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The Bases And Philosophy Of Ethics - Part 2

3- The Powermonger School Of Nietzsche

Aristocles and Epicure both believed an ethical act to be in the direction of the attaining of one's instincts and worldly desires. Nietzsche, the German philosopher (1844-1900 AD) had the same view believing that the lust for power is the law of life and should be followed by everybody, even if this might lead to tyranny or deceit. Any thing contrary to this view is doomed from the outset however pious and rightful it might be.

Nietzsche contends that the thought about God and life for human beings should be thrown away altogether, and forgiveness and the like all stem from weakness. He believed the nature is based on the survival of the rich and on the annihilation of the poor. This is, in his view, a sample of ethical act.

This school suffers from a series of serious defects, among which are the following:

a) If the notion of God and the world Hereafter is put aside, then what does ethical act mean? Then who would guarantee the fulfillment of moral and individual obligations?

b) We should accept that the principle of power-loving, like other sensations such as care for humanity and generosity and sacrifice, also has its root in the human nature. Therefore, the same way that we make use of the instincts of self – interest, sexuality, possession and the like to an acceptable degree, we should use the instinct of power-loving wisely.

c) The acceptance of such a view is to consider one dimension of man and to ignore man's other heavenly dimensions. Such an acceptance entails man's fall into the world of beasts. In such a world there is no trace of man's finer feelings. They say even Nietzsche was not inconsiderate towards humanity to such a degree because he is said to have lost his life in order to save a horse's life.

Thus, critics believe Nietzsche has stated such extremist views out of his anger towards some people whom he hated. In a letter to his sister towards the end of his life, he writes, "The older I become, the harder life becomes to me. In the previous years when I suffered a lot I did not feel as depressed as I do now, What has happened? I have lost my confidence in people. But now we see that we have made a mistake. O my God! How lonely I feel how. There is nobody with whom I could laugh or by whose side I could drink a cup of tea. There is no body who can show me affection."44

4- Affection Towards Others

In contrast to the previous views and what we will see later, the affection view is based on the premise that an ethical act relies heavily on doing good to other people.

This view, which is known as the Indian-Eastern school, considers an act as ethical only when it is employed to do affection towards others. If, however, we perform our duties daily, such actions are not termed ethical. Thus, we will consider an act as ethical if it is rooted in feelings more sublime than individual feelings. The end of an ethical act is to make others benefit from it, and not just the individual.

This view, however, is significant and is contained in most religions. Two points should not be neglected, however.

a) Not every ethical act is in the interest of everybody. There exist many ethical principles which provide for the individual's exultation. They do not of necessity lead to the interests of others. Examples are patience, stamina, self-control and the acceptance of death instead of the acceptance of injustice.

b) There should be a limit to the advancement of affection towards others. Some are peace lovers and consider it an honor to direct their kindness to men such as Chengiz, Hajjaj, Yazid, Atilla, and Nero, whereas kindness to such people is like showing mercy towards a leopard. In Islam the criterion is: "الحُبُّ في الله والبُغْضُ في الله"45

“Love for God’s sake and hate for God's sake”.

5- The Provision Of Prosperity From The View-Point Of Wisdom

Most philosophers, both ancient and contemporary, from Socrates and Aristotle to Spinoza believe some acts of human beings are at variance with man's prosperity; whereas some other acts are the signs of his magnanimity, prosperity, and his perfection in soul. For instance, man is intolerant with treason, injustice, humiliation, fear and ignorance. But he considers truth worthiness, sacrifice, chastity, bravery, perseverance, wisdom, justice and the like among the signs of his spiritual perfection.

The significant notion in this school is that the criterion for the ethical acts is our wisdom, which is an asset for man and distinguishes man from the beasts. Wisdom functions for man in the same way as instincts do for the beasts.46 Those who believe that it is our wisdom which recognizes ethical acts are of the opinion that an ethical act should be defined in the following manner: An ethical act is a balance between excess and dissipation in our affairs, which both provide for man's prosperity and enjoy an eternal beauty. Examples are wisdom, which stands halfway between ignorance and fallacious reasoning, bravery, which stands between fear and imagination, chastity, which stands between voluptuousness and lack of interest, and family justice, which stands between performing oppression and accepting it.47

Although most philosophers and Islamic scholars like Avicenna, Khaje Nasir, al-Ghazali, Ibn Miskawayh, al-Naraqi and others have accepted this school when they defined the ethical acts, this school, however, suffers from the following defects:

a) Not in every ethical act can we distinguish a medial point. If such a point existed, it would not mean that it could alone lead to prosperity and not the extreme point, such as science.

b) As we have repeatedly observed the domain of wisdom is extremely limited. Wisdom lacks the power to distinguish all ethical acts. This is for two reasons: on the one hand, wisdom is limited by nature:

    "قُل الرُّوحُ مِنْ أمرِ رَبِّي وما أوتيتم مِنَ العِلْمِِ إلاّ قَليلا"

“Say: The soul is one of the commands of my Lord, and you are not given aught of knowledge but a little”.48

And on the other hand, wisdom might lose its impartiality due to wrong education, the explosion of instincts and unfounded prejudices and might not be trusted in finding out the medial point. Thus, wisdom needs the Shari’ah for its protection.

c) Most of the perfection aspects which are the result of being obedient to God and His commands are accounted for in this calculation.49


44. Sayr-e-Hikmah dar Urubba, vol. 3, p.131.

45. Philosophy of Ethics, pp.40-46. Lessons of the Philosophy of Ethics, pp.70-73; The Bases of philosophy, pp.380-382.

46. The Bases of philosophy, p.385.

47. Refer to al-Naraqi's Jami’ al-Sa'adat, vol.1, p.66; Akhlaq Naseri chapters 3-8; Sayr Hikmah dar Urubba, vol. 1.

48. Qur'an 17:85.

49.Lectures in Ethical philosophy, p.116.

Adapted from: "Imam 'Ali's First Treatise on The Islamic Ethics and Education" by: "Zainol Aabideen Qorbani Lahiji"