This book kicked my ass, yet I found it easier to read than most “theory” books. Nietzsche breaks up the book into three essays all concerned with where we get morals, why we have morals, and our perspectives on morals: the first essay examines “good” and “evil” and “bad,” and the morality of Masters and Slaves. Master morality developed through the strong, healthy, and free and had the power to call the weak, unhealthy and sick, which in turn led to the weak calling the masters evil. This section subtly examines the power of language and how the powerful control language. The powerful had the power to call themselves strong and use positive words and the weak did not, until they had enough power in numbers to call the strong evil compared to themselves, who were good.

The second essay deals with the origin of guilt and punishment, which were not based on moral transgression but on monetary exchange. If someone owed me money, I was allowed to get my payment by punishing that person. That person had no guilt, and I had no remorse about it; the punishment happened and we went our separate ways. However, when slave morality began to take hold, morality was added and guilt became what we know it as now, rather than simply meaning one was in debt. Slave morality developed these concepts– in order to justify the meaninglessness of life, slave morality invents God and has us all believe we are sinners in order to justify our suffering. With the rise of the state, Justice begins to punish the one in debt, removing the debtor. The exchange is no longer an impersonal: you owe me so I will get my payment by punishing you, now the state comes in and coldly decides how the “sinner” or “criminal” should repay. We also need to keep in mind that these concepts rise when we cease nomadic wondering and form communities. Now the transgressor sins against an individual and an entire community.

The third essay, “What is the meaning of ascetic ideals?” confronts asceticism, the idea that we should happily face punishment for enlightenment and forgiveness, and as Nietzsche views, the expression of a weak, sick will. Sick wills are unable to cope with the suffering that happens in life– a suffering that occurs because man goes against his base, animal nature in order to fit into society so that where once the struggle was with the outside world, now man struggles with himself–so they create meaning for suffering: religion, work, redemption. I’m too lazy to get into this now, so here is what sparknotes says, “Unable to cope with its struggle against itself, the sick will sees its animal instincts, its earthly nature, as vile, sinful, and horrible. Unable to free itself from these instincts, it attempts to subdue and tame itself as much as possible. Nietzsche concludes that ‘man would rather will nothingness than not will.'”