On the Genealogy of Morals

by Friedrich Nietzsche

Start Free Trial

What is Nietzsche's distinction between "bad" and "evil" in On the Genealogy of Morals?

Quick answer:

According to Nietzsche, the "good" and the "noble" were formerly regarded as "bad" and the "evil." So, what about the question: what is the difference between bad and evil? According to Nietzsche, there was a revolution in thought that inverted these concepts. Those who had once been considered good were now deemed evil; those who had been considered evil (the inferior masses) were now portrayed as good. In Nietzsche's words, this was a "slave revolt in morality." This answer is consistent with my view of Western history in general. I see our history as being driven by noble instincts -- on the part of both men and women -- to live life fully and achieve excellence.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

To answer this question, we first have to understand that Netzsche's historical understanding ("geneaology") of morality was based on his conviction that there had been a revolution in Western thought, which he called a "slave revolt." By this he meant that a certain group of people formerly deemed ignoble, mediocre, and in a word, "bad," had imposed a new morality on the world. People who had formerly been regarded as good and noble were now cast as "evil." These ideas, incidentally, were expressed in many of Nietzsche's works, most notably Beyond Good and Evil and The Genealogy of Morals.

In Nietzsche's words, the "good," whom he describes as the "noble, the mighty, the high-placed and the high-minded," had viewed as "bad" everything that was "lowly, low-minded, common, and plebeian." But over time, a new morality was established. Beginning with "the Jews" and continuing over the next two milennia with the establishment of Judeo-Christian morality in the West, the "slave revolt in morality" painted many of the characteristics that had been "good" as "evil." In what Nietzsche characterized as a "secret black art of a truly grand politics of revenge," those who sought excellence in this world were deemed "evil," because they were self-interested, self-aggrandizing, and unconcerned by the so-called slave morality. Meanwhile, the "herd," as Nietzsche calls them, were able to impose their morality, which was a negation of life rather than an affirmation of it, on the world. So this was the transition, or inversion, of the "bad" and the "evil." 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Further Reading

Approved by eNotes Editorial