Nietzsche's Answer to the Naturalistic Fallacy: Life as Condition, not Criterion, of Morality


Nietzsche’s late writings present a value opposition of health and decadence based in his conception of organic life. While this appears to be a moral ideal that risks the naturalistic fallacy of directly deriving norms from facts, it instead describes a meta-ethical ideal: the necessary conditions for any kind of moral agency. Nietzsche’s ideal of health not only evades but also dissolves the naturalistic fallacy by suggesting that the specific content of morality is irrelevant. If health is measured by power over one’s drives rather than the environment, then the source of moral conflict—organic life’s essential tendency toward domination—is surmounted by successful integration of any moral norms, regardless of content. Nietzsche’s concept of health draws on his characterization of organic life as essentially ‘exploitation’: growth through domination of the environment (BGE 259, GM II: 12). In animals, power coincides with happiness, while health and decadence track the correspondence between instinct and happiness (TI II: 11). This simple picture is complicated by the Genealogy, where Nietzsche depicts human nature as an animal illness caused by civilization’s disruption of the natural correspondence of instinct and happiness. Civilization shapes this ‘sick animal’ into the distinctly human ‘sovereign individual’ (GM III: 13, II: 2), restoring the harmony of instinct and happiness in an internal hierarchy of drives. So, sovereign individuality is a distinctly human model of health. Although life is exploitation, human health does not coincide with greater environmental power, but rather an internal qualitative expansion of power: greater variety and tension among drives, greater ‘wholeness in diversity’ in the ‘social structure’ of the self (BGE 212, 12). Nonetheless, health is not a moral criterion, but instead the precondition of moral agency. The subordination of drives to a commanding hierarchy grounds the ability to uphold any moral principles at all, to make and keep promises to oneself and others. Moral agency coincides, in turn, with overcoming the source of moral conflict in organic life’s drive for growth. The unification of opposing drives provides pleasure in power over oneself rather than one’s environment, the ‘happiness of high tension’ among drives (BGE 260), and in environmental resistance, a need for ‘equal opponents’ (TI IX: 38, EH 1: 7). Consequently, Nietzsche’s meta-ethical ideal supports a moral pluralism that supports any moral content. Moral conflicts arise precisely to the degree individuals are incapable of achieving moral agency, but they dissolve as moral agency of any kind is more widely achieved.



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Donovan Miyasaki
Wright State University

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