Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Nietzsche’s “God is Dead” Proclamation and The Irrational Man

Rational Man: A Modern Interpretation of Aristotelian Ethics
Henry B. Veatch

“God is Dead” is Nietzsche’s widely quoted proclamation.

According to Henry B. Veatch, Friedrich Nietzsche’s proclamation is not an allusion to the death of the religious God. Nietzsche is making a much broader point— he is asserting that in the universe there is no room for an objectively grounded moral order to exist.

In other words, Nietzsche holds that there is no basis or justification for moral principles in reality—God is dead stands for the idea that morality is dead.

Rational Man by Henry B. Veatch is dedicated to explaining the Aristotelian moral theory. But in this article I am focussing only on the last two chapters, Chapter 7 and 8, in which Veatch has brought out the contrast between the Aristotelian ethics of the rational man, and the utilitarian and existentialist ethics of the irrational man.These two chapters highlight how the utilitarians and the existentialists use Nietzsche’s ethical skepticism for developing their philosophy.

Veatch rejects the ethical idea that is present in Nietzsche’s “God is dead” proclamation. He says that as per Aristotelian theory God isn't dead because human nature involves a moral order, which human beings must recognize to act upon. He presents the grist of Nietzsche’s ethical position by quoting a few lines from Nietzsche’s Will To Power:
And “if the belief in God and in an essentially moral ordering of things is no longer tenable,” why not accept the consequence, viz., “the belief in the absolute immorality of nature and the utter purposelessness and meaninglessness of our psychologically necessary human impulses and affections”?
Jeremy Bentham’s Utilitarian principle that moral values must mainly focus on promoting the greatest happiness of the greatest number has won a number of adherents in modern day society because it allows people to avoid the trouble of worrying about whether nature is amoral, or whether our psychologically determined feelings and impulses have any meaning.

But the utilitarians find it difficult to show why anyone must have the obligation to think about others. This excerpt highlights the key problem with utilitarian altruism:
If one begins by basing one’s ethics on straightforward hedonistic principles, asserting that pleasure is the only thing of any value in life and recommending that the moral agent simply do as he pleases, it is patently difficult to make the transition from such a starting point to the further assertion that this same moral agent ought to concern himself not merely with his own pleasure, but equally with the pleasure of others.   
When Veatch contrasts utilitarian altruism with Aristotelian ethics he proves that the latter does not begin with thinking of others, it begins with oneself. He explains the selfish fundamentals of Aristotelian ethics with these words:
The reason is that every human being faces the task of learning how to live, how to be a human being, just as he has to learn how to walk or to talk. No one can be truly human, can live and act as a rational man, without first going through the difficult and often painful business of acquiring the intellectual and moral virtues, and then, having acquired them, actually exerting them in the concrete, but tricky, business of living. 
The existentialists take a leaf out of Nietzsche’s God is dead proclamation when they posit that as existence is ugly, meaningless, and absurd, it is not possible for us to morally judge any action. This is how Veatch contrasts the Aristotelian ethics of the rational man with the existentialist ethics of the irrational man:
Aristotle: to be human (i.e., to become subjective) is to act and to choose, but always in the light of knowledge and understanding. 
The existentialists: to become subjective (i.e., to be truly human) is to act and to choose, but in the absence of knowledge and understanding. 
Veatch further explains:
Since existentialists assume that God is dead, the authentic exercise of will must be in the very face of this fact, in the consciousness that there is no God, no objective order of values, no ground or basis of ethics in the older sense at all. Indeed, to make choices and decisions as if there were a God and as if one’s choices could therefore be intelligent and rational—this could only be evidence of bad faith, because there is no God and accordingly there can be no such thing as a rational man or an examined life. 

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