On the Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic (German: Zur Genealogie der Moral: Eine Streitschrift) is an 1887 book by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. It consists of a preface and three interrelated essays that expand and follow through on concepts Nietzsche sketched out in Beyond Good and Evil (1886). The three Abhandlungen trace episodes in the evolution of moral concepts with a view to confronting "moral prejudices", specifically those of Christianity and Judaism.
Some Nietzsche scholars consider Genealogy to be a work of sustained brilliance and power as well as his masterpiece. Since its publication, it has influenced many authors and philosophers.
Nietzsche's treatise outlines his thoughts "on the origin of our moral prejudices" previously given brief expression in his Human, All Too Human (1878). Nietzsche attributes the desire to publish his "hypotheses" on the origins of morality to reading his friend Paul Rée's book The Origin of the Moral Sensations (1877) and finding the "genealogical hypotheses" offered there unsatisfactory.
Nietzsche decided that "a critique of moral values" was needed, that "the value of these values themselves must be called into question". To this end Nietzsche provides a history of morality, rather than a hypothetical account in the style of Rée, whom Nietzsche classifies as an "English psychologist" (using "English" to designate an intellectual temperament, as distinct from a nationality).
First Treatise: "'Good and Evil', 'Good and Bad'"
See also: Good and evil
In the "First Treatise", Nietzsche demonstrates that the two opposite pairs "good/evil" and "good/bad" have very different origins, and that the word "good" itself came to represent two opposed meanings. In the "good/bad" distinction, "good" is synonymous with nobility and everything which is powerful and life-asserting; in the "good/evil" distinction, which Nietzsche calls "slave morality", the meaning of "good" is made the antithesis of the original aristocratic "good", which itself is re-labelled "evil". This inversion of values develops out of the ressentiment of the powerful by the weak.
Nietzsche rebukes the "English psychologists" for lacking historical sense. They seek to do moral genealogy by explaining altruism in terms of the utility of altruistic actions, which is subsequently forgotten as such actions become the norm. But the judgment "good", according to Nietzsche, originates not with the beneficiaries of altruistic actions. Rather, the good themselves (the powerful) coined the term "good". Further, Nietzsche sees it as psychologically absurd that altruism derives from a utility that is forgotten: if it is useful, what is the incentive to forget it? Such meaningless value-judgment gains currency . . . by expectations repeatedly shaping the consciousness.
From the aristocratic mode of valuation another mode of valuation branches off, which develops into its opposite: the priestly mode. Nietzsche proposes that longstanding confrontation between the priestly caste and the warrior caste fuels this splitting of meaning. The priests, and all those who feel disenfranchised and powerless in a situation of subjugation and physical impotence (e.g., slavery), develop a deep and venomous hatred for the powerful. Thus originates what Nietzsche calls the "slave revolt in morality", which, according to him, begins with Judaism (§7), for it is the bridge that led to the slave revolt by Christian morality of the alienated, oppressed masses of the Roman Empire (a dominant theme in The Antichrist, written the following year).
To the noble life, justice is immediate, real, and good, necessarily requiring enemies. In contrast, slave morality believes, through "ressentiment" and the self-deception that the weak are actually the wronged meek deprived of the power to act with immediacy, that justice is a deferred event, an imagined revenge which will eventually win everlasting life for the weak and vanquish the strong. This imaginary "good" (the delusion of the weak) replaces the aristocratic "good" (the strong decide) which in turn is rebranded "evil", to replace "bad", which to the noble meant "worthless" and "ill-born" (as in the Greek words κακος and δειλος).
In the First Treatise, Nietzsche introduces one of his most controversial images, the "blond beast". He had previously employed this expression to represent the lion, an image that is central to his philosophy and made its first appearance in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
Nietzsche expressly insists it is a mistake to hold beasts of prey to be "evil", for their actions stem from their inherent strength, rather than any malicious intent. One should not blame them for their "thirst for enemies and resistances and triumphs" (§13). Similarly, it is a mistake to resent the strong for their actions, because, according to Nietzsche, there is no metaphysical subject. Only the weak need the illusion of the subject (or soul) to hold their actions together as a unity. But they have no right to make the bird of prey accountable for being a bird of prey.
