Back near the beginning of November, I wrote an article on the is-ought problem and moral anti-realism. In that article, I concluded that the moral anti-realist is free to continue speaking of moral oughts as long as their conception of an ought is something rather like a phenomenologically considered is. Humans without moral realism, I concluded, would still have means for an ethics that is contractarian in nature.
This contractarian ethical system would result from an understanding of morality which is in part functionally objective and entirely intersubjective. If you’re not sure what I mean by ‘functionally objective’ or ‘intersubjective,’ don’t worry; I’ll cover each of them in turn right now.
Friedrich Nietzsche’s writing is constantly concerned with tracing the development of ontological and epistemological phenomena as the result of interactions among humans. His conclusions often paint the developments he observes as being rendered inevitable by the nature of human will, knowledge, and consciousness. Because of this fascination with the developmental history of concepts, Nietzsche is always in the mode of thinking which may be termed genealogical.
Indeed, well before his explicit discourse tracing the source of intellectual constructs and moral underpinnings in On the Genealogy of Morality, the early Nietzsche is thinking along the same lines, if not in precisely the same terms, in, for instance, his essay, “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense.” Despite the aforementioned observable inevitability in Nietzsche’s account for the rise and implementation of the concept of truth, Nietzsche is never forgiving or conciliatory toward humanity for its unwillingness to discard their basic assumptions, nor even to acknowledge them as such. This is in spite of Nietzsche’s apparent awareness, as evidenced in Ecce Homo, that he is a singular thinker whose example and legacy will be no small task to parse. Yet the treatment of truth in these texts is not identical.
Whereas in the earlier essay Nietzsche is more interested in the exact method by which truth is constructed, the later work underscores instead the dangers of appealing to truth as the justification for one’s pursuits; meanwhile, both works are concerned with envisioning the sort of person who faces reality without traditional truth as its basis, in the former termed the “intuitive man” and in the latter the “thinkers” (contrasted with adherents to an ascetic ideal).
In my prior post, I explored the notion that moral realism is not as pragmatically attractive as it presents itself when its proponents are comparing it to opposing systems. I would now like to take up another narrow topic in the discussion of morality—the notion that moral realism must be true for the opposite of the reason that others feel cultural relativism must be true: while some relativists feel that cultural differences demonstrate the lack of objective moral truth, some realists feel that morality must be objective and real because all people across the world, and throughout history, have held certain values in common.