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Concepts of Morality

The seat of morality and the essence of the Summum Bonum have been subjects of great controversy of numerous philosophies. Determining the nature of each of these concepts leads to the derivation of what morals should be held by society at large. Such a determination affords individuals a stronger foundation upon which to base subsequent decisions. A moral framework provides a platform for justification and further provides boundaries for mobility. This is the root of the battle between forces as to what morals indeed are and what morality is.

To the victor would redound the benefit of justification of acts performed as well as those yet to be executed. Morality thus serves as a powerful tool in instigating change, provided that it is approved of and adhered to by persons other than the philosopher. In the present paper Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud’s conceptions of morality will be compared and contrasted. The philosophies of each have primal similarities albeit diverging into variant conclusions, applications, and demonstrations. The paper will identify behavioral framework wherein each philosopher worked in order to reflect the driving force behind their claims.

It will further be discussed what for each would have been the Summum Bonum in a conception of morality. Determining the greatest good in a society inevitably leads to the formulation of postulates protecting and encouraging such greater good. Finally, the different postulates of both Nietzsche and Freud will be discussed in a comparative perspective. The thesis of this comparison is how both views, though rooted in the same foundation and premise, have branched out to embody differing treatises. Such variant applications may best be explained by the differences in background of the two moralists.

A Brief Background Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud both lived in the nineteenth century. They were both acknowledged great thinkers in their respective fields during their time. But both achieved true recognition only after their deaths. Nietzsche was a German philosopher and philologist (Baird, 2008). He is best known for his critical analysis of the human situation and his dissatisfaction with merely accepting projected truths as facts. Nietzsche questioned rather the interpretation of facts in formulating truth claims.

By assessing the validity and objectivity of truth claims Nietzsche was able to deconstruct dominant views in his time, with the purpose of improving the human self and situation. Sigmund Freud, unlike Nietzsche, was not a philosopher by profession. Although his conclusions served as moral philosophies on their own, Freud was by practice an Austrian-Jewish physician (Gay, 1988). Freud was the founder of the school of psychoanalysis. He is most famous for his theories on the unconscious and the mind’s ability for repression. Freud’s work has found application in many fields apart from psychology.

The arts and letters draw upon Freud’s school of thought in their understanding of human behavior. Philosophy draws upon Freud’s work as well. As will be shown in the latter portions of this paper, Freud’s work indeed has philosophical tones. Although Nietzsche and Freud lived in the same time, they had different social backgrounds altogether. Nietzsche was well-bred and came from a well-to-do family. He was afforded the luxuries of his station as well as the easy access to a good education. Freud on the other hand was born into a poor family who had to strive to give him a proper education.

Both attended prominent schools however and were honored in their time for their deviant conceptions. Both were awarded during their lifetime for their accomplishments in their respective fields, particularly so their individual philosophies as applied in their practice. Perspectives on Behavior Despite Nietzsche and Freud’s different backgrounds, they viewed human nature and behavior in much the same way. Nietzsche believed that people anchored their actions on a compulsion to derive optimal benefit from a given situation.

This may be seen through Nietzche’s discussion on good and evil. Nietzsche believed that there were separate conceptions of morality for two classes of people. The elites held on to a master-morality wherein good and evil were defined in terms of strengths and weaknesses; the former being considered good. On the other hand, the non-aristocrats held on to a slave-morality where the master-morality definitions of good and evil were inverted. In slave-morality, good was deemed to be self-denial and other altruistic actuations.

Nietzsche believed that each class used their respective moral frameworks to justify the social positions wherein they found themselves. Thus, elites and aristocrats held on to the master-morality because it justified their taking of resources for their own survival because being strong was deemed good. On the other hand, the disadvantaged masses drew upon the slave-morality because it justified the need for the privileged classes to render them help and to equitably redistribute resources that their destitution might be alleviated.

These two views show how each class acts in order that they might be benefitted. Take for example the situation of an underprivileged family believing that it is good to give to others, no matter what one’s station is. Such a family would, according to Nietzsche’s framework, be motivated by a desire to be good, as conceptualized by their morality, only on the surface level. The deeper motivation would be the desire to have others practice the same morality and thus reassure them of sustenance in things and areas wherein they are found to be in lack.

Freud has a similar principle in his conception of the Id. According to Freud, the id is the pleasure center of the self. It drives a person to act in order to satisfy his or her desires. Freud’s self was composed of two other parts, the ego and the super-ego. The super-ego is the opposite of the id and looks to others in making its decisions regarding what acts to accomplish. The super-ego is the morality principle and it strives to achieve an equilibrium with the status of the self and that of others. The ego is the balancing portion of the psyche and it mitigates the extremes of the id and super-ego.

The ego is more often the aspect of the self that is manifested in actuations. However, it should be noted that the id is considered the primal self. It is thus the essence of man in his primitive and unrefined form. This shows that man, left to his natural urges would indeed be driven by a desire to satisfy his own needs and wants. This is not unlike Nietzsche’s view that an individual would act in order to benefit the self. For Nietzsche morality is a vehicle in order to derive the desired benefits. For Freud, morality, in the form of the super-ego, is a standard bar limiting the excesses of the id.

The super-ego recognizes the id’s need for others and so compels the individual to consider the desires and urges of other people alongside his own. Freud’s id is representative of Nietzsche’s master-morality. The need to be strong in itself is greater than any other need. Thus what is required to survive and what is desired for luxury are taken for the self as these are all deemed to be good for the self. On the other hand, Freud’s super-ego is reflective of Nietzsche’s slave-morality. For both, good is defined as equal sharing of resources to satisfy desires held in common.

