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On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo

On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo Summary


Here you will find a On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo summary (Friedrich Nietzsche's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo Summary Overview

The collection of three essays delves into the exploration and criticism of our moral judgements, based on a method that scrutinizes the origins and implications of our various moral notions. The first treatise contrasts two types of morality, namely "master morality" and "slave morality". The former was established by the robust, independent and content individuals who considered their own happiness as a virtue and labeled it as such. They perceived the frail, unhealthy, and subjugated individuals as "inferior" due to their undesirable weakness. Meanwhile, the oppressed slaves perceived their joyous and prosperous oppressors as "wicked" and, in contrast, deemed themselves as virtuous. The second analysis deals with concepts such as guilt and remorse. It traces the origins of these ideas, demonstrating that they initially did not stem from any moral transgressions. Originally, guilt signified an outstanding debt, and punishment was merely a way to ensure repayment. These moral concepts only gained their current connotations with the emergence of slave morality. The so-called "bad conscience" is characterized by our inclination to perceive ourselves as culprits. It originated from the societal need to suppress our inherent aggressive and cruel instincts and to internalize them. The final essay tackles asceticism, a dominant and paradoxical force in modern life. It is perceived as the manifestation of a feeble, ailing will. As it grapples with internal conflict, the weak will views its natural instincts and earthly nature as reprehensible and vile. Unable to liberate itself from these instincts, it strives to control and domesticate itself as much as possible. The conclusion drawn is that humans would prefer to will nothingness than to not have a will at all.


Nietzsche starts by noting that philosophers often lack awareness of self, as they tend to focus on pursuits of knowledge rather than introspection. He then delves into the purpose of his evaluation: "the origin of our moral prejudices." These reflections were initially presented in his prior work, Human, All-Too-Human. Over the years, Nietzsche believes that these insights have matured and become more comprehensive. He discloses his long-standing curiosity about the roots of good and evil. His initial exploration at age thirteen led him to attribute evil's origin to God. However, as he grew older, he questioned such spiritual solutions, opting instead to explore terrestrial explanations. He began questioning how humanity devised notions of good and evil, and pondered their impact: have our morals been beneficial or detrimental to our growth? Rather than being purely focused on the academic aspect of morality's origin, Nietzsche was driven by the desire to comprehend morality's value. To do this, he argues that we need to examine its evolution, instead of accepting its rules as undeniable truths. We have always believed the "good man" to be superior to the "evil man." But Nietzsche challenges this, suggesting that what we deem as "good" might pose a threat, benefiting the present at the future's expense. What we label as "evil" may eventually prove to be more advantageous. Nietzsche envisions a more expansive viewpoint where morality is seen not as an eternal absolute, but as something that has evolved erratically, full of imperfections, much like humanity itself. He believes that once we can view our morality as part of the human narrative and appreciate it with good humor, we have truly elevated ourselves. Lastly, Nietzsche forewarns that comprehending his work may prove challenging. He addresses his audience with the expectation that they have thoroughly examined his prior works. He laments the lack of careful reading among his peers. His caution extends even to those familiar with his earlier writings, indicating that Nietzsche would not appreciate a superficial summary of his ideas.

