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On the Genealogy of Morals

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Friedrich NietzscheEdit

[1844-1900] [qtd from Wikipedia] Nietzsche was a 19th-century German philosopher and classical philologist. He wrote critical texts on religion, morality, contemporary culture, philosophy and science, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and aphorism.

Nietzsche's influence remains substantial within and beyond philosophy, notably in existentialism and postmodernism. His style and radical questioning of the value and objectivity of truth have resulted in much commentary and interpretation, mostly in the continental tradition. His key ideas include the death of God, perspectivism, the Übermensch, the eternal recurrence, and the will to power. Central to his philosophy is the idea of “life-affirmation,” which involves an honest questioning of all doctrines that drain life's expansive energies, however socially prevalent those views might be.

Nietzsche began his career as a classical philologist before turning to philosophy. At the age of 24 he was appointed to the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel (the youngest individual to have held this position), but resigned in 1879 due to health problems that plagued him most of his life. In 1889 he became mentally ill, possibly due to atypical general paralysis attributed to tertiary syphilis. He lived his remaining years in the care of his mother until her death in 1897, then under the care of his sister until his death in 1900.

On the Genealogy of Morals [1887]Edit

The Genealogy of Morals traces moments in the development of human morality. It is composed of a preface and three essays. It is considered one of Nietzsche's must sustained and influential texts.

First essayEdit

In this first essay, Nietzsche explores the origin of the concepts "bad" (especially versus "evil") and "good". Disagreeing with psychologists and historians who argued that we internalized notions of good through unegotistical behavior, because this unegotistical behavior was a useful action. Nietzsche turns this askew, arguing the good was originally associated with "noble" and "aristocratic", implying access to a higher spirit or soul. Parallel to this is the development of the common, low and plebian, which, understood in constrast to the noble (what the noble is not) becomes "bad"--but this was not affiliated with our present concept of bad until roughly the 30 Years War. Good then came to denote a superiority of soul, to be powerful and life affirming (as goodness was also associated with keeping clean and maintaining oneself). This is the aristocratic mode of valuation.

Nietzsche distinguishes that it was the priestly class, particularly the Jews, who flipped this reading and argued that the poor were the ones of superior soul--that the wretched, the poor, the sick, the impotent (the powerless) are good. This was the slave revolt in morality, and it has not left us. This slave revolt begins with resentment that becomes creative and bears values--imaginary revenge becomes the conceptual compensation, rather than actual revenge, which the noble would employ. Resentment forces one to look outward; slave morality requires an outer world, and thus is fundamentally a reactionary move. The nobleman however, the good man, knows himself as noble first, then knows the bad. The master's misrecognition of the slave is false, but not as false as the slave's representation of the master. The master has no contempt, and therefore cannot manifest the slave as a master. They are happy, as is the definition of goodness, and did not need, as the slaves do, to examine their enemies or convince themselves of their happiness. The man with resentment mistrusts and has no upright relationship to himself. The slave is more clever than the master, for the master does not require it. Resentment exhaust him, and therefore does not control him; the reverse is true for the meager man. Likewise, the master's enemies are not hated by him, but the man of resentment can only view the master as evil and himself the "good one".

Thus, the moral inversion, and the opposition of slave morality and noble morality (they do not share a common morality--rather they manifest their relations to power in different terms). The good man understands himself within goodness, and develops an understanding of bad only in the opposite. His is the good of "good vs. bad" which affirms his own power. Yet the slave will always understand the master first, as evil, and them himself as good; his is the good of "good vs. evil". Thus these "good men" are evil enemies to the slave. Nietzsche however notes that the good man is good to himself and his colleagues, but when he enters the realm of the stranger, "they are not much better than uncaged beasts of prey" (40). They go out an commit genocide and war to relieve themselves and believe they have acted in honor and heroism.

Nietzsche then suggests that if the taming of man is the meaning of culture, the it is the instincts of resentment that overthrew the "good men" that are instruments of culture. But the bearers of these instincts are regressors of mankind. His resentment, as an instrument of culture, itself is an accusation of culture. The lamb may hate the bird of prey, but the bird of prey doesn't hate the lamb; the slave cannot resent the noble's execution of his strength, and to do otherwise is to ask the noble to be other than he is--to ask the bird of prey to not be a bird of prey. Judeo-Christian religion operates on the fallacy that it wants love and equality for all, and yet vouchsafes that desire on the hopeful burning torment of the nobles in hell. They abscond power in the present for power in the everlasting future. Thus, these contrary valuations (Rome vs. Judea) have been locked in battle: "the well-being of the majority and the well-being of the few are opposite viewpoints of value: to consider the former a priori of higher value may be left to the naivete of English biologists" (56). Thus we are rather left with the problem of value, not morality, and the determination of "the order of rank among values" (56).

