the Genealogy of Morality


Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the most influential thinkers of the past 150 years and On the Genealogy of Morality (1887) is his most important work on ethics and politics. A polemical contribution to moral and political theory, it offers a critique of moral values and traces the historical evolution of concepts such as guilt, conscience, responsibility, law and justice. This is a revised and updated edition of one of the most successful volumes to appear in Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. Keith Ansell-Pearson has mod- ified his introduction to Nietzsche’s classic text, and Carol Diethe has incorporated a number of changes to the translation itself, reflecting the considerable advances in our understanding of Nietzsche in the twelve years since this edition first appeared. In this new guise, the Cambridge Texts edition of Nietzsche’s Genealogy should continue to enjoy widespread adoption, at both undergradu- ate and graduate level.





FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE On the Genealogy of Morality





Series editors

Raymond Geuss Reader in Philosophy, University of Cambridge

Quentin Skinner Regius Professor of Modern History in the University of Cambridge

Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought is now firmly estab- lished as the major student textbook series in political theory. It aims to make available to students all the most important texts in the history of western political thought, from ancient Greece to the early twentieth century. All the familiar classic texts will be included, but the series seeks at the same time to enlarge the conventional canon by incorporating an extensive range of less well-known works, many of them never before available in a modern English edition. Wherever possible, texts are published in complete and unabridged form, and translations are specially commissioned for the series. Each volume contains a critical introduction together with chronologies, biographical sketches, a guide to further reading and any necessary glossaries and textual apparatus. When completed the series will aim to offer an outline of the entire evolution of western political thought.

For a list of titles published in the series, please see end of book




On the Genealogy of Morality


KEITH ANSELL-PEARSON Department of Philosophy,

University of Warwick






Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK

First published in print format

ISBN-13 978-0-521-87123-5

ISBN-13 978-0-511-34967-6

© in the translation and editorial matter Cambridge University Press 1994,2007


Information on this title:

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

ISBN-10 0-511-34967-X

ISBN-10 0-521-87123-9

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of urls for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York


eBook (NetLibrary)

eBook (NetLibrary)





Acknowledgements and a note on the text page viii

A note on the revised edition ix

Introduction: on Nietzsche’s critique of morality xiii

Chronology xxx

Further reading xxxiii

Biographical synopses xxxvii

On the Genealogy of Morality 1

Supplementary material to On the Genealogy of Morality 121

‘The Greek State’ 164

‘Homer’s Contest’ 174

Index of names 183

Index of subjects 187




Acknowledgements and a note on the text

Carol Diethe is responsible for the translation of all the material featured in this book with the exception of the supplementary material taken from the Cambridge University Press editions of Human, All too Human (volumes one and two), pp. 123–32 and Daybreak, pp. 133–44, and trans- lated by R. J. Hollingdale.

The notes which accompany the text were prepared by Raymond Geuss, who profited from editorial material supplied in the editions of G. Colli and M. Montinari (Berlin/New York, de Gruyter, 1967–88) and Peter Putz (Munich, Goldman, 1988).

The essay ‘The Greek State’ was originally intended by Nietzsche to be a chapter of his first published book, The Birth of Tragedy (1872); together with the essay ‘Homer’s Contest’ and three other essays – on the topics of truth, the future of education, and Schopenhauer – it formed part of the ‘Five prefaces to five unwritten books’ Nietzsche presented to Cosima Wagner in the Christmas of 1872. The German text of the two essays, newly translated here, can be found in volume 1 of Nietzsche. Sämtliche Werke: Kritische Studienausgabe (Berlin/New York, de Gruyter, 1988), pp. 764–78 and pp. 783–93.

Nietzsche’s own italicization and idiosyncratic punctuation have been retained in the text.




A note on the revised edition

This second, revised edition features a new introduction by the editor and a revised and updated guide to further reading. The translation has been extensively modified in an effort to present the reader with a more accu- rate and reliable text. The editor and translator wish to thank those schol- ars who brought errors in the original translation to their attention and made suggestions for refining the text, in particular Christa Davis Acampora and Duncan Large. Ultimately, we made our own decisions and sole responsibility for the text remains with us. Keith Ansell-Pearson wishes to thank Richard Fisher of Cambridge University Press for sup- porting the idea of a second, revised edition of the text, and Christa Davis Acampora, Carol Diethe and Raymond Geuss for looking over versions of the introduction and providing helpful comments. Carol Diethe wishes to thank Jürgen Diethe for his considered comments.

