Discussion and questions

Compose and answer one original question based on the Week four required readings.

Nietzsche,   Beyond Good and Evil , Preface, Parts 1, 2, & 3: [§1-62] pp. 3-57.

Your Q&A Discussion thread should be formatted as follows:

My first question is: ……………….?

My answer to this question is: ……………………….(500 words)

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Beyond Good and Evil


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K A R L A M E R I K S Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame

D E S M O N D M . C L A R K E Professor of Philosophy at University College Cork

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Beyond Good and Evil Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future


R O L F – P E T E R H O R S T M A N N Humboldt-Universität, Berlin

J U D I T H N O R M A N Trinity University, Texas



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Introduction page vii Chronology xxix Further reading xxxii Note on the text xxxiv

Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future

Preface  Part  On the prejudices of philosophers  Part  The free spirit  Part  The religious character  Part  Epigrams and entr’actes  Part  On the natural history of morals  Part  We scholars  Part  Our virtues  Part  Peoples and fatherlands  Part  What is noble? 

From high mountains: Aftersong 

Glossary of names  Index 




Beyond Good and Evil (BGE) is often considered to be one of Friedrich Nietzsche’s greatest books. Though it is by no means clear what criteria this assessment is based on, it is easy to understand how it comes about. It seems to be an expression of the feeling that in this book Nietzsche gives the most comprehensible and detached account of the major themes that concerned him throughout his life. Nietzsche was suspicious of almost everything addressed in this book – whether it be knowledge, truth, phi- losophy, or morality and religion. He regarded them as the source, or at least the effect, of a misguided tendency in the development of human nature: one that has led to disastrous cultural, social, and psychological consequences. At the same time he lets us share his more constructive views as well, mainly his views on how he wants us to perceive the world and to change our lives in order to live up to this new perception. He speaks of perspectivism, the will to power, of human nobility (Vornehmheit) and of the conditions of a life liberated from the constraints of oppressive tradition. In the middle of the book, he even adds a number of short

I thank Dartmouth College and especially Sally Sedgwick and Margaret Robinson, whose generous hospitality gave me the opportunity to write this text. Special thanks to Karl Ameriks and Gary Hatfield for transforming my “English” into English and to Andreas Kemmerling for helpful suggestions. Very special thanks to Dina Emundts for all sorts of comments. The version printed here owes much to careful editing by Hilary Gaskin.

 See, for example, the Introductions to BGE by Walter Kaufmann (Vintage: New York, ) and Michael Tanner (Penguin: Harmondsworth, ; translation R. Hollingdale), and also Kauf- mann, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (Meridian Books: New York, ), and Tanner, Nietzsche (Oxford University Press: Oxford/New York, ). References for all quota- tions from BGE are to section numbers.



aphorisms, and he ends the book with a poem that hints at the artistic background to his concern with decadence and the means for overcoming it. Thus it would seem that the whole range of Nietzsche’s interests, his prejudices and his preferences, his loathings and his hopes, and above all his deep insights into our situation in the modern world, are united in an exemplary way in BGE, and for this reason it is a great book.

Although there is something to be said for this view, it is not the only view that is possible. There are quite a number of thinkers who would in- sist that it makes no sense at all to attribute greatness to any of Nietzsche’s works. For these readers, all of Nietzsche’s writings are flawed by serious shortcomings that justify fundamental complaints, ranging from accusa- tions that they are utterly irrational, or devoid of informative content, to the conviction that they contain nothing but silly proclamations based on unwarranted generalizations – or a mixture of both. According to pro- ponents of this view, the best way to think of Nietzsche’s works is as the disturbing documents of the creative process of someone who was on the verge of madness. To call any of his works great would therefore amount to a categorical mistake. Interestingly enough, this bleak evaluation is not based on any disagreement with what the work’s admirers tell us we will find in it, or even any disagreement with the claim that it gives us the quintessential Nietzsche.

