On the Three Stages of Morality Hitherto

Beyond Good & Evil

Gaugin’s masterpiece. This article demands a different reading of the painting from the original, namely from left to right with the second stage starting with the girl eating an apple and the third with the man reaching the heights

Pre-Moral Period

This is the longest period of morality that mankind had, probably starting with the last great gene modifications and ending roughly with the birth of agriculture. During this part, the value or disvalue of an action was derived solely from its consequences and the community was oblivious to the action as well as the originator itself. One drew conclusions on an action based on its negative or positive consequences.

What then kept the communities at bay if there was no individual punishment? The enormous superstitious fear that one had if one breached custom and tradition. If one individual fails, the whole community is punished for there is no concept of individuality. The imperative know-thyself was as yet unknown.

And again, considering the utter egalitarian nature of these hunter-gatherers communities, it wasn’t possible to attribute the consequences of an action to a sole individual because the whole community was considered homogenous. It is indeed true that there usually was a wise old man but he couldn’t really order anyone around and there was moreover almost no difference whatsoever between the members of the community.

Moral Period

The great instigator to this period and to the whole pyramid of knowledge that our species has built so far was of course the stratification and creation of hierarchies that immediately followed the nascent of agriculture. There are definite signs that this had already started at 8500 years BC.

However, we can consider this stage of morality ingrained for good by the time of Hammurabi. The great innovation here was that henceforth one decided the value of an action based on its origin and not only its consequences. This accounts for a tremendous reversal of lenses: instead of the consequences, the origin. The human intellect had now begun to see things deeper.

Again, this is fueled mainly by the newly created hierarchies: the aristocratic strata could not accept to be on an equal footing with the rest thus one had to look at the originator of the action while the actions performed by the aristocracy gaining a new and higher glister.

Of course one here simply replaced one error with another as one now interpreted an action in the most definite sense as origin in an intention and therefore cut any other possible cause from the picture. Henceforth one saw that the value of an action lay in its intention.

As Nietzsche puts it:

The intention as the whole origin and prehistory of an action — almost to the present day this prejudice dominated moral praise, blame, judgment, and philosophy on earth.

Perhaps Christianity could provide the best example of this kind of morality: as a religion that had a pathological drive to finding sin everywhere in man.

Extra-Moral Period

But today — shouldn’t we have reached the necessity of once more resolving on a reversal and fundamental shift in values, owing to another self-examination of man, another growth in profundity?

The new shift in value is of course recognizing the decisive importance of the unconscious for an action. This has already become a well-established fact by modern standards: The value of an action can by no means be confined to consciousness alone.

We have just started to understand the true workings of our brain in this century and will for sure have a definite answer to many secrets in the near future but for now, the human mind still remains for the most part unknown as is fit for the most complex device in the known universe.

But I think that today it is out of the question that a lot of decisions are already being taken at a much lower level by the time that we consciously decide (or rather think that we decide) for an action.

Finally, Nietzsche continues to stress here -as elsewhere- that one must be in a position to overcome morality: that one doesn’t simply accept conventional norms but rather outgrows them through a mindful discourse with oneself.

As always, any constructive comments or suggestions are highly appreciated. Thanks for reading.

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