Note by the translator: Anyone who has read Nietzsche in the original will be aware of his polished style, and will have admired his capacity to leap from one idea to another with finesse, to sprinkle foreign words into his text, to emphasize words with italics, or to coin a string of neologisms while rushing headlong through a paragraph until, finally, he reaches the safe landing of a full stop. Humbling though the experience often was, I have tried to keep faith with Nietzsche’s punctuation and to capture as much of his style as was possible in translation while still holding on to the demands of accuracy. For accuracy in translating Nietzsche is increas- ingly important. When the first edition came out in 1994, I felt I could render a term like ‘blue-eyed’ as ‘naïve’, as in the phrase ‘naïvely menda- cious’, which now appears as ‘blue-eyed mendacious’ in the text (III, 19).




Now, however, there are several dictionaries collating Nietzsche’s terms, and the method adopted in the recently published first volume of de Gruyter’s Nietzsche Wörterbuch (Vol. I, A–E) includes information on the frequency of Nietzsche’s use of a given term. For example, there is an entry for ‘blue’, and we are told that Nietzsche used it seventy-two times. In view of this scrutiny of Nietzsche’s vocabulary, one feels duty-bound to be as literal as possible, and the translation has been checked and tight- ened with this aspect of Nietzsche research in mind.

Nietzsche used foreign words liberally, and these usually appear in italics in the text, though not always, as when Nietzsche actually used an English word in his text, such as ‘contiguity’ or, more surprisingly, ‘sportsman’ and ‘training’, quite modern words at that time (III, 17, 21).

Some of Nietzsche’s terms are given in German after a word to clarify the translation of a key word, or a word translated in a seemingly anarchic way; hence Anschauung (normally used for ‘view’ or ‘opinion’) appears after ‘contemplation’ to confirm that it is Schopenhauer’s aesthetic term under discussion. Often, of course, the context dictates that some words are translated differently within the text. One example is Freigeist, trans- lated as ‘free-thinker’ on page 19 and ‘free spirit’ on page 77. In Nietzsche’s day, the free-thinker was usually an enlightened but still reli- gious person, probably with liberal views. When, on page 19, Nietzsche refers to his interlocutor as a democrat (a term of abuse for Nietzsche), we can safely assume that he has the free-thinker in mind. Yet Nietzsche saw himself as a free spirit, and praised the Buddha for breaking free from his domestic shackles; for this reason, ‘free spirit’ is used on p. 77, and this is the best translation for Freigeist when – as more usually – Nietzsche used it in a positive sense.

Much trickier was the wordplay Nietzsche introduced when explain- ing that Christian guilt (Schuld) stems from a much earlier concept of debt (also Schuld). In sections 20–2 of the Second Essay, it is only possi- ble to know which meaning Nietzsche had in mind by the surrounding references to ‘moralizing’ (where we are fairly safe with ‘guilt’) or ‘repay- ment’ (where ‘debt’ is necessary). It is not always quite as neat as this sounds, and on a few occasions (pages 62 and 63), ‘debt/guilt’ is used to indicate that Nietzsche is changing gear.

On one occasion, where Nietzsche describes Napoleon as a synthesis of Unmensch and Übermensch (p. 33), the German words are given first and the English translation is in brackets: a high-risk strategy in any transla- tion. The reason for this is an experience I had when teaching under-

A note on the revised edition




graduates who did not know any German, but who wanted to know more about Nietzsche’s ‘slogans’: eternal return, the will to power and espe- cially the Übermensch – variously translated as ‘superman’ or ‘overman’, though the German term is now in widespread use. Although Walter Kaufmann in his translation of On the Genealogy of Morals provided an excellent description of Napoleon as ‘this synthesis of the inhuman and superhuman’, I could not convince my students that this text contained any reference to the Übermensch. Kaufmann’s index had no such entry, and nobody grasped that the word ‘superhuman’ – elegant as it was along- side ‘inhuman’ – actually translated Übermensch. Once the decision had been taken to place the German word in the text ‘proper’, we felt we had to pay Unmensch the same compliment, especially as Nietzsche intends his readers to reflect on the two types of human being, Mensch.

Finally, a word about the title. When I first heard about a book by Nietzsche called Zur Genealogie der Moral, I assumed the translation would be On the Genealogy of Morality, since for me, die Moral meant ethics as a formal doctrine, in other words, morality in a grand and abstract sense which naturally comprised morals. I am more relaxed on the matter now, but still feel that to talk about morality as a singular entity and phenomenon is truer to Nietzsche’s meaning. Everyone concerned with this book has had that consideration in mind, and a primary concern was to make Nietzsche accessible.

