“On The Genealogy of Morals” is a text by a German philosopher by the name Friedrich Nietzsche. In the book, Nietzsche uses a genealogical method to trace the origins of people’s different conceptions of morality. The text has three main essays; the first entitled “Good and Evil,” the second one entitled “Guilt, ‘Bad Conscience,’ and the like” and the last one entitled “What is the meaning of ascetic ideals?” This essay provides a critical response to Nietzsche’s work, specifically his book “On The Genealogy of Morals.”
One of the claims made by Nietzsche in “On the Genealogy of Morals” is that moral values are not determined by God. Instead, people’s perception of morality depends on their conditions. For this reason, according to Nietzsche, context plays a significant part in one’s conception of good and evil. To a great extent, Nietzsche is right. There is no universal definition of what constitutes good or evil. Instead, our conception of what is good or bad depends on our environment. Consequently, what constitutes good behavior in one geographical part or in one religion may be construed as a bad thing in another geographical location or religion.
For a long period, there has been the false believe that morality is a construct that comes from God and what is good remains good for life and what is bad remains bad forever. However, this cannot be true because first of all different people have different views on what their God requires of them. Consequently, one’s view of what God requires of him or her may not be in tandem with what another person thinks their God requires of them.
Secondly, it seems that the conception of morality depends on one’s narrative of survival and growth. For instance, if one is poor, sharing one’s wealth or property with others is a good thing. To the same group, the wealthy and the rich may be bad because they are “stingy” and they do not “think about the poor” and “share their wealth with the poor.” To the rich and wealthy, the poor people are bad people. They are bad because they cannot sustain themselves; they live from hand to mouth and are perpetual beggars.
Therefore, the conception of what constitutes a virtue and a vice differs in the two groups. While sharing is a good virtue to the poor, to the rich that is a vice because it entails squandering one’s wealth, which is a bad thing. To the rich, begging is a vice, but to the poor showing pity to others is a good thing and begging may be acceptable to them. The narrative that promotes one’s chances of survival and growth is the main thing here. The rich and the wealthy survive by accumulating more and protecting it. As a result, sharing wealth amounts to squandering. The poor survive through relying on others hence sharing and showing mercy to others is a good thing.
Nietzsche brings this point home through his example of “master morality” and “slave morality.” The masters were strong, healthy, happy and free. Consequently, they named happiness, being strong, being healthy and being free as a good thing. At the same time, they viewed the weak, the unhealthy and the enslaved as bad people. These are qualities that they did not possess nor did they wish to possess in the near future. For this reason, they had to attach undesirable names to these undesirable qualities.
On the other hand, the slaves called the masters evil because they were oppressing them. They despised the masters, and the masters despised them too. For this reason, they associated the masters with bad things. By contrast, they termed themselves as good people. Again, this is an example that illustrates that context and one’s narrative on survival and growth determines their conception of the good and the bad. Anything that promotes one’s survival is good, and anything that prevents one’s survival is a bad thing. The values associated with either good or evil will thus depend on one’s story of survival.
However, what Nietzsche fails to admit is that though conception of the good and the evil depends on one’s context and their narrative for survival, some moral dispositions cut across age, religion, ethnicity and race and should be promoted in the society. These are values that appeal to many people and remain constant regardless of one’s location and other qualities that distinguish people into groups.
Even if there is no God who gives the standards for terming these qualities as bad or good, there must be an explanation. However, Nietzsche does not delve deeper into this question, and what appears to concern him at the moment is the belief that there is a God who gives all these values once and for all. Without a clear explanation on why people of different ages, cultures, geographic locations, races, and ethnicity agree on certain virtues and vices, we can only postulate that either it is a coincidence or the interaction of people because of free movement brings about universality in their standards for terming some values as bad or good.
This is only an assumption, and it may be true or wrong. The main point is that Nietzsche does not show the reasons behind the convergence of thought, but he instead proves why there is a divergence. This is a failure on the part of the philosopher because it makes his argument one-sided. He does not admit that his argument, may be countered using a certain line of thought. There are many examples that show that some virtues and vices exist among people of different backgrounds, meaning that there should be a deliberate effort to promote such values.
For instance, in the current society, patience and ambition should be promoted to the current generation. Patience needs to be promoted in the society because it is one thing that the current generation seems to lack. Young people need to be rich overnight and to have nice and flashy lifestyles as quickly as possible, without working hard to accomplish that. They also need to experiment with alcoholism and sex at a young age. This is the reason they should be taught about ambition and working patiently towards the achievement of those ambitions. It is a culture that needs to be inculcated in this generation. Moral values are not there just to guide people on what amounts to good and bad behavior, but also to urge the people to reach greater heights of achievement. Again, these are virtues that cut across all the nations of the world, so it makes sense to promote them because young people seem face almost similar challenges.
Regarding other values such as chastity, discipline and so forth, Nietzsche is particularly critical because he thinks that amounts to asceticism. He thinks this is a bad thing as it is an attempt to subdue humanity instead of allowing it to free itself from these instincts. The fact that humanity has embraced asceticism seems to baffle Nietzsche. To him, this is a weakness that should not be embraced at all. He argues that when humanity does not conquer in its struggle against itself, its sick will sees it as sinful and vile. To some extent, I agree with Nietzsche, there is too much that humanity denies itself by severely disciplining itself. This prevents the achievement of human potential. Severe self-discipline prevents people from exploration because they are afraid of sinning. That ought not to be the case, and humanity should be free to explore what brings satisfaction to itself.