It is a perplexing fact that it is by no means easy to decide which of these two conflicting attitudes towards BGE should prevail, and in the end it may be a rather personal matter. Nevertheless it is possible to identify some conditions that will influence how we are likely to think about the merits of this work. Three main factors should be taken into consideration. First, much depends on how we interpret the aims pursued by Nietzsche’s work in general and BGE in particular. Second, our evaluation will depend on the amount of tolerance and sympathy that we are prepared to mobilize towards Nietzsche the person, and also towards certain tendencies in bourgeois culture in Germany in the second half of the nineteenth century. The third and most important factor, however, is the way that we feel about the very framework in which all our dealings with what we take to be reality are embedded: if we are confident that our normal outlook on whatever concerns us has been proven to be ultimately right, or at least on the right track, then chances are high that we will end up thinking of Nietzsche and BGE as a nuisance. If we are not convinced of the soundness of our normal views, then we might have second thoughts about things, and in



that case a book like BGE might be considered illuminating and even helpful.


Let us start with Nietzsche the person. In the history of art, science, philosophy, and even literature one very often finds that in order to ap- preciate or to evaluate a work it is not much of an advantage to be familiar with its author and his life: an intellectual or artistic product is better judged on its own merits than on the basis of uncertain knowledge about the idiosyncratic features and muddled purposes of its author. Moreover, in some cases authors intentionally withdraw from their products in an attempt to become invisible and to let the work speak for itself, and thus leave us very few personal clues in their works. Rousseau could serve as an example of the first kind of case and Kant of the second; Kant goes so far as to use the phrase de nobis ipsis silemus (“of our own person we will say nothing”) as a motto for his main work. We therefore tend to believe that a distinction can be drawn between the private views of the author and the meaning of the work which the author produces.

Yet there are some works with respect to which such a consideration does not so easily apply. These are works whose very meaning is tied intrinsically to the person of their author, as is the case with diaries, letters, personal notes, or autobiographies. Here our knowledge about the author, or perhaps an understanding of the situation the author is in, are necessary ingredients for an appreciation of the text. There are many reasons to presume that Nietzsche thought of many of his texts as being like diaries or personal notes that tell us something about himself and about his perspective on the matters they address, rather than as products that aim at objective, non-personal results. Hence, his biography may be of interest in any attempt to assess his work.

Nietzsche’s life is surely not a success story; on the contrary, it is a rather sad story of misery and failure. It is the story of a man who from the beginning of his adult life, until the sudden and catastrophic end of his productive period, was confronted with embarrassing and humiliating experiences. This is true of his private life as well as of his relations with the intellectual community of his time. He was plagued by ill health, a psychosomatic wreck, suffering from all sorts of diseases ranging from chronic nervous ailments and severe eye problems, which left him almost



blind, to extremely exhausting states of prolonged migraine. These con- ditions made life tolerable for him only in a few places in northern Italy (in the winter) and the Swiss Engadine (in the summer), and it is in these places that he spent most of his time in the s. His social relations were always, to put it mildly, somewhat complicated. Those who appar- ently cared most about him, his mother and his sister, he found oppressive and distasteful because they represented a type of personality he deeply despised. Though he prided himself on being comfortable with women, he does not seem to have been very successful in establishing emotionally satisfying relationships with them, which is hardly surprising given his views on women and on femininity (Weiblichkeit) in general. Things did not go much better with his friends. The people whom he called “friends” he quite often spoke of with great resentment: he charged all of them with a lack of sensitivity toward him, he complained that none of them ever bothered to study his works, and he accused them of failing to defend him against public neglect. In short, he suffered deeply from a sense of soli- tude and isolation, from not being appropriately acknowledged because of the supposed imperfections of the people around him.

To make things even worse, Nietzsche was not given the opportunity to compensate for the shortcomings of his private life by enjoying insti- tutional and public success in his roles as a university teacher and author. Although he made a very promising start – he was appointed professor of classics at Basle university at the early age of twenty-four – his academic career disintegrated rapidly, in part because of his poor health and in part because he became annoyed with his teaching duties. As for his fortunes as an author, not much can be said that is positive. His first book, the now highly acclaimed treatise The Birth of Tragedy, did at least attract the attention of classicists (though their reaction to it was for the most

 See the annihilating remark aimed at both of them in Ecce Homo which culminates in Nietzsche’s pronouncement: “I confess that the deepest objection to the Eternal Recurrence, my real idea from the abyss, is always my mother and my sister” (KSA VI, § , translation from Tanner, Nietzsche, p. ). KSA refers to Sämtliche Werke: Kritische Studienausgabe, ed. G. Colli and M. Montinari,  vols. (de Gruyter: Berlin, ); this edition is based on the critical edition of Nietzsche’s works, Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, ed. G. Colli and M. Montinari,  vols. to date (de Gruyter: Berlin, –).

