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Ernesto Rodriguez

Philosophy 12: Ethics

Summer 2004

 

Final Question 3

 

Now reflect on what you think Nietzsche would say about Gandhi’s ethics. Would he be impressed or disgusted and why? Make sure to thoroughly explain your answer in light of what you read in the autobiography and what you read by Nietzsche. Be specific.

 

Two philosophers could not be more different from each other as are Gandhi and Nietzsche. Looking at the ideas and values of Nietzsche and then comparing them to those of Gandhi, it is clear the Nietzsche would strongly disagree, if not loathe Gandhi’s ethics. Nietzsche would probable hate Gandhi for the same reason he hated Christianity, basically, because Gandhi advocated humility, honesty, and compassion. These are three things that Nietzsche felt work against his idea of “will to power”.

 

To begin, Nietzsche and Gandhi appreciated very different values. Nietzsche valued strength above all things, what he called the “will to power” and his ethical theory followed accordingly.  In contrast, Gandhi valued truth and integrity above all things, including strength. Clearly, Nietzsche would not have approved Gandhi’s decision to risk his son’s life in order to be true to his vegetarianism.

 

According to Nietzsche’s “transvaluation of values”, strength and pride were to replace humility and compassion as valuable characteristics. Nietzsche calls for compassion to be replaced with mere tolerance or indifference. But according to Gandhi, those who are stronger have an obligation to be compassionate to those weaker; hence his position on animal rights. But Nietzsche was neither gentle nor compassionate in his philosophy.

 

Nietzsche argued that to suppress our desires is to suppress our nature. Gandhi’s life was one of self-discipline, suppressing his desires even when they had no real consequences. In Natal, Gandhi was presented with gifts of gold, silver, and diamonds. But Gandhi found that he could not accept these gifts, as he felt that he had no right to.

 

And so it would be natural for Nietzsche to be disgusted, and not the least bit impressed by any part of Gandhi’s ethics. Throughout his life, Gandhi practiced and advocated humility; he was ever conscious of the limitations of his knowledge and was humbled by this as he said “should I add arrogance and fraud to my ignorance, and increase the burden of debt I owed to the world?” He never asserted himself as superior to anyone, and as a result he listened in earnest to the arguments and opinions of others. Nietzsche would have been revolted by such acts, as he might have seen them as hindrances of the “will to power”.