The title of this blog is but a poor attempt to capture Nietzsche’s contemptuous summation from his attempt at self-critique of Birth of Tragedy: a mere fabrication for purposes of gulling: at best, an artistic fiction; at worst, an outrageous imposture.
But i feel obliged to clear up a few things. First of all, Nietzsche pointed out that whosoever tried to analyze morality is going to be charged as immoral because they dare to dissect morals, and people labor under the delusion that the moralist is the moral preacher. The ancient moralists themselves were guilty of not analyzing deeply enough, and preached far too much!
Second, the claim that the majority of the beliefs we hold are false is not a criticism. To consider these beliefs critically is not objecting the fact that they are false. I’m more concerned about the belief about these beliefs, a second-order belief that purports they ought to be true, and that they should mirror the facts as they are. It isn’t the language, but the metalanguage that goes on holiday once it makes outrageous demands on our language, which it cannot and should not sustain. The claim that our beliefs are false is rather irrelevant as to whether we should hold these beliefs. To say that our moral beliefs are false is not to recommend their abandonment. I propose the abandonment of a certain expectation about these beliefs, of which we held from the beginning. They are the conditions for life. It isn’t the ordinary beliefs of ordinary folks that is under suspicion, but the philosophical justification of those beliefs by the philosophers.
They have attempted to place moral beliefs upon guaranteed foundations in order to make a science of morals. Yet, each philosophy has been little more than special pleading on the behalf of a moral perspective that is taken as an inherent part of reality. It’s extremely difficult to extract moral claims from factual ones, or distill the moral elements in our perspective from the others. Our perception is soaked through and through with valuation, whether they are useful or harmful.
The terms we use in our analysis of perception are interpenetrated with normative attitudes. The philosophers have imposed their own moral preferences, yet they take themselves to be reporters, not lobbyists. Just like how philosophers took themselves as discoverers of facts about reality that are actually facts about their language, their moral discoveries refer to nothing in the world itself, but to they themselves. The description of moral facts only expresses pre-existing moral attitudes.
This in no way or shape requires the abandonment of the moral beliefs we hold, other than the meta-ethical beliefs that suggest the possibility of justifying the moral beliefs we hold. This is similar to how understanding our scientific theories as convention does not mean we must give up our scientific beliefs. We can socialize and raise our children according to the moral codes we hold, even at the cost of admitting that this code depends on us ourselves, and that it is neither true nor false.
I have no idea what the consequences are, after our meta-ethical beliefs are changed, with regard to our moral attitudes. It may open the possibility of a new justification that may allow us to determine between moralities.
In the sociological context, moral interpretations contain a certain utility, that they consists of obedience to customs. Customs are themselves traditional practices. Yet, they do not require an intrinsic use. There may be no rhyme or reason in their content, but there is at least some reason to the obedience of customs. In order for any society to exist at all, customs are necessary. The deviation from a set of customs is immoral only relative to that set.
But morality does not consist merely of customs, for it offers reasons why these rules are the rules to obey. The imposition of custom is merely the imposition of the power of a group upon the individual. Morality consists more than the exercise of a group’s influence, for it demands sacrifices. An individual’s impulses must be repressed if they conflict with the authority of the group. The consequence is that everyone be similar to everyone else, think like others, feel like others and talk like others.
It is in the interest of the group to keep its beliefs quarantined in order to uphold its practical demands. Thus, morality stupefies by “working against our acquiring new experiences and of correcting morality accordingly, which means that morality works against a newer or better morality.” Daybreak, 19
Despite the usefulness of a morality in its perseverance of a group, a morality that reinforces the beliefs and attitudes inevitably becomes a shell that inhibits further moral growth. Morality is a brake against the furtherance and fulfilment of life. Because the critic of morality exposes the irrationality of the beliefs that has defended it, he is the enemy of morality.
Societies enforce certain rules and demand the extirpation of impulses that may be destructive of the order those rules define. Therefore, the same sets of mind (feelings, impulses) is reinforced within the group, and become instinctual. This interiorization – the superego – leaves no room for independent thinking and evaluation, as well as the notion that being on your own is terrifying, not liberating.
Suppose a person began to think or do differently from the rest of the group. It would be only natural if she felt threatened by these impulses and seek explanations for their occurrence. Perhaps she had sinned, or she was guilty of some sordid deed, or her ancestor performed atrocious acts, and she had to pay off that debt. These fictional causes often stabilize into mythology, which in turn becomes systems of belief, and they reinforce people into the acceptable ways of behavior. Our moral codes are supplemented by our own rationality and predisposition for fictional causes. Hence, the causes of our moral beliefs, the beliefs that imprison us within the cast of custom, cannot be taken seriously as explanations, but they can be interpreted as “symptoms and sign language.”
“The moral judgment is never to be taken literally. As such, it contains but nonsense. But moral judgments remain invaluable as semiotic. They exhibit, at least to the knowledgeable, the most valuable realities of the culture… which did not know enough to know themselves. Morals are merely sign language, purely symptomatologies. One must first know what it is connected with in order to make the least use of it.” Twilight of the Idols, VI, 1
There is an unconscious appositeness in the use of the word person to designate the human individual, as is done in all European languages: for persona really means an actor’s mask, and it is true that no one reveals himself as he is; we all wear a mask and play a role. – Schopenhauer
Vanity, shame, and above all disposition, often make men brave and women chaste.
It is as easy unwittingly to deceive oneself as to deceive others.
Men would not live long in society were they not the dupes of each other. – La Rochefoucauld