Episode 11: Nietzsche’s Immoralism: What Is Ethics, Anyway?

Discussing The Genealogy of Morals (mostly the first two essays) and Beyond Good and Evil Ch. 1 (The Prejudices of Philosophers), 5 (Natural History of Morals), and 9 (What is Noble?).

We go through Nietzsche's convoluted and historically improbable stories about about the transition from master to slave morality and the origin of bad conscience. Why does he diss Christianity? Is he an anti-semite? Was he a lazy, arrogant bastard? What does he actually recommend that we do?

Buy the Genalogy and Beyond Good and Evil or get them online here and here.

End song: "The Greatest F'in Song in the World," from 1998's Mark Lint and the Fake Johnson Trio Get the whole album free.



  1. Moesy Pittounikos says

    There is an old Zen saying that goes something like this… before enlightenment, mountains look like mountains and rivers look like rivers, when seeking enlightenment, mountains no longer look like mountains and rivers no longer look like rivers; on achieving enlightenment, mountains again look like mountains and rivers look like rivers. I thought of this pseudo profundity when I finished my self inflicted pro-life Nietzschean frisby fetish.

    You see, when I first read Friedrich Nietzsche, I thought “holy shit, this guy wants to liquidate my grandmother”! Then I read Walter Kaufmann’s lukewarm writings on herr Freddy and the subsequence ‘rehabilitated’ zeitgeist of todays academic, and I no longer thought that Friedrich Nietzsche wanted to liquidate my grandmother. But today, after reaching satori for myself, I again think “holy shit, this guy wants to liquidate my grandmother”

    • Wayne Schroeder says

      Laugh out loud–just read this today after finishing Beyond Good & Evil. Funniest philosophy humor I’ve heard in a long time, and I have also gone through Plato and the Platypus. Thanks for making my day.

  2. Daniel Horne says

    Wasn’t that a chapter in Ecce Homo? “Why I Am So Willing to Liquidate Your Grandmother”?

  3. Jeff says

    I think it’s cute that you guys think that an obscure off the cuff statement by Nietzsche can be applied to economic principles (the free rider problem associated with welfare) while flying in the face of all respected economists. Yeah… and when I have questions about morality, I read Yogi Berra quotes.

    • Profile photo of Seth Paskin says

      Since we recorded that two years ago, maybe you can clarify and identify which one of us guys made the comment in question?

      • Profile photo of Mark Linsenmayer says

        I know what he’s talking about; it was my comment about the strength of a society being measured by how many parasites it can stand.

        When N. says things like that, he’s making a value statement, not an economic analysis, and it’s a good quote to pull out to show that he would not have been down with the Nazi resentment against minorities and all that.

    • Profile photo of Mark Linsenmayer says

      The point is a question of values: the indignation at “welfare queens” (and invariably the gross exaggeration re. how much this phenomenon occurs and is actually a problem) is a form of resentment of the kind Nietzsche objects to. Whatever your actual policy outlook, the indignation itself is bullshit.

      • Jeff says

        You mean according to Nietzsche it might be bullshit, but even that argument depends on either how much the phenomenon occurs and is actually a problem (the consequentialist argument) or about whether or not wealth redistribution itself is a rights-violation. Since Nietzsche was not an economist, how anything he said be used to make the first argument without first somehow showing that the consequences are small. And yes, I understand that welfare spending is a small amount of the budget, but that doesn’t include the lower productivity and higher unemployment that welfare benefits invariably cause. The question itself is much more convoluted when you consider the “unseen consequences.” I suppose I’m not arguing as much with what was said as much as I am with the tone. It was dismissive of the possibility that the incentive effects of welfare may actually be a problem without acknowledging the complexity of the (possible) problem.

        • Jeff says

          I realize I wrote a nonsensical sentence. I meant to say “Since Nietzsche was not an economist, whatever he said cannot be used to make the first argument without first somehow showing that the consequences are small.”

    • jack says

      The comment by Nietzsche surely cant be described as obscure or off the cuff, he didn’t make it at an after-dinner speech, its in his published work, and one of his most acknowledged published works at that.