Nietzsche concludes his First Treatise by hypothesizing a tremendous historical struggle between the Roman dualism of "good/bad" and that of the Judaic "good/evil", with the latter eventually achieving a victory for ressentiment, broken temporarily by the Renaissance, but then reasserted by the Reformation, and finally confirmed by the French Revolution when the "ressentiment instincts of the rabble" triumphed.
The First Treatise concludes with a brief section (§17) stating his own allegiance to the good/bad system of evaluation, followed by a note calling for further examination of the history of moral concepts and the hierarchy of values.
Second Treatise: "'Guilt', 'Bad Conscience', and Related Matters"
In the "Second Treatise" Nietzsche advances his thesis that the origin of the institution of punishment is in a straightforward (pre-moral) creditor/debtor relationship.
Man relies on the apparatus of forgetfulness [which has been "bred" into him] in order not to become bogged down in the past. This forgetfulness is, according to Nietzsche, an active "faculty of repression", not mere inertia or absentmindedness. Man needs to develop an active faculty to work in opposition to this, so promises necessary for exercising control over the future can be made: this is memory.
This control over the future allows a "morality of custom" to establish. (Such morality is sharply differentiated from Christian or other "ascetic" moralities.) The product of this morality, the autonomous individual, comes to see that he may inflict harm on those who break their promises to him. Punishment, then, is a transaction in which the injury to the autonomous individual is compensated for by the pain inflicted on the culprit. Such punishment is meted out without regard for moral considerations about the free will of the culprit, his accountability for his actions, and the like: it is simply an expression of anger. The creditor is compensated for the injury done by the pleasure he derives from the infliction of cruelty on the debtor. Hence the concept of guilt (Schuld) derives from the concept of debt (Schulden).
Nietzsche develops the "major point of historical methodology": that one must not equate the origin of a thing and its utility. The origin of punishment, for example, is in a procedure that predates punishment. Punishment has not just one purpose, but a whole range of "meanings" which "finally crystallizes into a kind of unity that is difficult to dissolve, difficult to analyze and [...] completely and utterly undefinable" (§13). The process by which the succession of different meanings is imposed is driven by the "will to power"—the basic instinct for domination underlying all human action. Nietzsche lists eleven different uses (or "meanings") of punishment, and suggests that there are many more. One utility it does not possess, however, is awakening remorse. The psychology of prisoners shows that punishment "makes hard and cold; it concentrates; it sharpens the feeling of alienation" (§14).
The real explanation of bad conscience is quite different. A form of social organization, i.e. a "state," is imposed by "some pack of blond beasts of prey, a race of conquerors and lords." Such a race is able to do so even if those they subject to their power are vastly superior in numbers because these subjects are "still formless, still roaming about", while the conquerors are characterized by an "instinctive creating of forms, impressing of forms" (§17). Under such conditions the destructive, sadistic instincts of man, who is by nature a nomadic hunter, find themselves constricted and thwarted; they are therefore turned inward. Instead of roaming in the wilderness, man now turns himself into "an adventure, a place of torture.” Bad conscience is thus man's instinct for freedom (his "will to power") "driven back, suppressed, imprisoned within" (§17).
Nietzsche accounts for the genesis of the concept "god" by considering what happens when a tribe becomes ever more powerful. In a tribe, the current generation pays homage to its ancestors, offering sacrifices as a demonstration of gratitude. As the power of the tribe grows, the need to offer thanks to the ancestors does not decline, but rather increases; as it has ever more reason to pay homage to the ancestors and to fear them. At the maximum of fear, the ancestor is "necessarily transfigured into a god" (§19).
Nietzsche ends the Treatise with a positive suggestion for a counter-movement to the "conscience-vivisection and cruelty to the animal-self" imposed by the bad conscience: this is to "wed to bad conscience the unnatural inclinations", i.e. to use the self-destructive tendency encapsulated in bad conscience to attack the symptoms of sickness themselves. It is much too early for the kind of free spirit—a Zarathustra-figure—who could bring this about, although he will come one day: he will emerge only in a time of emboldening conflict, not in the "decaying, self-doubting present" (§24).
Third Treatise: "What do ascetic ideals mean?"
Nietzsche's purpose in the "Third Treatise" is "to bring to light, not what [the ascetic] ideal has done, but simply what it means; what it indicates; what lies hidden behind it, beneath it, in it; of what it is the provisional, indistinct expression, overlaid with question marks and misunderstandings" (§23).
