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The Creator, Guilt and the Debtor

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            German philosopher ,Friedrich Nietzsche ,of the late 19th century , challenged the foundations of Christianity and traditional morality. He believed in life, creativity, health, and the realities of the world we live in, rather than those situated in a world beyond. Central to his philosophy is the idea of “life-affirmation,” which involves an honest questioning of all doctrines that drain life’s energies, however socially prevalent those views might be. Often referred to as one of the first existentialist philosophers, Nietzsche’s revitalizing philosophy has inspired leading figures in all walks of cultural life, including dancers, poets, novelists, painters, psychologists, philosophers, sociologists and social revolutionaries.

            Nietzsche’s “On the Genealogy of Morals” contains three major essays composed of his theory questioning the value of our moral concepts and examines their evolution.

Focusing on the second essay, you will find that Nietzsche suggests that our concept of guilt originally had no moral overtones, identifying a similarity in the German words for guilt and debt. A person in debt was “guilty” and the creditor could make good on the debt by punishing the debtor. This goes to say that the obligation to the creditor (in this case being God) is the source of constant fear and penitence.

            Through a historical approach of the transformations suffered by morality, Nietzsche presents moral values as truths that have established man’s false identity overtime. Nietzsche attributes this error to Christianity, for the diffusion of a sense of indebtedness in its faithfulness. Whereas in Ancient Greece, Gods were created to exculpate the common man, Christians must forever carry “the burden of still unpaid debts” and “the desire to be relieved from them” (Nietzsche, GMII, 20). Nietzsche understands that man should not have to bear this negative load.

            What is more, instead of being a man with “the right to make promises”, the individual should be doted with the gift of “forgetfulness” (Nietzsche, GMII, 1). However, considering the biological impossibility of this proposal, Nietzsche asserts “that the complete and definitive victory of atheism might free mankind of this whole feeling of guilty indebtedness towards its origin.

                        “The feeling of guilt, of personal obligation, had its origin, as we saw, in the oldest and most primitive personal relationship, that between buyer and seller, creditor and debtor: it was here that one person first encountered another person, that one person first measured himself against  another.” (Nietzsche, GMII, 8)

            This frustration is internalized and repressed ,making the subject unhappy. For this reason, Nietzsche argues that the modern man lives a life of pain. It is in this context that Nietzsche’s idea of the conscience appears. It is a conscience that follows moral conventions of “good” and “bad” put in place by social conventions.

Works Cited

Biography of Friedrich Nietzsche  “The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy” <http://plato.stanford.edu>

Friedrich Nietzsche “The Genealogy of Morals” 1888

Friedrich Nietzsche (The Autobiography of Friedrich Nietzsche) “Ecce Homo” 1888

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