essay 1

Nietzsche starts his essay, "'Good and Evil,' 'Good and Bad,'" critiquing the English psychologists' theories about morality's origins. Their theories posit that unselfish actions were initially synonymous with "good" and beneficial behavior. Over time, humans supposedly forgot the original definition, leading to the belief that such actions were inherently good. Nietzsche disagrees, arguing that the superior and powerful, not the beneficiaries of goodness, defined "good." The powerful associated goodness with themselves, contrasting their status with the weak and common people, controlling language to dictate what is deemed "good" and "bad." Nietzsche notes linguistic evidence, citing that the German word for "bad" is similar to "plain" and "simple," while the term "good" shares roots with words signifying power, wealth, or authority. He further discusses how "dark" and "black" are negatively connoted, presumably due to Europe's history of invasions by fair-skinned conquerors. He also points out the correlation of "good" with "war" and "warlike." Language further evolves when the priestly class gains power, with "pure" and "impure" becoming moral opposites. Priestly purity involves renouncing sex, fighting, and certain foods. Nietzsche notes that priests introduced depth to the human soul but also the concept of evil. Despite originating from knightly-aristocratic values, the priestly mode eventually becomes its antithesis, with powerless priests developing intense hatred. Nietzsche singles out the Jews as the epitome of the priestly caste, capable of reversing moral valuations. They associated the meek and the oppressed with "good," and the powerful and lustful with "evil." This transition was so gradual that it went unnoticed, culminating in Christianity's emergence. Nietzsche sees Jesus as the embodiment of these Jewish ideals, and his crucifixion as a bait to adopt the Judeo-Christian moral code, resulting in the complete reversal of morality. The "slave revolt in morality" starts when resentment sparks creativity. Slave morality is primarily negative and reactive, originating from rejection, whereas master morality doesn't concern itself much with externalities. Both can distort truth, but slave morality does so more severely. Nietzsche then discusses the emergence of the concept of "evil," which is crucial for the man of resentment, just like "good" is to the noble man. He reflects on how "good", as defined by noble men, is what resentful men call "evil." Noble men, while respectful among themselves, become violent "blonde beasts" among strangers. Nietzsche rejects the notion of progress from these "barbarians" to modern humans. He laments that slave morality has made humanity dull and mediocre. Using the metaphor of lambs and birds of prey, Nietzsche argues that the concept of "good" born from resentment is flawed. Grammar misleadingly leads us to see the bird of prey as separate from its expressions of strength, while in reality, the bird of prey, strength, and killing are one. Slave morality praises those too weak to cause harm for not causing harm, interpreting inaction as a positive deed. Nietzsche then presents a dramatic depiction of slave morality being forged in a hostile environment. Slave morality invents "justice" and waits for divine judgment while forgoing revenge. Early Christian writings, according to Nietzsche, parade hatred and resentment as Christian love. Nietzsche concludes by stating that the morality struggle is one of humanity's greatest battles. He ponders the possibility of a resurgence of master morality.

essay 2

Nietzsche commences his second essay, titled "Guilt, Bad Conscience, and Related Matters," with a careful analysis of the human capacity for making promises. This ability requires a strong memory and a certainty about one's future actions. For a society to function, its members must abide by a shared set of norms, making human actions predictable and thus facilitating the making of promises. Consequently, societal norms and morality serve to create the sovereign individual who can make promises due to their mastery over their own free will, which leads to the development of a conscience. Nietzsche then focuses on the notions of guilt and "bad conscience." He proposes that guilt was originally tied to debt rather than moral accountability. If a promise was broken or a debt unpaid, the person would compensate by enduring punishment or torture. The memory needed for making promises was thus enforced through these cruel methods. The philosopher notes that inflicting pain on others was once viewed as a joyous event—an occasion to settle unpaid debts. The roots of conscience, guilt, and duty are found in this festivity of cruelty. Nietzsche also observes that ancient cultures, while brutal, were generally happier. He proposes that the human repulsion to suffering challenges our instincts and the meaning of suffering, whereas ancient and Christian societies found joy or justification in suffering. He then explores the origins of guilt and conscience in the basic relationship between creditor and debtor. Nietzsche points out that communities provide their citizens with security, peace, and other benefits, putting individuals in the community's debt. Those who break the law are not only failing to repay their debt but are also attacking their creditor—the community. The philosopher also discusses how stronger communities are less inclined to harshly punish lawbreakers. He calls the act of a strong community sparing an offender "mercy." Regarding the concept of justice, Nietzsche argues that it can only exist within a society governed by laws that can be violated. He also states that the purpose of punishment is not static but fluctuating. Nietzsche dismisses the notion that punishment instills a sense of guilt, instead suggesting it only teaches prudence. Nietzsche hypothesizes that "bad conscience" arose with the shift from nomadic to sedentary societies, forcing us to rely on our conscious minds over our instincts. These suppressed instincts, he proposes, were directed inward, leading to the creation of an inner life and ultimately a bad conscience. Nietzsche also analyzes how the feeling of indebtedness to the tribe's founders eventually led to their deification. With the growth of the tribe, this debt increased, and these revered forbears gradually became gods. He notes that the Christian God represents the highest level of indebtedness, which is impossible to repay, leading to the concepts of eternal damnation and original sin. Nietzsche then contrasts the Christian God, which reinforces bad conscience and guilt, with the Greek gods, who celebrate their animal instincts. Nietzsche concludes the essay by suggesting a possible escape from millennia of bad conscience through a reorientation of consciousness towards life affirmation and away from the harmful aspects of Christianity and nihilism.

