Beyond Selflessness: Reading Nietzsche's Genealogy

Beyond Selflessness: Reading Nietzsche's Genealogy

Christopher Janaway

Language: English

Pages: 296

ISBN: 019957085X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Christopher Janaway presents a full commentary on Nietzsche's most studied work, On the Genealogy of Morality, and combines close reading of key passages with an overview of Nietzsche's wider aims. Arguing that Nietzsche's goal is to pursue psychological and historical truths concerning the origins of modern moral values, Beyond Selflessness differs from other books on Nietzsche in that it emphasizes the significance of his rhetorical methods as an instrument of persuasion. Nietzsche's outlook is broadly naturalist, but he is critical of typical scientific and philosophical methods for their advocacy of impersonality and suppression of the affects. In contrast to his opponents, Schopenhauer and Paul Rée, who both account for morality in terms of selflessness, Nietzsche believes that our allegiance to a post-Christian morality that centers around selflessness, compassion, guilt, and denial of the instincts is not primarily rational but affective: underlying feelings, often ambivalent and poorly grasped in conscious thought, explain our moral beliefs. The Genealogy is designed to detach the reader from his or her allegiance to morality and prepare for the possibility of new values. In addition to examining how Nietzsche's "perspectivism" holds that one can best understand a topic such as morality through allowing as many of one's feelings as possible to speak about it, Janaway shows that Nietzsche seeks to enable us to "feel differently:" his provocation of the reader's affects helps us grasp the affective origins of our attitudes and prepare the way for healthier values such as the affirmation of life (as tested by the thought of eternal return) and the self-satisfaction to be attained by "giving style to one's character."


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break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven ... For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ Nietzsche thus reinforces the idea that the life of knowledge is unworldly, even otherworldly. As the Christian’s heart is in heaven, the truth-seeker’s is in the sweet, nourishing stock of knowledge to which he or she contributes. Towards the end of the Genealogy—in what I shall claim is the culmination of the book’s argument—Nietzsche thematizes the rigorous

selflessness, compassion, or what R´ee continually calls ‘the unegoistic’ (das Unegoistische) is constitutive of morality. Both regard the unegoistic as ‘value in itself ’ (GM, Preface, 4, 5). Indeed R´ee appears to accept Schopenhauer’s conception of what morality is—essentially selfless compassion, justice, and kindness—and seek to explain it without recourse to Schopenhauer’s extreme metaphysical claims. Both thinkers take it for granted that selfless morality can be justified in some

and being despised by oneself instead of another presumably does not alter that fact; but in so far as one identifies with the subject of the despising relation, to some extent split off from oneself as its object, one can stand in a positive affective attitude to oneself, that of respecting. Compare the thought in GM II. Self-inflicted suffering is, like any suffering, a painful and negative experience. But a pleasure or gratification is possible for one who identifies with the inflicter of

entirely extinguished. [...] all purposes, all utilities, are only signs that a will to power has become lord over something less powerful and has stamped its own functional meaning onto it. What, then, is Nietzsche’s most important proposition for history? The well-taken point about the difference between genesis and use slides (without even a sentence-break) into a general theory of will to power, which, as we read through the whole of section 12, is accorded the following prominent

Schopenhauer’s terminology.⁹ Schopenhauer thinks that the metaphysical core of human beings, what they are in themselves, is will. We discover in the immediate certainty of inner experience that we are subjects of willing, and this provides, he argues, the key to discovering our essence (Wesen). This essence is to strive, desire, pursue ends, be aggressive, and flee from harm. But conscious willing is only the tip of the iceberg ⁸ See BGE 13, 22, 23, 36, 186, 259. ⁹ Nietzsche uses such expressions

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