Second EssayEdit

In his second essay, Nietzsche considers man as an "animal with the right to make promises", and that man's memory in this case is in opposition to his forgetfulness (which is a thankful operation of repression). In order to make a promise, man must "first of all have become calculable, regular, necessary, even in his own image of himself, is he is to be able to stand security for his own future, which is what one who promises does!" (58). This, for Nietzsche, is the origin of responsibility. Responsibility marks an awareness and priviledge of being of free will, soveriegn to one's life and able to calculate one's own future (and should make him an object of fear and respect). The instinct of reponsibility is man's conscience. Man's capacity to remember his promise requires the pain of memory--and for Nietzsche, only pain can create memory. Obediance to the law is created by conjuring awful punishments, the fear of which cannot be forgotten, and only then can man compel himself to remember, to calculate his future, to move beyond the thoughts of his moment (thus a nation of thinkers is wrought). Horrible deaths lie at the root of conscience and responsibility.

The feeling of guilt has its origin between the the debtor and the creditor (as roots in German for guilt also relate to debt). In this debtor/creditor arrangement, man measures himself against one another. Justice evolves as "the good will among parties of approximately equal power to come to terms with one another" (70). To fail to repay one's creditor is an attack against him, and an attack against the community which offers protection; the community ensures that justice is exacted. But as the power of this community increases, and it recognizes that it is no longer as deeply threatened by the lax debtor, its law becomes more lax (and weakening of the community results in the reverse). Nietzsche suggests that a society could attain a "consciousness of power" (72) and permit harm to go unpunished (strength in the face of parasites): "The justice which began with 'everything is dischargeable, everything must be discharged,' ends by winking and letting those incapable of discharging their debt go free: it ends, as does every good thing on earth, by overcoming itself" (72-3). And this, according to Nietzsche, is mercy--the "privilege of the most powerful man, or better, his--beyond the law" (73). The law is erected to displace the harm we do to one another--acts of resentment and revenge becomes acts against the law itself; this thwarts the desires of revenge, because now they are positioned against the impersonal quality of the law. Thus, "just and unjest exist accordingly, only after the institution of the law" not after the perpetration of an injury. Injury is not inherently unjust because all of live is based in injury, assault and destruction; it is the essential nature of life. The legal order is a means of struggle between power complexes (since the law restricts the will of life) and should not be thought of as an attempt to make men equal.

Nietzsche argues in section 12 that the purpose of the law has nothing to do with the origin of the law, and it would be inaccurate to believe the purpose of punishment tells us its origins: "however well one has understood the utility of any physiological organ (or of a legal institution, a social custom, a political usage, a form in art or in a religious cult), this means nothing regarding its origin" (77). Utilities and purposes are "only signs that a will to power has become master of something less powerful and imposed upon it the character of a function; the entire history of a 'thing,' an organ, a custom can in this way be a continuous sign-chain of ever new interpretations and adaptations whose causes do not even have to be related to one another but, on the contrary, in some cases succeed and alternate with one another in a purely chance fashion. The 'evolution' of a thing, a custom, an organ is thus by no means its progressus toward a goal" (77). Rather, Nietzsche turns to sacrifice: "mankind in the mass sacrificed to the prosperity of a single stronger species of man--that would be an advance" (78). With the example of punishment, Nietzsche acknowledge that the point of punishment is not a recompense for injury or a removal of a bad seed, for punishment is not an environment that allows for dwelling on one's actions--since the same force the criminal used is employed to harness the criminal. Punishment tames but does not make one better.

In section 16, Nietzsche offers his concern over the bad conscious: "the serious illness that man was bound to contract under the stress of the most fundamental change he ever experience--that change which occurred when he found himself finally enclosed within the walls of society and peace" (84). Man develops a soul because his instincts cannot find outward expression, and rather are internalized. The bad conscious is the "instinct for freedom [synonymous with Nietzsche's will to power] forcibly made latent" (87). Virtues such as self-sacrifice and selflessness are based in a delight tied to cruelty to ourselves: "only the will to self-maltreatment provided the conditions for the value of the unegoistic" (88).

In section 19, in exploring the roots of the debtor/creditor relationship, Nietzsche argues that in tribal societies, the success of the tribe is own to the success of the ancestors, and one must constantly pay them due, for fear of their power and the consciousness indebted to him. The more powerful the tribe, the more massive the image of the ancestors, and this may indeed be where god comes from. Thus, "the advent of the Christian God, as the maximum god attained so far, was therefore accompnaied by the maximum feeling of guilty indebtedness on earth" (90), and the bad conscious is therefore associate with God. As we lose faith in god, so to does our guilt ebb. Atheism could free man entirely from his guilt. Man interprets his animal instincts (unkindess, hostility) as guilt before God, so that he may torture himself: "the will of man to find himself guilty and reprehensible to a degree that can never be atoned for [...] what beastiality of thought erupts as soon as he is prevented just a little from being a best indeed" (93). In contrast the God that we scourage ourselves for, the Greek gods were beastly gods, noble gods, and it was argued that folly creates misery, not sin; the gods were the explanation for wickedness ("I have been deluded by the gods"). The gods took the guilt, which is more noble than the punishment (Jesus).

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