Sunday, July 15, 2012

Genealogy of Morals, Part 1

One of my favorite philosophical books is Frederich Nietzsche's "Genealogy of Morals" (Zur Genealogie der Moral). The basic purpose of the treatise is to outline the development of morality throughout history. Now, having been written in the 19th century, it makes a few historical errors, due to the poor state of archaeology in that time. Most historical sciences in that era were heavily distorted in order to 'prove' the notion that European culture and races were the best in some way or another, creating a void in Nietzsche's knowledge of other regions of the world. The basic premise, however, seems to have gained some amount of support from more modern archaeology and anthropology, but the book offers more of a description of morality throughout history rather than any provable hypothesis.  

From here we will deal with pure hypotheticals and descriptivist ideas. The next version of this post will attempt to put more links to scholarly articles, because I need a bit of time to find ones readily accessible without $50,000 dollar subscriptions.

There have been several anthropological hypothesis relating to how civilization formed. Most revolve around various forms of 'tribal alliances', describing how male tribal leaders would form hierarchical bonds with other tribal leaders. Basically a male who took charge of the tribe through strength or force of personality would recognize some benefit to being subservient to a stronger tribe, up through an advanced enough organizational structure to form early city states with kings of some form. This basic hypothesis existed back in Nietzsche's time, and he described the morality then, mostly from backwards extrapolation of known morals and philosophies of later city states, as a 'master' morality. Not as in some race or ethnicity, but as a class of people. Someone, by some nature of strength, took charge of these early societies, and as such they became the lines of nobility and royalty. 

The societies would then in a sense have been built by the strong, using the labor of the 'weak'. Any philosophy or moral system would represent this, with the nobility in this case having literally moved the majority into a safer arrangement than before, protecting them from roaming predators and tribes. From sources as ancient as these, you see a general praise for strength and all that was 'good' was associated with strength. Not necessarily a physical strength, so much as a strength of will. Evil was not so much even a concept, rather than good being described as the strong, who protected and took what they wanted, and the bad merely being the pitiable, the weak. Heroes from epic around this era were not good by modern standards, often being rather vicious and merciless. Odysseus for example, was represented as a good man in his epics, but by modern standards he would be considered a tyrant and a barbarian. Hercules, a staple hero, in his original incarnation would be counted among psychotics and serial killers.

Even through the classical empires, like Alexander's and the Roman's, strength was good and weakness was bad. This moral system is obviously in contrast to today's, where most power is considered evil if not derived from some agreement or constitution. Taking power is the mark of 'evil' men and while there was a minor burst of strength equals good morality in the 1980s business world, that only applied to a small, rich class while the rest of the world looked on in horror. Today, 'good' is the humble, the meek. Humility and faith are the highest virtues while wrath and ambition the worst sins. 

In the next post, I will expand on the 'master' morality, what it meant and what it means, and of course Nietzsche's take on it. I will also attempt to offer some links related to it. Following that, a post on the evolution of morals, then another on the 'slave' morality described as modern morals.

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