 Though Nietzsche addresses this topic in BGE as well (§  et seq.), the general tendency of his outlook on women is documented most succinctly in the relevant passage of Ecce Homo (“Why I write such good books,” § ).

 A good example of this assessment of his friends is again to be found in Ecce Homo (“The case of Wagner,” § ).



part emphatically negative) and of members of the Wagnerian community (including Wagner himself). But soon he had to realize that there was only a marginal interest among the public in his way of dealing with issues, whether they were philosophical topics such as truth and the metaphysi- cal foundations of knowledge, topics concerning the history and value of religion and morality, or topics such as the critical assessment of modern culture and ideas about how to overcome what he considered to be the fundamental problems of modernity. This lack of interest showed in the dismal number of copies sold of his books.

The most discouraging experience for Nietzsche, however, may not have been this failure to gain a wider recognition. If he could have believed that his few readers represented some sort of elite, perhaps a group of distinguished intellectuals, then their taking notice of his writings would have been of importance to him and this might have counterbalanced his lack of public success. Unfortunately he could not entertain even that belief. From the very few reactions he became aware of – mostly reviews of his books in more or less obscure journals – he had to conclude that he was read by only a few readers – and the wrong ones. In his view, his readership consisted of people either unable or unwilling (or both) to understand him adequately. He blamed his readers for not being in the least prepared to give credit to his intentions and for being attentive only to those points which conveniently confirmed them in their own negative preconceptions. What he was missing on a fundamental level was a readiness on the part of readers to explore things his way, a feeling of intellectual kinship between author and audience, or, to put it another way, he deeply craved recognition from an audience that he thought fitting. This is touchingly expressed in two short remarks from Ecce Homo. The first relates explicitly only to his Zarathustra, though it is quite likely that Nietzsche thought it true of his other writings as well: “In order to

 See the Introduction by Raymond Geuss to the edition of The Birth of Tragedy in this series (Cambridge University Press, ).

 Of the book Nietzsche valued most, Zarathustra, whose first three parts were published separately in  and , only about sixty to seventy copies each were sold within the first three years after their appearance (see letter to Franz Overbeck, summer : KSB VII, pp. –). The fourth part of the Zarathustra was published in  in a private edition of only forty copies and was not accessible to a wider public before . BGE did not fare much better:  copies were sold within a year (see letter to Peter Gast,  June : KSB VIII, pp. –). Nietzsche comments (in the same letter to Gast): “Instructive! Namely, they simply don’t want my literature.” It seems that most of his other books had the same fate – they too were utterly neglected during the period in his life when he would still have cared about their success.



understand anything at all from my Zarathustra, you might need to be conditioned as I am – with one foot beyond life.” The second remark delineates what he takes to be his ideal reader, and there is no doubt that he meant what he says: “When I call up the image of a perfect reader, what emerges is a monster of courage and curiosity, who is also supple, clever, cautious, a born adventurer and discoverer.”

What emerges is a picture of a totally isolated, highly neurotic man who had to try hard to avoid thinking of himself as a complete failure. His way of dealing with this situation seems to have been simply not to accept the idea that all these annoying circumstances might have been brought about partly by particularities or deficiencies that could be traced back to his own person, so he managed to combine a perfectly clear and even realistic assessment of what was happening to him with an unshakeable conviction that all this had nothing to do with him and revealed nothing about him. It is this ability which, in my view, accounts for two dominant traits that appear in his published works. The first is that he never even came close to considering the possibility that – given the general intellectual climate of his time – his lack of success as an author might have something to do with his pursuing the “wrong” topics in a “wrong” way. It never crossed his mind that what he thought to be an interesting, novel, and valuable insight might indeed have been exactly what it seemed to be to almost all of his contemporaries – an overstated triviality, an extremely one-sided exaggeration or an embarrassing piece of bad reasoning. He simply stuck to the points he felt he had to make, deeply convinced of being on the right track, and fending off all signs of criticism or neglect with the maxim “so much the worse for the critic.”

