Nietzsche Made Easy

Friedrich Nietzsche is a difficult writer to read. His body of work has been either erroneously, or intentionally misinterpreted by countless people since it was first published. This problem is compounded by the fact that he is also a good writer, at times he’s a troll – attacking other philosophers and goading the reader, at other times he writes with a subtle sarcasm that is difficult to even pick up on. All of this titillates Philosophy majors, and horrifies the student that chose the class based on its time-slot. With eye to the later and for the casual noder who wants to sound smart at parties I present the following for your perusal:

The transmutation of values is one of the primary underpinnings of Nietzche’s entire project, and as such is suitably complex but I will attempt to explain it. I have made a chart to make it more clear:


Roman Era:                Good                                                 Bad

                    (good for me)                        (not good for me)
                          II                 \\                 //                  II
                          II                   \\             //                    II
                          II                     \\         //                      II
                          II                       \\      //                       II
                          II                Jesus Christ                 II
Judeo-Christian Era: II      (transmutation of values)     II
                          II                       //       \\                      II
                          II                     //          \\                     II
                          II                   //             \\                    II
                          II                 //                 \\                  II
                          V                \/                   \/                 V
                              Evil                                 Good
                      (bad for others)               (the golden rule)

From pre-History through the Rise of the Roman Empire (what I have termed the Roman Era), morality was basically a very simple thing: Something was noble or good, if it was good for you or helped you, conversely something was contemptible or bad if it was bad for you or hurt you.

However, then Jesus was born and the world got turned on its head. Jesus, (really the entire Judeo understanding which Jesus popularized- hence Jesus is referred to by Nietzsche as “the king of the Jews”) ushered in a new era (which I have called the Judeo-Christian Era), in which the previous paradigm of morality was inverted. The Gods no longer loved you for being self interested. Now God said, you should do unto others as you would have done unto you. What had previously been seen as Good (doing what was beneficial to you) was now seen as a sin: Evil, and what had previously been viewed as being bad, was now going to be rewarded in the Kingdom of Heaven, and was called Good. This inversion, or stated alternatively transmutation, of the value system changed the entire world.

Nietzsche’s question was to try to determine in terms of psychological effect which value system (good v. bad, or good v. evil) was better?

To his understanding, the value system where Good was what was good for you (which he termed the Master Morality) required a man to act nobly: to be accountable for his actions, and forced him to make a choice of what to do based on what he felt like doing (free will) – thus he was the Master of himself.

However, in the value system where what was morally good followed the golden rule, (the Slave Morality) Nietzsche felt that any individual would be conflicted: if someone was rude to you, you would want to smash his face in, (under the Master morality, the only thing constraining you would be your own intellect), but the current moral system would dictate that you turn the other cheek. The result was if you didn’t hit him, you would feel ressentiment, ineffectual and unable impose your will- thus being a Slave to your emotions. Further if you did go ahead and hit him then you would be worse off, because now you would have bad conscience or guilt eating away at you, and again you would be left ineffectual and unhappy.

Thus to Nietzsche’s understanding the current (Slave) morality is incorrect, or reduces men from attaining their true potential by hindering their actions; it is a morality of utility, which is based on the transmutation of the previous paradigm. Thus Zarathustra (the superman) is the one who rejects today’s morality, but that is a story for a different node.

If you enjoyed this, have a paper to write, or are otherwise interested, I suggest reading The Genealogy of Morals, Beyond Good and Evil, Ecce Homo, the Gay Science, and come to think of it, everything else too.

Note: to female noders I use male examples simply to follow Nietzsche’s convention and to avoid confusion, especially when discussing ancient times.

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