File spoon-archives/nietzsche.archive/nietzsche_1998/nietzsche.9801, message 67

Date: Mon, 26 Jan 1998 11:21:04 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Re: Darwin Does Not Equal Marx!

Randall Albright wrote:

>I would need to understand what you mean by that broad tent of
>"utilitarianism", Steven. For example, are we talking about... the dry,
>warlike Sparta versus the arts-drenched Athens? Or... the evolution from
>Locke to Bentham to Stuart Mill's father? John Stuart Mill himself,
>although he may be reductionistly called "utilitarian", realized, for
>example, the need for time out, for pleasure, for the arts, for the
>eccentrics. George Sand was someone he admired, as well as Chopin. People
>smoking cigars on horses and playing piano music aren't exactly working the
>coal mines. And J.S. Mill looked forward to a time of "socialism", even as
>he saw the problems inherent in socialism, much of which is still true.

I don't think Nietzsche is slicing the salami particularly thin, nor am I.
The problem, I suppose, that the so-called "utilitarians" were facing was
how to ground value in some kind of rational fashion. This, it seems to me,
is particularly a problem for a capitalist society, and all these thinkers
were to one degree or another struggling with this issue.

Nietzsche is scathingly negative in his comments on Mill, even calling him a
"flathead" in one place (WP 30), although, certainly, Nietzsche's polemic
assaults must, themselves, be taken with a certain grain of salt. What he
particularly brings up for criticism (WP 925 & 926) is what might be termed
Mill's categorical imperative, "Do not unto others what you would not have
them do unto you." To this he replies, invoking Machiavelli, "But what if
someone holding the _Principe_ in his hand were to say: 'It is precisely
such actions that one _must_ perform, to prevent others from performing them
first--to deprive others of the chance to perform them on _us_?"

The crux of the problem for Nietzsche is the reciprocity and mutuality of
actions. Mill's dictum, in other words, already assumes that all actions are
reciprocal, exist in some kind of state of equivalency. For Nietzsche, on
the other hand, actions at best may only be said to be fictionally
equivalent, and forms an imposition upon the sphere of individual
sovereignty, if you will: " an equivalence of value between my
actions and yours is presupposed; here the most personal value of an action
is simply annulled..." (WP 926)

Where "utilitarianism" comes in here is that it is what presupposes a base
equivalency of actions based upon a common utility. Actions may be made
equivalent, in other words, on the basis of assuming a valuational position
amounting to the "greater good," or the public good, the common weal, etc.
To do so, however, opposes society to the individual. The individual as an
individual can only be a non-conforming malefactor (or, under the aegis of
socialism, a counter-revolutionary).

>So fill me in, with your words on what exactly he's disputing. (I have
>"Birth of Tragedy", _Thus Spoke..._, _The Gay Science_, and _A Nietzsche
>Reader_ by Penguin which covers his whole career on a wide range of issues,
>if you want to refer me to any of these, too.)

In some instances, Nietzsche would seem to be granting some limited degree
of "truth" to the utilitarian thesis: for instance, he asserts that
moralities are originally social utilities, but of which we have forgotten
that they were utilities. In fact, becoming aware of the utilitarian basis
of morality, although it may help philosophically to undergird a capitalist
system of exchange values, serves itself, nonetheless, to undercut morality.
Utilitarianism is a form of nihilism, in other words. The strength or power
of a morality, in other words, exists in its being regarded as something
other than a mere utility.

The following from _Human, All Too Human_, "The Wanderer and His Shadow,"
Aphorism 40, speaks to this issue (since you didn't mention that you have
this work, I'll quote the section in full):

"_The significance of forgetting for the moral sensation._ -- The same
actions as within primitive society appear to have been performed first with
a view to common _utility_ have been performed by later generations for
other motives: out of fear of or reverence for those who demanded and
recommended them, or out of habit because one had seen them done all around
one from childhood on, or from benevolence because their performance
everywhere produced joy and concurring faces, or from vanity because they
were commended. Such actions, whose basic motive, that of utility, has been
_forgotten_, are then called _moral_ actions: not because, for instance,
they are performed out of those _other_ motives, but because they are _not_
performed from any conscious reason of utility. -- Where does it come from,
this _hatred_ of utility which becomes visible _here_, where all
praiseworthy behaviour formally excludes behaviour with a view to utility?
-- It is plain that society, the hearth of all morality and all eulogy of
moral behaviour, has had to struggle too long and too hard against the
self-interest and self-will of the individual not at last to rate _any
other_ motive morally higher than utility. Thus it comes to appear that
morality has _not_ grown out of utility; while it is originally social
utility, which had great difficulty in asserting itself against all the
individual private utilities and making itself more highly respected."

On the other hand, for Nietzsche, the value of the individual cannot simply
be reduced down to a utility, for one thing, simply because there is no
basis that is not, ultimately, founded on individual examples that can be
utilized to form such a value standard. The individual as an individual, at
bottom, is something incommensurable:

"But the 'higher nature' of the great man lies in being different, in
incommunicability, in distance of rank, not in an effect of any kind--even
if he made the whole globe tremble." (WP 876)

Nietzsche, other than perhaps making greater use of the percussion
instruments, would seem to sound a good deal like Heidegger here--the value
of the individual as an individual is founded in their authenticity (their
wholeness?), and not on any relation of utility they may have to other

>There's more to life than this. I know that. That's more than just
>utilitarianism. In fact, after J.S. Mill had his nervous breakdown, it was
>Romantic poetry that pieced him together again for his next, far more
>complicated phase of his career, where he could take one side of the issue
>so far, then realize its limitations, and move to the other. (Kind of like

As stated above, I think we always have to look beyond El Frederico's
polemical targets--he wouldn't be targeting them in the first place if they
were entirely dismissable at first glance. The "English" are, of course, a
favorite target of his. Still, I think, here we might have the entry point
into a Nietzschean critique of capitalist ideology as something, by the way,
that is strangely akin to socialist idealogy....


=A6 Steven E. Callihan            =A6        "The more mistrust,         =A6
=A6                               =A6        the more philosophy."       =A6
=A6 URL: =A6                                    =A6
=A6 E-Mail: =A6-F. Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 346.=A6

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