 Ecce Homo (“Why I am so wise,” end of § ).  Ibid. (“Why I write such good books,” end of § ). In the same text he mentions explicitly the

reactions to BGE as an example of how severely it was misunderstood or, to use his terminology, how gravely this book was sinned against because its readers were not up to its challenge (“Why I write such good books,” end of § ).

 In Ecce Homo Nietzsche even presents an explanation as to why he believes this stance to be perfectly reasonable: “Ultimately, nobody can get more out of things, including books, than he already knows. For what one lacks access to from experience one will have no ear. Now let us imagine an extreme case: that a book speaks of nothing but events that lie altogether beyond the possibility of any frequent or even rare experience – that it is the first language for a new series of experiences. In that case, simply nothing will be heard, but there will be the acoustic illusion that where nothing is heard, nothing is there . . . Whoever thought he had understood something of me, had made up something out of me after his own image . . . and whoever had understood nothing of me, denied that I need to be considered at all.” “Why I write such good books,” § ,



This attitude becomes increasingly visible in his writings after Zarathustra and culminates in his late texts of , especially in Ecce Homo. Here we find brilliant and witty remarks which rightly became notorious (though Nietzsche himself might not have found them very amusing, because they can also be read as documents of despair). I quote two of them: “We all know, several of us even know from experience, what it is to have long ears. Well then, I will dare to claim that I have the smallest ears. This is of no little interest to women – it seems they think I understand them better? . . . I am the anti-ass par excellence and this makes me a world-historical monster – I am, in Greek, but not only in Greek, the Antichrist.” The other is: “I know my fate. One day, my name will be associated with the memory of something tremendous – a crisis the like of which the world has never seen, the most profound col- lision of conscience, of a decision brought about against everything that has ever been believed, demanded, or held holy so far. I am not a man. I am dynamite.”

The second trait which we find in Nietzsche’s writings is closely con- nected to his inability to assess himself in the light of others’ reactions. It consists in his total unconcern about the tenability of his views when judged according to standards that he thinks are alien to his approach. Starting from the conviction that there is no common ground between him and his reader, that what he has to say is most likely incomprehensi- ble to almost everybody else, he does not feel obliged to enter the social game of competitive discourse. He refuses to try to convince people by somehow connecting to their way of thinking; he does not refute possi- ble arguments against the points he wants to make by giving reasons in their favor. Instead, he makes abundantly clear his contempt for “nor- mal” thinking and his impatience with the evaluations of others. It is this stance which gives so many readers the impression of an overwhelming polemical element in Nietzsche’s literary presentation of his views. He reinforces it by insisting over and over again that what he has to tell us are above all his truths. The claim to exclusivity is meant to imply both that his main concern is not whether we find these truths convincing, and

translation from W. Kaufmann, On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo (Vintage: New York, ), p. .

 Ecce Homo, “Why I write such good books,” end of § , translation Kaufmann, p. .  Ibid., “Why I am a destiny,” beginning of § , translation Kaufmann, p. .



that he does not pretend to have found the Truth, for he thinks this is a metaphysical illusion anyway.

Thus we find embedded in Nietzsche’s basic view of himself the rec- ommendation not that we read his texts as aiming at “objectively valid” judgments, at judgments that are (metaphysically) true irrespective of the cultural and psychological context in which they are made (whatever that may be), but that we think of them as narratives that he invites us to listen to, without really obliging us to believe them if we are not the right kind of person. This does not mean that the stories he has to tell us about, say, truth, morality, the will to power, or culture are, in his view, on a par with fictions, pleasant or otherwise. On the contrary, he believed his stories to be the ultimate stories, the stories that are destined to become the standard versions of our assessment of these phenomena. This is not because his narratives are objectively, or in a context-free sense, the most fitting; rather, they will succeed because eventually people will change to a condition where they appreciate the fact that these narratives are best suited to capture their sense of the right perspective on phenomena if they are considered against the background of what for them is the real meaning of life.

