Nietzsche allows us to imagine a politically dominant group of people ruling over a subordinate group of individuals. The masters are thought to be powerful individuals who can do whatever they want. These powerful people use the term “good” to refer to the kind of life they want to live that isn’t hampered by anything. Slaves who are powerless and physically weak are referred to as “bad.” According to the slaves, the masters’ moralities are based on the words good and bad. Slaves develop a defensive and hostile attitude toward their oppressive masters. Nietzsche refers the slave revolt as ‘resentment’ which gives the slaves a chance to be creative and imagine the revenge for their masters. This is due to the fact that they are too weak to revenge their masters physically. Slaves view some actions of the masters as evil and selfish (Nietzsche 59).
Master-slave morality is a primary theme in the works of Nietzsche on the first essay on the Genealogy of morality. His arguments are based on two major types of morality that is, Slave morality and master morality. The master morality is characterized by pride, nobility, and strength. These values are considered good according to them but evil to the society. Slave morality values humility, kindness, sympathy, and empathy. The slaves consider all virtues as good. Something good is considered to be morally upright. We can deduce that morals are relative depending on whether someone is powerful or powerless in the society.
Master morality weighs the goodness and badness of an action depending on the consequences. They use consequentialism theory to affirm their actions. Classical virtues and vices are determined basing on the outcomes. Slave morality weighs the actions basing on the intentions of the doer. The intentions are either good or evil. Most of the arguments on slave morality are based on Christianity virtues and vices.
Nietzsche explained master morality as the morality of the strong-willed. He criticizes the ideology to be more of British which states that everything good is helpful and everything bad is harmful. The proponents of this view do not consider the virtues that human beings are supposed to have. Critically, it is not always the case that all good things are helpful and bad things are harmful. Good things can be virtues one has to practice when they relate to each other. Things like kindness, love, humility do not benefit but are good things. The master morality considers usefulness as a goodness value. In the pre-historic times, people were determining the value of non-value action from the outcomes that follow. For the strong-willed people, what is good is noble, strong, and powerful. Petty, timid, and coward are considered to be bad (Nietzsche 143).
Master morality focuses on nobility and being great in the society. This explains the reason why they were oppressing the slaves. The slave morality, on the other hand, values humility and kindness which is the contrary to the beliefs of the masters. The two different beliefs on what is good and bad led to the rebellion of the slaves. They considered the masters as bad people who do not have morals but just evil. Open-mindedness, trust, courage, truthfulness are among the things that are valued in master morality as self-worth. Something noble is something good. A nobleman judges by himself and does not need approval from others. Master morality recognizes that oneself is the true measure of moral truths. Strong-willed people view the good things to be helpful in their lifelong process of self-actualization. They believe in the will of power.
Masters create the morality while slaves respond to the master-morality. Slave morality is based on resentment. The slaves devalue what the masters have that slaves do not have. They devalue things like pride and ego that the masters have. They consider such values as selfish intentions and therefore evil. Master morality originates from the strong and slave morality comes from the weak.
Slave morality is the reaction to oppression done to them by the master oppressors. The two concepts of morality are direct opposite of each other. The major features of slave morality are pessimism and cynicism. Slave morality is created to revolt what the master values as good. It does not aim to exert one’s will through power but careful subversion. The morality is not meant to surpass the masters but makes them slaves as well. Slave morality bases its arguments on the utility concept. This means that they consider what is good to be useful and beneficial to the whole community. What is good is good for the whole society but not to an individual alone. Therefore, slave morality states that individuals should master their intentions before doing an action. Nietzsche criticized the slave morality that the strong are few in the society compared to the large masses of the weak. The weak get power by corrupting the strong in believing that the causes of slavery are evil. By stating that humility is voluntary, the slaves fail to admit that the humility was forced to them by the masters. They have to obey their masters and remain humble at all times to avoid being punished. Humility was induced to them by their masters. The biblical teachings on turning the other cheek when slapped cement the slave morality and makes the masters be slaves as well. The teachings are meant to educate people to be humble and have pity.
The struggle between the master and the slave moralities are experienced at various historical times and recur in the modern society. Historically, master morality was defeated as the slave morality spread due to the Christianity expansion in various states. Nietzsche’s condemns the expansion of slave morality and state that democratic movement is the collective degeneration of man. He claimed that the democratic movement on his time was weak and slavish compared to the modern society. Weakness defeated strength; slaves defeated masters and resentment defeated sentiment. Nietzsche calls the resentment as more of priestly vindictiveness and not individual beliefs. He argues that slave morality aims to enslave the strong and erode the concept of power by pulling the strong down. All these are brought by the jealous of the weak who admire the powerful positions which they cannot acquire. According to Nietzsche, such movements that aim to erode the concepts of power are intelligent revenge. He terms the movements as creative revenge brought by the slave revolt. Nietzsche’s view Christianity and democracy to have the same belief of making everyone equal. This is the same as making everyone a slave.
Nietzsche did not approve the master morality as good and perfect. He stated that the re-evaluation of morals could help in solving the inconsistencies in both slave and master morality. He stated that master morality is most preferred for an individual as it builds self-esteem and self-belief. Other philosophers have criticized Nietzsche’s view because he favors the master morality and ignores the slave morality. He gives the slave morality a thorough critique as he thought it focuses on the society.
Nietzsche prefers the master morality to the slave morality. From the evaluation of the beliefs in the two moralities, master morality is selfish and do not care about other people. On the other hand, slave morality cares about the needs of other people (Nietzsche 134). His arguments are satisfactory when he recommends master morality to build courage, trust, and self-esteem for oneself. It fails when he strong willed people oppress the poor in their journey to self-actualization. From the origin or morality, what is good is supposed to be good to everyone. The goodness of an action is determined by the consequences and the intention. Nietzsche does not disapprove the slave morality but calls for more evaluation on the two stands.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the genealogy of morals and ecce homo. Vintage, 2010.
Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The genealogy of morals. Prabhat Prakashan, 2000.