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How Did We Decide What’s Right and Wrong? – The Story of Philosophy Series.

November 28, 2021 at 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm GMT

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Join London ii hosts Bryan Kam and Flick Hardingham as we continue our journey through Will Durant’s ‘The Story of Philosophy’, discussing Nietzsche’s origins of morality and what it means for us today.

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) has two famous catchphrases. 

  • God is dead. This exposes religion as a construct, created by the human experience.
  • The will to power. At the heart of life, there’s a drive to dominate and express individuality through self-assertion. We’re driven by an impulse to impose ourselves. 

Though these ideas preceded him, his way of combining them created an entirely original philosophy and worldview. 

Nietzsche believed that religion and its commandments and claims (such as “The meek shall inherit the earth”) were constructed by the weak, in a bid to dominate, in an expression of their own will to power. In fact, he believes that our current sense of what is right and wrong, and therefore society itself, was entirely created by the weak.

In his masterpiece On the Genealogy of Morality (1887), Nietzsche traces our deepest values back to their roots and demonstrates how, rather than emerging from a desire to do the right thing, human virtues were constructed in a dramatic  ‘slave revolt in morality’. He suggests that at some point, the many came to dominate the few, by creating rules about good and evil, which shame the strong into submission.

Some questions to spark your curiosity:

  • What other views could account for the origins of morality?
  • Nietzsche’s Superman or Übermensch is the imagined evolution of the human race, possessing the psychological qualities needed to thrive without the need for compassion, charity or pity. With this persona, he sets out to save people from the idea that they need to be saved. One trait is the understanding that we are hard to understand, and may therefore feel lonely. What do you think of the Superman’s personality? What would you add or take away? 
  • If morality and society are constructed, we could in theory start from scratch, and, in Nietzsche’s words, set out upon an “open sea,” unencumbered by our religious past. How would you construct our moral code and way of life? 
  • Where does your own view of what is good and bad come from?

This salon is part of an 11-month Interintellect series exploring the evolution and story of Western philosophers and their ideas through ‘The Story of Philosophy’ by Will Durant. In subsequent months, we will explore key philosophers in turn by reading the relevant chapter of Durant’s book and additional texts. Click here to find out more about this salon series and join us on this journey exploring the story of philosophy.

Active Participation:

The group will be most valuable for everyone if we all set out to contribute what we can in the spirit of vigorous and open discussion. Please approach your reading and discussion with an open but active mind and sincere intent.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Additional Reading:

Chapter 9, Nietzsche, Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy

From ‘On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense’, Friedrich Nietzsche

Christopher Janaway on Nietzsche on Morality, Philosophy Bites Podcast

Nietzsche pt. 2 – The Will to Power, Philosophize This Podcast

Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality, BBC In Our Time Podcast

Nietzsche on Morality, History of Ideas Podcast

Nietzsche on: The Superman, The School of Life

Friedrich Nietzsche’s Guide to Conquering Your Existence, The Creativity Post

Nietzsche’s Best Life: The Ten Greatest Attributes of the Ubermensch, & a Comparison to Aristotle’s Virtuous Person, Open Journal of Philosophy



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November 28, 2021
6:00 pm - 9:00 pm GMT
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