A note on the revised edition





Introduction: on Nietzsche’s critique of morality

Introduction to Nietzsche’s text

Although it has come to be prized by commentators as his most import- ant and systematic work, Nietzsche conceived On the Genealogy of Morality as a ‘small polemical pamphlet’ that might help him sell more copies of his earlier writings.1 It clearly merits, though, the level of atten- tion it receives and can justifiably be regarded as one of the key texts of European intellectual modernity. It is a deeply disturbing book that retains its capacity to shock and disconcert the modern reader. Nietzsche himself was well aware of the character of the book. There are moments in the text where he reveals his own sense of alarm at what he is discov- ering about human origins and development, especially the perverse nature of the human animal, the being he calls ‘the sick animal’ (GM, III, 14). Although the Genealogy is one of the darkest books ever written, it is also, paradoxically, a book full of hope and anticipation. Nietzsche provides us with a stunning story about man’s monstrous moral past, which tells the history of the deformation of the human animal in the hands of civilization and Christian moralization; but also hints at a new kind of humanity coming into existence in the wake of the death of God and the demise of a Christian-moral culture.

On the Genealogy of Morality belongs to the late period of Nietzsche’s writings (1886–8). It was composed in July and August of 1887 and pub- lished in November of that year. Nietzsche intended it as a ‘supplement’


11 Letter to Peter Gast, 18 July 1887, in Selected Letters of Friedrich Nietzsche, ed. Christopher Middleton (London and Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), p. 269.



to and ‘clarification’ of Beyond Good and Evil, said by him to be ‘in all essentials’ a critique of modernity that includes within its range of attack modern science, modern art and modern politics. In a letter to his former Basel colleague Jacob Burckhardt dated 22 September 1886, Nietzsche stresses that Beyond Good and Evil says the same things as Zarathustra ‘only in a way that is different – very different’. In this letter he draws attention to the book’s chief preoccupations and mentions the ‘mysteri- ous conditions of any growth in culture’, the ‘extremely dubious relation between what is called the “improvement” of man (or even “humanisa- tion”) and the enlargement of the human type’, and ‘above all the con- tradiction between every moral concept and every scientific concept of life’. On the Genealogy of Morality closely echoes these themes and con- cerns. Nietzsche finds that ‘all modern judgments about men and things’ are smeared with an over-moralistic language; the characteristic feature of modern souls and modern books is to be found in their ‘moralistic mendaciousness’ (GM, III, 19).

In Ecce Homo Nietzsche describes the Genealogy as consisting of ‘three decisive preliminary studies by a psychologist for a revaluation of values’. The First Essay probes the ‘psychology of Christianity’ and traces the birth of Christianity not out of the ‘spirit’ per se but out of a particular kind of spirit, namely, ressentiment; the Second Essay provides a ‘psy- chology of the conscience’, where it is conceived not as the voice of God in man but as the instinct of cruelty that has been internalized after it can no longer discharge itself externally; the Third Essay inquires into the meaning of ascetic ideals, examines the perversion of the human will, and explores the possibility of a counter-ideal. Nietzsche says that he provides an answer to the question where the power of the ascetic ideal, ‘the harmful ideal par excellence’, comes from, and he argues that this is simply because to date it has been the only ideal; no counter-ideal has been made available ‘until the advent of Zarathustra’.

The Genealogy is a subversive book that needs to be read with great care. It contains provocative imagery of ‘blond beasts of prey’ and of the Jewish ‘slave revolt in morality’ which can easily mislead the unwary reader about the nature of Nietzsche’s immoralism. In the preface, Nietzsche mentions the importance of readers familiarizing themselves with his previous books – throughout the book he refers to various sections and aphorisms from them, and occasionally he makes partial cita- tions from them. The critique of morality Nietzsche carries out in the book is a complex one; its nuances are lost if one extracts isolated images





and concepts from the argument of the book as a whole. His contribution to the study of ‘morality’ has three essential aspects: first, a criticism of moral genealogists for bungling the object of their study through the lack of a genuine historical sense; second, a criticism of modern evolutionary theory as a basis for the study of morality; and third, a critique of moral values that demands a thorough revaluation of them. Nietzsche’s polem- ical contribution is intended to question the so-called self-evident ‘facts’ about morality and it has lost none of its force today.

