What Nietzsche Taught

Page 45 of 74

("Zur Genealogie der Moral") was written by Nietzsche primarily as an elaboration and elucidation of the philosophic points which were merely sketched in "Beyond Good and Evil." This former work had met with small success, and the critics, failing to understand its doctrines, read converse meanings in it. One critic hailed Nietzsche at once as an anarchist, and this review went far in actuating him in drawing up the three essays which comprise the present book. As will be remembered, several of Nietzsche's most important principles were stated and outlined in "Beyond Good and Evil," especially his doctrine of slave-morality and master-morality. Now he undertakes to develop this proposition, as well as many others which he set forth provisionally in his earlier work. This new polemic may be looked upon both as a completing of former works and as a further preparation for "The Will to Power." The book, a comparatively brief one (it contains barely 40,000 words), was written in a period of about two weeks during the early part of 1887. In July the manuscript was sent to the publisher, but was recalled for revisions and addenda; and most of Nietzsche's summer was devoted to correcting it. Later that same year the book appeared; and thereby its author acquired another friendly reader,[Pg 205] Georg Brandes, to whom, more than to any other critic, Nietzsche owes his early recognition.

The style of "The Genealogy of Morals" is less aphoristic than any of the books which immediately preceded or followed it. Few new doctrines are propounded in it; and since it was for the most part an analytic commentary on what had gone before, its expositional needs were best met by Nietzsche's earlier style of writing. I have spoken before of the desultory and sporadic manner in which Nietzsche was necessitated to present his philosophy. Nowhere is his method of work better exemplified than in this new work. Nearly every one of his books overlaps another. Propositions are sketchily stated in one essay, which receive elucidation only in future volumes. "Beyond Good and Evil" was a commentary on "Thus Spake Zarathustra"; "The Genealogy of Morals" is a commentary on the newly propounded theses in "Beyond Good and Evil" and is in addition an elaboration of many of the ideas which took birth as far back as "Human, All-Too-Human." Out of "The Genealogy of Morals" in turn grew "The Antichrist" which dealt specifically with the theological phase of the former's discussion of general morals. And all of these books were but preparations for "The Will to Power." For this reason it is difficult to acquire a complete understanding of Nietzsche's philosophy unless one follows it consecutively and chronologically. The book at present under discussion is a most valuable one from an academic standpoint, for, while it may not set forth any new and important doctrines, it goes deep into the origins and history of moral concepts, and explains many of the important conclusions in Nietzsche's moral code. It brings more and more into prominence the main[Pg 206] pillars of his ethical system and explains at length the steps in the syllogism which led to his doctrine of master-morality. It ascertains the origin of the concept of sin, and describes the racial deterioration which has followed in the train of Christian ideals.

In many ways this book is the profoundest of all the writings Nietzsche left us. For the first time he separates theological and moral prejudices and traces them to different origins. This is one of the most important steps taken by him. By so doing he became an explorer of entirely new fields. The moral historians and psychologists who preceded him had considered moral precepts and Christian injunctions as stemming from the same source: their genealogies had led them to the same common spring. Nietzsche entered the search with new methods. He applied the philologie test to all moral values. He brought to his task, in addition to a historical sense, what he calls "an innate faculty of psychological discrimination par excellence." He posed the following questions, and endeavoured to answer them by inquiring into the minutest aspects of historical conditions: "Under what conditions did Man invent for himself those judgments of value, 'good' and 'evil'? And what intrinsic value do they possess in themselves? Have they up to the present hindered or advanced human well-being"? Are they a symptom of the distress, impoverishment, and degeneration of Human Life? Or, conversely, is it in them that is manifested the fulness, the strength, and the will of Life, its courage, its self-confidence, its future?" In his research, Nietzsche first questioned the value of pity. He found it to be a symptom of modern civilisation—a quality held in contempt by the older philosophers, even by such widely dissimilar[Pg 207] minds as Plato, Spinoza, La Rochefoucauld and Kant—but a quality given high place by the more modern thinkers. Despite the seemingly apparent isolation of the problem of pity-morality, Nietzsche saw that in truth it was a question which underlay all other moral propositions; and, using it as a ground-work for his research, he began to question the utility of all those values held as "good," to apply the qualities of the "good man" to the needs of civilisation, and to inquire into the results left upon the race by the "bad man."

So great was the misunderstanding which attached to his phrase, "beyond good and evil," and so persistently was this phrase interpreted in its narrow sense of "beyond good and bad," that he felt the necessity of drawing the line of distinction between these two diametrically opposed conceptions and of explaining the origin of each. His first essay in "The Genealogy of Morals" is devoted to this task. At the outset he devotes considerable space criticising the methods and conclusions of former genealogists of morals, especially of the English psychologists who attribute an intrinsic merit to altruism because at one time altruism possessed a utilitarian value. Herbert Spencer's theory that "good" is the same as "purposive" brings from Nietzsche a protest founded on the contention that because a thing was at one time useful, and therefore "good," it does not follow that the thing is good in itself. By the etymology of the descriptive words of morality, Nietzsche traces the history of modern moral attributes through class distinctions to their origin in the instincts of the "nobles" and the "vulgarians." He shows the relationship between the Latin bonus and the "warrior," by deriving bonus from duonus. Bellum, he shows, equals duellum which equals duen-lum, in[Pg 208] which word duonus is contained. Likewise, he points out the aristocratic origin of "happiness"—a quality arising from an abundance of energy and the consciousness of power.

"Good and evil," according to Nietzsche, is a sign of slave-morality; while "good and bad" represents the qualities in the master-morality. The one stands for the adopted qualities of the subservient races; the other embodies the natural functioning of dominating races. The origin of the "good" in these two instances is by no means the same. In the strong man "good" represented an entirely different condition than the "good" in the resentful and weak man; and these two "goods" arose out of different causes. The one was spontaneous and natural—inherent in the individual of strength: the other was a manufactured condition, an optional selection of qualities to soften and ameliorate the conditions of existence. "Evil" and "bad," by the same token, became attributes originating in widely separated sources. The "evil" of the weak man was any condition which worked against the manufactured ideals of goodness, which brought about unhappiness—it was the beginning of the conception of a slave-morality, a term applied to all enemies. The "bad" of the strong man was the concept which grew directly out of his feeling for "good," and which had no application to another individual. Thus the ideas of "good" and "bad" are directly inherited from the nobles of the race, and these ideas included within themselves the tendency toward establishing social distinctions.

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