      Aside from that, its true Nietzsche isn’t an economist, the statement is about morality as such. It may well be that there are economists who make the argument you are suggesting about incentives etc, there are also an awful lot of people in the media and in general who are making moral claims about welfare which are brimming with resentment against the poor – the whole “lazy welfare queen while im out there slogging my guts out every day” implies a lot of resentment about the fact that someone is out there slogging their guts out, a resentment which is then transferred to someone who is perceived as free-riding.

      Economics and morality cannot really be separated in quite the way you are suggesting, almost all classical liberal economics was applied moral philosophy, its only in the latter part of the twentieth century that economics became applied mathematics, with not altogether happy consequences…

  4. Kenneth Clune says

    Love this podcast! It is great to see philosophy out of the ivory tower and brought to everyone. I wish you to bring more experts on each topic however. For example, call up Dreyfus and ask him to discuss “intentionality” with you during the heidegger podcast, he seems chill enough to do that. My only criticism is that you are often too critical of the continentals. Espicailly merleau ponty, you destroy him. I think its because continentals are in america are taken to be the less serious philosophers. if they werent so important, then why is a quarter of your podcasts on continentals. I am probably being bias considering I love kierkegaard and existentialism. job well done. I cant emphasis enough how great you all are though. I love listening and inspire me to re-read texts. your discussions are like a public discussion dialectical but with no answer being better than the other. just different ways of viewing the various philosophers.

    • Profile photo of Mark Linsenmayer says

      Thanks, Kenneth. I don’t think any ripping on the continentals (at least the ones we’ve covered) is because of American academic prejudice. I, for one, am very interested in them and want to read them, but you have to be honest re. what you actually get out of something even while admitting that you might get more out of it with further investigation.

      I think we’ll have more “experts” as time goes on, but the down side of that is that it’s no longer a conversation then, but just a lecture, or an interview at best. We’ve got some ongoing internal debate re. how much effort to put into bringing such folks in. I think Dreyfus at some point talking about his own work would be great though. He’s definitely in my top 5 wish list.

      • dmf says

        ML, I don’t think that you all have been particularly hard on the continental philos, even your readings of MP seemed quite fair, I enjoyed the conversation with Pat Churchland but prefer just hearing you folks read these things thru, there are so many interviews with Dreyfus available that it’s hard to see how one more might really help so I would suggest someone like Alva Noe or Ian Thompson.

  5. says

    Every economist is really concerned about how social assistance free-loading serves to undermine America? Really? I doubt that the labour force feels much of a dent from social assistance programs, as the number of people that receive over 50% of their income from “welfare” are about 1.7% of the country, well below the Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment as guessed by the Fed.

  6. Raj says

    Out of curiosity, are you all aware that you’re, in the German that is, mispronouncing the last e in Nietzsche. Like Goethe or Hesse, the last syllable is said more like “uh” than “ee”. Not sure if this is intentional but it sounds kind of funny considering that otherwise everything seems pretty accurate and insightful.

    • Profile photo of Mark Linsenmayer says

      Per our comments in several episodes, Anglicizing foreign names is an art without clear rules, and I think all of us take advantage of that by insisting on pronouncing names in whatever way we had decided to when we first learned about the figure (e.g. is it “Sart” or “Sart-ruh” or “Satrruh.”). Neet-chee is one of the standard anglicizations, and it’s stuck with me even though I took several years of German.

      • Raj says

        Well you have me there, just sounded a little odd in a later podcast (I believe one of the Wittgenstein ones) when there were three different pronunciations being thrown about. Anyway you guys have an amazing podcast here, it has been of help countless times in the procrastination of writing actual philosophy papers…

  7. Ben says

    Just about everybody everywhere mispronounces names from foreign lands. The most notable to me being the Spanish pronunciation of Jesus as “Hey-Zeus.” The way we say Jesus is probably improper. I don’t think the podcasters mispronounced anything; it is more that they would have foreign accents if they were speaking German.

    • Braden Borgia says

      Given that Jesus is a complete bastardization of Christ’s actual name (I can’t spell it as I don’t know any language but English, but I believe “Izoouh” is the closest we have to the original name) isn’t it silly to debate pronunciation?

  8. Braden Borgia says

    Is it fair to Nietzsche to say that his interpretation of Judaism and slave morality is based on Christ’s teachings? Given The Anti-Christ, and Nietzsche’s portrayal of him as a great but tragic figure who has been misunderstood and exploited, I feel it is inaccurate to say that Nietzsche thinks of Christ as the jumping off point of slave morality. Perhaps you are arguing that he is misrepresenting his thoughts in Anti-Christ and that he does in fact use that as his starting point, but it seems to me he makes a major differentiation between Christ and the Christian church.

