On The Genealogy Of Morals: A Work Of History Or Of The Imagination? On The Genealogy Of Morals By Friedrich Nietzsche

1289 words - 6 pages

In On the Genealogy of Morals, Friedrich Nietzsche provides three essays which collectively challenge the belief that morality is an eternal, absolute truth which originated from some otherworldly source. The first essay, "Good and Evil, Good and Bad," introduces the concepts of "master morality" and "slave morality." This distinction is the foundation for the Genealogy's subsequent analysis. In the second essay, "Guilt, Bad Conscience and the Like," Nietzsche explains how slave morality transformed and recreated the relationship between guilt and punishment. This in turn leads to what he calls "bad conscience." The final essay, "What is the Meaning of Ascetic Ideals?" discusses man's ...view middle of the document...

He arrives at this conclusion using a philological analysis of the words "good" and "bad." He notices that in many languages, the words for "good" are closely related to words denoting power, wealth, and happiness, whereas the words for "bad" tend to be similar to words for simplicity and plainness.Later when the "priestly caste" comes to dominate, words and concepts of good and bad begin to change. Nietzsche writes, "It is then, for example, that 'pure' and 'impure' confront one another" (31). Over time and culminating with the advent of Christianity, the morality defined by the nobles was overturned and replaced with a "slave morality." The poverty, sickness, and struggles which the aristocrats once defined as "bad" is exactly what Christianity views as "good." Likewise, the power and success once thought of as "good" becomes something entirely new: "evil." For this reason, the meaning of "justice" would not be the same for all types of people. In fact, Nietzsche says justice is merely a fabrication which the slaves used to reassure themselves. "The belief that the strong man is free to be weak" (45) is false. If this is so, it means that no one can be held accountable for his actions -- a philosophy that would wreak unknown suffering if universally adopted.Nietzsche builds on his discussion of justice in his second essay "Guilt, Bad Conscience, and the Like" by commenting on the moral issues of guilt and punishment. Again, he refers to philology to support his belief that originally, guilt had nothing to do with accountability or immorality but only with the repaying of a debt. When someone could not pay a debt, "in place of a literal compensation for an injury... the pleasure of being allowed to vent his power freely upon one who is powerless" (64-64) served as punishment. However, despite the admitted cruelty of this kind of world, Nietzsche claims it was more "cheerful" because it lacked the more weighty burden of guilt.In explaining "bad conscience" Nietzsche's imagination takes over. Bad conscience, he claims, arose when man made the transition from hunting and gathering to being "enclosed within the walls of society and of peace" (84). As hunters, survival depended on following more animalistic instincts. However, these skills were of no use when man settled. As a result, "all instincts that do no discharge themselves outwardly turn inward...thus it was that man first developed what was later called his soul" (84). Nietzsche assumes that this transition was painful and undergone with the greatest reluctance and "that the oldest state thus appeared as a fearful tyranny" (86). After reporting such far-fetched theories, he does little to support them with facts, making it hard for an already doubtful audience to buy into his message.In the third essay, Nietzsche asks "What is...

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