The second treatise in in the genealogy of morality: Nietzsche on the origin of the bad conscience

European Journal of Philosophy 9 (1):55–81 (2001)
On a postcard to Franz Overbeck from January 4, 1888, Nietzsche makes some illuminating remarks with respect to the three treatises in his book On the Genealogy of Morality.2 Nietzsche says that, ‘for the sake of clarity, it was necessary artificially to isolate the different roots of that complex structure that is called morality. Each of these three treatises expresses a single primum mobile; a fourth and fifth are missing, as is even the most essential (‘the herd instinct’) – for the time being, the latter had to be ignored, as too comprehensive, and the same holds for the ultimate summation of all those different elements and thus a final account of morality.’ Nietzsche also points out that each treatise makes a contribution to the genesis of Christianity and rejects an explanation of Christianity in terms of only one psychological category. The topics of the treatises are ‘good’ and ‘evil’ (first treatise), the ‘bad conscience’ (second), and the ‘ascetic ideal’ (third). The postcard suggests that Nietzsche discusses these topics separately because a joint treatment is too complicated, but that in reality, these ideas are inextricably intertwined, both with each other and with others that Nietzsche omits. Therefore, the three treatises should be regarded as parts of a unified theory and critique of morality. Nietzsche’s remarks on that postcard are important because in the Genealogy itself, he makes little effort to show the unity among the treatises. We shall return to this postcard repeatedly.3 The first treatise has attracted most scholarly attention, but much less work has been done on the second treatise, ‘ “Debts”, “Bad Conscience”, and Related Matters’. This is unfortunate, since it seems that, in Nietzsche’s own view, the central notion of the second treatise, namely, the bad conscience as a feeling of guilt, is a key element of Christian morality. Therefore, understanding Nietzsche’s treatment of this notion is essential to understanding his views on Christianity and the impact of the Christian heritage on non-religious moral philosophy..
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DOI 10.1111/1468-0378.00130
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