Nietzsche says the following about Kantian and Millian ethics respectively:
…many a moralist would like to exercise power and creative arbitrariness over mankind; many another, perhaps, Kant especially, gives us to understand by his morals that ‘what is estimable in me, is that I know how to obey-and with you it shall not be otherwise than with me!
Observe, for example, the indefatigable, inevitable English utilitarians…In the end, they all want English morality to be recognized as authoritative…they would like, by all means, to convince themselves that the striving after English happiness, I mean after comfort and fashion…is at the same time the true path of virtue.
-Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Let us, for a moment, suppose that Nietzsche is right. Let us suppose that normative statements really are just attempts to gain power over others. Is that really that embarrassing? Is it so terrible that Goodness just turns out to mean “do what I want you to do?”
Supposing that Nietzsche is right, the next (unembarrassing) question we have to ask is, “What sort of ethic do we wish to impose on others?” It seems like as soon as we ask this question, we start doing meta-ethics. Let’s say I want to impose an ethic of deontology. And lets say that I want to impose this ethic simply because it is serves my self-interest. Here I have made a value judgment: that my self-interest is important to me.
According to Nietzsche, there is no way to say that this judgment is “wrong” in an objective sense. But what about in a subjective sense? Its likely that we don’t have perfect introspective knowledge, so we might not actually know what we value. It follows from this that changes in values can be accounted for by saying that a person is coming to have more perfect knowledge of what he/she values.
What if it simply is the case that we find ourselves on an earth in which every person subjectively values the same thing? “Preposterous!,” some might say. But this is proposal is really structurally identical to Nietzsche’s initial proposal. He suggested that everyone values power. I would like to suggest that although it might appear to individuals that they value power, they might in fact value something else: Love.
What is interesting about this approach is that we can get an axiology that looks like moral realism (in that it has force and is universal), but is actually some form of subjectivism or even sentimentalism (in that values are directly related to the subject). So, even if “God is dead,” i.e., even if there is no objective set of properties that we can ascribe to actions nor objective standards (supervening on the objective world or God) to condemn us, assuming that people really do value Love (which is probably as big of an assumption as saying that everyone values Power), Love still lives.
And can Love be anything but Divine?
Nietzsche’s madman touches on how difficult it is to kill the Divine, but perhaps it was more difficult than even he thought:
How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon?
Perhaps we can’t drink up the sea and perhaps we can’t wipe away the horizon. Maybe killing God is impossible. Thus, the madman may always lament that he has “come to early” when he proclaims the death of the Divine.