The Denaturalization of Morality

See Will to Power Reasonings I, II, III and IV

At the heart of Nietzsche’s thought is the problem of where people get their values from. This includes a critique of the denaturalization of morality and of values, and therefore a critique of Plato. The problem is named in WtP 203, however (as I’ve pointed before) Nietzsche has never been known for clear speech, and Michel Onfray may have done a better job at describing the process and the dangers of the denaturalization and de-contextualization of morality in his Atheist Manifesto.

The gist of the problem lies in the way in which, by positing an immaterial afterlife, an immaterial God and immaterial “reality”, matter and nature and the things that are relevant to our experience of life become irrelevant to morality and to meaning. They, while being real, lose value and imaginary things gain undeserved value. This “rapture” into a Platonized alternative to the natural and real world is blasphemous to nature and harmful to the pulsations of living beings, whose needs, instincts, and creativity lose value. Nietzsche says of the unnaturalness of this false morality:

Everywhere God is inserted, and utility is withdrawn.

Michel Onfray adds that, because God is immaterial and was never born, he can not be interred so that, although God is dead, his corpse is rotting and stinking up the entire world. Laws based on superstitious and supernatural claims are still passed by legislatures, people still live according to Bronze Age injunctions, and nature is still replaced by abstractions and unnatural, imagined things in our values, morality, and worldview. The work of reinstating nature (that is, reality) at the center of our worldview must fall on anti-Platonic intellectuals who name things by their proper name.

There are so many repercussions to our lack of intellectual hygiene, both grave and minute, that it would take an encyclopedia to catalog them all. In WtP 183, for instance, N speaks of how people have come to accept an “unnatural, forged history”, by which he no doubt meant the replacing of empirically-based cyclical and natural cosmology with the myth-based, linear narrative of creationism. This unnatural, forged history was of course a rabbit hole to a progressively mythical and infantile worldview, so that “the anti-natural appeared as the supernatural”, gaining credibility within the “logic” of the forged history.

Elsewhere in WtP 245, N claims that to say that God “invented” marriage is to render it anti-natural. In recent years, the normalization of gay marriage has been a source of controversy in many societies, although on its face it’s a private contract between two consenting adults and it’s difficult to grasp how it can be controversial. The (religious or magical) conception of marriage as a “sacred” institution had platonized and obscured the true contractarian, non-magical nature of marriage.

When marriage had magical connotations, humans and our own will, our own creation, our own choice, were not at the center of the marriage contract. We enslaved ourselves fully to abstractions, to ideas (and it must be added that we also enslaved women to men). We were not autonomous.

This is an example of what Nietzsche called “moral castrationism”. He denounced words that are liberally used in religious discourse–like the ethereal and seemingly innocent word spirit–as “lies, sorcery, hatred of nature, cunning, philistinism”. When the word spirit is used to propose values and morality, we see that it is anti-matter, the unnatural, the non-contextual that are inferred: a war against nature and against reality, against the body, against pleasure, against humanity itself, is taking place. The materialist philosopher must therefore be a new Prometheus, a humanist seeking to triumph again over Platonic ideas and to return value to atoms, to the body, to context, to nature.

Platonization has run wild for centuries, in part, due to the many ways in which people seek to escape when they’re powerless or suffering, due to humanity’s strong tendency to engage in self-narcotization (WtP 29), which N says is all about self-loathing.

But N said (and Thomas Jefferson also acknowledged) that it was in Paul that Christianity became most platonized (WtP 165-171), and for this reason Nietzsche reserves the worst of his venom for Paul as a forgery who added unnecessary “mystery” and anti-carnal fanaticism to the cult of Christianity: the Pagan-inspired centrality of the salvific human sacrifice of Jesus, and of living in this world for the sake of an afterlife, together with the full replacement of the mortal Jesus with the eternal Christ, are attributed to his epistles.

N also attempts to formulate a psychology of Paul, diagnosing “revelation as daimonic possession” and “holy epilepsy”, and calling him a “cretin” with “no integrity”. He then goes on in WtP 172 to call on us to publicly despise–as ancient Epicureans and modern ones like Christopher Hitchens did–these frauds. This is perhaps needed if we are to raise a generation of Promethean materialist philosophers to counter the dangers of the denaturalization of morality that we have had to live with for so long.

As we will see in the discussion of the origins of religion, morality is also useful to the elites. Emperor Constantine’s decision to impose “one morality” implied conformity imposed by one class over all others for docility or utility to their ends (WtP 315). To Nietzsche, virtue gains power and victory by evil means: desire for power is re-baptized, lied about, and those who call for the practice of “virtue” have good reasons to be in the dark about themselves and about the real reasons, the dark instincts behind this (WtP 306, 311, 344). N recalls with irony how, even in the Bible, man’s fall consists of eating the fruit of good and evil (morality).

Because people play so many psychological games in the arena of morals, N argues that morality is immature (WtP 727), and he does have a point, but his proposed solution is amorality. He argues that different moral standards must apply to the mobs and to the higher souls, but there are also potential problems with this. Human beings are social creatures, built to live in society, and tensions arise in all society. Also, for this same reason that humans are social creatures, we have certain built-in features that might be considered a kind of moral faculty endowed by nature.

According to Nietzsche (WtP 723), reciprocity (claim for reward) and equality devalue and depreciate the distancing gulf between the aristocracy and the mobs, a gulf with which he seems to be perpetually obsessed. It is here that his impractical fanaticism must be noted. The reciprocity instinct is natural, and has been observed in experiments with apes and dogs–who expect to get similar treats for performing similar tasks, or else go on strike. One doesn’t always need to have power-based ulterior motives for one’s behavior.

When we note this, one key difference between Nietzsche and the Epicureans comes into relief: it is clear from our sources that there has always existed a concept of natural, inborn morality in humans, usually conceived as a function of being social animals. Nietzsche, on the other hand, seems skeptical or pessimistic about the existence of a natural morality or justice.

About hiramcrespo

Hiram Crespo is the author of 'Tending the Epicurean Garden' (Humanist Press, 2014) and 'How to Live a Good Life' (Penguin Random House, 2020), and founder of He's also written for The Humanist, Eidolon, Occupy, The New Humanism, The Secular Web, Europa Laica, AteístasPR, and many other outlets.
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7 Responses to The Denaturalization of Morality

  1. Paul says:

    Very much appreciate this. I started reading N in depth about a year ago and am deep into my journey of overcoming. As N might say, I was “predisposed “.


  2. Linuxgal says:

    Humans who are not pathological have an innate empathy. We can imagine being the other fellow and suffering alike, so we refrain from causing suffering to him. This is the foundation of morality, not a divine command from a Bronze Age tome.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Essays About Nietzsche’s Will to Power | Society of Friends of Epicurus

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  5. Pingback: Michel Onfray and the Counter-History of Philosophy | Society of Friends of Epicurus

  6. Pingback: Michel Onfray and the Counter-History of Philosophy – Epicurean Database

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