As Nietzsche tells us in the Preface, the Third Treatise is a commentary on the aphorism prefixed to it. Textual studies have shown that this aphorism consists of §1 of the Treatise (not the epigraph to the Treatise, which is a quotation from Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra).
This opening aphorism confronts us with the multiplicity of meanings that the ascetic ideal has for different groups: (a) artists, (b) philosophers, (c) women, (d) physiological casualties, (e) priests, and (f) saints. The ascetic ideal, we may thus surmise, means very little in itself, other than as a compensation for humanity's need to have some goal or other. As Nietzsche puts it, man "will rather will nothingness than not will".
(a) For the artist, the ascetic ideal means "nothing or too many things". Nietzsche selects the composer Richard Wagner as example. Artists, he concludes, always require some ideology to prop themselves up. Wagner, we are told, relied on Schopenhauer to provide this underpinning; therefore we should look to philosophers if we are to get closer to finding out what the ascetic ideal means.
(b) For the philosopher, it means a "sense and instinct for the most favorable conditions of higher spirituality", which is to satisfy his desire for independence. It is only in the guise of the ascetic priest that the philosopher is first able to make his appearance without attracting suspicion of his overweening will to power. As yet, every "true" philosopher has retained the trappings of the ascetic priest; his slogans have been "poverty, chastity, humility."
(e) For the priest, its meaning is the "'supreme' license for power". He sets himself up as the "saviour" of (d) the physiologically deformed, offering them a cure for their exhaustion and listlessness (which is in reality only a therapy which does not tackle the roots of their suffering).
Nietzsche suggests a number of causes for widespread physiological inhibition: (i) the crossing of races; (ii) emigration of a race to an unsuitable environment (e.g. the Indians to India); (iii) the exhaustion of a race (e.g. Parisian pessimism from 1850); (iv) bad diet (e.g. vegetarianism); (v) diseases of various kinds, including malaria and syphilis (e.g. German depression after the Thirty Years' War) (§17).
The ascetic priest has a range of strategies for anesthetizing the continuous, low-level pain of the weak. Four of these are innocent in the sense that they do the patient no further harm: (1) a general deadening of the feeling of life; (2) mechanical activity; (3) "small joys", especially love of one's neighbour; (4) the awakening of the communal feeling of power. He further has a number of strategies which are guilty in the sense that they have the effect of making the sick sicker (although the priest applies them with a good conscience); they work by inducing an "orgy of feeling" (Gefühls-Ausschweifung). He does this by "altering the direction of ressentiment," i.e. telling the weak to look for the causes of their unhappiness in themselves (in "sin"), not in others. Such training in repentance is responsible, according to Nietzsche, for phenomena such as the St Vitus' and St John's dancers of the Middle Ages, witch-hunthysteria, somnambulism (of which there were eight epidemics between 1564 and 1605), and the delirium characterized by the widespread cry of evviva la morte! ("long live death!").
Given the extraordinary success of the ascetic ideal in imposing itself on our entire culture, what can we look to oppose it? "Where is the counterpart to this closed system of will, goal, and interpretation?" (§23) Nietzsche considers as possible opponents of the ideal: (a) modern science; (b) modern historians; (c) "comedians of the ideal" (§27).
(a) Science is in fact the "most recent and noblest form" of the ascetic ideal. It has no faith in itself, and acts only as a means of self-anesthetization for sufferers (scientists) who do not want to admit they suffer. In apparent opposition to the ascetic ideal, science has succeeded merely in demolishing the ideal's "outworks, sheathing, play of masks, [...] its temporary solidification, lignification, dogmatization" (§25). By dismantling church claims to the theological importance of man, scientists substitute their self-contempt [cynicism] as the ideal of science.
(b) Modern historians, in trying to hold up a mirror to ultimate reality, are not only ascetic but highly nihilistic. As deniers of teleology, their "last crowings" are "To what end?," "In vain!," "Nada!" (§26)
(c) An even worse kind of historian is what Nietzsche calls the "contemplatives": self-satisfied armchair hedonists who have arrogated to themselves the praise of contemplation (Nietzsche gives Ernest Renan as an example). Europe is full of such "comedians of the Christian-moral ideal." In a sense, if anyone is inimical to the ideal it is they, because they at least "arouse mistrust" (§27).
