What sort of text is On the Genealogy of Morals, this work that Nietzsche called the "uncanniest" of all books? Is it only a book about morals, as the title might indicate? Even the superficial reader will see that much more is at stake, since questions concerning politics and aesthetics are prominent. But could we also read more attentively and with an ear to hearing a certain diagnosis of the metaphysical condition and its tradition that are necessarily implicated in the genealogy of morals? Certainly Nietzsche begins to suggest ideas of this sort quite early in the text, as in his account of the way in which the morality of ressentiment is responsible for the invention of the metaphysical fiction of free will by which the doer is separated from the deed

In this essay I want to suggest that there is a confrontation with the metaphysical tradition on an even larger scale that emerges in Nietzsche's account of the economy of guilt, debt, and credit that forms the subject especially (but not only) of the book's second essay " 'Guilt,' 'Bad Conscience,' and the Like." In order to see this it will be necessary to place Nietzsche's Genealogy in the context of two other texts - Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks and Thus Spoke Zarathustra - that speak of penance, guilt, and redemption as themes characteristic of philosophy as we know it.

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Copyright © 1994 University of California Press. This book chapter first appeared in Nietzsche, Genealogy, Morality: Essays on Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals.

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