Last updated: 04 November 2020

Download: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 3: Nietzsche as Master of Suspicion and

Transcript: Lecture three will be on a topic I richly enjoy, because I have in a way made suggestive remarks about Nietzsche, but I hope they have also been substantive at least in this regard. I understand that there is much debate on these contentious positions concerning the rather untruthful origins of truth. By that I mean its origin within the human community. And the contentious contention that relativism and so-called “perspectivism” are not threats, but rather challenges to our creative and interpretative imaginations and powers. Also I have tried to make the substantive – brief but substantive – case that facts do not occur independent of their interpretations; that facts are implicated in interpretations.

In this third lecture I am going to try to do the following. I am going to try to highlight one of Nietzsche’s most systematic arguments, and here we will see Nietzsche again involved in a kind of paradox. He will be trying to show us the immoral origins of morality. In the same way that I briefly but less systematically indicated, he tried to show us the untruthful origins of truth. So in this section I will be discussing Nietzsche as – a phrase that Paul Ricoeur used about Nietzsche – was that he was a “Master of suspicion”. So I would like to contrast at least one aspect of what has been called “Nietzsche’s style”, which I will discuss briefly before I get into the substantive arguments.

One aspect of Nietzsche’s style that Ricoeur’s phrase “Master of suspicion” captures brilliantly is that many of Nietzsche’s various arrays of considerations are not intended to be demonstrative, or to have you necessarily adopt his position. In fact one sometimes feels in that odd position – talking about Nietzsche – that you may recall from a movie like “The Life of Brian“, where people think that Brian is the messiah, and Brian screams out – it’s a Monty Python movie – he screams out to the crowd “Don’t do everything that I do, don’t say everything I say” and the crowd goes “We won’t do everything you do, we won’t say everything you say” [crowd laughter]. And this is a bizarre feature of that paradox that we discussed in the beginning with Nietzsche. It is part of what I call “The Nietzsche effect”. So rather than view him in that way, it’s nice to look at him as a master of suspicion.

Rather than doubt or scepticism, some of what I am about to present now of Nietzsche – after a brief discussion of his style – is Nietzsche as master of suspicion and immoralist. And what he wants us to do is to, as it were, suspect along with him the origins of our morality. This will not necessarily call upon us to abandon any specific moral position, but rather to look at its origin critically in order to suspect it. And suspicion is not necessarily a bad thing, either concerning theories, governments, or relationships with other human beings. Suspicion can be quite healthy. It after all is an attitude extremely appropriate to a truly enquiring mind, you know. As opposed to merely jotting down the familiar canons of knowledge. Suspicion is a quite powerful exercise, so Nietzsche is in that sense a master of suspicion.

When I get around to that part of Nietzsche, I will be discussing… and I will get around to it briefly after… we are talking about his style, or styles again for a moment. I want to return to that just for a moment, because it is very important. After that though, after that brief thing, then I will discuss “On the Genealogy of Morals”. That is perhaps Nietzsche’s most systematic work, and in this book “On the Genealogy of Morals”, he proceeds with a genealogical method which I will contrast with a properly historical one, and then we will look at some of the fruits of this method. For example this method, in this case, will be applied to the origins of our morality, both in Ancient Greece and through the Christian tradition. And we will look at those origins of our morality, and as I say, the suspicion that Nietzsche will want to raise in “On the Genealogy of Morals” is that our general moral fabric has itself a rather immoral origin. This won’t be quite as simple as it sounds, and I will work through that in a moment.

But I can’t resist a few remarks about Nietzsche’s playful style, and here I want to mention some of the “New Nietzsche”, Nietzsche’s return and some of these dangerous characters that lurk around the university now, deconstructing canons, and letting women write about masturbation, and having African-Americans hold courses in their own culture, and these outrageous things like that. So I think, you know, we’ll talk a bit about Nietzsche’s style, or styles.

