In the preface to On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche reveals that questions about the origins of good and evil have haunted him since childhood. Extending this early curiosity, he begins to raise doubts about some of our most basic moral assumptions. In particular, he questions a supposition than I’m sure most of us share—that the good man, the moral man, is of greater value than the evil man (20). He considers the possibility that such suppositions have been nothing more than ill founded, yet contagious, ideas that have polluted human thought for centuries.
In the preface, he doesn’t go much further than simple consideration. However, presumably he wants to say, “yes, this is all that morality is.” I’m guessing that by the book’s end, his conclusion will be a more developed version of this extremely bleak picture. However, in ultimately making this claim (and again I am only predicting that he will), it seems that there are several other controversial claims that are going to have to be made.
First of all, he is going to have to argue that there is nothing better about the good, in itself, than the bad, in itself. In other words, he’ll have to convince his readers that goodness has no inherent value, because if it does then the assumption he is questioning is obviously correct. The good man is more useful than the bad one, because goodness is simply better than badness.
In addition to this challenge, he’s going to have to prove that our species has no biological ties to the good. He’s going to have to show that there is nothing inherent in us, humans, that makes us feel a certain way about the things we categorize as good. If there is—for instance, if the fuzzy feeling we get from helping someone in need is a result of nature rather than a product of nurture—then his inquiry is doomed. For if this is the case then, regardless of any brilliant argument, we are going to remain unchanged, because we’ll have no choice. It’s simply the way we are. If he’s unable to hurdle this obstacle, then his argument is about as meaningful and effective as one that tells us why we shouldn’t be hungry.
I don’t know much about biology, but it seems that something along the lines of this second challenge—that we might have a natural affinity for helping others—could be tested. Would that not potentially shut the door on Nietzsche? Any biology people out there that can shed some light?