The will to truth that is bred by the ascetic ideal has in its turn led to the spread of a truthfulness the pursuit of which has brought the will to truth itself in peril. What is thus now required, Nietzsche concludes, is a critique of the value of truth itself (§24).
Reception and influence
The work has received a multitude of citations and references from subsequent philosophical books as well as literary articles, works of fiction, and the like. On the Genealogy of Morality is considered by many academics to be Nietzsche's most important work, and, despite its polemical content, out of all of his works the one that perhaps comes closest to a systematic and sustained exposition of his ideas. Some of the contents and many symbols and metaphors portrayed in On the Genealogy of Morality, together with its tripartite structure, seem to be based on and influenced by Heinrich Heine's On the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany.
In philosophy, the genealogical method is a historical technique in which one questions the commonly understood emergence of various philosophical and social beliefs by attempting to account for the scope, breadth or totality of ideology within the time period in question, as opposed to focusing on a singular or dominant ideology. In epistemology, it has been first used by Nietzsche and later by Michel Foucault, who tried to expand and apply the concept of genealogy as a novel method of research in sociology (evinced principally in "histories" of sexuality and punishment). In this aspect Foucault was heavily influenced by Nietzsche.
Others have adapted "genealogy" in a looser sense to inform their work. An example is the attempt by the British philosopher Bernard Williams to vindicate the value of truthfulness using lines of argument derived from genealogy in his book Truth and Truthfulness (2002). Daniel Dennett wrote that On The Genealogy of Morality is "one of the first and still subtlest of the Darwinian investigations of the evolution of ethics".Stephen Greenblatt has said in an interview that On The Genealogy of Morality was the most important influence on his life and work.
The book is referenced and discussed in Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1975 film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom.
- The Birth of Tragedy & the Genealogy of Morals, translated by Francis Golffing, Anchor Books, 1956, ISBN 0-385-09210-5
- On The Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, translated and edited by Walter Kaufmann (translation of On the Genealogy in collaboration with R. J. Hollingdale), New York: Vintage, 1967; this version also included in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, New York: Modern Library, 2000, ISBN 0-679-72462-1.
- On the Genealogy of Morality, translated by Carol Diethe and edited by Keith Ansell-Pearson, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994, ISBN 0-521-87123-9.
- On the Genealogy of Morals, translated and edited by Douglas Smith, Oxford: Oxford World's Classics, 1996, ISBN 0-19-283617-X.
- On the Genealogy of Morality, translated and edited by Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998, ISBN 0-87220-283-6.
- Jenseits von Gut und Böse. Zur Genealogie der Moral, edited by Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari, Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 2002.
- The Genealogy of Morals, translated by Horace Barnett Samuel, New York: Courier Dover Publications, 2003, ISBN 0-486-42691-2.
- On the Genealogy of Morals, translated by Michael A. Scarpitti and edited by Robert C. Holub (Penguin Classics) 2013. ISBN 0141195371
Notes and references
- ^C. Janaway, Beyond Selflessness: Reading Nietzsche's Genealogy (OUP, 2007), p. 1
- ^The Birth of Tragedy & the Genealogy of Morals, translated by Francis Golffing, Anchor Books, 1956, p.153
- ^Schacht, Richard, ed. Nietzsche, Genealogy, Morality: Essays on Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.
- ^See B. Leiter, Nietzsche on Morality (Routledge, 2002), p. 73; W. Stegmaier, Nietzsches "Genealogie der Moral" (Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1994), p. 7.; G. Deleuze, Nietzsche et la philosophie (PUF, 1962), pp. 99.
- ^Darwin's Dangerous Idea.
- ^Barnes & Noble: Meet the writers. Archived from the original on 2012-02-10.
We are unknown, we knowers, ourselves to ourselves: this has its own good reason. We have never searched for ourselves—how should it then come to pass, that we should ever find ourselves? Rightly has it been said: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Our treasure is there, where stand the hives of our knowledge. It is to those hives that we are always striving; as born creatures of flight, and as the honey-gatherers of the spirit, we care really in our hearts only for one thing—to bring something "home to the hive!"