Reading Nietzsche

Nietzsche is often referred to as an ‘aphoristic’ writer, but this falls short of capturing the sheer variety of forms and styles he adopted. In fact, the number of genuine aphorisms in his works is relatively small; instead, most of what are called Nietzsche’s ‘aphorisms’ are more substantial para- graphs which exhibit a unified train of thought (frequently encapsulated in a paragraph heading indicating the subject matter), and it is from these building blocks that the other, larger structures are built in more or less extended sequences. Nietzsche’s style, then, is very different from stan- dard academic writing, from that of the ‘philosophical workers’ he describes so condescendingly in Beyond Good and Evil (BGE, 211). His aim is always to energize and enliven philosophical style through an admixture of aphoristic and, broadly speaking, ‘literary’ forms. His styl- istic ideal, as he puts it on the title page of The Case of Wagner (parody- ing Horace), is the paradoxical one of ‘ridendo dicere severum’ (‘saying what is sombre through what is laughable’), and these two modes, the sombre and the sunny, are mischievously intertwined in his philosophy, without the reader necessarily being sure which is uppermost at any one time.

Nietzsche lays down a challenge to his readers, and sets them a peda- gogical, hermeneutic task, that of learning to read him well. He acknow- ledges that the aphoristic form of his writing causes difficulty, and emphasizes that an aphorism has not been ‘deciphered’ simply when it has been read out; rather, for full understanding to take place, an ‘art of interpretation’ or exegesis is required (the German word is Auslegung, lit- erally a laying out). He gives the attentive reader a hint of what kind of exegesis he thinks is needed when he claims that the Third Essay of the book ‘is a commentary on the aphorism that precedes it’ (he intends the opening section of the essay, not the epigraph from Zarathustra).

On Nietzsche’s critique of morality




Genealogy and morality

For Nietzsche, morality represents a system of errors that we have incor- porated into our basic ways of thinking, feeling and living; it is the great symbol of our profound ignorance of ourselves and the world. In The Gay Science 115, it is noted how humankind has been educated by ‘the four errors’: we see ourselves only incompletely; we endow ourselves with fic- titious attributes; we place ourselves in a ‘false rank’ in relation to animals and nature – that is, we see ourselves as being inherently superior to them; and, finally, we invent ever new tables of what is good and then accept them as eternal and unconditional. However, Nietzsche does not propose we should make ourselves feel guilty about our incorporated errors (they have provided us with new drives); and neither does he want us simply to accuse or blame the past. We need to strive to be more just in our evalua- tions of life and the living by, for example, thinking ‘beyond good and evil’. For Nietzsche, it is largely the prejudices of morality that stand in the way of this; morality assumes knowledge of things it does not have.

The criticism Nietzsche levels at morality – what we moderns take it to be and to represent – is that it is a menacing and dangerous system that makes the present live at the expense of the future (GM, Preface, 6). Nietzsche’s concern is that the human species may never attain its ‘highest potential and splendour’ (ibid.). The task of culture is to produce sovereign individuals, but what we really find in history is a series of deformations and perversions of that cultural task. Thus, in the modern world the aim and meaning of culture is taken to be ‘to breed a tame and civilized animal, a household pet, out of the beast of prey “man” ’ (GM, I, 11), so that now man strives to become ‘better’ all the time, meaning ‘more comfortable, more mediocre, more indifferent, more Chinese, more Christian . . .’ (GM, I, 12). This, then, is the great danger of modern culture: it will produce an animal that takes taming to be an end in itself, to the point where the free- thinker will announce that the end of history has been attained (for Nietzsche’s criticism of the ‘free-thinker’ see GM, I, 9). Nietzsche argues that we moderns are in danger of being tempted by a new European type of Buddhism, united in our belief in the supreme value of a morality of communal compassion, ‘as if it were morality itself, the summit, the con- quered summit of humankind, the only hope for the future, comfort in the present, the great redemption from all past guilt . . .’ (BGE, 202).

Nietzsche argues that in their attempts to account for morality philoso- phers have not developed the suspicion that morality might be ‘something





problematic’; in effect what they have done is to articulate ‘an erudite form of true belief in the prevailing morality’, and, as a result, their inquiries remain ‘a part of the state of affairs within a particular moral- ity’ (BGE, 186). Modern European morality is ‘herd animal morality’ which considers itself to be the definition of morality and the only moral- ity possible or desirable (BGE, 202); at work in modern thinking is the assumption that there is a single morality valid for all (BGE, 228). Nietzsche seeks to develop a genuinely critical approach to morality, in which all kinds of novel, surprising and daring questions are posed. Nietzsche does not so much inquire into a ‘moral sense’ or a moral faculty as attempt to uncover the different senses of morality, that is the different ‘meanings’ morality can be credited with in the history of human devel- opment: morality as symptom, as mask, as sickness, as stimulant, as poison, and so on. Morality, Nietzsche holds, is a surface phenomenon that requires meta-level interpretation in accordance with a different, superior set of extra-moral values ‘beyond good and evil’.

