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II On the Genealogy of Morality Introduction to Part II

Nietzsche does not claim to be the first philosopher to attempt a genealogy of morals; he does, however, claim to be the first to take up this task properly, that is with due consideration to the intrinsic requirements of this mode of enquiry.1 Thus, commenting on Paul Rée’s The Origin of Moral Sensations, Nietzsche writes:

There for the first time I clearly encountered an inverted and perverted kind of genealogical hypothesis, the genuinely English kind, and found myself drawn to it – as opposites attract one another. … It is possible that I have never read anything which I rejected so thoroughly, proposition by proposition, conclusion by conclusion, as this book: but without the least ill humour and impatience. (GM Preface §4)2

This claim is, to put it mildly, rather self-serving in the light of Nietzsche’s earlier endorsement of much of Rée’s argument; however, it is true that Nietzsche has come to reject the “English” kind of genealogical argument. As he put this point in Book V of The Gay Science:

These historians of morality (particularly, the Englishmen) do not amount to much: usually they themselves unsuspectingly stand under the command of a particular morality and, without knowing it, serve as its shield-bearers and followers, for example, by sharing that popular superstition of Christian Europe which people keep repeating so naively to this day, that what is characteristic of morality is selflessness, self-denial,

self-sacrifice, or sympathy and compassion. Their usual mistaken premise is that they affirm some consensus among peoples, at least among tame peoples, concerning certain moral principles, and then conclude that these principles must be unconditionally binding also for you and me – or, conversely, they see that among different peoples moral valuations are necessarily different and infer from this that no morality is binding – both of which are equally childish. The mistake of the more subtle among them is that they uncover and criticize the possibly foolish opinions of a people about their morality, or of humanity about all human morality – opinions about its origin, its religious sanction, the myth of free will and such things – and then think they have criticized the morality itself. But the value of the injunction “Thou Shalt” is still fundamentally different from and independent of such opinions about it and the weeds of error that may have overgrown it – just as surely as the value of a medication for someone sick is totally independent of whether he thinks about medicine scientifically or the way an old woman thinks about it. A morality could even have grown out of an error, and the realization of this fact would not so much as touch the problem of its value. Thus no one until now has examined the value of that most famous of all medicines called morality; and for that, one must begin by questioning it for once. Well then! Precisely that is our task. (GS §345)

In this specific instance, what makes the hypothesis advanced in Rée’s book a genealogical hypothesis, even if of “an inverted and perverted kind”, is that it attempts to provide a naturalistic account of the emergence of morality, an account that seeks to account for the origin of moral sensations in non-moral terms. What makes it “an inverted and perverted kind” of genealogical hypothesis is that Rée’s account is methodologically inept with respect to the historical dimension of genealogy in that Rée seeks to account for the origin of morality in terms of the present purpose that it plays (GM I §§2-3, II §12), when it is precisely one of the achievements of Darwinian evolutionary theory to show that there need be no necessary connection between the origin of a phenomenon and its current purpose or value, a point that Nietzsche demonstrates compellingly in sections 12-14 of the second essay in respect of the phenomenon of punishment.3 Nietzsche’s criticisms of “the genuinely English kind” of genealogy practised by Rée

indicate that his own development of genealogy – “decisive preliminary studies by a psychologist for a re-evaluation of values” (EH “Why I Write Such Good Books”, on GM) directed towards “the real history of morality” (GM Preface §7) – will acknowledge the distinction between the conditions of emergence of the various threads that come together to compose “morality” (in the Christian perspective) and the current value of morality. Such an acknowledgement, however, raises the question of the role that Nietzsche’s account of the complex and disparate conditions of emergence of the strands that compose “morality” is intended to play. Some preliminary observations on this issue will be proposed in Chapter 4, which focuses on the Genealogy.