On genealogy of morals

Genealogy (from Greek: γενεά, genea, “generation”; and λόγος, logos, “knowledge”) is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history. Genealogists use oral traditions, historical records, genetic analysis, and other records to obtain information about a family and to demonstrate kinship and pedigrees of its members.

Asceticism (from the Greek: ἄσκησις, áskēsis, “exercise” or “training”) describes a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from various worldly pleasures, often with the aim of pursuing religious and spiritual goals.

One has two choices after reading Nietzsche, to either hate him or like him. I like him and I am tempted to agree with him when he says he was born posthumously! In this polemic, he explores the origin of morality, tears into pieces christian morality and critiques the knowers or free spirits as he called them. He dwells on free will, politics giving a comparison with the Greek state as presented in the writings of Homer. It is a polemic worth reading!

In this genealogy he asks the question of what is the ascetic ideal. He tells as the ascetic priest is one who has said no to life and at the same time is a doctor to the weak. Among the free spirits he too does explore if there can be an ascetic ideal.

This is Nietzsche’s most important work on moral and political theory and offers a critique of moral values and traces the historical evolution of concepts such as guilt, conscience, responsibility, law and justice. In this polemic, he says any scholar interested in the history of morals has to start by looking at the pre-Homeric times.

He writes we need to know the conditions and circumstances under which the values grew up, developed and changed [morality as result, as symptom, as mask, as tartuffery, as sickness, as misunderstanding, but also morality as cause, remedy, stimulant, inhibition, poison] since we have neither had this knowledge up till now nor even desired it.  He goes on to say the origin of bad and good is related to master/ slave or noble and common. The slave sees everything the master does as bad, and for the master everything he does is good. This then is essentially the genesis of good and bad. He disagrees with the suggestion, that he finds untenable that what is good is what is useful or practical as argued by Herbert Spencer. He compares the problem to the relationship between the bird of prey and lambs. The lambs say to each other the birds of prey are evil and anyone like a lamb is good, the birds bear no grudge against the lambs – in fact they love them- nothing is tastier than a tender lamb.

He [Nietzsche] contends that priests make the most evil enemises precisely because they are powerless.  It is the priestly class who through a revaluation of values by rejecting the aristocratic value equation[good= noble = powerful = beautiful =happy = blessed] ventured to bring a reversal by saying only those who suffer are good, only the poor, the powerless, the lowly, the suffering, the deprived, the suffering, are the only pious people and for them alone does salvation belong. How true!

The weak, that is the priestly class, invented god and talk of their kingdom which is yet to come the kingdom of god and in the meantime they live in faith, in love and in hope. To enjoy this kingdom they tell you you have to live beyond death, eternal life, to get your recompense from god! He leaves open the question of rank of values and asks the future philosophers and scientists to solve the problem of values. In the second essay in this polemic, he looks at guilt, bad conscience and related matters and here he says in order for man to have a degree of control over the future, man must first have learnt to distinguish between what happens by accident and what by design and do to do this man must first become reliable, regular, necessary in essence responsible!

The knowledge of the extraordinary privilege of responsibility and power of himself and his destiny, his dominant instinct is what the sovereign man calls conscience.

He says the feeling of guilt originated in the contractual relationship between debtor and creditor, buyer and seller. The desire to punish, is here seen as a result of demand for payment of a debt. In the proportion to which the power and self-confidence of a community grows, its penal law becomes more lenient; this is to say the creditor becomes more human as his wealth increases and finally the amount of his wealth determines how much injury he can sustain without suffering from it.

He says of unbelievers, that we are far from being free spirits because we still believe in truth.  He asks this of the free spirits the truthful man, in that daring and final sense which faith in science presupposes, thus affirms another world from the one of life, nature and history…… must he not therefore deny its opposite, this world, our world, in doing?  He sets a task for the free spirits, that is, the value of truth is to be called into question.

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

19 thoughts on “On genealogy of morals

  1. john zande says:

    Quick question: if Nietzsche was a structure (a built environment) what would he be in your mind?


  2. poppies says:

    Is it a truth that the value of truth should be called into question? I ask in total seriousness.


  3. By inverting the natural order of good and evil, religion, or more specifically, Christianity, has replaced virtues with vices; the sufferer knows true happiness (Mother Theresa); through sin we attain grace (Saul), etc. What a perversion! Nietzsche rendered these beliefs visible to all those whom were willing to objectively seek knowledge. I am eternally – for what that’s worth – grateful to him.


  4. […] his book Genealogy of morals, Nietzsche makes the same argument and calls for a re-evaluation of morals. The difficulty I see is that after a while, these laws […]


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