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Axiology 101: The Good, the Bad and the Ethical


For many of us, a feature of our globalized and multicultural society is a growing disinterest in value systems. Talk of systemic corruption, and a barrage of news articles about the evils brought about by this or that faction, this or that ideology, have given us a skeptical outlook on values. We wonder what is good or bad amidst so many conflicting narratives. This series of Axiology 101 articles aims to stir the reader to examine the validity of value systems by providing an introduction to the branch of philosophy that seeks to map out their nature.

The series will be divided into the following chapters:

  1. Axiology 101: The Elusive Nature of Value

  2. Axiology 101: The Good, the Bad and the Ethical

  3. Axiology 101: A Doubt About Aesthetical Certitude

  4. Axiology 101: The Divine Hypothesis

  5. Axiology 101: The Metaethical Subversions

  6. Axiology 101: A Proposed Solution

The Good, the Bad and the Ethical

Madness, metaphors, and philosophy tie together Friedrich Nietzsche and his infamous prophet of doom in The Gay Science. In one of the most memorable scenes of philosophical literature, the madman holds a lantern in broad daylight and shouts in anguish, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?”(p. 181)

Commonly understood as a shout of rebellious atheism in a world still heavily influenced by religiously based ethical systems, the soliloquy of the madman represents a cry of tragic loss. Nietzsche rightly identifies the rise of a new age, one that looks with suspicion at traditional value systems and replaces their spiritual or doctrinal origin with socio-political ideologies, positivist dissections of tradition, or a burgeoning relativist and laissez-faire attitude towards morality.

Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche by Edvard Munch

By acknowledging the death of the traditional value systems symbolized by the decline of the divine, Nietzsche asks us, most modern of people, the murderers of these traditions and systems, “What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent?” (p.181) Human life must have a value system; it must have order, justice, and meaning if we want to coexist and retain the civilisation we struggled so long to achieve.

Culture bereft of a moral foundation is smoke and mirrors, and that is the reality that tormented Nietzsche. Where then are we to find an ethical system that is solid and universal? Is this even possible? The questions have piled up and the answers vary greatly. Will we find a firm answer to the question of what is good and what is evil in religion, politics, or perhaps anthropology? Trying to find this out is ultimately the task of ethics, the branch of axiology that focuses on human behavior and activity.