• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Nietzsche Genealogy of Morality. Nietzsche focuses much on the origin of words and the meanings and connotations of these words that we as people tend to link to good and bad.

Free essay example:

Nietzsche is difficult to read because he insists that we overturn or suspend many of the assumptions that our very reasoning relies upon. He is one of the deepest thinkers precisely because he calls so much into question. Nietzsche begins his approach early in the first essay by developing an argument as to why good is called “good” and bad is called “bad”. He works to find meaning behind these words and then asks us to disband what we thought to be the inherent meanings behind them. He battles certain “English philosophers” about the origin of “good” and “bad”. Nietzsche believes that they are completely misguided in their explanation that from the very beginning, noble acts were praised as "good" by those who benefited from them. Their thought, Nietzsche argues, is "unhistorical" because it suggests that noble acts and unselfishness predates value-judgments. From Nietzsche’s understanding, these terms rose from the natural aristocracy.  

Nietzsche focuses much on the origin of words and the meanings and connotations of these words that we as people tend to link to “good” and “bad.” In Nietzsche's distinction between a thing and its meaning, we find the initial doubt with which Nietzsche unravels so many of our assumptions. Nietzsche battles with the usage of the word “good” as he unravels the origin or history of the word. He says that these masters, or the ruling class, have been able to define what is good, therefore strength, power, health, wealth, and happiness are all considered "good" because these are qualities linked to the ruling class (Nietzsche 11). He calls this class “Master Morality” in that these are the masters of not only the lower classes but their position of power included the power over words, the power to decide what would be called "good" and what "bad." He says “It was from this pathos of distance that they first claimed the right to create values and give these values names” (Nietzsche 11). Nietzsche calls this feeling of the superior over the inferior the pathos of distance. He says that it is because the pathos of distance that 'good' and 'bad' first obtained their meaning. The masters saw qualities associated with the poor, unhealthy, weak, or incapable as undesirable so they call these “bad”.

However, descendants of the lower class began to resent being so powerless and they began to resent being bad. Their “ressentiment” toward the superior class resulted in a "radical revaluation of their values" (Nietzsche 17, 20). That is, 'good' and 'bad' began to exchange in meaning such that 'good' now applied to the common, low, poor and powerless, while 'bad' now applied to the superior, privileged, rich, and powerful. For the first parts of his first essay Nietzsche focused attentively on the origin of words, specifically “good” and “bad” to show how the history of the words have affected its connotation and meaning in our modern society.

The main idea behind Nietzsche’s arguments is to show how the origin of words can distort the way people see those words. Throughout the entire text, Nietzsche tells the reader that one should not simply accept what is told, rather we must go over, reevaluate, and protest that which does not seem fit for our well-being. The fact that Nietzsche’s writing is so complex is that it forces us re-read and continuously try to understand what exactly Nietzsche is expressing in his writing. Specifically, punctuation is critical in the text. The elaborate use of commas, colons, dashes, and exclamation points force the reader to go back, and try to put the sentences together in the mind so that it makes sense once read as a whole.

Section 13 of the first essay is very important in understanding Nietzsche. The focus is on a contrast between lambs and birds of prey, in order to understand the origin of the concept of "good" as born from ressentiment. It is quite natural that lambs may consider birds of prey to be evil, since they kill and carry off lambs. And from this, it may also be understandable that lambs consider everything unlike birds of prey, such as themselves to be good. All these points add to the argument of origin, which seems to be at the heart of the first essay. The meaning of “good” shifts depending on the perspective. So, the origin of the meaning of words, seem to arise from the perspective of which it’s seen. Therefore it makes sense that perspective is at the heart of the origin which is at the heart of Nietzsche’s argument.

Works Cited.

Nietzsche, Friedrich, and Carol Diethe. "First Essay: 'Good and Evil', 'Good and Bad'." On the genealogy of morality. Rev. student ed. Berkeley: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007. 10-34. Print.

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our University Degree Social Theory section.

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Related University Degree Social studies Skills and Knowledge Essays

See our best essays

Related University Degree Social Theory essays

  1. Explain in your own words what you understand either by the term disciplinary society

    According to Foucault (2000, p. 339) "What is to be understood by the disciplining of societies in Europe since the eighteenth century is not, of course, that the individuals who are part of them become more and more obedient, nor that all societies become like barracks, schools or prisons; rather,

  2. What are the core skills required to write good history today

    This it seems is one of the key concepts in using sources in historical research (the other being, faced with an abundance of choice, choosing which sources to select). One way of doing this is to asses their inherent strengths and weaknesses.

  1. We tend to be quite unmoved by inequalities between the well-to-do and the rich; ...

    Although Frankfurt seems to understand 'inequalities' as financial inequalities in his statement, the 'equality' referred to in the question seems to cover rather more than that. Due to the complexity of the subject matter, much of our discussion on equality is vague and theoretical.

  2. The Way in Which We Perceive People

    This stereotype may make a person prejudiced in favour of anyone who wears glasses. Even though this is a stereotype that may not hurt anyone, it is still a prejudgment that doesn't take into account the facts. If you where to ask an optician what distinguishes people who wear glasses

  1. Kings and Aristocracy

    SKILLS REQUIRED OF CAROLINGIAN KINGS TO CONTROL NOBLES: Nelson: � Practical politics; note importance of kinship + dynastic hold; basis for political relationships and inheritance. Social duties. � Importance of women - link men, peace-weavers, focus of court interest groups. Critical nature of marriage alliances.

  2. Consensus perspective

    Unambiguously, in order to ensure and guarantee the existence of individuals in society, a system for reproducing new members and maintaining the health of existing members is indispensable. Effectively, this involves role differentiation and role assignment in that individuals have to be assigned to reproduce, care for members of society, and of course, to produce food.

  1. "The phenomenon of crowds is so mysterious that, however unscientific they may be, theories ...

    This perceived 'loss of self' has developed into what later thinkers have called de-individuation. Le Bon sees the collective behaviour as primitive and 'devoid of reason or culture' and links it to acting at the level of 'racial unconscious'. Other psychologists have on the other hand proposed the idea that

  2. Football Hooliganism: A Critical Approach

    is dominant in the reporting of 'news worthy' articles with reference to football violence and hooliganism. As Dr. Emma Poulton, a Lecturer in the Sociology of Sport, purports 'through selective editorial practices, the media plays an active role in relation to a social issues like football hooliganism, serving as primary definers of what hooliganism is' (Poulton web page)

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work