We will focus on the first book of his famous Genealogy of Morality, where he discusses the concepts of good, bad, and evil.
He says we need to perform a genealogy of our moral values.
Start with an etymological, linguistic analysis of the words “good” and “bad” in Indo-European languages.
Interestingly, turns out that “good” develops from the following seemingly unrelated concepts: “noble,” “aristocratic,” “a high soul,” “warrior,” “man of war,” “brave” . . .
And “bad” is developed in parallel with “good,” and is connected to the following: “common,” “low,” “plebian” . . .
He gives us an interesting story: a story of how our moral concepts of good, bad and evil come into being.
A socio-political explanation of how the ruling class in early human societies came into power: usually through conquest, war, violence, destruction and brute force.
Perhaps: the relationship between peaceful agrarian societies versus herding-nomadic-hunting societies.
Violent, aggressive, war-like groups of people come to dominate peaceful communities. These war-like groups become the social nobility, the ruling class, the “masters.”
These conquerors or masters have the following characteristics and values:
Physically powerful, violent, strong, healthy, love of health-promoting activities [like sports, exercise, hunting, war, etc.], physically beautiful (or vigorous, more probably), active, love of war and adventure, honest, naïve, straightforward, cheerful, having healthy instincts (“killer animal instincts”), bold and courageous, emotionally impulsive, desire to overcome challenges and become master of all things, love of victory, love of strong enemies and opponents, destructive, cruel.
We will see that the masters’ value-system is based on their own qualities, by looking inwardly at themselves.
These masters rule over the “slaves,” i.e., the people the masters have conquered and dominate [not just slaves, but includes mostly the farmers and ordinary common people].
The “slaves” have the following qualities:
Weak, poor, powerless, harmless, low [social status], passive & reactive, sickly, suffering, ugly (in the sense of not physically vigorous), peaceful, patient, humble, meek, docile, indirect, secretive and hidden, unforgetting, unforgiving and forever vengeful against others (esp. the masters).
The masters are strong, powerful, beautiful, full of energy (especially creative energy). And they are the social/political rulers: they are in positions of power and dominance.
The masters, because they are overflowing with this energy and power, create new values and names for these values: “good” and “bad.”
They feel and establish themselves and their actions to be “good.” What is “good” is valuable.
“Bad” is created as an “afterthought,” as the opposite of “good,” and designates the opposite qualities, i.e., the qualities of the slaves. What is “bad” is not valuable.
Master Value System
Why do the masters do this? Why do they create “good” and “bad”?
Simply because they can do it, and they have the natural impulse to do this (from their very nature); because they have the creative power and ability to do so, they do it.
This is what it means to be a strong and powerful human being, according to Nietzsche: to create new values.
NOTE: recall that Nietzsche was actually physically very weak and sickly!
So, in the master value-system:
“Good” = refer to qualities of masters = valuable.
“Bad” = refer to opposite qualities of masters, i.e. slave qualities = not valuable.
So the masters rule and dominate society, under their own value system which they create.
BUT: eventually, something very interesting happens: a group called the “priests” come into the story . . .
These “priests” are the first religious men (and women) in society.
NOTE: recall that Nietzsche’s father was a pastor (a Christian religious leader).
They emerge among the slave class in society.
And because they are slaves, they are impotent, weak, and powerless.
They hate the masters passionately and deeply, and desire to overthrow them.
But they cannot, since they are too weak and can’t physically compete with the masters to overthrow them.
But these priests are very clever, and they find a very interesting way to overthrow the masters – as Nietzsche says, things become very interesting when this priestly class comes into being:
They conquer the masters by something called “ressentiment.”
What is ressentiment?
It’s not ordinary resentment. It is ressentiment (in the French sense)!
The priestly class is very unhealthy in the mind, according to Nietzsche: they have an aversion to action, and instead prefer to brood and have over-active emotions, they are reactive rather than active.
They are oppressed and repressed, to a poisonous degree.
They cannot act against the masters because the masters are too powerful, so instead the priests brood, and grow more and more resentful, more and more hateful, more and more vengeful.
This is ressentiment! An extreme degree of pent-up resentment and vengeance that has been stewing inside for a very long time!
This hatred and vengeance for the masters keeps building and building, until finally . . . Boom!!!
A great creative explosion occurs in the form of an “imaginary revenge” or “spiritual revenge.”