essay 3

Nietzsche begins this part by pondering the question, "what is the meaning of ascetic ideals?" He claims that it has various interpretations and that we tend to "rather will nothingness than not will." He uses Richard Wagner to illustrate this, noting that Wagner's asceticism was influenced by Schopenhauer's philosophy, hence taking on an ascetic lifestyle in his later years. Schopenhauer, influenced by Kant, saw beauty as a source of pleasure without interest, which Nietzsche criticizes from an artist's perspective. Nietzsche investigates Stendhal's definition of beauty as a "promise of happiness", in contrast to Kant and Schopenhauer. Nietzsche then suggests that Schopenhauer's stance wasn't unbiased, as the philosopher sought relief from his constant torment of will. Nietzsche argues that philosophers strive for conditions that maximize their feeling of power. They reject marriage and other distractions to focus on their studies. Nietzsche believes that for philosophers, ascetic ideals serve as a means to amplify their feeling of power, confirming their existence. He asserts that philosophers don't approach asceticism objectively but consider its personal benefits. He further contends that philosophy depends on ascetic ideals and was born of them. He acknowledges the past suspicion and fear toward philosophy, which was assuaged by the asceticism of ancient Brahmins. Nietzsche claims that philosophers adopted the guise of ascetic priests to gain acceptance and respect. Asceticism, Nietzsche suggests, is a contradiction being the will to stop willing or life turned against itself. However, he notes that the ascetic ideals are universal and must possess some desirable aspect. He argues that when applied to philosophy, such contradictory wills often label reality as an illusion. Nietzsche critiques ascetic ideals for their tendency to eliminate thought, thus destroying perspectives. He disapproves of the ascetic ideal being described as "life against life" and instead sees it as a protective measure for a deteriorating life. Nietzsche pinpoints a "sickness" in humanity, stemming from a disgust and pity for the human condition. This sickness inspires nihilism, which is exemplified by the ascetic ideals. The ascetic priest, according to Nietzsche, serves the sick masses. He redirects the resentment of the masses toward themselves, thereby promoting self-discipline and securing the health of the strong. However, Nietzsche criticizes the priest for merely alleviating suffering instead of curing the sickness. Nietzsche identifies two methods employed by the ascetic priest to combat displeasure: dulling sensations and keeping the mind occupied with hard work. Despite these "innocent" means, the priest also incites an "orgy of feeling", leading to the reinforcement of sin and guilt. This makes the sick feel responsible for their suffering and further sickens them. Lastly, Nietzsche questions the meaning of the ascetic ideal. He refutes that science can oppose the ascetic ideal, arguing that science lacks the affirmative will that the ascetic ideal possesses. He adds that faith in truth is a different form of faith that scholars indulge in. Nietzsche calls for a critique of the will to truth and emphasizes that even our faith in truth needs justification. He concludes that the will to truth is not the antithesis to the ascetic ideal, but rather part of its self-overcoming process. In conclusion, Nietzsche believes that our struggles stem from the need to find meaning in our suffering. He suggests that while ascetic ideals may oppose pleasure, they provide an explanation for our suffering and offer a purpose to our existence. For Nietzsche, "man would rather will nothingness than not will."

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