    • Profile photo of Wayne Schroeder says

      There are many moving parts to your question. I know Seth does not think that Nietzsche is as much down on the Jews, as the Christian Church, but I bring both in here, because my reading of Good and Evil clearly comes down on both Judaism and Christianity (how he usually means these entities, as religions with a history) from a historical, geneological perspective. His real enemy is the social causation process of false guilt, termed Good and Evil, and how it combines with normal guilt to have literally deMoralized generation after generation. He is an equal opportunity offender of those who are religious or secular that promote false guilt: even and especially God (and I guess that would include the Devil). What is left is Good and Bad, but it is the Bad that drives the Good, so the Good News is that the Bad is not Bad–it’s All Good!

  9. Wayne Schroeder says

    Just finished Beyond Good or Evil, and he assumes an either/or, master/slave position which he takes as the truth of the human condition to overcome. Since psyche (which is conditioned by society he states)/people/society/ bad philosophers/scientists/politics/countries are not to be trusted– 1) the first goal is to avoid being a slave of your own weak conscience or that of anyone else’s, 2) have the courage to be master of your own soul, and 3) do not be afraid of your passions/instincts/impulses, but 4) let them give you instinctive taste/guidance, power, freedom of will, nobility–not made weak by conscience.

    His use of the term “Truth” is almost always stated in some disdainful way against others, especially philosopher metaphysicians who go around telling others what “Truth” is. His effort is to invert this terrible misconception (hello Derrida), and restore the meaning of truth as ones own Will to Truth (which becomes Will to Power), the power to be who you are based on your own value (hello Schopenhauer. The ultimate truth in life is thus to embrace the value of your own power. He often speaks positively of artists who engage in their expressive, empowered freedom in life (i.e., Wagner, etc.).

    He states that “all organic functions [including sexuality] could be traced back to this Will to Power” (36)–this is his claim about reality/truth. There are thus two readings of Nietzsche–the amoral, harsh, cynical, heartlessness, and the one that some of us would like to believe: that his thoughts just haven’t been developed clearly and that he is more artistic in his nature (and that Santa Claus and Heaven are not in jeopardy). It is not hard to see why his ideas became usable for Hitler’s regime, and explain his plunge into madness. The psychoanalytic explanation of this is that his ego was so impaired by his lack of nurturing that he was thrown into the false (no ego/self/mom stuff to balance the superego and id) battle between the superego/master (dad stuff) versus the id (impulsivity), and that the id won=psychosis).

    His whole discussion of morality is thus an argument against the falsity of superego morality rather than about morality in the interpersonal sense.

    We can thank subsequent philosophers who have salvaged his genius out of his darkness and abyss.

    • dmf says

      “His whole discussion of morality is thus an argument against the falsity of superego morality rather than about morality in the interpersonal sense.” this would need some fleshing out with textual references to be made more certain as I’m not so sure that he would limit the powers/actions of any individual to the needs/desires of any other person. He’s not much for compromise that I can see…

  10. Profile photo of Wayne Schroeder says

    I’m just getting through Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, and the foundation of his metaphysics was based on Nietzsche, especially his opposition to oppositional/negative thinking. In Ecce Homo, he actually came around to focus on the affirmative of life, amor fati. While decrying false moralizing of Good an Evil, he shifted to Good and Bad, reversing the moralizing to valuing so that ironically the Good actually arises out of the Bad (which is not evil, but just the way it is). He make the same point about rationality that he did about morality, and Deleuze makes an entire system out of his thinking.

  11. Profile photo of Wayne Schroeder says


    Yes, that was my immediate take-away after finishing Beyond Good and Evil and was addressing my my overall sense of his battle not only against society and the master-slave relationships, but also against what feels like his own “superego” as his own internal demon to exorcise as well (my psychoanalytic speculation).

    I contrasted this to morality in the interpersonal sense, but I don’t mean to imply any moralizing is Nietzschean. I am responding to the intense hostility and scathing sarcasm by which he attacks false guilt and the falsity of moralizing (the function of the superego).

