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Nietzsche- Genealogy Essay 1

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Peter King

NIETZSCHE: GENEALOGY, ESSAY ONE [1] In the First Essay of the Genealogy, Nietzsche lays out the basic structure he recognizes in the history of the evolution of moral concepts. Very roughly, it goes like this. Humans originally form themselves into social units that are based around ‘honour’: warrior-cultures that exalt the strong, proud, conquering hero. Think of Japanese Samurai, Norse Vikings, Homeric heroes (“sackers of cities”)—people Nietzsche sometimes refers to as ‘blond beasts’ (§11). In such cultures, moral words like ‘good’ are, or are derived from, words for these exceptional people, to the point where Nietzsche calls this the “chivalric/aristocratic” mode of valuation (§7). This is a positive notion of ‘good’, according to Nietzsche, where ‘bad’ is just its absence. In §13 he has the striking image of birds of prey, exemplifying this ‘good/bad’ situation. [2] These warrior-cultures, based on honour, were succeeded by others: the purpose of civi- lization, we are told, is to breed a tame and civilized animal (§11). Roughly, such ‘honour’- cultures are followed by ‘shame’-cultures. But Nietzsche has a specific hypothesis about how this happened—he memorably calls it “the slave’s revolt in morality” (§7), and pins it variously on Jews and Christians, eventually settling on calling it
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