It can be seen though that Freud encapsulates both faces in one individual whereas Nietzsche believes the distinctions lie between different classes altogether. Furthermore, Nietzsche’s framework lacks a parallel for Freud’s ego. Thus, a difference lies in Nietzsche and Freud’s perspectives on human behavior. In Nietzsche’s framework the individual is unaware that his or her adopted morality is a mere justification for putting at bay the dominance of the upper class. Corollarily, the aristocrat is unaware that his own morality justifies his self-preservation and thus his neglect of others.

Thus, in both instances the individual truly and wholly believes in the validity of his or her morality. In Freud’s framework however, the ego mitigates between the id and the super-ego thus showing that at the level of the self, without going into the discussion of the unconscious, there is an awareness of the conflicting poles and there is a resolution from the stand of the ego. Summum Bonum Studying Nietzsche and Freud’s morality it can be seen that although both have different summum bonums there is a similarity in their derivation of the same.

Nietzsche shows that in his philosophy the greatest good is survival. This can be seen from people’s motivations for their acts – to derive benefit – as well as in Nietzsche’s discussion on bad conscience. Freud on the other hand showed that his morality considered self-realization as the greatest good. In the master-slave philosophy, Nietzsche showed that regardless of which morality one practiced the greatest good was still deemed to be what is necessary in order to survive.

Thus, an individual who hordes resources for self satisfaction would deemed to be good in the eyes of the master-morality. While a non-aristocrat waiting for dole-outs and asking for alms would still be deemed to be doing good because that is what he or she needs to survive. This is compounded with Nietzsche’s discussion on the bad conscience. He tells of how the bad conscience should be directed at life-denying forces rather than being directed to suppress animal instincts with the hope of refining the self for the sustenance of a cooperative society.

This shows that the ultimate good then is not peaceably living amongst others and providing for common needs; rather, the ultimate good is survival. Freud on the other hand discusses how the unconscious affects the conscious actions of the self. Thus, the reasons behind actions might go completely unnoticed by the actor himself although such reasons might persist over extended periods of time to affect numerous acts and decisions of the self. Even the ego might revert to methods of coping with circumstances through repression, denial, rationalization, and others.

These would leave the individual unconscious of the underlying motivations for his or her actions. Thus Freud espouses the surfacing of the unconscious self in order that proper decisions might be made as to acceptable actions. Without realizing the dialogue of the unconscious there is no resolution of issues or fears that the individual might possess. Thus, without self-realization, the individual would be constrained to maladaptive acts and result in harmful decisions for the self. Although Nietzsche focuses his philosophy on survival, self-realization also plays a role in his arguments.

Nietzsche posits that once man has achieved the efficient system needed in ensuring his survival and sustenance, a period of self-realization would then emerge with a super man figure at the helm. Nietzsche thus sees that survival is necessary in order that self-realization is achieved. Self-realization for Nietzsche is a product whereas for Freud it is a goal. Voice of Morality Freud’s voice of morality has already been clearly established as the super-ego. It dictates the need to be a man for others as well as the need to share equitably.

However it is the ego which ultimately decides what it the right or wrong choice of action. Thus it may be argued that in truth and in fact it is the ego which serves as a conscience in Freud’s conception of the self. It is the ego after all which serves as a means of tempering the urges of the id and the superego. Nietzsche does not provide for such a moral shadow. The bad conscience, although labeled a conscience, seems to have its roots in tempering individual actuations in order that primal animal instincts might be eradicated.

It doesn’t act therefore as a moral voice. Rather, the bad conscience acts as a refining mechanism in order that social order might be maintained. Considering what is good is not social integration but self preservation, the bad conscience cannot be deemed the moral voice. Nietzsche discusses however the concept of punishment. He describes punishment in the concept of debt. The debtor is the offender and the creditor is the victim. Punishment then is a means for the victim to seek compensation for the wrong inflicted upon him.

Thus, if physical punishment is rendered an individual, then the victim derives redress from the joy of the offender’s pain. Punishment then is related to the conception of guilt. Guilt is not a result of an individual’s remorse for having done wrong against another and thus rendering inequality in society. Rather guilt is anchored on a creditor’s obligation to recompense the victim of his actions. This is pointed out as a more accurate voice for morality because given Nietzsche’s conception of morality wherein strength is good, then punishment is a means for the victim to gain strength over the offender.

The Root of Morals It can be seen from the above discussion that indeed Nietzsche and Freud shared commonalities in their philosophies. Nietzsche’s slave-master philosophy parallels the id-superego conception of Freud. Both see the desirability of self-realization in an individual. However, Nietzsche focuses his morality on a strength principle where an individual’s primary concern is to become stronger than others – whether physically or cunningly through emotional and social constraints on the physically strong – in order to survive.

Freud on the other hand simply espouses the need for self-realization in order to fully function in society and in accordance with the true goals of the self. Despite the differences in the branches of their moral philosophies, both Nietzsche and Freud draw their roots from the individual’s desire to achieve for the self what is necessary for self-realization. Freud views self-realization as the ultimate good in morality whereas Nietzsche views it as the product of adhering to the morality wherein the ultimate good is self-preservation.

Despite the various differences in their philosophies therefore, the two moralists share this basic foundation and arrive at the same goal in the end of their postulating work. References Baird, F. E. & Kaufman, W. (2008). From Plato to Derrida. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall. Gay, Peter (1988). Freud: A Life for Our Time. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. Gay, P. (1989). The Freud Reader. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. Nietzsche, F. (1994). On The Genealogy of Morality. England: Cambridge University Press.

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