Exegesis and Critique of Nietzsche’s Conception of Guilt In The Second Essay of On the Genealogy of Morality

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Exegesis and Critique of Nietzsche’s Conception of Guilt In The Second Essay of On the Genealogy of Morality

In the Second Essay of On the Genealogy of Morals (titled ““Guilt,” “Bad Conscience,” and the Like”), Nietzsche formulates an interesting conception of the origin and function of guilt feelings and “bad conscience.” Nietzsche’s discussion of this topic is rather sophisticated and includes sub-arguments for the ancient equivalence of the concepts of debt and guilt and the existence of an instinctive joy in cruelty in human beings, as well as a hypothesis concerning the origin of civilization, a critique of Christianity, and a comparison of Christianity to ancient Greek religion. In this essay, I will attempt to distill these
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It is important to note that, according to Nietzsche, no moral condemnation was involved in these punishments for transgression of the morality of mores. Rather, transgressors were viewed merely as threats and obstacles in the path to the goal of the state. Thus, transgressors were punished merely out of anger at the injury done, rather than out of moral indignation or attempt to reform the criminal, while the goal of awakening guilt in criminals not only was not held by these rulers, but would have been regarded by them as nonsensical (2.4).

At this juncture Nietzsche puts forth the creditor/debtor relationship as an analogy to the relationship between citizen and state after the latter’s establishment. According to this analogy the citizen and state have entered into an agreement in which the state promises various advantages of civilization, which are numerous and profound, in return for obedience on the part of the citizen. When a citizen disobeys, the state’s punishment is meted out with the cruel anger of an aggrieved creditor (2.9).

Significantly, according to Nietzsche, the arousal of guilt feelings in the transgressor is not an effect of this punishment. Instead, punishment’s only result is to increase the greater prudence and fear of the transgressor. Nietzsche brings forth several pieces of evidence in support of this claim. The first of these is that prisons are far from being