Computers, Information Technology, the Internet, Ethics, Society and Human Values
Philip Pecorino, Ph.D.
Queensborough Community College, CUNY
Chapter 3 Ethics
Post Modernism Existentialism
During the Twentieth Century the advanced technological societies
of the West and some in the East experienced a decline in the number of
people who practiced their religion regularly and accepted a morality
based upon Natural Law Theory. There
was a decline in the belief that:
there is a single reality and that humans can have knowledge of it.
there is objective truth
there are absolutes
This decline can be attributed to a number of factors:
the increase in information about other cultures and their various
practices, beliefs and values,
advances in what science and technology could provide for humans in
improvements in their basic living along with an appreciation for material
the spreading influence of ideas from the existentialist and
the spread of democratic ideals
In the Post Modern view there are no absolutes of any kind and
there are no universal truths nor universal criteria for beauty and nor
are there universal principles of the GOOD.
Thus, there is a return of relativism in the sphere of morality.
With that return there is also the threat of chaos which relativism
spawns. As reaction to this
trend there is an increase in the numbers of people returning to religion
and religious principles as the foundation for their moral lives.
The fastest growing religion in the world is Islam.
Islam is increasing in its population through a birth rate higher
than average and through conversions.
Islam fundamentalism is growing in the number of adherents.
Fundamentalists of Islam and of Christianity and Judaism are all
declaring their condemnation of the current state of moral decline and the
rise of relativism and materialism.
In moral theory there has developed a number of
traditions that extol alternatives to the teleological and deontological
approaches based upon reason and the belief that universal principles can
be reached through the exercise of reason.
The Existentialists called for an acceptance of the inescapable role of human emotions.
The Pragmatists focused on the impossibility of reason reaching
beyond the frailties of limitations of human reason.
Feminist theoreticians have devised a number of
approaches to ethics that have at least this much in common: the denial of
previous theories as being biased and deluded.
Omonia Vinieris (QCC, 2002) Nietzsche’s Will to Power
Nietzsche’s ethical principle of the will to power makes a claim to the egoistic nature of humanity. The doctrine asserts that all humans strive to forcibly impose their will upon others as a primal drive in their nature compels them to do so. Man will relentlessly exercise his will over others as an example of his determination, spirit, and strength of character. To demonstrate and acquire his power and influence is his inherent motivation to act, even if his actions essentially seem unselfishly provoked. Nietzsche alleges that no true altruistic deeds exist because humans are wholly egocentric and self-seeking by nature. We may give the impression that we are considerate, caring, and selfless as we may perform kind deeds for others that regard us as humane, but our innate intensions are truly self-absorbed and do not entail goodness or benevolence. By this, Nietzsche does not suggest by any means that mankind is innately malicious out of its deceptive intentions, but rather that it is more rapt in its own aspirations or purposes of life. These aspirations are to be esteemed as an example of human prominence and not mistaken for the malice and deterioration of mankind.
Conversely, sympathy, generosity, and equality are all qualities that one associates with good moral character, not with contemptibility as Nietzsche does. The noble spirit that Nietzsche speaks of would not embrace these traditional ethical traits. To manipulate characters of fragility and frailty, to indulge in one’s supremacy, and to pamper one’s self with praise, are preferably what Nietzsche considers to be the intrinsic and admirable traits of the good. Traditional ethicists revile these characteristics and see them as they may prompt the decaying of civilization. Nevertheless, Nietzsche merely suggests that it is instinctive of humans to inflict their will to power. Analogously, the Darwinist theory of evolution verifies such a claim as it is the survival of the fittest that determines what species endures and what species ceases to exist. The fittest in accordance to Nietzsche’s ethical principles are the good and those who strive to dominate over inferior beings. Perhaps this is precisely why many conventional ethicists would refute Nietzsche’s will to power. It is evident that the fundamental institution of morals into society is to impede many of our natural propensities in order to avert the chaotic unruliness that may arise from them.
Nietzsche distinguishes between noble (masters) and base (slaves) souls. The concept of a noble soul originates from Nietzsche’s admiration of ancient Greek culture. The ancient Greeks were an animated people who paradoxically welcomed the inevitability of death, facing the ordeals and hardships of life, whilst celebrating its magnificence. The noble soul or master, according to Nietzsche, is a replica of the ancient Greek. He grows comfortably amidst the suffering and toils of human pain as he confronts life. This confrontation is natural and only drives him to grow and acquire more. He may have to exploit the base soul for his own good, but this maltreatment of another being only supplements his pride and his will to power. In this sense, affliction provides the master with the prospect of extensive growth, and does not hinder his path to power.
On the contrary, the base spirit or slave trembles in the face of affliction. He does not challenge the hardships of life, but rather seeks to assuage the pain which he finds intolerable. Such a being seeks out consolation from others out of his apprehension and despicability. He considers sympathy, benevolence, and equality to be the essential attributes of goodness because they falsely detract from the injustice and agony of life. The slaves are inferior to the master in that they do not anticipate growing in a torturous, pain-inflicted world. Nietzsche considers this base soul to represent the greater part of humanity today. Thus, his ethical principle of the noble’s will to power over the base epitomizes a complete avant-garde reversal of the nature of bad and good in traditional ethical thought.
Nietzsche’s anti Ethics
Powerpoint Overview of his position:
from Stephen Darwall, University of Michigan (
The Ethics of an Immoralist
a. Some people feel that the will to power advocated by Nietzsche encourages people to be callous and cruel, ignoring humanity for the sake of gaining power.
c. Theists can also argue that the will to power can be seen as merely a response to helplessness, as Nietzsche's method for wishing to attain control of a life that is really left up to God.
Web Surfer's Caveat: These are class notes, intended to comment on readings and amplify class discussion. They should be read as such. They are not intended for publication or general distribution. email@example.com @copyright 2006 Philip A. Pecorino
Last updated 8-2006 Return to Table of Contents