On several occasions in the Genealogy, Nietzsche makes it clear that certain psychologists and moralists have been doing something we can call ‘genealogy’ (see, for example, GM, I, 2 and II, 4, 12). He finds all these attempts insufficiently critical. In particular, Nietzsche has in mind the books of his former friend, Paul Rée (1849–1901), to whom he refers in the book’s preface. In section 4 he admits that it was Rée’s book on the origin of moral sensations, published in 1877, that initially stimulated him to develop his own hypotheses on the origin of morality. Moreover, it was in this book that he ‘first directly encountered the back-to-front and perverse kind of genealogical hypotheses’, which he calls ‘the English kind’. In section 7 Nietzsche states that he wishes to develop the sharp, unbiased eye of the critic of morality in a better direction than we find in Rée’s speculations. He wants, he tells us, to think in the direction ‘of a real history of morality’ (die wirkliche Historie der Moral); in con- trast to the ‘English hypothesis-mongering into the blue’ – that is, looking vainly into the distance as in the blue yonder – he will have recourse to the colour ‘grey’ to aid his genealogical inquiries, for this denotes, ‘that which can be documented, which can actually be confirmed and has actually existed . . . the whole, long, hard-to-decipher hieroglyphic script of man’s moral past!’ (GM, Preface, 7). Because the moral genealogists are so caught up in ‘merely “modern” experience’ they are altogether lacking in knowledge; they have ‘no will to know the past, still less an instinct for history . . .’ (GM, II, 4). An examination of the books of

On Nietzsche’s critique of morality




moral genealogists would show, ultimately, that they all take it to be something given and place it beyond questioning. Although he detects a few preliminary attempts to explore the history of moral feelings and val- uations, Nietzsche maintains that even among more refined researchers no attempt at critique has been made. Instead, the popular superstition of Christian Europe that selflessness and compassion are what is charac- teristic of morality is maintained and endorsed.

Nietzsche begins the Genealogy proper by paying homage to ‘English psychologists’, a group of researchers who have held a microscope to the soul and, in the process, pioneered the search for a new set of truths: ‘plain, bitter, ugly, foul, unchristian, immoral . . .’ (GM, I, 1). The work of these psychologists has its basis in the empiricism of John Locke, and in David Hume’s new approach to the mind that seeks to show that so- called complex, intellectual activity emerges out of processes that are, in truth, ‘stupid’, such as the vis inertiae of habit and the random coupling and mechanical association of ideas. In the attempt of ‘English psychol- ogists’ to show the real mechanisms of the mind Nietzsche sees at work not a malicious and mean instinct, and not simply a pessimistic suspicion about the human animal, but the research of proud and generous spirits who have sacrificed much to the cause of truth. He admires the honest craftsmanship of their intellectual labours. He criticizes them, however, for their lack of a real historical sense and for bungling their moral genealogies as a result, and for failing to raise questions of value and future legislation. This is why he describes empiricism as being limited by a ‘plebeian ambition’ (BGE, 213). What the ‘English’ essentially lack, according to Nietzsche, is ‘spiritual vision of real depth – in short, philosophy’ (BGE, 252).

In section 12 of the Second Essay Nietzsche attempts to expose what he takes to be the fundamental naïveté of the moral genealogists. This con- sists in highlighting some purpose that a contemporary institution or prac- tice purportedly has, and then placing this purpose at the start of the historical process which led to the modern phenomenon in question. In GM, II, 13 he says that only that which has no history can be defined, and draws attention to the ‘synthesis of meanings’ that accrues to any given phenomenon. His fundamental claim, one that needs, he says, to inform all kinds of historical research, is that the origin of the development of a thing and its ‘ultimate usefulness’ are altogether separate. This is because what exists is ‘continually interpreted anew . . . transformed and redirected to a new purpose’ by a superior power. Nietzsche is challenging the assump-





tion that the manifest purpose of a thing (‘its utility, form and shape’) con- stitutes the reason for its existence, such as the view that the eye is made to see and the hand to grasp. He argues against the view that we can consider the development of a thing in terms of a ‘logical progressus’ towards a goal. This naïvely teleological conception of development ignores the random and contingent factors within evolution, be it the evolution of a tradition or an organ. However, he also claims that ‘every purpose and use is just a sign that the will to power’ is in operation in historical change. This further claim has not found favour among theorists impressed by Nietzsche’s ideas on evolution because they see it as relying upon an extravagant meta- physics. It is clear from his published presentations of the theory of the will to power that Nietzsche did not intend it to be such.

