rather than a substantive disagreement over the concept good, a disagreement wherein the parties are not talking past one another, a kind of disagreement you seemed to suggest (or have I misread you?) was criterial for any philosophically adequate discussion of the topic. It appeared that your criticism of Nietzsche centrally involved the claim that he could not be giving an analysis of the concept of good as his account resulted in multiple concepts and so did not satisfy that criteria. My example of truth was meant to suggest that this criterion is perhaps least easily satisfied in those cases that interest philosophers most (truth, good, right, justice, etc).
    Your appeal to conceptual role/network analysis accounts would seem to go some way towards providing the kind of answer I was looking for. I pointed in the direction of this type of appeal when I spoke of shared terms and their customary contexts of use. I think your appeal to the above forms of conceptual analysis is considerably stronger, however, and so potentially more problematic. You want that role or network to be fleshed out with ‘platitudinous’ features of the relevant discourse, but, as in the case of truth, the majority (all but one) of platitudes you mention you introduce with the qualification that they may be/are controversial. Controversial or disputed features of some discourse are not platitudes. But here my question can be recast: how many inferences or network connections must we both leave unchallenged in order for us to share one and the same concept? How few before we say there are two concepts in play? Are any of the inferences or connections essential or non-negotiable? If, in the case of truth, say, I deny there is a property truth, and that the features of ‘truth-talk’ we agree upon are best explained by appeal to features of the fixation of belief, do we share the concept of truth? Are we talking about the same thing?
    I do not disagree that communication requires some shared content. However, the content I share with you that is associated with the term ‘good’ might not exhaust the content that either of us have in mind when we use that term, and might not overlap with the content one of us shares with a third party. I might be able to talk to you about good, to him about good, though there will be important differences in the two conversations, while the two of you won’t get very far at all. How many concepts of good are at work here?
    To bring this back to Nietzsche and your post, I suppose I am taking a very long and indulgent path to agree with some previous posters that Nietzsche is happy to allow that there are different concepts of good at work but that the relevant disagreements, the ones that matter most to him, are attitudinal and evaluative: really, they are disagreements about to how to live and what is worth living for. Any other sense or meaning to the term good, on which it might still be said that we don’t disagree, is not likely to be thought anything other than academic.
    Thanks again.

  25. It seems to me the relevant conflict is between these two ethics:
    (D) All and only that which conduces to proud states of the souls is commendable.
    and
    (S) All and only that which eases the existence of those who suffer is commendable.
    Whether Domitian and Spartacus locate their disagreement at the right level, it’s clear enough that Spartacus disagrees with (D), and Domitian disagrees with (S), which seems to be disagreement enough for Nietzsche’s purposes. Or?

  26. Michael,
    yes. That is disagreement enough. To be able to have this disagreement, Spartacus and Domitian need to share the same concept of ‘commendable’. Commendable is a normative/evaluative/moral concept – something is commendable if it is worth approving, desiring, and so on. It is not far from desirable or good. So, again, Nietzsche seems to be committed to shared terms across the moralities.
    Joseph,
    First, disagreements in which parties do not talk past one another just are the substantial disagreements. Conceptual disagreements are over terms or concepts. They are purely verbal – Clinton’s ‘I didn’t have sex’ comes to mind here.
    Second, disagreement or controversiality is not sufficient to show that something isn’t a platitude. Platitudes are supposed to be thoughts that guide implicitly the concept-application of all competent speakers. Given that concept-application is a skill what the platitudes are will not be transparent and people can make mistakes about them.
    Third, I think it’s better to approach the question the other way. I think it is more difficult to start from the content of the concepts people have and then work one’s way to who are disagreeing or agreeing. I think we have more accessible information who we and others are disagreeing with and agreeing with and this provides us with an access to the kind of concepts we have.
    This seems to be Hare’s argument which I quite like (and of course Horgan’s and Timmons’s). It seems to be data that we can have evaluative disagreements with almost anyone – therefore our evaluative concepts cannot have much non-evaluative, descriptive content. This would be just the kind of view that would explain the attitudinal disagreement. I still haven’t seen an argument why a Nietzschean would want to include more historically bound content to the evaluative terms than just the expressive one.