    I do not believe Nietzsche’s only point was to eliminate superego morality, but to eliminate moralizing at all:

    I think one of the best works on morality in Nietzsche is by John Richardson, NYU:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrxLzBebZ5U (a You Tube video)

    As I stated below: “In Ecce Homo, he actually came around to focus on the affirmative of life, amor fati. While decrying false moralizing of Good an Evil, he shifted to Good and Bad, reversing the moralizing to valuing so that ironically the Good actually arises out of the Bad (which is not evil, but just the way it is).”

    So thanks dmf for helping me clarify those points.

    • dmf says

      sure, as a working analyst who wrestles with the emergent complexities/vagaries of human dynamics/relations I’m not really a fan of trying to reduce the works of authors along these lines, instead I find reading histories of figures like Picasso and his working/family life to be more illustrative of the kinds of genius that aesthetic-vitalists like Nietzsche are championing, but we all have our own interests/project-ions to work thru so by all means do your thing but always good I think to be careful about trying to speak for others, adopting the author-ity of another.
      you might find the related work of Ray Monk on biography and the “duty” of genius to be of some interest:

  12. Profile photo of Wayne Schroeder says

    Good points, although you must admit that Nietzsche did some fair psychologizing himself, so I think I stand in good company, as long as I don’t get the author mixed up with his writing. I’m not usually a fan of my own opinions unless there is enough substance for comment. Interested in your view of the you tube lecture.

  13. Craig says

    New listener here, great podcast. I feel stupid because this podcast was recorded so long ago, and I’m probably just commenting into the void here, but I wanted to point out something you guys mentioned. They way I understood Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence has much less to do with actions (remember he didn’t like the idea of free will) and more to do with worldview, especially as it ties in with amor fati. So instead of deciding what actions you’d like to eternally do, the task is to embrace what actions and environments you put yourself in. I think this is a major point that helps Nietzsche sound much less like Ayn Rand and much more like, say, Marcus Aurelius.

  14. Josh Davis says

    I’ve been trying to get a more complete picture of Continental philosophy, and your podcast was one of the first places I went. Just listening to this episode was so interesting and fulfilling, The three of you are so well-versed in Nietzsche, I thought this episode was almost a masterpience in its own right,

    The detailed analysis of resentmont vs bad conscience was technical and really came across as the guts of what N was doing, but this was further clarified in comparing the Geneology to The Birth of Tragedy: in both he’s doing the same sort of historical psychologizing.

    I really enjoyed Mark’s point, basically saying he was put off by BGE section 273.

    “A human being who strives for something great considers everyone he meets on his way either as a means or as a delay and obstacle–or as a temporary resting place. His characteristic high grade graciousness toward his fellow men becomes possible only once he has attained his height and rules. Impatience and his consciousness that until then he is always condemned to comedy–for even war is a comedy and conceals, just as every means conceals the end–spoil all of his relations to others: this type of man knows solitude and what is most poisonous in it.”

    It sounds almost sociopathic at the start. Also, the side comment about war is also strange..

    A further interesting point was made by Mark, according to N: if you cannot spend two thirds of your time at your leisure, then you are a slave. (That makes me a slave twice over.)


  1. […] I’d like to add here that respondents don’t simply have different conceptions of happiness: they’re likely to be uncertain as to what they think it is. That’s why many of us have trouble formulating goals and figuring out whether we’re satisfied when we’ve achieved them. If happiness were a well-defined, hash-marked ruler with which we could run about making uncontroversial empirical measurements, life would be a lot less hard than it is. The underlying explanatory model here is inner conflict: as in, one part of us wants one thing and one part wants another, not-entirely-consistent thing; and really there are very many working parts pulling in a vast number of directions (“everyone wants everything,” to quote a psychoanalyst I know). And so to say what happiness means we might talk, for instance, about establishing harmony between conflicting parts of the psyche (see Plato, Aristotle, Freud, and Nietzsche). […]

  2. […] The conversation proceeds to a more general one about virtue, and Plato’s notion that the good is unitary: if someone acts wickedly, than even if he seems all jolly about it, he’s really miserable, in that his soul is out of balance: it’s a crummy soul. Likewise, if you do act wickedly, it’s much better to be punished for it and so repent than to get away with it. Socrates’s interlocutors think this view laughable, and Callicles describes an alternative where the stronger rightly get more power that sounds a lot like Nietzsche’s position. […]

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