Example Of Friedrich Nietzsche: Immoralist Ethics Essay

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Ethics, Martin Luther King, Nietzsche, Letter, Society, Philosophy, Compassion, Human

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2021/02/08

The Treatment of the Vulnerable: A Comparative Analysis of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil with Martin Luther King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail


In all societies across various geographical and temporal contexts contain those who are powerful as well as those who are vulnerable to the powerful. As a result, various philosophers and statesmen alike have opined about how to respond to the vulnerable and the needy in society. Martin Luther King's "Letter From Birmingham Jail" effectively reframed the civil rights movement by discursively situating his ideological goals with the ideologies espoused by the more radical and peripheral black power movement leaders including Malcolm X. While this letter presents a scathing critique of racism, it also espouses the Christian ethos to help the vulnerable and the weak in society. In a far more nihilistic fashion, renowned philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, a progressive and path-breaking thinker during his life time, proffered profound insight into the human condition and human behavior in his critique and deconstruction of modernity. His works laid an epistemological foundation for the ascent for moral relativism which prized cynicism over rational scientific thought. In his Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche proffers a litany of theories that he deploys in order to deconstruct philosophical ethical systems that burgeoned in western societies. Specifically, Nietzsche critiques Platonic ethics for its dyadic approach to understanding good and evil. Within Nietzschean moral paradigms, the poor and disempowered are necessary components of a healthy and functioning society. As such, Nietzsche critiques compassion and thus promotes immoralist ethics that deems shared suffering and empathy debilitating yet also necessary at the same time in order to comprehend the nuances of human behaviors and the human condition.

In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche eschews the good/evil dyad, as he regards them as merely antithetical terms that should be disregarded as just linguistic distinctions. What modern society has rendered “evil,” Nietzsche opines, are in fact crucial aspects of society because without them, modern society could not function properly. As a result, Nietzsche contends that compassion represents the goal of human behavior and human existence. However, he steadfastly eschews the vogue of shared suffering articulated by current philosophers despite its salience in political and moral discourses. As such, Nietzsche critiques the concept of compassion, which remained a central component of his immoralist ethics in a way that is confounding to modern audiences.
In his view, formative philosophical systems that developed in western society proffered new paradigms that rejected truisms that had been articulated in prior epistemologies. As such, Nietzsche decries the fact that western philosophies and other extant philosophical systems are constructed on preconceived notions that shaped the contours of different philosophical branches. Conveying a deconstructionist approach to analyze modern society, Nietzsche denies universal moralism and the universality of truth. All religious systems thus are intrinsically flawed, especially Christianity which focuses on denial and fear rather than morality. The reliance on the Old Testament by Western society has led western society to embrace a false moral canon that has nonetheless remained hegemonic in Europe and in the United States. Interestingly, Nietzsche denies the existence of God and chooses to view the Old Testament as a “slave revolt” where Nietzsche conflates the rich with evil; power and corruption; and the poor and holy. Although on the surface it appears that Nietzsche condemns compassion to the needy and the poor, certain maxims in his writings suggest that modern readers should endorse compassion as a natural outgrowth of Nietzsche’s philosophy and ethics.


Martin Luther King Jr. profoundly impacted the world in his short life through his words and speeches that he penned and made on behalf of the disempowered and the poor. He time and again articulated his dream of social unity, peace, racial brotherhood, and social welfare predicated on rudimentary Christian precepts. Compassion, according to King, transcended materiality for those who wonted. Rather, compassion calls for the deconstruction of oppressive institutions and structures that themselves cultivate conditions in which people become vulnerable or “down and out.” The powerful, according to King, are the ones who must give voice to the voiceless, advocate on behalf of the weak, and to protect the weak and disempowered from any and all enemies. No letter or speech, according to King, can deny the humanity of both the powerful and the poor. As such, Martin Luther King unequivocally treated the vulnerable in a way that underscored his firm grasp over the social ills that plagued modern society. Change would transpire through nonviolent tactics. His Christian background as a Baptist minister is unequivocal in his writings, as he committed his life to improving the quality of life for others by promoting racial reconciliation within an ideology that called for the powerful and the hegemonic to directly help those in need.
Scholars have touted King’s letter from his Birmingham prison cell as one of the most eloquent and morally forceful written documents penned that reveals a paradigm shift away from previous modes of protest discursively during a tumultuous epoch defined by crisis. 1963 marked a tense and tumultuous year in which the attention of the American public focused primarily on Birmingham, Alabama. Dr. King and his followers focused on Birmingham where they engaged in a series of public demonstrations in order to force the city government to get rid of the various segregation ordinances that were in place. King's nonviolence campaign had hitherto yielded gradual successes, but the events that took place in Birmingham, Alabama functioned as a significant turning point in the civil rights movement that ultimately paved the way for the dismantling of segregation in South. King also effectively harnessed the power of radio and television by asking the black youth to take to the streets—a protest tactic that manifested politics of confrontation instead if supplication—so as to instigate the white police force to use fire hoses against them or send out vicious attack dogs to deter black students from protesting. Such shocking and heinous scenes were aired on television, and images taken were circulated in the press because of how Birmingham commissioner Eugene "Bull" Conner" impulsively responded to the purportedly unruly protesters. King was arrested for demonstrating, which violated an injunction that had been passed by the Alabama state court. His arrest marked the thirteenth time the police apprehended him simply for protesting on behalf of the unjust treatment endured by subaltern peoples. While in solitary confinement, King bravely penned this famous letter in secret. The letter clearly articulated his philosophy regarding nonviolent direct action while also eloquently conveying his dream of racial harmony and social justice for all African Americans sometime in the near future. Embedded within these philosophies were his stance on how to approach the vulnerable and the needy. The letter ultimately represented the best and clearest written exposition of the goals and methodologies of the civil rights movement campaign that concurrently galvanized support for the civil rights movement. The letter marked a turning point in the trajectory of the civil rights movement because it garnered global attention that furthered the cause of social justice and the protection of civil rights. The conjured image from Birmingham also played a critical role in convincing the U.S. president to pass a Civil Rights Bill in 1963. As such, the letter has emerged as the most potent articulations of King's views on the aspirations of African Americans during the turbulent and tumultuous 1960s far more clearly than any other document or speech.
King’s letter epitomizes the Christian ethos guided by the principle of standing up for the rights of the disempowered, the poor, and the vulnerable. He viewed the poor and the vulnerable in the same way he discursively framed the struggle for racial equality.


While Martin Luther King letter limns a traditional view of morality and ethics from a Christian perspective that championed compassion towards the needy and the poor, Nietzsche rejected traditional ethical systems within the context of modernity. This ethical system proffered by Nietzsche directly addresses modern exigencies that traditional ethical systems could not. Indeed, Nietzsche struggles with reconciling his ethics with the reality that the modern world was full of misery. Moreover, knowledge about human behavior and the human condition cannot be divorced from compassionate suffering. Compassion for others in this view cultivated immense pain and suffering. While such a methodology is frowned upon in the modern day, it nonetheless approaches morality and ethics in a wholly secular manner that divorces social and political practices from religion.

Works Cited

King, Jr., Martin Luther, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in Fifty Readings in Philosophy, ed. Donald Abel, 4th ed. (New York City, NY: 2012)
Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil in Fifty Readings in Philosophy, ed. Donald
Abel, 4th ed. New York City, NY: 2012.

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