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Nietzsche On The Genealogy of Morals, Essay Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1291

Essay

In his work, “On The Genealogy of Morals,” Friedrich on Nietzsche confronts many established interpretations of certain words like moral, justice, good and evil. The author poses formidable arguments that make the reader question their current understanding. The title of his work stems from the concept he proposes that one cannot truly understand the meaning of morals without first retracing back through to the creation of the word and its use. This views opens many concepts up for interpretation that have been taken for granted.

Nietzsche’s view that there is no such thing as morality can be recognized when he says, “Let’s proclaim this new demand: we need a critique of moral values, and we must first question the very value of these values (Nietzsche, 4).” The true nature of what it means to be moral, he feels cannot be assessed without understanding the true nature of the terms that people use to define morality. He believes that the bible mandated certain moral values that became recognized as a matter of fact. As time progressed no one questioned the true nature of what it means to be a moral person, they just identified certain terms or behavior associated with those terms, as moral and those countering that behavior as immoral. It is on these grounds that Nietzsche establishes that morality does not exist.

He goes on to connect this to societies understanding of the ‘good’ and ‘evil’ man; he say that, “People have taken the worth of these “values” as something given, as self-evident, as beyond all dispute. Up until now people have also not had the least doubts about or wavered in setting up “the good man” as more valuable than “the evil man,” of higher worth in the sense of the improvement, usefulness, and prosperity of mankind in general (along with the future of humanity) (Nietzsche, 4).”  Nietzsche puts the common understanding of terms like ‘good’ and ‘evil’ moral or immoral into question. He points out that they can easily be flipped on their head to exchange interpretations. He poses the question to the reader, “What if the truth were the other way around? What if in the “good” there lay a symptom of regression, something like a danger, a seduction, a poison, a narcotic, something which makes the present live at the cost of the future (Nietzsche, 4)?” This is Nietzsche’s attempt to create doubt in the mind of the reader to open them up for deeper understanding of the concept of what it means to be good or evil. He acknowledges that an integral part of perceiving something to be good deals with preservation and progress and bad is perceived as wasteful or degrading, not just lesser in value, but declining in value. When he suggests reversing this concepts so that ‘good’ can embody what are normally negative themes of interpretation, it touches on many of the concepts used in suggestive marketing or film propaganda. It’s very similar to the common practice of the Hollywood film industry to imply that it’s cool to smoke cigarettes by having attractive celebrities lighting up on camera. This can also be seen with political news shows, and party based agenda of their reporting.

A core connecting concept the authors spends a lot time on is his view of justice. On justice Nietzsche notes that, with justice it’s been said that “Everything has its price, everything can be paid off”—the oldest and most naïve moral principle of justice, the beginning of all “good nature,” all “fairness,” all “good will,” all “objectivity” on earth. Justice at this first stage is good will among those approximately equal in power to come to terms with each other, to “understand” each other again by compensation—and in relation to those less powerful, to compel them to arrive at some settlement among themselves (Nietzche, p34).” In comparison with the common societal view of justice, where it is the pursuit of truth and that which is morally or legally right, Nietzsche reveals how is basically an agreement of exchange setup between two members of the upper, or controlling classes. He goes on to point out that the way justice is managed in society is done through a system of compensation, so if one violent act is done that leads to injuring an innocent person, then a standard form of compensation is agreed upon for all infringements of this type. By handling the infractions this way there are no feelings of resentment. “Justice, which started by stating “Everything is capable of being paid for, everything must be paid off” ends at that point, by covering its eyes and letting the person incapable of payment go free—it ends, as every good thing on earth ends, by doing away with itself. This self-negation of justice—we know what a beautiful name it calls itself—mercy. It goes without saying that mercy remains the privilege of the most powerful man, or even better, his beyond the law (Nietzsche, p35). Here Nietzsche tries to suggest that justice does not exist either by attempting to convince the reader that ultimately those who do not subscribe to the system of justice are not held responsible for their actions. He argues that if one can’t pay they are simply let go. The problem with this metaphorical perspective is that it’s parallel with the man made justice system.

On the concept of ‘guilt’, it can be perceived that Nietzsche’s views are very similar to his perspective of morality. He takes the view that those who are accused of being guilty. He uses an example, commenting on the relationship between Rome and the Jews; “Rome felt that the Jews were something contrary to nature itself, something like its monstrous polar opposite. In Rome the Jew was considered “guilty of hatred against the entire human race.” And that view was correct, to the extent we are right to link the health and the future of the human race to the unconditional rule of aristocratic values, the Roman values (Nietzsche, 23).” Here the author takes on the challenging topic of guilt, and he points out how not only is guilt relative who is perceiving it. He uses the example of Rome to point out that not all individuals subscribe to the same thinking. One can easily be proud or rewarding from performing act that would make an outsider perceive them as guilty.

In sum, Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of morality and justice are more in-depth and fully realized than those of the common man. He takes an approach to these concepts that were both innovative for his time as well as applicable to the generations that preceded him. All of these concepts ultimately bring one to a better appreciated understanding of one’s self. This is Nietzsche’s main goal. He opens his work with the simple question, “How could it ever happen that one day we’d discover our own selves?” It brings to question if one can’t truly know themselves than what can they truly know? It’s no wonder why he proceeds to completely deconstruct core shared understanding. He says ,”Where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also.” Our treasure lies where the beehives of our knowledge stand. We are always busy with our knowledge, as if we were born winged creatures—collectors of intellectual honey. In our hearts we are basically concerned with only one thing, to “bring something home (Nietzsche, p1).” His concept of tracing the genealogy of morals comes from the thought that before one can know what it means to be moral, they must first retrace the concept of morality to the source.  Nietzsche ultimately identifies the source of morality as it is most commonly understood, as a Christian construct.

Reference

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Genealogy of Morals. Translated by Horace Samuel. New York: Russell and Russell, 1964.

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