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In the introduction to The Genealogy of Morals, he writes as follows: —"... while but a boy of thirteen the problem of the origin of evil haunted me: to it I dedicated, in an age when we have in heart half-play, half-God, my first literary child-play, my first philosophical composition; and, as regards my solution of the problem therein, well, I gave, as is but fair, God the honour, and made him Father of evil." And then he continues: "A little historical and philological schooling, together with an inborn and delicate sense regarding psychological questions, changed my problem in a very short time into that other one: under what circumstances and conditions did man invent the valuations good and evil? And what is their own specific value?"
This problem, as stated here, seems stupendous enough; in fact, it would be difficult, in the whole realm of human thought, to discover a question of greater moment and intricacy; and yet we shall see that Nietzsche was just as much born to attack and solve it as Cardinal Newman seems, from the Apologia pro Vita Sua, to have been born to the Roman Catholic Church.
If we reflect a moment, we find that "good" and "evil" are certainly words that exercise a tremendous power in the world. To attach the word "good" to any thing or deed is to give it the hall-mark of desirability: on the other hand, to attach the word "evil" to it is tantamount to proscribing it from existence. Even in the old English proverb, "Give a dog a bad name and hang him," we have a suggestion of the enormous force which has been compressed into the two monosyllables "good" and "bad," and before we seriously take up the problem, it were well to ponder a while over the really profound significance of these two words.
Nietzsche, as we have already observed, was never in any doubt as to their importance: his life passion was the desire to solve the meaning, the origin, and the intrinsic value of the two terms; and he did not rest until he had achieved his end.
Let us now examine what morality—what "good" and "evil"—means to almost everybody to-day. In the minds of nearly all those people who are neither students nor actual teachers of philosophy, there is a superstition that "good" is a perfectly definite and absolute value, and that "evil" is known unto all. Few seem to doubt that the meaning of these words has been fixed once and for ever. The ordinary European lives, reads, and sleeps, year in, year out, under the delusion that all is quite clear in regard to right and wrong. Such a person is, of course, somewhat abashed when you tell him that a certain people in the East practise infanticide and call it good or that a certain people in the West always separate at meals and eat apart and call this good. He usually gets over the difficulty, however, by saying that they know no better, and when at last he is hard pressed, and is bound to admit that views of good and bad, sometimes the reverse of his own, actually do preserve and unite people in strange lands, he takes refuge in the hope that all differences may one day be broken down and that the problem will thus be solved.
No such facile shelving of the question, however, could satisfy Nietzsche. From the very outset he freed himself from all national and even racial prejudices, and could see no particular reason why the kind of morality now prevailing in Europe, or countries like Europe, must necessarily and ultimately overcome and supplant all others. He therefore attacked the question with a perfectly open mind, and asked himself whether he quite understood the part the terms "good" and "evil" have played in human history.
Is morality—its justification in our midst and its mode of action—comprehended at all?—He replies to this question so daringly and so uprightly, that at first his clearness may only bewilder us.
These terms "good" and "evil," he tells us, are merely a means to the acquisition of power. And, indeed, in the very resistance we offer when he attempts to criticise our notions of morality, we tacitly acknowledge that in this morality our strength does actually reside. "No greater power on earth was found by Zarathustra than good and evil" "No people could live without first valuing; if a people will maintain itself, however, it must not value as its neighbour valueth."
In the last sentence we have seized Nietzsche's clue to the whole question. If you would maintain yourself, you cannot and must not value as your neighbour values. Good and evil, then, are not permanent absolute values; they are transient, relative values, serving an end which can be explained in terms of biology and anthropology.
But now let us halt a moment, for the sake of clearness, and let us inquire precisely how Nietzsche himself was led to this conclusion.
In the summer of 1864, when he was in his twentieth year, he was given some home work to do which he was expected to have ready by the end of the holidays. It was to consist of a Latin thesis upon some optional subject, and he chose "Theognis, the Aristocratic Poet of Megara."
While preparing the work he was struck with the author's use of the words "good" and "bad" as synonymous with aristocratic and plebeian, and it was this valuable hint which first set him on the right track. Theognis and his friends, being desirous of making their power prevail, were naturally compelled to regard any force which assailed that power as bad—"bad," in the sense of "dangerous to their order of power"; and thus it came to pass that Theognis, as an aristocrat in the heat of a struggle between an oligarchy and a democracy, spoke of the democratic values as "bad" and of those of his own party as "good."
The writing of this essay had other consequences which I shall only be able to refer to in the next chapter; but at present let it suffice to say that, in recognising the arbitrary use made by Theognis of the epithets good and bad in designating the oligarchy and the democracy respectively, Nietzsche was first induced to look upon morality merely as a weapon in the struggle for power, and he thus freed himself from all the usual bias which belongs to the absolutist's standpoint. Hence his claim to the surname "amoralist," and his use of the phrase "Beyond Good and Evil," as the title of one of his greatest works.
Let us, however, remember that although Nietzsche did undoubtedly take up a position beyond good and evil, in order to free himself temporarily from the gyves of all tradition, still this attitude was no more than a momentary one, and he ultimately became as rigid a moralist as the most exacting could desire. It was a new morality, however, or perhaps a forgotten one, which he ultimately preached, and with the view of preparing the ground for it he was in a measure obliged to destroy old idols. "He who hath to be a creator in good and evil," says Zarathustra, "verily, he hath first to be a destroyer, and to break values to pieces."
Assuming the position of the relativist, then, Nietzsche observed that, all morality, all use of the words "good" and "evil," is only an artifice for acquiring power. Turning to the animal kingdom, he went in search of support for his views, and very soon discovered that, in biology at least, no fact was at variance with his general hypothesis.
In nature every species of organic being behaves as if its kind alone ought ultimately to prevail on earth, and, whether it try to effect this end by open aggression or cowardly dissimulation, the motive in both cases is the same. The lion's good is the antelope's evil. If the antelope believed the lion's good to be its good, it would go and present itself without further ado before the lion's jaws. If the lion believed the antelope's good to be its good it would adopt vegetarianism forthwith and eschew its carnivorous habits for the rest of its days. Again, no parasite could share the notions of good and evil entertained by its victim, neither could the victims share the notions of good and evil entertained by the parasite. Everywhere, then, those modes of conduct are adopted and perpetuated by a species, which most conduce to the prevalence and extension of their particular kind, and that species which fails to discover the class of conduct best calculated to preserve and strengthen it gets overcome in the war of conduct which constitutes the incessant struggle for power.