As far as the rest of life with its so-called "experiences" is concerned, which of us has even sufficient serious interest? or sufficient time? In our dealings with such points of life, we are, I fear, never properly to the point; to be precise, our heart is not there, and certainly not our ear. Rather like one who, delighting in a divine distraction, or sunken in the seas of his own soul, in whose ear the clock has just thundered with all its force its twelve strokes of noon, suddenly wakes up, and asks himself, "What has in point of fact just struck?" so do we at times rub after-wards, as it were, our puzzled ears, and ask in complete astonishment and complete embarrassment, "Through what have we in point of fact just lived?" further, "Who are we in point of fact?" and count, after they have struck, as I have explained, all the twelve throbbing beats of the clock of our experience, of our life, of our being—ah!—and count wrong in the endeavour. Of necessity we remain strangers to ourselves, we understand ourselves not, in ourselves we are bound to be mistaken, for of us holds good to all eternity the motto, "Each one is the farthest away from himself"—as far as ourselves are concerned we are not "knowers."
My thoughts concerning the genealogy of our moral prejudices—for they constitute the issue in this polemic— have their first, bald, and provisional expression in that collection of aphorisms entitled Human, all-too-Human, a Book for Free Minds, the writing of which was begun in Sorrento, during a winter which allowed me to gaze over the broad and dangerous territory through which my mind had up to that time wandered. This took place in the winter of 1876-77; the thoughts themselves are older.
They were in their substance already the same thoughts which I take up again in the following treatises:—we hope that they have derived benefit from the long interval, that they have grown riper, clearer, stronger, more complete. The fact, however, that I still cling to them even now, that in the meanwhile they have always held faster by each other, have, in fact, grown out of their original shape and into each other, all this strengthens in my mind the joyous confidence that they must have been originally neither separate disconnected capricious nor sporadic phenomena, but have sprung from a common root, from a fundamental "fiat" of knowledge, whose empire reached to the soul's depth, and that ever grew more definite in its voice, and more definite in its demands. That is the only state of affairs that is proper in the case of a philosopher.
We have no right to be "disconnected"; we must neither err "disconnectedly" nor strike the truth "disconnectedly." Rather with the necessity with which a tree bears its fruit, so do our thoughts, our values, our Yes's and No's and If's and Whether's, grow connected and interrelated, mutual witnesses of one will, one health, one kingdom, one sun—as to whether they are to your taste, these fruits of ours?—But what matters that to the trees? What matters that to us, us the philosophers?
Owing to a scrupulosity peculiar to myself, which I confess reluctantly,—it concerns indeed morality,—a scrupulosity, which manifests itself in my life at such an early period, with so much spontaneity, with so chronic a persistence and so keen an opposition to environment, epoch, precedent, and ancestry that I should have been almost entitled to style it my "â priori"—my curiosity and my suspicion felt themselves betimes bound to halt at the question, of what in point of actual fact was the origin of our "Good" and of our "Evil." Indeed, at the boyish age of thirteen the problem of the origin of Evil already haunted me: at an age "when games and God divide one's heart," I devoted to that problem my first childish attempt at the literary game, my first philosophic essay— and as regards my infantile solution of the problem, well, I gave quite properly the honour to God, and made him the father of evil. Did my own "â priori" demand that precise solution from me? that new, immoral, or at least "amoral" "â priori" and that "categorical imperative" which was its voice (but, oh! how hostile to the Kantian article, and how pregnant with problems!), to which since then I have given more and more attention, and indeed what is more than attention. Fortunately I soon learned to separate theological from moral prejudices, and I gave up looking for a supernatural origin of evil. A certain amount of historical and philological education, to say nothing of an innate faculty of psychological discrimination par excellence succeeded in transforming almost immediately my original problem into the following one:—Under what conditions did Man invent for himself those judgments of values, "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? On this point I found and hazarded in my mind the most diverse answers, I established distinctions in periods, peoples, and castes, I became a specialist in my problem, and from my answers grew new questions, new investigations, new conjectures, new probabilities; until at last I had a land of my own and a soil of my own, a whole secret world growing and flowering, like hidden gardens of whose existence no one could have an inkling—oh, how happy are we, we finders of knowledge, provided that we know how to keep silent sufficiently long.