There is a famous discussion, and you’d have to know a little about German philology and scholarship to really appreciate this. When German scholars do the complete text of someone’s work, they don’t leave much to chance. They dig through a lot of writing. They get the complete works. So there’s a rather famous scrap of Nietzsche’s writing that I can’t help but discuss briefly, that will do two things. It will remind us a little bit about Nietzsche’s tricky style, because without his tricky style or styles and ways of presenting, perhaps this issue I am about to talk about wouldn’t have come up. And it’s also another way to remind us about the undecidability, perhaps. By undecidability, I mean of interpretation. I mean how it is impossible to find a way above the plain of interpreting communities, in which to judge interpretation. As it were, a God’s eye view of them. I am denying that we have such a view of what philosophers have sometimes called “the viewpoint from the standpoint of eternity”, or what I prefer to call “the view from nowhere”, since there ain’t no “there” there. There ain’t no “there” there. I mean there is no viewpoint like that.

Well, among Derrida’s… I mean – what a slip – you know, some people will appreciate that. Among the fragments of Nietzsche’s work, they found a slip of paper and on it was written the following brilliant, perhaps brilliant aphorism. It might have been Nietzsche’s most brilliant aphorism. It says “I have forgotten my umbrella”. So the issue arose, should this be included in the complete text of Nietzsche. Is this an aphorism that should be numbered and put in “The Will to Power” for example, or left as an unnumbered aphorism?

In general it raises the issue of how should it be interpreted. Is it part of the complete text of Nietzsche? Well, if the complete text of Nietzsche means in the straightforward sense that some buffoons think – everything he wrote – then of course it should. But if a text is this special canonical thing that captures the truly lasting and enduring legacy of Nietzsche, then one might want an argument why “I forgot my umbrella” should be included, right? I mean, you’d expect to have such an argument.

Well, this problem wouldn’t come up with a normal writer. I mean, otherwise it would be just “Oh well, it’s a fragment, throw it away”. It’s just a fragment. But because Nietzsche writes in fragments, aphorisms, and various styles, you have got to pause for a moment before throwing away “I have forgotten my umbrella”. Now how would one go about solving this puzzle about whether to interpret the slip “I have forgotten my umbrella” as part of Nietzsche’s text or not? Part of his complete works. How would one bring his works to completion in that way?

Well a famous argument here is in “Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles”, a book by Derrida, where believe it or not he writes a small book on this one fragment. [crowd laughter]. Now, the interesting thing about Derrida’s joke is this: by writing a whole book on this fragment, he has surreptitiously, sneakily, included within the text and the overlapping history of interpretations of Nietzsche this otherwise undecidable fragment, which has now become a fragment of his text, which is now part of the history, you see, of the interpreting of the text of Nietzsche, so there’s a little joke behind the joke.

It’s a very clever book in many ways. But I want to get around to what I take to be its point. And it also should support what I made last time in too contentious a way. Namely that there are interpretations. It’s not that there are no facts, but that interpretations set the range within which facts can be appealed to, as well as truths and canons. In fact you may have to interpret the whole history of your civilisation before you should decide what should be a canonical text.

In any case, the issue that Derrida wants to raise there and I will raise briefly before I get onto Nietzsche and the genealogy. Derrida wants to raise – in the spirit of Nietzsche – the question of the undecidability of interpretation. The central point that he makes is this: “What is style in writing?”. We talk about a writer’s style. Well it’s something like this: the writer finding her or his own voice, a unique way of, as it were, writing. It’s very odd because they must be selecting a voice from among that finite ensemble of possible narrative voices in a culture. Even when, as a brilliant writer might, such as Nietzsche or James Joyce, they extend the bounds of those possibilities. Not narrow them back to Shakespeare. Extend the bounds of possibility.

So Nietzsche was one of those writers that did extend the bounds of possible writing. Style is a creation, as you see, of this kind of singularity. And Nietzsche’s styles, which should be in plural actually, because there are many. Nietzsche’s styles open the problem of interpretation in a radical way because – as Derrida argues – if there is style, there must be more than one. If there is interpretation, there must be more than one. This point is systematic and theoretical. Style is only style to the extent that we can distinguish and differentiate it from another style. Interpretations are interpretations only to the extent that we can distinguish and differentiate them from other interpretations.

So the very idea that there might be only one way to write the truth, only one interpretation, one last and final canon, one last book, is a nonsensical idea. Good books don’t lead to the end of writing, they produce volumes of writing. Plato’s writings didn’t end writing. For God’s sakes they write about Plato every year, they write twenty-five more dissertations. Good books create more writing, more conflict, more canon confusion. Not less.

