John Richardson on Nietzsche’s metaethics
[Nietzsche discusses] three main ways of valuing: the body’s, the moral agent’s, and his own. We could also call these animal, human, and superhuman valuing. Each has its own “semantics” (or “intentionality”); that is, its own way of positing its values as good. So Nietzsche has what might look like three separate and inconsistent metaethical positions but that are really three elements in a unified account of valuing.
Our drives value simply by using signs to steer by (toward). They “see” or “interpret” their values as good just by using them this way. They don’t posit them as “true” to anything outside them. Instead they judge and adjust these signs as they learn how well they “pay off” in expanding power. As we saw, the drives don’t recognize what they’re doing as they value. They don’t see the “frame” of their valuing around their values; they lack the perspectivist truth. But they refrain from the externalist mistake of thinking their values tasked to match real goods outside.
By contrast Nietzsche thinks that our agential valuing does make that externalist posit. This is one of its main impositions on our drive-valuing. In order to “tame” the latter for social life, the habit of obeying external norms needs to be inculcated. It’s to license this habit of obedience that the conviction is gradually ingrained that there are real values outside one’s valuing that one needs to align it toward.
The historical character of this posit and the way it is overlaid on a deeper valuing that doesn’t make it suggest the contingency of such externalism. They support Nietzsche’s optimism that human can find a way to grow out of what is only a (deeply settled) bad habit.
Nietzsche’s frequent expressions of [error theory] are unsurprising given what we’ve just seen: they apply to our agential, moral valuing which does indeed claim its values to be real—which they’re not.
But this error-theory does not apply to the two other ways of valuing in Nietzsche’s scenario. Bodily valuing makes no truth-claim, and his own valuing does, but a different one that (we’ll see) has a chance to be true. Nietzsche denies that all valuing makes the mistake of positing its values as real. And why indeed would he allow our agential-moral valuing to represent valuing in general? Human is “the sick animal” due precisely to the defective way it values. Nietzsche’s return to “natural” values is his effort to bring our conscious and worded values into healthy alignment with our drive-valuing; this will include undoing that false posit.
Nietzsche justifies his values by direct appeal to the values we already have. He tries to point out values we have without noticing them. The “ought” is supplied not from outside but by what the person values already. He claims only to offer the means by which that valuing will want to improve itself.
By his perspectivism, Nietzsche gives credit to our existing values as the only determiners of what’s good for us. So his appeal is ultimately to these. But our valuing of these values includes a will and ability to improve them, in the two fundamental respects we noticed in §1.4. We will to improve them as signs for power—a will embedded deeply in us just as living things. We also will to improve our values in how well they face the truth—a will bred into us humans and indeed distinctive of our kind. These deep aims function as second-order or meta-values, criteria by which we will to improve our first-order values.
John Richardson, Nietzsche’s Values, Chapter 1