- Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality: A Critical Guide ed. by Simon May
Of the fourteen essays in Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality, several are excellent, several are pretty good, and only one is substandard. That’s a good score, and Simon May deserves credit for assembling a volume that will advance our understanding of the Genealogy.
The first essay is Raymond Geuss’s “The Future of Evil.” Geuss sees evil as “a structural feature of all vices” (14) and considers how our use of the concept of evil might change. He describes false metaphysical presuppositions such as free will that Nietzsche takes our attributions of evil to involve, and notes that even those who reject these presuppositions will be inclined to continue using the concept of evil because of deep-seated psychological dispositions. Connecting Geuss’s essay to contemporary moral philosophy and Nietzsche scholarship is left to the reader, as Blumenberg’s 1966 Die Legitimität der Neuzeit is the only work written after 1900 that Geuss cites. The discussion of Theognis of Megara, who discussed changing values in ancient Greece and whom Nietzsche studied, is a high point of the essay.
Lanier Anderson argues that “the priests who figure importantly in Nietzsche’s story are intended to be unambiguous instances of the noble character type” (24). As always, Anderson’s work engages at impressive depth with the scholarly literature, responding at particular length to Aaron Ridley’s contention that the priest incorporates slavish elements as well. Using BGE 261, Anderson argues that “what constitutes psychological slavishness for Nietzsche is precisely the slave’s inability to value herself … and her consequent adoption of the characteristic values, beliefs, and assessments of the masters who dominate her” (31). This makes the priests’ nobility essential to the slave revolt. Without it, nobody could actually create the new values. But while not valuing oneself may be an important part of slavishness, wholly adopting nobles’ values seems to be less so. Slaves “skeptical and suspicious” of noble values are creating their own “morality of utility” in BGE 260, for instance.
Bernard Reginster explores the relations between guilt and a variety of closely related concepts discussed in the second essay of GM, including conscience and indebtedness. Particularly interesting is his view “that the Christian representation of guilt is not an account of the ordinary feeling of guilt … but a perversion of it” (57). This is because it consists in “inexpiable guilt toward God” (77) and thus cannot ever be paid off, permanently ruining one’s sense of worth as a person. I would recommend the essay to anyone interested in Nietzsche’s view of guilt, as it has the scholarly depth and thoroughness typical of Reginster’s work.
May’s contribution is titled “Why Nietzsche Is Still in the Morality Game,” but something like “life-denial and life-affirmation” might have been more informative about its contents. The essay [End Page 216] provides a detailed account of life affirmation and connects it with themes throughout Nietzsche’s philosophy, including atheism and the meaning of suffering. I did not understand why May wrote that “giving suffering a meaning in terms of a higher good that it makes possible, or of which it is constitutive … is, of course, to advance a theodicy” (80–81). While giving a meaning to suffering is sometimes part of theistic responses to the problem of evil, can it not also be part of a secular project? While this is one of several places where I wish May had been careful rather than exciting, his view that affirming life involves appreciating it without concern for justifying it seems exactly right to me.
Brian Leiter defends his much-discussed view that Nietzsche rejects free will, addressing problem cases like the “sovereign individual” in the beginning of the Second Essay, described as a “master of the free will” (107). Responding to Thomas Miles, Ken Gemes, and Peter Poellner, he argues that this and the other positive references to...