I’ve been going through my notebooks for the past couple of months. There are loads of them, going back to when I was twelve. In one of them, I found this, which I wrote when I was eighteen.
I read Nietzsche’s On The Genealogy of Morals whilst sitting in a little wooden hut selling tickets for a festival. These are some of the notes I scribbled down while I was reading.
“For Nietzsche, the questioning of the value of truth is implicated in the questioning of moral values, since moral values characteristically seek to establish themselves as truths.” – Introduction to On The Genealogy of Morals
I don’t entirely disagree. Morality is largely relative – to culture, to situation, and (arguably) to individual. Acts in themselves, such as murder, cannibalism, stealing and so forth, are often held to be morally neutral, particularly in the postmodern society in which we as Western philosophic thinkers find ourselves. Indeed, with the development of globalisation making the world into more and more of a ‘global village’, it is almost inevitable that we become sufficiently attuned to other cultures for their customs to be accepted by, if not included in, our culture.
This having been said, however, there are a select few acts for which I for one can see no potential justification. Rape. Child abuse. The trafficking of children and other vulnerable individuals for sexual favours they do not wish to give. Such things as these – horrendous offences and terrible things that affect lives only in a bad way, both making the victims feel worthless and dehumanising the instigators – can have no justification.
Of course, there could arguably be a situation in which one or other of them would be the lesser evil: for instance, a woman whose child was about to be raped by a soldier in a time of war may well offer herself instead, however unwillingly. All the same, even if one is the lesser evil, it is still an evil.
Perhaps an ‘evil’ can be defined as something which cannot be morally justified; whilst there are some situations in which almost anything could potentially be seen as the ‘correct’ course of action, such crimes as those mentioned above have no justification and are therefore instrinsically evil.
This makes it impossible to actually divorce morality from truth; I would argue however, that whilst the majority of actions which we hold to be part of the moral spectrum are negotiable in their true standing, there is a continuum of morality upon which most such actions are in a constant state of flux, yet there are stil the two extremities of the continuum: the morally evil actions which can never be justified, and thus, at least hypothetically, the morally good actions which can always be justified. Quite what the latter could be I am not sure, but that is the subject of another enquiry.
I no longer agree completely with my eighteen-year-old self; I now hold a much more nuanced view, having experienced a bit more of the world. But I thought it was interesting to look at how my views had changed over time.