My first impulse to publish some of my hypotheses concerning the origin of morality I owe to a clear, well-written, and even precocious little book, in which a perverse and vicious kind of moral philosophy (your real English kind) was definitely presented to me for the first time; and this attracted me—with that magnetic attraction, inherent in that which is diametrically opposed and antithetical to one's own ideas. The title of the book was The Origin of the Moral Emotions; its author, Dr. Paul Rée; the year of its appearance, 1877. I may almost say that I have never read anything in which every single dogma and conclusion has called forth from me so emphatic a negation as did that book; albeit a negation untainted by either pique or intolerance. I referred accordingly both in season and out of season in the previous works, at which I was then working, to the arguments of that book, not to refute them—for what have I got to do with mere refutations—but substituting, as is natural to a positive mind, for an improbable theory one which is more probable, and occasionally no doubt for one philosophic error another. In that early period I gave, as I have said, the first public expression to those theories of origin to which these essays are devoted, but with a clumsiness which I was the last to conceal from myself, for I was as yet cramped, being still without a special language for these special subjects, still frequently liable to relapse and to vacillation. To go into details, compare what I say in Human, all-too-Human, part i., about the parallel early history of Good and Evil, Aph. 45 (namely, their origin from the castes of the aristocrats and the slaves); similarly, Aph. 136 et seq., concerning the birth and value of ascetic morality; similarly, Aphs. 96, 99, vol. ii., Aph. 89, concerning the Morality of Custom, that far older and more original kind of morality which is toto cælo different from the altruistic ethics (in which Dr. Ree, like all the English moral philosophers, sees the ethical "Thing-initself"); finally, Aph. 92. Similarly, Aph. 26 in Human, all-too-Human, part ii., and Aph. 112, the Dawn of Day, concerning the origin of Justice as a balance between persons of approximately equal power (equilibrium as the hypothesis of all contract, consequently of all law); similarly, concerning the origin of Punishment, Human, all-too-Human, part ii., Aphs. 22, 23, in regard to which the deterrent object is neither essential nor original (as Dr. Ree thinks:—rather is it that this object is only imported, under certain definite conditions, and always as something extra and additional).
In reality I had set my heart at that time on something much more important than the nature of the theories of myself or others concerning the origin of morality (or, more precisely, the real function from my view of these theories was to point an end to which they were one among many means). The issue for me was the value of morality, and on that subject I had to place myself in a state of abstraction, in which I was almost alone with my great teacher Schopenhauer, to whom that book, with all its passion and inherent contradiction (for that book also was a polemic), turned for present help as though he were still alive. The issue was, strangely enough, the value of the "unegoistic" instincts, the instincts of pity, self-denial, and self-sacrifice which Schopenhauer had so persistently painted in golden colours, deified and etherealised, that eventually they appeared to him, as it were, high and dry, as "intrinsic values in themselves," on the strength of which he uttered both to Life and to himself his own negation. But against these very instincts there voiced itself in my soul a more and more fundamental mistrust, a scepticism that dug ever deeper and deeper: and in this very instinct I saw the great danger of mankind, its most sublime temptation and seduction—seduction to what? to nothingness?—in these very instincts I saw the beginning of the end, stability, the exhaustion that gazes backwards, the will turning against Life, the last illness announcing itself with its own mincing melancholy: I realised that the morality of pity which spread wider and wider, and whose grip infected even philosophers with its disease, was the most sinister symptom of our modern European civilisation; I realised that it was the route along which that civilisation slid on its way to—a new Buddhism?—a European Buddhism?—Nihilism? This exaggerated estimation in which modern philosophers have held pity, is quite a new phenomenon: up to that time philosophers were absolutely unanimous as to the worthlessness of pity. I need only mention Plato, Spinoza, La Rochefoucauld, and Kant—four minds as mutually different as is possible, but united on one point; their contempt of pity.