  27. Jussi,
    Let’s say your thoughts on platitudes are anything but platitudinous. A platitude, as most English speakers familiar with the term would tell you, is a trite, banal, trivial, almost cliche-like truth. It is something ‘everyone’ knows. Presumably it was for this reason that people like Michael Smith would speak of platitudes to demarcate what (at least what he thought) all parties to our contemporary metaethical debate accept, and so have to account for. Once one of those features becomes challenged or denied it no longer qualifies as a trite, entrenched truth. Your ‘platitude’ must then be a term of art, moreover one with the result that philosophers who challenge other philosopher’s views about what needs explaining or needs saving in a conceptual analysis are manifesting their incompetence in applying that concept.
    As for disagreements, I started from contents because it was natural to the discussion (and seems frequently applicable to philosophical disagreements generally). Starting with disagreements and working towards concepts might be more natural and useful in certain contexts but has nothing intrinsic to recommend it. Indeed, it has been the claim of many philosophers that what initially appears to be a deep, or philosophically interesting disagreement is, on closer inspection, merely a disagreement in ‘factual’ beliefs about the relevant circumstances (was the killing in self-defense; do they really have a weapons program, etc). This, historically, has been particularly apparent in moral philosophy (one need only think of Hume and the Sentimentalist tradition to see this type of argument frequently used to make the point that much of our apparent moral disagreement is in fact descriptive in nature).

  28. Joseph,
    I’m sure Smith uses the term platitudes in the same way as I introduced it and not in the way you say. Here’s a passage on colours from the Moral Problem:
    ‘These platitudes about colour play a certain crucial role in our coming to master colour vocubulary, for we come to master colour vocubulary by coming to treat remarks like these as platitudinous. The point is not that if we have a mastery of the word ‘red’ then we are able to produce a long list of remarks like these off the tops of our heads. That may or may not be true. The point is rather that these remarks capture the inferential and judgemental dispositions vis-a-vis the word ‘red’ of those who have the mastery of that term, whether or not they are able to produce them off the tops of their heads. To have mastery of the word ‘red’ is to be disposed to make inferences and judgments along these lines. It is in this sense that the remarks constitute a set of platitudes’
    This explicitly denies that platitudes are what everyone knows trivially. Note that platitudes are here understood as inferential dispositions. Smith offers his own analysis of the concept reasons in terms of full rationality as one such platitude – that to have a reason is that a fully rational version of you would want you to do such and such. And, of course he expected people to disagree about this platitude. It also follows that someone who disagrees about the platitudes need not be conceptually confused – she may still have the right implicit inferential dispositions.
    I’m not sure I follow with the latter point. Yes we have to get facts right first. But, even if we can get the facts right disagreements seem to remain. Many views give an account of meanings that fail to be able to recognise them as such. But, there is a sense of ‘semantic chauvinism’ to this as Horgan and Timmons put it.

  29. Kudos, Jussi, nothing spells attributive refutation quite like a direct quotation! (And really, I should have known better, having devoted much of a lengthy chapter of my dissertation to Smith’s views–and yes, I was more faithful to his text then my post proved to be!)
    So Smith doesn’t speak of platitudes in the manner I say, but rather introduces a term of art, careful to distinguish it from common meaning of the term (which implies remarks one could rattle off the top of one’s head and which, generally, would not be disputed). Presumably the choice of ‘platitude’ to make his point was not without regard for its rhetorical effect. By speaking of the inferential and judgmental dispositions associated with ‘mastery’ of a concept or term as a set of platitudes he suggests that these dispositions, generally shared by competent users, are such that no impartial and objective observer would doubt which inferences were platitudinous and which were not nor would two such observers dispute over them. And so Smith provides for himself a neat rhetorical device in which to press his case for membership in the set of platitudes certain inferences and judgments he expects many philosophers are disposed to block. And until the dispute is resolved, the question of whether we are witnessing a conceptual disagreement or a talking past one another might well be thought by some to be an open question.
    In any case, and whatever the merits of Smith’s argument, and the theoretical utility of the sort of conceptual analysis it traffics in, it is, as we both note, a long way from what Nietzsche was doing in GM I! There is nothing normative about the conceptual dimension of Nietzsche’s project there: he’s not making any claims about what inferences or judgments one ought to make to count as mastering the concept good, but rather what certain psychological types infer and judge when using the particular concept good that they use. GM I is a work of historical concept individuation; in other words a genealogy.
    Perhaps I’d better exit this thread before I start attributing the principle of utility to Kant!
    Best, Joe

  30. Just realized my initial comment recapitulated George Wrisley’s point. Sorry.
    Here is what I hope is a nonduplicative point: It seems to me that the two camps don’t “share the same evaluative concepts” as much as they share the impulse to evaluate and universalize. So master and slave moralities both substantively conflict, and have radically distinct historical, social and psychological origins, but also issue from an identical, more fundamental instinct.

  31. Joe,
    thanks for the discussion. It’s been a pleasure. That normative question is something else that’s interesting me in the GM. Presumably he doesn’t want us to keep using the slave morality ‘good’ or the master morality ‘good’ which seemed sometimes a bit too simplistic. Maybe it will up for the new philosophers to create the new concept, but that’s tough work…
    Michael,
    that could be right. Of course Nietzsche always warns us against universalising our values. Universalising is supposed to be one of the harmful parts of the slave morality.

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