Sunday, April 11, 2010

Birds of Prey

I have always enjoyed Nietzsche’s concepts of the origins of good and evil as social constructs created by the weak. I’ll start with a brief summary of Nietzsche’s argument. In the Genealogy of Morals Friedrich Nietzsche argues that there is a difference between good/evil and good/bad and that the two concepts are opposed to each other. He argues that evil is a construct of slavish morality used by the priestly class to oppress those who are stronger than them; this “Slave Morality” is one of Nietzsche’s central ideas. Nietzsche believes that “Good” is not defined by the terms of the priestly class but rather “good” equals strength and power and is life affirming whereas the “Good” as the priestly class describes it is life denying and is focused on making oneself weaker for the sake of others. A key moment for me in his first essay is in section 13 where uses the analogy of the bird of prey and the lamb. He states that the Lambs dislike being in danger of being carried off by the bird of prey and therefor decides that the bird of prey is Evil; and if the bird of prey is evil it must follow that whatever is opposite of the bird of prey, the lamb, is Good. The Bird however does not draw these distinctions it does not see the lamb or itself as good or evil; the bird is merely utilizing its naturally given strength to acquire food it sees no moral issue in what it is doing at all. The lamb however is demanding that the bird not utilize its strength because since its strength harms lambs it is evil; they are trying to “make the bird of prey accountable for being a bird of prey.” As if it should feel guilty for doing what comes naturally to it. I find this argument very intriguing and Nietzsche’s entire argument against the so called priestly class is very persuasive. Nietzsche’s argument makes the morality that is commonly followed a product of the church and as such part of the Christianity. However the slave morality is intrinsic to Christianity they are inseparable and to remove the morality is to have Christianity crumble. Nietzsche believed that one should focus on self-preserving life affirming ideas and create their own morality and become what he called the Übermensch. While this concept is not directly mentioned in the Genealogy of Morals it is key to Nietzsche’s philosophy and serves as the opposite of the follower of slave morality; a being that creates their own morality and is not oppressed by the weak they do what they see as right not because they are told to but because they think it is right.


  1. I think you have examined an interesting point. The analogy of the lambs and birds of prey is powerful in drawing out the ridiculous nature of certain moral systems. I would argue that certain issues are a-moral, and just as in this analogy, people are often want to impose some sort of moral judgment inappropriately on a situation. I would however like to point out a potential point of weakness in the analogy. It may be taking the analogy to far, but it seems to me that in the analogy there is no true reordering of values, the lambs are simply using their mental strength to trick to birds. If this is the case then the lambs are in fact the stronger, and there is no inversion of values.

  2. I appreciate the mention of the Ubermensch. Those last few sentences are interesting. I think they are especially so because personal opinions on what constitutes right and wrong. At the risk of sounding like I lack any sort of opinion (which, if you know me at all you know is entirely untrue), I often find myself having a difficult time deciding on how I feel about certain issues. Despite what various ethical systems may recommend, I think it really should be up to the individual to decide what they value and what they regard as right and wrong.


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