So that’s a point I want to make to reinforce the very important idea that what we are dealing with here are interpretations, and that it is in the conflict, not the confluence of interpretations, that we can see, as it were, the life of a culture and of a people. Whether they are what Nietzsche calls “decadent”. In other words on their way out. That’s a nice way to gloss what he means by decadent. On their way out. And before I give some of Nietzsche’s quasi positive mythology: life affirming – as I have been using it – means on your way in and up. Life denying: decadent and on your way out, okay. That’s West Texas gloss, but it will have to do until we get onto the more positive theoretical work.

Okay now this is a systematic argument and I don’t think that I can finish it within the compass of just this lecture, I may have to return to it. But I wanted to start with that one last note to pin down that point on interpretation. The point being this. There can’t be a single one, or there is no interpretation, and there can’t be a single style or there is no style. I mean, if a computer wrote everything there wouldn’t be a concept of style, right? It’s all just “computerese”. There’s no style, it’s “computerese”. There’s got to be more than one to be style. There is no interpretation if there is just one. There’s got to be more than one. So this is a systematic point.

Okay now we are onto – thank God some of you are going to say – we are finally onto one of Nietzsche’s texts where he does make a systematic argument recognisable to philosophers. That means he takes a theme, he pursues it through a series of essays, he sticks with it, he stays fairly serious about it, because it’s a fairly serious subject. What he wants to trace is the origin of our moral values. This is not a discourse in ethics. It is a genealogy of the entire range of Western ethical discourse.

So this isn’t a utilitarian theory or an Aristotelian theory, communitarian theory, Kantian theory, the ontological theory. None of those. It’s an exercise in, as it were, going into their genealogy, their origin, in order to see what are the conditions for the possibility of all those theories and evaluations. It’s a different project. It’s not that all those other projects are worthless or whatever. Nietzsche’s after something different. And what will come out of “The Genealogy of Morals”, which we are on now, or beginning to start. What will come out of it won’t be a new moral theory, but a suspicion about moral theories. Just a suspicion about them.

Okay now let me tell you what I think that – “The Genealogy of Morals” – what is its method? And I think for a change with Nietzsche, we can actually discuss method for a moment, because we have now a precedent for discussing the method of Nietzsche and the genealogy. A very well known French thinker, Foucault, has raised genealogy to an extremely high methodological level in a series of brilliant studies such as “Discipline and Punish“, the history of madness, and in many other studies.

So let me try to identify along with Foucault some of the elements that are genealogical as a method and oppose them to a kind of more historical approach. One would think a historical approach is what you would want if you were looking for origins. Well let me try to separate the two briefly. I’ll start by trying to give a brief account of what a genealogy is. A genealogy attempts to uncover the formation of an entire discoursive practice. So in that sense it is not within that discoursive practice as about it. In other words it wants to uncover the conditions for the possibility of that discoursive practice.

Let me try to give an example here without using Nietzsche’s right now. One might take the following interest in certain medieval texts. Like the Maleficarum, which explains the conditions under which male prelates get to burn women, which they did by the thousands in the medieval period. Well one might not want to know whether the women really were witches or not. To me that would be an outrageous kind of question. To me. I lived after that time, see. But I might want to know this. What were the conditions for the possibility of forming a discourse within which people even thought they could have a true/false – good and evil distinction – about women being witches, and making the male organ fly around the room, and decapitating prelates in the dark, and mating with animals?

Who in the name of the world could have possibly thought they had the conditions for that kind of discourse, as one that at the time was viewed as rational? I shouldn’t say “at the time”, since the Maleficarum is a text upon – which has been praised in many circles, and not too long ago – as a basis for certain legal texts that we read today in law school. But anyway. That’s another little thing you might suspect. The question here is “What are the conditions?”. Not “Are these sentences true or false?”, because in a certain way, this is not a historical question. It’s not like one wants to interpret them sympathetically and historically to understand them. One might not want to do that because you see them filled with too much blood and barbarism to stand to do it. It just might be… it might make you too sick.

