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Nietzsche’s ‘On the Genealogy of Morals’

I started out this text really expecting to like Nietzsche. As much as I love fiction, I find these philosophy texts present, for the most part, bolder and more intriguing questions. However, while Nietzsche was certainly bold and intriguing, I found this text quite frustrating and difficult to get through. Though I could read his writing with less difficulty than Hobbes, I felt as though some of his arguments went straight over my head, despite the conversational tone he writes with. Usually I would say a conversational tone is more effective, as it makes the reader feel more included in the argument and resulting conclusion. But in this case I don’t think it did much for him. I’m greatly looking forward to the lecture to find some clarity for the ideas I may have misunderstood.

Going with the theme of interruption from Frankenstein, he even seems to interrupt himself every now and again. On page 96, after talking about the cost of ideas and our need for a man to redeem us, he says “But what am I saying? Enough! Enough!”. He then proceeds to leap into his third essay. It’s as though his argument is accidental, and simply come up with on the spot. This makes it feel slightly less organized, despite the distinction between the three different essays and the parts within each essay.

Nietzsche had an interesting opinion of language, a subject I’ve been hearing a lot about lately, in my psychology class and from Rousseau. He blames the way we phrase things (the need for a subject) for the way we perceive good and evil. His examples of the lamb and the bird of prey made clear an opinion which I haven’t encountered before, but seems to come across as common sense. That we associate action and will where we should not, as a bird cannot avoid acting and behaving like a bird, despite that we seem to say it has a choice.

Before reading this, I was largely unfamiliar with the concepts of nihilism and asceticism. I’d never heard of asceticism, and only briefly of nihilism because of a friend named Nile who claims, ironically, to be a nihilist. At first I had a little trouble grasping the meaning of asceticism, but some definition searching helped me out. (Side note: that’s one thing I enjoy about these philosophy texts. Learning about concepts I’ve been mostly unknowledgeable about beforehand). Nietzsche’s understanding of “ascetic ideals” are set out right at the beginning of the third essay, and I must admit I couldn’t help but laugh when he decided to “start again” in the second section. At least we know that defining his terms is quite important to him. I should really take that into mind when I write my next essay, and remember to clarify certain words.

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3 thoughts on “Nietzsche’s ‘On the Genealogy of Morals’

  1. On the topic of organization. I really liked how the lecture was structured, where she would go back and forth on not just the essays to tie them together. But also how she would fill in the gaps on our understanding of the book with an understanding of Nietzsche.

  2. I agree with your thoughts on the challenging organization of the book. I think it’s reflective of the critique that many philosophers would have of his work. With the lack of objectivity, things tend to get clustered and a unified vision can’t be offered. Though Nietzsche’s ideas seem interesting, I’m not convinced of it’s functionality.

  3. Nice parallel between the interruptions of Frankenstein and Nietzsche. I found his text annoying to read, but sometimes I agreed that his argument was quite convincing. the lecture cleared up most of the misconceptions I had as well. As a Catholic though I found it rather difficult to reconcile my faith with his arguments, making my read even more difficult 😦

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