nietzsche on noble and slave morality (2008)


Explain Nietzsche’s distinction between noble and slave morality. Does he have any real grounds for objecting to slave morality?

Morality, by dictionary definition, is said to be conformity to the rules by virtuous conduct. Some philosophers have said that living the virtuous, moral life is the correct path of rightful living. But what specific rules is morality referring too? How do we know what morality is?

The 19th Century German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche looked at what morality was, identifying two separate types; noble and slave morality. According to Nietzsche, all man holds a certain type of moral outlook: a noble morality or a slave morality.

“While all noble morality grows out of a triumphant self-affirmation, slave morality from the start says “No””

                   “Nietzsche, [1], First Essay, Section 10, Paragraph 1.

This seems to be the fundamental difference in the moralities. While noble inherently says “yes” to life, to affirm itself and rejoice in itself, slave morality seems to be saying “no”, an opposition to the world. Slave morality is a mere a reaction to the world and the external environment.

A noble morality is one that is passionate about life.

“Thoroughly intoxicated with life and passion, “We are noble, good, beautiful, and happy!””

                  “Nietzsche, [1], First Essay, Section 10, Paragraph 2.

Nietzsche seems to be implying that this is the right way to go about life. To look at life in all its glory, being open to the world, honest and direct in all dealings.  

“Being unable to take one’s enemies, one’s misfortunes, even one’s bad deeds seriously for very long—that is the mark of strong, complete natures… such a man with a single shrug throws off himself all those worms which eat into other men.”

                 “Nietzsche, [1], First Essay, Section 10, Paragraph 7.

A noble morality is the mark of a great person, a person who has mastered himself and his life. It is truly the way to go about life. The sign of a remarkable man.

Slave morality, however, is an inherent resentment of what is good.

“Slave morality is essentially negative and reactive, originating in a denial of everything that is different from it.”

               “[2], Paragraph 1”

A person who only looks through the world with negative eyesight. According to Nietzsche, it is this resentment of the world that values of hatred, vengeance, and distortion are born.   

Nietzsche continues the discussion of slave morality, demonstrating that all previous Greek philosophy contains the attitude of slave morality in some form:

“How a constant form of pity, consideration, and forbearance is mixed in there…to the point where almost all words which refer to the common man finally remain as expressions for “unhappy,” “worthy of pity””

            “Nietzsche, [1], First Essay, Section 10, Paragraph 4.

By Nietzsche saying this seems to mean that philosophical text since the Greeks have always understood the idea of a noble and slave morality. Text differences between the great scholars and common, pitiful men have always outlined it.

Nietzsche does not like the idea of people with a slave morality. His objection to slave morality is that the person distances himself from his reality. The person tries to evade life; he hides away from it, out of fear and lack of love.

“With our fear of mankind we also have lost our love for mankind, our reverence for mankind, our hopes for mankind, even our will to be mankind. A glimpse at man nowadays makes us tired”

            “Nietzsche, [1], First Essay, Section 12, Paragraph 3.

There is no growth within slave morality. Slave morality will make us tired, depressed, our hopes will be lost. The world would be taken over in darkness. This is not how man should live. To Nietzsche, we fear those who are adopting slave morality.

“The maggot “man” is in the foreground swarming around.”

           “Nietzsche, [1], First Essay, Section 11, Paragraph 8.

There is no taking on the world, glory or ambition. He goes onto suggest that it is the European countries that currently hold this dull, slave morality thought, infecting the minds of the people: “Europe’s fate lies right here.”  “Nietzsche, [1], First Essay, Section 12, Paragraph 3.

Nietzsche’s objections for rejecting slave morality seem plausible. A man who has given up and lost touch with his current realities will hardly benefit society. The attitude may spread to the people, creating a country of people who have given up, fearful and tired.

A man of noble morality, affirming and rejoicing, in itself creates a joyful life. The noble man will attract progress, good will, and a happier existence to him and others. It is the facing of his problems with courage and honesty.

Because of the apparent inspiration that the life of a noble person would lead, any person with slave morality would be totally useless and objectionable in comparison.

However, one could argue that the existence of noble and slave moralities are born out of each other. To understand one, its opposition needs to be in existence. Even if one were to reject slave morality, the rejection is not strong enough to reject it out of existence.

In order to elevate and demonstrate the goodness of noble morality, the slave morality is there, awaiting its comparison. It needs slave morality. Slave morality does not need anything to be. It is inherently a negative and resented view.

In order for noble morality to advertise itself and be recognised as the superior, it seemingly has to shoot down slave morality first. For to say “yes” to life, there needs to be evidence that such people have previously said “no”.

A second reason why it seems implausible for Nietzsche to object to slave morality, is that, regardless of his objection and preference, who are we to decide what other people think? As a society, Nietzsche’s rejection of slave morality is understandable: it does not generate progress or growth, just negativity and tiredness. But each person seemingly has individual freedom and choice: if he wants to adopt values that of slave morality, then he is free too.

Overall it seems, as a working society, noble morality is preferred and is a clear understandable superior notion. Nietzsche does have clear grounds for objecting slave morality: he can see the benefit of noble morality, and the apparently uselessness of slave morality. However, regardless of the desire to benefit society, Nietzsche has no grounds for forcefully trying to reject slave morality out of existence, because man has choice to adopt either noble morality or slave morality.  




[1] Friedrich Nietzsche           Genealogy of Morals, Malaspina University-College, BC, 2007.

[2] -                                         Summary Of Genealogy of Morals, free publication, Spark Notes