Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Last Week's Book: On the Genealogy of Morals

Very opposed to some of the other writings I've read this year, which keeps things interesting.

November 4-10: On the Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche

Philosophy (1887 - 90 pp.) 

On the Genealogy of Morals consists of a prologue and then three essays: "Good and Evil, Good and Bad", "Guilt, Bad Conscience and Related Manners", and "What Do Ascetic Ideals Mean?" Within them, he develops a brand of scepticism and atheism that is visible to this day. The editorial style of his polemic means there are few citations, which has the dual effect of making the essay collection a quicker read while making his points feel easier to refute. A simple "that's not the way I understood Christianity..." pervaded my reading, although I found many of his arguments persuasive regardless. To others more inclined to agree with Nietzsche in broader ways, this may not be such an obstacle. 

Nietzsche brings up interesting points about the overly restrictive nature of the categorical imperative (with which I agree), the problem of people who claim to perceive events objectively (agree), the concept of the badge of suffering an ascetic wears as a form of desire (which I can concede partially), the opposition of priestly with knightly or aristocratic ideals (disagree), and the use of conscience as self-excoriation (strongly disagree). Other points, like the presence of religion among the oppressed signifying their weakness, are less compelling. In the prologue, he makes a statement that appears in some ways Christian: "For between chastity and sensuality there is no essential opposition. Every good marriage, every genuine affair of the heart transcends them both." This type of thinking has been found in Protestantism dating back to at least the Puritans of the sixteenth century, making it a curious claim of Nietzsche's. Generally, the claims he makes are ones the reader knows if he or she will agree or disagree with going in, although surprises like the one above add to the depth of the treatise. 

It is difficult to appraise how educational a work like On the Genealogy of Morals is. Much like A Tale of a Tub, it conveys a sense of learnedness and research without sharing all of those with the reader. A work like On the Genealogy of Morals forces the reader to consider important issues within morality with sporadic splashes of insight regarding the development of religious traditions over time. It will not act as an authoritative work of religious history or moral philosophy, yet such a work would be unable to properly present the perspective Nietzsche gets across, nor would it be readable within a week. 

Ease of Reading: 3 
Educational Content: 6

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