Nietzsche knows that he will shock his readers with the claims he makes on behalf of the will to power, for example, that it is the ‘primor- dial fact of all history’ (BGE, 259). To say that the will to power is a ‘fact’ is not, for Nietzsche, to be committed to any simple-minded form of philosophical empiricism. Rather, Nietzsche’s training as a philologist inclined him to the view that no fact exists apart from an interpretation, just as no text speaks for itself, but always requires an interpreting reader. When those of a modern democratic disposition consider nature and regard everything in it as equally subject to a fixed set of ‘laws of nature’, are they not projecting on to nature their own aspirations for human society, by construing nature as a realm that exhibits the ratio- nal, well-ordered egalitarianism which they wish to impose on all the various forms of human sociability? Might they be, as Nietzsche insin- uates, masking their ‘plebeian enmity towards everything privileged and autocratic, as well as a new and more subtle atheism’? But if even these purported facts about nature are really a matter of interpretation and not text, would it not be possible for a thinker to deploy the opposite intention and look, with his interpretive skill, at the same nature and the same phenomena, reading ‘out of it the ruthlessly tyrannical and unre- lenting assertion of power claims’? Nietzsche presents his readers with a contest of interpretations. His critical claim is that, whereas the modern ‘democratic’ interpretation suffers from being moralistic, his does not; his interpretation of the ‘text’ of nature as will to power allows for a much richer appreciation of the economy of life, including its active emotions. In the Genealogy, Nietzsche wants the seminal role played by the active affects to be appreciated (GM, II, 11). We suffer from the ‘democratic idiosyncrasy’ that opposes in principle everything

On Nietzsche’s critique of morality




that dominates and wants to dominate (GM, II, 12). Against Darwinism, he argues that it is insufficient to account for life solely in terms of adaptation to external circumstances. Such a conception deprives life of its most important dimension, which he names ‘Aktivität’ (activity). It does this, he contends, by overlooking the primacy of the ‘spontaneous, expansive, aggressive . . . formative forces’ that provide life with new directions and new interpretations, and from which adaptation takes place only once these forces have had their effect. He tells us that he lays ‘stress on this major point of historical method because it runs counter to the prevailing instinct and fashion which would much rather come to terms with absolute randomness, and even the mechanistic senselessness of all events, than the theory that a power- will is acted out in all that happens’ (GM, II, 12).

Nietzsche’s polemic challenges the assumptions of standard genealo- gies, for example, that there is a line of descent that can be continuously traced from a common ancestor, and that would enable us to trace moral notions and legal practices back to a natural single and fixed origin. His emphasis is rather on fundamental transformations, on disruptions, and on psychological innovations and moral inventions that emerge in specific material and cultural contexts.

Undue emphasis should not be placed, however, on the role Nietzsche accords to contingency and discontinuity within history, as this would be to make a fetish of them as principles. Contrary to Michel Foucault’s influential reading of genealogy, Nietzsche does not simply oppose himself to the search for origins, and neither is he opposed to the attempt to show that the past actively exists in the present, secretly continuing to animate it.2 Much of what Nietzsche is doing in the book is only intelli- gible if we take him to be working with the idea that it does. Nietzsche opposes himself to the search for origins only where this involves what we might call a genealogical narcissism. Where it involves the discovery of difference at the origin, of the kind that surprises and disturbs us, Nietzsche is in favour of such a search. This is very much the case with his analysis of the bad conscience. For Nietzsche, this is an ‘origin’ (Ursprung) that is to be treated as a fate and as one that still lives on in human beings today.



12 Michel Foucault, ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, and History’ (1971), in The Essential Works of Foucault, volume II: 1954–84, ed. James Faubion, trans. Robert Hurley and others (London: Penguin Books, 2000), pp. 369–93.



