On the Genealogy of Morality Essay

On the Genealogy of Morality Essay

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Friedrich Nietzsche’s “On the Genealogy of Morality” includes his theory on man’s development of “bad conscience.” Nietzsche believes that when transitioning from a free-roaming individual to a member of a community, man had to suppress his “will to power,” his natural “instinct of freedom”(59). The governing community threatened its members with punishment for violation of its laws, its “morality of customs,” thereby creating a uniform and predictable man (36). With fear of punishment curtailing his behavior, man was no longer allowed the freedom to indulge his every instinct. He turned his aggressive focus inward, became ashamed of his natural animal instincts, judged himself as inherently evil, and developed a bad conscience (46). Throughout the work, Nietzsche uses decidedly negative terms to describe “bad conscience,” calling it ugly (59), a sickness (60), or an illness (56); leading some to assume that he views “bad conscience” as a bad thing. However, Nietzsche hints at a different view when calling bad conscience a “sickness rather like pregnancy” (60). This analogy equates the pain and suffering of a pregnant woman to the suffering of man when his instincts are repressed. Therefore, just as the pain of pregnancy gives birth to something joyful, Nietzsche’s analogy implies that the negative state of bad conscience may also “give birth” to something positive. Nietzsche hopes for the birth of the “sovereign individual” – a man who is autonomous, not indebted to the morality of custom, and who has regained his free will. An examination of Nietzsche’s theory on the evolution of man’s bad conscience will reveal: even though bad conscience has caused man to turn against himself and has resulted in the stagnation of his will, Ni...


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... noble morality (16). Furthermore, in contrast to the self-contentment of the noble morality, the slave’s lack of outward power led him to direct his power inwards, resulting in man’s first exploration of his inner life.
While critical of the attitude found in the ressentiment of slave morality, Nietzsche’s includes it as an important factor contributing to the bad conscience of man. Even though Nietzsche dislikes the negative results of bad conscience – man’s suppression of his instincts, hate for himself, and stagnation of his will -- Nietzsche does value it for the promise it holds. Nietzsche foresees a time coming when man conquers his inner battle and regains his “instinct of freedom.” In anticipation of that day’s eventual arrival, Nietzsche views the development of bad conscience as a necessary step in man’s transformation into the “sovereign individual.”

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