Before looking more closely at some aspects of BGE itself, let me sum- marize what I take to be the lessons for approaching Nietzsche’s writings that can be learned from his personal situation and his way of dealing with it. They take the form of three warnings: () do not expect these writings to express impartial views on whatever subject they address – they ex- press, in an emphatic sense, Nietzsche’s own views; () do not be annoyed by his obsession with apodictic statements whose immense generality very often contradicts both normal expectations of modesty and the most obvious requirements of common sense – these stylistic eccentricities re- flect his resolute disdain for what most people cherish, especially people who he suspects are not willing to listen to him; () never forget that the author does not want to get mixed up with “us,” his normal insensitive “academic” readers. He does not want to be “one of us” – instead he insists on what he calls “distance,” in order to uphold his view of himself and to remind us of his uniqueness. A last quotation from Ecce Homo may highlight these points: “Listen to me [the emphasis is on the ‘me’]. For I am thus and thus. Do not, above all, confound me.”

 Ibid., Preface, § .




BGE is the first book Nietzsche published after Thus Spoke Zarathustra. He never gave up on the notion that all he really wanted to say is contained in Zarathustra, and this led him to claim that the works he wrote after Zarathustra are essentially nothing but elaborations and explications of ideas already present in his opus magnum. This claim has been disputed by quite a number of his commentators, firstly because many of the most central ideas in Zarathustra cease to play an important role in his later writings, and secondly because the literary form of the later writings connects them much more closely to his books prior to Zarathustra than to Zarathustra itself. However that may be, Nietzsche himself was of the opinion that Zarathustra set the stage for everything he had to do subsequently. He writes: “The task for the years that followed [i.e. the years after Zarathustra] was mapped out as clearly as possible. Once the yes-saying part of my task had been solved [by means of Zarathustra], it was time for the no-saying, no-doing part.” This seems to imply that he regarded his post-Zarathustra writings as consisting of predominantly critical essays.

BGE is best known to a wider public for its proverbs. Indeed, some of Nietzsche’s best-known maxims are assembled in this text, ranging from perspicuous insights to highly controversial statements. Starting with the Preface, where we find his much used and misused saying, “Christianity is Platonism for the ‘people,’” almost every one of the nine parts of the book contains lines that have entered the repertoire of educated or polemical discourse: “life as such is will to power” (§ ); “humans are the still undetermined [nicht festgestellte] animals” (§ ); “When a woman has scholarly inclinations, there is usually something wrong with her sexuality” (§ ); “Morality in Europe these days is the morality of herd animals” (§); and (slightly paraphrased here): “saintliness – the highest spiritualization of the instinct of cleanliness” (§ ).

These proverbs are in a way the least of what BGE has to offer. Its primary fascination lies on a deeper level: this book introduces us into a world of remarkable conjectures, suspicions, and implications. Though one might say this is true of most of Nietzsche’s other published works as well, with the exception of Zarathustra, there is nevertheless a difference  See, e.g., M. Tanner, Introduction to BGE and Nietzsche, p. .  Ecce Homo, ‘Beyond Good and Evil ’, § , translation Kaufmann, p. .



in emphasis between BGE and the other writings. Whereas the other texts pursue their subjects from many different angles, BGE (like The Genealogy of Morals, which Nietzsche announced on the back of its title page as “a sequel to my last book, Beyond Good and Evil, which it is meant to supplement and clarify”) is highly focused on the psychological aspects of its topics. In BGE Nietzsche confronts us primarily (though not exclusively) with a dimension of his thought that he was particularly proud of – his psychological stance. This integration of what he calls a psychological point of view into his general practice of casting doubts on received convictions by tracing their origins, of throwing into question our most fundamental beliefs by pointing out their shakiness, and of scrutinizing available alternatives in the light of a new vision of the value of life – this I take to be the most distinctive feature of BGE.

Nietzsche himself gives the following account of what he is doing in BGE: “This book () is in every essential a critique of modernity; mod- ern sciences, modern arts, even modern politics are not excluded. Besides this, it is an indication of an opposing type, which is as un-modern as pos- sible, a noble, yes-saying type.” Though this characterization is accurate and confirms the view that Nietzsche considers his task to be mainly a critical one, it is by no means complete. Interestingly enough, it does not mention two topics which some readers take to be the subject of the most disturbing reflections in the book: morality and religion. This is surpris- ing because these are the topics which seem to emerge most strongly in any consideration of its main message.

