In an earlier post I commented on Alasdair Cochrane’s efforts to jettison “inherent dignity” as a criterion for determining whether it is moral to treat certain classes of humans as objects. Cochrane is impatient with the “dignity criterion,” because it prevents actions that he deems beneficial, for example medical experiments on human guinea pigs that might lead to advances in medicine.
As I thought more about Cochrane’s thesis, it became clear to me that our old friend Nietzsche was lurking just beneath the surface of his arguments. Nietzsche had no use for what he called “slave morality.” For Nietzsche, “good” does not mean adherence to a moral standard. Instead, it is more or less a synonym for “strong.” Thus, the “master’s morality” (characterized by words such as “healthy,” “powerful,” “vigorous,” “vital,” and “wealthy”) is good, and the “slave’s morality” (characterized by words like “weak,” “poor” “decrepit,” “sick,” and “infirm”) is “bad.”
Nietzsche posited that the slaves (the vast majority of people) had conspired to impose their slave morality on the masters as an act of self-protection against the “natural” dominance of the masters, and that the slaves had especially used Christianity (which he called a “slave religion”) for this purpose. The remedy for this unnatural state of affairs was for the master (the “ubermensch,” i.e., “superman”) to throw off the constraints of traditional slave morality and follow his own “inner law.” And of course a subjective inner law is no law at all. Nietzsche was inviting the ubermensch to do whatever he desired, and if he were able to do it – i.e., if he were able to impose his will on others – then by definition it was good.
In Cochrane’s conception of morality, the strong dominate the weak and defenseless to the point of killing them on a whim (abortion) or using them as objects (medical research subjects). And don’t bother him with your slave morality and its concepts of inherent human dignity. For Cochrane, imposing one’s will on another is, by definition, “good.” God help us if his view prevails.