Kayla McGuinnessEnglish 130Nature and Morality, Gazzaniga and Nietzsche Most people never question where our sense of morality comes from. You seldom hear of a group of coworkers huddled around a coffee machine casually discussing whether morals are simply a social construct or if we have evolved with these ideals. There are, however, plenty of people who are riddled with questions about our social codes and whether they are intrinsic or completely fabricated from man’s own selfish desires. The essays of Friedrich Nietzsche and Michael Gazzaniga both examine this concept. While both authors have different underlying motives and different focuses, a closer inspection of the heart of their essays may suggest that they agree about how human nature effects moral codes more than one would think. At face value, one may assume that Gazzaniga and Nietzsche completely disagree. After all, they both have completely different writing styles, different theses and different sources. While the two authors are each trying to prove a different point, it seems that they do seem to agree on some of the fundamentals. I believe that both men believe to some degree that the social construct of morality is influenced by human nature. In Nietzsche’s case, he points out how the ‘usefulness’ of an action generally shows how ‘good’ it is. While it isn’t explicitly stated, one is led to believe that this is partly due to human nature. As humans, we tend to value things or actions that are useful to us. Thus if someone were to do something useful for us, naturally we would consider it good. Nietzsche makes it clear that the ideas of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ aren’t real, they are simply words associated to actions based on the collective idea of morality. He also suggests that the concept of altruism stems from “the ‘good’ themselves, that is to say the noble, highly placed, high-minded who decreed themselves and their actions to be good …” (Nietzsche 2). Nietzsche seems to put a lot of value on the relation of ‘good’ to ‘utility’, as he often makes it a point to talk of the usefulness or utility of actions in relativity to their moral association. He does not make much reference to evolution, but rather briefly talks of human instinct. He alludes to there being no such thing as ‘good’ and ‘evil’ but rather ‘useful’ and ‘impractical’. I noted that every time Nietzsche refers to ‘good’ and ‘evil’ he utilizes italics, which leads me to believe that he is utilizing the concept that is widely accepted without showing he approves or accepts it as fact. He even says that some of the accepted ideas of morality are accepted through instinct. Not the instinct of morality, however, but the ‘herd instinct’. He uses this to support his claim that it is those of the upper class imposing the social construct of morality, insinuating that these people of power have put forth a societal code that the masses accept. Supporting this idea is “The lordly right of bestowing names is such that one would almost be justified in seeing the origin of language itself as an expression of the rulers’ power.” (Nietzsche 3). “Towards a Universal Ethics” takes a different route in examining morality. While Nietzsche was fairly direct in saying what he wanted his readers to believe and understand, Gazzaniga poses questions and seems to leave a bit of room for the reader to draw their own conclusions. One thing that he does not leave open to discussion is that evolution is real. He says “Anyone who does not appreciate this fundamental fact of modern life is either clinging to heartfelt beliefs about the nature of life and the history of the world, or is quite simply out of the loop.” (Gazzaniga 1), referencing evolution. He also notes that religious and spiritual ideals are directly opposing scientific fact. Later, he poses the question of whether morals are real. Then, he takes it one step further, questioning whether there was a set of ethics that we all intrinsically hold. These are ideas that he clearly has his own ideas about, and then he goes into his proofs. He notes that “Much of the dispute over the existence of human universals has taken the form of a search for laws and stated practices.” (Gazzaniga 3), criticizing how few studies deal with the biological aspect, something he implies is the most important key. He uses studies by James Wilson who believes that morality is not merely a social construct, but rather a result of evolution. This leads Gazzaniga to posit “whether this skill might be built in to the brain, hard wired by evolution.” (Gazzaniga 4), referencing the skill to make choices and react in social interactions. He also notes that the majority of the decisions that we make are related to social choices. The data he gathers leads him to say “Most moral judgments are intuitive … We have a reaction to a situation, or an opinion, and we form a theory as to why we feel the way we do. In short, we have an automatic reaction to a situation — a brain-derived response.” (Gazzaniga 6)There are some ideas that the two authors put forth that are clearly in opposition, which may lead one to believe that their messages are entirely different. For example, they both reference altruism. While Nietzsche does note that altruism comes from an act being useful, he does not say that altruism does not exist. Gazzaniga on the other hand, argues that an act that is considered ‘altruistic’ is only committed due to a person’s own self interest, ” We have cognitive processes that allow us to make quick moral decisions that will increase our likelihood of survival. If we are wired to save a guy right in front of us, we all survive better. In the case of the money contribution, long-distance altruism just isn’t as necessary; out of sight, out of mind.” (Gazzaniga 6). Even though this is a fundamental piece of each essay, Nietzsche and Gazzaniga not agreeing on it does not make their ideas completely dissimilar. Some may argue that the two men are clearly arguing about two different things, so comparing the two would be like comparing apples to oranges. The two pieces were written in different centuries, how could they relate at all? Nietzsche talks of the upper class and psychologists and morality in reference to the leaders and their sheep (those people caught up in the herd instinct) while Gazzaniga talks of biology and scientists and evolution. These are all important differences, but when looking at the true core of their theses, all of these details seem to be cosmetic. Fundamentally, it seems both men believe that morality comes from a natural place within us. Gazzaniga believes that it is not a social construct, and although Nietzsche believes that it is, he also believes that the place that the morals come from are natural. Nietzsche also believes that the perpetuation of these morals is due to a natural instinct within us. Though some of the nuanced details of their essays may be different, at the end of the day both writers seem to believe that humans do have a set of morals, and part of the reason that we all have similar morals is due to biology or instinct. On the subject of evolution, the author who is more interested is clear. While Nietzsche references evolution once through his citation of Herbert Spencer, a proponent of societal evolution, Gazzaniga directly references it 10 times. In addition to directly referencing it, he makes it clear that his examination of morality considers evolution and biology very important. Nietzsche puts more value on the social and instinctual aspect of morality rather than the biological and scientific aspect. A close examination of the arguments of Gazzaniga and Nietzsche is necessary in order to find where their ideas align. While they may have some conflicting points, they both seek to inform their readers and try to pose ideas to expand the thinking of their readers. What is important in this case is to see what they have in common, rather than what they don’t. Their theses both focus on expanding the knowledge of morality, as shown by their careful citations and deep analyzation. The links between their arguments can be easily missed, however, through thorough reading, argument charting, and close attention, a better understanding of morality and nature can be achieved.