Nietzsche’s Account of Power in on the Genealogy of Morals

Topics: Suffering, Hedonism, Debt Pages: 13 (5262 words) Published: November 2, 2008
Critically discuss Nietzsche’s account of power as understood through the notions of guilt, cruelty and asceticism.

It is the human desire to feel their power that motivates them to be cruel and inflict pain upon both themselves and others.

Throughout On the Genealogy of Morals there is a recurrent theme of power, this can be understood in the context of an individuals desire to both harness and feel his power through the actions he performs. This paper will deal with the questions that arise out of this assumption of desire for power, such as why there is this desire for power, how this desire manifests itself in our actions and why being cruel give us the feeling of power.

This account of power can be located at first in Nietzsche’s analysis of guilt, and then it continues in the notions of cruelty and asceticism. In short; guilt arises out of the relationship between the creditor and debtor and is a guise for the desire to inflict pain. In being a creditor you have power and can inflict pain upon a debtor in compensation for failure to repay a credit. So, people have the desire to be creditors and thus have power, with which they can inflict cruelty and thus feel this power which they possess. Hence, the creditor-debtor relationship goes far beyond the generation of guilt, but is crucial in the understanding of power. However, if one fails to achieve the position of a creditor or any other position of power over another, then one can turn towards asceticism as a substitute. Unfortunately, for the individual who attempts to affirm his power through asceticism, this is a self-defeating practice. For the person who actively pursues the goal asserting power over another, it is the position of a creditor that he needs. In being in this position of power you can exercise your own sovereignty while undermining that of someone else. The infliction of pain upon an other is the most effective manner that your power over them can be exhibited. This discussion will show why being cruel is the primary end of the individual looking to affirm his power.

The starting point of this discussion is the Nietzsche’s account of guilt and its origins. “But how did that other “somber thing,” the consciousness of guilt, the “bad conscience” come into the world?” (GM; 4). Nietzsche makes the initial affirmation that that the moral concept of guilt is founded in the material concept of debt. (GM; 4) To be true to Nietzsche’s genealogical method, this paper shall start where he did, Nietzsche makes the primary link between schuld which is the German for guilt, and schulden which means debts. He affirms that that the moral concept of guilt is founded in the material concept of debt. (GM; 4) This displays the obvious linguistic similarities between the words, and although this makes a connection evident it is not enough to that the origins of guilt lie in the concept of debt. Therefore, an appropriate starting point would be an analysis of the origins of debt, where the idea came from, because Nietzsche maintains that notion of guilt is borne from that of debt, “the feeling of guilt, of personal obligation, had it’s origin, as we saw, in the oldest and most primitive personal relationship, that between buyer and seller, creditor and debtor.” (GM; 8) Nietzsche is making the claim that the source of one’s feeling of guilt, is not in that one is apologetic, but rather it is essentially a feeling of indebtedness. This occurs when someone owes something to another individual, and an intention to pay the debt is because you fear the implications of not paying the debt, as opposed to a genuine desire to pay the debt because you do not want to see another person suffer because of your failure to repay the debt. Thus, guilt is based on self preservation in contrast to contemporary ideas that guilt is a function of your conscience. This is a stark contrast to contemporary notions of guilt. The inclination towards paying debts, as a result of self...

References: 1) Nietzsche, F. "On the Genealogy of Morals," in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, Peter Gay (ed), The Modern Library, 2000.
2) Soll, I. “Nietzsche on Cruelty, Asceticism and the Failure of Hedonism,” in Nietzsche, Genealogy, Morality, R. Schact (ed), University of California Press, 1994.
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