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Nietzsche- Genealogy Essay 3.pdf

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University of Toronto St. George
Peter King

NIETZSCHE: GENEALOGY, ESSAY THREE (I) [1] In the Third Essay of the Genealogy of Morality, Nietzsche puts it all together: the slave revolt, the feeling of ressentiment, and the emergence of “modern” morality, with its (postmodern?) possibility of transcendence. The key? What Nietzsche calls ascetic ideals, which are (roughly) forms of self-denial held up as moral ideals. Let’s see how that works. [2] Recall from the Second Essay that humans became psychologically complex once fear of punishment prevented aggressive impulses from being released. This activity of inhibition, or, when more successful, repression, contains the germ of (reflexive) self-awareness: it is by mon- itoring and channelling these impulses that a rudimentary form of self-awareness begins to be developed. But how do we move from this primitive conception of ourselves as moral subjects to being ready to evaluate all our values? The development, Nietzsche tells us, comes about be- cause “the ascetic priest alters the direction of ressentiment.” Unpacking this statement occupies the bulk of the Third Essay. [3] Nietzsche spends quite a while talking about the ascetic modes of life: the artist §§2–6), the philosopher (§§6–10), the scientist (§§22–24), and the historian (§§25–26). What unites these otherwise disparate disciplines is that each makes some claim to be interested in the truth for its own sake, to be fundamentally disinterested. But the real hero of asceticism is none of these, but rather what Nietzsche calls the “ascetic priest” (§§11–20): the religious figure who preaches as a higher and better condition of life some form of asceticism. This is a stage that can be found in many traditions—Nietzsche explicitly describes the ascetic features of both Hinduism and Buddhism, for instance—but, as usual, he pays most attention to how matters played out in Europe, where asceticism emerges in the desert hermits, the mendicant movement, and finally in certain types of protestantism. In short, Nietzsche for the most part talks about ascetism as a Christian phenomenon. [4] There are many ways in which forms of renunciation and self-denial are held up as ideals; Nietzsche explicitly mentions the mendicant virtues of “poverty, humility, chastity” (§8). But it isn’t the fact of these ideals as much as their social-cum-psychological effect. According to Nietzsche, ascetic ideals provide ressentiment with a target: oneself. That is, the blocked-up aggressive impulses that are not allowed release in the first instance are directed against the knightly/aristocratic class, as we learned in the First Essay, in the imagination (as a kind of sublimated wish-fulfillment). This is ressentiment. But imaginary revenge is not ult
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