What is Good and Evil?

The title of this post, as you can tell, poses a question: What is good and what is evil?

Seems pretty straightforward, right? We all have our own preconceived notion of good, as well as our own conception of evil. But who is that wrote these moral codes within us?

Certainly, if you’re of the Christian belief, it is God himself who wrote these within in our hearts. He carved his word into our hearts in the form of the Holy Spirit that lives inside of us. But there’s something about that just seems wrong, though not entirely.

Let me explain.

In Nietzsche’s book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he has a chapter called, On Self Overcoming. Within it, he has his own presumptions about what good and evil are, but he also has a very interesting point, one which doesn’t seem obvious, but upon further analysis of the observation, it’s but all too clear that he’s right.

Let me give you his passage so you can judge for yourself:

Truly I say to you: unchanging good and evil—they do not exist! From out of themselves they must overcome themselves again and again.

Geez, that is so brilliant. Do you know what he means? It means our current perception of good and evil is a constructed notion, at least, in part, by someone else. And the claim that Zarathustra preaches is that this construction of morality is created by “the wisest men” or the philosophers.

He praises these philosophers because, from their work, all the notions of right and wrong were begotten, and thus, the people who could not have conceptualized these values now have something to follow. They have a foundation to base their beliefs in: what is good and what is evil.

But do you think this is true? Do you think that good and evil is a constructed notion?

I don’t personally believe it’s 100% true, but I do believe that a large portion, maybe even larger than we’re willing to allow, has been constructed by those before us, and even ourselves of this time are constructing the morality for those after us.

And seriously, think about this for a moment. You don’t have to go back far, and you’ll realize, what was traditionally “wrong”, even 50 years ago, it is considered “morally acceptable” by today’s standards. Even 10 year ago, 5 years ago, 1 year ago. Our morality is changing all the time, but by who?

Certainly, there are no more philosophers like there were 150 years ago, or even thousands of years ago, say, like Ancient Greece. The philosophers used to be the highest esteemed scholars, that only they could speak the truth. In a way, the priests and pastors were philosophers, too. They preached on how to live one’s life, on what is good and what is evil. They simply did the work of a philosopher, though under the guise of a religious notion.

But this is where it gets interesting, especially reading this book in the 21st century. Nietzsche was the first one to popularize the phrase, God is Dead. And I think I’m finally understanding what he means by that, which that can’t be said by most who first read this claim, but I don’t want to get caught up on that point just yet. I want to touch on a different point, one that Nietzsche’s entire life’s work is based on.

The will to power

One aspect of the will to power is put forth in this chapter on morality. He believes that the desire to impose your morality on the people beneath you, the masses, the followers, it’s driven by your will to power. And, in a way, it makes sense. Look at the celebrities whom which millions of us follow. Although almost all of them barely hold the grounds to which they can impose their morality on those “beneath” them, but they do so anyway. They tweet, text, speak, and post all of their fundamental moral claims such as, “Trans-rights”, “Gay rights”, “immigration rights”, you name it.

Now, I’m not trying to make a claim against their own moral proclamations in which they have the audience that will listen, but I’m saying this: these celebrities understand they have the platform, in turn, the power, to make these claims and people will actually listen. They can actually impose their will upon them. And that’s terrifying.

But what’s more terrifying? The fact that people, either consciously or not, understand the power in which they can, in lack of better words, indoctrinate thousands, if not, millions of people? Or, the fact that thousands, if not, millions of people can so easily be indoctrinated?

The claim that Nietzsche makes, fundamentally, is that it is this “will to power” that drives us to go upwards so that we ourselves can impose our own morality on the people beneath, at least, in part, is his claim. He says, over time, as our notions of morality have changed, it is those who sit at the top who have been in driver’s seat of morality, and as time goes on, a new morality emerges, breaks free, again, and so on, and so on.

But what is the cure? The antidote?

He says that we must create our own truths, our own morality. We must be the creator of values, but also the destroyer. He says, Let everything break that is to be broken by our truths! Many a house is still to be built! And what he means is, we must break our old, outdated forms of truth in order to build the new, more resilient truths.

I’ll go ahead and spoil the book if you’ve not read it, and I’m sorry if you haven’t. But Nietzsche concludes that it is impossible to give up these truths of morality that of which we cling onto so desperately, and it is inevitable that those who sit highest in power will continue to impose their own notions of good and evil to the masses.

It is impossible to break free of the master-slave mentality, because even among the weaker, “By secret paths the weaker slinks into the castle and even into the heart of the more powerful—and there steals power.” 

What he means is, the weaker will always strive to overtake the powerful, and thus the cycle continues. Only those who break free of this pathological cycle of power does one find the real truth. But it is not possible. There will always be those who strive for power, and we will, and already have, paid for it in blood.

And this is the will to power.

I’m not saying I agree with all of Nietzsche’s claims in which he outlines in his book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, but it’s startling and terrifying to become aware of these very things that of which he so articulately points out about society and our reality.

thanks for reading,