But you might want to know a deeper question. “What are the conditions that formed the discourse?”. And I don’t want to make it sound real textual and sort of “Duke” or whatever, a deconstructive literary. These are not just discoursive practices, right? Witch burning isn’t just a bunch of talk and writing. It’s burning humans. Foucault was always willing to distinguish between the discursive practice which was purely discursive, and the practice itself which would be actually burning women. And I think that’s a distinction – as long as you maintain it in a commonsensical way – worth maintaining. Sort of like the distinction between “chair” and “electric chair”. [crowd laughter]. It’s a distinction. Not all distinctions are bad. I can live with that one. I want to distinguish “chair” from “electric chair”, text about witch burning from witch burning. Okay.

Well, so one of the things that genealogy will do is uncover the formation of a certain kind of practice. What it wants to do too is to attempt what might be called a reversal of perspective. Now, in the way that Foucault uses it, which I even prefer to Nietzsche’s, to be honest. Foucault uses it in the spirit – and here I am going to quote Whitman – Foucault uses the genealogical method to do this. Foucault, like Whitman, “doesn’t come to sing songs for accepted victors only, but for slain and despised persons”. Nice quote from Whitman, I like that quote.

In any case, Foucault’s genealogies want to reverse perspective, and allow us to see – or attempt to see – from the standpoint of those upon whom the practice was inflicted. What the practice might have looked like, and to reverse it, as it were. To… it’s like a gestalt switch, it’s not supposed to be a mystical thing, it’s a method. It’s like when you are writing a history of the working class, and all you are reading are bourgeois historians, you might decide “Oh hell, I’ve read Studs Terkel, I think I’ll pick up a book where some actual workers talk”.

An historian friend of mine, Larry Goodwyn, told a story about the first book he wrote on the Populist movement. And he realised that all the other books so far, that he read in History on the Populist movement in the United States didn’t have one damn farmer in any of them. He thought that was odd. He said I think I’ll write a history about farmers that has some farmers in it. Sort of a ridiculous thing to expect. Like having a democracy without citizens. In any case. We expect a lot of ridiculous things now.

Genealogy has a reversal of perspective built into it. Now this distinguishes the genealogical method. This third point – besides reversal, the third point distinguishes it from both Marxist (in the orthodox sense which no-one, I guess, is worried about now) history, and from other kinds of history writing – is that we don’t look for a singular subject in the manner of great histories. You know, history made by great men, you know, that tradition. On the other hand we don’t look for collective subjects either, namely identifiable and specifiable groups with agendas. Instead what we look for in a genealogy is for the deeper relations of what is sometimes called “micrological power” or “force to force”. Small, very hard to trace relations of forces to one another. And this relational perspective is very important for writing this kind of history. Much easier in fact to characterise after reading one than to do so abstractly like I am now. You don’t look – in other words – for the subjects of the history, but for how various conflicts and forces and real antagonisms played themselves out. And in the course of that, in fact, certain subjects will emerge. Collective and singular. Anyway.

The fourth point, and this one of course comes from Nietzsche and Foucault accepts it too, and it will be made use of in the genealogy and it will return to an earlier point of mine. Is that one must see the truth of such accounts or the accuracy of their interpretations as a kind of choice one has made. In other words, you don’t just accidentally write a book called, you know, “Illiberal Education“. You have to make a choice, and then pick out the anecdotes you want to make your point. I mean after all, don’t historians do that really anyway? Genealogists want to do it self consciously, with more reflection, in other words. I mean, I have got to say that about some histories about which I am very familiar, and friendly.

E. P. Thompson’s history of the working class is not really interested in much that goes on in the drawing rooms. Because he’s made a choice. He has decided on a certain approach. Once he has decided on the interpretation, my earlier point about facts returns. That means it’s not the case there are no facts. It’s just that the frame and the interpretation is going to decide for you pretty much what they are. You know, it’s going to help you decide what counts as one. You know, there aren’t any anecdotes in D’Souza’s book “Illiberal Education” about the overwhelming success of programs that relate to the fates and affairs of women and minorities. And I don’t take that to be accidental, I think he made a choice. He didn’t want any of the good stories in it, but the bad ones. I think that was a product of a kind of choice.