‘Good, bad and evil’

In the first of the three essays of which the Genealogy is composed, Nietzsche invites us to imagine a society which is split into two distinct groups: a militarily and politically dominant group of ‘masters’ exercises absolute control over a completely subordinate group of ‘slaves’. The ‘masters’ in this model are construed as powerful, active, relatively unre- flective agents who live a life of immediate physical self-affirmation: they drink, they brawl, they wench, they hunt, whenever the fancy takes them, and they are powerful enough, by and large, to succeed in most of these endeavours, and uninhibited enough to enjoy living in this way. They use the term ‘good’ to refer in an approving way to this life and to themselves as people who are capable of leading it. As an afterthought, they also sometimes employ the term ‘bad’ to refer to those people – most notably, the ‘slaves’ – who by virtue of their weakness are not capable of living the life of self-affirming physical exuberance. The terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’ then form the basis of a variety of different ‘masters’ morali- ties’. One of the most important events in Western history occurs when the slaves revolt against the masters’ form of valuation. The slaves are, after all, not only physically weak and oppressed, they are also by virtue of their very weakness debarred from spontaneously seeing themselves and their lives in an affirmative way. They develop a reactive and nega- tive sentiment against the oppressive masters which Nietzsche calls ‘ressentiment’, and this ressentiment eventually turns creative, allowing the slaves to take revenge in the imagination on the masters whom they are too weak to harm physically. The form this revenge takes is the invention of a new concept and an associated new form of valuation: ‘evil’. ‘Evil’ is used to refer to the life the masters lead (which they call ‘good’) but it is used to refer to it in a disapproving way. In a ‘slave’ morality this negative term ‘evil’ is central, and slaves can come to a pale semblance of self-affir- mation only by observing that they are not like the ‘evil’ masters. In the mouths of the slaves, ‘good’ comes to refer not to a life of robust vitality, but to one that is ‘not-evil’, i.e. not in any way like the life that the masters live. Through a variety of further conceptual inventions (notably, ‘free will’), the slaves stylize their own natural weakness into the result of a choice for which they can claim moral credit. Western morality has his- torically been a struggle between elements that derive from a basic form of valuation derived from ‘masters’ and one derived from ‘slaves’.

On Nietzsche’s critique of morality




The fate of bad conscience

In the Second Essay, Nietzsche develops a quite extraordinary story about the origins and emergence of feelings of responsibility and debt (personal obligation). He is concerned with nothing less than the evolution of the human mind and how its basic ways of thinking have come into being, such as inferring, calculating, weighing and anticipating. Indeed, he points out that our word ‘man’ (manas) denotes a being that values, measures and weighs. Nietzsche is keen to draw the reader’s attention to what he regards as an important historical insight: the principal moral concept of ‘guilt’ (Schuld) descends from the material concept of ‘debts’ (Schulden). In this sphere of legal obligations, he stresses, we find the breeding-ground of the ‘moral conceptual world’ of guilt, conscience and duty (GM, II, 6).

Nietzsche opens the Second Essay by drawing attention to a paradox- ical task of nature, namely, that of breeding an animal that is sanctioned to promise and so exist as a creature of time, a creature that can remem- ber the past and anticipate the future, a creature that can in the present bind its own will relative to the future in the certain knowledge that it will in the future effectively remember that its will has been bound. For this cultivation of effective memory and imagination to be successful, culture needs to work against the active force of forgetting, which serves an important physiological function. The exercise of a memory of the will supposes that the human animal can make a distinction between what happens by accident and what happens by design or intention, and it also presupposes an ability to think causally about an anticipated future. In section 2, Nietzsche makes explicit that what he is addressing is the ‘long history of the origins of responsibility’. The successful cultivation of an animal sanctioned to promise requires a labour by which man is made into something ‘regular, reliable, and uniform’. This has been achieved by what Nietzsche calls the ‘morality of custom’ (Sittlichkeit der Sitte) and the ‘social straitjacket’ which it imposes. The disciplining of the human animal into an agent that has a sense of responsibility (Verantwortlichkeit) for its words and deeds has not taken place through gentle methods, but through the harsh and cruel measures of coercion and punishment. As Nietzsche makes clear at one point in the text: ‘Each step on earth, even the smallest, was in the past a struggle that was won with spiritual and physical torment . . .’ (III, 9). The problem for culture is that it has to deal with an animal that is partly dull, that has an inattentive mind and a strong





propensity to active forgetfulness. In most societies and ages, this problem has not been solved by gentle methods: ‘A thing must be burnt in so that it stays in the memory’ (II, 3). Nietzsche’s insight is that without blood, torture and sacrifice, including ‘disgusting mutilations’, what we know as ‘modern psychology’ would never have arisen. All religions are at bottom systems of cruelty, Nietzsche contends; blood and horror lies at the basis of all ‘good things’. In a certain sense it is possible to locate the whole of asceticism in this sphere of torment: ‘a few ideas have to be made ineradicable . . . unforgettable and fixed in order to hypnotize the whole nervous and intellectual system through these “fixed ideas” . . .’ (ibid.).

