Cruelty, Bad Conscience, and the Sovereign Individual in Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality

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In this paper, I argue that, although for Nietzsche the cruel character of our instincts is an ultimate fact of nature and the foundation of all culture and civilization, his ideal human being corresponds not to a return to pre-civilized humanity, to the human beast, but rather to a rational, autonomous, and self-affirmative human being. I will base this argument on an interpretation of relevant passages from the second essay of On the Genealogy of Morality. First, I will show that Nietzsche identifies the instinct for cruelty with the will to power and that, as such, it constitutes our primordial drive and instinct and is the foundation of culture and civilized society. I will then focus on Nietzsche’s account of bad conscience as internalized cruelty, arguing that he takes a profoundly ambiguous stance toward bad conscience. To the extent that it develops into a consciousness of guilt, it lies at the basis of what he calls the “sickness” of the human being. Nonetheless, I will claim that conscience can have more positive functions. To illustrate this, I conclude by presenting an interpretation of the “sovereign individual” as a case study of the nature of Nietzsche’s ideal human being.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationViolence and Nihilism
EditorsL. Aguiar de Sousa, P. Stellino
Place of PublicationBerlin, Boston
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9783110699210
ISBN (Print)9783110698954
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


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