I was never a fan of reading philosophical texts, and On the Genealogy of Morals was no exception. It’s not that I find philosophy boring, but I prefer reading novels like Frankenstein over Plato’s Republic or Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality. On the Genealogy of Morals wasn’t extraordinarily bad compared to previous philosophical texts I’ve read as part of the Arts One curriculum, but I still had to force myself to read the entire 335 pages of the text.
Nietzsche isn’t as easy to understand as Rousseau, who makes a rather straightforward argument. Nietzsche likes to ramble, and I suspect he knows he can be rather hard to follow. He asks a number of times, “Am I understood?” Having said that, I was able to get the main idea he was trying to make in every essay. The core argument he is trying to give is, I think, that humans create good and evil, as well as determine the divine. He devotes a part of his text talking about how ancestors become deified as a group becomes more powerful, and then this group will believe that they owe their ancestors their power through their ancestor’s protection and governance from above. It’s interesting to see how “good” and “evil”, which we normally believe to have been present as long as humans existed, are actually creations of our perceptions. Perhaps there is no good and evil, as we once believed. Nietzsche credits the origin of good to be what the nobility in past times termed “good” and evil to what the plebeians considered “bad”, which may, in fact, be the “good” in the eyes of the nobility. That’s what stands out in my memory, despite having read the entire text.
One of the first impressions I had of this philosophical text when I first flipped through it was: This is going to be a philosophical text where the author is going to go on and on about how great he is. I noticed how towards the end the essays were titled Why I write such good books, Why I am so clever, and Why I am a destiny. This is rather a vain thing to write! Most philosophers feel that way, but all the philosophers that I’ve heard about- Plato, Rousseau, Hobbes, Aristotle- wouldn’t actually use that as the title of an essay. Nietzsche shows contempt towards the reader in general. Sometimes I wonder if his asking, “Am I understood?” is actually a case of him demanding the reader if he is keeping up with the arguments Nietzsche is presenting, or if Nietzsche acknowledges how difficult it is to follow his writings.
I also have to make one contradiction to Nietzsche. He writes on page 263, “I have been told that it is impossible to put down one of my books- that I even disturb nightly rest.” Truth is, I found it very easy to put down one of his books (aka. On the Genealogy of Morals), and I even slept well after reading it for a few hours every evening.