Because they cannot physically overthrow the masters, the priests carry out the revenge in their minds instead!
I.e., they invert the master value-equation …
Now the priests carry out a radical “revaluation of moral values,” they invert this master value-system:
“Bad” = opposite qualities of masters, i.e. slave qualities = valuable.
“Good” = qualities of masters = not valuable.
And then they simply transform “Bad” into “Good,” and “Good” into “Evil”:
“Good” = now refers to opposite qualities of masters, i.e. slave qualities = valuable.
“Evil” = now refers to qualities of masters = not valuable.
This is how the priests (and thus the slaves, through the priests) create their new values.
Creating the concept “evil” is their original, creative act.
Thus, the priests create and institute (eventually and gradually, not instantly) the slave value-system (“slave morality”).
For the slave value-system, the key distinction is not good vs. bad, but rather: good vs. evil.
What fuels this creation of a new moral value-system is: ressentiment.
This ressentiment, Nietzsche wants to say, is very unhealthy!
YET the priests, because they can create a new value-system, are ALSO very strong people (have creative energy)!
The priests, with their creation, initiate the “slave revolt” in morality.
Today, this slave revolt has been completely successful all over the world.
We are all living in a slave moral value-system!!!
We are all thus living under a value-system generated by a deep ressentiment, and this, Nietzsche wants to say, is very unhealthy to human beings!!!
Qualities of the masters:
Physically powerful, violent, strong, healthy, love of health-promoting activities [like sports, hunting, war, etc.], physically beautiful, active, love of war and adventure, honest, naïve, straightforward, cheerful, has healthy instincts (“killer animal instincts”), bold and courageous, emotionally impulsive, desire to overcome challenges and become master of things, love of victory, love of strong enemies and opponents, destructive, cruel.
Qualities of the slaves (the people that the masters rule over):
Weak, poor, powerless, harmless, low [social status], passive & reactive, sickly, suffering, ugly, peaceful, patient, humble, meek, docile, indirect, secretive and hidden, unforgetting, unforgiving and forever vengeful.
Masters create a value system: master morality.
The priests (slaves) invert this value system [inversion of value-equation], through ressentiment.
Ressentiment is unhealthy, poison to human beings!
They create a new value system: slave morality.
From [master morality]:
“Good” = qualities of masters = valuable.
“Bad” = opposite qualities of masters, i.e. slave qualities = not valuable.
To [slave morality]:
“Good” = opposite qualities of masters, i.e. slave qualities = valuable.
“Evil” = qualities of masters = not valuable.
Today we are all living under the slave moral value system.
So we are all unhealthy, poisoned and sick!
Important Differences Between MM and SM
(1) Looking Inward vs. Looking Outward
Master morality (MM):
Starts by self-affirmation and spontaneous creation. Self-affirming, self-valuing.
Full of life and filled with passion for life.
Creates the concept “good” by reflecting on themselves – looking inward. They define themselves by looking inward.
“Bad” is simply created as an afterthought – not important. “Good” is the important concept.
Seeks the other only to affirm itself more.
Lack of ressentiment: they can exhaust their hatred and vengefulness through action.
Slave morality (SM):
Starts by denying the outside, the other, needs the other to exist.
Defines themselves by looking outward at the other (the masters).
Creates the concept “evil” by looking outside, at the other.
Slave morality is essentially reactive: its “action is fundamentally reaction.”
MM: masters are happy with themselves; they are self-sufficient.
Thus, no need to look to the other to define their happiness.
Their happiness cannot be separated from their actions and deeds.
SM: priests and slaves need to define their happiness by looking at the other (the masters).
BUT: since they do NOT have what the masters have, they are not happy.
In fact, they are miserable and suffering.
They are inactive – too weak to express themselves through action and deed.
(3) Enemies and Love –
MM: the masters truly love not only themselves, but their enemies also (at least worthy ones)! They have a healthy respect and admiration for worthy enemies.
They need worthy enemies that they can respect and honor, in order to prove themselves and become great.
True-enemies are a mark of self-achievement and self-worth.
Thus, masters are full of love (for themselves and even their enemies).
Master morality starts from love.
SM: slaves have no love for their enemies.
They truly hate their enemies at a spiritual level.
Secretly hate themselves also – hate what they really are (i.e., slaves).
Thus, slaves are full of hate (for their enemies, and full of self-hate).
Slave morality starts from hate.