Monday, April 13, 2009

Nietzsche's Perfectionism

Perfectionism, as described by Hurka, is a moral perspective which "values human excellences regardless of how much a person enjoys or wants them" (10). This sort of conception is especially salient in terms of Nietzsche's perfectionism: excellence, in Nietzsche's understanding of it, is not concomitant with with pleasure, and is not necessarily a natural inclination (13-14). In his rejection of a teleological or pleasurable account of excellence, Nietzsche is unique among perfectionists (14). Beyond this broad perfectionism, Nietzsche is also interpreted by Hurka as being a narrow perfectionist, defined as one who values human excellences because they express some facet of human nature which is essential to humans. Here, Hurka (quite predictably) considers Nietzsche's will to power as expressing this sort of belief (12).

One must always be concerned whenever a philosopher attempts to utilize the will to power to justify any sort of an interpretation of Nietzsche, as they usually attempt to suggest that power is the motivating drive which guides moral action. Certainly, Nietzsche is quite interested in the expression of power within the moral sense, but his account is robbed of its nuance when all contradictions are removed in the attempt to make his account coherent. This much said, Hurka does not seem to fall into this as much as others, if only because he does not merely base his account on an oversimplified view of the will to power but also considers hierarchy and what he describes as Nietzsche's "maximax principle" (18). While others try to suggest that Nietzsche's is a personal account and use this as an excuse to ignore Nietzsche's antidemocratic principles in putting forth some sort of universal morality which has little basis in Nietzsche's thought, Hurka explicitly draws the conclusion that a morality based on Nietzschean principles would necessarily require others to ignore their own well being and focus only on the perfection of a few great individuals (20-21). This much said in favor of Hurka's argument, it seems unclear what exactly it means to value power in this sense; maximum power perhaps does not mean what it would imply. There is not only power over but power against. As suggested in the prior reading, overcoming requires obstacles and power requires its equal. Respect among equals is not a state in which one power bears over another but instead a state in which power sees its equal and accepts this, stands not in anger or conflict but respect. In this sense, Nietzsche's perfectionism is not so much a maximization of power as finding the power relation which accords with one's own, dominating the lesser to the extent that is needed but also recognizing the equal.

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