The fruit of this labour of Cultur performed on man in the pre- historical period is the sovereign individual who is master of a strong and durable will, a will that can make and keep promises. On this account freedom of the will is an achievement of culture and operates in the context of specific material practices and social relations. Nietzsche calls this individual autonomous and supra-ethical (übersittlich): it is supra- ethical simply in the sense that it has gone beyond the level of custom. For Nietzsche the period of ‘the morality of custom’ pre-dates what we call ‘world history’ and is to be regarded as the ‘decisive historical period’ which has determined the character of man (GM, III, 9). The sublime work of morality can be explained as the ‘natural’ and necessary work of culture (of tradition and custom). The sovereign individual is the kind of self-regulating animal that is required for the essential functions of culture (for example, well-functioning creditor–debtor relations). It cannot be taken to be his ideal in any simple or straightforward sense.3

In GM, II, 16 Nietzsche advances, albeit in a preliminary fashion, his own theory on the ‘origin’ of the bad conscience. He looks upon it ‘as a serious illness to which man was forced to succumb by the pressure of the most fundamental of all changes which he experienced’. This change refers to the establishment of society and peace and their confining spaces, which brings with it a suspension and devaluation of the instincts. Nietzsche writes of the basic instinct of freedom – the will to power – being forced back and repressed (II, 17–18). Human beings now walk as if a ‘terrible heaviness’ bears down on them. In this new scenario the old animal instincts, such as animosity, cruelty, the pleasure of changing and destroying, do not cease to make their demands, but have to find new and

On Nietzsche’s critique of morality


13 Nietzsche criticizes the ideal of ‘a single, rigid and unchanging individuum’ in Human, All Too Human 618.



underground satisfactions. Through internalization, in which no longer dischargeable instincts turn inward, comes the invention of what is popu- larly called the human ‘soul’: ‘The whole inner world, originally stretched thinly as though between two layers of skin, was expanded and extended itself and granted depth, breadth, and height in proportion to the degree that the external discharge of man’s instincts was obstructed.’ Nietzsche insists that this is ‘the origin of “bad conscience” ’. He uses striking imagery in his portrait of this momentous development.

On the one hand, Nietzsche approaches the bad conscience as the most insidious illness that has come into being and from which man has yet to recover, his sickness of himself. On the other hand, he maintains that the ‘prospect of an animal soul turning against itself ’ is an event and a spec- tacle too interesting ‘to be played senselessly unobserved on some ridicu- lous planet’. Furthermore, as a development that was prior to all ressentiment, and that cannot be said to represent any organic assimilation into new circumstances, the bad conscience contributes to the appearance of an animal on earth that ‘arouses interest, tension, hope’, as if through it ‘something . . . were being prepared, as though man were not an end but just a path, an episode, a bridge, a great promise’ (GM, II, 16). Nietzsche observes that although it represents a painful and ugly growth, the bad conscience is not simply to be looked upon in disparaging terms; indeed, he speaks of the ‘active bad conscience’. It can be regarded as the ‘true womb of ideal and imaginative events’; through it an abundance of ‘disconcerting beauty and affirmation’ has been brought to light.

In the course of history, the illness of bad conscience reached a terrible and sublime peak. In prehistory, argues Nietzsche, the basic creditor– debtor relationship that informs human social and economic activity also finds expression in religious rites and worship, for example, the way a tribal community expresses thanks to earlier generations. Over time the ancestor is turned into a god and associated with the feeling of fear (the birth of superstition). Christianity cultivates further the moral or reli- gious sentiment of debt, and does so in terms of a truly monstrous level of sublime feeling: God is cast as the ultimate ancestor who cannot be repaid (GM, II, 20).

Sin and the ascetic ideal

The sense of ‘guilt’ has evolved through several momentous and fateful events in history. In its initial expression it is to be viewed ‘as a piece of





animal psychology, no more . . .’ (GM, III, 20). In the earliest societies, a p

"Is this question part of your assignment? We can help"