Thursday, March 5, 2015

Nietzsche and the New Atheists


Nietzsche and the New Atheists

The following quotation from a very interesting Guardian piece by John Gray entitled What Scares the New Atheists (HT: Karl White):
[1] The new atheists rarely mention Friedrich Nietzsche, and when they do it is usually to dismiss him. [2] This can’t be because Nietzsche’s ideas are said to have inspired the Nazi cult of racial inequality – an unlikely tale, given that the Nazis claimed their racism was based in science. [3]The reason Nietzsche has been excluded from the mainstream of contemporary atheist thinking is that he exposed the problem atheism has with morality. [4] It’s not that atheists can’t be moral – the subject of so many mawkish debates. [5] The question is which morality an atheist should serve.
Five sentences, five comments.
1. Yes.
2. Granted, the Nazis claimed their racism was based in science. But this is consistent with their racism having other sources as well.  So it doesn't follow that it is an "unlikely tale" that the Nazis drew inspiration from Nietzsche.  I say it isvery likely.  See Nietzsche and Nationalism Socialism.
3.  Spot on!
4.  Agreed, atheists can be moral.  Indeed, some atheists are more moral that some theists — even when the moral code is the Decalogue minus the commandments that mention God.  The question whether an atheist can be moral, however, is ambiguous.  While it is clear that an atheist can be moral in the sense of satisfying moral demands, it is not clear that an atheist can be moral in the sense of recognizing moral demands in the first place.  It is an open question whether an atheist, consistent with his atheism, could have justification for admitting objective moral demands.
5.  Before one can ask which morality an atheist should serve, there is a logically prior question that needs asking and answering, one that Gray glides right past, namely,
Q. Is there any morality, any moral code, that an atheist would be justified in adhering to and justified in demanding that others adhere to?
Read the rest here.


  1. I'm not able to read the entire article just now, but from my very incomplete scan, it seems like Hitchens and Harris don't exist to the author, unless he's using "liberal" in a way I misunderstood.

  2. Just read the paragraph or two about Harris. I guess I misunderstood both "liberal" and "new atheist."

  3. As the context makes clear, "liberal" here is referring to "classical liberalism" espoused by the likes of Locke, Smith, Mill, Malthius, etc. A liberal in that sense is someone who holds typical values of a Liberals-Democracy. "Liberal" now has come to mean something close to "progressive" in most contexts, I reckon (and I often use it that way myself leaving the context to help disambiguate the term).