This problem of the value of pity and of the pity-morality (I am an opponent of the modern infamous emasculation of our emotions) seems at the first blush a mere isolated problem, a note of interrogation for itself; he, however, who once halts at this problem, and learns how to put questions, will experience what I experienced:—a new and immense vista unfolds itself before him, a sense of potentiality seizes him like a vertigo, every species of doubt, mistrust, and fear springs up, the belief in morality, nay, in all morality, totters,—finally a new demand voices itself. Let us speak out this new demand: we need a critique of moral values, the value of these values is for the first time to be called into question—and for this purpose a knowledge is necessary of the conditions and circumstances out of which these values grew, and under which they experienced their evolution and their distortion (morality as a result, as a symptom, as a mask, as Tartuffism, as disease, as a misunderstanding; but also morality as a cause, as a remedy, as a stimulant, as a fetter, as a drug), especially as such a knowledge has neither existed up to the present time nor is even now generally desired. The value of these "values" was taken for granted as an indisputable fact, which was beyond all question. No one has, up to the present, exhibited the faintest doubt or hesitation in judging the "good man" to be of a higher value than the "evil man," of a higher value with regard specifically to human progress, utility, and prosperity generally, not forgetting the future. What? Suppose the converse were the truth! What? Suppose there lurked in the "good man" a symptom of retrogression, such as a danger, a temptation, a poison, a narcotic, by means of which the present battened on the future! More comfortable and less risky perhaps than its opposite, but also pettier, meaner! So that morality would really be saddled with the guilt, if the maximum potentiality of the power and splendour of the human species were never to be attained? So that really morality would be the danger of dangers?
Enough, that after this vista had disclosed itself to me, I myself had reason to search for learned, bold, and industrious colleagues (I am doing it even to this very day). It means traversing with new clamorous questions, and at the same time with new eyes, the immense, distant, and completely unexplored land of morality—of a morality which has actually existed and been actually lived! and is this not practically equivalent to first discovering that land? If, in this context, I thought, amongst others, of the aforesaid Dr. Ree, I did so because I had no doubt that from the very nature of his questions he would be compelled to have recourse to a truer method, in order to obtain his answers. Have I deceived myself on that score? I wished at all events to give a better direction of vision to an eye of such keenness and such impartiality. I wished to direct him to the real history of morality, and to warn him, while there was yet time, against a world of English theories that culminated in the blue vacuum of heaven. Other colours, of course, rise immediately to one's mind as being a hundred times more potent than blue for a genealogy of morals:—for instance, grey, by which I mean authentic facts capable of definite proof and having actually existed, or, to put it shortly, the whole of that long hieroglyphic script (which is so hard to decipher) about the past history of human morals. This script was unknown to Dr. Ree; but he had read Darwin:—and so in his philosophy the Darwinian beast and that pink of modernity, the demure weakling and dilettante, who "bites no longer," shake hands politely in a fashion that is at least instructive, the latter exhibiting a certain facial expression of refined and good-humoured indolence, tinged with a touch of pessimism and exhaustion; as if it really did not pay to take all these things—I mean moral problems—so seriously. I, on the other hand, think that there are no subjects which pay better for being taken seriously; part of this payment is, that perhaps eventually they admit of being taken gaily. This gaiety, indeed, or, to use my own language, this joyful wisdom, is a payment; a payment for a protracted, brave, laborious, and burrowing seriousness, which, it goes without saying. is the attribute of but a few. But on that day on which we say from the fullness of our hearts, "Forward! our old morality too is fit material for Comedy, we shall have discovered a new plot, and a new possibility for the Dionysian drama entitled The Soul's Fate—and he will speedily utilise it, one can wager safely, he, the great ancient eternal dramatist of the comedy of our existence.
If this writing be obscure to any individual, and jar on his ears, I do not think that it is necessarily I who am to blame. It is clear enough, on the hypothesis which I presuppose, namely, that the reader has first read my previous writings and has not grudged them a certain amount of trouble: it is not, indeed, a simple matter to get really at their essence. Take, for instance, my Zarathustra; I allow no one to pass muster as knowing that book, unless every single word therein has at some time wrought in him a profound wound, and at some time exercised on him a profound enchantment: then and not till then can he enjoy the privilege of participating reverently in the halcyon element, from which that work is born, in its sunny brilliance, its distance, its spaciousness, its certainty. In other cases the aphoristic form produces difficulty, but this is only because this form is treated too casually. An aphorism properly coined and cast into its final mould is far from being "deciphered" as soon as it has been read; on the contrary, it is then that it first requires to be expounded—of course for that purpose an art of exposition is necessary. The third essay in this book provides an example of what is offered, of what in such cases I call exposition: an aphorism is prefixed to that essay, the essay itself is its commentary. Certainly one quality which nowadays has been best forgotten—and that is why it will take some time yet for my writings to become readable—is essential in order to practise reading as an art—a quality for the exercise of which it is necessary to be a cow, and under no circumstances a modern man!—rumination.
- Sils-Maria, Upper Engadine,
- July, 1887.