The genealogist in writing the genealogy of a certain practice makes a choice. In other words, takes a perspective. And one of the things I like about the method is this: that I like to know that there is a perspective there up front so that I don’t have to wait for the hidden agenda to slap me in the face later. It’s what might be called “The problem of interrogating supreme court justices”. One would like to know in advance – so one won’t be surprised later – what their perspective is. One becomes profoundly dissatisfied if you are told they have no perspective [crowd laughter]. It’s the same dissatisfaction one feels when one hears a white male saying “I am not a racist”. It’s a self refuting remark. One you wouldn’t feel compelled to make unless… “I’m not gay…” “I’m not a racist…” …wouldn’t that relax you if you were and African-American; to hear that? “Oh, don’t worry about me” [crowd laughter]. Not very relaxing.

All of this is to set up genealogy and the process and project of suspicion. Well in “The Genealogy of Morals”, and now we are into the argument, and I don’t think that I can finish it in one lecture, but we will start Nietzsche’s argument in “The Genealogy of Morals”. Sorry about that. Nietzsche wants to trace the origin of our values. In other words, “What are the values of these Western values?”. I am not going to go into… you know, I mean, this isn’t an ethical theory. He wants to know what is the value of our values. Now the question here, and I will have to address it much later, is “Well, what do you mean by value?”. And I have said rather vague things like “Value for life”, and I’ll have to fill that in later with an account of Nietzsche’s own myths and other things, and I will try to do that later. But for now I am after purely negative gain. In other words, now I just want to shoot my targets. Later I will build some clay pigeons of my own, right now I am just shootin’ targets, okay? This is the negative part of the argument.

Nietzsche wants to trace “What is the origin of our values?”; the value of our values. Evaluation, interpretation, will… are everywhere. You know, we value things all over the place, and differentially. And there are classic theories about ethical evaluations that surround – no matter how complex some of these get – based around issues of good and evil. And that’s one of the ways that Nietzsche draws the opposition within the west. The opposition between good and evil. I hope not too esoteric, since if you don’t have that one down by the time you are about six, horror movies don’t make sense. You have got to have that step, you know. Sort of a rough cultural idea, you know. That’s, you know… he wants to know what lies behind these evaluations.

The procedure that he follows in this text is to make use of certain kinds of – certain modes, forms and kinds of – psychological reasoning. Certain modes, forms and kinds of historical investigation. And importantly, he wants to look at the texts, the crucial ones that have helped to structure our understanding of whole bodies of discoursive practices and the ways in which these evaluations have come to be made. The schema, as it were, of the book is as follows.

We are going to look at the general question of the value of our values by looking at our morality. Our morality, we are going to look at in its true and original home in religion. You know, we are not going to take for granted that morality grew out of the enlightenment in a set of procedural legal rules, but that morality grew out of the fertile embodied substantial rich soil of religions. By religions, I mean important things people believed about their purposes. Whether they lived, died, and so on, and where they would go afterwards.

You know, the kind of, you know, ticked off questions that Job asked God, you know. “Why did you mess with me?” and “What’s going to happen if I die?” and you have really – you and the devil have really – you know, mucked with me and I want to know why. And as you know, God’s answer to Job is kind of rough. It’s “Shut up. I am big, I am mean, get offa here. I can do worse.” [crowd laughter]. If you have seen the movie Hellraiser, you know it’s true too, right, you know? These are horrible movies. Don’t go see all these movies. Hellraiser is a terrible movie.

Specifically Nietzsche wants to go to a religion which he takes to be crucially important in the moral development of the West and I think that so does William Buckley, he and Nietzsche agree: Christianity. So Christianity will be one of our focuses. I want to say about Nietzsche’s suspicion of Christianity that I don’t buy the entire suspicion. I have a distinction that I want to make, and it’s a little bit critical of Nietzsche. For me, I like to make political distinctions, I prefer them to theoretical ones. For me, I want to distinguish two kinds of Christianity, and I am not talking about Catholic and Protestant. Although James Joyce thought those were interesting to distinguish.

