Life’s Goals and Greatness
In the first article, Moral Obligation by William Paley, the idea of moral obligation and the Will of God were the key points being put across. The idea of moral obligation according to the Will of God is first discussed and how, in contradiction to mere inducement and other forms of obligation, it is based on something to look forward to in the after life. Here, the author produces arguments on how there is more than prudence in moral obligation. Prudence comes from considering what might happen to me now. It is an act of weighing out the pro’s and con’s of a situation, and in prudence, acting upon that which secures the most benefit for the person. Likewise, it is not a simple act of being induced to do something nor is it for the temporary benefit of the doer in this life. It is more than just following a command because it is convincing or because it came from a commanding officer or a person of great influence.
Moral obligation stems from the hope or promise of something beneficial and an ultimate happiness to be experienced in the life to come. It is therefore stronger than being told to do something and consequently urged and convinced by a command. Likewise, it has foresight that extends from an act of prudence, taking into consideration the good to be experienced in the afterlife and not temporary benefits and gains. He concludes the article by looking at how God’s Will, if indeed the reason for moral obligation and the hope of future happiness, must therefore be inclined to God’s wanting happiness for mankind. Because we are obliged to do something for a future happiness, of which God’s Will is the direction and course we take in this obligation, it is not hard to see that God’s Will and God’s nature is geared towards that same future happiness. God wants humankind to be happy and instructs and obliges humankind to do things to attain such happiness. “God wills and wishes the happiness of his creatures.” (57)
William Paley’s ideas are entwined with the idea of utilitarianism. It is therefore reasonable why he believes that following God’s Will is an act of obligation aimed at receiving a future benefit. In utilitarianism, the value of an action is coupled directly to the gains of the result of that action. Here, Paley simply supposes that the any act due to moreal obligation must have a gain that is more than secular obligations or following commands. Take into consideration his background as a cleric that sees God both in Scripture and the world around him and you see how this value, to be obtained in acts of obligation, becomes not of this world but the next. Here, Paley’s view of God’s Will for man to be happy becomes both the directive and the end result for such acts. God wills us to be happy and obliges us to act accordingly to attain this happiness. “God Almighty wills and wishes the happiness of his creatures; and consequently, that those actions which promote that will and wish, must be agreeable to him..” (p. 56-57)
This kind of thinking is not foreign to other religions. Islam and Judaism for example, stems from the same thinking that God provides for his chosen people and followers. And this provision extends to the after life and not limited to material gains. And God’s Will becomes apparent in our obligations to God, in our acts of following God’s commands. Likewise, God is not a God who wishes his creation ill-will. Even in this temporary world, several religions see how God beautifies and provides. The complexity and extent in which the world enables us to experiences worldly happiness is a small taste of God wanting us to be happy. We are able to see and hear and touch and what we see, hear and touch are not disagreeable to our senses. We are able to experience good things even in this life.
The question remains though, if this kind of following God’s Will takes precedence over the laws instilled by man and government. It has been an issue for a long time, wherein an interpretation of God’s Will becomes contradictory to man-made laws for governance and safety for its citizens. Paley does not answer this question. However, there is also a side that can argue that it must not contradict. If indeed an act of obligation is based on God’s Will, and His Will is to the benefit of mankind, then the laws of men must change in order to suit this since it is also for the benefit of its citizens. If two laws are aiming for the same happiness and safety, how is it possible that they become contradictory. Either the man made law is corrupter, or the interpretation of moral obligation is convoluted.
The second article takes a different tone compared to the first one. Here in The Joyful Wisdom by Friedrich Nietzsche, religion is seen as something that has degraded in the priorities of men. It is no longer seen as something to be devoted in and committed to. The striking parable regarding the madman announcing the death of God highlights this fact. “Where is God… We have killed him…” (61) is a statement of loss not of non existence. Here, the author is trying to point out how belief in God, at least in that devoted and committed level, has deteriorated to the point that it has succumbed to death in men’s hearts. This is not to say there is no God or that religion has no basis. This is more of a critical analysis of where men are standing now – their position and views regarding God in their lives. The paradox here is that even though men no longer believe in God in this deeper sense, they continue on living a moral standard based on this previous belief in God’s Will. The madman rushing into the marketplace and being laughed at is the symbol of how ignorant people are to the basis of their moral standard. They have moral standards without knowing where it is based from. The first parable then describes how it would be if the realization of this loss becomes apparent. He says, “…there is nothing more frightful than infinity…” and “… the poor bird that felt itself free, and now strikes against the walls of this cage!” (61). These two lines describe how it would be once men realized that they are no longer within God’s protective care and that they have indeed “killed” God. They will be in complete disorder and chaos, having nothing to lean on to as they watch their moral standards crumble and the freedom they thought they had become cages.
Nietzsche then follows by considering what happens after this disorder. Once the moral basis is dead, what happens? He then proposes that men themselves must create a new morality system or at least a new way of looking at life and bringing meaning to it. Men must be gods themselves trying with all their might to bring some order to the disorder. And this kind of morality is established in two ways according to the author. It can either be based on the morality of the aristocracy, or that of the lower class. He coined these “master morality” and “slave morality”. Here, the author speaks of how the noble will concentrate on the things that separate him from all others. It is those values that make him “better” than the rest that makes something good. On the contrary, the slave morality or the lower class will determine what is good based on utility – how it will elevate their lives to a better existence and provide a little more happiness or ease. The master morality sees men of his status as equals and everyone else as less important and more so, pitiful at best and despicable at worst. Therefore, mercy and sympathy become values expressed for those lower classes of people, and grace, friendship and etiquette, camaraderie and the like are those reserved for equals. The slave morality is the complete opposite of this. Due to the hardship of life, they become pessimistic with the world and life in general. The things of value to the masters mean little to the slave. Rather, things that make sufferings less and life easier become honored as precious values – the good in this kind of morality. Hard work and patience, kindness and sympathy, freedom and other things become important as these things tend to have good uses for those in suffering.
To which of these two value systems must people go for if God is dead? It is believed that Nietzsche is favoring that of the aristocratic master-morality. As the idea of organized religion breaks down, Nietzsche proposes turning to the dignified sense of right and wrong proposed by the upper class. He concludes that morality is characteristic of the masters because they are able to think outside of necessity and are able to emphasize reverence and passion instead. He even goes to saying that it is through this kind of higher morality that Europe owes itself.