The Influence of Power on Moral Truth

According to Nietzsche there is no moral phenomena, only a moral interpretation of phenomena. This means the morality of an action or a deed is in the interpretation of that deed, making morality subjective. All things subjective are of, existing in or related to the mind. There is also the issue of motive which helps us to judge whether an act is moral or not.

For instance, we cannot say something is good or bad until we know the motive with which it’s done. If a politician builds a library or makes a cash donation to his community, we cannot say he is a good man until we know his motive, which is often definitely to seek another term of office, which means plowing his money back from state coffers or from bribes.

Kant, Locke, Hobbes and even Rousseau presented their ideas about morality as if it were a direct product of reason or rationality. They implied that primitive societies which had not ‘mastered’ reasoning had no sense of morality at all but this is erroneous. Kant in particular attributed virtue to individual freewill and autonomy but our modern experience presents a different evidence. It is indeed true that with personal freedom and autonomy comes reasoning but morality does not necessarily follow through. We pride ourselves today for being in the age of reason but our moral curve keeps plunging downwards. My observation is that virtue is an attribute of nothing but the emotions in their proper frameworks and that the source of both virtue and vice is in our primitive days. Reason only comes in after the stage is set.

All good or evil deeds proceed from the heart and reason, though resulting in self awareness and personal security, does not necessarily prevent evil. Most people who commit moral crimes are aware of the evil nature of their deeds but they do it anyway. Reason for the most part is self serving and often fails the motive check which I mentioned earlier. For instance, people who give a part of their salary to the homeless and beggars have no apparent reason or motive at all for doing that. They simply were moved by their emotions.

There is another interesting twist to morality – which makes it somewhat undulating in nature. Consider this: A murderer is an immoral person but one who murders the murderer for the safety of the community is deemed moral. It follows that the murderer’s murderer’s murderer is also deemed immoral and it goes on and on switching back and forth. We can think of it as an equation attempting psychological equilibrium, which is something inbuilt in us.

The biggest problem in morality so far is the influence of power or authority. Nietzsche goes on to say that whatever interpretations exist or persist is a function of authority and not truth. One will notice that Pilate’s question to the Jew: ‘What is truth?’ lends credence to this statement. To Pilate, truth is what the Roman empire says it is, so he wanted to know the deferring truth which the Jew was purported to have taught his disciples. In practical life, one will have noticed that the vast majority of people will readily accept truth only and if only it is backed by authority. Sometimes during a court trial, witnesses freeze or crumple in the witness box or fail to appear altogether because the truth which they witnessed will offend authority.

And now a question: Though they all claim to be doing it for peaceful purposes, do you think there is morality or moral truth or ethical merit in so called nuclear programmes? To what extent should a nation go in protecting itself or its interests?

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12 thoughts on “The Influence of Power on Moral Truth

  1. “And now a question: Though they all claim to be doing it for peaceful purposes, do you think there is morality or moral truth or ethical merit in so called nuclear programmes? To what extent should a nation go in protecting itself or its interests?”

    Programs can not be moral or immoral, only persons can be moral or immoral.

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  2. What do you mean by ‘morality’? This is the first question one should ask oneself if one is really serious about the questions of morality. If one is just advancing some political agenda, then that is a different matter.

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    • By a sense of morality, I mean the distinction between good and evil or right and wrong as regards individual human or subgroup conduct in relation to the common weal.

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  3. Thank you Veracious Poet for your kind and sensible answer. I appreciate it.

    I want to explore the question of morality if you like.

    You are right that persons carry out programs with motives.

    Who is included and who is excluded from ‘common weal’ ?

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    • Inclusion or exclusion from the commonweal depends on one’s motive and conduct. Once a particular individual or subgroup becomes a significant threat to the commonweal he or she or they are deemed evil or immoral. It’s self elimination. However, actions that reflect communal or societal aspirations are deemed heroic and sometimes rewarded.

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    • The commonweal is societal dependent. I have no moral right or authority at all to condemn/exclude anyone but every society has its own inherent laws/norms as regards what is good and what is evil.

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    • Yes. That’s the point I was trying to make in my post. The universality of a moral law depends on the number of people who accept it as just or good. I think the more the number the more objective the law appears and it may have nothing to do with a divine lawgiver.

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    • Whether moral laws evolved or are ‘given’ by a divine law giver is a subject of controversy, considering the variety of and contrast in the laws of each ethnic group, community or society. Some are patriarchal, others matriarchal. Some are polygamous, others monogamous. Some practice polytheism, others monotheism. There was a time that human sacrifice was a norm in many societies, now it’s a horrendous crime. So such diversifying laws could not have originated with a divine being. Let’s not forget that a moral sense is something innate and it’s far older than religion.

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