Does anyone remember what Joyce said when he ceased being a Catholic and some British reporter asked him “Well, have you lost your faith, sir? What’s the problem here? Now that you have stopped being a Catholic, are you going to become a Protestant?”, to which Joyce responded “I have lost my faith, not my reason”. [crowd laughter]. Which for you Catholics out there, I think that’s a great remark “I have lost my faith, not my reason”.

In any case, I like to distinguish in Christianity between two kinds of religion. One represented by Billy Graham, and the other by Martin Luther King, a name… I suppose I can use the proper name properly, you know. It’s not slanderous to either one. But I like to distinguish between people who lead their people out of bondage and then people who are busy playing golf with the Pharaoh. It’s a rough distinction between religious people, but some forms of religion have more of an interest in golf games with the Pharaoh, others seem to have more interest in leading their people out of bondage. That’s a distinction Nietzsche doesn’t pay much attention to. I would like to.

But, for now, let’s just get polemical, broad and look at Christianity in Nietzsche’s way, as a form of life, and look at it in relation to first… for Nietzsche there is Greek life, and it represents a certain thing to him. Nietzsche was trained as a classicist, and in spite of his acute intellect, I have to argue that he always remained a little too in love with the Greeks. A little bit. Nietzsche was trained that way, always a little bit too enamoured of them, although he was one of the people that helped to demystify many aspects of their life.

He wants to look at the schema of values of the Greeks and how they became Christian values, which Nietzsche argues later become decadent and life threatening and lead to a third kind of evaluation, which is really, as it were, the dead end that he sees civilisation headed towards. And this is that threat I mentioned earlier of “Nihilism”. That threat I mentioned earlier, the threat of Nihilism. Not as a personal belief, but as something that could be the fate of a culture.

Now I ought to tell you that there are some contemporary theorists that believe this is all already over. That our culture – and this is why I have given the title of the course “Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition” – some postmodern theorists have written in collections called “What to do after the end of the world”. They write essays on what do we do now that the world is over. Now that there aren’t any humans left, you know, what do we do with our word processors now, you know? [crowd laughter]. Sort of a new question, theoretical. Well to find out why people write weird things like that it’s good to go to Nietzsche and trace the development of these values and of moralities from the Greeks through the Christian religion and on to this situation of Nihilism that Nietzsche will discuss.

Well, one of the ways that I like to do this is to try to warn you right away that if you read The Genealogy of Morals, and I hope you do, all of you. It’s a good book, you should read it. It’s fun. You don’t have to read it. There are lots of good books, but if you do read it, watch out for a sort of invidious binary in the text. Masters and slaves, master morality and slave morality. The reason you should watch out for this invidious binary is that for Nietzsche these are metaphors that tell you something about the origins of these value systems and ultimately you will find out that for Nietzsche, neither are satisfying. In other words they are not positions he would adopt now, they are part of how our cultures moved.

He will identify the Greek ideals with master moralities and the Christian ideals with slave moralities. Hardly surprising now, is it? Because even if you see a Chuck Heston movie about early Christianity, you notice what you could hardly help but notice, that the origins of Christianity are among the classes of the despised, the oppressed and the slaves. Hard to miss! Jesus isn’t hanging out at The Qantas Club! He hangs around with hookers and cheats and frauds, charlatans, all of the time. Only time he ever bumps into religious people it just pisses him off. Kicks over their tables, makes fun of them in their Synagogues. I mean that’s a fair reading of the New Testament. That’s not outrageous. Just read the damn book.

Again, through long canonical use, you can lose the ability to read. Nietzsche said one bad thing about Christianity is that it can make you forget how to read. It would be great to read the New Testament and pretend you never heard anything about Jesus. It would be a lot of fun. Because you might find a totally unrecognisable character. You know, I mean, he had one real close woman friend and she was a hooker. I mean, that’s not interesting to you? It is to me. It wasn’t the wife of the current vice president, it was a prostitute. And I am here to stone her because I did agree with perhaps one of his profound remarks – Jesus’ – in the New Testament, and that’s “If you are without sin you can cast the first stone”, and that generally would stop a lot of stonings. [crowd laughter]. I think. This is not a sermon, but just a piece of advice.

