chapter  5
16 Pages

The first essay: “‘Good and Evil’, ‘Good and Bad’”

The first essay, “‘Good and Evil’, ‘Good and Bad’”, focuses on the emergence of the values and conception of agency that compose the idea of the moral person invoked in “morality” through an analysis of the re-evaluation of antique values wrought by the slave revolt in morality. However, it begins with two related methodological criticisms of the “English psychologists, to whom we owe the only attempts so far to develop a history of the genesis of morality” (GM I §1).1 Nietzsche illustrates this criticism by focusing on an argument from Rée’s The Origin of Moral Feeling (1877), which had been endorsed by Nietzsche in The Wanderer and his Shadow (§40), which claimed that originally:

“… unegoistic actions were acclaimed and described as good by those towards who they were directed, thus those to whom they were useful. The origin of this acclaim was later forgotten and unegoistic actions were simply felt to be good, because they were habitually praised as such – as if they were in themselves something good.” (GM I §2)

Nietzsche’s objections to this hypothesis are twofold. First, it exhibits the “essentially unhistorical manner” of thinking exhibited by such approaches in that it identifies the origin of morality in terms of its current value or function despite the fact that Darwin has alerted us to the point that there need be no relationship between the current function or value of a phenomenon and its original function or value (GM I §2). To this first methodological point, Nietzsche adds a second criticism, namely, that this account is psychologically unrealistic in that it is hard to see how – and why – human beings would come to

forget that such “moral” actions were useful since such utility would be perpetually present to them in their “daily experience” (GM I §3). In this second respect, Nietzsche suggests that, although implausible on other grounds, Herbert Spencer’s argument that we identify the concepts “good” and “useful” offers a better account by virtue of at least being psychologically plausible (ibid.). These criticisms indicate that Nietzsche’s own investigations will function under two methodological constraints: first, a historical rule that acknowledges that the function or value of (some aspect of) “morality” at origin has no necessary relationship to its current function or value and, secondly, a psychological rule that stresses the requirement of realism in the construction of hypotheses concerning the formation of “morality”.2 The operation of these methodological rules can be seen in the structure of Nietzsche’s genealogy of “morality” in that each of the three essays provide an account of the origin of a central element of “morality” in which its original function or value is distinct from the current function or value of “morality” and each essay appeals to distinct aspects of our psychological make-up in giving its account.