In order to appreciate the distinctive approach which Nietzsche favors in BGE in his dealings with what he calls “modernity,” it might be worth- while to say a few words about his more general outlook. The starting point for almost everything Nietzsche is interested in throughout his entire in- tellectual career can be nicely summarized in the form of the question “how are we to live?” or, more poignantly, “how are we to endure life?” He considered this question to be of the utmost importance, because of three interconnected convictions that he treated virtually as facts. His first conviction was that life is best conceived of as a chaotic dynamic process without any stability or direction. The second is articulated in the claim that we have no reason whatsoever to believe in any such thing as the “sense” or the “value” of life, insofar as these terms imply the idea

 Ibid.



of an “objective” or “natural” purpose of life. The third is that human life is value-oriented in its very essence – that is, without adherence to some set of values or other, human life would be virtually impossible. Whereas the first conviction is supposed to state an ontological fact, the second is meant to be an application of the ontological point to the nor- mative aspects of human life in particular. The third conviction, though somewhat at odds with the other two, is taken by Nietzsche to reveal a psychological necessity. (How Nietzsche came to hold these convictions, and whether they can be supported, there is not space to examine here, although a closer look would no doubt lead back to his use of some of Schopenhauer’s ideas and to his picture of what constituted the cultural life of pre-Socratic ancient Greece.)

Against the background of these convictions, Nietzsche became inter- ested in the question of the origin of values, a question that eventually led him to a whole array of unorthodox and original answers. All his an- swers ultimately follow from a pattern of reasoning which in its most basic structure is quite simple and straightforward: if there are no values “out there,” in the sense in which we believe stars and other physical objects to be “out there” and if, at the same time, we cannot do without values, then there must be some value-creating capacity within ourselves which is responsible for the values we cherish and which organizes our lives. Though presumably we are all endowed with this capacity, there are very few of us who manage to create values powerful enough to force people into acceptance and to constitute cultural and social profiles. To create such constitutive values seems to be, according to Nietzsche, the prerogative of real philosophers (not philosophy professors), of unique artists (if there are any), of even rarer founders of religions, and, above all, of institutions that develop out of the teaching of creative individuals, i.e., of science, philosophy, and theology. Thus, anyone interested in the function and the origin of values should scrutinize the processes which enabled these persons and institutions to create values.

At this point Nietzsche’s more detailed investigations tend to start spreading out in a remarkable number of different directions. It is here, too, that in one sense we should take BGE to have its point of depar- ture. That the detailed analysis of all the phenomena connected with the

 For, after all, there seems to be no reason to think that Nietzsche would not allow in principle that each of us could be transformed into a “free spirit,” i.e., a person who has the capacity and strength to create and stick to the “right” values.



concept of value is a very tricky task methodologically is documented not only in BGE but also in almost all of Nietzsche’s other writings. Acknowledging the fact that the different features of the value-creating processes are much too complex to be accessible by means of a single explanatory scheme, Nietzsche tentatively pursues several different ap- proaches. He merges psychological hypotheses with causal explanations, and combines them with historical observations and linguistic consid- erations into a multi-perspectival technique that he fondly refers to as his “genealogical method.” In BGE, where he is occupied mainly with the psychological dimension of the process of value formation, he applies this method primarily in an attempt to come to an understanding of those aspects of the value problem that pertain to its normative elements, that is, to the question of good and bad.

At the risk of oversimplification one can say the bulk of this work addresses three topics, each one of which can be expressed best in terms of a question. The first is this: why is it impossible for us to live without values, why do we need values at all, or, more in line with Nietzsche’s terminology, what is the value of values? The second is this: how does it happen that the values we and the overwhelming majority of the members of our culture subscribe to have either been bad from the beginning or have degenerated into bad values? The third topic is this: what is the right perspective on values; what should we expect values to be? Though these three questions are in a certain sense perennial, Nietzsche relates them directly to what he saw as the manifest historical situation of his age and the prevailing conditions of the cultural tradition he lived in, so much of what he has to say is deeply rooted in his response to late nineteenth-century central European conceptions. This is something we should never forget when we confront his texts. Nietzsche speaks to us from the past, and this fact alone might account for some features of his writing that we would now consider idiosyncratic – for example, his way of talking about women and about national characteristics.