Very lively conversation in the commentary to this post.
However, I don’t think there are any discrete or inherent answers to these question (although a couple present thornier problems than the others). That is, most of the answers to these questions stand on the firmest ground when we take society rather than the individual as our starting point. Because our societies effectively not only determine most of the values on which such answers depend, but also inculcate us (indoctrinate or educate, if you will) to behave either a) as if those values were ‘true’ (in a metaphysical sense as ‘timeless’), or b) as if everyone around us believed they were true and we needed to function accordingly to socialize appropriately.
This is true for all societies. However, we live in an era when traditional values have not only come into question critically, but critical questioning has itself become highly regarded value for many (though of course not all).
The process of such change is long and hard, and not clear in all of its mechanisms. However consider that when Calvin was burning Servatus, yes there were thinkers, like Montaigne and Erasmus, who were appalled by such violence, and were unpersuaded by the insistence of their own church that it too could authorize such violence. The beginning of doubt is in disappointment – ‘the “received truth” promised a better world it failed to deliver – something must be wrong about it.’
Nietzsche is a dangerous writer to treat lightly on such matters. While his criticism is acute, it ought to lead to skepticism and pessimism, and, being a Romantic, he couldn’t abide that. Despite his trenchant criticism of the ‘inherited wisdom,’ or ideology, of his day, he thought such criticism would not only reveal the poverty of that ideology, but also provide the path to becoming a truly free individual – mastery over ideology ought to give the individual freedom from ideology. (Indeed, he sometimes thought he had achieved this, becoming an important prophet thereby – the ‘Nietzsche trap,’ one might call it, although it was common to many innovative thinkers in the 19th century.)
Can any individual achieve this freedom? Well – no. Because ideology is merely the systematization of ideas, and ideas just as such – to be shared in language – are always social.
Yet change begins with individuals, and individuals must face the task of answering such questions for themselves, to communicate on such matters with others. For myself, the best path seems to hold all beliefs in a state of suspension or assumed contingency – ‘this is what I believe *today*,’ ‘this is good *for today*.’ That’s hard to do, because any line of thought can become habituated to the point where it’s contingency becomes blurred. But thinking critically about one’s own thought is the only way to avoid the ‘Nietzsche trap’ and retain access to the possibilities of innovative thought.
In this post we will ask a few questions for discussion
1. When a person acts, is it the act that is bad or the effects? Is there any bad act?
2. Is the maxim, man always does right “true”?
3. What is the origin of responsibility and guilt?
4. Nietzsche writes in human all too human that never has a religion, directly or indirectly, either as dogma or as allegory contained a truth. If you disagree, would you give examples of such truths
5. Are we right in judging Calvin for burning Servetus at the stake?
6. When we punish a man, do we hold him responsible for his nature, motives, conduct or particular acts? Are we just in doing any of the above?