Well, Nietzsche in The Genealogy of Morals contrasts the master morality of Greece with the slave morality of Christianity and then follows it through to its next phase. One of the reasons he could do this so brilliantly – I think – is because of his background as a philologist. Nietzsche’s background is a philologist, okay. Since we are pressed for time.

Nietzsche’s background as a philologist warned him that certain words that were important in evaluation underwent very interesting semantic shifts between the Greek period and the Christian period. So for example, the Greek word for “Excellence”, “Arete“, which as close as we can come to saying it in West Texas. Arete [pronounced slightly differently], might be another way. The Greek word for “Excellence” comes to be translated in the Christian Medieval period as something different, and then by the time we get to the King James bible… and this is important. I want to just skip to the King James version, because now we get for Excellence something like… trying to think of the exact… the exact word here… the movement is from excellence to… virtue, yeah, piety. Sometimes as narrow as piety. Virtue, piety.

Well let me try to give you a sense for the difference… that Nietzsche wants to drive here. An Excellent Greek, on the model of the master set of values that the Greeks held, was someone like Odysseus, a great example from Ceto, a nice example of an excellent Greek. He was excellent because he was – in a sense that today we wouldn’t understand at all because of the division of labour – he was well rounded.

Odysseus could tell a lie well, which is a virtue. To know when to lie and to who and about what was a virtue for the Greeks. It’s a powerfully smart one. For example if a God questions you about if you have messed around with something, it’s very nice to fool him. Odysseus could build a boat, drive a furrow straight, sing a song, you know, fight in a battle, throw a discus, and many other things. There was a lot to it. Very well rounded, interesting. Noble values.

In short these noble values were what Nietzsche calls “active” powers that, as it were, would see what they wanted to act upon and then act upon it. And those were for him noble values, and he calls them master morality. However, they are naive. He points that out later and I’ll get around to that when I try to explain…

Now I want to make the quick move from that idea, that Greek ideal of excellence, which is well roundedness in many areas. Well if you think of that, and then you think of something like “virtue”, don’t you see that the semantic terrain is almost reversed? Because certainly in the Victorian period, to mean to be “virtuous” meant to deny – one after another – all those aspects of your active powers, which were celebrated in this earlier use of the word. Namely “I won’t do that, it’s a sin. I am virtuous”, “I won’t do that, it’s a sin. I am virtuous”, “I won’t do that, it’s a sin. I am virtuous”, “I won’t overeat”, “Sex, phew, out of the question”. “No”. “Just say no”. “Just say no”. [crowd laughter].

So, Nietzsche’s point was that this transformation from a master to a slave morality was life denying. Not life affirming, life denying. And it was life denying in this first, quite ordinary sense. Namely that the active powers that human beings wanted to realise become “inwardised”, turned against themselves, and become a series of “Just say no’s” to various aspects of the things that make us human. Things that are ignored by theorists, academics, philosophers, literary critics and others. Topics we ought to discuss. Like how good is our food? How warm is our house? How much fun do we have having sex? We don’t talk about that much and yet that’s the fabric that makes a life that flourishes. Not whether Shakespeare is in the canon or not or whether Mel Gibson plays him or not, but whether we are healthy and well and feel good and like Odysseus can do many things and enjoy a whole bunch of them.

That was… at least this is the movement that Nietzsche wants to trace. Now these life denying values of Christianity. He’s not simple minded on this, and his criticism of Christianity is not simple minded. So I want to end this lecture on the genealogy and then pick the genealogy up in the next lecture again with the following remark. Nietzsche didn’t think that the movement to what he sees as the slave morality of Christianity and its life denying aspects is entirely negative because it made the human race more subtle, more devious, more mendacious.

Oddly enough, until Christianity came along, human beings, according to Nietzsche, weren’t nearly tricky enough, weren’t nearly clever enough, mendacious enough, creative enough. No, the Greeks who just, you know “Well I lied to a god, I did this… I did that…”. No, Christianity goes “I love you” in this very strange way we will examine later. But not until it comes into the world – as Nietzsche sees it – do human beings actually become these sort of subtle mendacious tricky people with deep subjective problems, strange consciences and guilt with all its many wonders is born into the world. And we’ll discuss that next time when we return to The Genealogy of Morals. [applause].

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