170: On the Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche

by Gerard

170.8: Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Genealogy of Morals. Translated by Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale. New York: Vintage, 1989. 149 pp. ISBN 0-679-72462-1.

Dewey Construction:

  • 100: Philosophy and Psychology
  • 170: Ethics (Moral Philosophy)
  • 170.8: History and description of ethic with respect to kinds of persons

There’s a reason I was never a philosophy major in college. While I did take two courses—Existentialism and Medieval Philosophy—I never got the hang up over proving one system of thought better than another. The history of the world has seen somewhere between 75 and 120 billion persons (roughly), each with their own way of looking at the world. The possibility that there exists a single system of thought that governs all of them is infinitesimal. But—people keep trying to come with one anyway.

I’m cheating a little bit on today’s book. In my library is a single volume that contains Friedrich Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo (see picture above). Technically, such a volume of two different philosophic treatises would get placed elsewhere in the philosophy listings. It might even get placed in 193 (Modern German philosophy). But, since you can read each one separately without need of the other, each one could get their own Dewey section. Genealogy is a work on moral philosophy, which sits in 170. And so, that’s what I’m going with for this first part. I’m using the second collected work for its own section.

Now: onto the book itself. Nietzsche’s Genealogy seeks to penetrate to the root of current morals and behaviors. His main thesis is that man has evolved morals in such a way that they need to be critiqued and evaluated. This critique is the subject of each of the three books of Genealogy. The first covers the origin of good versus bad or good versus evil. The second is on the origin of guilt and shame and the third evaluates the meaning of the ascetic ideal.

I would be lying a bit if I said I fully digested, understood, and incorporated the text into my understanding of the world, but Nietzsche’s general feeling seems to be that our morality hinders us from fully appreciating the joy, pain, and horror of everyday life. Mankind’s essential “will” is at the core of our existence and modern morality has undermined that will.

I did find, however, that reading the text out loud with the proper inflections and phrasing helps in following his arguments (thankfully, the missus was out of town this weekend). If you simply read it to yourself, your eyes will glaze over and your brain will beg for some channel surfing.

All that aside, the book was very interesting in that it contained many of the primary arguments against theism. Kaufmann’s translation is very good, with a great deal of intertextual notes helping to translate the Greek etymological sections that litter the opening books. If you’ve got a free couple of days, this one is worth a shot, if only to get your mind off vampires and vapid dialogue.