Nietzsche's place in contemporary ethical theory

Nietzsche's work addresses ethics from several perspectives: meta-ethics, normative ethics, and descriptive ethics.
In the field of meta-ethics, one can perhaps most accurately classify Nietzsche as a moral skeptic; meaning that he claims that all ethical statements are false, because any kind of correspondence between ethical statements and "moral facts" remains illusory. (This forms part of a more general claim that no universally true fact exists, roughly because none of them more than "appear" to correspond to reality). Instead, ethical statements (like all statements) remain mere "interpretations." However, Nietzsche does not claim that all interpretations are equivalent, since some testify for "noble" character while others are the symptom of a "decadent" life-form.
Sometimes Nietzsche may seem to have very definite opinions on what he regards as moral or as immoral. Note, however, that one can explain Nietzsche's moral opinions without attributing to him the claim of their truth. For Nietzsche, after all, we needn't disregard a statement merely because it expresses something false. On the contrary, he depicts falsehood as essential for "life". Interestingly enough, he mentions a "dishonest lie", (discussing Wagner in The Case of Wagner) as opposed to an "honest" one, recommending further to consult Plato with regard to the latter, which should give some idea of the layers of paradox in his work.
In the juncture between normative ethics and descriptive ethics, Nietzsche distinguishes between "master morality" and "slave morality". Although he recognizes that not everyone holds either scheme in a clearly delineated fashion without some syncretism, he presents them in contrast to one another. Some of the contrasts in master vs. slave morality include:
  • "good" and "bad" interpretations vs. "good" and "evil" interpretations
  • "aristocratic" vs. "part of the 'herd'"
  • determines values independently of predetermined foundations (nature) vs. determines values on predetermined, unquestioned foundations (Christianity).
Nietzsche elaborated these ideas in his book On the Genealogy of Morality, in which he also introduced the key concept of ressentiment as the basis for the slave morality. Nietzsche's primarily negative assessment of the ethical and moralistic teachings of Christianity followed from his earlier considerations of the questions of God and morality in the works The Gay Science and Thus Spoke Zarathustra. These considerations led Nietzsche to the idea of eternal recurrence. Nietzsche primarily meant that, for all practical purposes, his contemporaries lived as if God were dead, though they had not yet recognized it. Nietzsche believed this "death" had already started to undermine the foundations of morality and would lead to moral relativism and moral nihilism. As a response to the dangers of these trends he believed in re-evaluating the foundations of morality to better understand the origins and motives underlying them, so that individuals might decide for themselves whether to regard a moral value as born of an outdated or misguided cultural imposition or as something they wish to hold true.